A Demon’s Touch by Ella Jade
The attractive stranger in the expensive suit, stood in the funeral’s doorway and appeared too perfect to be human. Sunlight streamed in from the vestibule, blasting off shards of light and surrounding him in every direction. The illumination created a celestial vibe, but the darkness in his intense gaze screamed anything but angelic.
“He looks so dead,” my sister, Kiki, whispered over our uncle, who was lying in the mahogany casket.
“That’s because he is dead.” The potent scent of flowers tickled my nose. The floral arrangements sent by family, friends, and colleagues should have been uplifting, but the powerful aroma of roses, tulips, and carnations mixing in this setting gave me a sense of sorrow and loss.
“I know, but I didn’t expect him to look that dead. I thought they were going to make him look better.”
“I think this is as good as it gets.” What did she expect? Uncle Duke was eighty and had a heart attack while driving. He hit a tree, and it didn’t end well for him. My stomach ached when I thought of his sudden demise.
Remembering how much I adored him, I peered into the coffin. He’d been there my whole life, supporting my choices and offering advice, especially when I followed in his footsteps and became a lawyer. Kiki was right. He looked dead. He would have hated all of that caked on make-up, and they hadn’t even combed his hair the way he would have liked. Open caskets were barbaric if you asked me. No one did. Why couldn’t we put a pleasant picture of him on top of the closed coffin and call it a day?
“I’ve seen enough.” I took one last moment to say goodbye to my beloved great-uncle. Wiping a tear from my cheek, I smiled. Rest easy, Duke Whitmore. You deserve it.
“Can we get a drink now?” Kiki followed me away from his lifeless body. “I’m hungry too.”
“Seriously?” My younger sister could be insensitive. I guess that was the luxury of being twenty-one.
“We’re supposed to be mourning.”
“You can’t mourn and eat?” She glanced over my shoulder and seemed distracted by something, but then again, she had the attention span of a flea. “I didn’t have the connection you had with him. He thought I was a ditz.”
“You kind of are but he meant it as a compliment. He always said you were a free-spirit with a mind of your own.”
“He always said you were a genius with the potential to do anything you set your mind to.”
“He put a lot of faith in me, and all I do is let him down.” I had to refer to him in the past tense, but I hated it since it felt so final.
“That’s not true.” She continued to focus behind me as she talked. “He was proud enough to get you a job at his prestigious firm. You’re the youngest woman to ever do that.”
“Because my uncle was a partner.” Duke had put me in a unique position to learn from some of the best attorneys in the state. At twenty-eight, I was poised to become one of Connecticut’s top lawyers in a few years. I had the opportunity, but I lacked the confidence. “I haven’t made my mark.”
“Who cares how you got the job? It’s yours to do what you want with it. Duke was right, you’re full of potential. You’re young, smart, and a Yale graduate. Figure out how to unleash it.”
“How’d you get to be so smart?”
“I take after my older sister.” She hugged me. “Have you noticed that really hot guy standing over there?”
“The one in the designer suit who looks like he could be on the next season of The Bachelor?”
“He may have caught my attention when we came in.” Mine and everyone else’s. People stared at him and whispered as they came through the door to pay their respects. Maybe he was a celebrity?
“He’s been admiring you for the better part of an hour.”
“What?” When I subtly turned my head, the intriguing stranger walked in our direction. “Oh!” I stepped closer to my sister. “He’s…”
“I see him.” She straightened the hem of her gray dress. “He’s hard to miss.”
As he came down the aisle of the funeral home, people stopped their conversations and gawked at him. Some even moved out of his way when he came past them.
“He’s coming right toward us.” I glanced around the area where we stood. No one else was near us, but he was definitely getting closer. “Why do you think he’s coming over here?”
“To offer his condolences?”
“He could do that to Dad or Uncle Lou. We’re just the great-nieces.”
“Who cares why he’s coming over here? How often do you get a chance to have a conversation with someone who looks like him?” She pushed me in front of her. “Go with it. Make your mark.”
“Kiki!” I stumbled forward, losing my balance and breaking my fall with the hard chest of the sexiest man I’d ever seen. He was much taller than I’d realized now that he stood front and center.
“Hello.” He steadied me before letting go.
“Hi.” My cheeks burned with embarrassment as he concealed a smile. His eyes were almost black, devoid of any light. Did he even have pupils? Such an odd thing for me to notice.
When he shook my hand, a strange current coursed through me, awakening my senses. The impression was unchartered yet invigorating. His hand was warm, almost hot, as if he’d used those hand warmers I’d worn inside my gloves when I had gone skiing. His facial expression changed from inviting to uncertain when he released my palm. The connection only lasted a moment, but it was the most intense encounter I had ever experienced. Once he let go, a weird sense of disappointment came over me.
“Sorry.” I straightened my posture, apologizing for my clumsy demeanor. “I’m Harper Whitmore.”
“I don’t need an introduction,” the stunning stranger said.
“How do you know my sister?” Kiki asked.
“Your uncle spoke of you and Harper, Kiki.” He bit the corner of his bottom lip, mesmerizing me to the point of incoherence.
“Are you Duke’s, um, my uncle’s friend? I mean, were you his friend? A colleague? Client?” Shut up and let him answer!
“He was my attorney for many years.” He nodded in the casket’s direction. “I considered him a dear friend, too. I’ll miss him.”
“I’ve never seen you around the firm.” There was one client who took up most of my uncle’s time. Could this be him? Duke often used him as an example when I studied contract and real estate law. My uncle said he was the stuff legends were made of when it came to figuring out the next big thing and making a ton of money.
“Duke came to me.”
“How come?” Kiki asked.
“I like to work from home. My dealings move quickly, and it’s beneficial to have my attorney with me as much as possible.” He answered Kiki’s question, but he didn’t take his focus away from me. I couldn’t stop admiring his hard jawline, covered in a light dusting of well-manicured hair. “Duke was kind enough to accommodate me for many years.”
“He was in sync with his clients.” That was what made him the incredible attorney I respected and wanted to emulate.
“I’d like to offer my sympathies. As I said, he’ll be missed.”
“Thank you.” I gazed down at the floor, trying to break the unsettling attention he paid me. “We appreciate that.”
“It was enchanting meeting you both.” He glanced at his watch. “I have to leave now but perhaps I’ll see you around, Harper.”
“Ah, maybe.” Before I had time to say anything else, he was practically out the door. “He didn’t tell us his name.”
Kiki’s face was in her phone as her thumbs worked overtime.
“What are you doing?”
“Searching for your admirer.”
“My admirer?” I huddled in the corner with her as she typed in Connecticut’s wealthiest men. “He didn’t even properly introduce himself.”
“He seemed eccentric, but all the hot ones are.”
“How old do you think he is?”
“Forty,” she answered with such confidence. “Your mysterious man isn’t such a mystery.” She held out her phone. “One search and I got him. It looks like Mr. St. Christian is the total package. Sexy, rich, and available.”
I took the phone from her and read the brief article titled: “The Reclusive Bachelor”. It wasn’t so much the content of the piece that drew me in, although it was quite interesting. It was the picture of him that had my body humming and my mind moving in a hundred different directions.
Angelo St. Christian had the most haunting eyes. The deeper I looked at the photo, the blacker they appeared. There was a story behind them, and I wanted to know all of it.
* * *
I stood at the gates of Hades. Irritated. Hot. Annoyed. The burning ash assaulted my nostrils and seeped into my clothes. How many times had I been here? How many times would I return? The people around me didn’t want to be here either. I sensed their anxiety. I was even responsible for some of them ending up here. Once you crossed me, there was no turning back. You got a one-way ticket to Hell.
My watch froze at midnight. Time moved differently here. No one was on a schedule. There was no urgency. While my physical form slept in my bed, my subconscious mind waited with tortured anticipation. What would the spawn of Lucifer tell me tonight? What evil seeds would he plant inside my head? When they summoned me here, it was always for a reason.
There was no sense in trying to leave. The night wouldn’t end until I finished here. I used to fight it when they first banished me to the human world, but the harder I fought, the more they abused my mind. After a few decades, I realized the only way to get through their mental anguish was to stay in control.
They didn’t like that at all. They thought by forcing me out of my father’s world and without the support of my mother’s universe, I would falter. I’d have no choice but to come crawling back to them and beg for forgiveness for what I had done. Never! Driving that dagger through my father’s heart while he looked at me with the shock of my betrayal was something I would never forget or regret. No matter how many desperate nights they called me here.
If being pulled into this realm every few years while I slept was my penance, I could survive it. I had been surviving it this long, much to their disappointment. It would be a lengthy, bitter day in hell before I gave into any of their demands. As much as I despised living among the mortals, the alternative wasn’t any better.
A few feet in front of me, the gates slowly opened and out came my tormentor. With the wave of his decrepit hand, he paralyzed the lost souls who had made it past the front door but got no further. Hell was a funny place. The devils tempted people to do hideous things in their lifetime, so they could get them here, but once the devils did, they were picky as to who was actually worthy enough to be invited all the way inside. Such a waste of energy.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, my demon son.”
“You aren’t sorry, Koradon.” He always kept me waiting.
When he snarled at me, I smirked because his displeasure at my insistence on using his given name was so gratifying. That was all part of me staying in control. I would never acknowledge who he once was to me.
“Why have you summoned me?” I stepped toward him. “What do you want?”
“This is the first time in years you’ve done anything worthy of me calling you here. Your lack of initiative had disappointed me.”
“I live to disappoint you.”
“You live for money, power, and greed. That’s why you’re such a formidable demon.” He looked me over. “There’s a change on the horizon. One you might never recover from.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I watched you at the funeral of your dearly departed attorney. He’d been with you for years, doing your bidding and getting you what you wanted, but you didn’t even shed a tear over his departure.”
“You would know.”
“What do you want?” I grieved Duke in my own way. He wouldn’t want me to lose sleep over his death. He had other plans for me, and since he’d been a valuable friend through the years, I would fulfill his dying wish. “I have more important things to do.”
“Like slipping into the dreams of a certain mortal.”
“That’s none of your business.”
“We’ve tried for years to bring you back to us.” He cackled. “No matter your sins, no matter your wicked deeds, you refuse to accept who you really are.”
“Why would I return to the demons who turned their backs on me? That would make me weak, and as you know, I’m anything but weak.”
“Your banishment was never meant to last this long. It’s time for you to come home.”
“You may not have a choice.”
“Believe what you want, but I’ll always have a choice.”
“So, you think.” He closed his eyes, zoning out in what appeared to be a vision.
He was amused, but it didn’t affect me. Nothing he and his cohorts did ever would. Control. The more I had, the less of a threat he was.
“Are you finished?” I asked.
“Yes, I am.” When he opened his ancient eyes, he smiled and displayed his sharp decaying teeth. “Your life is headed in a whole new direction. One you never saw coming. All I have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.”
“I’m glad I can provide you with entertainment. It must be tough down here, knowing I’m living such an incredible life, and you’re stuck with nothing. All because of me.”
“I wouldn’t say I have nothing, and soon you’ll see how much I have. I also know that you don’t love your incredible life. You tolerate it because you won’t give in.”
“You’ve been saying that for years. I’m not worried.”
“You should be.”
“Don’t threaten me.”
“It wasn’t a threat.” He pointed at me with his long, skinny finger. “I promise.”
“Well, if that’s all, I’d like to go. I have things to do.”
“I bet you do.” His sudden confidence unsettled me but not enough for me to engage.
“Enjoy the changes in your life, Angelo. They’ll come at a high price.”
The fire engulfed us, growing larger and hotter as the surrounding souls screamed out in agony. Their pain stabbed at me, draining my mind. Being an empath could be a brutal burden.
“Just remember, my boy, when the gates of Hell open for you, they will swallow you whole.”
“Now it’s my turn to promise you something, old man.” I moved through the blaze and toward the thick iron structure, fearing no evil. “When those gates open for me, I’m going to walk in like I own the joint.”
Koradon faded into the smoke and flames. His red eyes bore into me until he disappeared. A faint luster flashed in the distance, drawing my gaze to it. Other than the inferno, there was never any light here. The ominous atmosphere always prevailed. As quickly as the flicker appeared, it left, leaving me alone. Almost abandoned.
I bolted up, gasping for air as I took in the familiar surroundings. My flesh burned hotter than usual, and my throat ached from the dryness in the air. As I rested against my headboard, I glanced to my right and then to my left. One blonde. One brunette. Perfect.
“Rise and shine.” I clapped my hands, coaxing my fallen angels from their slumber. “I know exactly how this sex demon wants to start his day.”