5:57

Sunlight warmed her face. A cool breeze caressed her bare legs. And the hardwood floor under her face left a groove in her cheek that’d be there until well after lunch. Wonderful…

Bleary-eyed, Drea Jackson sat up and scrubbed her face with the back of a hand. She grimaced at the mascara streaked across her olive skin. Sexy…

The sun poured in through the living room windows of her microscopic apartment. How did she end up on the floor? More importantly, who drove a garbage truck over her head while she slept?

She raised a hand to block out the sun. Three numbers, written in permanent marker, were scrawled across her palm. Drea squinted against the light and looked closer.

“Five-five-seven. What the hell does that mean?”

The entire night before came up a giant blank when she tried to piece things together. By the feel of her mouth, she drank too much during happy hour. It’d been years since she drank enough to pass out, let alone pass out on the floor. She crawled over to the couch and used it to hoist her ass off the floor. The clock on the cable box said eight o’clock.

“Oh just great,” she said and dashed off to the bathroom.

By some miracle, the hot water lasted until she finished rinsing the conditioner out of her hair. The same good vibes kept her ancient hair dryer running while she fought to blow out the curls ravaging her shoulder-length locks. Days earlier, it died in the middle of her routine, leaving half of her hair resembling a drowned poodle. Not a good way to walk into an advertising firm with strict personal grooming rules.

Drea blew a strand of dark hair out of her face and peered into the mirror above the sink. Not half bad for sprinting through the shower and only putting on half of her normal makeup. Maybe no one would notice the hint of bags under her eyes…or the faint line from the floor along her jaw.

A glance at her watch let her know she didn’t have any more time to cover up the evidence of her wild night. The faded numbers on her palm teased her mind. Their meaning evaded her.

“No more drinking after work,” she promised and headed out the door.

Down on the ground floor, Drea cringed. A horde of people stood out on the street waving frantically at passing taxis. At the speed the crowd dispersed, she’d never catch a ride in time to make her first meeting. Saying a prayer and bracing herself, she stepped out into the pleasant spring morning.

“Please let this be quick and painless.” She waved at the black taxi closing in on them.

It stopped four people away.

“Just my luck.”

“Excuse me, would you like to take this one? I forgot something upstairs,” a deep voice called. “Miss?”

A tall man in a white suit held the taxi’s door open. Drea got the impression of a pleasant-looking face over the crowd, but that was it. She scrambled around a group of annoyed people to slip into the cab and waved thanks as the car pulled into traffic. Strange that she’d never seen that guy before in the morning rush.

“This is your lucky day,” the cab driver called over his shoulder. “My meter just went out. Looks like you get a free ride, ma’am.”

Drea’s smile quickly vanished under a pang of guilt. “Are you sure?”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re my last fare before I head in to get this fixed. Give me a smile and we’ll call it payment.” Grey eyebrows bobbed up and down in the rearview mirror.

She laughed at the lecherous old man act. He returned the smile and focused on traffic ahead of them. For a morning that started with a hangover on the floor, the day didn’t progress too badly.

The cab dropped her off outside the office. Drea checked the time and gave a longing look at the coffee cart near the front doors. There may be just enough time to grab something.

The moment thought occurred to her, people in front of the cart turned and walked away. A flash of white vanished around the tall bushes lining the sidewalks. Not one to miss an opportunity to grab caffeine, Drea darted over and placed her order.

While the barista made her latte, she did a double check of her panty hose to make sure she hadn’t snagged them jumping in or out of the cab. A green flutter on the ground distracted her. Bending down, she caught the twenty-dollar bill before it flew off in the breeze.

“It really is my lucky day.”

Using the twenty, she paid for her latte and a gigantic blueberry muffin. Somehow the muffin tasted better being bought with someone else’s money. The vague thought that she should feel bad about someone losing money drifted through her mind, but vanished just as quickly. She stepped into a blessedly empty elevator to head up to her office.

“There you are,” Clarice, her office mate and good friend, chirped when the elevator doors opened.

She snagged Drea by the arm and pulled her towards the double doors of their boss’s office. “Randy wants to see you ASAP, something about that contract you submitted last week. And as soon as you’re done with devil-man, I want to know about that swimsuit model you were all over last night.”

Confusion jarred Drea to a stop outside Randy’s office. “What are you talking about?”

The door to her left opened.  A bald head poked through. Beady hazel eyes sized her up. Apparently Randy liked what he saw, a slow smile pulled at his thin lips. He crooked a finger at her.

“I need you for a few minutes before you go to the Hollister meeting.”

Nothing good came out of being hauled into Randy’s office before making it to your desk. Nothing. Drea ditched her muffin wrapper, straightened her shoulders, and walked into the lion’s den fully expecting to be shit-canned. Not everything could go her way, right? The early-morning flukes were warming her up for a huge downfall. How would she pay her rent? Or her shoe buying habit?

Randy slid in behind his desk. Chubby fingers dragged a file folder closer. He opened it and read over a few paragraphs. She wished he’d grab the ax and get it over with already.

“Woul—”

“This is the best work I’ve seen from you in five years, Drea.” He arched a brow at her outburst and continued. “You’ve got my full blessing to complete the deal and I took a look at the application you put in for the open position. It’s yours starting next week.”

She couldn’t have been more shocked if he admitted to cross-dressing on the weekends.

He flipped a glance at the computer monitor on his desk. “I don’t want to keep you any longer. Congratulations.”

Drea just stared.

“You’re going to be late.” Shrewd calculation seeped into his eyes. “Don’t tell me I’ve made a mistake giving you this promotion, Drea.”

That worked like a cattle prod to her backside. She jumped out of the chair, grabbed her bag, and bolted, shouting thanks as the door closed behind her.

Clarice caught up with her down the hall. None of the questions she asked filtered through the haze of shock. Drea’s new position came with a pay raise high enough to get her out of the slums and into a building where she didn’t have to fight cat-sized rats to do her laundry. Hot water that actually worked. A landlord that didn’t constantly hint that he’d take a blowjob as partial payment for owed rent…

“Did you hear anything I said, Drea?” Clarice asked, closing the door to their office.

“Not a damn thing,” she confessed and dropped into her desk chair.

“Jesus, did that asshole fire you?” Worried eyes dipped into view.

Drea shook her head. “He gave me a promotion. Am I dreaming? I’ll be pissed if today is all just a giant dream.”

Slender fingers pinched her forearm.

“Ow! What the hell, Clarice?”

“Obviously you’re not dreaming. I’m happy, you’ve worked hard to get anywhere in this hellhole.” The other woman slid a hip onto the edge of Drea’s desk. “Now that you’re done freaking, back track to last night. I want all the details on that guy you got cozy with, down to any birth marks he had on under that suit.”

Sitting back in her chair, Drea tried like hell to remember anything from the night before. A huge blank greeted her; same as when she tried to remember after waking. It felt like someone slid a blackout curtain over her memories.

She sighed. “I can’t remember a damn thing. Tell me what happened, maybe that will jog something loose.”

“Really? We didn’t drink that much.” A worried look crossed Clarice’s face. “You don’t think you were drugged, do you?”

Drea paused. Clarice mentioned the man in a suit before. Did he drug her? She took a mental tally of her body, looking for symptoms… of what? It wasn’t like she’d been roofied before.

“I feel fine. What did he look like?”

A lecherous grin spread over Clarice’s face. She pulled her desk chair over to sit. “He was tall—climb him like a monkey up a tree tall—and wore this amazingly well-cut suit. You could see his ass muscles flex when he walked. I want to write a thank you note to his tailor, God da—”

“Save that for when you’re alone later. Do you remember anything we said?” Nothing she said rang any bells.

“He came over during our third drink and asked how we were doing. You said a few choice words about your rotten fortune lately. It caught his interest. You two talked for a while after.”

Clarice shook her head. “Only you would get to talk to a Greek God dressed in all white and manage to forget him. I swear, you’re like a goldfish sometimes, and never at the right times.”

Drea sighed at the unfortunate truth. Unless it was something about work, she tended to forget. Her apartment looked like a Post-It factory on good days. On bad days, she ended up scrawling notes to herself on any flat surface available, just like the mystery numbers on her hand.

Something Clarice said finally sank in.

“Wait, you said a white suit? Blonde hair, too?” A bad feeling crept across the back of her mind.

“Yeah. Gorgeous blonde hair he wore pulled back in a weird braid. Do you remember him now?”

Remember him from last night? No. Drea’s stomach dropped. The man that gave her his cab wore a crisp white suit and she was sure he had blonde hair. She’d been so concerned with making it to work on time that she didn’t give him a good once-over before getting in the car. Then there’d been the figure in white walking away from the mysteriously uncrowded coffee cart on her way in.

“Oh God,” she groaned. The latte and muffin threatened to make an encore appearance. A hand fished around in her desk for a roll of Tums.

“What’s wrong, Drea?”

She popped a handful of antacids and chewed like her life depended on it. She knew her good luck possessed a time limit.

“That guy? I think he’s been stalking me. First outside of my apartment, then a few minutes ago down at the coffee cart.”

“I’m calling security.”

Unwilling to make a huge deal out of it, Drea caught Clarice’s wrist and yanked it away from the phone. If her memories were correct, she saw him walk down Kings, away from the office or any place he could lurk to watch the door. For now she’d be safe.

“There’s no time. I need to be in a meeting…” She looked at her desk clock. “Shit, now. I promise, I’ll have security escort me out later. It’s probably nothing.”

Clarice gave her a disbelieving look, but didn’t try to argue or stop her when Drea grabbed an armload of files and ran out of the office. A few hours of mind-numbing work would wash the memory of the maybe-stalker from her mind. And despite her hangover that morning, she figured a few drinks during happy hour wouldn’t hurt to finish killing the panic he’d instilled in her.

“You sure you’ll be okay, ma’am?” the security officer asked. He’d heard the washed-down version of her morning fun and games. Drea only asked him to walk her out to keep Clarice from freaking out.

The woman in question gave her a stern look. She’d been in a tizzy and nothing Drea said calmed her. It took an hour of convincing to get her to agree to happy hour. Drea considered going alone, but when she inadvertently mentioned seeing the man in the white suit again, her friend flipped and demanded they go together.

“I’m good, Paul. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

They started down the block towards the bar. Her ear burned. Without turning, Drea knew Clarice glared at her. Probably cursed her ten ways to Sunday in her head as well. She sighed and stopped outside the bar to face her friend.

“Stop worrying over me. Did you see any strange guys on our way over here? No. It probably wasn’t even the same guy. Now will you please stop giving me the stink eye and lets celebrate my promotion.”

A tentative smile spread over Clarice’s face. “Hey, we get our own offices now.”

“That’s more like it.” Drea wrapped an arm around the other woman’s elbow and led her to the door.

“Just make me a promise,” Clarice called over the racket pouring through the open door. “No more making deals with strange men.”

Drea froze on the spot. Deals? She tried to ask her friend what she meant, but she’d vanished inside. God damn it. If only she could remember the night before. As much as she hated it, she’d need to press Clarice for more insight. And a round of tequila shots.

Catching up with Clarice at the bar, she leaned in and asked, “What sort of deals did I make last night?”

With a shrug, Clarice passed over a shot. “Didn’t hear that part. I heard him ask if you had a deal, you agreed and shook his hand. I thought you were over that.”

“I am. Just wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything too stupid.”

She reached in her purse to pay the bartender. He waved her off and gave a sly wink. “You’re on my tab tonight, ladies. All I ask is you don’t drink us dry.”

Unsure how to react, Drea upended her shot glass. The tequila left a trail of fire all the way down to her stomach. Another shot appeared in front of her. The bartender slid away to take care of someone else before she could thank him.

Clarice grabbed their second round and squeezed her way through the gathering happy hour crowd to an empty table against a wall. A bright smile lit her face. She lifted her glass.

“To lucky days and promotions in hell.”

Drea watched her drink and followed suit. The second shot joined the first, creating a warm blanket coating her empty stomach. They should’ve ordered something to eat. Eyeing the mass of bodies crammed in the bar, she thought twice about it. No way they’d get their food before midnight.

“I accidentally ordered a duplicate plate of nachos. You ladies want it?” A waitress hovered at her elbow, nachos in hand.

“I—uhh… sure?” Drea made a mental note to think up a hot guy to rub her aching feet later, since everything she wanted seemed to be coming true.

They sat and talked about testing Drea’s new good luck and asking Randy if their offices could be renovated to something less I-want-to-slit-my-wrists. A nagging idea prodded the back of her mind. Flashes of white out of the corner of her eye drove her pulse into panic mode. The endless parade of drinks did not help.

Drea peeked at her watch. Five-thirty. Why did her panic ramp up another notch? She grabbed for a glass of water and caught the faded numbers scrawled on her palm.

“Clarice, what time did you say I supposedly made a deal with that weirdo?”

A you’ve-lost-your-marbles look came across the table. “Around six. Why?”

“No reason.” But her gut told her otherwise. “I need to go to the bathroom. Be right back.”

By the time she pushed into the empty bathroom, sweat poured down the back of her silk shirt. Drea yanked it out from her skin and used it to fan her toasted flesh. She leaned over the counter, trying to breathe. Her heart wouldn’t slow down, no matter how much she told it to. What the hell? Maybe she caught a cold from someone at the office. Mary Anne looked sickly during the afternoon meeting.

“That’s gotta be it.”

“You could not be more wrong, Drea Jackson,” a deep voice purred from the other half of the restroom.

She knew that voice. Her eyes shot up to the large mirror over the sinks. A man stepped into view. His crisp white suit fit like it’d been sewn onto his tall, lean frame. A waterfall of white-blonde hair fell over his shoulder in a braid so intricate she couldn’t follow the pattern.

The man stepped in closer. Drea flipped around to face him. She’d be damned if she allowed herself to be attacked from behind like a half-wit horror movie victim. Hoping he didn’t notice, she slid her shoes off and got ready to bolt for the door.

A click from her left made her heart skip a beat.

“It isn’t nice to renege on deals.” The man slid a gold pocket watch out of his pocket. “Five minutes left. Do you have any requests?”

Was the sick bastard actually counting down the minutes until he attacked? Drea peeked at her watch. Her stomach bottomed out. In five minutes it would be five-fifty-seven, the same time she’d written on her palm the night before.

“What are you going to do with me?” Maybe if she kept him talking, she could get to the door.

The man raised a golden brow at her question. His fingers flipped in the air. A headache tackled the back of Drea’s brain and moved forward until she swore it’d leak out of her eye sockets. Hands grabbed her throbbing skull. Her knees buckled under the pain. Slowly, the pain eased and she remembered. She remembered everything from the night before.

“Are you done asking stupid questions? I’d like for our final moments together to be something special.” Fire danced in his coal black eyes.

“Lucifer,” she hissed through the last of the pain. “Why the hell did you make me forget?”

Lucifer looked stunned. “You asked for everything to go your way, just for once. If you remembered our deal, that would’ve colored your day and made it meaningless.”

She blinked up at him. A demon that actually gave a damn?

He tisked. “I am not a demon, Drea.”

“No, you’re just an evil son of a bitch that will probably rape me before tossing me in hell for the rest of eternity.”

Malice warped his handsome features. Fine lines of gold crept up his face from under his shirt collar. Lucifer took a deep, calming breath. The veins retreated, leaving him impossibly handsome once more.

“Do not test me, little bird. I have never and will never harm a woman in that way.”

Unsurprisingly, Drea wasn’t calmed by his admission. She pushed herself to her feet. If he meant to go through with the deal, she’d face him on equal footing. Her chin tipped up in defiance. The knowing grin on his face betrayed the erratic pounding of her heart.

“Get it over with. Send me to hell, already.”

“Oh you’re not going anywhere. Yet.” Slender fingers drew a pattern in the air.

One by one, the lights in the other half of the bathroom went out, leaving only the vanity fixtures behind Drea. The shadows writhed around the cocoon of light. Soft noises came from the dark. Whispers in a language she couldn’t decipher.

Lucifer looked around, as though seeking one rippling form in particular. His eyes lit up. A loving smile spread over his face. He reached into the darkness and grasped the figure. A crackling noise drowned out the whispers.

Fist closed around whatever he’d grabbed, Lucifer stalked closer to Drea. She flattened herself against the counter until bruises cut across her lower back. There was no way to escape. If she ducked around him, she’d be faced with whatever lurked in the shadows. If she ran to the door, she knew she’d never get out. He’d used his powers to lock it.

“I don’t want to die,” she whispered, meeting his dark eyes.

Lucifer’s hips pinned her in place. She possessed enough sanity to realize he wasn’t aroused by her fear. Thank God for small favors.

His lips brushed her ear. “You won’t die, Drea. Not until the gift you promised me is ready to come into the world.”

“What gift?”

He unfurled his fingers. A small, black figurine lay across his palm. It looked like an itty-bitty child, a boy. Lucifer held it up for her to see the details in the dark stone. The figurine gave a lazy stretch. Drea jumped. Her hip hit the counter hard. She ground her teeth against the pain.

“You will see Azure safely into this realm,” Lucifer said.

Drea scoffed. “How the hell will I do tha—”

Unimaginable pain jarred any and all thoughts from her mind. Shock set in immediately. Her head dropped down. Something hot and red splashed across her eyes. Lucifer’s arm was buried half way into her lower stomach.

Blood seeped into his clean white linen suit sleeve. Shards of pain made her vision swim. She watched his arm push deeper into her body. Inside, she felt his fingers moving, searching. For what?

Another jolt of pain forced her one-too-many shots to nudge back up her throat. Black eyes gave her a warning look. A soothing push of power settled her stomach, but did nothing to ease her pain. Lucifer’s hand grasped something within her and gave a hard shove. Drea screamed.

Her body hit the tile floor. Drea’s eyes shot open, searching for the pool of blood signaling her eminent demise. Nothing. Not one drop of red around her or on her clothes. She struggled to sit up. The bathroom was deserted. No Lucifer. No surging shadows. All of the lights burned bright.

Noise flooded the room and died out again. Clarice stepped around the corner. Her heels clicked to a stop at Drea’s feet. She gave a choked laugh and reached a hand down.

“You can’t handle your tequila. Come on, let’s get you a cab so you can sleep this off.”

Drea grabbed Clarice’s hand and stood slowly. Her eyes darted around the bathroom, waiting for Lucifer to come back in. Every shadow seemed to move, though her logical mind said she’d become paranoid. The only indication that anything happened at all was the soreness wrapping around her midsection to her back.

Clarice grabbed Drea’s shoes and led her through the bar. She didn’t have the heart to tell her friend that her wobbly knees and green complexion weren’t from the tequila, but how would she explain what’d really gone down in the fifteen minutes she’d been locked in the bathroom? She couldn’t and she’d never even try. No one could know.

A cab pulled up to the curb. Clarice opened the door and gently pushed Drea inside.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“Yeah. See you in the morning,” Drea said before the door closed.

The cab swerved into traffic. Dull aches from the movement made her rub a comforting hand over her lower stomach. The action felt right. Soothing. Something in her enjoyed it greatly.

Curious, she lifted the hem of her shirt to make sure Lucifer hadn’t left any scars she’d be forced to explain to her doctor. The skin lay smooth, unblemished over her abdomen. Drea rubbed it again. A shape bubbled up against her skin—a tiny hand pushing from the inside.

“Keep him safe, Drea Jackson. When a woman named Page finds you, you’ll know it is time,” Lucifer whispered through her mind.

Feeling faint, darkness claimed Drea’s vision as she crumpled across the backseat.

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