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Unhallowed Love #3

Year of the Incubus


by Tara Fox Hall

Year of the Incubus by Tara Fox Hall

Will a demon-hunting priest and a wizard bent on world dominion end Shaker’s happiness with his human Mistress Debbie?

CEO Debbie and demon Shaker’s first year of partnership was a smashing success for both Pandora Productions and their own new intimate relationship. Shaker now inhabits a human host, Pandora’s rising action star Jett Black, putting the possibility of a family within Debbie’s tentative grasp.

But as before, one crisis after another ensues, beginning with the death of Debbie’s father, bringing her into the sights of a demon-hunting priest, Father Matthew, who will stop at nothing to not only send Shaker back to the Hell he came from, but also ensure Debbie is free of sin… permanently.

When Shaker is sent back to Hell and Debbie is left bereft, her team of allies decimated, she must decide if she will succumb…or rise from the ashes and fight for everything she loves.


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Release Date: July 21, 2020
Genre: Paranormal - Demons


Excerpt

January

 

“Kaitlyn, can you please show in Mr. Gray?”

“Yes, Mrs. Black.”

Debbie steeled herself. Remember, Vassago Gray is an incubus: charming, handsome, and a master seducer of women. Seduction isn’t limited to sex.

Vassago sauntered in, his smile easy and full of innuendo. “You rang, my Mistress?”

He looks like a male model straight out of GQ, except more amusing and accommodating...RESIST! “I’m not your mistress. I am your boss and the CEO of Pandora Productions, and you’ll address me as Mrs. Black.”

“Very well, Mrs. Black,” Vassago agreed, sitting down on the edge of her desk. “I accept and acknowledge your authority.” He winked. “If you wanted my complete submission, you had only to ask. What can I do to please you?”

Save me from demons who think they are God’s gift to women, for starters. “Get off my desk immediately. You need to act more appropriately.”

Vassago smiled wider, as he stood, slipping his hands into his pants pockets. “Perhaps we should meet in private tonight, and you can give me a lesson in manners? I promise to be a quick study.”

Kaitlyn knocked on the door, then opened it. “I have a Brady Black on line one.” She glanced at Gray, who met her gaze and winked, making her look away as she flushed.

“No calls, Kaitlyn,” Debbie said loudly.

Kaitlyn withdrew, but the door remained slightly ajar.

Damn it. Debbie got up and went to the door. Gray blocked her, grinning impishly. “Shall we lock it, and begin my lessons now?”

Debbie’s first urge was to slap him, the second to knee him in the balls. No, he’s a demon, but he’s still an employee. I just need to take control of the situation. “Vassago, either shut up and listen to what I’ve got to say or get out and don’t ever come back. I can find another actor to do Incubus.”

Gray drew back, bringing his head high. “Okay, I’m listening. What’s so important that it called for a meeting this early, when I’m not even filming on set today?”

“You can’t be connected to a new starlet every week!” Debbie exploded, as she slammed her door, then stalked over to her desk past her new leading star.

“I thought it was good for publicity,” the incubus said mildly.

“You be flippant about this, and you’re getting a holy water bath,” Debbie threatened, lifting up a capped liter bottle. “I’m serious.”

Grayson pouted, striking the same pose from the promo poster for Incubus, which did nothing for Debbie’s anger. “I’m being safe.”

“These starlets don’t like being screwed, then left for the next babe in line. Who cares if you leave them not pregnant? Most of them are likely infertile anorexics, anyway.”

“Oooh, hostile,” he teased. “I can’t help it if I’m popular.”

“Damnit it, Gray. I mean it. You can’t act like this.”

He made a face. “Call me Vassago or Vass in private, please. I thought that was what was required of a male leading man, that you constantly romance starlets. Shaker told me to make sure to be seen with many celebrity women in my first year, and to make sure that the media took a lot of pictures.”

“Dates, sure, but not full-blown orgies! The Star just ran an article saying you were engaged to Belle DeMadison, and how much she was enjoying planning the wedding.”

“I only told her that I enjoyed our evening and would be happy to spend eternity with her. Pillow talk, as you humans say.”

“Bullshit. She told the reporter you and she agreed on no rings because you were going to donate that money to the Peace Corps.”

“She said it was her pet cause. I thought it would make for good publicity.”

“Listen and hear me, ok? Good publicity can be exaggeration. It can be a lot of flash with almost no substance. What it can’t be is outright lies that are easily shown to be lies. Right now, you are losing the fan base we’ve tried so hard to build you for Incubus’s premiere ad later this month! Women don’t want to lust after a man who is a faithless liar.”

“The women of America think I’m a faithless liar?” He had the good grace to look appalled.

Debbie nodded. “You need to make a statement later today that you’re going into treatment for alcohol addiction. It’s a more “friendly” addiction that sex or drugs, or straight mental illness.”

Now he was incredulous. “But I’m not addicted to alcohol!”

“You need a scapegoat for your behavior, so officially, you are as of now,” Debbie stated. “You will also call any women you’ve made promises to—don’t give me any crap that you can’t remember all their names—and apologize. Say that you are getting help but need to face your problems on your own. That will get rid of them in a socially acceptable way.”

Something like awe flashed across his face.

Debbie buzzed her secretary. “Please get The Star on the line, offer them an exclusive interview with Mr. Gray if they agree to run it front page within the next forty-eight hours. Also we want all questions ahead of time, no exceptions.” She looked at Vassago. “Go home and stay there. The Star will jump on this, if I know their editor at all. If possible, mess yourself up a bit. You look too perfect now for an addict. You need to look repentant and earnest, without losing all the sex appeal. Can you manage that?”

Vassago nodded. “Ok.” He got up and went to the door. “You know, you’d have made an excellent demon, Debbie.”

“That’s Mrs. Black,” Debbie called after him, the door shutting to cut off her words. “Ugh!” She sat down at her desk and took a deep breath. Compose yourself, you’ve got the first important team meeting of the year next week, and you still haven’t prepared. You’ve got to not only hold it together, you’ve got to inspire them, make them believe that the set accidents and deaths that happened here last year can’t happen again. Which means lying. But most important you’ve got to find a way in the next couple months to make the lie true, unless you want Pandora Productions to end up like Titan Pictures: chopped up and sold off in pieces to pay outstanding debts.

Sheila entered. For a moment, Debbie relaxed at the sight of her good friend, then she straightened, remembering who was really in the body before her. “How did the morning go, Song?”

“You should be calling me Sheila when I’m here,” Song said demurely, handing her a stack of files. “And it went ok.”

“I’m tired of the pretending,” Debbie said, taking them. “What are these?”

“Some new projects, and updates on the movies in progress,” Song answered, sitting down. “I don’t know the name of the demon that inhabited Sheila for those couple of months last year, but she was decent at keeping appearances up. Everything is up to date, if missing Sheila’s flair.”

“Yes, she always used to write comments in the margins,” Debbie said, paging through the folders. “These are all blank. But at least that demon didn’t sabotage us further by screwing these new projects up. It would have been easy to do.”

“Pretending to be other than who we are is ingrained in us,” Song said with a mix of apology and pride. “It’s the first rule of possession. Titus reminded me of it, when I took over Jett’s sister.”

“Now we are being too open,” Debbie said, casting a look at the closed door. “Besides, you should get Sheila home, so you both can rest. I am glad though that you are giving her some…exercise.” I can’t believe I said that.

“I’ll see you later on,” Song said, rising. “And no, there’s still no change, Debbie. I can’t feel her at all, and she doesn’t answer me. But I’m not giving up hope, and you shouldn’t, either.” Her expression became determined. “When she comes back, I want her to be able to resume her life and her career here. I know it’s what she would...um, will want, too.” She left, closing the door.

Debbie paged through the folders for a moment, then put them aside.

Sheila’s body was fine, but her mind had been on hiatus for months now, ever since one of her two demons, Harp, had been ripped from her during an exorcism. The shock of it was usually fatal, or so Shaker had told her. Sheila had survived as she was still bound to her other demon, Song, but couldn’t seem to find her way back to consciousness. “I’m going to have to contact Devlin,” Debbie mused out loud. “Titus needs to take a look at her. I should have done that from the beginning. Fuck.”

You don’t need to go through Devlin. Titus is now your brother in law, remember? You can just call him up, Shaker said in her mind. He has unparalleled skill in healing.

Debbie shifted at the unbidden thoughts. I remember all too well. Where have you been, Shaker? You said you’d be able to spend more time with me this year.

I’m sorry. I’ve been trying to arrange some uninterrupted time with you. It’s taking longer than I anticipated. Please, have patience, Debbie.

Well, when do you anticipate being able to see me?

There was no answer.

Damn him. But he is right, I should contact Titus. If he asks about Shaker, I’ll either come off as insecure or angry, because hell, I am both for sure. But it’s Sheila’s life. In no world does possible embarrassment justify staying silent.

Reluctantly Debbie reached for the phone. Before she could grasp it, the voice was in her mind. I’m here, Debbie.

Titus? she answered mentally, surprised.

Are you alone? I will come now, if that is all right.

Yes. Debbie got up and locked her office door. As she was turning to go back to her desk, Titus appeared in front of her. “Hello, Sister Kin,” he said formally, then a smile crinkled his flushed face.

“I have to ask, were you checking on me?” Debbie said curtly, giving him a look.

“No. You said my name aloud. I have a ward on mention of myself. It was easy to tap in.”

“Tap in” to my head. God. Debbie shook her head but smiled, too. “I suppose you heard my thoughts.”

Titus nodded. “Enough to know I needed to see you posthaste. I should take a look at Sheila. She is at home, with Song?”

“Yes. Can you please see her today? Do whatever you believe might be able to awaken her.”

“Of course. I should have asked after her before now. But with all that happened last year, I didn’t. My apologies, Sister Kin.”

All that happened. Shaker possessing Jett, us getting married, my getting pregnant then losing the baby, the priest and his guardian angel pursuing us and exorcising Sheila, Jett’s death and Shaker’s return to hell, only to get out again bound to someone else. Sheila’s possession by an enemy demon that almost killed me, before Myrrh burned its body and made it one of many in her murder of crows.

“You are safe now,” Titus said, laying a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Please, do not relive the bad of the old year. This year is bound to be better.”

“Thanks, but you can’t know that.”

“Yes, I can,” he intoned. “Formidable enemies you faced are finally gone, you are safe, Pandora is a haven now for our friends, and Shaker is now positioned almost as well as me. Devlin is still your ally, Debbie, and his affairs are also finally set to rights, after a few years of nothing but strife. This will be an excellent year for us, and for Pandora.” He patted her shoulder with his clawed hand. “I believe I can wake Sheila. It’s better that you didn’t tell me immediately, as that gave her time to heal and rest. It’s also good Song has kept her body toned with exercise in the meantime. After shocks such as these, a human host’s biggest problem is often regaining full mobility after extended bedrest.”

That someone else besides her and Song thought that Sheila might make a full recovery filled Debbie with relief and gratitude. “Thank you, Titus.” She hugged him impulsively.

Titus grunted, but there was a pleased note to it. “You are welcome. And yes, Shaker sends his regards.”

“Is he being treated well?” Debbie said carefully. Do not tell me his new Mistress has made him become her lover.

“I wouldn’t tell you that,” Titus said, shifting uneasily as he read her thoughts. “That is not my business. But to my knowledge she has not, so I can say as much. But yes, he’s being treated well. He’s been busy on orders for her, but also in creating a small home for himself on Devlin’s vast estate.”

Debbie lost her temper. “Are you telling me he’s not seen me in weeks because he’s busy building a house? I already have a house!”

“It is not my place,” Titus restated. “But my feeling is that he liked being able to give you things, as Jett. He can’t possess anyone now, for danger to his present Mistress. The same goes for having a day job; it would not be permitted, save for working for Devlin, which is what he is doing.”

“He’s working for Devlin?” Debbie repeated, disbelief in her words.

“Hayden has been without a maintenance team for a few years now,” Titus said carefully. “Lash used to head it up, but most of his men that were trained for such duties were killed within a two-year span. They couldn’t be replaced except with new men and Lash himself had a period where he was very ill, so these new men only had a little training. I cannot go into details, but there are large sections of fence, walls, roofing, and other structures that need to be seen to, not to mention cemetery duties.”

“Cemetery duties?” Debbie repressed a shiver.

“I am a demon, and you are aware of what needs I have,” Titus said stiffly. “But I do not eat my colleagues.”

He’s offended. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply anything.”

“Many of Devlin’s men fell in the attack last spring. They were hastily buried, with only temporary markers. Several more fell last summer in attacks, and several more this past fall and winter. Part of the contract they sign when pledging themselves into Devlin’s service is that all their funeral expenses are paid, and their final resting place taken care of in perpetuity. It was a kindness on Devlin’s part to add that last, but it makes for a large graveyard after several hundred years. This must be maintained, and new stones sculpted and engraved as needed, according to the religion each guard adhered to.”

“Why did Devlin add that to his contract?” Debbie asked. “You told me you’ve been with him since he ascended to power in this country, so you must know.”

“I advised him to, as it’s a small matter to reanimate a corpse. Even males taught not to fear anything can and do likely run when a former friend they just buried shows up at the door. A mate or child might welcome a dead man in, glad that their loved one is not really dead. They never see the weapon in his hand until it’s too late. Detonation devices can easily be carried in by such a being. There’s also the ability to copy a body, if you have enough of their flesh, hair, and bones. But mostly I advised it because there are magics that can be used on even a skeleton to see snatches of what the person once saw when it still lived. It was and is better that guards who fall at Hayden remain there, so that no one disturbs their rest.”

Debbie groped for words but found none. Is all that true? What kind of world have I married into?

“I digress. Shaker is helping to sculpt the gravestones, training the new men in building, and doing some landscaping.” Titus smiled. “He enjoys building structures, he always has. But this is also a rest for him, after his return to this plane, Debbie. What he did for you cost him, both in energy and in resilience. He will be visiting you soon, take it as fact. Now I must go, you always get me talking more than I mean to.” He hugged her, then disappeared.

“Damn it,” Debbie said, running her fingers through her hair. “I should have asked him about Latham’s Landing.” She pulled the file of the same name out of the stack and paged through it. “Origin of Fear would make a fantastic summer horror film.”

Last year, Shaker had been against making Origin of Fear, his excuse that a true demon presided over the haunted island mansion featured in the tale, and that the house itself was real, not fiction. He’d also indicated that the author who had submitted it was a surname for someone of dark power that was attempting to play some kind of game with him, that whomever it was knew Jett Black was really Shaker in disguise. Debbie’s instructions to Sheila had been that the project was to be put on hold for now, because of Shaker’s information. But the project had been Sheila’s favorite, and it was obvious from the notes in Sheila’s handwriting that her friend had ignored her advice.

“She found the house,” Debbie breathed, slipping an 8 x 10 color photo out of the folder. It showed the remains of what looked like a house listing to one side in the middle of a lake, only the top floor visible. The lower floors and base were flooded in water. Shaker should be relieved at that. It would be impossible to use this site for shooting a film. It’s dilapidated. Debbie scanned further into the folder.

There were copious notes on legends about the house from interviews, and excerpts from local papers on drownings and disappearances. Sheila had contacted several people, trying to find out who had rights to the house and the lake. There were scribbled out names and numbers, then finally a listing for a Mr. Staahl along with a couple exclamation points, and the notation “the retired police chief?” and “How’d he afford this? Who really owns the island and the lake?” But there was also a string of curse words, and the note that Staahl had refused her offer of money to let them so much as film the house from land for the film. That was the last note in the file.

I’d worry that the demon who possessed Sheila had something to do with Latham’s Landing, but that entity didn’t touch this file in all her time here. Debbie quickly flipped through the stack of other projects; each movie file had notes more recent than this in a stranger’s hand; the notes were just on a separate page in the back of the file, not in the margins. Progress had been made on all of the others. Just not this one. Either the demon took seriously my order to leave it alone, or she was also leery of the island.

Debbie grabbed a pen and a Post-It. Either way, if Sheila...when Sheila comes back, she’ll want to resume work on this. So the next step is we need another house to stand in for this one, someplace we can flood as needed, preferably at adjustable water levels. We can make the movie closer to home, maybe up north in Oregon? Use the legends to make the film intro, lead into the college kids script we bought called Origin of Fear for the main plot, then end it with shots of the clippings, to give it a real-life scary ending. “Good as the Blair Witch,” Debbie said in approval, jotting down her thoughts.

She flipped down to Hell to Pay, the movie she was planning to bank the new end of the year around. As Song had said, this was also up to date: actors and actresses had been cast for the major roles, the script rewrite she’d wanted was done, and filming was set to begin in early February. She put that folder aside to take the script home to check out the differences for the one she’d scanned months ago, then looked at the last few folders.

““Everlasting”? What is this?” Debbie scanned the first few pages, then the back notes. “A mortal woman sells her soul to create a lasting legacy through art for her brother and his family? You have got to be kidding me.” By the acquired date, this was a script that the demon masquerading as Sheila had bought. There were copious notes on the film: ideas for casting and for fleshing out of the script, which looked at best rudimentary. Ideas for setting. Ideas for affordable locations. “Must have been her pet project.” Debbie put that on the pile with Origin of Fear. “I guess I’ll have a couch weekend. But it’s not like I’m doing anything else.”

Two of the remaining three were the movies Sheila had talked to her about before, What Matter’s Not and Sacrifice, both of which had been bought by Angel Pictures. Debbie flipped through both of them just to check that they were what they appeared to be, then recycled them.

The last was another film she had never heard of, Dare to Tell. “Wait, I do remember this. I had asked Sheila to find me a movie that we could use this name for.” She opened the file folder. In that same stranger’s handwriting, she saw copious notes, and a complete script, as Everlasting had. But this also had casting and location done. The last note said that shooting could begin in summer, if not sooner.

“Damn that bitch had a set of balls on her, to go ahead and cast, book location, and everything else without even showing me the script for approval,” Debbie mused. She skimmed the first few pages.

A woman was being visited by a ghost of a dead friend who kept asking her to intervene to save her child. “Well-written, but not very exciting.” She flipped to the synopsis. “An urban career woman denies her psychic abilities until a horrific near-death experience leaves her seeing ghosts and dreading death. She relocates to a remote location, leaving her boyfriend, friends, and family to run a bed and breakfast in an old estate on behalf of a reclusive dying man. But the place has ghosts of its own, some of whom have witnessed murder. When local teens begin to go missing as they did ten years prior, she must decide if she dares to tell the police what happened to them.” Wow. Definitely has possibilities!

“Probably Dare to Tell can begin shooting in the summer if these actors and location are sound, possibly before, depending on what budget we have to work with. I need to go over the numbers, and also read the entire script.” Debbie rubbed her eyes. “Sheila, you’d better wake up ‘cause I need you.”

* * *

That night, Debbie relaxed with a glass of wine, the scripts to Everlasting and Dare to Tell, and her three hellhounds on the couch, as Song paced the carpet, clearly worried. Titus had told Song not to enter. He was in Debbie’s guest bedroom with Sheila’s unconscious body, sequestered with the door closed.

Song made a nervous noise. “He’s still in there after five hours. What could he possibly be doing?”

“You know more about this that I do. What could he be doing?”

“Okay, okay, I know it’s nothing bad, but I’m nervous.”

“She’s not going to blame you for fucking a stranger and not realizing it wasn’t her,” Myrrh said bluntly, entering from the deck, one of her crows on her shoulder. “She’s just going to be happy to wake up.”

“You don’t know Sheila,” Song said darkly, then pushed past her into the night.

“Aren’t you tactful,” Debbie said snidely. “How could you say that? You know she’s anxious. I’m anxious myself about the same thing. I let a bitch from Hell invade my friend and use her like a puppet.”

“You didn’t know.”

“I should have known. She was acting so bitchy—”

“Yes,” a voice came weakly from the doorway. “You should’ve known, Debbie. But that’s not going to help us now.” Sheila stood there, supported by both the doorway and Shaker. The hellhounds scrabbled, bolting into the shadow of the couch and disappearing.

“Sheila!” Debbie set down her wine, slopping some over the edge in her haste, and ran to hug her friend. Sheila hugged her back weakly.

“She’ll be fine, but I recommend a long restful weekend,” Titus said, coming from behind Shaker. “She’s as healed as I can make her. What she needs now is a little TLC, and a lot of interaction.”

Debbie looked at him oddly.

“She remembers parts of the last few months, but not everything. Tell her what happened, all of it. I must return to Devlin.”

“What do I owe you, Titus?” Sheila asked, turning to him. “I know your help isn’t free. I would still be comatose if not for you.”

“I’d ask for a bit of your soul, but it’s still healing,” Titus said. Debbie smiled at first, then realized he meant it, and dropped her eyes. “Instead I’d appreciate if you would give my wife a job.”

Debbie’s gaze snapped back to Titus, and Sheila’s mouth dropped open. “Your...wife?”

“You met her at Debbie’s wedding, remember?” Shaker prompted. “Her name is Leri.”

“She is Devlin’s sorceress, isn’t she?” Myrrh said, making it more of a statement than a question. “Her place should be at Hayden then, protecting him.”

Titus flicked his red eyes to her but didn’t answer.

“There was a falling out of sorts,” Shaker supplied. “This has happened before, and Leri will likely go back to working for Devlin in time. But for now she needs to hide in plain sight, so to speak. Working here on the opposite coast would give her a means to exist independently while his temper eased.”

“Wait, um...”

“Look, I don’t want to offend you,” Sheila interjected, talking over Debbie. “But if Leri has run afoul of Devlin, we can’t hire her, or we risk he may pull his support for Pandora.”

“Devlin is a current investor, our largest one. He’s going to pay for two of our future pictures,” Debbie added. “What would Leri do at Pandora, anyway? You can’t want her to be a janitor?”

“You said you had staff openings,” Myrrh said quickly. “Could she fill any of those vacancies?”

What’s her interest in this? “Marketing, Location Scout, Security Manager.”

“Leri could do locations,” Titus said quickly. “She knows this country well, and Europe, too.”

“Can she take the initiative? Negotiate for good prices? When we choose a location for a film, we are trying to shoot not only in-state, but as close to our headquarters as possible to save costs. We also try to shoot most of any particular movie in one site, again to save costs. I know Leri can do magic, but as much as it would be fantastic to use her teleportation power to grant us access to sites all over the world, something tells me it wouldn’t be prudent to let the entire company know we have an actual sorceress on the payroll.”

“I see your point,” Titus said gruffly. “Yes, she can negotiate, and she could also teleport to view and book locations, saving you her travelling fees. She could also do a little magic to make locations that were inexpensive and nearby...more a perfect fit for a particular film.”

“Will she cause trouble?” Myrrh questioned. “I know what she is capable of, Titus.”

“You should, you are alive because of her,” Titus said, again staring at her steadily with his crimson eyes.

“I hadn’t forgotten,” Myrrh concurred with a nod. She turned to Debbie. “If she will agree not to kill and to do her best to fit in, I think she could be an asset.”

“Good. I’ll tell her tonight, and ask her to come herself, to pledge assurances,” Titus said, relieved.

“Wait one Goddamned minute!” Sheila said.

“We didn’t agree to this,” echoed Debbie. “She can’t stay here with us.”

“I’ll get her a local place,” Titus assented. “I don’t see why this isn’t good for everyone. You said you needed personnel, specifically ones not afraid to work at Pandora. Leri will not only work hard, she’ll be an asset in any attack. Though with her and Myrrh around, you’re not likely to get attacked at all.”

“Is she a demon?” Sheila asked. “We can’t supply her sustenance, only a paycheck.”

“No, Leri is a dark faerie, like Myrrh,” Shaker chimed in. “I’m sorry, but I need to get back, as does Titus.” He blew a kiss to Debbie, then the two brothers disappeared. The three hellhounds immediately crawled out of the shadow of the couch, and jumped back up on the couch near Debbie, setting themselves down with happy sighs.

“That’s just fucking great,” Debbie said, tossing down the files on the coffee table. “Thanks a lot for—” She trailed off, seeing that Myrrh had left. “Damn it, she’s always doing that.”

“Come and sit down,” Song said, guiding Sheila to the couch and helping her sit. “I’m so glad you’re well again.”

“How can you be here?” Sheila asked her. “Our bond was broken.”

“I inhabited Jett’s sister Rhonda for a while. You remember, before you…well, she’s pretty crazy now from our time together, so she’s in an institution. I got her to agree to be my Mistress in one of her lucid moments, in return for leaving her alone, which let me manifest by myself. But now that you’re back, I’ll go possess her and we can be together again.” Song put her hand over Sheila’s.

Sheila recoiled, taking her hand away. “I’m…I’m going to need some time, Song.”

Song bit her lip. “You’re blaming me for what happened to you. Debbie didn’t know that you weren’t you, either!”

“Yeah, but she wasn’t fucking me! You were! How could you not know, Song?”

“I thought you just…decided that you liked new things. It’s not like we were married for years, Sheila, and knew everything there was to know about one another!”

“Look, I should let you, um, talk,” Debbie said, trying to extricate herself from the dogs and the couch.

“No, I’ll go,” Song said sadly. “If you don’t want me here, I need to go decide what to do.” She disappeared.

“I’m sorry,” Debbie said. “I should’ve known you were possessed, Sheila. You’re right.”

“I’m sorry,” Sheila said, coming to the couch and hugging her, as she began crying. Both women cried for a few minutes, then just hugged each other. Debbie pulled a blanket from the back of the couch to cover Sheila and the dogs, then went to the kitchen and got them both a pint of ice cream and spoons. “Here, Magnum Cracked Vanilla. I got it for you, I’ve been saving it for months.”

“Probably ice-crystals galore,” Sheila retorted with a huge grin, accepting a spoon. They both dug in.

“Where do you want me to start?” Debbie said, scooping out another spoonful. “I have no idea where to begin. After Henry hit you?”

“Just give me a quick overview,” Sheila said. “I’ll ask questions from there.”

“I’m so glad to have you back,” Debbie said in pure relief. “Okay, I’ll start in August. Henry got sent to jail for assault, but he’s out on parole I think already. But I have a restraining order against him my lawyer Catarella arranged, so he can’t come near Pandora or here, ever. Titan Pictures’ huge movie Escalation flopped after their president was outed for dogfighting, and their stock fell to almost nothing. They got eaten by corporate raiders over the holidays. The studio is gone, which is a huge relief. Titan and Henry created most of the problems we faced last year.”

“And Myrrh?”

“She saved me from the demon who was inhabiting you. I thought you were just becoming evil, so tried to get help, but Titus said there was nothing to be done. Myrrh and Shaker helped me get you to a convent, but it didn’t do anything.”

“It did,” Sheila admitted. “I was able to break the hold the demon had on me. I told the sisters, but they wouldn’t listen, and they had no phone or internet, so I couldn’t contact anyone. Then a priest came and got me out, but as soon as I stepped off the grounds, the demon got me again.” She began crying. “I killed him, Debbie, the demon made me. He’s buried in an unmarked grave.”

“So you remember it all?”

Sheila nodded, sniffling. “Even that you tried to kill yourself.”

“I did,” Debbie murmured. “I was stupid and weak.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. I tried to kill myself, too, but the demon just laughed. I couldn’t move my own body at all, it was awful.” She took a deep breath. “That’s why I think Song and I aren’t going to work. Knowing possession from the point of the person being taken over, I can’t condone it being done by my partner. I also don’t want ever to be a mark for demon hunters again.”

“You might be able to work something out,” Debbie said vaguely, at a loss for words and feeling loyal to Song, who she was already missing. “She did take care of you for months.”

“I know. I still love her, and I feel guilty, too. I don’t know what to do. Which is why we need some space.” She sighed. “I’ll send her some flowers tomorrow. Is she still at the Black Rose? I should’ve been more explicit: I remember everything the demon did when it had me, what it said, etc. I have two gaps though, from when I got severed from Song by Henry’s attack, until the demon possessed me, and from when the demon left until now. But both seem to be only a few weeks, maybe? You hired that guy Gore to kill the priest then.”

Debbie nodded. “Yes, that priest can’t hurt either of us again, not that he’d want to now.”

“Did you keep my house?”

“Song didn’t sell it, no, she was worried you’d be upset when you awoke. But I’m not sure what the demon might have done in her months as you. They were living at the house, or so Rack told me. I think Song kept it up after the demon left you, though when she found the time, I’m not sure.” Debbie paused. “Look, you probably need some time to think about everything that’s happened. If you aren’t ready to go back to Pandora, then take some time off.”

“Thank you, but no,” Sheila said stubbornly. “I need to take back my life, and it’s not going to get easier. I’ve missed enough time.”

“Um...you’re still married to Rhonda, too,” Debbie mentioned reluctantly. “Although you probably could divorce now that she’s been declared insane.”

“I did that,” Sheila said, rubbing her eyes. “That wasn’t just the demons, it was me, taking the easy route. I owe Rhonda an apology and to talk to her, find out what she wants. I’ll give her a divorce if she wants one.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Yes. Get dressed and come home with me,” Sheila said, staggering to her feet. Then she looked at Debbie. “Sorry, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I just need to see my place and I’m worried about going alone.”

“Of course,” Debbie said, groaning mentally as she threw off the throw.

 


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