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It began with a woman, a very special woman, one who could look into the heart of even the Dark Lord himself and see something redeemable, something worthy of love, even when she was given the means to destroy him.
Dr. Jane Halloran's new psychiatric patient, Lucas Beal, interested her like no other. Whereas a God complex was relatively run of the mill, not many clients proclaimed themselves to be the Devil himself... and then proceeded to prove it to her, until the very prim and proper Ms. Halloran found herself willing to give up everything she had to be with him - with the being he had presented himself to her as.
But Lucas knew that if she ever saw the reality of who and what he was, he would lose her forever, yet he had no choice but to do so by the terms of the bargain.
So he took matters into his own hands to save the woman he had come to love from a fate worse than Death.
He ought to know.
A voice boomed through the darkness, sounding remarkably like thunder. “Her.”
“That one?” he repeated, pointing at a vivacious redhead, as lightning crackled to the Earth from his fingertip. She would be almost too easy. Her mind was in the gutter more often than not. Easy pickings.
“No, the one with her.”
“The one with the hair scraped away from her face?” he asked incredulously.
“Having second thoughts?”
He was, but he wasn’t about to admit it. “No, of course not,” he answered without a second of hesitation.
“Want to chicken out?”
As his eyebrow rose at his rival, several tornadoes touched down on the hapless, helpless ground below. “No. Do you?”
“No, but then, you’re going to be doing all the work, and you have the most to lose.”
He’d do it, but he wouldn’t like it, he thought. Until he took a better look at her and realized that, although she might be a tough nut to crack in the beginning, she’d be worth any effort � much more so than the redhead.
His growl sent a typhoon spinning through the warm waters of the Pacific. “She’s mine.”
“Dr. Beal.” She reached out her hand to have it engulfed by a masculine one that was at least twice its size, maybe more, pumped politely twice, then let go.
Jane had never been startled by a handshake, but she was by this one, and it threw her for a moment. She didn’t like shaking hands in the first place, but it was a necessary social interaction that she routinely had to force herself to do. She didn’t want to be hugged either, preferring not to be touched much by anyone who wasn’t very close to her.
But for the few seconds that he had a hold of her hand, she felt as if she was experiencing her first hot flash, although she was much too young for that. Of even more concern, though, was the fact that the heat was laced around the edges with an unmistakable, but almost frightening, charge of pure, sexual pleasure. She wasn’t one who was much given to flights of fancy, and what her mind � and body � registered during that brief physical encounter put her just slightly off kilter. She would never allow it to get any further.
On top of that, though, was the fact that his physical appearance wasn’t at all what she had expected. Patients with delusions of grandeur rarely fit the look of whomever it was that they saw themselves as. She’d worked with a client who was six foot seven inches who thought he was Napoleon, and a tiny young woman who weighed no more than ninety pounds and thought she was Xena the Warrior Princess.
While neither of those were Lucas Beal’s particular delusion, he didn’t fit the bill regardless. He was well over six feet and solidly built. Most of his nicely sculpted muscles were well defined beneath his baby blue golf shirt and almost carefully worn jeans � a conservative looking outfit at first, until one realized that the material hugged him to an nearly obscene point, revealing much more of him than it actually covered.
He had a full, quite short crop of nearly strawberry blond hair, that on most other men would have made him look effeminate, but even Jane � who was usually oblivious to such things and preferred it that way � knew that no one in their right mind would ever be able to apply that label to the man who was standing in front of her.
All at once she realized that her mouth, which, to her horror, had been gaping open, was suddenly parched. Jane cleared her throat and looked away � at anything other than him. Her body flushed again, first red � which she knew he couldn’t possibly miss as much as she tried to hide it from him � settling then into a white-hot ache that licked around her breasts and delved boldly between her thighs.
She wished that she’d worn a pants suit today rather than the unusually short skirt and blouse that she’d chosen on a whim this morning. Her voice came out as a husky whisper at first, until she realized how that must’ve sounded to him as she invited, “Please, sit down. Make yourself comfortable.” She was able to corral her runaway emotions long enough, though, that by the end she sounded much more like herself and less like a phone sex operator. Still, she was mortified at how throaty she’d sounded at the beginning.
Her eyes darted to his face, and she noted that the slightly amused expression he had been wearing when she’d answered the door hadn’t wavered, until his almost smile became a sardonic one as he considered his options for sitting.
“What, no couch?”
His tone invited her to laugh with him at that idea, and she couldn’t stop herself from doing so, although she tamped it down as much as she could. She tried not to be too chummy with her clients. She was a professional, and she was there to help them � not be their best friend.
“I abhor clich�s.” Why that fell out of her mouth unbidden, she would never know. She wasn’t in the habit of revealing much about herself in session, either. Her patients weren’t there to hear her talk about herself � not that there was much to say, regardless, but still. She tried assiduously to keep from interjecting her own experiences into their time together, not only because she was an intensely private person, but also because she didn’t feel it would help.
She didn’t have much of an ego about herself in any quarter, except when it came to her work. She knew that she did a damned good job with most of those who came to see her. She’d never given up on one like Sarah Clarke had � which was how she’d ended up seeing the man who was sitting in her office, staring at her with an expression that was, at the same time, starkly blank and yet still curious, somehow.
And that same feeling, the one that hadn’t even really begun to die down yet, that she had gotten when they had touched for the first time in the most perfunctory of ways, came back a thousand times stronger. It nearly knocked the breath from her as that rush of insidious, insistent ecstasy raced through her blood, peaking her nipples and plumping her lips, moistening her for his inevitable possession.
Finally he looked away and she was able to recover somewhat. She wasn’t used to having to exert herself to overcome such wild flights of fancy as she seemed subject to with him, but she did it, imposing her will with iron resolve until her pulse was almost back to normal.
Refusing to allow him to disconcert her, Jane grabbed her legal pad and a pen off her desk and sat in a chair that was just to one side of him. She didn’t like to have her clients staring at her while they were supposed to be thinking about themselves, and she recognized that it was going to be doubly true with this man.
Another smile crossed his face, but she noted that it wasn’t reflected in those startlingly blue eyes. “You prefer to be old school, huh?” She raised her eyebrow back at him, and he nodded his head, elaborating, “No iPad, no tablet, or a laptop or even just a voice recorder.”
Crossing her legs and barely able to resist the urge to tug her skirt down, Jane refused to allow herself to return his smile. “Habit, I guess, Dr. Beal.”
“Please, call me Luke. And what should I call you?”
Her standard response was “Dr. Halloran”; always had been, always would be. A certain professional distance must be maintained. She didn’t have any idea why she thought that she needed to change that policy for him. But, in a split second decision, as she felt her nipples again tighten beneath her blouse, while his eyes landed on her like the familiar caress of a lover, she replied, “Jane would be fine, if you like,” daring him to comment on the slight quiver in her voice.
“Thank you, Jane.” He acknowledged her break in protocol as if he recognized its import to her, the corners of his all too full lips curling up only slightly, as if gently mocking the rigidity of her rules despite his grave tone.
She took a deep breath, determined to keep herself ruthlessly in check as she always did. But she quickly realized that she had made a mistake, when her lungs filled with the scent of his aftershave. It was much lighter than most of the other scents that she’d encountered, which tended to be too heavy handed with musk for her tastes. His was just perfect, light and enticing.
Too much so for her comfort, just like the rest of him.
What the hell was going on? She was never this distracted with a patient � not the suicidal or even the homicidal. And she’d certainly never allowed herself to become aroused by... well, much of anyone, really, but especially not a client.
Clearing her throat again, Jane concentrated on putting his name and the date of his appointment at the top of the page. “I understand that you had been speaking with Dr. Clarke. How long did you see her?”
“A month or so. I believe we had three appointments altogether.”
“Is Dr. Clarke all right? She left our last appointment rather abruptly, and now I guess I’m seeing you.”
Jane shrugged. “She’s fine as far as I know.” She didn’t socialize much with her coworkers, or anyone else, for that matter.
“Any idea why she dropped me? I mean, not that I object to you, but I’d like to know if there was something that I said or did that upset her � whether or not I need to apologize to her for something.”
“I’m sure that won’t be necessary, Dr.�”
His eyebrow rose and he inclined his head a bit. Those were the only outward signs of his displeasure with her for not remembering that he had told her to call him Luke. But they were more than enough. She felt as if she had been scolded quite thoroughly, and yet he hadn’t said a word to her.
“Lucas,” she whispered awkwardly around the newest blush she couldn’t keep from spreading over her face, once it had already invaded the rest of her body, especially her most sensitive parts.
Then she did something that she absolutely hated to do, only because she knew she’d lose her job if she didn’t. She told him that she had no idea why he wasn’t seeing Dr. Clarke any longer, when she knew very well that his previous therapist had pleaded with their boss to remove him from her client list because she found him “creepy”.
Hell, Jane didn’t think she’d ever had a client that didn’t have some creepy element somewhere in their makeup. It was a part of the job, and, although she strove not to be judgmental, she thought that Sarah was a bit of a wuss for giving up on her patient like that.
As soon as she said the words and as surely as she recognized and avoided her own darkest desires, Jane knew that he knew that she was lying. It was a subtle subtext of communication between them: that she was going to tell him this bland, white lie and he was going to let her and not make too much of a fuss about it.
Why she had the bone deep feeling that lying to him wasn’t at all a good idea, she didn’t know. But, since it wasn’t something she made a habit of doing for any reason, she sloughed the uncomfortable feeling off in favor of pressing ahead. She didn’t have much to go on; Sarah’s notes about Luke were the barest � really no more than the usual basic personal information. Not everyone worked to her standards, she supposed, but his folder was pitifully lacking. There wasn’t even a description of what the patient’s problem was. She was going to have to have a word about this with the founder of the practice and their boss, Richard Cranmer.
“So what brings you in, Lucas?”
She only meant to dart a look at him, but his eyes locked to hers, and she lost all semblance of control over her body again. “I’ve been feeling not quite myself lately.”
Jane frowned as she did her best not to squirm in her seat, with only moderate success, she was appalled to realize. “How so?”
“Did you speak with Sarah about me at all?”
“No, we weren’t able to connect.” Now that wasn’t a lie. She had called, texted and emailed Sarah, wanting to get more insight into what the patient’s condition was before she met him, but she’d never received a response to any of her inquiries. Nothing. Not even a “Sorry, I’m not willing to discuss it.” Just silence, even though Jane knew Sarah continued to come in to see her own clients. She had noticed that Sarah wasn’t here this morning, though, and Jane wouldn’t have been surprised if she was deliberately absent while Lucas was here.
Perhaps it was a case of ‘psychiatrist heal thyself’ rather than anything Lucas had done or said.
Lucas leaned forward in the chair and tented his fingers. “I’m going to tell you who I am now � notice how I didn’t say ‘who I think I am’ � and you’re going to know for sure that I’m crazy. And I’m not here for you to change what you’ll think is my delusion, although I know you’re not going to be able to resist trying to do so anyway. I’ll tell you why I’m here in my own good time.”
There it was again. Her eyes had settled onto his casually, and yet she now felt she wasn’t physically capable of moving them. It was if she had blinders on and her head was in some kind of vice or something � not painful, just implacable � and the only place that she could look was into those hard blue eyes.
“I’m the Devil.”
He released her then, and it felt just like that. She had been fighting to regain control of her own eyes and head, of her own body. She literally felt him flip an invisible switch of sorts and she was immediately free to look anywhere she wanted. And, of course, now the only place she wanted to look was at him.
It was her turn to half smile at him. This wasn’t all that uncommon a delusion, although most people, in her experience, went the other way and fancied themselves to be God or Jesus Christ or whoever their ‘good’ deity was. Turning to the dark side, as it were, wasn’t all that unheard of, though. It was often the result of horrible and sustained trauma, usually during early childhood.
“I had two wonderful parents. I grew up surrounded by love in a town that was shockingly close to Mayberry. There was no abuse of any kind in my past. None. I have a sister whom I love dearly. She lives in Michigan, with my brother-in-law and my two nephews.”
Often patients suppressed unpleasant events from the past�
“There is absolutely no physical evidence of any kind of abuse, and I was taken to the doctor regularly throughout my childhood. It was a small town � I bet he still has my records if you’d like me to get them. I’m sure that he would have noted any kind of bruising. He was almost as thorough at his job as you are at yours.”
Jane ignored the compliment. “What about your parents? Any abuse between them � physical, emotional, sexual?”
“My parents had a great marriage � they were in love with each other until the day they died.” As if he was reading her thoughts, he added, “And no, I didn’t kill them. They died five years apart almost to the day. My dad went first, suddenly, of a heart attack. I was in Fresno at the time and flew home. My mom died later of a broken heart. My sister and I were home with her, and she died in our arms.”
Jane noted that, although his voice had gotten softer, there was precious little other evidence that he had any feelings for his parents at all. He had said that his parents were wonderful, but he hadn’t said that he’d loved them. There were not even crocodile tears forming in his eyes.
He produced several pieces of paper and handed them to her. “These are the coroners’ reports for both deaths. I had nothing to do with them.”
If he was truly who he said he was � which was, of course, ridiculous � then she would have argued further with him about the idea that the Devil wouldn’t need to be present to kill someone. But Jane didn’t want to challenge his delusion so soon when she didn’t know him that well. Personal safety was definitely a consideration in this type of situation. “How old are you?”
When he didn’t answer, she looked up from the pad and he had that sardonic grin on his face again. “I think that depends on what religion you subscribe to.”
“Are you married?”
He chuckled. “Perhaps named Damien?”
She looked confused, and he was surprised that she didn’t get the cultural reference. “The Omen movies in the seventies?” he prompted.
“Ah. I’m not much for horror movies, myself, although I recall it vaguely.” Something she remembered � barely � about that story prompted her next question. “So, if you’re the Devil, then you should have a six-six-six tattoo on the back of your skull, right?”
“If that movie is correct, then, yes.” He again locked her eyes to his. “Would you like to take a look?”
Before Jane had a chance to say yes or no, he was crouched in front of her, yet still managed to be taller than she was. His hair was short enough that she could see his skull and he very carefully showed it to her from every possible angle. There was nothing there at all, not that she had thought for one moment that there would be.
He rose slowly and turned to look at her as he walked backwards to regain his seat. “Of course, it’s kind of like vampire lore � it varies from writer to writer, sect to sect.”
“Many religions don’t even believe in you.”
He shrugged. “And yet, here I am.”
As she scribbled notes, she asked, “So, as the Devil, you have superpowers?”
“I can do things that humans cannot, yes.”
Just when he was sure that she was going to ask him to do something to prove what he was saying, like change wine back into water, she threw a curve ball at him. “Have you ever had a girlfriend, Lucas?”
“No, I have not.” He didn’t seem to be in the least uncomfortable having admitted that, which was highly unusual for a man.
Chuckling, he replied, “No, but if it helps you, if I was to have either, it would definitely be a girlfriend.”
Jane took a moment to digest everything that he’d said. She found silence could be very helpful in session sometimes. It often brought out things from people that they were hiding because they wanted to fill the conversational void. But that didn’t work with him, apparently. He seemed perfectly content to spend the rest of the hour mute.
“You said you didn’t come here to have me change your delusion. Then why are you here?”
Those riveting blue eyes settled on her heavily � and although the sexual energy was definitely there, it wasn’t as blatant as it had been � and it was his turn to not speak. “Are you familiar with Greek mythology?” he asked finally.
Jane frowned. “I took the requisite classes in college. I don’t remember much of it.”
“Does the name Persephone ring a bell with you?”
Not used to being quizzed while she was with a patient � she was always the one asking the questions, not answering them � Jane tried to reach back to college, but for her, if it wasn’t pertinent to her major, she only learned enough of it to pass the class. Almost fifteen years later, nothing came to mind. She shook her head. “No, I’m sorry.”
He smiled almost gently. “Don’t be. I don’t think many people could come up with it. Persephone was the goddess of springtime, the daughter of Demeter, who was the goddess of the harvest, and Zeus.”
“The story goes that as she was romping through a meadow one day, she was kidnapped.”
His words � delivered in a low, soft rumble � jogged her memory and she knew before he said it what he was going to say.
“By Hades, the god of the underworld.”
Every nerve in her body went on alert, even though she knew that the building had excellent security for just this reason, and he would likely not get out alive. The problem was that there was a very good chance that neither would she.
Proud of how calm her voice sounded, Jane asked, “So, are you here to kidnap me?”
He smiled slightly. “If I were, you’d already be gone.”
Somehow, she didn’t know why, that made her feel infinitely better. “Oh, that’s right. Superpowers, and all.”
Her tone was dismissive, but he understood why and didn’t take offense.
“So... where’s the analogy?”
In an instant, literally before she even knew it, she found herself perched on his lap in his chair. One minute she was sitting in relative safety, ten or so feet from him, and the next thing she knew, she could feel his very blatant arousal pressing against her bottom. She had no memory of what had transpired in the instant in between there and here because it had happened before her mind had a chance to register the reality of it.
His arms held her there without hurting her in the least, but when she flexed experimentally, seeing just how free she was � or wasn’t � she found she could barely move.
“Although I’m not going to drag you away to my underworld lair, exactly, Hades and I do have something in common: we’re both in the market for a bride.”