I am pleased to announce that Whatever for Hire: a Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) is now available for preorder on Preorder on Amazon, iBooks, Nook, and Kobo for $0.99. While it will be released as an independent feature in mid 2018, preordering it now will get it for you on January 9, 2018 as part of the Sigils & Spells boxed set.
I never should’ve named my one-woman mercenary gig Whatever for Hire. People took the name literally, which explained why I was stuck up in a tree fetching a cat. If I’d been thinking, I would’ve refused Miss Angorra’s fifty dollars, leaving her precious kitty Mistoffelees to fend for herself and climb out of the tree without my help.
Instead of taking her money, I should’ve told her to learn how to spell and run for it. Mephistopheles really didn’t like when people screwed his name up. Call him the devil, call him Satan, or call him Lucifer; he didn’t care as long as you spelled his name right. Nothing pissed off the Lord of Hell quite as much as someone calling him Satin.
It happened, too. I’d been there when an idiot thought it’d be funny to invoke Satan’s name in some graffiti. It hadn’t ended well for him. Mephistopheles had appeared, wrapped the poor sod up in satin, and lit him on fire, screaming something in German about the importance of education while I’d watched, my mouth gaping open like an idiot.
I’d learned an important lesson that day: forget summoning circles. If I wanted a quick chat with the devil himself, all I needed to do was get some glitter and write his name in it—spelled wrong. He’d light my ass on fire, but he’d probably let me live to tell the tale so others would learn from my mistake.
For some reason I couldn’t fathom, the devil liked me.
Mistoffelees mewed, and I was willing to bet my soul the eight pound ball of white fluff was scolding me for not getting her out of the tree faster. Cats. Couldn’t live with them, and no, no matter what people liked to say, I could easily live without them.
“Oh, Mistoffelees,” Miss Angorra wailed. “Come home to Mommy.”
The cat hissed, and I didn’t blame her one bit. No sane being wanted to run around named—incorrectly—after the devil. It courted trouble.
“All right, kitty. We can do this the hard way or the easy way. Pick.”
Mistoffelees climbed higher into the sap-oozing pine. Why make it easy for me to pocket some change for once in my life? Asshole cat. “I’ll get glitter, and so help me, kitty, I’ll write your name in it. And when the devil shows up, I’m going to blame you. Sure, he might kill me over it, but it might be worth it. Do you really have to start shit?”
With a defiant flick of her tail, Mistoffelees climbed higher. Yep. Kitty was starting shit just because she could. How repulsively cat-like of her. “Come on, Mistoffelees. Not today. Please, not today. Let’s cut a deal. Take a rain check on tree climbing, and I’ll get you some treats. I’ll give you a five percent cut, paid out in treats, if you come down from there right now.”
Mistoffelees rejected my generous offer and ascended to parts of the pine I couldn’t reach, not while human. Damn it. I didn’t want to strip and shift. The resulting disaster, which involved two cats stuck up in a tree, would either make me a laughing stock or prime target for Miss Angorra, who probably hoarded cats and deluded herself into believing they liked her.
Maybe if I could control my shifts, things wouldn’t be so bad. I could always shift, but I played Russian roulette with the results. I blamed my father’s side of the family for that; Ruska Roma to the core, he’d wandered his way to Egypt, seduced my mother, and wandered off wherever it was gypsies roamed after making their conquests.
Most often than not, I ended up a sex kitten with killer six-inch heels, gypsy bells, a deep diving, too tight blouse, and a satin sari skirt that even accommodated my furry tail. On a good day, I got wings to go with my feline head, perfect ears, human body, and clawed hands. Well, as close to a human body as someone with silky black fur got. Back in Egypt, my mother might’ve even approved. What self-respecting Egyptian woman didn’t want to be the splitting image of Bastet but better dressed?
I wasn’t a very good Egyptian or Ruska Roma; coming to America as an abandoned infant ensured that.
To add insult to injury, when my shifts went bad, they went really bad. The real Bastet could kick my ass in a fight, as my big, bad lioness warrior form weighed in at forty whole pounds. A Maine Coon could beat the shit out of me, and the average dog viewed me as a snack.
No, if I shifted, I wanted my sphinx form. First, I could fly. Second, I could fly. Hell, did the rest even matter?
I could fly.
On the plus side, weighing six hundred pounds came in useful at times, as did my enhanced hearing, eyesight, sense of smell and taste, and my beautiful black fur and ivory wings. But when I boiled it down? If I had to go through the hassle of shifting, I wanted to touch the sky, flying as high as possible because I could.
I blamed the cat in me.
I hated cats sometimes.
“Don’t make me do this,” I begged.
Mistoffelees hissed at me and disappeared higher into the pine. Yep, the damned cat was going to make me do it. Closing my eyes, I sighed and contemplated summoning His Most Indignant Majesty, Lord Satin of Hell. Shit, Satan. Lord Satan of Hell. It didn’t count if I didn’t write it down, did it?
Then again, death was a far better fate than endless humiliation. Regretting the day I had founded Whatever for Hire, I stripped so I could shift.
* * *
Very little sucked more than trying to navigate pine branches while rocking glittery red heels. In a way, I had lucked out; they were only three inches tall. The shifting process had gone by with relative ease, dressing me in a satin sari skirt a match for my shoes, although instead of adhering to the glitter motif, I wore a cascading silver coin belt, the kind bellydancers attached to their costumes. Since jingling from my hips wasn’t bad enough, I had bells tied around my wrists and ankles, too. To add to my woes, my red-satin blouse was decorated with even more coins, drawing attention to my cleavage.
Damn it, why couldn’t sex kitten me have reasonable breasts? My usual c cup was bad enough, but I really didn’t need the headache of dealing with double ds. I wanted my smaller, almost manageable breasts back. Flattening my ears, I lifted my head and hissed at Mistoffelees.
The cat hissed back.
“Oh my word!” Miss Angorra squealed from below. “Well I never.”
If the woman even thought about uttering a single word from the musical she’d thieved her cat’s name from, I’d catch Mistoffelees so I could either throw her at her owner or find a more dignified human to care for her. If the cat insisted on evading me, she wouldn’t like the express trip she’d take out of the tree, that was for certain.
“You wouldn’t actually do that,” the unfortunately silky, satiny, and sexily smooth voice of His Most Indignant Majesty cooed in my ear.
Then the bastard pulled my tail.
I roared, my fur sticking up on end. Mistoffelees yowled, and for the first time in my life, I witnessed a cat faint. If I’d been alone, Miss Angorra’s beloved feline would’ve splattered on the ground fifty feet below. Lord Satan plucked the falling furball out of the air, and I glimpsed a glimmer of gold out of the corner of my eye. A moment later, I wore the feline draped across the back of my neck.
Since pulling my tail wasn’t enough to please the devil, he squeezed my ass.
I mule kicked him, and the devil grunted. When I wasn’t incinerated along with the tree and the cat, I kicked him again to make sure Mephistopheles kept his distance. “It’s my lucky day. Lord Satin of Hell has visited me.”
Today was the day my mouth would finally get me killed, but if I were going to go out, I’d go out with a bang. As far as obituaries went, death at Satan’s hand tended to turn heads.
“You know, I have a fondness for cats. They’re delightfully rebellious creatures. Only a cat could get away with calling me Satin. Well, and my wife. My wife calls me whatever she wants, and I’m supposed to shut up and like it. I’m absolutely positive this’ll shock you, but I don’t listen very well. Maybe that’s why I like cats. We have a lot in common.”
“Tell you what, Lord Satin of Hell. You run on home and stop groping my ass, and I won’t tell your wife you groped my ass.” I thought the arrangement was a good one; I lived, his wife was none the wiser for Satan’s demonic and completely expected behavior, and he returned to Hell where he belonged. It didn’t matter I hadn’t known Mephistopheles was married. I meant to seize the advantage, and I was willing to bet his wife was one hell of a woman who’d kick her husband’s ass for showing affection to my ass rather than hers.
“That she is, and right you are,” the devil agreed. “Let’s bargain, cupcake. My wife’ll string me up by my wings if she finds out I couldn’t resist that satin-clad tail you’re packing. You’re going to make a man real happy one day, little lady. You should be proud of that tail of yours. It’s top grade. Anyway, if you don’t want me striking you dead from this tree for calling me Satin in the first place, you need to do me a favor.”
There was no way in hell—Hell, even, or anywhere else for that matter—I’d do Satan a favor. I’d rather die first. Death would give my soul a chance to go somewhere other than hell to end up Satan’s eternal toy. “I don’t do favors, Beetlebub.”
“Beelzebub,” he snarled.
“So sorry, Manifesto.”
“Damn it. I’m sorry, Lucy.” If I were going to die anyway, I’d get in a few last jabs first. “If you want me to work for you, you need to pay me. None of this favors bullshit. Fair pay and right of refusal. Refusal means I can say no if I don’t like the job, for those of us who are contractually impaired. I mean you.”
“Do you remember what happened the last time a mortal called me Satin, cupcake?”
“Sure. You wrapped him in satin and lit him on fire. That charming memory’s the whole damned reason you’re here. Jesus. A girl slips once and look what happens—all hell breaks loose. All I wanted was to fetch a damned cat out of a tree.”
“You have no idea what self-preservation is, do you? I’ll buy you a dictionary for Christmas so you can look it up.”
“How sweet. Satan observes his rival’s birthday. That’s so civilized. Anyway, I’m up a tree arguing with the ass-groping devil. What do you think? If you want a favor, pay me a fair wage for the work. There are easier ways to hire me than harassing me in a tree, by the way. You could call me. Try it some time. I’ll even answer my phone.”
I always answered my phone because I couldn’t afford Caller ID.
“How is it you survived to be thirty-seven?” Lord Satin of Hell sighed.
“Hell if I know. Frankly, I’m surprised I made it past birth. I’m pretty sure if my mother had had anything to say about it, she would’ve drowned me the instant I drew my first breath. It’s the whole resenting having slept with a gypsy thing. Long story.” I turned my attention back to my work, which involved an unconscious cat draped across the back of my neck. How was I supposed to get her down without dropping her?
Maybe I’d done a shitty job at naming my business, but I could improvise with the best of them. First, I needed my jeans. With my jeans, I could get us both out of the tree alive. “Hey, Lord Satan of Hell, Your Most Magnificent and Sulfury Majesty, please pass me my pants.”
The invisible bastard pressed me against the tree trunk, making it pretty clear that Her Royal Hellish Majesty was a really lucky lady. Since it counted as rude to yell at him for doing what I asked of him, I kept my mouth shut.
Satan gave me my pants, and since I wasn’t going anywhere with the devil pinning me to a tree, I went to work, tying the legs together so I could fashion an impromptu cat carrier. Grabbing the white feline by her scruff, I stuffed her in my jeans, made sure she wasn’t going anywhere, and slung her under my arm. “Thanks, Lord Satan.”
“So, about that favor.”
“Now look here, Kanika!”
“No. Pay me.” I slinked away from the Lord of Hell with Mistoffelees contained in her jeans prison, her little nose peeking out from the denim. “I didn’t summon you. I didn’t ask for your help. You saved the cat of your own volition. I demanded, you obeyed, so I’m under no obligation to do anything for you.”
It sucked to be the devil, but I’d seen him bargain before. I was a lot of things, but I wasn’t usually stupid. Usually. I had my moments, but when it came to him, I needed to play it smart or I’d end up dead. Enslaved for the rest of eternity was also a possibility, one I hoped to avoid. I eased my foot onto the branch beneath me, tested my weight, and when it held, I worked my way down and out of Satan’s easy reach.
If he wanted me, he’d have to chase me down, and Mephistopheles was a lot of things, but he had a severe case of lazy when it came to mortals beneath his notice.
I hesitated. “What?”
“That branch is going to break.”
Since when did the devil give away anything for free, including advice? Startled, I jerked my head up. A faint golden shimmer betrayed the Lord of Hell’s approach. A moment later, he took Miss Angorra’s cat. “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?”
The devil laughed. The branch broke beneath my heels, and I fell from my lofty perch with an undignified yowl.
* * *
Most cats landed on their feet. I bellyflopped, thoroughly tenderized after smacking into every branch on the way down. The Lord of Hell laughed in my ear, set Mistoffelees on my back, and whispered, “I’ll call you, cupcake.”
“Please don’t,” I groaned. “Ever.” I shouldn’t have wasted my breath. The devil was already gone.
“Mistoffelees!” Miss Angorra wailed, scooping her cat off my back. The animal hissed her displeasure. “My darling angel.”
I suspected the woman had more issues than a posse of psychiatrists could handle. I shuddered, my breath wheezing as my chest and ribs protested their close introduction with the hard-packed ground. Would my insurance cover injuries sustained while retrieving a cat out of a tree? Probably not. “That’ll be fifty dollars, please.”
While I liked cash, I preferred when my clients handed it to me rather than dumping it on the ground in the general vicinity of my outstretched hand. She did get points for prompt payment, though.
“Oh, don’t forget your things, cupcake.” My real clothes, wallet, and cell phone materialized beside me. “You might want to get your ribs looked at. One’s close to poking a hole in something rather important to you mortal types.”
“Thanks, Satin. Appreciated. You’re just swell.”
“It’d be a pity if you died before you’re useful to me. You know how it goes.”
“Sure. I get it. You’re still paying me, though.”
“What a bother. Very well. Your hospital fees—all of them for the next six months—will be your retainer fee. A hundred an hour for your work, including travel time. You can even keep your precious right of refusal if you absolutely must. Final offer. I suggest you take it. You’ll appreciate the retainer fee, trust me. Since I’m such a generous soul, our arrangement will be effective starting now.”
“You have a soul?”
The devil sighed. “My wife told you to say that, didn’t she?”
Did I even know the devil’s wife? Huh. If I did, I’d have to have a long talk with her about better leashing her wayward husband so he wouldn’t bother me as much. “Your wife’s probably crying into her beer since she has to put up with you for the rest of eternity.”
“Well, she’s the only one to agree to marry me. The rest wisely ran away. Do we have a deal, Kanika? Also, you need a last name. You also need a middle name. A good Russian girl like yourself has three names. You have one. Get on the ball. Three names, Kanika—pick two, any two, but give yourself a proper name.”
“No, Satin. I’m not picking extra names because of your delicate sensibilities are offended.” Even if he wanted me to name myself in the Egyptian way, following my mother’s culture, I wouldn’t exist, not on paper. The Egyptian government often refused to issue birth certificates to children without fathers in the family. In reality, I suspected the prejudices my mother had faced because of her pregnancy with me had led her to shipping me off to America to live with my aunt, who disliked me almost as much as my mother did.
According to my aunt, Egyptians valued marriage above all else. For some, I supposed it meant family was a serious affair, one not taken lightly. For me, it meant a living nightmare. At least in America, I had a birth certificate, although I legally only had one name. I liked it that way, even though it made people rather uncomfortable when they learned I lacked a surname.
“I wasn’t asking you to name yourself in the Egyptian tradition, Kanika, but even if I did, I’d only ask you to go back a couple of generations. Or even one. I’d accept one. Couldn’t you take your mother’s family’s name? I thought the Russian way would be easier on you. You’d be properly American.” The Lord of Hell hummed. “We are in America, right?”
I sighed. Why, exactly, would I want to take my mother’s family’s name? The devil needed a reality check—or a swift kick in the ass. If I met his wife, I’d have to suggest she act on my behalf. “We’re in Tennessee. Yes, Tennessee is in America.”
“Ah, good. It’s annoying when I get turned around, think I’m in America but have found my way to Argentina instead. Anyway, do we have a deal, Kanika?”
“I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?”
“Of course you will. I’m the devil.”
For a hundred an hour plus hospital expenses, I could live with a few—even a many—regrets. “Sure, Lord Satin. We have a deal.”
“Damned cats,” the devil muttered, then he left with a faint pop and a golden flash of light. I lifted my head to discover Miss Angorra had wandered away, probably headed home with her poor cat. The distant wail of a siren promised more suffering, but I’d endure as always. What else could I do?
I needed to work to eat, and I needed my ribs and my internal organs to work, so I waited patiently for the ambulance to arrive.