Tuesday, 6PM ET
She was on her knees.
She could feel the stone under her knees.
It hurt, so that was real.
But where Rich had been, there was just . . .
No, not nothing, there was a black scorch mark.
And some of the rock had splintered upward, like the pitchfork rocks in the lake . . .
She turned her head slowly.
Nick was standing there, watching her, looming and terrifying, huge and lethal, those dark, hooded eyes fixed on her, the same guy she’d had breakfast with, the same guy . . .
Not the same guy.
He began to walk toward her, and she pulled back, and he stopped.
“I’m not going to hurt you, Nita,” he said, his voice the same low, steady sound it had always been.
That part of him that had always been real. His voice.
It was still him.
She just didn’t know who he was.
What he was.
She was pretty sure he wasn’t going to hurt her. If she did something bad, he’d burn her into a scorch mark, but she hadn’t done anything bad, so he wouldn’t.
“Nita?” He took a few steps closer.
When he was about six feet away, she sucked in her breath and he stopped again.
“Not going to hurt you,” he said again, but he was really big, and he looked kind of like that woodcut Button had showed her, and he had those eyes and those cheekbones that reminded her that he was really a skeleton and . . .
“You’re the Devil.”
He crouched down, his elbows on his knees, still six feet away. “Not yet, but I will be.”
“That thing you did. That’s what you did to my grandpa’s bear. Binky.”
“Yes.” His dark eyes watched her carefully.
“You sent Binky to Hell.”
“No. Binky is gone.”
Nita swallowed. “You sent Rich to Hell.”
“No. Rich is gone. He doesn’t exist in any dimension any more.”
“You killed him,” she said, trying to wrap her head around everything.
“I did worse than that,” he said, still watching her. “I erased him from existence. No spirit. No afterlife. He’s just gone.”
Nita swallowed again. “That’s bad.”
“Yes. It’s very bad.”
She took a deep breath. There was too much to deal with all at once. She just had to get things sorted. She just—
“Give me a minute here.”
He nodded and waited.
So first, everything he’d told her was true, she just had to accept that. It wasn’t new information, she just had to move it from the “that’s ridiculous” column in her brain to the “this is real” column. It wasn’t like she had to absorb all of that, she’d absorbed it, she just had to accept it.
And since there wasn’t any other choice, she accepted it.
“You’re the Devil. The next Devil. Jeo and Rab are demons. Hell is real.”
“And you’re dead.”
“Okay.” She let her breath out.
He started to speak, and she said, “Give me a minute,” and he stopped.
There were demons on her island.
Jeo and Rab were demons.
Rich had been a demon.
Mr. Lemmon was probably a demon.
Mr. Crome was looking iffy.
That meant Jimmy’s death was a whole new ballgame. Because the shooter in the SUV had been green, a demon.
And the guy who’d tried to kill her had been green, a demon. Anybody could be a demon.
She drew a long shuddering breath and Nick said, “Nita?”
“Give me a minute,” she said, and he waited.
But Rab and Jeo were demons and they were great. So there were good demons and bad demons which made them just a different color of people unless—
She met Nick’s eyes. “Can all demons smite?”
“No. Just Devils. And me.”
So there wasn’t going to be a rash of smitings on the island. That was good.
Nick had killed Rich.
That was bad.
“You killed Rich.”
She remember Rich aiming the gun at her, reaching for her, which seemed the most plausible of all the things that had happened, so there was that. “I went out with him once.”
“It didn’t work out. We weren’t the same kind of people.” She started to laugh and then bit her lip.
He stood up and came over to her, and she stayed on her knees, not looking up.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said, his voice steady as always. “But we have to get you back to town.”
Nita laughed and it didn’t sound right. “The Devil’s talking to me and saying ‘we.’ Who’d have thought I’d be a ‘we’ with the Devil?” She looked up at him then, into those dark dead eyes, shadowed by that broad body backlit by the sunset.
His eyes didn’t look so dead any more.
“You killed Rich to save me.”
She thought about it. “You should have kept him alive. He could have told you everything.”
She tried to put that together with everything else screaming in her head. “You gave up a chance to find the hellgate.”
He looked at her for a long while, and then he said, “You were more important than the hellgate.”
“Oh.” She thought about that, and then she picked up her baton and held up her hand, and he took it and pulled her to her feet.
His hand felt real, warm, strong, pulling her up. He looked almost real, more real than he had that first night in the bar. He did have a widow’s peak, after all. His ears were even sticking out a little now, and she held onto that detail because it made him more . . . human. You’re not perfect, your ears stick out, you’re human.
Dead, but human.
More important, he’d been honest with her all along.
And he’d saved her life.
And her island was in danger.
“Okay, then.” She let go of his hand. “Now we find who’s behind all of this and stop them.”
He shook his head. “Not we. Me. This is not–”
“Listen, buddy.” She poked her finger in the vicinity of his breastbone to make sure she hit something real. “This is my damn island and the Devil himself is not going to stop me from protecting it. Are you with me or not?”
He looked down at the finger poking into his shirt front. “So you’re feeling better.”
“Not really.” Nita pulled her hand back and saw it was shaking. “There will be screaming and sobbing later. But right now, I have to work my goddamn job. Are you with me?”
“Sure,” the Devil said. “Let’s clean up your island. But you will follow my lead and you will do what I say.”
“No way in Hell,” Nita said and started back down the path.