SUCCUBUS ON TOP

Georgina Kincaid, Book 2

Richelle Mead

To Heidi and John, for your unfailing friendship, generosity, and internet access. You are quite possibly the finest people I know.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

As always, no book could be written without the consistent love of my family and friends. Many thanks go out to my awesome beta readers: Michael, David, and Christina. Your patience and enthusiasm have kept me going through the Valley of the Shadow of Writer's Block, and no words I write can express what your support has meant to me.

Thanks also to my publishing team, agent Jim McCarthy and editor John Scognamiglio, who excel at (good) reality checks and flexible deadlines. You guys keep me on the straight and narrow, despite my best efforts.

Finally, I'll always be grateful to my darling eighth graders who were so generous about letting me retire from teaching in order to finish this book. I wish you all the best and can't wait until you're old enough to actually read the stuff I write.

CHAPTER 1

Demons are scary.

No matter what religion or walk of life you come from, this remains pretty constant. Oh sure, they have their absurd moments—especially in the circles I run with—but all in all, people have good reason to fear and avoid hell's diabolical servants. They're cruel and merciless, delight in pain and suffering, and torture souls in their free time. They lie. They steal. They cheat on their taxes.

Yet, in spite of all that, I couldn't help but think I was about to witness the most terrifying demonic act yet.

An awards ceremony. For me.

Horatio, vice demon of such-and-such division of Infernal Affairs, stood before me, trying to impart an air of solemnity to the moment and failing miserably. I suspected his sky blue polyester suit and matching paisley bow tie were largely to blame. The sideburns didn't help either. He probably hadn't left the inner circles of hell in about six centuries, back around the last time sky blue polyester was in style.

With a too-long clearing of his throat, he glanced back and forth between those gathered, verifying we were all paying attention. My supervisor Jerome stood nearby, looking utterly bored, occasionally glancing at his watch. Beside him, Horatio's impish assistant Kasper grinned from ear to ear. A briefcase sat on the floor near him, and he clutched an assortment of papers. The eager, suck-up, lapdog look on his face indicated a burning desire for promotion.

As for me…well, I was fighting a hard battle to look excited too—and failing. Which was unacceptable, of course. I'm a succubus. My entire existence relies on making people—men in particular—believe and see what they want to in me. I can switch from simpering virgin to sultry dominatrix in a heartbeat. All it takes is a bit of shape- shifting and a dash of playacting. I'd picked up the former ability when I traded away my human soul; I'd acquired the latter over time. After all, you can't spend centuries telling every guy, 'Yeah baby, you were the best I've ever had' and not learn a little something about schmoozing. Myths may paint us as ethereal, demonic creatures of pleasure, but honestly, being a succubus just comes down to a convincing poker face and a good sales pitch.

So, really, this awards thing shouldn't have been a problem for me. But Horatio wasn't making it easy to keep a straight face.

'Verily, it gives me great honor to be here today,' he intoned in a nasal, baritone voice.

Verily?

'Hard work is what makes us great, and we gather here now to recognize one who has. shown dedication and given her all to the Greater Evil. Such individuals are what make us strong, what will allow us to win in this immense battle when all tallies are counted at the end of time. Such individuals are worthy of our esteem, and we strive to reward their commitment, letting all know just how important it is to push hard against the odds and fight for our objectives in these difficult times. '

He then added: 'Whereas those who do not work hard are cast into the fiery pits of despair, to burn for all eternity and be ripped asunder by the hounds of hell.'

I opened my mouth, on the verge of noting how that would be more cost effective than severance pay, but Jerome caught my eye and shook his head.

Meanwhile, Horatio had nudged Kasper, and the imp hastily handed over a gold embossed certificate. 'It is therefore with great pleasure that I present unto you this Award of Achievement for Excellently Exceeding and Surpassing Requisite Succubus Quotas in this Most Recent Quarter. Congratulations.'

Horatio shook my hand and handed me the certificate, which had been signed by about fifty different people.

  This Certifies that:

LETHA (alias Georgina Kincaid), Succubus in the Archdiocese of Seattle, Washington, United States of America, North America, Earth, has hereby Excellently Exceeded and Surpassed Requisite Succubus Quotas in this Most Recent Quarter, demonstrating outstanding performance in seduction, damnation, and corruption of human souls.

 Everyone looked at me when I finished reading, so I supposed they expected some kind of speech or something. Mostly I was wondering if I'd get in trouble for trimming this down to fit an eight-by-ten frame.

'Urn, thanks. This is…cool.'

That seemed to satisfy Horatio. He nodded smartly, then shot a glance to Jerome.

'You must be so proud.'

'Exceptionally,' murmured the archdemon, stifling a yawn.

Horatio turned back to me. 'Keep up the good work. You might find yourself in line for promotion to the corporate level.'

As if giving my soul away wasn't already bad enough. I forced a smile.

'Well. There's still so much to do here.'

'Excellent attitude. Most excellent. You've done well with her.' He gave Jerome a chummy pat on the back, something my boss did not look happy about at all. He didn't really like friendly pats. Or being touched, period. 'Well, if there's nothing more, I should probably—oh, I nearly forgot.'

Horatio turned to Kasper. The imp handed over something else to his master.

'These are for you. As a token of our appreciation.'

He gave me a gift card for Applebee's, as well as some Blockbuster free-rental coupons. Jerome and I both stared for a moment, dumbstruck.

'Wow,' I finally said. The runner-up for this award probably got a gift card for Sizzler. Never doubt that second place really is the first loser.

Horatio and Kasper vanished. Jerome and I stood in silence for a few moments.

'You like riblets, Jerome?'

'Droll, very droll,Georgie.' He strolled around my living room, pretending to study my books and artwork. 'Nice job with the quota thing. Of course, it's easy to excel when you're starting at zero, huh?'

I shrugged and tossed the certificate on my kitchen counter. 'Does it really matter? Still gets you the laurels.

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