I follow him into the room with the others, and Jude’s eyes rake over me as Ezekiel hands me a bagel. I take it, eating it anxiously as Gage passes over the note.
Jude’s eyes leave me as he and the others read it.
“No date or time, so does that mean they’re just going to show up and send us there?” Ezekiel asks absently as he takes my bagel away and smears it with cream cheese.
Kai answers as I get my bagel back. “It means they’re springing this on us for whatever reason. And I’ve got a bad feeling about it.”
I moan around the mouthful of bagel now that it’s been turned into something twice as heavenly as it was before.
I don’t realize I’ve closed my eyes until I open them and see them all giving me an annoyed look.
“We’re trying to have a serious conversation,” Gage says curtly.
“Sorry,” I say around my mouthful, then look over to Ezekiel and add, “That’s way better. Thank you.”
He smirks when the others all glare at him, and he shrugs as he lazily chews on his own bagel.
“Sleep good?” Jude asks bitterly.
“Real damn good,” Ezekiel tells him with an unrepentant grin.
“What are we missing?” Kai asks.
“Notice how she didn’t go from room to room telling everyone good night?” Jude drawls.
Shit. They’re about to argue over this ridiculousness for no reason.
Looking around for something to distract them, my eyes land on the invitation, and my breath freezes in my lungs.
“What about it? I just figured she finally got tired of not hearing it in return.”
“Invitation,” I butt in, shoving it forward.
Two new lines literally start writing themselves like an invisible calligrapher is adding them.
Black tie. Be in the closest graveyard in thirty minutes.
“Shit,” Ezekiel says, dropping the rest of his bagel.
They all abandon the table and dart upstairs. I ghost out and change my attire to my badass clothes with all my fake weapons. I also wear heels, because they look really good, and I don’t actually have to walk in them, because I’m not going to be a real girl in hell.
No thank you.
The guys appear back in the room in no time, and I have to stare a little harder than necessary as they move around in their tuxes. They look like dangerous temptation in designer packages now.
That’s really not fair.
Their tattoos are covered by the shirts, making them look devilishly classy and mysterious. Jude shoots me a knowing look and smirks in my direction.
I clear my throat and start looking around like I’m not impressed.
Then I sneak a few discreet peeks as they finish putting their wallets and phones in their pockets.
“Why do you have to go to the graveyard? Why not just siphon down there?” I ask. “We can sneak around and figure out what’s going on.”
Kai shakes his head. “We can’t siphon to the underworld until we’re given access. Besides, you only saw a small portion of it. It’s endless, much like the universe. We don’t even know what section we’re going to.”
“Can I ask a stupid question?”
They all look at me expectantly as though I have their undivided attention.
“What happens if one of you dies?” I swallow a little more harshly after my voice breaks unexpectedly on that last word.
“We’re not really sure,” Gage says with a careless shrug.
“Ordinarily, we’d be sent up or down, if you know what I mean. But that was stolen from us when we inherited hell powers and soul responsibilities,” Ezekiel states just as casually.
“The other competitors who die in the trials are sent back to hell’s throat for a new transition. They may turn out the same, but that’s a rare thing. We tend to get a little more vicious when the powers take root. Most end up the monsters you saw while you were in there,” Kai goes on.
“Would you turn into monsters if you were sent for transition?” I ask quietly.
They all grin at me.
“We’re already monsters,” Jude tells me with a tone that has chills sliding up my spine.
They start walking past me, and I blow out a shaky breath as I turn and follow.
“You look ridiculous in that outfit,” Kai tells me without turning around.
“Hot. The word you’re looking for is hot. Or maybe badass. Not ridiculous.”
To that, I get a round of laughter, but I still strut like a boss until we siphon to the graveyard.
The second our feet hit the cemetery ground, Ezekiel reaches over, his hand passing through me. Light flashes, and we’re sucked into hell. I think.
It’s hard to tell when we’re in the glamourous section that hides all the monsters, hellfire, and screams of agony.
The chandeliers are in abundance, crystal and ornate. The marble floors are a crisp white that contrasts elegantly with the gold accents.
It’s a royal party.
“Another set of quads are here,” Ezekiel says, leaning closer to Kai as they have a little stare down with the said second set of quads.
“And they’re bonded like you?” I ask.
“Just like us. All the quads,” Kai says quietly.
“So we didn’t just make friends with the devil and get invited to the party. This has something to do with the trials coming up in a week,” Jude states just as quietly, looking around.
“Definitely. Just spotted another set of quads and a few pairs as well,” Gage says with the same nearly muted tone as he snags a glass of champagne off a passing tray.
“Stick close, little protector. You might come in handy tonight,” Kai tells me warily.
My eyes are already searching the scene, but I pause my search when I see Lamar moving this way.
“Incoming,” I tell them, moving closer to what I feel like is my friend, even though he doesn’t really know me.
Lamar’s eyes land on them, and he turns and looks over his shoulder before facing them again.
“I’ve come to tell you Manella was removed from creating these trials,” he tells the quad in a hushed whisper. “Lucifer designed the upcoming course himself.”
“Is that why he arranged this party? To announce that?” Gage asks, stepping closer.
“I’m not quite sure what this party is about. I only learned of it thirty minutes ago.”
I exchange a look with the guys. Apparently those invitations all arrived at the same time.
“I offer this as a token of peace and gratitude. There will be riddles in this course that could cost you your life, and monsters that don’t even have names yet. Lucifer has created the hardest course in history, and I haven’t a clue as to why,” Lamar goes on.
The guys all bristle. “And I was starting to think he might like us,” Jude drawls.
“Lucifer only cares for his children. His opinion of anyone else can change on a whim. Trust me; I know this very personally.” He looks around again, then faces them one last time. “I do hope you brought your protective spirit.”
I pat his hand, and his eyes drop to the contact as a grin spreads over his face.
“Good,” he says, not looking back up immediately. “It may be your best hope of surviving, no matter what Lilith’s cost. I do appreciate you loaning it to me, though I’m not sure why you did it. Manella explained it belonged to you instead of me.”
Gage rolls his eyes. “We don’t really have any control over her, so don’t thank us.”
His head cocks. “Her?” Lamar asks, his tone going confused as all the guys stiffen. “The protective spirit is an actual being? And you can see her?”
He takes a wary step back as he studies them, and Jude’s lips tighten as Gage mutters a curse.
“I should return to Manella,” he says, a curious look in his eyes as the expression on his face worries me. “Beware of the riddles. Don’t treat them with no importance,” he reminds them, then turns and walks away.
He moves through the crowd, and I watch him as Gage runs a frustrated hand through his hair.
“Way to slip,” Ezekiel bites out.
“Fuck. I have no idea how I did that,” Gage says under his breath.
“What does it matter if I’m a girl instead of an it? Is hell sexist? Do they know it’s the twenty-first century topside?”
Lamar gets close to Manella’s ear, whispering something I can’t even hear. Manella’s eyes immediately cut toward us, and Kai curses as he looks away.
“And he just told Manella. Guess that gratitude only extends so far,” Kai growls.
“Not sure why you’re surprised,” Jude drawls.
Manella looks wary and surprised as he moves through the crowd like he’s searching for someone.
“I don’t get it. What’s wrong with me being a girl?” I ask absently.
The crowd parts enough for me to see who Manella is talking to, and my heart stumbles when I see Lucifer. He doesn’t look this way. He doesn’t even react other than to smile like he has a secret.
When his eyes do come up, it feels like he’s staring directly at me, though I see no recognition, and his eyes skip over me, searching around the four of them like he’s trying to pinpoint my location.
“The devil looks intrigued,” I grumble. “Someone please tell me what I’m missing and put me out of my misery.”
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