Seriously – you all likely know I have mad love for Megan Hart, both for her as a friend and for her excellent books. She did a super cool thing with her contribution to DARK SECRETS: A PARANORMAL NOIR ANTHOLOGY. She’d written a deal-with-the-devil story called RIDE WITH THE DEVIL, then she turned that story on its ear and told us what we couldn’t know in that story.
DANCE WITH THE DEVIL by Megan Hart
When the devil starts the music, you’d better get ready to dance.
Kathleen Murphy has sold her soul to the devil. Fame, fortune, success…everything she’s ever dreamed of is hers, and all she has to do is the devil’s bidding. When love comes knocking, the last thing in the world she wants to do is involve Jake in her twisted world, but the devil’s started up the jukebox and Kathleen has no choice but to learn the steps.
It was not going to be all right.
The two weeks had come and gone and her editor had emailed politely to ask when Kathleen might be sending in the project. Kathleen generally preferred to talk one-on-one with her editors about things like that, but this time she’d sent her agent a message telling him to handle it. That she’d encountered some personal problems and the book was going to be a couple weeks late.
That message had sent her stumbling to the bathroom to hover over the toilet, dry heaving. It should not have been a big deal. Authors, especially big name authors who had the clout to get away with it, were late on deadlines all the time. Still, she had never been, and because it had been the devil’s doing, she knew there had to be more to it than she could begin to guess.
There were other books to write, of course. Even if she hadn’t had another deadline looming and another after that, there were projects she’d planned for her own sake. She had plenty of work, but when she sat down at her desk or took her laptop to her comfortable and ugly vintage recliner, all she could manage to do was stare at a blank screen for hours at a time. She couldn’t even rouse the interest to post stupid memes on her Connex page. Her emails were piling up, unanswered.
Perhaps this had been Lucifer’s purpose she thought as she stood in the shower, head bent beneath the spray. To paralyze her for some reason. To keep her from creating? To make her fail?
A drink helped. So did a pill. But nothing took away the rising sense of paranoia and anxiety. She stopped herself from calling Callie, just to hear her sweet babble. Derek would know Kathleen was drunk and a little stoned. He would condemn her, and rightly so. She was a useless mother. She’d been a worthless wife.
In her kitchen, she pulled open the junk drawer in search of a bottle opener and found the note that guy had left. Jake. The one from the pub, the one who’d seduced her.
She called him.
* * *
By the time he got to her apartment, she’d managed to get herself under control. She had another drink her hand, but was only sipping it for show. She wasn’t quite sober, but she was far from shithammered, which was where she’d have been if he hadn’t answered the phone with a slow and pleasantly surprised, “It’s Kathleen, isn’t it?”
He’d brought dinner. Sandwiches and pasta salad from the deli on the corner. Soft drinks. She’d put out plates and silverware at her dining room table.
“This is some setup,” Jake said.
Kathleen laughed, embarrassed. “It came with the apartment. It’s supposed to be for people who give big dinner parties, I guess.”
“Do you like to give dinner parties, Kathleen?”
She paused in dishing out the pasta salad, an action she’d took without effort as naturally as though they’d been sharing meals together for years. “I don’t, really. I used to love to cook for the holidays. We’d have big parties, invite all the neighbors. I’d make platters of cookies and this lasagna dish my grandmother had taught me…”
“It sounds nice.” Jake smiled.
She nodded after a second. “It was. But it was a lot of work, and it all fell on me, always. The cooking, the cleanup. The decorating. Taking care of my house and child. It didn’t leave much room for writing.”
“You could have a dinner party catered,” Jake said. “That’s what most people around here would do.”
“I’d need people to invite,” she said lightly.
Jake had made no move yet to eat, though he’d lifted the top of the sandwich to look inside with a murmur of approval. Now he looked at her in kind of the same way. Like he was considering how good she would taste.
“You invited me.”
She laughed. “This is hardly a dinner party.”
“Play some music,” he said and got up to take her hand to pull her from the chair. “Dancing makes the party.”
“I don’t dance,” she demurred with a shake of her head, tugging her hand from his. She didn’t move away from him, though. Not far enough.
There was a reason she’d invited him here, after all, and it had nothing to do with pasta salad.
She wanted him to kiss her, to take her breath away, to pull her close and put his hands all over her. She wanted Jake to make her forget about anything but how good it felt to touch and be touched, at least for as long as it lasted. It wouldn’t last long, of course, nothing ever did. But maybe it could last long enough.
He didn’t kiss her.
“Are you hungry?” Jake asked. “I’m starving.”
She was hungry, Kathleen realized suddenly. She hadn’t eaten more than a handful of pretzels or saltines in the past week or so, but now she fell upon the deli food as though it were the last meal she might ever eat. Because you never knew, did you? What would be the last of anything?
She’d have expected their conversation during dinner to be stilted, or awkwardly flirty, but Jake made her laugh so hard she had to cover her face with a napkin until she could compose herself. He asked her questions, not the ones everyone asked about where she found her inspiration or what her writing schedule was like. He asked about her childhood. Her favorite flower. Whether she liked the forest or the ocean best.
“Trees,” she said without hesitation. “There are times I’ll take the subway all the way out to Coney Island to get a look at the beach, and that’s fine, I guess, though to be honest I don’t love the sand. And I can take a stroll through Central Park, but for some reason it’s not the same. I miss the trees a lot. I used to live in the woods.”
“You could live anywhere you wanted, couldn’t you?”
She nodded. They’d moved from the dining room into the living room, where she’d put on soft music in the background and poured them both glasses of very good red wine — to savor and appreciate, not to get them drunk. Jake was looking in the large glass curio cabinet lining one wall where she kept souvenirs from her travels.
“I could. But I love New York.” The lie slipped out of her so easily she barely knew she wasn’t telling the truth.
He glanced over his shoulder. “Everyone loves New York.”
“It’s a great place to live, if you have the money,” she told him. “If you can afford to go and do everything the city has to offer.”
“What’s your favorite thing to do?” He turned and sipped the wine.
A hundred answers rose to her lips. Interview answers, she thought of them. What people expected and wanted to hear, not necessarily the truth.
Jake smiled. After a moment, so did she. The music changed to a waltz, and this time when he took her hand and pulled her close, Kathleen let him dance with her. Minutes passed as they moved in the simple but elegant steps she’d have fumbled if he hadn’t been there to guide her.
He kissed her.
It was better than she’d expected. His hand slid up her back to cup the base of her skull, tugging at her hair, tipping her head so he could draw his mouth along the curve of her throat. She shivered, and against her skin, she felt the curve of his smile.
She’d called him here for this, but now faced with the idea of getting naked with this guy, Kathleen started to withdraw. His hand on her hip kept her still. She looked into his face.
If he was going to kill her, she thought, it wouldn’t be the worst way to die.
She took his hand and led him to the bedroom, where she pushed him gently until he sat on the edge of the bed. She undressed herself in front of him until she stood naked. Jake said nothing, but he didn’t have to. All he had to do was look at her.
“You have no idea who I am,” she whispered, “so why do I feel like you’re looking right into me?”
If he had an answer for her, he kept it to himself. At least with words. He replied with his touch. The stroke of his tongue against hers as they kissed. The movement of his lips and teeth all over her, making her sigh and tremble and finally, after a long, long, time, so long she’d almost begun to fear it wouldn’t happen, he made her shatter.
Later, quietly, she pulled the sheets up over both of them to keep the chill from settling on their bare skin. He slept, or she thought he did, which was the only reason why Kathleen turned on the pillow to allow her fingertips to trace the edges of his dark hair.
“Who are you,” she whispered, not expecting an answer.
“Who do you want me to be?”
Caught, embarrassed, she withdrew her hand. He pulled her closer, tucking her against him so that her face pressed the side of his neck. He stroked her hair. When she tipped her face to look up at him, certain that in the dark all she would find was shadows, she saw instead the gleam of his gaze as he took her in. As he had that first night in the pub, Jake looked at Kathleen as though she were something precious to him. A treasure.
Again, she tried to pull away, but he didn’t let her go.
“How would she live without him? With dreams all gone black and white, with bruised knees and bloody palms, with an open space in the puzzle of her life that only one piece would ever fit.”
Her own words, spoken aloud, always sound so strange even when she was reading them. Jake had spoken from memory. Kathleen drew in a long, shivering breath.
“You’ve read my book,” she said.
Jake breathed into her hair and was silent for a second or so, before he said, “I’ve read all of them.”
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