Chapter 1: And So It Begins
Boyd knew Christina was special from the moment he laid eyes on her. He had watched dozens of Satan’s children fail miserably, dying at the hands of God’s Chosen under the guardianship of his colleagues, but the ugly, squalling infant he took from Dr. Fredericks quieted immediately, staring at him with curious blue eyes. It was a momentary connection broken by Anne’s feeble crying and Kingston’s request that Anne be allowed to hold the child and say goodbye. He glanced at Kingston, marveling at the foolishness of human love before he stared at Anne’s face, full of fanaticism and hatred. "I don’t think that would be wise, Kingston. Anne doesn’t love her daughter any more than she did six months ago. Tell me, Anne, what did you think to accomplish back then? Were you trying to carve her out of your body so you could send her soul to God?"
"God doesn’t have room in heaven for something like that," she hissed, her arms reaching for the baby.
Boyd chuckled, startling the child in his arms with the rumble. "See, Christina needs us to keep her safe from God."
"Christina?" the man asked with astonishment.
"It has such a nice ring to it, don’t you think, Anne?"
"Profanity," Anne muttered. "Blasphemous to use the name of our Lord and Savior in that way."
"He’s not my Lord and Savior, Anne," Boyd remarked, his gaze drawn to the child who still watched him with surprising intelligence. "Well, I don’t think AntiChristina would go over real well with her future classmates or the rest of humanity. It would defeat your hidden purpose, wouldn’t it, baby?" She blinked and cooed softly in response to his warm tone. Now that she was calm, he could re-evaluate his initial appraisal of her looks; she was much more interesting once the red faded and she stopped crying. She had potential to be a real beauty some day unlike her frumpy, plain, God-fearing mother. Once upon a time, he had questioned the wisdom of Kingston bringing Anne to one of their parties, but if Christina was the result, he could see why his boss had chosen her to produce a child that might destroy the world.
"I thought she was going to be kept apart from her peers." Kingston sounded nervous, and Boyd puzzled again why Satan would entrust possession of his daughter to such a weak man.
"Christina has no peers, Kingston. She is the daughter of darkness, the one who will bring this world to its knees." While Kingston would have his chance to play father to the girl, Boyd knew the real power was in the guardianship duties. Satan had offered him the opportunity to be Christina’s guardian if he wanted. In the past, he had turned it down for better reasons, and in the process, he watched colleagues get sent to the pits over and over again. As far as he was concerned, saving his own hide constituted a better reason. Boyd had to admit that Satan had orchestrated this first meeting well, forcing him to be around crazy Anne and to be there for her birth while making him realize that Christina would need a strong guardian to overrule Kingston’s weakness. This was his moment of decision, the opportunity to take on duties only offered to his master’s most loyal subjects, the chance to be a general or just another unknown soldier burning in the pits of Hell. Christina would need his unseen guidance as he charted her course of destruction; she would be his greatest challenge. Unlike the greedy, unschooled, corrupt children that came before, she was still innocent and good, qualities that could be put to use in her permanent corruption. Raised without the knowledge of her legacy, Christina would be left alone, forced to spend time with humanity and its hateful nature. Now that he had met the girl and seen that she was special, Boyd wasted no time in making his decision. "She will associate with those I deem suitable, Kingston. Humanity may not be worthy to kiss her feet because they are the dregs of the Earth, but they will be the ones to make her Fall complete, touch her so much and so painfully that she will be untouchable. Then she will raze this miserable planet until it is nothing more than dust." After his words, he felt both warm waves of approval under his feet and the warning stab of a sword tip in his back. Satan had accepted his guardianship offer, and there could be no turning his back now no matter what happened to Christina. He would die in service to her, or he would die because he couldn’t protect her, but now his destiny was tied to hers.
"You may take her from me, but she will die at the hands of the Chosen like the others did," Anne prophesized. "You can’t save her from her fate, not when her fate is to die."
The decision made, Boyd’s sense of humor had returned. "What a good mother you are, Anne, to wish Christina that kind of success." Moving closer to her, he offered her a glimpse of the girl. "From this moment forward, you have no claim to Chris. If you approach or try anything before it is time, Anne, I will bring the fight to your people and burn them to the ground, Chosen or not. And trust me on this, you will be the last one standing when they all die around you so that you will know it was your actions that brought their destruction. There will be no one-on-one battle between good and evil; there will just be slaughter."
"God help you," she replied, clutching the blanket with white fists.
Boyd laughed. "I think you’re wishing God’s help on the wrong person, Anne, because you’re going to need all the help you can get. Christina has a lot of firepower on her side, and unlike guardians of the past, I have no problem getting my hands dirty. You might be the last to die, but your precious Chosen would be the first even if I have to murder every child on the Eastern Seaboard."
"No, just practical," he retorted. "It’s amazing the capacity for evil God puts inside His children, don’t you think? After all, you want to kill an innocent child, an infant that has your blood running through her veins. What kind of monster does that make you?"
"That’s not an innocent child," Anne protested. "To kill the child of the beast would make me a believer, nothing more."
"Believer? Shouldn’t you believe in ‘thou shalt not kill’? No one reads beyond the good, fluffy God of the New Testament anymore." Christina made a noise of dissent when Dr. Fredericks argued that the Ten Commandments hadn’t mattered since God was murdered and resurrected for his people. "That’s right, Chris, it was a shame. Old Testament God was a great guy on the whole. You should have seen the wrath he used to rain down on blasphemous people and places. It was a lot harder to sin back then because the consequences were so much worse. Nowadays, it’s all sin, sin, sin, confess, sin, sin, sin, confess, hug."
"You deserve to burn in the fiery pits of hell for your sins."
"Well, that’s kind of the point of serving my master. Burning in the fiery pits of hell is one of the risks that we take for all we receive." Boyd laughed. "No wonder he chose you to bear his child. You’re quite humorous, Anne."
Kingston stepped up next to Anne’s bed, hovering protectively. There was an uncertainty about his hovering as though he couldn’t choose between mother and child. "Lucas, we should let the baby sleep."
"Right," Boyd answered, already dismissing Anne by turning away with the child and strolling out of the room with Kingston at his heels. "Take Christina to the nursery, Kingston – if you bring her back to Anne, you won’t have the chance to raise her because you’ll be burning in those fiery pits of hell that Anne wishes for me. And remember, you will be watched." He gestured toward the other men who watched Kingston impassively, the implication that they reported to Boyd unnecessary to speak. "As for you, little girl, don’t worry your head about anything except growing up to be the Antichrist. Take your hatred and your malice out on anyone who crosses you and remember that you are better than anyone that walks this miserable planet."
Kingston took the baby from Boyd, puzzled by the reluctant affection in his compatriot’s voice. However, he refused to acknowledge the ridiculous thought and focused on Boyd’s departure. "Where are you going?"
"I have a few things to take care of before you bring Christina back to your penthouse. A nanny to engage, increased security around your building, etc."
"There’s already plenty of security," Kingston said, wondering at his sudden burst of efficiency.
Boyd shook his head. "There’s not enough for the little princess," he contradicted. "I’m going to triple it at least. Honestly, Kingston, she needs to be protected under she’s ready to take on her responsibilities – as that is many years off, there is no reason why she shouldn’t have as much protection as possible." Judging from Kingston’s expression of wonder, Boyd almost thought that it was worth it to agree to this mad scheme. "The hospital will not release Christina into Anne’s custody. I will be back tomorrow to escort you and the baby back to your penthouse."
Confused, Kingston glanced back at Anne’s room. "What about Anne? What will happen to her?"
"She’ll be released tomorrow after we take the baby."
"No, I mean, what will happen to her now that she's done?"
Rolling his eyes, Boyd pulled out a cigarette and answered, "Nothing will happen to Anne. She’s free to go and screw up her life as much as she wants so long as it doesn’t involve Christina in any way, shape, or form."
"Since when are you so compassionate?"
Boyd chucked the baby under her chin, smiling at the little girl who cooed. "It's her daddy's dearest wish that Anne go on to live a life where she always remembers the daughter that was taken away. Trust me, if it were up to me, Anne would already be dead."
"That I believe," Kingston said, tucking Christina's blanket around her legs carefully.
"Goodbye, Kingston. Bye, Chris." Boyd strode out of the hospital without a second glance back at the pair.
Chapter 2: The Guardian
Boyd spent the limo ride back to his place, mapping out the changes that needed to be made. In fact, he immediately called the security firm they had hired the year before and ordered the immediate installation of cameras all over Kingston's penthouse. While her adopted father had already installed some cameras, Boyd wanted more cameras that he would not know about to better keep an eye on Kingston and his relationship with Christina. He also ordered that the security firm hire several more guards and set up a wall of security cameras in one of his unused rooms, a place where he would have one or more of his employees always watching Christina. It would be obscenely expensive, but he knew his boss would appreciate the thoroughness of his efforts more than he would be concerned about the expense. Satan was very good about ensuring the best of everything for his children no matter the cost (he had one-upped his opposition in that way). She would be raised in the lap of luxury, used to the finer things in life so that when the time came and she was denied something, it could be used to push her down the proper path.
His next order of business involved finding a nanny for Christina. It was a fairly easy task as there was a general pool of women that Satan held in reserve for his children. Boyd’s thoroughness continued as he interviewed and rejected a dozen women before he found the one that would be Christina’s caretaker. He had wanted someone who would be loyal only to him and who could remain detached from her charge. Nanny Rogers was experienced in dealing with special children; she had raised three of Satan’s children and had yet to see the inside of Hell due to her own competence. It was hardly her fault that her charges had failed in their responsibilities, and the blame was always placed squarely on the shoulders of short-sighted guardians and stand-in father figures. She made it perfectly clear that she failed to care about what their fates were when she only nodded politely at Boyd’s assurance that Christina would not go own the same path of failure. Knowing already that Kingston would be a thorn in his side, he explained that her father on Earth was to be carefully monitored for signs of weakness and affection. Her expression remained unchanged from its placid acceptance, acknowledging that Boyd’s gut instinct to confide in Nanny Rogers was not necessarily wrong. She even asked for clarification on reporting Christina’s powers as they manifested, a question that Boyd hadn’t considered the answer for. He was pleased enough with Nanny Rogers to give her keys to the penthouse and instructions to meet them the next day at three, but he was not so pleased that he didn’t include a warning that she would be watched for any signs of inappropriate behavior.
After Boyd called off most of the search for his wife, limiting the search to one person (Holly immediately fell below Christina’s welfare and safety the moment he decided to be Christina’s guardian), he allowed himself the chance to rest for an hour. That rest gave him the opportunity to work through questions for Kingston’s staff, invasive inquiries that would ferret out the problems. In fact, his list of questions gave him the opportunity to vet both the security and staff with plenty of time to spare before he had to meet Kingston at the hospital. He wanted to make sure that there was no misguided soul who would fall in love with the sweet, innocent child and try to make her life better than it was. Part of that would keep her from dwelling on the emptiness of her life and her father’s casual abandonment, but it was primarily to keep some idiot from screwing with his carefully laid out plans. He fired several of Kingston’s staff and replaced them with people who were loyal to him, people who would report anything worth reporting. The only suspicious person he left in place was Harlan, a man who definitely didn’t look him in the eye when he spoke of serving Satan. In spite of that, Boyd couldn’t quite justify firing him for some feeling that he would mess up his plans at a later point especially when the man said all the right things with seeming sincerity. Kingston relied on Harlan to run his household and Boyd thought that Kingston might revolt if he lost Harlan, new world order or not.
Once he had ensured that the new surveillance system was set up to his specifications, Boyd knew it was time to bring Christina to her new home, an environment that was both the safest place in the world and also the place that would sow the seeds of her downfall at the hands of the world. He was pleased at the transformation that had happened in less than 24 hours, proof that money could make anything happen under a deadline. That satisfaction made him grin when he saw Kingston cradling Christina on the steps of the hospital. Kingston was already deeply attached to the baby, which would make it harder for him to disobey Boyd for the threat of Christina’s loss could be held over his head. Boyd glanced up and waved casually at the window where Anne watched, her nose pressed against the glass, her raging disappointment carried down on the wind to his senses.
"Why do you torture Anne?" Kingston demanded as he approached, craning his head to see who was in Boyd’s line of vision.
Ignoring the foolish question, he reached for the infant and settled back against the seat while Kingston clambered in to sit nearby. Boyd placed Christina in the infant seat next to him and locked her up tightly, his attention on the pleasant baby who gurgled at him. "She’s quite sweet, isn’t she?"
"Like her mother," her father said, a bitter tone that did not do him any favors in Boyd’s opinion.
He frowned at Kingston. "Does that mean you don’t want to be her father on Earth? If you don’t, I will make the effort to find someone else to raise Chris. It wouldn’t be hard, you know – there are lots of men who would love to raise Satan’s daughter while you enjoy your new vacation spot in Hell."
Flinching, Kingston rapidly denied any effort to slough off his new responsibility. "Of course I want to be the one to raise Christina, Lucas. I already feel like she’s my daughter."
"Well, that’s fine as long as you remember that she has a real father who calls the shots. And as long as you don’t try to push her to walk her mother’s path. As far as Chris is concerned, Anne died in childbirth and abandoned her to a life full of miserable loneliness."
"Died in childbirth?"
"Died somehow when Christina was still a baby. I don’t care what kind of story you come up with as long as Christina doesn’t try to go looking for her very much alive mother," Boyd said impatiently. "You can even tell her the truth about her mother’s past as long as she thinks Anne is dead."
Kingston looked uncomfortable at the prospect. "Do you think that’s a good idea?"
"Did Anne take your balls with her when she ran away and tried to kill Christina? Damn it, show a little initiative, Kingston. You’re going to have to be an actual father to Chris."
"But you’ll be the one who is actually guiding her existence," Kingston said, glaring at Boyd with an emotion that seemed close to anger.
Boyd refused to rise to the bait, his cold eyes focusing on Christina’s dancing fingers. "Because I’m her guardian, the one who will show her what a dangerous world it actually is. But my job is not to be there for the skinned knees and the awkward questions. She needs an every day father for that. That is your role, Kingston, for as long as you do what I say and obey Satan."
"What if I went against your orders?" he said rebelliously
"That would be an interesting day," Boyd replied in a soft tone. "A day where we would have to revisit your role in Christina’s life."
"You couldn’t just make me disappear from her life in ten years."
"Couldn’t I?" he asked with an arched brow. "It would be easy enough to do. Fake your death and turn up a will that makes someone else Chris’s caretaker until she comes of age. Someone more pliable."
"No wonder Satan relies on your judgment so much," Kingston said.
Smirking, Boyd shrugged. "Human nature is far more transparent than it seems. Love, greed, sacrifice, hatred – all things that drive humans and all things that make them that much easier to control."
"Is that what you will use to make Christina evil? Things that will destroy her spirit and control her heart?"
"I’m not interested in controlling her heart or destroying her spirit," Boyd answered. "But neither of those things mean that I can’t make her see that humanity is something that needs to be put down."
"What if she takes after her mother? What if she’s good at heart?"
"Because Anne is truly good for trying to kill her baby daughter."
Kingston squirmed uncomfortably. "Her intent was pure and good."
"Her intent was to kill the daughter of your lord and master. You would do well to remember that, Kingston."
They lapsed into silence, Boyd’s warning hanging over Kingston while her guardian played idly with Christina’s tiny fingers. Later, Kingston would forget that Anne ever threatened to kill Christina, but Boyd never forgot. And every time Kingston brought up Anne’s goodness, Boyd bit his tongue because it was important the Christina think her mother was good so the final betrayal would hurt that much more. Still, he couldn’t keep the mocking tone out of his voice when he talked about the prophecies that spelled Christina’s doom and the way they described Anne as innocent and God-fearing. God-fearing perhaps but never innocent – her intent to kill Christina remained an ever-present thought in Boyd’s mind, a reminder that Anne was still dangerous, all the moreso because she was alive.
His little talk with Kingston in the limo must have sunk in because he hardly said anything when they arrived at the penthouse and a new housekeeper greeted them. Nanny Rogers strode forward to meet her newest charge, holding out her hand for the infant car seat that Kingston gripped. "Kingston, this is Nanny Rogers. Romana, this is Kingston Nickson and Christina."
She gazed impassively at the child though Boyd could see the gears working in her brain as she catalogued Christina’s features. However, whatever she felt, the nanny was supremely efficient at keeping her thoughts to herself. "Good afternoon, sir," she said with a slight curtsy. Boyd nodded, pleased at her reserved manner.
"Hello, Nanny Rogers," Kingston said uncertainly, glancing at Boyd’s neutral expression. "Do you have much experience with children like Christina?"
"As I informed Mr. Boyd, I have had several charges with Christina’s unique lineage though I have no idea what kind of a child she will turn out to be. It’s awfully hard to tell anything about a baby that does nothing more than cry, eat, and sleep," she announced in a terse tone.
Abashed, Kingston shuffled his feet. "Of course."
"Romana," Boyd said reprovingly in spite of his amused expression. He enjoyed the way she had reminded Kingston that he knew nothing about raising children, but it would not do for her to not appear anything more than a nanny.
"Don’t be silly, Lucas, she knows more about this than I do," Kingston muttered, trying in vain to maintain control of the situation.
Boyd turned to look at Kingston with an appraising smile. "Indeed she does. I hope you will take her suggestions into consideration when you make your decisions about Christina."
"Sir, I will take Christina to her nursery while you finish your business."
"Thank you, Romana," Boyd said smoothly. His list of instructions were quickly imparted to Kingston who accepted them without second-guessing her .
Chapter 3: The Puppetmaster
- Unseen guardian, a puppetmaster, watched her grow up through photos and surveillance video, kept tabs on her associates, never let her spend too much time with any one person, left alone constantly – abandonment by her father, remains good in spite of the temptations he starts to place in her way, instructs Kingston
Chapter X: Sanctuary
Christina turned up on his doorstep the night after she killed her lover and walked into his penthouse without a word. "Good evening, Christina. Nice to see you again," Boyd greeted without inquiring about her journey. He knew she would come to him eventually; she had too many questions and a need to be somewhere safe. If not, one of his minions would have brought her to him. The time for invisibility and pretend had passed, and Boyd was ready to assume full-time guardianship of Christina, to guide her through her manifesting powers and to help her in whatever capacity she might require of him.
In his foyer, she stood perfectly still, surveying his impressive home, the famous paintings on the walls, the sturdy furniture, and the matching carpet. Boyd was proud of his living quarters; it showed off his expensive tastes as well as his success in his life. "It will do," she said succinctly.
"It will do?" he repeated, his noted calm slipping slightly. "Christina, my home consistently wins awards and is on the top ten list of best homes in Manhattan."
She glanced upward at the gilded ceiling with distaste curling her perfect mouth. "It’s showy and off-putting."
Her response made him grin. "Fair enough. This room was, after all, designed to intimidate my guests. The library is far more appealing," he mentioned, indicating one of the many doorways. "You might find it offends your taste less."
"I doubt it," she answered in a bored tone but strolled into the room with evident apathy. Boyd followed with the same grin. Christina was so much more fun now. Selecting the most comfortable chair, she sat down and watched him expectantly.
Divining that she wanted him to sit, Boyd casually detoured toward the small bar in the corner of the room. "I think this momentous occasion calls for a drink," he said lightly, pouring himself a bourbon on the rocks. "What would you like, Christina? Water, soda, maybe something stronger like sherry? I could order a bottle of champagne from the kitchen so we can celebrate your triumph in style. Whatever you want, it’s yours for the taking, Chris." Glass in hand, he turned to find her standing next to him.
She plucked the glass from his hand and drained the glass dry. "I wanted what you were having."
Hearing the challenge in her voice, Boyd chuckled, ignoring her obvious desire for a fight, as he poured another one for her. "You’ve always had good taste."
But she set the drink on the bar and sauntered away to look at the book-lined shelves. "I never thought you’d be much of a reader, Boyd," she said. "Unless these are all for show?"
With a laugh, he sipped from her discarded glass and studied her defiant posture. "I prefer reading to television and internet access. I find the study of people in novels to be so much more fascinating and complex than they are in real life. And being ninety-six does give me a lot of time to read at my leisure." Already bored with his answer, she started reading the titles and the authors to herself. She moved with a panther-like grace, pent up with the energy from the events of the last few weeks, fueled by no sleep, her mother’s betrayal, the murder of Jesse, the torture of the Kramers, and the victory she had wrested from the clutches of good. Her words from the previous night held true – she had won; Boyd might have helped, but she laid siege to all the goodness around her, destroying her own with every new action. Boyd knew that Christina was all the more dangerous now because her aura of innocence was a lie to trap others while she plotted to destroy them. It was deception made perfect by the loss of her innocence combined with charming naïveté. He wondered if she would ever truly understand the range of her powers, but he knew it was going to be fun to watch her experiment.
"Jane Austen?" she said, pulling down Pride and Prejudice to wave in his general direction.
"I have a deeply romantic streak," he replied in a bland tone, shrugging his shoulders at her look of disbelief. "I strangled Holly with my bare hands because I couldn’t bear the sight of seeing her with someone else and the way she handed me the money afterward. Then I wished her back to life and pay the price for my sins every day so she can spit in my face. Yet I still chased after her. Romantic, yes?"
She must have decided he was telling the truth because her voice dripped with sarcastic venom "Yes, so romantic, Boyd. Where is your lovely, deceitful slut? I thought she’d be handcuffed to your side."
His fingers tightened around the glass, making her smile with the gesture. The last one left in handcuffs had not been Holly as he well knew. In fact, his wrists still ached from the exertion of escaping, but Christina didn’t need to know any of that information. "I don’t know where she is. I assume she escaped Point Pleasant with Terry because that boy was looking to move up in the world and had lost his father to something else. There was nothing else there for him, and I’m sure Holly offered him the world in exchange for his help."
"Terry? With Holly? But what about Paula? What kind of deal could she offer him to give up Paula?"
"Power is persuasive offer. She probably offered him the chance to become another one of Satan’s lackeys." Talking about Holly’s antics always gave his voice an edge that he couldn’t hide.
"Would my father take Terry?" she asked.
Boyd gazed at her worried expression. "Why do you care, Chris? I never thought he was a particular friend of yours. She looked back with mutinous eyes. "Of course he’d take Terry. Satan isn’t discerning, and he knows that Terry served me well. Add to that the boy’s ambitions, and Terry is a perfect candidate to do something great."
"Terry . . ."
"Chin up, Christina. He might well wind up working for you one of these days if he can gain your father’s trust. He’s big on loyalty, and while Terry isn’t too terribly loyal, he did betray his good friend for lust. Besides, he was an acquaintance of yours and he’d be more comfortable with you." His encouragement only made her feel worse. "Don’t worry, I don’t think he’d take the whole killing his best friend thing too seriously. Getting on your good side is one of the best ways to suck up to Satan. I’m sure Holly would agree if she were here."
Her face changed as she sought to get control of her emotions, to suppress her bittersweet feelings about Terry. Unlike the rest of Point Pleasant, Terry had never done anything to actively hurt her. In fact, he had been downright sweet the one time they had a heart-to-heart talk. "It was careless of you to lose Holly, Boyd," she said slyly. "I’m appalled that you would let someone who wanted to destroy you go free. But then again, you do like games."
"Holly’s games have bored me for a long time, Chris," Boyd replied. "In Point Pleasant, they distracted me from you. Besides, Holly isn’t strong enough to touch me. Why do you think she always tries to get others to do her dirty work?"
"Yet she and I brought you to your knees last week," she said, remembering the sight of Boyd pleading for Holly’s life with pleasure. Her smile fled as the memory was replaced by a glimpse of Jesse on his knees, begging her to kill him right before he tried to gut her.
Boyd watched her intently, reading her thoughts with perfect accuracy. "It wasn’t Holly," he contradicted before she started building a shrine to Jesse in her memories.
"Of course it was Holly. I was going to make her head explode."
He placed the empty glass on the bar and crossed the expanse of carpet to stand at her side. His usual levity disappeared as he tilted her face up to meet his eyes. "I don’t care about Holly, and I really didn’t care about her once I found out she was trying to manipulate you."
"That is extremely romantic of you, choosing to save your own hide over your love’s eyebrows. But it doesn’t exactly explain why it was all right for you to manipulate me but not Holly. Especially since Holly’s doing some sort of work for my father apparently."
"Holly’s only loyalty is to herself, and she uses her service to Satan to get her way when it suits her. In this case, her motivation was betraying me, and that really didn’t help my final goal at all. She was undoing a lot of my plans by tying you closer to Jesse and things associated with all that pesky goodness."
"Like love?" She forcibly removed his hand and glared at him. "That doesn’t explain why you begged for her life, Boyd. For someone who supposedly doesn’t care about Holly, your actions seem awfully extreme, not as extreme as wishing her back to life in return for serving my father, but still extreme."
"It’s simple, Christina," he said softly. "I was more concerned with the bigger picture, and the bigger picture involved pleasing you."
She glanced up at his face with suspicion, searching for the lie or the truth. "How does that work exactly? How does having you on your knees begging please me?"
"You tell me, Chris. You’re the one who remembers the sight with such pleasure." She flushed at his words, but he continued sincerely, "For all that you hate me for pushing your buttons and trying to manipulate you into being who you are, I was the person you needed me to be when you needed it. I was the bad guy because you wanted someone to blame, I scared Judy and forced you to choose her because you wanted allies at your side and it bound her closer to you, I killed Father Tomas because you needed me to be ruthless so you could play at being self-righteous and good. I saved you from your psycho mother because you needed a protector. I don’t lie to you because you need one person who will always tell you the truth. Is it so hard to believe that I might have knelt and begged for her life because you needed me to be weak, human, so that you could know my motivations might be something other than pure, unadulterated evil? So you could see that I did have feelings, that I cared for someone, that maybe I wasn’t lying when I talked about taking care of you?" He paused briefly, letting his words sink into her brain. "I didn’t care about Holly because I loved her; I cared about her because that moment was about your pain and your desire to see someone in the same kind of pain. Honestly, you could have made her head explode and I wouldn’t have blinked twice. The thing is, Christina, I knew you wouldn’t do it, yeah, you might have inflicted some pain, but you wouldn’t have destroyed her while you still had hope and love on your side."
His revelations about his behavior unnerved Christina. Had he really acted the way he did all those times because it was what she needed? "Why would you do all that?"
"Because you, Christina, child of darkness, have always been the endgame from the day that we learned Anne was pregnant. Your survival, your training, your ascension to evil. Holly was incidental from the moment I became your guardian. My games in Point Pleasant with the good townsfolk meant nothing in the long run. The only one worth cultivating, who mattered at all, was you and the choice you made." Boyd watched her expression carefully. He had just dumped a lot of truth on someone who was both volatile and exhausted. Christina would need the time to sort through all the information, and he wasn’t sure she would comprehend the implications while she was this tired. And he knew she wasn’t ready to talk about his role in everything that had happened to her and what her actions in Point Pleasant meant for her future.
At that moment, her shoulders slumped slightly, betraying her exhaustion in spite of her attempt to stifle a yawn. Everything was catching up to her at last, and the last tenuous bit of righteous anger she had been holding onto disappeared with his explanations. It was hard to stay angry with someone like Boyd, someone who had proved his loyalty by saving her life, even at his most maddening, and his sudden agreeable behavior didn’t help her. "I suppose I should call a cab," she said tiredly.
Boyd had picked up on all of her signals including her release of residual anger, but her comment surprised him. "Why do you need to call a cab?"
"Because my bed is elsewhere. I mean Kingston’s not much of a dad, but I don’t think he’s changed the locks quite yet," she answered, sounding annoyed.
Confused that she wanted to be anywhere else, her companion shook his head. "After he washed his hands of you, Kingston did more than change the locks, kid. He moved to some island in the middle of nowhere, hopefully out of sight of God, Satan, and you. He always was a bit of a coward, you know."
Christina did know the last statement to be true so she sighed. "Great. I don’t suppose he left me any sort of money for a hotel?"
"Chris, your father is the prince of darkness. You’ll have all the money you’ll ever need when you need it. In fact, he wants you to learn all about his corporation" Boyd said with weary patience. "But you’re not living in a hotel."
"What do you mean?"
"You have a suite of rooms here that is all yours. You can destroy them as you wish or redecorate them weekly if you choose, but you will live here, Christina," he said. His voice was not unkind as he issued the order, but it was definitely an order, one that upset Christina.
"But . . ."
"No, there is no argument, Chris. Your father wants you safe, and he knows that I am your best protection."
"This is your home," she pointed out, trying to keep her anger in check.
"And now it’s yours as well. I’m your guardian while we remain on this Earth, and I take my responsibilities very seriously."
"You can’t order me to do anything, not after leaving me alone for most of my life," she shouted, losing her temper at the way everyone had tried to run her life recently.
"I know you spent most of your first seventeen years alone and independent, but you can’t go running off any longer. You can’t be alone while you’re developing your powers. You’re not ready to deal with all the people who will be after you."
"I handled Jesse just fine."
"You choked when he told you he loved you, Christina. It wasn’t until you felt the knife in your gut that you realized he didn’t love you enough and actually crossed that final obstacle. No one blames you, but it’s because you are still young and uncontrolled that it’s important that I protect you."
Undeterred by his logic, she stubbornly said, "I don’t want to be tied to a suite of rooms for the rest of my life."
"And no one expects you to be. For one thing, you’ll live for a very long time, Chris, and for another, this is most likely a temporary arrangement until you’ve adjusted to your new life."
"You mean until the evil sticks!"
Boyd continued in an unflappable tone, "And when you want to travel, we’ll go where you want to go, no questions asked."
"What if I want to go by myself?"
"That won’t be happening any longer, Christina. It’s you and me from here on out. You must be kept safe from those who would destroy you."
Her petulant glare matched her tone of voice. "I want a new guardian then."
"It doesn’t work that way, Christina. I’ve done too much for you to be removed now by your father."
"I could try to make your head explode."
"Indeed you could," he replied, hearing the resignation in her voice and suppressing a grin at the victory within reach. "But you never know what kind of guardian you’d be saddled with after me. Some of them are old and lecherous and none of them are nearly as nice or fun as I am. As much as you might hate me, Chris, I’m a known quantity."
Christina smiled sweetly, her voice full of poisonous honey. "Being a known quantity isn’t a good thing in your case, Boyd. That actually works against you. Besides, I might wind up with someone cuter if I get rid of you."
"Not so. Anyone cuter is already dead, I promise," Boyd returned easily, relieved that she had stopped objecting to staying. He could have forced her to stay, but the consequences and resentment would have been ugly. And while he would have liked it more if she wanted to stay, resignation worked in his favor.
"Because you killed them?"
"How did you guess?" She yawned at that point. "All right, Chris, it’s definitely time for bed. You’ve had a long couple of days. I’ll show you to your suite so you can get settled in."
"This better be a nice suite," she said as he led her down a long hallway. "What’s behind all these doors?"
"It’s mostly just guest bedrooms. I can give you the full tour tomorrow if you like."
"I’d appreciate that." Her weariness was starting to take over her body, but she still pushed herself to remain focused on the conversation. "Is there any room that I should stay out of?"
Boyd stopped suddenly and turned to look at her. "Mi casa es su casa as they say in Mexico. Feel free to explore as much as you like, Chris."
"But what about . . ."
"Oh, we do the ritual sacrifices elsewhere. Blood is such a bitch to get out of the carpet." He laughed at her horrified expression. "Don’t worry about having to participate in a ritual sacrifice – we have professionals who handle all the virgins and animals. Why get your hands dirty when you don’t have to?"
He grinned. "You’ll be fine, kid. Your lifeguard closed that deal, right? Besides, you’re the daughter of Satan. You’ll have plenty of chances to work your wiles on whomever you please. Hell, any time you want a virgin from the ritual sacrifice pool, all you have to do is let me know or call for direct delivery."
"Direct delivery? You make it sound like ordering pizza," she retorted.
"It’s easier than ordering pizza. More reliable, too, if you want my opinion."
Christina caught the implication of his words and taunted, "I guess you must do it a lot if you know that to be truth."
"Well, Holly often tends to be indisposed and variety is the spice of life. Still, I’m not a big fan of the virgin lot; I much prefer a little experience. It goes a long way to making life interesting," he said honestly. He did a half-turn and pointed at the door they had stopped in front of. "There it is. Home sweet home."
She put her hand on the doorknob. "I’ll definitely be taking you up on the redecorating offer, Boyd. I highly doubt that you know what I like." Her breath caught in her throat when she saw the spacious rooms for the first time. The luxurious canopy bed was decked out in her favorite color while all her childhood knickknacks lined the shelves. It was a beautiful room, an accurate reflection of her feminine tastes. "How did you know?"
"Chris, I’ve watched you grow up. It would be hard for me not to know what you like. Kingston brought over all your things while you were in Point Pleasant so your new home would be more conducive to your comfort," Boyd explained, his smile genuine. "I put it all together before I left for Point Pleasant."
"What if you hadn’t succeeded? What would have happened?"
"I had no doubts that I would succeed, but if I hadn’t, the place would have been emptied and Satan would have given it to someone else, probably one of my enemies that are ever lurking, waiting for their chance to take my place." Boyd nodded toward the three doors around the room. "There’s the bathroom, the sitting room, and your closet. There are plenty of new clothes in the closet, but if you want something else, just press the button on that intercom over there and let the staff know. Midnight snacks are also their department. Basically, they’re here to serve you. If you have any problems with their service, let me know and I’ll take care of it."
Christina paused in her inspection of her bedroom and said, "You really do take this whole thing seriously, don’t you?"
He seemed startled at her question. "Of course I do. It’s important that you are happy."
"Important to who?"
"Your father. Me. Your anger leads to destruction, but your happiness now that you’ve accepted who you are will be so much more profitable in the long run."
Her face fell at his words. "Profitable?"
Boyd realized he had erred and tried to step back from his comment. "I didn’t mean it like that, Christina. Your happiness means more than profit; it’s simply that the happier you are, the more likely you are to remain close to your father."
"I’ve never even met him," Christina pointed out.
He relaxed slightly. "You will soon enough, Chris. You just need time to adjust."
"Time to adjust to being the daughter of Satan? I’m not sure a lifetime would be enough," she said.
Grinning, he straightened a picture on the wall. "It’s a good thing that you have several lifetimes then."
Her hands touched the heirloom silver brush on the vanity. "Thank you, Boyd . . . for everything."
"Not a problem, kid. That’s what I’m here for. Anyway, you need to get some sleep so I’ll say good night. And if you need me for whatever reason, my suite is just across the hall."
She nodded and walked toward the door where he was heading. "Good night."
After Boyd shut the door, he heard the lock turn, a sure sign that she still didn’t trust him. Nonetheless, he was glad that she was being safe because it meant that something he said might have gotten through to her – risk-taking was fine, but only if the consequences were overall positive. His fingers lingered on the doorknob, but he headed straight back to the library to pour himself another shot of bourbon. It was time to make plans for the near-future, plans that would give Christina the chance to completely fulfill her destiny. There were lessons to learn and important people to charm, not in the least of which was her launch into New York society to become so much more than she was. Her father had officially relinquished control of his corporation to Christina; in fact, Boyd had spent much of the day trying to put everything in order. With Christina in residence, the final puzzle piece had fallen into place.
A few hours later, Boyd unlocked Christina’s door because while she might be his boss, he knew better than to give her a door that he couldn’t open. As much as he admired her headstrong nature, she had proved to be far too careless with her own life so far. The room was pitch black save for a ray of moonlight that fell across her bed. He moved closer to look at her – it wasn’t the first time he had watched her sleep, but tonight was different from every other night that came before. For one thing, he had never been so close. Her blonde hair was spread around her face, a halo of light for the angel she wasn’t, her pale skin painting a stark contrast across the red silk sheets as she slept a dreamless sleep, at peace for the first time since she was very young. "You will lead this world into darkness, Christina. Make no mistake about it – you will succeed where so many others have failed. And not because of the prophecies or your father’s legacy. No, it will be because of who you are." She hadn’t destroyed Point Pleasant, but the lives she ruined as she walked away was so much worse than putting them all in the ground. He approved of her decision; after all, he had expected that she would kill them to be kind, but this punishment was so much more appropriate. "Sleep tight, little one. Tomorrow will be the beginning of your new life."
Chapter X: Shifting Dynamics
Boyd didn’t sleep often and when he did, it was light and dreamless. True to his nature, he hated the thought that he might miss something valuable and important. Going without sleep was far more preferable to relying on others for information. He would rather be ten steps ahead of the lynch mob when it came down to it. In fact, he hadn’t slept much since the day Christina had first gone missing right before she turned up in Point Pleasant. The adrenaline had started pumping through his veins when her father first said it was time for her to fly free, and it hadn’t stopped circulating until she was sleeping safely in the suite across the hall. The knowledge that she was safe allowed Boyd to sleep a much deeper sleep than he generally did.
Unfortunately, it did leave him open to worst case scenarios such as waking to find a teenage nymphet straddling him, pressing an ornate knife to his throat. Yet the games Holly had played left Boyd capable of taking anything in stride. "Good morning, Christina. I see you brought a souvenir home with you from Point Pleasant. At least you took something both sentimental and useful."
"It still has my blood on it," she said.
"And Jesse’s. Did you sleep well?" he asked, changing the subject to throw her off balance.
"Well enough," she answered, shifting slightly. "No dreams or nightmares."
Boyd chose not to hide his concern at that revelation. "I didn’t know you had been dreaming, Chris." (CHANGE DREAM THING – HE KNOWS ABOUT DREAMS)
"They weren’t stupid dreams about failing a test or going to school naked. I dreamt of the death and destruction I would cause. Jesse used to kill me nightly. Was that all part of your plan to turn me into a monster?" Angry, she pressed the knife deeper, leaving a thin red line.
His mind quickly processing her rage, he stilled and smoothed out his expression into one of warmth and compassion. Rational conversation seemed to be out, and he suspected that humor wouldn’t go over too well with his current audience. "Will spilling my blood make those dreams disappear? Because I’ll donate as much as you need to help you work through your issues."
"You think I have issues, Boyd?" The knife drifted unsteadily across his throat, forcing him to wonder if it was possible to develop blood poisoning from a dirty knife. "It’s just that simple for you, isn’t it? Make it all a joke and no one will notice that you don’t know what you’re doing. Let’s pretend that I’m not the daughter of Satan, that I didn’t just resurrect Isabelle Kramer to torture the family that took me in, that I didn’t murder the boy that I loved to save myself. No, it’s much more important to pretend that everything is normal in Christina’s world."
"I wasn’t joking, Chris. If watching me bleed will help your pain, give me the knife and I’ll make the slice myself."
"Where’s the fun in that?" she asked, looking disappointed at his sincere offer.
Boyd suppressed his amusement. Once she understood truly subtle destruction (her own displays were too showy to do much damage), then she could explore her thirst for blood. In the meantime, she was still holding a knife to his throat. He should have anticipated that last night’s bout of agreeability wouldn’t last long once she was rested. "So why did you keep the knife, Christina?"
She stared down at the blade before she said, "It’s a reminder that no one can be trusted, Boyd, not even you."
Instead of denying her claim, he put his hand on hers. "I think you’ve made your point then, Chris. I know you don’t trust me yet, but I also know that you will one day when you realize that everything up to this point has been for your best interest."
"Best interest? We’ll see about that," she scoffed, but she still removed the knife from his throat and set it down on the black sheets. He expected her to move at that point, to remember that she hated his guts and flounce off. Christina impassively eyed the small amount of blood that welled up from his wound before she slid farther down his stomach, giving him some room for movement.
"Since you’re not interested in bleeding me dry right now, is there something else that I can help you with?" he said, suddenly aware of the fact that her white nightgown was extremely flimsy and that her body was bearing down on his with very little in between them.
In spite of his efforts to hide his discomfort, Christina picked up on it almost effortlessly, sliding backwards even more to rest her bottom against his groin. She tilted her head with a sweetly malicious look. "What’s wrong, Boyd?" she asked, honeyed innocence dripping from her voice. "You don’t look very comfortable at all."
"Chris." He tried to play off the warning in a cool tone, but her fingers started to wander along his naked torso. "Aren’t you hungry or something?"
"No, but it certainly seems like you’re hungry for a taste of your little girl, Daddy," she said, placing careful emphasis on the last word. "You did compare yourself to my father once upon a time. Though I suppose incest is perfectly acceptable now that we’re family, right? After all, it’s not a mortal sin if you don’t follow God."
"I’m not your father, Christina," he answered, placing firm hands around her hips to lift her off his body, an effort thwarted by her knees locking onto his waist. Without the right momentum, he was helpless underneath her, something she seemed determined to exploit. "But I did help raise you and I just saved your life so do me a favor and move."
She ran her finger along the cut in his neck, already healing over as she considered his dilemma. "I don’t know, Boyd. It’s kind of nice to have you in my power. Certainly, tying you up wasn’t this much fun."
"Look, kid, I may be old, but I’m still very much a red-blooded male. Of course you have the ability to drive me crazy. What more do you expect in the face of your powers? And make no mistake about it, you have feminine wiles that will make many men fall at your feet, but how much of that is your unnaturally attractive good looks and your heritage?" Boyd taunted, his body already turning back to ice as he regained control of it and the situation.
Her eyes blackened, but she kept her voice even. "And what would my father think of the fact that my guardian can’t seem to restrain himself?"
"Do you think your father will make me burst into flames? You could always move and we can test that theory out," Boyd suggested.
Christina studied his expression. "But what about that whole conversation last night about having to get used to a new guardian? Besides, you didn’t answer my question. What would dear old dad say?"
"If you were able to seduce me, he’d grin and say you’re a chip off the old block. Remember, Chris, Satan’s seduction lie in his charm and his good looks and you have that in spades." Boyd paused before he finished, "He wouldn’t actually do anything to me. You are now of age and more in control of your powers, and your father trusts that you won’t abuse that privilege too much. But he also knows that I’m the one person you can rely on to help you do what you need to do."
"What do I need to do?" she asked slyly. "Do I need to, how did you put it so quaintly, destroy the whole human race since they’re a failed experiment?"
He shook his head. "Not to begin with. First, you need to learn a few things and you need to take over your father’s corporation. Next week, you’ll be sworn in as the CEO of the company."
Boredom laced her tone. "What if I don’t want to become CEO of the company?"
"That’s your choice to make, but you’ll never reach your full potential. Besides, you need to lead your board of directors into making the right choice so it will be a good exercise in honing your powers."
As appealing as that sounded, Christina still was not sold on the idea. "I don’t know, Boyd. I don’t have a head for math."
"No, but you do have a head for destruction and pain which will be the whole point of the resources at your disposal."
"Besides, I was dreaming of Holly," he lied. Those words actually did send her flouncing out of his suite.
Boyd wasn’t surprised the night his bed shifted under someone else’s weight. He kept his eyes closed and continued to breathe evenly. When he felt soft hands on his bare shoulder, he moved slightly but pretended to be asleep still. She lifted the sheet and the cool air rushed to touch his body. He opened his eyes for a brief second, examining her expression before she glanced over to find that he was sleeping soundly. Her hands moved lower, tracing scars that she didn’t know the history behind. "Not now, Holly," he murmured, listening to the way she sucked in her breath and feeling her hands lift like she had just been scalded. His low chuckle gave the game away, and when he looked at her, she glared at him with bright, angry eyes. "Can I help you, Chris, or are you just looking?"
"How long have you been awake?" she demanded, fidgeting uncomfortably.
"From the moment you turned the doorknob." Boyd shoved the sheet back, revealing his lack of clothing. She gasped, turning her head, but she could hear the smirk in his voice as he stood. "This is what you wanted, right? To see me naked and vulnerable?"
"You’re a pig."
"Or maybe you wanted more," he said, ignoring her weak insult. "Maybe you wanted to do more than look. What do you think, Chris? Was it seduction you had in mind? Perhaps a repeat performance of you trying to exert your dominance over me? Or did you really just indulge in innocent curiosity?"
"I hate you."
"Oh, if only I actually thought it was true." He started pacing across the room, drawing her attention unwittingly. Taking advantage of his preoccupation, Christina used the time to look at him with unabashed curiosity though she turned away hurriedly when he caught her staring. Grinning at her rosy blush, he crossed the room to kneel at her feet and made his tone brutally frank. "It’s okay if you want to seduce me, Christina. You’re a young woman who just had her first taste of experience albeit at the hands of an untried boy not to mention being a hormonal, horny teenager. Add to that the fact that you’re Satan’s daughter, and it’s no wonder that you want to test your powers especially your powers of persuasion on me. No one is immune to you, and you wanted to see if I was the same way."
"I should go," she said.
Boyd rested his hands on her knees, pressing down a little more forcefully than was necessary. "We need to talk about this, Christina. I don’t want you lying to me or yourself when it would be so much easier to tell the truth."
"Why? So you can watch me humiliate myself even more than I already have? Because it’s not enough that you’ve seen me falling apart at the seams so let’s see Christina fall even more. No thank you."
"Do you know what your problem is, Chris? The reason why you’ll never live up to your full potential is because you spend too much time overthinking instead of acting on your feelings," he pronounced.
Christina sneered, disliking his habit of psychoanalyzing her particularly since he was nearly always right. "Thank you, Dr. Freud. Next you’ll be telling me that I want a man just like dead old Dad."
"Well, you did come to me tonight."
She loathed him in that moment, her feelings bouncing between extremes faster than ever. Despising his smug tone and shrewd expression, she hated him all the more for knowing her better than she knew herself. Which is why it would be almost inexplicable to her later that she smashed her mouth against his, initiating a harsh, punishing kiss that should have brought him to his knees. When she broke it off a few seconds later, she stared at him, but his blank expression told her nothing. Frustrated, she focused all her energy and threw him across the room into the wall. "Stay away from me, Boyd."
Her guardian stood, rubbing his arm which was throbbing painfully. "The kissing came from you, Christina, so I don’t think it’s fair to blame me for anything. Now if you want my advice, you’re much better off with the sweet, innocent kisses before you try the hard stuff." He approached slowly, treating her as a caged animal who shouldn’t be frightened. "Try it again."
"No," she said furiously.
His own patience wearing thin, Boyd pushed her backwards onto the bed and trapped her underneath his body. "The first rule of this game you’re trying to play is to gain the upper hand. Dominance is key," he murmured, lowering his mouth to hers for a brief kiss that was both sensual and taunting. Christina yielded without a second thought, hating herself for giving in yet trying to rise to the challenge of his lips. He pulled away to stand and looked down at her with a tiny smirk. "See how easy it is when you’re honey instead of vinegar? I could have had you screaming with pleasure in a heartbeat."
"So why don’t you?" she retorted, her face flushed with anger.
He tilted her head up and pushed her hair behind her ear. "Because you need to understand this lesson, and the only way for that to happen is for you to try it out."
With a toss of her hair, Christina pushed past him. "Thanks for the lesson, Daddy. I’ll keep that in mind for the next boy."
Boyd grabbed her arm and spun her to face him again. "I’m not your father, Chris. And lest you think I am again, I want you to remember this: your tiny little nightgowns that you parade around in raise feelings that have nothing to do with paternity. Your seduction before tonight was a lot more effective – tonight’s attempt was crass and amateur."
"When did your duties start to include directing my seduction effort? Do you even know what it is to fuck anymore? You’re so castrated by Holly that you might as well be a guy with no balls," she jeered.
His veneer of self-control snapped and he ripped her nightgown from her body easily. She gaped wordlessly at him, but his focus was on her naked form. "There, now my curiosity is appeased."
"How dare you? I should kill you," she cried.
His calm, patient demeanor irritated Christina. She pressed her body close to his, feeling the heat radiating from it as well as Boyd’s rising desire for her. Her arms looped around his neck while her voice sounded deceptively quiet. "Is this better?"
"Much," he said, enjoying the sensations she was arousing in him. Still, there was no time to do anything else before he found himself lying prone on the bed again, Christina straddling his legs. "My, this feels familiar."
"You know, this is just a pity fuck," she replied silkily.
Boyd gave her a congenial smile. "It seems like a pity tease if you ask me. After all, I haven’t seen you follow through yet."
It was the final straw for Christina, and she roughly jammed his cock inside her body without a thought for his pain or pleasure. When he made a noise, she glared at him. "This is what you wanted, isn’t it? Me exerting dominance over you as you get the chance to have the boss’s young, nubile daughter. Imagine what your standing would be if you could say anything."
And he realized that he was mute suddenly, a pressure placed delicately against his throat to keep him from speaking but not from breathing. "Sorry, Boyd, I would rather not have you distracting me." What followed was brief and it satisfied both of them in multiple ways. Christina didn’t let him speak again until she was out of the room, leaning against his door as she grinned at the victory. Had she heard Boyd’s pleased remarks to himself, she would have been infuriated that he felt a victory had been gained for his side in the encounter as well.
"Love binds people together almost as strongly as hate."
"You say you don’t care about Holly, but do you love her?"
"Almost as much as I hate her," he confessed.
"I could make her head explode for you," she said quietly.
"You really mean that?" He seemed to consider her offer before he shook his head with regret. "No, Christina, she’s my burden to carry with me. I will continue to deal with her as I see fit."
She heard the unspoken pause at the end of his sentence. "And?"
"And so long as it doesn’t interfere with my service to you."
"Are you mine for the taking?"
"Always your servant, Christina."
"Don’t make fun of me," she said childishly.
"I wouldn’t dream of it," he answered with a serious tone.
"I certainly wouldn’t at this point. You’re more powerful than I am. Besides, I’ve served you since before you were born, Chris. I’m yours until the day you get fed up with me and send me back to your father so I can burn for eternity."
"But my father . . ."
"Your father understands that it’s essential you have someone at your side who only serves you and your interests. Once I chose to become your guardian, he knew that my loyalties would shift to you and you alone once you were old enough to take control of your own destiny. Everything I’ve done in your seventeen years has been to get you to this point. Now it is up to you to use me as you see fit."
"So if I asked you to take on Hell, my father if need be, would you do it?"
"I’d try my hardest to talk you out of it, but I would do it," he pledged.
"Terry, Holly, you look surprised to see me," Boyd said as he walked into the library.
Holly smiled uneasily, but Terry looked noticeably unhappy to see him. "Mr. Boyd, I thought . . ."
"Oh, did Holly convince you that I was dead? Sorry, kid, it’s not that simple. It turns out that it’s really hard to kill me. And since the Antichrist survived, it was only a matter of time before you learned the truth." Boyd lounged on the most comfortable chair and let his eyes run over Holly. "Thank you for bringing her back to me though. It saves me the trouble of wasting valuable manpower on trying to find her."
Terry looked around wildly, searching out Christina’s presence. "He said my assignment was to do work for her guardian."
"Right," Boyd said slowly. "The funny thing is, Terry, I’m her guardian so I suppose that means you’re working for me again. But the thing is that I don’t know if I can actually trust you anymore."
"Sir," he protested.
"No, have a seat and be silent while I think." Boyd stared at Holly who was still giving him her innocent, loving smile. "You, too, Holly. I assume you’re planning on staying for the time being."
"Perhaps," she answered coyly.
"Then shut up and sit down." Boyd stood and began to pace. "Did you really think you could steal my car and my wife, and there wouldn’t be consequences, Terry?"
Terry looked bewildered at his comment. "I didn’t think . . ."
"Lucas, he’s just a kid," Holly purred. "And you know how persuasive I can be. Blame me if you must blame someone. He was only acting under my guidance."
"Shut up, Holly," he said, focusing his attention on Terry. "And are you truly so stupid that you think she had any kind of bargaining power with Satan? She lived because I gave up my soul for her. He thinks she’s perfectly useless, and to tell you the truth, I’ve started coming around to his way of thinking."
"Lucas!" He was grimly pleased to hear the appalled word and to see the worried expression in her eyes. "You don’t mean that."
"I mean it more than I’ve meant anything I’ve ever said," Boyd answered. "And that includes my wedding vows. She almost ruined everything in Point Pleasant, Terry. Do you know what kind of fate you both would have been subjected to if I hadn’t survived to help Christina defeat Jesse? It wouldn’t have been pretty or enjoyable."
Terry finally worked up the courage to complete a sentence. "But she did survive and she managed to murder Jesse."
"After he tried to gut her," Boyd said in a nonchalant tone, sitting again. "Does it bother you that Jesse is dead by her hand?"
Holly poked Terry. "Of course not."
"You’re not a very good liar, Terry. Your tells give it away, but even if you were a particularly good liar, that lie doesn’t work with me. Jesse was your good friend, right? Surely, it would bother you a little."
"Okay, so it does bother me," Terry said forcefully. "But you wouldn’t trust me near Christina if that was the case."
Boyd nodded at his answer. "Maybe you’re not as dumb as I thought. Still, lying doesn’t exactly help the trust issue either. And everything I do is for Christina’s benefit. At this point, I fail to see why letting you work for me would benefit her at all."
"But it was by order of Satan," Holly said. "He supersedes your precious Antichrist’s well-being."
"Not anymore, Holly. There’s a new world order around here. Christina is the boss. And I ought to warn you that she doesn’t like you much, Holly, so you better watch your step."
"Boyd!" called a singsong voice. Amidst a whirlwind of red fabric, Christina entered, her blue eyes shining with curiosity.
"Speak of the devil and she appears," Boyd murmured, immediately rising to greet his charge. "Hi, Chris."
"Leslie said we had visitors, Boyd. Oh . . ." Her interest faded when she saw who was sitting on the couch. "Perhaps she should have said an unwelcome guest instead. Holly."
Holly rose with a friendly smile. "You’re looking well, Christina."
"No thanks to that little stunt you pulled in Point Pleasant," she shot back. Her eyes darted toward Boyd who nodded. "What are you doing here?"
"Your father sent Terry to work for me. I suspect Holly just came along for the ride since she didn’t know I was going to be here," Boyd offered.
Christina smirked at Holly. "It’s good that Boyd’s so hard to kill. Breaking in a new guardian would have been so time-consuming and boring." She turned to Terry and offered him her hand. "So you’re going to be working for us?"
He rose in a hurry, shyly shaking her hand. "I don’t know yet."
"You don’t know?"
"It’s up to Boyd . . . and, and you, I guess," he stammered. Christina had transformed herself from innocent waif to sexy temptress, and he didn’t quite know how to handle the change. He still remembered the girl who was so worried for Jesse’s safety that she went toe-to-toe with Boyd.
Glancing at Boyd questioningly, she retained his hand, running her fingers across his palm. "Boyd? Is there a reason why Terry can’t work for us? We could do with some new blood around here," she said, her voice layered with double meaning.
"As much as I’m sure you need someone new to seduce, Chris, there are larger things to be concerned about. The bigger picture –"
"Boyd, I don’t care about the bigger picture. That’s your department, remember?"
Frustrated that she wouldn’t allow him to exert any kind of control in this situation, Boyd glared at her for the first time in months. Funny how the bigger picture suddenly didn’t matter when a cute boy was in the room. "I’m concerned about your safety, Christina. He may be a gnat, but he’s a gnat whose best friend you killed. I don’t want you wasting your time swatting away at a problem that can be nipped in the bud right now."
Her voice was full of honey as she directed her next words at Terry. "He’s not a gnat, Boyd. Terry’s a good guy, and he’d never dream of hurting me." Her fingers suddenly dug into his palm, making him wince with pain. There was no time to wonder at the game she might be playing because she dropped his hand and her voice returned to normal. "He won’t touch me because he wants to move up in my father’s organization. Hurting me wouldn’t help his cause any. And you, of all people, should know that his ambition will win out over vengeance and love."
Boyd’s eyes widened slightly as he made the connection. "Oh, yes, he gave up Jesse’s location for the lovely Paula and then he turned around and broke her heart so he could try to climb the corporate ladder. Perhaps he can be useful to me, after all."
"You’re such a slow learner, Boyd," she said, boredom written all over her face. "I’m going for a swim if you want me for any reason." She sauntered out of the room, leaving a stunned silence behind her.
Holly and Terry both stared at the empty doorway. "Was she real?" Terry asked.
"Very real and very much a pain in my ass," Boyd said, amused at her theatrics. "Well, I suppose you have a future with us after all, Terry. She obviously wants you here."
"Why?" Confused, Terry glanced at him.
"She’s not a lesser person. I wouldn’t dream of trying to get into her head." Boyd paused and watched him before he handed out his best advice. "But I would suggest that you be careful if she decides to crawl into your bed one night for a booty call." At Terry’s shocked expression, he chuckled. "You better get used to Christina as she is now, kid. She’ll never be the girl who washed up in Point Pleasant again."
"Um, okay," Terry said.
Boyd pushed a button on the intercom. "Aidan, come to the library so you can show our newest employee his new digs. Give him an apartment on the fourth floor and make sure he has limited security clearance."
"An apartment of my own?"
"I believe in rewarding a job well-done and with the exception of a loss of judgment, you’ve served well. As for the limited security clearance, that does mean that you won’t ever be left alone with Christina unless Christina or I override the order. And I won’t be overriding it any time soon. You’ll have to work to regain my trust. Until then, it’s grunt work." Boyd nodded at the burly man who stood in the doorway. "Excellent, Aidan, take Terry down. Give him a set of keys and the password to the building."
"So will I be given an apartment of my very own, Lucas?" Holly moved from her seat, slipping behind him to wrap her arms around his chest. "Or do you just want to point me to your suite? You know I can never keep track of this big place. We can work on getting reacquainted."
He forcibly removed her hands and turned to look at her, his neutral expression betraying none of his thoughts. Holly was startled by the change in his demeanor; she had always been able to read him before. "Look, sweetheart," she wheedled. "I didn’t know what was going to happen to me in your little fantasy of power. I thought you would keep me handcuffed to a chair for the rest of my eternal life and the prospect wasn’t too pleasant."
"Why don’t you know how to stay quiet for longer than two seconds?" he said coldly. "What might have happened after Point Pleasant no longer matters. This is a new reality, one in which your place in my life is still very uncertain. Christina doesn’t like you, Holly."
"She’ll come around. It looks like you’ve taught her quite a few new tricks, Lucas, but she needs a woman’s influence, a mother to guide her."
He laughed, sending a chill down her spine. "A mother? You? Holly, you’re the most selfish woman I’ve ever known. Besides, Christina has had enough of mothers to last her the rest of her long life."
Holly smiled at him, turning on the seduction. "What will you do with little old me then? You know I’ll need some things of my own, right?"
Boyd pushed the intercom button again. "Alex, I need you to escort my wife to Fifth Avenue so she can shop for clothes." He glanced at his triumphant wife and felt his hatred start to rise again. "Don’t spend all my money."
"I would never do anything so crass, honey," she said as another security guard came to stand in the doorway. "Well, aren’t you big and handsome?" she cooed, throwing a look over her shoulder to see what sort of effect it had on Boyd.
"No security clearance into the building, Alex. Once you’re done shopping, take her to the Plaza and check her into the hotel for now." He laid it all out for Alex who nodded, used to the unusual requests. "And, Holly, if you run away, no one will come looking for you." She looked as though she might object, but Alex hurried her away.
Boyd sighed and headed straight for the rooftop and the pool area enclosed by solar panels. As hard as it was to deal with Holly, Christina would be much, much worse if he didn’t show up to report everything. And from her show earlier, he suspected she would be chomping at the bit to know everything that had happened. He arrived, dismissed the two guards, and waited patiently at the end of the pool for her. She swam several more laps, ignoring him in favor of her daily routine. It was punishment for his transgressions because she hated when he questioned her judgment even for a second. When she was finally done, she held out her hand and let him help her out of the water.
"Well?" she said, wrapping a fluffy towel around her body. "Did you give Terry the job?"
"You know I did, Chris. You made it pretty clear that’s what you wanted. I put him in an empty apartment on the fourth floor and gave him limited security clearance," Boyd answered.
She looked disappointed at his clearance, but her face brightened when she realized that she could still see him any time she wanted. "Maybe I’ll have to hand deliver a housewarming gift."
"Can you please do that on his off time?" Boyd asked in an annoyed voice. "I hate having to wait for you to be done with your boy toys before I can send them on errands."
Hurt, Christina nodded and said, "All you needed to do was ask."
Suddenly, Boyd found himself with an upset Antichrist right before he needed to talk to her about Holly; it wasn’t a pleasant prospect to start with so he knew soothing her feelings was the first thing he had to do. "I’m sorry, Chris. You’re right. I just worry that you spend too much time distracting them. They can’t protect you if they’re too busy sexing you up."
"You’re so adorable when you try to use slang. You really should just stick with keen, Boyd." She was far more agreeable now that he had apologized, and she offered up the strings of her bikini top as a sign of her acceptance. He untied the strings, and she pulled off the top, baring her breasts even while she was untying the strings on her thong. "Thanks. Now what about Mrs. Slut 1935? What did you do with her?"
"Right now, she’s shopping for new clothes and then she’ll be staying at the Plaza for an indeterminate amount of time. Eventually, she’ll get bored and run off again even though I told her I wouldn’t chase her any longer."
Christina grinned at the news. "Good, I didn’t want her staying in the same building with me. We’ll work on the same town later. But, Boyd, remember what you promised me. I won’t let her interfere with your duties or my life."
"That’s fine, Chris. If she does that, make her head explode."
"You really don’t love her anymore, do you? Huh," Christina said, her tone noncommittal. "Anyway, keep her away from me and everything should be dandy." Nude, she stepped into the boiling hot tub. "Are you going to join me?"
He watched the warm water slide down her young body and felt a familiar ache in his groin. Still, business always came first so he shook his head regretfully. "There’s that meeting with the Tanakas that I have to get to."
"Suit yourself. Maybe I can entertain myself with that new guard. He’s quite cute considering."
"Considering what?" Boyd asked, his curiosity piqued.
"Considering you usually only keep the ugly ones around me." She stuck her tongue out at him, making him laugh.
He smirked. "Funny how that still doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. They all still fall in love with you."
"Boys!" she said in exasperation. "They’re worthless."
He stopped right before he reached the exit. "And, Chris, that was a nice show down there."
"I know, right? It’s all about illusion or whatever."
"Ms. Nickson, Mrs. Boyd is requesting an immediate audience with you," one of the men said, looking over at Christina.
She was bored with sunbathing particularly since both of her guards were guys she had already tortured with her nudity. There was nothing on the agenda that was immediate, and the dinner party at the Tanakas was hours away. Plus, Boyd was off making some kind of deal or destroying someone’s reputation. All in all, Holly’s presence was exactly the kind of diversion Christina hadn’t realized she wanted. "All right, put her in the library, Charles. And make sure someone watches her at all times. She’s totally the type to steal the crystal decanter when no one is looking."
"Christina, Mrs. Boyd is supposed to stay far away from you," said the other guard, who was much younger and much more in love with her. "It’s what Boyd wants."
"And yet I think I might be his boss," Christina snapped irritably. "As long as it doesn’t interfere with my safety, my wishes supersede his, and I wish to see Holly so go put her in the library. Tell her I’ll be with her in ten minutes."
Christina’s ten minutes was actually closer to thirty, but she strolled into the library with a smirk on her face. "I was beginning to think that you had died, Holly. Well, maybe not thought but hoped."
"You’re looking well, Christina," Holly said, ignoring the sniping comment in favor of a compliment.
"I can’t say the same for you, Holly. You’re looking positively haggard. Botox would do wonders for those crow’s feet you’re starting to develop."
Holly self-consciously touched her eyes, making Christina’s smirk grow wider. "Someone is starting to get too big for her britches," Holly weakly retorted. "Daughter of Satan does not automatically equal queen of the world."
"Get out!" Christina ordered the two guards. Before they could protest, they were already being pushed out the door by a swirling wind. "Queen of the world? What makes you think I’d settle for that position when I could simply destroy it?" she asked in a light tone.
"Why haven’t you destroyed it yet?"
Christina considered the question briefly before she dismissed it. "It still amuses me for the most part."
"You’ve been spending too much time with Lucas," Holly informed her. "Your father wanted you to destroy the world."
"And now he wants my happiness. He knows that I’m doing enough to keep the saintly believer population down. And humanity may wind up destroying itself yet. But for now, the world is my oyster or however that cliché goes." Christina crossed the room to the bar. "Do you want a drink?"
Holly blinked with surprise. Christina’s tone was almost civil. "I’m fine, thank you."
"Suit yourself." She busied herself with making the drink before she chose her favorite chair. "So how is life at the Plaza for you?"
"Boring," Holly said, gingerly settling on the couch. "For all that New York City is supposed to be this great city to live in, it’s too stifling for me."
"Why don’t you leave then? You could go anywhere in the world. Go to Vienna or San Francisco," Christina suggested. "I’m sure I could convince Boyd to set up an allowance for you."
Her mouth tightened at Christina’s casual mention of Boyd. "I can’t just leave. I have too many things tying me here."
Laughing with some disbelief, Christina stared at her. "You don’t mean Boyd, do you? You don’t love him, and for as much as you’d like to see his destruction, I’d think that getting as far away as possible would be your goal."
Holly shook her head. "I can’t get away from Lucas. He won’t let me go. He’d chase me to Tibet and drag me home complaining that he hates the heat."
"No, he wouldn’t," she contradicted, watching Holly carefully. "But that’s the problem. If you did run off, he wouldn’t chase you and you’d have to come crawling back to him on your hands and knees."
"Look, Chris, I know you think you’re the only person Lucas is devoted to, but I’m his wife and we’ve been together for more than 70 years. You don’t honestly think that he wouldn’t come running if I crooked my finger at him, do you?"
Christina laughed again. "No, I truly don’t. Boyd always works for the bigger picture. Sure, he keeps you around for sentimental reasons, but you’d be the first thing he’d sacrifice if he thought that I was in danger."
"You’re so certain of it," Holly said with wonder. "But how can you be sure? Just because you have some puppy dog crush on Lucas doesn’t mean that he reciprocates your feelings."
"A puppy dog crush?" she repeated.
"I’ve seen the way you look at him, Christina."
Her expression was smug. "And what makes you think that he doesn’t reciprocate my feelings, Holly? We’re two consenting adults, and it’s pretty obvious that he’s not going to see you at the Plaza for booty calls. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have come sniffing around here to play your little games."
"I came because you and I needed to talk."
"No, you came because you’re worried that he’s stepping out on you and probably rightfully so. After all, you’ve done it enough to him that he might just be trying to get even with you," Christina said smoothly. "Or worse, he might have found someone better."
"Better than me? I was the one brought back to life, Christina. We are bound together for eternity and no one can come between us."
She sipped her drink, letting Holly’s words hang in the air. "What makes you think that he doesn’t regret that decision?"
Holly’s voice rose in hysteria. "Then why hasn’t he asked you to destroy me?"
"And how do you know he hasn’t?" Christina asked, her voice full of self-satisfaction.
"Because he loves me," she answered. "And I know that’s more than you have so stay away from my husband."
"Oh, Holly, he doesn’t love you any more. Don’t you see? He’s devoted to me because I have power and beauty; he only tolerates you because he feels guilty for something he did right 70 years ago."
Furious, Holly reached out to smack Christina, but her arm froze in mid-air. "You are such a liar," she said.
"Look at it this way, Holly. Where do you think he sleeps at night? It’s certainly not at the Plaza in your bed so we can scratch that one off the list. Does he sleep all alone in his suite, or does he sleep with the appealing, powerful woman who sleeps across the hall?" she taunted, satisfaction in every syllable.
"How dare you!" Holly raged helplessly.
"Well, well, what do we have here?" Boyd asked, walking into the room and looking at the tableau impassively.
Christina whirled away from Holly and moved toward her guardian with a pleasant smile. "Good afternoon, Boyd. How was your morning?"
He kept his attention on Christina, ignoring Holly in favor of the girl in front of him. "Productive. We should see movement in the next week or so."
"Excellent." Christina lifted his arm to look at his watch, an intimate gesture designed to upset Holly. "I didn’t realize it was so late. I have to get ready if we’re going to leave at six." She started toward the door before she turned and said Boyd’s name. He gave her a questioning look. "Make sure the trash goes out soon."
"Will do, boss." He waited patiently for her to leave before he let himself concentrate on Holly. "What are you doing here? I told you to stay away from Christina."
"But you didn’t tell me to stay from you, and Lucas, I haven’t seen you in more than a month."
"I’ve been busy," he said coldly, touching her frozen arm to release her from stasis.
"Busy sleeping with that slut," she retorted. His grip tightened painfully around her forearm, eliciting a gasp of surprise.
"Busy being Christina’s guardian and looking after her best interests. It’s what I signed on to do the day she was born. And now that I can move in the open, I’m doing my job and that means I don’t have time to chase after you. I’m not the type to give up on my responsibilities, Holly; otherwise I would have given up on you a long time ago."
Hurt, she lashed out at him. "I’m pretty sure having sex with the boss’s daughter doesn’t count in your duties. And don’t think I haven’t noticed that you haven’t denied it."
"Is that what Chris told you? That she crawls into my empty bed at night and comforts me in ways you never could?" His voice dripped with heavy sarcasm.
Holly swallowed her relief. When he verbalized her fear, it sounded ridiculous. "Baby, I knew you wouldn’t do that to me." She reached out to touch his chest, but he spun away with evident irritation.
"Do you think I’d ask your permission?" he sneered. You’ve never respected our wedding vows even before you died. How many times have I have found you in some stranger’s bed, Holly? How many times have you tried to betray or destroy me?"
Looking as though she had been slapped, Holly feebly said, "I’ve been faithful, Lucas."
"What, since you arrived in town? A whole two months worth of fidelity doesn’t say a whole lot when I look back at the last seventy years. What do you want, Holly, some kind of reward?"
"I want you, Lucas. I’ve always wanted you."
"Except when you don’t," he replied, his expression grim. "And right now the only reason you want me is because I’m more powerful that I’ve ever been. So for all that you try to excoriate me for being with Christina, you don’t want me to lose that power. We’ve been playing these games too long, Holly. It’s tedious."
"This isn’t a game, Lucas. I love you, and you love me." Holly’s voice was uncertain even as she spoke the words.
He laughed. "You aren’t even sure anymore, are you? But are you unsure about your love or my love?"
"You could never stop loving me. You’ve told me that a thousand times," she said, sounding stronger now.
Boyd stared at her, pity in his smile. "You’re right. I could never stop loving you, but the thing is that I can also never stop hating you." Her indignant look only pushed him further. "Don’t be self-righteous, Holly. It’s not a look you wear well. You feel the same way that I do. At least, be honest with yourself about that."
"What do you expect?" she asked. "You killed me and then you brought me back to live some sort of horrible half life. And then it turns out I have to play second fiddle to that child. And I hate watching you fall for her little tricks."
"She’s not a child any longer, Holly. She’s not completely an adult yet, but she’s exhibiting more signs of maturity than you do. More importantly, she’s the one I serve above all others. Her little tricks are her way of testing out her powers, expanding her range, and stopping that isn’t in anyone’s best interests."
"Boyd, I thought I told you to make sure the trash was taken out," Christina said, sauntering into the room. She wore a red silk dress that hugged her curves and emphasized her pale, exotic beauty.
He gave her a slow, appraising look before he smiled with approval. "Sorry, Chris, I just needed to finish up here."
"You’re too kind to her feelings." Christina gazed at Holly with placid eyes. "Boyd loves you and hates you and every time he looks at you, he feels absolute disgust and self-loathing for having any sort of positive feelings for you."
Holly took a step forward, her hands balled up into fists at her side. "Shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re nobody special no matter what anyone tells you. So you happened to be lucky enough to fall for the Chosen and beat him that way, but how long did it take you to finally give in to your powers? The others did it as soon as they realized just who they were, but you fought it. That doesn’t make you special, Christina, that just makes you stupid."
Her eyes narrowed, but it was Boyd who stopped Holly in her tracks. "Perhaps it would be better if you did leave, Holly. As I’ve told Christina in the past, blood is a bitch to get out of the carpet."
"You’d stop her, Lucas. You’d never let her destroy me."
"What makes you think he can control me?" Christina asked in a dangerous tone.
"You haven’t killed me yet. If it were really up to you, you’d have done it the moment you saw me in this room two months ago."
Christina’s eyes darted toward Boyd who nodded slightly. The gesture infuriated Holly even more, but her rival’s words turned rage into fear. "We have an understanding about you, Holly. I let you live as long as you don’t interfere with what we’re trying to accomplish here. I think today might have invalidated that agreement."
The wary look Holly sent Boyd might have made him feel guilty in the past, but it was a new reality and he had never felt more indifferent toward his wife than he did in this moment. "Holly, you brought it all on yourself. I gave you one simple instruction and you just couldn’t do it. Now it’s up to Chris to decide your fate."
Satan’s daughter looked like she might explode from the glee of Boyd stepping aside yet Christina’s tone was one of rational thought. Boyd had taught her so much already that she could see the subtlest path of destruction for Holly. "Wow, my decision, huh? I could kill you in a heartbeat, Holly, or I could let you live your half-life. Killing you would be so simple, but you have no power over me and there’s nothing that you can do to me anymore."
"So you’re not going to kill me?" Holly stood still, staring at the girl.
Christina smirked slightly and answered, "I know you have a death wish so fulfilling it wouldn’t teach you any kind of lesson. Someone once gave me an expensive lesson." Her eyes went briefly to Boyd before her focus returned to Holly. "And it’s a lesson that I needed to learn. But no one has ever taught you any kind of a lesson much less one that will change your thinking. Boyd was too weak to correct your behavior, but it’s not his fault that he loved you. It’s the human in him. I don’t have that failing anymore so it falls to me to teach you that crossing me is the very worst thing you can do. Instead I give you back your life so while you cool your heels at the Plaza, you can imagine that every day I spend with Boyd is one more day where I bind him closer to me and take him away from you that much more. Does he love you that much, Holly? Is his attachment to you greater than his attachment to me?"
Worried, Holly glanced at Boyd who was watching Christina with a shuttered expression though she almost spied a gleam of approval in his eyes. "Are you listening to her, Lucas? She’s trying to destroy our love for each other."
He didn’t say anything until Christina leaned over and whispered something in his ear. When he nodded, she smiled sweetly at him and departed the room once more, not looking back at Holly. "It’s time to go, Holly."
"How can you do this to me?" she shrieked.
"It’s really simple. You don’t exist to Christina anymore." His straightforward answer chilled her.
"But I’m your wife," she reminded him as his hand locked around her upper arm.
Boyd’s voice was ice. "That’s unfortunate, isn’t it?"
Fear coursing through her veins, Holly asked, "How can you choose her over me?" It was the last gasp of a desperate woman.
"She’s the boss, Holly. I owe her everything including our continued existences. And you became unimportant the moment I accepted guardianship of Christina. More than that, Christina deserves every ounce of loyalty I have which means I have none left for you."
"You love her," she responded in a horrified tone. "You already love her more than you love me."
Boyd shrugged unapologetically. "She’s incredibly generous to those who serve her well. Aside from having Satan’s best qualities, she’s a lot more fun to be around than you are. For one thing, I don’t have to watch my back. And she relies on my guidance in a way that you’ve never done. It’s not hard to love her – how else do you think she’s so effective, Holly?"
He shoved her into the arms of one of the nearby security guards. "Take her back to the Plaza now. I’ll be by in a few days to discuss your departure."
"I won’t leave you, Lucas."
"It’s not an option anymore. Chris has made it clear that she wants you out of her city as soon as possible." She strained to get out of the chokehold, but he had already turned his back. "Oh, and by the way, Holly, you lose."
With the way the afternoon had gone so far, he wasn’t too surprised to find his suite door wide open and Christina sprawled across his bed, reading a magazine. "You’re going to wrinkle your dress," he said, going to his own closet to rifle through the tuxes.
"The best thing about having powers is that wrinkles are easy to get out. You know if you’d rely on your powers more, you’d probably save a fortune in dry-cleaning," she replied, flipping the page. "Ooh, I like these shoes."
"Thanks for the tip." He pulled out two tuxes and held them out for her to examine. "Which one will impress more?"
She barely glanced at them before she said, "Go for the classic one. You know how traditional the Tanakas are."
Boyd looked pleased at her answer. For all her feigned boredom when he talked about business, she picked up on a lot of details that would have slipped past most people. As he started to take off his clothes, he changed the subject back to the meeting that he had walked in on. "I wish you wouldn’t have seen Holly today, Chris."
"I can take care of myself. Holly is nothing, Boyd," she replied.
"Which is exactly why you shouldn’t have seen her. You have better things you can do with your time."
Christina finally gave him her full attention by pushing the magazine aside and sitting on the edge of the bed. "Aren’t you the one who is always telling me that I should know my enemy? It was a reconnaissance mission, not the end of the world."
"Holly is not your enemy," he reminded her. "You just said it yourself. She’s nothing to you."
"But she’s something to you, Boyd, and that concerns me a bit. She’s still a distraction no matter how much you pretend not to care. Besides, it was worth it to find out that she’s jealous of me."
"Why didn’t you lie to her?" he asked as he straightened out his jacket and fixed his cufflinks.
Christina laughed quietly and stood up, motioning for him to come over. "Because the truth was more painful. Another lesson I learned at your knee, o wise teacher."
"She doesn’t think that any longer." Boyd let her tie his bowtie with her expert fingers.
Her smile grew wider. "So you lied to her? You’ve said it yourself. She sleeps with any cute guy that she sees. Why can’t you do the same?" Before he could answer, she shook her head. "It’s because you still love her. Oh, Boyd, it’s a good thing you’re such an excellent guardian. It balances out that pesky humanity thing that you give into way too often."
"People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones," he said. "I know all your dirty little secrets, Chris, including the ones that prove just how human you really are."
She rolled her eyes and used her powers to get rid of all the wrinkles in her dress at the same time. "So where will you be sending Holly? I do hope it’s some place far away like Timbuktu or Nepal. How about Antarctica?"
"I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far ahead."
"Sure you haven’t," she scoffed. "Boyd, you always think ahead ten steps."
"Do we have to discuss this now? We’re going to be late."
Christina entered the limo first with Boyd selecting the seat next to her and Terry choosing the seat across from them. "So what did you think, kid?" he asked.
"I never realized just how diverse your corporate interests were, Mr. Boyd."
"A far cry from the mob boss you thought I was, huh?" Boyd's smile was more of a smirk at his assistant's comment.
Christina merely laughed at both of her companions. "Boyd is a mob boss. He's still a criminal – he just wears a suit and pretends to be legitimate."
"Actually, I think you're the mob boss, Chris. I'm your consigliore," Boyd replied. "Take us to the penthouse." He delivered the order in a crisp voice, different from the teasing remark he had directed toward Christina.
But her attention was already elsewhere as she contradicted his order. "No, take us to Fifth Avenue, Jamison. I have shopping that I need to do."
"Do you even have any more room in your closet, Christina?"
"Boyd, I want to go shopping for shoes. A girl can never have too many pairs," she said, deftly rolling up the window between the driver and the backseat.
Terry stepped in, trying to prevent an argument. "Mr. Boyd, we could drop you off at the penthouse and I'll escort Christina wherever she needs to go."
It was brave of him to make the suggestion, but neither side looked pleased in any case. "Terry, if we leave Boyd at home, I'll have to take a bunch of guys with me. Have you ever tried to fit 10 bodyguards in P's Petite Pediwear? It just doesn't work. Besides, Boyd promised me new shoes eons ago." She smiled winningly at her guardian who sighed with resignation. "P's it is!"
"If by eons ago, you mean yesterday," Boyd said, settling back into the seat. He generally let Christina do her shopping alone and then let her complain unendingly about the security force he surrounded her with. In fact, the only time he let her go without bodyguards was when he was with her; he only trusted himself more than the men he entrusted with Christina's security. And even though he knew that she could take care of herself, he never wanted her to have to do so because the only thing he cared more for than Christina was her safety. She had ranted and cried and cajoled, but nothing would change his mind on the matter. Her hatred of the prison-like circumstances she lived in meant that he occasionally gave into her whimsical shopping trips to make her happier.
"I'm surprised how much time you allow her to spend with guys like that," Terry said, gesturing toward the pair flirting furiously.
"Have you ever tried to stop Christina from doing something she wants to do? Trust me, I've been there – it's quite painful."
"She must have slept with half of her security force."
Boyd templed his fingers together and watched Christina's blue eyes shine with pleasure. "Do you have issues with her promiscuity, Terry?"
He realized he had pushed the boundaries of their conversation too far. "I didn't mean that she was a slut, sir!"
"Good." Boyd let the word drift downward before he continued. "She's not promiscuous. She enjoys flirting and tempting others, but she rarely lets it go beyond that. She's aware of the consequences of her actions. I suppose that makes her a tease, but she's definitely not a slut. And if I ever catch you implying the same again, I’ll banish you to the furthest depths of Hell. As far as I’m concerned, your loyalty to her is a reflection of your loyalty to me"
"Look, Mr. Boyd, I need to speak with you," Terry said in a hushed whisper, trying to sound casual to passersby.
Boyd’s face remained placidly friendly and charming, but his voice was a low hiss, incoherent to anyone except his assistant. "Not now, Terry."
"I know you’re looking to close this deal tonight, sir, but it’s important." Terry glanced around nervously.
"Nothing is more important than this deal." Boyd sipped his champagne, waving at the man he was working to make the deal. "Go away, Terry, before I break your fingers without blinking."
With a sense of urgency, Terry said the words that would get Boyd’s attention, words he hadn’t intended to say in this crowd of people. "Sir, it’s about Christina’s safety."
Boyd snapped to attention, setting down his flute on the table, his eyes already searching through the throngs of people for Christina. He only allowed himself to relax when he found Christina. She exuded youth and vitality as she spoke to a group of potential investors; he supposed that she was using her powers to convince them to invest. "Christina is fine."
"Well, yes, she’s fine right now, but I ran into Judy Kramer in the lobby of this very hotel." Terry barely dared to look at Boyd once he said the words, suddenly very afraid of the anger that he felt radiating off his boss. The flute he had been holding scant minutes before exploded on the table.
Boyd’s eyes were cold. "Why is she here?" he asked tightly. "Are her parents here?"
"They’re all here." He swallowed with some difficulty. "Judy mentioned that it’s both a family vacation and a chance for a specialist to look at Dr. Kramer’s eyes."
"I presume you kept your association with us quiet."
He hurried to reassure Boyd. "Of course, sir, as far as Judy is concerned, I haven’t seen you since I dumped Paula and left Point Pleasant."
"She was still picking my brain about you and Christina, trying to get a sense of where you might go."
"So they’re looking for Christina," he mused. "It’s clear that she’s their main objective. They’re only concerned with her and whether or not I’ll kill them if I see them."
"Why would they be looking for Christina? They were lucky that she left them standing in Point Pleasant. Why would they want to go another ten rounds with her?"
Boyd considered the question before his eyes brightened. "Meg must think Chris can be saved from herself. It’s probably Isabelle directing her mother. I should have hired that exorcist when I had the chance."
"Who needs an exorcist?" Christina asked, laying her hand on Boyd’s arm and smiling sweetly at Terry who shifted uncomfortably.
"Ghosts that spend too much time hanging around and trying to fix things." Boyd’s worry disappeared as soon as she appeared. Whatever concerns he might have about Judy Kramer’s arrival, he refused to tell Christina. She had no reason to know that the Kramers were in town particularly since he planned to take care of the problem while she was fast asleep in her bed.
She gave him a confused look, but she nodded toward his would-be business partner. "Why aren’t you finishing your deal? I thought that was the whole reason why you wanted to come tonight."
"Something came up," he said briefly. "Terry was just giving me the rundown."
Christina turned to smile at Terry, her charm out in full force. "Ooh, what happened, Terry?"
"Go check out the situation and make sure you report back to me if there’s any movement," he ordered his assistant.
"Boyd, what’s going on?" Christina asked, her voice full of annoyance as Terry strode off into the crowd.
He looked at her with an expression she wasn’t able to read. "Nothing you need to worry about, Chris. You should focus on enjoying yourself tonight."
"I don’t care if I don’t need to worry about it. I demand that you tell me what is going on," she said. "It must be big if it’s keeping you from closing this deal and if you saw fit to destroy a champagne flute that probably cost our host a lot of money. After all, you’re hardly ever that rude."
"How do you even know that I will be able to close it, Christina?" he said, changing the subject ever so carefully.
Her glance landed on their target as she answered in a confidential tone, "Because you never fail to close a deal, right? And because George Tanaka was telling me all about his post-merger plans for the corporation. I didn’t know you were planning to keep him around."
"I might as well. He has the right instincts and he can smell blood in the water, two fine qualities in a corporate shark. He will be capable of running the whole corporation and keep your board of directors in line while we move on to bigger things, Chris."
She looked amused now. "Are you ever going to let me in on your plans, Boyd?"
"If I thought you wouldn’t rip them all to shreds, I’d tell you everything. As it is, I spend more time revising them than putting them into place. You’re very good at upsetting my plans, kid."
With a smug air, she shrugged. "I do try."
"Yes, you try my patience something fierce," he retorted with a smile. "On the other hand, you’re very useful to have around when I’m trying to find something out. You were actually able to get him to tell you that he wanted to do this merger? I’ve been trying for months to get him to commit to anything."
"What can I say? I have a gift or maybe it’s in my genes. Whatever."
"Will you come with me while I finish it? Your charm clearly works to my advantage."
Christina shook her head. "No, he’ll be too busy staring at my breasts to actually listen to you. Trust me, you’re better off without me. Besides, he creeps me out a little too much to spend any more time with him tonight."
"Maybe you should cover your breasts if you don’t want the attention," he suggested carefully, his gaze resting on her low-cut dress. He rarely said anything critical about what she wore because she was sensible enough to dress herself. And for all that she teased him constantly about his suits, her attire always reflected the situation with perfect accuracy.
"Who said I don’t want the attention?" Christina said pertly. "And I’ve never heard you complain before."
Boyd chuckled and patted her hand that was still resting in the crook of his arm. "I wouldn’t dream of complaining, Chris. I enjoy your breasts even when they’re on display for everyone and their brother."
She wrinkled her nose at his wry comment. "You shouldn’t judge me, Boyd. You might not like the results."
"Why don’t you run along and have some fun with one of the hotties that are wandering around? Maybe you will even charm one of them out of their pants," he said slyly.
"You don’t think I couldn’t charm them out of more than their pants?"
"I think that getting them out of their pants is really all you need to do for maximum efficiency, sweetheart."
Christina glanced at the crowd. "And you are all about maximum efficiency, aren’t you?" She ignored his slight protest and kissed his cheek politely. "Go get him, tiger," she said in a droll tone before she moved away from him.
"Right back at you," he replied to air as he watched her disappear into the crowd. His smile changed while he started walking toward George Tanaka, already smoothing into one of politeness and business rather than one of affectionate pleasure.
"So this is what Boyd is concerned about." Christina slipped into the chair next to Terry in the hotel restaurant.
He jumped at her arrival, his eyes nervously looking for Boyd behind her. "Christina, you’re not supposed to be here."
With a roll of her eyes, she waved carelessly at the oblivious Kramer family. "I shouldn’t be a lot of places, Terry, yet I still wind up there. And if I hadn’t wound up in Point Pleasant when I shouldn’t have been there, you certainly wouldn’t be here now." She paid close attention to the family, noting all the tiny details of change from Ben’s designer sunglasses, Meg’s slightly haggard expression, and Judy’s steely posture. Meg seemed to be talking brightly as she cut Ben’s food while Judy barely spoke. "Wow, they’re really not doing all that well, are they?"
"I think you did quite a number on them," Terry said honestly, wondering if the truth would merit some sort of retribution.
But Christina seemed to be in the sort of mood where she wouldn’t take offense at what he said. "Won’t Boyd be proud?" Her voice sounded preoccupied as though she was considering her options.
"Mr. Boyd would kill me if he knew you were out here instead of at the party with the other guests."
"Mr. Boyd," she repeated his title mockingly, "is currently working his mojo on George Tanaka so he can finish the deal. As far as he knows, I’m off fucking one of the waiters in the coat closet."
Terry winced at her careless comment but didn’t let her mood deter him from convincing her to leave. "You should go back, Christina. Let him handle the Kramers."
"Boyd is too protective. I won’t go back until you tell me what he has planned, Terry."
Helpless, he stared at her. "I don’t know what he has planned, Chris. You know he never tells anyone anything except what they need to know. He just wants me to keep an eye on the Kramers until he can deal with them."
"Hmm, how intriguing . . . are they staying in this hotel then?"
"Yeah, they have a suite on the third floor," he said. Lying to her was a foolish, bad idea all around; she had castrated others for less, an action that made Boyd appear reasonable in comparison.
She finally shook off her preoccupation and smiled at him with playful innocence. "What are the chances that they would be in this hotel on the same night that we have a party to attend in the grand ballroom?"
"If you don’t mind my saying so, the odds were really good what with your father and your enemy and your destiny."
Her laughter was quiet and surprisingly joyful. "When you put it like that, it all comes into focus, doesn’t it?"
"It really does," he answered sincerely. "Will your destiny always be linked to the Kramers?"
"I suppose it depends on whether Boyd succeeds in destroying them tonight or not." She sounded thoughtful, more like the Christina he had once known in Point Pleasant. "It’s kind of funny because it was my father who decided that the Kramers would be the ones to help fulfill my destiny. Not that he picked them out or knew who I would land with, but he and Boyd let me be once it happened. They wanted me to fill Isabelle’s void so that when the Kramers learned about who I was, it would hurt worse. The day that Judy told me that they didn’t need me anymore, my heart broke into a million pieces. It wasn’t Jesse or my mother that did the most damage. It was the family sitting at that table, pretending to be a normal family just out to dinner on a family vacation."
"You hate them." His voice was full of wonder at the revelation.
"No, I don’t hate them," she contradicted, her finger lazily drawing a circle on the bar while she watched them. "I feel sorry for them more than anything. Sorry for poor dead Isabelle who wasn’t strong enough to stay and fight for her family. Sorry for Ben who was so busy chasing after Amber Hargrove that he completely missed his wife shattering at their daughter’s ghost and the truths she had to tell. Sorry for crazy Meg and the way she can’t let go of Isabelle and move on for her daughter’s sake. And I’m especially sorry for Judy who has parents who are too self-absorbed to pay attention to her pain because they built a shrine to their dead daughter who wasn’t nearly as perfect as everyone thought she was. I can’t hate them because they made me what I am."
He couldn’t quite believe that she was telling the truth, but he also didn’t have time to talk to her further about it. The waiter brought the Kramers the dinner check, and Terry readied himself to move. "You need to go back to the party, Christina, before Mr. Boyd realizes you’re missing and tears this place down."
"No, I’m going with you."
"You can't go with me," Terry protested. "It's hard to be discreet with more than one person and Mr. Boyd would string me up by my balls if he found out that you tagged along with me."
"That's an interesting mental picture." Christina grinned, her eyes brimming with mischief.
Knowing that it was impossible to convince the Antichrist to give up on any course of action, Terry allowed Christina to accompany him up to the third floor with warnings of quiet and discretion. Still, he was surprised at how much fun she was to hang out with during surveillance of the Kramers' rooms. She kept cracking quiet jokes about the lameness of the Kramers when it seemed like they weren't going anywhere else for the night. He wondered how she would react if he mentioned that she and Paula shared a similar sense of humor, but he didn't actually say it out loud, knowing that mentioning Paula might cause a small apocalypse. Either that or she would laugh, but tempting fate didn’t exactly seem like a good idea even if she was in an excellent mood.
"Seriously, these people barely lived through hurricane me last time, and all they’re doing is watching TV in their hotel rooms? Damn, whatever happened to seize the day and living life to its fullest and all that crap?" Christina asked, bored out of her mind less than a half hour later.
"Maybe they just want to live in peace now."
She mocked his suggestion with a wave of her hand. "If they wanted to live in peace, they wouldn’t have come to the one place they know I spent my youth."
Terry nodded absentmindedly before he revealed, "I suppose that’s why they’ve come here."
"What do you mean?" Her face was suddenly alert as she peered at his expression under the dim lights of the hallway.
Gulping, he stumbled over his words. "I didn’t mean they came here because you spent time here when you were much younger."
Sensing the lie, her eyes hardened and her hands clenched tightly into fists. "Tell me what you know, Terry," she ordered.
His will wasn’t strong enough to resist the compulsion in her voice though she hadn’t quite mastered the trick so well as Boyd. "They’ve come looking for you, Christina. Judy wasn’t very subtle with the questions about where you or Mr. Boyd might be."
"So that’s that then," she said, her tone devoid of any emotion. "They want to finish the job that they started in Point Pleasant."
"That might not be the case," Terry protested. When her flinty eyes met his, he swallowed hard. "Mr. Boyd thinks that Meg wants to save you from your path of destruction. That Isabelle might have convinced her that you don’t have to be the Antichrist."
"That meddling bitch. No wonder Boyd wanted an exorcist." Christina pondered the knowledge of Meg’s mission before she asked about the other Kramer daughter. "And what does Judy want from me?"
"I’m not sure she’s like her mother, Chris. I got a distinct sense of hostility when she asked about you."
"With good reason, I bet. For all she knows I wouldn’t want to give up all the power that I have . . ." Her voice sounded thoughtful again. "And I did try to kill her that last time she saw me. Too bad Jesse’s savior complex pushed him in front of the knife. If not for her mistake, your best friend might still be alive."
Terry’s back stiffened, his ears searching for some sign of insincerity. "Do you mean that?"
Her laughter was cruel, a typical reaction after the mess in Point Pleasant. "If he was alive, I would be dead, Terry."
"That’s what everyone told you, but you never used to believe in destiny and fate. In fact, you were convinced that you could beat out your heritage," he pointed out.
"You’re wrong, Terry. I’ve always believed in destiny just like I told Jesse in one of our first conversations. He was the one who made me think that we could overcome it . . . until he went running off into the night like a scared little boy and became a puppet for those believers. Funny how that works, huh? He gets one little vision and suddenly he subscribes to the theory that he’s one of God’s chosen." Christina sounded angry to Terry’s ears, but he didn’t see the single tear that dribbled down her cheek. "So far the prophecies have been spot-on."
Terry reached over to touch her hand, trying to calm her down. "You’re the strongest person I’ve ever known, Christina. If anyone could change their destiny, it would be you."
"I only thought that I could change it when I was weak," she hissed. "Jesse was right about that. Did you know that your precious friend used my feelings against me and gutted me to save me from what I would do?"
He did know, but he didn’t really want to rehash the moment that she finally went over to the dark side. Her story was so tragic that his own decision to follow Boyd paled in comparison. He still couldn’t help asking, "What will happen if Meg tries to save you? What choice will you make?"
"Well, for one thing, she won’t get close enough to stick a knife in me. But Meg abhors violence – her idea of saving me will be to talk me to death, invoking free will and Isabelle’s memory, oh, and the Kramers’ love for me," she said, sarcasm trickling into her voice at the last part of her statement.
"You don’t think you’d be even a little tempted to go back to who you were?" he pressed.
"Let’s see, go back to being a sniveling child afraid of her own shadow, trying to be someone she’s not? Or continue being a fabulously wealthy and powerful woman who controls the destruction of the world? It’s not a hard decision, Terry. Besides, their side lacks the one thing that makes my life run very well." He gave her a questioning look, and she smirked briefly. "Boyd is extremely useful. The Kramers were never half so useful to me."
"Shhh," he said, interrupting her diatribe to push her back out of the light. His eyes stared at Judy's door, listening to the sound of the lock turning. His shoulders were tense as he watched Judy stroll out of her room toward the alcove with the ice machine, swinging an ice bucket carelessly.
"Did she really think a lock would keep me out of her room?" Christina whispered with interest.
Terry glanced briefly at her, but her attention was focused on Judy. "She doesn't know you're here, Chris. As far as she's concerned, you're off committing destruction elsewhere."
"Still, a lock wouldn't keep anyone out. You'd think she would know that by now after dealing with Boyd, too. And even though she doesn't know where he is, she knows that he has always been based in Manhattan and that there's a good chance someone is watching them."
"Watching them?" Terry asked softly.
Christina smiled bittersweetly. "Of course they're being watched. Boyd made sure someone has been on their tail since they left Point Pleasant. He's extremely thorough about stuff like that."
"Why didn't he take care of them before now if that's the case?"
He could hear the annoyed tone as she explained, "Boyd wouldn't touch them because I decided that they should live. No, it's because they've started looking for me that would make him change his mind. Had they left me alone to live out their miserable lives, I'm sure he wouldn't have cared whether they lived or died. Now, he can't take the chance that they might be able to bring back the sweet Christina they first knew. And he certainly doesn't want me to die at their hands."
"Damn," Terry answered with a low whistle. "How do you know Mr. Boyd that well?"
She sounded as though she was a mother explaining something in the simplest terms to a child. "Terry, honey, he was the one who arranged my education to begin with and he was the one who finished it with a crash course in strategy, destruction, and enemy fire. Besides, he isn't that hard to know once you figure out his priorities. After all, he is still only human and humanity is no different than animals when it comes right down to defending their territory."
"He doesn't consider you his territory."
"Yes, he does," she contradicted before she moved around his body and started toward the alcove where Judy was fiddling with the ice machine.
"Christina!" he hissed though he knew it was futile. She wouldn’t have been half so interested in Judy and the Kramers if she didn’t demand to
Heels sinking into the carpet, she waved dismissively in his direction and continued toward her target. "Well, Judy Kramer, fancy running into you here," she purred, her voice pitched low. Terry followed, creeping behind her at safe distance yet near enough to see Judy freeze at the familiar voice.
He was also close enough to see her expression when she turned to face Christina. She couldn’t hide the fear in her bright eyes, but her mouth didn’t tremble when she greeted her friend with cool bravery. "Chris."
"I was surprised to see you eating dinner with your family in the restaurant downstairs," she said conversationally as she leaned against the entranceway.
Judy almost seemed to revert to her normal acerbic self. "No more surprised than I am to find you next to our ice machine."
"I was attending a party in the ballroom."
Her non-response eased Judy’s tension and she relaxed with a small smile. "So I see," she said, gesturing toward Christina’s dress. "Pretty fancy duds for a girl who once said she preferred our clambake to society parties."
Terry didn’t understand the civility between the girls, but he did understand the meaning of Christina’s wry answer. "I was a different girl in Point Pleasant, Judy."
"A girl I liked a lot better." No one missed the bitterness that seeped into her tone."
"How do you know you won’t like the new me? I’m a lot more fun now." He was startled to hear the yearning in her voice, the undercurrent of loneliness a far cry from her matter-of-fact tone in the restaurant. He shifted uncomfortably, aware that he was seeing a moment that he probably shouldn’t be present for.
"Chris, you raised a zombie and tried to make us eat dinner with my sister’s corpse. I think your idea of fun and mine doesn’t really match anymore. I’m clambakes and beach parties and you like to rain death and destruction. In fact, I’m pretty darn sure that our ideas of right and wrong don’t either." She sighed and asked in a voice that was trying too hard not to be hopeful, "Unless you’re back to being good?"
Not allowing Judy to entertain the idea for more than a split second, Christina shook her head and watched her old friend’s hopes dash to pieces against the ice machine. "What is that old saying? Once you go evil, you can never go back. I killed Jesse." Her smile was quietly bittersweet. "And I tried to kill you."
"You were upset about Jesse and your mom and everything." Judy sounded surprisingly gentle and forgiving.
The smile on Christina’s lovely face faded immediately, her expression turning into one of serious contemplation. "No, I wasn’t, Jude. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t upset. I have never been more clear-headed than I was that night. Never more certain that I was righteous and doing good work."
The silence fell between them as Judy digested her words. "What are you really doing here, Chris?"
"I followed Terry down to the restaurant where he was watching you. He said you had been asking about me so I thought I should give you the chance to see me for yourself."
"Terry?" Her eyes widened when she spotted his slouching figure. "But . . . why were you watching us? And I thought you said you didn’t know where Christina was."
He shrugged, trying to blend into the wallpaper. His old friend was clearly horrified, but Christina came to his rescue. "Oh, don’t blame Terry. Boyd instructed him to keep an eye on you. As for lying to you, well, you couldn’t expect him to tell you the truth when he works for Boyd, right?"
"Boyd?" Judy looked nauseous as the connections started to come together in her thoughts. "You’re working for Boyd again?"
"And me," Christina added brightly. "Holly brought Terry to us because my dad assigned him to work for Boyd, well, actually, the guardian of the Antichrist who they didn’t know was Boyd still. It was really quite amusing considering Terry and Holly had tried to betray Boyd in Point Pleasant."
Judy glanced at Christina’s smug look before she saw Terry’s unhappy expression that confirmed every word. "How can . . ." she paused, trying to gather her thoughts into a string of words that sounded calm and made sense, "how can you work for someone who killed your best friend? Terry, Jesse was like a brother to you. Hell, I think you two were closer than Isabelle and I ever were."
He stared at Christina with a helpless look, but she smirked and let the silence continue. "Judy, you’ve never known what it is to want for anything. You lived in a beautiful beach house, had parents that were relatively healthy, yes, even your mom, and your dad is a doctor meaning you always had a steady income. Me – I had to work for years to pay for my dad’s medications and health care. I had to work double shifts and overtime to make sure I had enough to eat and to keep that roach-infested roof over our head."
"That’s not true . . ."
His voice was suddenly much stronger and more forceful. "No, it is true, Judy! And what’s left for me in Point Pleasant? Your mom either left my dad to die or made him turn into some kind of wandering religious nut and I’ll probably never see him again. Paula is gone, Jesse is dead. What I have here is an opportunity to become something great – I can’t pass it up."
"You’re selling your soul to the people who destroyed your family."
Terry blinked with confusion. "Judy, your mother was the one who destroyed my family. Mr. Boyd and Christina have done nothing except give me my own apartment and a salary that most people would kill for."
"Would you kill for it?"
Tilting her head slightly, Christina watched Terry closely as he straightened proudly. "I would, Judy. In this line of work, it’s a necessary part of the job."
"What if it was me or Paula that they wanted dead?" she asked, her eyes begging him to put some kind of limitation on how far he would go for Boyd and Christina.
A sidelong glance at Christina’s impassive expression led to Terry nodding slowly. "If they wanted it done, I’d do it, Judy."
"Don’t worry, Jude. We won’t ask Terry to kill either of you. For one thing, Paula means nothing to either of us, and for another, you’re way too important to die at Terry’s hands," Christina interrupted, folding her arms across her chest.
Judy swallowed visibly. "Important?"
Christina frowned and changed her wording. "Maybe important is the wrong word. My point is that Boyd would kill you, not send his assistant to do it. As far as he’s concerned, it’d be more enjoyable and personal if he did it himself. He’s not exactly the type to keep his hands clean."
Gripping the ice bucket with white hands, Judy stared at Christina. "And what about you?"
"Do you really think dumping ice on me means I’ll melt like the Wicked Witch of the West?" She laughed and snatched one of the loose cubes from the bucket. "Apparently, you don’t remember my entrance into Point Pleasant very well."
"Like I could ever forget that."
"No, I don’t suppose you could."
"You still haven’t answered my question," Judy said,
watching Christina as she shifted the ice cube from one hand to another before she dropped it on the carpet, a little more wet but certainly not melted.
"Maybe it’s because I don’t know the answer, Jude," she admitted quietly. Terry suppressed a noise of surprise – Christina hadn’t seemed this human in months. She wasn’t the untouchable Antichrist anymore; she was a teenage girl, vulnerable and uncertain.
"Well, isn’t this little reunion touching?" Boyd passed by Terry, sparing only the briefest of glares for his assistant. Christina’s posture straightened immediately, her body coming off the doorjamb without a second thought.
Judy’s face paled at the sight of the man who she blamed for everything, but her voice was even. "Boyd."
Still, his attention was reserved solely for Christina as he surveyed her from head to toe, searching for damage.
"You won’t let me have any secrets, will you?" he said, affection and annoyance in his tone.
"You once promised me that you would always tell me the truth."
He rolled his eyes. "At a time when you needed me to tell you the truth. I never used the word always except in the past tense. Besides, this situation was superfluous – I was going to handle it."
"You think the Kramers are superfluous?" she asked. "Then why didn’t you tell me about it? If they were so unimportant, it wouldn’t have mattered to me what you were going to do."
"Look, Chris," he said, his voice silky smooth with persuasion, "you have a tendency to make things more important than they are. The Kramers are the perfect example – you acted like they were the only family that mattered. I just didn’t want you to decide to do something like this little stunt and I especially didn’t want the Kramers hurting you more than they already have."
"More like you didn’t want Christina to have the chance to talk to us because you’re afraid that we’ll be able to turn her back to the girl she is," Judy retorted angrily.
"Was." Boyd finally focused on Judy with a lazy expression, making her feel like she was nothing to them. "Chris knows that she made her choice back in Point Pleasant. It would be foolish to try to make her see the error of her ways, Miss Kramer. Just because she left your family to live doesn’t mean she’s not the daughter of the devil. Have you ever asked yourself why she left you alive?"
"Because she knows we love her."
He scoffed at her silly notion. "She left you alive so you would suffer. You would continue to feel guilt about Isabelle and her boyfriend. Your father would feel guilt about not believing your mother. And your mother would feel guilt for not being able to save Christina and prevent the tragedy of Jesse’s death. All in all, it was quite a brilliant punishment for someone who was so wary of her own power . . . but then again, Christina always was a fast learner." Boyd shot an admiring smile in Christina’s direction before he continued, "The last thing I worry about is Christina changing back into the weak little girl that she was in Point Pleasant. In fact, you can’t heal what you’ve already shattered, Judy. You broke her heart and destroyed whatever good she had left in her battered soul when you decided that it was more important to lead Jesse straight to her location instead of trying to talk her down from her rage. Your mother had the right idea, but you refused to listen even though you knew Meg was right about everything else. So tell me why I should worry about you again."
Christina laughed, a cruel laugh that made Judy’s spine tingle. "Maybe you shouldn’t be so sure of yourself, Boyd. How do you know I won’t turn against you? Loyalty isn’t everything."
"Are you considering becoming what you were once upon a time? Stuck trying to control your powers while unworthy humans do everything they can to turn an amazing young woman into a nobody?"
"What if I was?"
"Then tell me now so I can put my affairs in order before my ass gets slung over a pit in Hell."
Christina stared at him. "Couldn’t you just renounce your duties to me and save yourself?"
"You know the answer to that already, Chris. I threw my lot in with yours the day you were born, and everything I’ve done has been for your own good. There’s no going back now."
Terry caught Judy’s puzzled expression as she tried to understand the subtext of their conversation. The text was easy enough to comprehend, explaining Boyd’s devotion to Christina, but it was impossible for Judy to grasp the full connection. "How does killing Father Thomas and Father David track with doing what’s best for Christina?"
"So self-righteous and perfect, Miss Kramer. You think you understand who we are, that it’s all about the choices we make or don’t make, but you’re wrong. You don’t see what Christina is going to do to the world, how she will save humanity from itself." Boyd turned to his ward, his tone changing. "Chris, this is why humanity isn’t worth the effort – they’re too close-minded and simple to do anything worthy of your notice. I was trying to protect you from this."
She nodded in acceptance. "I know you were trying to protect me, Boyd," she said.
"Good, then you’ll understand why I have to do this." His hands were suddenly around Judy’s neck, strangling with all his power yet his fingers barely had the chance to leave an imprint before he felt the same pressure around his neck. The harder he squeezed, the tighter his breath got.
"Boyd, stop it before we wind up testing whether or not I can kill you," Christina ordered coolly.
The disbelieving look he gave her said everything he wanted to convey, but he loosened his hands enough so the pressure was off his trachea. "Are you kidding me, Chris?"
"Once upon a time, you told me that I got one. As far as I’m concerned, that means you don’t ever get to kill Judy unless I say so."
His hands fell away and he growled at Judy. "You better be counting your lucky stars that she picked you in the first place. I would have much rather left you broken and bleeding on the floor of your home. At least the priest wasn’t completely useless."
Judy stared at Christina, ignoring Boyd in favor of her friend who seemed to be thinking about that horrible night.
"Hush, Judy." She was watching Boyd. "I want you to leave Meg and Ben alone as well."
Her voice was impatient. "I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to do what I say, Boyd. That was how this whole works, right?"
"Not when it comes to your safety and well-being."
With a perceptible sigh, Christina turned to look at Judy. "Jude, I don’t know what you have to do, but I want you to convince your parents to leave and go back to Point Pleasant. Tell them I’m dead or I’m harmless or whatever you like, but you need to leave. I won’t always be around to protect you, and while Boyd will listen to me on this matter, my father’s minions may not. They don’t like anyone interfering with me as it is."
"My mother won’t listen to me if Isabelle is telling her otherwise."
"If Isabelle is smart, she’ll know this is the best way to help your family stay safe. Look, I’ll even give your father his eyesight back if it will help Isabelle believe this is best."
Judy smiled slightly, her thoughts written all over her face. Maybe her mother wasn’t wrong about being able to save Christina. But her friend’s words quickly changed her mind. "Don’t think this is anything more than gratitude for showing me how stupid the human race can actually be. It’s not like it’s mercy – your life and family is screwed up already so having to live in Point Pleasant is pretty much enough of a punishment."
Edging past Boyd who seemed to have subsided into quiet rage, Judy reached toward Christina. "Chris," she said in a soft voice. "Let us help you."
Christina glared at her. "Take your family and go home, Judy." She turned on her heel and stormed down the hallway.
Her guardian nodded at Terry, telling him to follow her and make sure she didn’t do anything too stupid. After he had scampered off, Boyd leaned in close to Judy, his knuckles cracking loudly in the alcove. "You’ll notice that she didn’t stay here to make sure I didn’t do anything to you."
"You won’t do anything," Judy shot back.
"You’re right. But if I ever hear that you or your family is sniffing around Christina, I will make everyone you love suffer starting with Mark Owens and ending with your crazy mother."
"But . . ."
"I only ever promised that I wouldn’t kill you. Everyone else is fair game." Boyd stepped backward with a pleasant smile. Shivering at his malicious tone, she fled toward her room without a backward glance, his chuckle following her as she struggled with the door. "Have a nice life, Miss Kramer."
Down the hall, Boyd found Terry holding the elevator as Christina tapped her foot impatiently. "Are you done threatening everything she holds dear?"
"You know me so well." He was almost buoyant. "Terry, make sure you put together a basket for George Tanaka. Include a bottle of really expensive sake and some Kobe steaks."
"I take it that means you closed the deal," Christina answered.
"Yes, I did thanks to your brilliant analysis of why he should take the deal. He was very impressed by you, Chris, and he’s looking forward to working with you."
"Yeah, well, I’m not looking forward to working with him. Boyd, he’s a creep."
"And you have better things to do. All you’re going to have to do is go to the monthly board meetings with him and maybe smile occasionally. Your life is not going to be vastly different – in fact, we did this whole merger so you would have less to do with the corporation, remember?"
Her tone sounded extremely irritated. "I’m not stupid. I know why we wanted the merger."
"We’re going to have to discuss the Kramers."
"No, we don’t."
"What happens if they don’t stay away, Christina?"
She waved indifferently. "Then I’ll be the one to destroy them. I’m not going back to who I was, Boyd, but I’m not going to do it if I’m unprovoked and I won’t let you do it either."
Relieved, Boyd touched her arm, surprised to find it trembling. "As long as we’re clear."
"We’re clear," she snapped.
Christina remained quiet and pensive in the limo all the way home. Boyd sent Terry with the security unit instead of allowing him to ride up front with the driver. He suspected that she needed space away from people she associated with the Kramers. In fact, Boyd probably should have found another way home judging from her prickly silence. Somehow, this wasn’t the victory celebration he had envisioned. At the penthouse, she moved straight toward her suite without a word. "Chris?"
Her only response was a slammed door. He sighed and ordered the lockdown of the penthouse before he untied his tie and removed his shoes. His room seemed emptier without her presence, a feeling that lasted until he fell into a light sleep. Not that it lasted long since he woke as soon as she opened his door. "Christina?" he asked with hesitation. "Are you all right?"
"I couldn’t sleep."
Boyd generally would have made a snarky comment at such an unusual admission. He rarely let Christina fall back into her scared little girl routine because she was better, stronger than that. But on this time, he allowed her to be vulnerable; she had stayed strong throughout her confrontation with Judy Kramer and that was more than he had expected. Wordlessly, he slid across the sheets to give her space to climb into the bed.
"What, no sarcastic reply that it’s what I deserve?" She stared at the empty spot without seeing it.
Boyd sat up to lean back against the pillows and offered her a smile. "Of course not. I’m proud of what you did tonight."
"Even though I didn’t kill the Kramers?" Her voice sounded sad and lost, reminding him just how young she actually was, and he internally cursed them for ripping her to pieces yet again.
"Chris, it was your choice to make. I’m only here to assist you in whatever way you require. You don’t want me to kill the Kramers, you don’t want to kill the Kramers – who am I to tell you any differently?" He patted the sheets next to him. "Come to bed, Christina. No one is going to blame you for sparing the Kramers – you can’t help who you love, right?"
"Like Holly?" she joked weakly, but she accepted his invitation, crawling under the dark covers and into his arms.
"Holly is a mistake that just keeps giving," Boyd answered in a grouchy tone.
"That would be easy enough to fix."
He kissed the top of her head as she laid it on his chest.
"She’s not doing any harm to anything except my bank account in Europe."
"Do you miss her?" she asked, craning her neck to look up at him.
Shaking his head, Boyd stroked her hair. "Not really. It’s kind of pleasant to live a life that is free of drama."
Christina laughed feebly. "Tonight wasn’t too free of the drama."
"You’re still trembling," he said.
"I can’t stop. I don’t know why."
"You don’t know how much I wish that I could have spared you that meeting with Judy Kramer."
Startled at his heartfelt comment, one that was definitely too sincere for him, Christina sighed. "If Holly is your mistake to make over and over again, I guess that makes the Kramers mine."
"I won’t let them keep hurting you," he promised.
"I don’t think that even you’re that powerful, Boyd. No, it’s my test to pass, right? Don’t worry, I won’t fail next time," she said, tasting the bitterness on her tongue.
Boyd gripped her shoulder, lifting her chin to stare into her eyes. "It’s not a test anymore. That is long done – I don’t care what you do to the Kramers. Kill them, let them live, whatever; just don’t let them touch you anymore."
"Easier said than done," she whispered, tears already filling her eyes as she thought about the confrontation in the hotel. "Did you see her face? I used to hate the fear I saw in her eyes, but I could always justify it. She knew I would never hurt her. Now . . ."
"Now she knows you’re for real, Chris. Hopefully, that means she’ll leave town and never look back." Christina’s tears fell harder. He didn’t know the reasons behind the crying, but he offered her the only comfort he could, his lips pressed against her temple as he held her tight.
That night when they had sex, it was a completely different experience. It wasn’t the hot, angry seduction of past nights. Boyd kept his own desires under tight control, moving inside her with surprising tenderness as though she needed a reminder that the Kramers weren’t the only people who cared about her. Whatever release her tears had achieved, it was nothing compared to the bliss she found with his ministrations.
Still, it came as no shock to either of them when she reverted back to the person she was the next morning. They talked about the merger over breakfast, making plans for the next phase of the corporation’s domination of the business world.