Hellcat Escaping Excerpt

Chapter One: Cat

The demon guarding my cage sticks his hand through, snatching for my neck, so I bite his fucking finger off.

If you’re going to attack one of Hell’s most vicious, most reviled souls, be prepared for the consequences, right? He howls, backing away and clutching his arm to his chest while his buddy reaches for the soul stone—a nasty little device linked energetically to the tattoo branded into my sternum. That thing attacks more than just the body, since millennia of torture has ironed out all the kinks when it comes to making hellsouls scream.

My body is a construction, designed to be caged in and tortured, twisted into new shapes when the old ones grow boring, but after centuries of abuse the nerve endings don’t always fire right. They’ve grown numb. To make sure I’m truly hurt, these bastards have to get creative.

Which they did, because this stone fucker hurts the soul. And man, does it hurt. Too bad for him, he won’t have a chance to use it.

Just as his fingers close around the device, I stand to my full height, cock my hip in a sultry fashion, and lean against the bars.

The demons stop dead.

“Hey there, big boy,” I purr, almost wishing I could see my own face when I do this. It must be bizarre, hearing such crooning seduction dropping from lips contorted in rage.

Not that they know that, of course. The rising fog of lust prevents them from seeing any form of truth.

Reaching this level of strength has been a long time coming. I’ve only tried using my power for simple things before, things the Guards don’t notice. Testing it. Waiting until I was strong enough and the moment was right.

And now it is.

“H-hey,” the nearest one stutters, his hand falling away from the forgotten soul stone. “Devil, but you’re beautiful. You’ve got to be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

I laugh, sickeningly sweet even to my own ears. Despite the facade—and that it’s working—I can’t keep from narrowing my eyes in pure hatred. This piece of shit has tormented me for weeks, ever since he got assigned to my cage. Not anymore. “Most beautiful thing, you say? You flatter me, sugar plum. How about you come close enough to find out how beautiful I really am? Just bring those sweet lips my way.” And I’ll bite those off too.

The guard stammers and draws closer, followed immediately by his partner, still clutching his bloody hand.

Outside my cage, the mountains rumble, caught in one of the ferocious roars of the volcanoes nearby. Not all of Hell is like this; if it were, the demons would riot. No, only the pit cages are kept near the active volcanoes. The majority of the hotter afterlife enjoys the typical drudgery of the Underworld—darkened forests beneath a canopy of stone, rocky cliff-faces concealing hidden caves full of beasties, pools illuminated by a perpetual twilight that may or may not be home to lake monsters. The usual. Not that I’ve done more than watch the scenery roll by when they transport me from one torture chamber to another.

I’ve tried to escape before, many times, through sheer brute force and will. But none have stuck.

Familiar rage surges within me as I recall everything that has been denied to me, and when I finally bring my captor to his knees through subterfuge and lies, I regret nothing.

“Be an angel and unlock that door,” I whisper to them as they salivate at my feet, clutching at the iron bars, smearing blood against the already stained metal. “First to give me their key wins a prize.”

I let the word prize roll around on my tongue, and it’s almost embarrassing how they clamber over each other to earn it.

My memories from my time on Earth are elusive at best, and my ones from Hell are only slightly better, so I’ve no idea what fuels my strange gift. Perhaps I was a siren, or a succubus. But my gift isn’t as strong or consistent as a siren’s song, and succubi work through dreams don’t they? If I’d met one, maybe I could ask, but I’ve never seen either of those supernaturals down here.

These cages aren’t given to those who were just a bit naughty. I’m here because, when I was alive, I fucked up. And I fucked up good. The pit cages are the worst cages in Hell, and company is limited.

Wish I could remember what it was I did to earn this. Maybe it would help me understand my power better, so that I could escape without consequence. As best I can figure, it’s some kind of enhanced power of suggestion. I choose my target, do this funny little mental reach inside my chest to make myself glow—not literally, but that’s how it feels—mentally connect that glowing thing to them, and then tell them how high to jump.

I guess it works because somehow the glowing thing makes them want me, and wanting me means they’ll do anything to please me. I don’t really care how it works, so long as they open the fucking door.

The key slides home in the lock, and the door bursts open. In unison—like one slavering, mindless beast—the demons paw at my legs, at the tattered white robe that serves as my clothing. For a moment, it’s almost tempting to drag this out. Maybe turn the tables and lock the two pricks in my cage—have them begging for freedom until they learn who really holds the power. But I’m not an idiot, and only an idiot would waste precious time monologing when they could be escaping.

Besides, the thought makes me sick in ways I can’t afford to examine when I’m stuck down here with no way out. These assholes are the enemy. You throw every weapon you have at the enemy, or you die.

There are no other choices.

“So long, lads,” I murmur, lifting one of their chins with my finger. “It’s been a blast. Sorry to pash and dash, but if it helps you feel any better, it isn’t me. It’s definitely you.”

I drop their chin and run. My powers might be the strongest they’ve ever been, but they still aren’t perfect. At best I’ve scored five minutes before they come out of their daze. If they really hate me, I’ve only got two. There’s a cliff ahead of me, and razor-edged paths winding down on either side. My options are limited, and my time even less.

Just as I round the corner of my row of cages, robes flying behind me, I hear a shout of: “Fuck! Catch that bitch!”

“All good things must end,” I mutter, and then I launch myself over the edge of the cliff.

The wind gusts from half a dozen mini geothermic vents cradle me and keep me afloat. It’s toasty warm, and I won’t be able to stay here long, but it gives me the time I need to work out how to fly.

No body, remember? I’m a metaphysical concept. And I’m going to metaphysically fly my ass out of here.

Their vicious shouts fade behind me, my body buffeted from bursts of heat as I bounce up and down in the air, sometimes falling, mostly rising. These demons can fly, of course, so even now all I’ve bought myself is a few extra minutes as they battle against the winds. I can already hear them getting closer.

Screw it. Whether I was an asshole supernatural, or just a really nasty woman with a killer libido, I’m in Hell now. Hell is where the demons rule, and if they’ve given me this body then they’ve also given me the ability to fly, whether they like it or not.

Pain ricochets down my spine, as though my skin is tearing apart, and two unwieldy objects burst into my peripheral vision.

Wings.

“Hell yeah.” I grin back at the pursuing demons. “You guys are fucked, now.”

I launch into the sky, unable to keep the bubbling, ecstatic laughter from escaping me. I’m doing it. I’m really doing it. These wings feel like they belong to me, like I’ve always had them. I don’t waste time struggling to learn how to use them; they just are.

I barrel sideways, through a narrow crevasse, and crash immediately into an unexpected object.

The marble pillar stops me like no demon guard ever could—brick straight to the head. Then, I fall into chaos.

Someone catches me, strong arms tightening around my waist, but don’t be fooled. This is no prince coming to save me. The grip quickly moves to my wrists, binding me, and as soon as I can stand I blink my eyes open to stare, disoriented, at the room before me.

Turns out there was a secret council chamber in this cave… My bad.

Tall pillars of marble line the walls, bracing the structure of the cave and segueing into the tiled floor. Mediterranean-inspired ceramic, if I’m not mistaken—gorgeous stuff, although I’ve no idea how I remember this when I don’t even have a name. The floor sweeps into the distance, and the only furniture breaking the flow is a single table right in the center. Every chair around it is occupied, but this is no Knights of the Round Table bullshit, though. No way. This table has a very distinct head, and at its head sits the Devil himself.

“Sup.” I nod in his direction.

The Devil’s mouth twitches, and he gives me a single fingered wave, barely lifting it from the arm of his throne. His body is cast in shadow, features difficult to make out beyond two blue eyes fixed on me. After a beat where I have a feeling he’s just stared down my soul and found me wanting, he turns to the demon at his right. “Ronin, who is this?”

The demon—Ronin, apparently—clears his throat, staring at me in horror while my captor tugs sharply on my wrists as if to remind me he’s still there. I glance over my shoulder to see deep brown eyes staring into mine, framed with a jawbone of steel. Medium-length brown hair falls across his face, escaping the knot at the back and just covering his eyes. Now there’s a demon I’d waste a few minutes with, no matter how badly I wanted to escape.

“We call her Catrina.” Ronin answers at last, finding his tongue. “On account of her claws. She’s one of our lowest cage ferrets. Do not concern yourself with her, Sire. We’ll have her locked up again in no time. We always do.” Those last words are directed to me, along with a fierce glare.

“You always do?” the Devil rumbles, one eyebrow raised.

Ronin falters, realizing his mistake too late. I grin and throw him a little wink. The other occupants of the table—who are, as far as I can gather, each members of the Devil’s Court—shift in their seats. Some of them appear bored out of their tiny minds, while others watch me with ill-disguised curiosity.

“She has a… penchant for the Houdini arts,” Ronin simpers, and I can’t help rolling my eyes.

“Wouldn’t you?” I point out, straining against my captor’s hold. “You guys don’t even offer Netflix down there. For shame.”

How do I know about Netflix? Do sirens watch Netflix? Do succubi use it as an elaborate ploy in their seduction? Did I live during a time of Netflix, or did someone merely tell me about it?

“Sire…” A new voice raises above the simpering demon’s increasing bluster. It belongs to a blond demon dressed in a suit that even I can identify as Really Fucking Expensive. His tone is careful, deliberate, and cold around the edges. “I have to question the timing of this.”

“It’s certainly unusual, I’ll give you that,” Lucifer agrees. “Beneficial to some… detrimental to others.”

It’s then that I realize the seating placements are even more unequal than I thought. Not only are the thirteen chairs surrounding the Devil’s throne arranged in very clear deference, but three chairs are set apart. As though judgment is being passed.

Blondie sits in one of those chairs, and beside him another demon with a similar hair color sprawls like he’s attending some boring obligation, rather than what appears to be his own petition. This other demon wears his suit in practically the opposite style to his companion: top buttons of his shirt undone, no tie, cufflinks glinting audaciously in the low lighting.

The third chair is empty, and I tilt my head just far enough that I can see my captor once more. “Someone’s been naughty,” I murmur. “What did you do? Steal from the Devil’s orchard?”

My captor startles, those fierce brown eyes turning to me once more. A grin almost escapes his lips, but it’s drowned out by the rest of his expression, which I can only now see clearly enough to recognize: determination. If there were a mirror in here, I’d see it in my own.

The circlet around his head is a deep, black obsidian—same as the other two demons. It cements the idea I’ve been turning over, that these three are somehow separate from the rest of the Court, because the others wear crowns of crimson red. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I feel like the obsidian might mean prince? But as opposed to what, I’m not certain… surely Hell doesn’t have ten kings?

“Not exactly,” the maybe-prince holding my wrists murmurs. Even his voice is sexy—a low resonance from deep in his chest. When his breath brushes my cheek, I shiver involuntarily at the unexpected touch.

His friend continues talking, darting a glance over at me that seems almost bored. “It’s exceedingly beneficial to some, when you consider that our bid to plea before the Court has gone unanswered for nearly a year. And now, when we finally meet, we are interrupted with an unprecedented escape from the lowest bowels of Hell.”

Unprecedented? I preen a little at that.

“What are you suggesting, Colton?” Ronin rolls his eyes. “That someone let our clawed hellcat run free for the express purpose of inconveniencing a handful of arrogant princes?”

The Court titters. I fight the urge to stick my tongue out at them. Tension bristles through the arms of the demon holding me, and I’m almost on his side, until his buddy’s next words.

“The girl is a pawn. Nothing more than a vicious, cruel beast of a soul in need of taming. I want to know who plays her, and why they’re so insistent my brothers and I don’t go topside.” His eyes linger on my body when he drops the word play, like he can see through shapeless cotton to the skin beneath. “You can throw insults as much as you like, Ronin. Someone wants to keep us here, hamstrung by our apprentice seats on the Devil’s Court, when we could be so much more.” He wrinkles his nose. “They must be desperate, to stoop to these tactics.”

Well, fuck you too.

Throughout Blondie’s testimony, Lucifer has been unusually quiet. I say ‘unusually’ based only on my own assumptions… I’ve never seen him before, and I’m surprised at how lacking in ego the guy seems to be. Instead of blustering and controlling, he sits back and observes.

I guess when you have that much power, you can afford to.

But now, he speaks. His lips curl into a wicked smile, and his eyes flick my way. “An interesting accusation, Colton, and one that lacks both evidence or purpose, since no successful hamstringing was committed. We are still discussing your case, and our escapee has been caught.” He turns back to Colton, and I’m confused to note his smile looks almost fond. Maybe these three aren’t in trouble. “But I believe I have a solution for you. As you know, the Court has been unwilling to allow three young demons free reign on Earth, despite your argument that you would accumulate experiences valuable to the Court. I propose a vote.”

A vote? I thought the Devil’s Court advised the Devil, and then he went nah fuck ya and rode off on a hell hound to make his own decisions.

I may have filled in a few gaps over the years based purely on my own imagination. It’s not like there’s anything else to do.

“The three princes will be allowed topside for one year, under the supervision of a bodyguard who remains within the full control of the Court.” My stomach sinks, even before he looks my way, eyes falling to the tattoo along my collarbone. “She has broken her cage, but not her collar. Even at her most recalcitrant, she is still at our whim. With permanent tracking and the promise of…” He pauses and grins. “Netflix upon return, I believe we could come to an arrangement. The Court requires an infallible guard in this task, one who cannot be swayed or bought, not even by our princes’ honeyed tongues. Who better to guard our three heirs from danger—and keep them from trouble—than the most cruel among us?”

At first, I’m sure I’m the angriest person in the room. Then I see the expressions on the two princes’ faces—dark fury radiating from their features. Wow. This must really be an insult.

I must really be an insult.

As we stare at each other, shock and rage melding into a palpable combination—enhanced by the vicious twist of fingers around my wrists—ten hands go up, and my fate is sealed.

Or, should I say, our fate. Saddle up, boys. You’re riding with me now.