A Good Year
Unhallowed Love Book One
Faced with losing Pandora Productions as well as her best friend Rebecca to the smarmy Paul, savvy film executive Debbie makes a pact with the demon Shaker, agreeing to bind herself to him as his human master in return for killing Paul and securing Pandora’s future. Yet even as Pandora gains accolades and renown, Debbie’s strong resolve begins to crumble under the weight of her actions. And the pleasure she finds in Shaker’s arms is becoming more than sex.
Is Debbie doomed to lose her heart as well as her soul to a demon who has only been waiting for the chance to claim both?
“To another fabulous year at Pandora Productions!” Mrs. Rebecca Pall said cheerily, flashing a red-lipped smile at her employees. Her husband Paul raised his glass, his expression slightly less enthusiastic.
If you only knew, Debbie thought, clapping with the others at her sides, the fake smile plastered on her face slipping the slightest fraction. You’re about to lose your company, along with your husband.
She had had to arrange it, of course. Paul hadn’t the guts to kill. His thrilling attributes were few and far between. Their affair hadn’t been one of lust, at least on Debbie’s part. Paul’s assets were what she lusted for: the multi-million dollar company called Pandora Productions that she had given her life to help build.
True, the idea of the film production company had been Rebecca’s, back when they were both students in business school and eager to make their mark on the world. Debbie had been reluctant, knowing how hard it was to launch a business in a normal economy, much less a recession. But Rebecca had been insistent that if they focused on quality content, superb editing, and cutting edge special effects, Pandora Productions could become not only a reality, but an ultra-successful one. Caught in the enthusiasm and drive of her new friend, Debbie had signed on. It was Debbie herself who in her zeal for mythology and legends had come up with the name Pandora Productions.
Rebecca had that gift, that charisma to draw people to her causes. With a few bright techs and film students. Pandora Productions had become a reality. Just a campus organization at first, it quickly became renowned for excellent short films. Then, in sophomore year, their short film about discrimination won second place at the Sundance Film Festival. More prestigious awards followed, as the films became longer and better, the result of investing in top-of-the-line equipment and more talent flocking to the Pandora name. Finally, with the epic fantasy Blue Daylight, Pandora Productions had won the coveted Gotham Award, the most prestigious American award available for independent films.
It hadn’t been a glamorous ascent, but the result of hours and years of hard work, skipped meals, all-nighters, and hard decisions. Rebecca and Debbie had been together through it all, side by side, the best of friends.
Then had come Paul Pall, a handsome film student five years younger than Debbie and Rebecca and eager to make his mark on the world. As his name suggested, he had cast a shadow not only on the company, but also on Debbie and Rebecca’s friendship.
Debbie had known that the insufferable Paul had his sights on the company she had slaved for, that all it represented to him was an easy future. She avoided him, and advised Rebecca to do the same. But her friend that had for years seen every pitfall and shyster for what they were was suddenly blind. Worse, Rebecca had turned against Debbie, accusing her of jealousy.
Debbie had thought about leaving, and starting over. She had the skills and the contacts. But why should she, after all the years she had put into Pandora? A decade had passed. The unrelenting work of building up a business that had been fine in her early twenties wasn’t something she was eager to repeat. No, Paul had to go.
But what about Rebecca? Debbie hated to throw away her friendship after all they had struggled through together. So Debbie made plans for Paul alone, deciding once he was gone that Rebecca would become the friend she used to be, especially with Debbie’s staunch shoulder to cry on. Murder was out; there was too much risk. No, what better way to show Paul for the villain he was than to seduce him, then expose the affair to Rebecca in a tearful confession?
Enduring Paul’s touch had been the hardest part of Debbie’s plan. Thankfully, the man was a ten minute wonder, and not at all concerned with her satisfaction. After a month of sordid couplings, Debbie readied herself for a confession just before Christmas, when she thought it would have the most effect. It was also the most her conscience would stand for. She had never kept anything from Rebecca before now, and the guilt and shame of being with her best friend’s husband was unbearable.
Then had come the surprise meeting a week ago, Paul looking on while Rebecca told her that they had decided to sell their shares of Pandora to one of the Hollywood film conglomerates, Titan Pictures.
Debbie had been stunned. “But...they’ll dissolve Pandora!”
“No,” Rebecca had assured her. “We’ve made sure that Pandora will survive, and you’re not going anywhere, either, Debbie. You’ll head up the company. I’m signing papers January 2nd to attest to that.”
“Rebecca would have signed them already,” Paul put in. “But she was looking out for you, Debbie. She made them stipulate that your job as CEO of Pandora was non-negotiable.” He winked at Debbie.
He likely told her to cut me loose. Bastard, Debbie thought.
“Everything will be the same,” Rebecca continued. “Except that you’ll be running Pandora on your own. Titan plans to reduce the workforce, but that’s the only change. They want Pandora to focus more on independent films—”
And Titan will call all the shots, Debbie thought darkly. I’ll be nothing more than a figurehead. “Are you retiring?”
“We need to focus on having a family,” Paul said, putting his hand over Rebecca’s. “With her hectic schedule here at Pandora, Rebecca hasn’t been able to relax enough.”
“I can take on more work,” Debbie said quickly, seeing a glimmer of hope. “If you’d only said something, Becky—”
“Deb, I haven’t been able to conceive,” Rebecca said harshly, strain etching her face. “It’s been close to two years, and nothing. I want to have a family before it’s too late.”
Debbie blinked, stunned. Rebecca had never mentioned getting pregnant to her at all, or even wanting to have children. How had they drifted so far apart? “I didn’t know.”
“Take the job,” Paul said, offering her a meaningful smile. “You’ve made Pandora a success, Debbie. It’s time you took a break too, and enjoyed life.” He kissed Rebecca’s cheek. “We’re going to. We’ve had a long talk about recommitting to one another.”
Paul had confessed an affair, just not with her, and in that action, nullified her plan. Her shame of the past month had been for absolutely nothing. Debbie settled her face into neutral with effort, seething with frustrated anger.
“I’m going to announce you as the new head of operations on the first day of the New Year,” Rebecca said, shouldering her purse. “You and I will also sit down with Titan that morning to talk about transitioning my duties to you. But please don’t let anyone else know yet, okay? This was Pandora’s best year yet. I want Pandora’s New Year’s Eve party to focus on that.” Rebecca smiled. “Have a merry Christmas, Debbie.”
Debbie nodded. “I won’t. Merry Christmas.”
Rebecca and Paul had exited, leaving Debbie to stew in thoughts of vengeance, wounded betrayal, and indecision. Many possible actions filled her mind for the next hour, as she tried to think of what to do. But no scenario she thought up brought Rebecca back to her and got rid of Paul.
“God damn him!” she shouted finally, shoving the top of her desk’s contents to the floor. “Damn him to Hell!”
“A common wish this time of the year,” said a sulfurous voice.
Debbie blinked. Out of the shadows stepped a monstrous creature, a demon from the dark ages. His upper torso was bare, his skin flushed red, straight black hair in a short ponytail. His lower body was animal: dark brown fur and black cloven hooves. A loincloth swathed his hips, made of some kind of tanned leather.
“What are you?” Debbie said, unafraid. “Some kind of method actor? Auditions have been closed for Hell’s Gate since Tuesday.”
The thing chuckled. “No, I’ve no interest in being in pictures. But this is an audition of sorts, yes.” The thing moved closer. “Didn’t you say you wanted Paul in Hell? Or did I misunderstand you?”
“Get out,” Debbie said, kneeling to gather up scattered paper and pens from the floor. “I’ve no time for your bullshit.”
The thing dropped to its haunches, then grabbed her left arm with its hand. “I’m no concoction of man’s making, human.”
Debbie screamed, the heat of the thing’s touch blistering her skin. She pulled backward, sprawling on her ass on the floor, a handprint of reddened skin on her forearm.
The thing stood, then offered its hand, each finger tipped with a shiny black claw. Debbie took a deep breath, then grasped the proffered limb, the heat now that of normal human flesh. She examined it carefully, looking for the telltale signs of makeup, prosthetics, or other fakery. There were none.
“You’re real,” she said shakily, standing on her own.
“If you are done inspecting me,” the demon uttered, “we can get to business, hopefully.”
“You want my soul,” Debbie stated. “In return for taking care of Paul, I’d gladly give it.”
“Not really,” the demon said in an offhand manner. “I want a favor from you, to be determined later. In exchange, I’ll take care of Paul.”
“How?” Debbie said.
The demon held out his hand again. This time, it held a bottle, the label ornate and handwritten. “There will be a party on New Year’s, or so your friend mentioned. Serve this to them.”
“I don’t want Rebecca hurt,” Debbie replied.
“Paul will be the only one affected,” the demon assured. “I will protect you. Once he is stricken, I’ll take it from there.”
Debbie nodded, then took the proffered bottle. “Agreed. What do I call you?”
“Shaker,” the demon said its smile of shark’s teeth chilling. “Good doing business with you, Deb.”
Another round of boisterous clapping jolted Debbie out of her memories. She forced a smile on her face, as Rebecca and Paul threaded their way through the crowd to her.
“I’m so glad the speech came off well,” Paul said happily. “Knowing it’s the last one I’ll ever have to make is such a relief.”
“Shh,” Rebecca chided. She turned to Debbie. “Do you have a moment? I wanted to give you a little something.”
“Yes,” Debbie said eagerly. “I have something for you and Paul, too. Let’s go into my office.”
The three slipped away from the other partygoers down the hall to Debbie’s office. Carefully, Debbie unstopped the bottle, and poured three glasses. “A toast,” Debbie said, raising her glass. “To Pandora, and to us, who have worked our asses off, and now will reap the rewards.”
The three clinked glasses, then sipped the wine. “A strange taste,” Paul said, looking at the label quizzically. “I really like it, though. Where did you find it?”
“A new friend,” Debbie said, smiling. “He said it was a good year.”
“From us,” Rebecca said, offering Debbie a small wrapped box.
Debbie put down her glass and opened the box. It was a small chest, engraved in winged creatures. She opened it, to reveal a small charm bracelet made of gold and pearls. “Thank you,” Debbie said, a stab of guilt making her flush.
Rebecca took out the bracelet, and began fastening it on Debbie’s wrist. “So tell us all about your new friend, Debbie. You never mentioned him—”
Paul bellowed, then went to his knees, his face flushing, eyes wild as blood ran from his temples where black prongs were erupting. Debbie and Rebecca screamed, then moved backwards from the flailing man.
“Paul!” Rebecca shouted, starting for her husband. “No,” Debbie said, grabbing hold of her friend. “He’ll hurt you!”
Paul convulsed, his body rippling, becoming more powerful as clothing ripped, revealing reddening flesh and growing muscles. His lower torso began undulating, becoming reptilian as scales formed and claws burst outwards from his shiny Brooks Brothers shoes.
“Paul!” Rebecca screeched, fighting free of Debbie. She flung herself toward Paul, reaching toward his hands to hold him down. Paul flailed, his taloned hand connecting with Rebecca. She fell backward, her skull caving slightly as it smashed into the edge of Debbie’s desk.
“No!” Debbie yelled, hurrying to her friend. She pulled with all her strength on Rebecca’s prone form, dragging her away from Paul.
“What...have you done...to me?” Paul rasped out, his red eyes focusing on Debbie. “You...bitch—” He darted for her on all fours, claws raking the floor.
Shaker appeared, grasping Paul by the nape of his now scaly neck. “Not a chance.” With a smile at Debbie, he and Paul disappeared.
Debbie sighed in relief, then reluctantly left Rebecca’s side, calling for help.