The Mephisto Kiss – Excerpt

The Mephisto Kiss

Mephisto Kiss Websize
“I am part of the part that once was everything,
Part of the darkness which gave birth to light . . . ”
Mephistopheles, from Goethe’s Faust


Chapter 1

Kissing Matthew was one of Jordan’s favorite things to do, but tonight was different. Instead of enjoying the feel of his arms around her and the slow, gentle slide of his mouth over hers, all she could think about was the argument she’d had with her father before she came to Matthew’s house.

In the middle of the kiss, she sighed, and he pulled back a little, gazing at her from soft, brown eyes. “It’s not something you could have prevented. You didn’t even see the e-mail until . . . after. Don’t beat yourself up about it.”

“It’s not that. Not entirely, anyway. It’s Dad. After the news hit about that girl’s suicide, he told me I have to quit doing the TV spots for STOP, that I can’t be their spokesperson anymore, and we got in an epic fight about it. Why does everything I do have to be about him?”

With long, warm fingers, Matthew smoothed the hair at her temples. “Well, he is the president, and you’ve said yourself that your family lives in a fishbowl. STOP is a great thing, but every time it doesn’t work, the newspeople make a big deal about your involvement. As long as you’re part of it, they’re going to focus on you instead of the kids it’s supposed to help.”

Pulling away from him, she sat up on the sofa. Across the room, the closing credits of the movie they’d just watched rolled across the screen. “When I turned seventeen, Dad asked me to do some of the things a First Lady does, since Mom’s gone. I had lessons about how to greet state visitors and which fork to use and how to talk to reporters. Dad’s press secretary wanted me to get involved with breast cancer awareness, since that’s how Mom died, but I wanted to work with STOP, because of Holly.” Volunteering to do public-service announcements for the Suicidal Teens Outreach Program had been her way of dealing with her friend’s death, and now Dad was telling her she had to quit. It felt like a betrayal of Holly’s memory.

“Maybe it’s not a bad idea to step back. Those e-mails eat you up, and since you aren’t allowed to respond to any of them, it just frustrates you and makes you depressed.”

He had a point. She’d had notes from kids that sliced her soul to ribbons. Some managed to work through their problems, but some didn’t. Like the girl who e-mailed Jordan in the middle of last night and said she was all done, that she was giving up. By the time Jordan saw it, the girl was dead from an overdose of sleeping pills.

As the First Daughter, she received hundreds, sometimes thousands of e-mails every week. It was White House policy that each e-mail receive a reply, and most were a generic response sent by Carla, the press secretary’s assistant, or one of several staffers who worked under her, but they always flagged the e-mails they felt needed a personal reply from Jordan. Since Jordan had become the public face of STOP, she also received e-mails from desperate teens, and those received a reply expressing concern and compassion, along with the phone number and e-mail address for STOP. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to respond personally; she wasn’t allowed. The press secretary was adamant about it, because of who she was. If she counseled someone who still killed himself, it would be a PR disaster for Dad. Everything was always about the presidency. Most of the time, she didn’t mind, but sometimes it really got to her. “I told Dad that the news will call me a quitter, and it’ll look worse.”

“And what did he say?”

She turned her head and looked at him over her shoulder. “He said it wouldn’t be the worst thing said about him.” Sucking in a deep breath, she let it out slowly. “It’s so bad, Matthew, like everything Dad does is wrong. He said every bill he signs to fix a problem seems to create another one. Unemployment is higher than it’s ever been. His approval rating is almost as low as Nixon’s the day he resigned from office.”

“My dad says he listened to the wrong people and took bad advice.”

Just that morning, she’d noticed Dad looked really old. “After Mom died, he shouldn’t have run for a second term, but he did, and now it’s all wrong.”

Matthew rubbed her back. “Come on, Jordan, don’t be so down. Let’s do something that’ll take your mind off of all the negative.”

“Like what?”

“We could go upstairs to my room.”

“Are you serious?” She turned her head again and saw the look in his ordinarily calm eyes. “Oh, wow, you are serious! Geez, Matthew, way to be inappropriate. I’m supersad and bummed out, and you’re saying we should have sex?”

“It’s not like we haven’t been going out forever, so why not tonight? It’d be something to remember from this day that isn’t a bummer.”

She turned away and tucked her hair behind her ears. “I just got through telling you what a bad place my dad is in. Can you imagine if I got pregnant? It’d kill him.” She sighed again. “Not to mention the field day the newspeople would have with that.”

“You won’t get pregnant.”

“Says you. Nothing’s for sure, and it’s not a risk I want to take.” She focused on the movie credits and waited for Matthew to tell her she needed to stop running everything she did through the filter of living in the White House. Other than going off about Auburn football, it was his favorite lecture.

Instead, he asked, almost in a whisper, “Do you love me?”

Ohmigod, he dropped the L word. Out of nowhere, when she least expected it. Her friend, Tessa, said he’d do it eventually, that it was every guy’s last-ditch effort to get a girl to say yes. Jordan told her Matthew wasn’t like that. Sure he asked—he was a seventeen-year-old guy, after all—but she always said no, rolled out some variation of the Speech, he gave her the Lecture, and they moved on. Rinse and repeat.

Now he changed everything by asking if she loved him. Inwardly cringing, she held the do-you-love-me grenade gingerly while she debated what to say. What if she said yes, and he didn’t say he loved her, too? It would be out there, with no way to take it back. She’d die of humiliation.

But what if she said she wasn’t sure, and he broke up with her? She wasn’t ready for life without Matthew. Other than Tessa, he was her best friend, and yes, she did love him, but not necessarily like that. Not enough to sleep with him.

The credits came to an end, and the menu screen popped up. Turning to look at Matthew, she lobbed the grenade back at him. “Do you love me?”

He reached for her arm and tugged until she was back against his side. “I’ve never known a girl like you, Jordan. You think the only reason everybody likes you is because your dad’s the president, but it would be the same if he was a garbageman. It’s not him. It’s you, and whatever’s inside you that makes everybody want to hang with you.” He pulled her closer and kissed her forehead. “It’s part of the reason I keep asking about sex, because it’d make me feel more sure about us, that you’d be less likely to bail on me.”

Lifting her face, she met his eyes. “You worry that I’ll break up? Seriously?”

His arms tightened. “All the time.” Sincerity was all over his face, and his smile was crooked, like he was embarrassed. “I love you, Jordan.”

She almost couldn’t breathe. This was romantic. This was awesome. Pressing a kiss to his soft mouth, she was about to whisper, “I love you, back,” but didn’t get it out before there were two loud pops from the street, just outside the window, making her jump. “Somebody has firecrackers.”

Looking completely freaked out, Matthew grabbed her hand while he shoved away from the back of the sofa. “That wasn’t firecrackers.”

A loud crash came from the front hall, and she whipped her head around just as the door flew open. Two men in ski masks rushed inside, each with an arm extended, holding a handgun.

Matthew was already lunging from the sofa, pulling her along as he booked it toward the kitchen. In those few seconds, all she could think was, Where is the Secret Service? There were two agents, one in front of Matthew’s house, one in back, and they were constantly in contact with police patrolling the area, so help had to be on the way already. But why weren’t the agents inside? Had these guys shot Maggie out there on the front steps? Where was Paul? He had to have heard the shots. He should be coming inside, right now, but as they cleared the swinging door into the kitchen from the den, there was no one.
Matthew was headed for the back door. An alley ran behind the row of town houses, and once they were outside, in the dark, they could run and find somewhere to hide until—

Her heart skipped a beat when she heard another gunshot.

It broke into pieces when Matthew stumbled and let go of her hand.


Snipping the last of the wayward tendrils from an ornamental orange tree, Key stepped back and surveyed his work. “Why won’t you bloom? It’s time. You need to give it up. The bees are hungry.”

The tree stood there in the dark, small and silent.

His gaze moved across the lush interior of the greenhouse while he inhaled deeply of the warm, moist air, heavy with the scent of vegetation and rich earth. The greenhouse smelled like life. Situated in the rambling garden to the east of the house on the Mephisto Mountain, all but buried in late December snow, everything within the walls of glass and steel depended on him for survival, right down to the earthworms. His care was rewarded with a slight easing of never-ending restlessness.
Sometimes, when the sun shone through the glass at just the right angle, when the blue of the sky above reflected against the tiny waterfall in the middle of the south wall, he could almost forget what he was, what he did, and imagine happiness.
But those times were rare.

Tilting his head, he looked up at the bowl of stars suspended above the greenhouse and wished God could hear him.
Jax’s voice on the intercom above the greenhouse door cut through the perfect silence. “We have a situation. War room in one minute.”


With a heavy sigh, Key walked toward the door, setting his green shears on the potting bench before he disappeared. A few seconds later, he stood in the room at the center of a maze of computer banks and offices housed in the basement of the Mephisto mansion. One wall of the war room held an enormous plasma screen; on another was a gigantic map of the world and a whiteboard, and the center of the stone floor was dominated by an ancient oval table, three identical chairs on either side, and a new, smaller one at the end.

His brothers were all there, in varying states of dress. Key noticed that Sasha, the latest addition to the Mephisto, wore one of Jax’s dress shirts, her long, slender legs ending in a pair of white socks. She had her blonde hair up in a ponytail that somehow made her more beautiful than if she’d had it all fixed and perfect. He wished he had a girl who’d wear his dress shirts as pajamas.

He focused on Jax. “What’s going on?”

Jax picked up the remote control from the table. “This was recorded about an hour ago.” The plasma screen was filled with an image of the president and his daughter, standing side by side on the steps of the White House, greeting the King and Queen of Sweden. The scene changed, and Jordan Ellis was handing out Easter baskets to a gaggle of little kids. Key watched impassively, but he definitely noticed she was beautiful. Small, barely over five feet, with long dark hair and wide, blue eyes, when she smiled, her lovely face lit up, and her eyes . . . he’d swear they twinkled. He enjoyed watching her, but he began to wonder how the hell photo ops of the First Daughter warranted a Mephisto situation.

The voiceover reporter said, “No one has claimed responsibility, no ransom demand has been issued, but an inside source tells CNN the FBI and Homeland Security believe the two gunmen are Americans. Several militias are being questioned, particularly a group based in Texas known as Red Out.”

Key felt sick. “Did the bastards kidnap her?”

From where he leaned against the map wall, Phoenix said, “They took out her Secret Service detail, broke into her boyfriend’s house, shot the boyfriend, and stole the girl.”

“No way. Maybe somebody could take out a couple of Secret Service agents, but they couldn’t take the president’s daughter farther than a few blocks before they’d have every cop and uniformed Secret Service agent in the city all over them.”

“Just keep watching,” Phoenix said.

The screen changed to a scene outside a Capitol Hill row house, yellow crime-scene tape blocking part of the sidewalk. Scores of people stood watching as medics rolled a gurney through the front door and into a waiting ambulance. The voiceover reporter said, “Matthew Whittaker, seventeen-year-old son of Senator Jim Whittaker of Alabama, is in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital. He remains unconscious, but FBI agents hope to question him when he wakes.”

Jax forwarded, then stopped when the White House press secretary was speaking. Various White House staffers stood just behind him.

“Two men affiliated with the Red Out militia in central Texas were arrested after law enforcement pursued the car seen speeding away from the Whittaker residence. Miss Ellis was not in the car. The Secret Service believes the car was a decoy and the president’s daughter was taken by alternate means.”

Narrowing his eyes, Key stared at the guy second to the left. “The chief of staff is way too still. He looks like a statue.”

“It wouldn’t be so obvious if every other staffer wasn’t fidgeting, or crying,” Jax said.

They knew the Skia by the dark shadow across their eyes, but it never showed up on TV. They had to see a face in person to know if he’d given his soul to Eryx. But there were other signs, especially with the newest Skia. It took a lot of practice to act like a human with a soul, to fashion a facial expression to fit the situation, whether happy, sad, or frightened. In a row of hyperemotional people, Ron Trent was completely impassive, not an ounce of feeling on his face or in his eyes. “Did someone check him out? Is he Skia?”

Phoenix said, “I did, and he is. Then I called M, who found out Eryx turned the guy about six months ago.”

Key instantly began to consider the difficulty of taking out the White House chief of staff. Ron Trent was a high-profile guy, closest adviser to the president. “What are you thinking, Phoenix? How can we do this?”

Jax and Sasha exchanged a look before they both turned to Key. “Taking out Trent is definitely something we need to do, but that isn’t the situation.”

Looking around the room at the faces of his brothers, he realized they all knew something he didn’t. “Okay, then, what is the situation?”

“Eryx is behind the kidnapping,” Jax said. “That’s how Jordan disappeared. We think he staged the break-in for show, because, just like us, he can’t screw too much with reality. He had those guys, who’re bound to be lost souls, give the cops a good chase, and in the meantime, he transported her somewhere he can keep her until Ron Trent coerces an oath from the president. To keep that from happening, we need to find her.”

Key looked around at each face, hoping to see somebody break. This had to be a joke, a prank they cooked up just to screw with him. But no, he could see from their expressions that they were dead serious. “Have you all lost your minds? We can’t interfere with free will. If the president caves, there’s nothing we can do about it. It’ll be dicey to take him down, but it won’t be the first time we took out a head of state. Eryx has tried to take over governments before.”

“Not exactly free will,” Ty said from the opposite corner, one of his wolfhounds sitting next to him. “The man’s daughter, the only family he has since his wife died, is in danger of being killed unless the president agrees to pledge his soul to Eryx.”

“Do you know for sure that Eryx is behind Jordan’s abduction?”

Phoenix said solemnly, “When I went to see if Ron Trent was Skia, I popped all over the White House, looking for him. I finally found him, with Ellis, in the Yellow Oval Room on the second floor of the residence. He was telling the president—”

“Did Trent see you?” Key stopped and took a deep breath. Under a cloak, no one could see them, even the lost souls. But Skia were different. Their immortality allowed them to see past a cloak.

“Do you seriously think I’m that stupid?”

Feeling heated glares, aware that all of them were as angry as Phoenix, Key took one more deep breath and shook his head.


“Trent was telling the president about Eryx. Why would he do that if he wasn’t planning to convince him to pledge?”

“It doesn’t matter. If a man will give away any chance of Heaven to become a drone for Eryx, if he’ll say out loud that he forsakes God, he’s without faith. He’s already lost.”

Ty’s big hand gently smoothed Greta’s fur. “He’s the leader of the free world. He has power, influence. If he belongs to Eryx, it’s as if our oldest brother is president. Imagine the fallout. He’ll appoint Skia and lost souls to judgeships, cabinet seats, committee chairs. He’ll have every agency within the federal government stacked with his followers.”

“He won’t be in office long enough to do any real damage. We’ll take him out immediately.”

Denys was staring at the screen, at Jordan in a PSA for the teen suicide hotline. “An assassination will send the United States into a tailspin.”

“Then let’s hope the president’s faith is stronger than his love for his child.”

Twirling the diamond stud in his ear, Zee spoke up from where he stood, just next to the whiteboard along the east wall.

“You’re pissing me off, bro. Maybe you’re in charge, but last I checked, we’re a democracy. Majority rules. Six to one, Key.”

“Unless majority wants to break Lucifer’s law, in which case it’s my call.” He looked at each of them, searching for any sign of dissent. One flinch and he’d send that brother to Kyanos for six months to live in solitary. Until the spring thaw, he’d starve unless he could find something to kill on the frozen North Atlantic island.

“If he doesn’t pledge the oath,” Denys said, “Eryx will kill Jordan.”

Key looked again at the screen. Jordan was accepting a posy of bluebells from a child in a London crowd. Her eyes matched the flowers. Her smile was captivating. Thinking of her death, he felt a twinge of regret before he said, “Everybody dies sometime.”

“Except us,” Denys said. “And the Luminas.”

“We’re not human. The Luminas are live angels. Doesn’t count.” He watched Jordan dance with her father at some formal White House dinner. “We’re not going after the president’s daughter. We’re not going to interfere. It’s Lucifer’s law, and if we break it, there’ll be hell to pay.”

Phoenix huffed out an impatient breath. “I told them you’d never go for this on its own merit, but they insisted we try.” He pushed away from the map wall and took a chair at the table. “There’s a caveat to the law. Remember?”

What did he mean, on its own merit? “Of course I remember, but the exception is only if the human is Anabo, if interfering is necessary to protect her. This isn’t—” He stopped talking, suddenly feeling as if a Toyota had been dropped on his chest.

Holy shit.

Jerking his gaze back to the screen, he saw Jordan coming out of a restaurant with a lanky brown-haired guy. They were holding hands, smiling and waving at the camera before getting into a late-model BMW, followed by Secret Service, and driving away.

“She’s Anabo,” Sasha said quietly.

The screen went to a video of Andrew Ellis taking his second oath of office, almost a year ago. His daughter stood with him, looking earnest and serious. “How do you know?”

“Jax and I saw her at the National Cathedral on Christmas Day.”

“Are you sure? Maybe it was just a trick of the light.”

Sasha and Jax exchanged another look before his brother said, “We’re sure. She had the Anabo glow.”

“Christmas was three days ago. If you found an Anabo, why am I just now hearing about it?”

Dead silence was his answer, which meant they were afraid to tell him. Good call. An Anabo, right there in plain sight—available for the taking by the Mephisto—gone, and most likely fated to die. “I’d like an answer sometime before next Christmas.”

“We wanted to see who’s her intended before we told anyone,” Jax said. “It seemed . . . kinder.”

Key shoved his hands into the pockets of his trench coat and told himself that strangling Ajax, while tempting, was counterproductive. They’d found another Anabo, a huge miracle, and her immediate recovery was imperative. “And?”

Sasha picked up a small plastic bag from the seat of her chair at the end of the table and pulled out a pale blue sweater. “Jax popped into her room and swiped this from her laundry hamper.”

As she walked toward him, Key caught the scent of bluebells, reminding him of Yorkshire, where they’d lived for several centuries, until they lost Jane a hundred years ago and moved to Colorado. As much as anything in England, he missed the bluebells.

Darting a look around, he knew from their expressions that Sasha had shown Jordan’s sweater to each of his brothers, and none of them caught the scent of bluebells.

All this time, he thought he’d be the last to find an Anabo, but the subtle fragrance of bluebells coming at him from that sweater proved him wrong.

He was so short of breath, he was seriously afraid he’d pass out, but he kept his face expressionless. Standing straighter, he forced a calm that came from centuries of practice. His brothers depended on him to keep it together, to be in charge. Any falter would give them reason to doubt him, lose focus, and let go of the tightly held control they kept on their dark natures. Humanity didn’t deserve unrestrained Mephisto wandering the Earth. His leadership had never been questioned because he never wavered from who he was, and he wasn’t going to do so now.

His brothers assumed he was in charge because he was oldest after Eryx, the first of them to become immortal when he turned eighteen. They didn’t know Lucifer had appeared to him while he hovered between death and resurrection and commanded him to lead his brothers, or that he threatened annihilation of their father, Mephistopheles, if Key failed. Having the dark angel of death as a parent was heavy, but there was affection there, of a kind. Not to mention, they counted on M to help in their never-ending war with Eryx. If Lucifer decided to take out their father, Key wasn’t going to be the reason. In a thousand years, he’d never lost his footing, and he wouldn’t now, even though he was scared out of his mind.

“Do you think Eryx knows she’s Anabo?” he asked no one in particular.

“We don’t think so,” Jax said. “He can’t see the glow, and unless he sees her birthmark, how could he know? It’s doubtful she knows.”

“I had no clue I was Anabo until Jax found me,” Sasha said. “I’d never even heard of Anabo. Eryx had Jordan taken to use as leverage to get the president to pledge. It’s just a weird coincidence that she’s Anabo.”

She held the sweater out to him. His hand closed around the soft wool and brought it to his nose while his gaze moved once again to the screen, to the face of the girl he’d dreamed of finding his entire miserable life. If they were too late . . .

Turning, he gave Phoenix a look. “How fast can you make a plan?”

His brother replied evenly, “Already done.”