Chris—short for Christopher Lucius Baphomet—stared at the earth in front of the grave, the freshly turned soil barren of grass. He focused on the disturbed patch of dirt and tried to laser his gaze past it to the coffin a few feet below.
Rise, damn you.
He tried to find the thread that used to connect him to the dead. Looked for the cold tendril he’d taken for granted before. Hoped to see fingers poking through the ground, anything to prove that he’d not wasted his time making a handy-dandy Negan bat—which, for non-Walking Dead fans, was a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. It lay by his side, waiting to be baptized and given a name. Specially crafted for the next time the graveyard was overrun by zombies. Because it had happened before. Fun times.
The first zombie uprising was how he’d met his wife, Isobel—a hot babe. Together, they’d fought them off. Talk about a unique first date. He’d love to recreate that moment.
Alas, the soil didn’t tremble. The thread linking him to the dead didn’t give him even the slightest tickle. He’d not been able to make even a croaked cockroach twitch since the wedding.
Holding Isobel’s hand—which used to act like some super-magical battery for his powers—wasn’t jumpstarting his mojo anymore. Chris had become—no don’t say, don’t even think it—mundane.
“Chris!” Isobel yelled for him from the house. Probably because it was Tuesday, which equaled trash day, and guess whose job it was to lug the damned can to the curb?
The Antichrist, the Branch of the Terrible Ones, the King of Fierce Countenance, relegated to menial chores such as the disposal of garbage.
The shame of it.
I’d rather be fighting legions of the undead. Given his dark mood, he didn’t reply and instead glared at the dirt once more. Fucking move. Do something, so he could return to the glory days when he’d valiantly staved off the undead, foiled the horsemen of the apocalypse, and evaded his psychotic mother from another dimension.
As the Antichrist, he used to have such a bright destiny waiting for him. Then he’d gotten married, and everything in his life became…nice. What a wretched nightmare. He had a home—a clean one with fresh sheets once a week and fluffy towels—home-cooked meals, and Wi-Fi in every room. Guys at the bar envied him his gorgeous wife, who doted on him. A woman who made him happy. A word that should never be used in the same sentence as Destroyer of Nations.
What happened to my destiny? As the son of the Devil, it had been foretold that he would do great things. Reshape the world in a new image.
I gave it up for love.
And at the time, he’d totally been feeling it. He still felt it, actually. He loved his wife, and all he wanted was to have a great new life.
He’d gotten his wish and now had to live with the mindless boredom.
Nothing cool ever happened to him anymore. It probably didn’t help that he’d told his dad, Lucifer, to fuck off. And dear old Dad listened. The man he’d never known growing up stopped popping in and made himself scarce.
Chris totally didn’t care. He’d lived this long without a dad; he could do without forever.
His sister, Bambi, tried to claim that Dad didn’t mean to ignore Chris. Apparently, the Devil was having problems in his Hell kingdom. Who fucking cared? What she didn’t grasp was the fact that Chris didn’t care that his father had kept a takeover of his kingdom at bay, especially once Chris learned that Lucifer had asked Muriel, his favored daughter, to help instead of his son, Chris.
Then again, who can blame him? What can I do? Without his magic, he was a nobody with only his good looks and charm to rely on. And his charisma was iffy some days.
No one wanted him around except for Isobel. Not even his mother. Ever since the wedding, she’d stopped trying to contact him. The sibilant whispers and deadly encouragements were things of the past.
He kind of missed them. At least it showed she cared.
“Christopher!” Isobel shouted again, and he sighed.
He loved his wife, he truly did, but some days, he missed the excitement of their courtship. The running from danger. The fighting. The awesome sex after battle.
“I’m coming!” he yelled. “Take your panties off.” Because no way was he stupid enough to tell her to keep them on.
He slouched across the graveyard and vaulted over the fence into the backyard of his house. Yes, his house. No more renting shitholes. The one perk of marrying into a rich family—and a bit of blackmail.
What’s that? You want us to move out of New Orleans so Isobel can be closer to home? It’ll cost you.
Cost Isobel’s family a house, and not just any home, a converted church that was still on consecrated ground—which meant no random visits from Daddy. It even still had a steeple, but no bell. Isobel had had it removed the first time he’d gotten wasted and swung from it at 3:00 a.m., trying to wake the dead.
Sadly, it didn’t work.
Despite losing that cool perk, Chris was the proud owner of a real home with no landlord to piss him off, which wasn’t as awesome as it sounded because it came with a honey-do list. Honey, clean out the gutter. Honey, can you paint the living room? Honey…
Was it any wonder he hid in the garage and took a few swigs from his hidden bottle of hooch after he’d slammed the damn garbage can on the curb?
The alcohol burned its way down his throat and warmed his belly. He took another long swallow—his shameful secret. He should add that he didn’t hide the drinking because Isobel minded. She really didn’t care. The problem arose from blackouts and the fact that he woke up in strange places…sometimes covered in stuff best left in a morgue. Dragging his carcass home smelling of dead dog ass bothered her.
Bothered Chris, too, not that he’d admit it. Apparently, when he blacked out, he knew how to have fun. If only he could recall a single instance of it. Some people would suggest he stop drinking.
He’d tell them to fuck off.
Whether he could recall it or not, he appeared to be having a good time. And he wasn’t about to stop. What he wanted to know was, why did it only happen when he got wasted? Why couldn’t he be conscious for it?
Also, when had he become such a whiny bitch?
Because being happy sucked. He took another swig and then hurriedly hid the bottle when the door to the garage began to open, a slow rat-tat-tat as it wheeled up the track, the sliver of daylight at the bottom widening.
Noting a pair of feet and legs, he turned to the workbench and pretended to be working on…nothing. He had nothing. Would she notice?
“Chris. There you are. I’ve been looking for you. The trash man is coming.”
“I took the can to the curb already.” Was she blind? He cast her a scowl.
“There’s one more.” She shook a bag at him, the fact that she could carry said bag to the bottom of the driveway obviously not sinking in. Pretty little rich girl. Which wasn’t a dig. He loved that he’d snared himself a princess.
But what about recognizing him as a prince?
Something in his expression must have betrayed his thoughts because her lips flattened. “Don’t you give me that look. I’ve got other stuff to do. I thought we discussed the dividing of the housework.”
“No, you discussed. I agreed to everything you said because it meant sex. In other words, you coerced me, and whatever I promised isn’t binding.” Not being close to his dad didn’t mean he ignored the Devil’s philosophies.
Dropping the bag, she crossed her arms over her chest. “If you don’t want to do your part and help with the chores, then hire someone.”
“You know I can’t.”
“That’s right. Because we can’t afford to.” Because while her family had helped them buy the house, Isobel only got a stipend each month, and a small paycheck from her job for them to live on.
“Not my fault the graveyard business has been slow lately,” he defended. Maybe he should go on a murdering spree to drum up business?
“You could get a second job.”
The very thought made him wince. Work twice as hard? From birth, he’d been told that, as the Antichrist, he’d have a great destiny. Surely, that came with perks such as a three-day workweek. He’d yet to see any benefits to being the Son of Perdition. And not once had any of those prophecies warned him that he’d actually have to work. As in toil, physically.
The fucking Antichrist lifting a shovel for a living?
I was born to do awesome things. Not dig holes for dead people.
“Dead people make great armies.”
Who said that?
Surely, he didn’t. Yet the evocative words in his head didn’t sound like his mother. His once-chatty egg donor had not said a peep since the wedding. Did this mean she’d given up?
Have you abandoned your poor, baby boy?
Probably for the best. She did, after all, want to use him, which he wasn’t keen on. Despite her silence, he kind of doubted that he’d heard the last of her. She’d gone through an awful lot of trouble to talk to him.
Blah. Blah. Blah. Isobel droned on. “Chris, are you even listening to me?”
“Nope.” Chris told the truth rather than lie and have his father think he was currying his favor.
Her lips pressed tight. “I said, if you don’t want to get another job, then maybe you should talk to your dad, see if he’ll lend you some dough.”
The only way he’d take a penny from that old goat was if he croaked. “Like fuck.”
“Is that going to be your answer to everything?” Isobel arched a brow.
“Are you going to nag me until I agree with you?” He glared right back.
“It’s not nagging, it’s reasonable persuasion. Why must you be so difficult?”
“I’m not being difficult. The man is a giant, hairy ass.” All very true, he’d seen it. “I want nothing to do with him.” Eep, teeny-tiny lie. Hopefully, Lucifer didn’t notice.
“I don’t understand what’s wrong with you.”
He scrubbed a hand through his hair. “Nothing is wrong. That’s the whole fucking problem. Nothing is happening. At all. Life’s been boring since we got hitched.”
“Well, excuse me for not being exciting,” she drawled, eyes flashing with anger.
“Don’t be like that, duckie. You know that’s not what I meant. Just that, since we tied the knot, nothing is happening anymore.”
The crossed arms moved only so she could plant her hands on her hips. “Don’t you dare blame me for the fact we’ve currently got peace on Earth.”
Did he blame her? He shouldn’t. After all, he’d made the choice months ago in that crypt. Love over world domination. Again, at the time, it had seemed like the right thing to do. In retrospect, perhaps he’d been hasty.
“Someone should have told me peace sucked.” His lower lip jutted. He sulked very well.
Isobel laughed. “You’re an idiot. This quiet spell won’t last forever. You’re still the Devil’s son. Think of this peaceful time as the eye before a storm.”
“You think things will get interesting again?”
“I know they will. Have you read the latest divination by Madame Pierrot?” A psychic Isobel’s mother engaged to keep tabs on the future.
“Yeah. I read her prediction.” Something about the forces of good and evil rising and clashing on the eve of a new darkness emerging. He’d also seen some entrails read recently that claimed that if he became king, another son would usurp him. But that one could have just been paranoia on his part.
“Don’t sulk, my dark prince.” Her nickname for him. “You’re obviously not dying of boredom, given you’ve come home smelling like a graveyard three times in the last week. Have you been able to get the dead to rise?”
Admit he didn’t know how? “Working on it.”
“Want me to help?”
Yes. He totally wanted her input. Isobel didn’t just have good looks and a banging bod. She possessed an incredible brain. A smart lady who, more often than not, had sound advice. But in this case, her words of wisdom would probably entail sobering up.
“I want to keep trying on my own for a bit,” he said in reply to her offer to help.
She couldn’t quite hide the hurt that he shut her out. “Nothing wrong with having a partner.”
A liberal woman would, of course, say that. Being a bit of a misogynist, he kind of wanted to do it by himself.
“I’m good. And I’ll do better about doing my part around here.” He snared the bag from the ground and marched it down to the curb. This was man’s work. Spit on the ground.
He sauntered back to the garage and noted that she stood just outside, looking yummy in her slim-fitting slacks and a cute blouse. “Anything else for me to do?” he asked. Trimming her hedges came to mind.
“As a matter of fact, I need you to get cleaned up,” she advised, eyeing his outfit. “Wear something yuppie from the closet and not anything stuffed in a drawer, would you?”
“Why? What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” He peeked down at his jeans, streaked with grave dirt, a T-shirt Isobel hated—because it was profane, according to her—a red plaid lumber jacket, and steel-toe boots.
“You’re filthy. You need a shower.”
“Is this your way of getting me naked?” He leered. The sexy kind, not creepy.
“This is not me trying to get laid,” she advised, holding her hand up to stem his advance. “We’re having company for dinner.”
“Not your sister again,” he groaned. Isobel’s sister, Evangeline, hadn’t mellowed toward him at all, and this in spite of the fact that she’d married some dude. On the contrary, she was witchier than ever on account of her pregnancy hormones.
“I invited Eva, but she couldn’t come. Something about having to inspect her cat because it’s almost tick season. Which reminds me, did you grab that meat from the butcher? He gave me a deal on buying the scraps in bulk again.”
“More meat! Exactly how much are we going to spend to feed that beast you call a dog?” A dog more brute than canine.
When Isobel jilted him at the altar during their first attempt at marriage, she’d found Goshen in the swamp. Turned out, he was some kind of legendary hound that had adopted Isobel as his human. It meant wet dog hair, picking up giant, smelly turds, and eyes staring at him when he tried to bang his wife. But it was the growling when she ran errands that made him worry.
“Goshen is family,” his duckie stated, not for the first time.
“Goshen wants to eat my face.”
“Love me, love my dog.”
“I’d love to make him into a coat.”
“Don’t you dare,” she growled.
“I swear, sometimes I think you love the dog more than you love me.”
“Don’t whine. It’s not attractive. Just like that shirt. Really, Chris? I thought we talked about your public appearance.”
“There is nothing wrong with my shirt.” He peeked down at it, the faded wording still readable—I’m not a weatherman, but you should expect a few inches tonight.
Her brow arched. “Nothing wrong? Are you sure about that?” Before he could react, she leaned forward and grabbed the collar.
Rip. The hard yank tore the T-shirt, rendering it a reverse belly top that exposed his upper body.
“That wasn’t nice,” he declared. “I happen to love this shirt. Especially since it’s true.” He waggled his brows.
Her lips twitched. Almost got a smile.
“Spank me later.”
“Why not right now? I’m not busy.” He was never too busy when it came to fondling his wife.
Before he could grab her, she danced out of reach and wagged a finger. “Actually, you are busy. You need to shower and get dressed.”
“Or I could shower and have dinner naked in bed with my wife.”
“That might be awkward, seeing as how we’ve got a guest coming over.”
“Since when? I don’t recall you mentioning this before.”
“Maybe because you weren’t listening,” said with a huff.
Possible. He tended to tune out things that didn’t directly apply to him.
“What happened to your hatred of hosting parties?” Which he approved of given he disliked cleanup. He and his wife, early on in their marriage, discovered they preferred to be entertained in other people’s homes.
“This isn’t a party, just an invitation to an old friend, but I never thought he’d say yes. He’s usually so busy.”
“Who?” His gaze narrowed in suspicion. “You better not have invited my dad.” Because he wasn’t ready to play nice.
“That old lecher?” She made a face. “Nope. As if I want to dodge his innuendos all night. I reached out to your cousin, and he agreed to come meet you.”
“My cousin?” It took Chris a moment to percolate on who that could be. When he figured it out, he shouted, “You invited Jesus fucking Christ to dinner?”