JACKSON WIPED down the lunch counter for the thousandth time. He’d counted. Of course he’d counted. Like he counted the notches on his bedpost.
He sighed. Why couldn’t they close Eaven for Thanksgiving? It’s not like there were any patrons within a ninety-mile radius. Tezcatlipoca, New Mexico was a sleepy, one-stoplight town that not even Google Maps could find with both hands feeling for assholes. And Eaven was one of the two eateries. At least they were the more popular of the two. Or that is, when there were actual customers.
Did anyone even cook turkeys here? Jackson had considered the same deeply philosophical question every year. The nearest supermarket was in Santa Fe, ninety miles to the north.
One thousand and one, he counted as he made another pass across the counter. The aluminum edging gleamed bright enough to be a lighthouse’s Fresnel lens. Maybe it would light the way for starving customers? Ones who took a wrong turn on the interstate and ended up in an odd little town like Tez?
Come, he prayed. Come try the pie!
Jesus, fuck. Someone show up. And dear God, bring enough money so we can finally fix the neon sign. Eaven had ended up sticking as a name, since the H had long burned out.
One thousand and two.
“I don’t see any tickets on my cook line,” Vegas called from the kitchen.
Jackson gave a dirty look into the pass-through from the counter to the kitchen. “I’m sorry. All the imaginary customers can’t decide.” He threw the rag down in a huff. “Why do you insist on keeping the damned diner open on Thanksgiving? The whole town is shut down for the holiday but us. There’s much better things we can do with our time than wiping down spotless counters and washing unused pots.”
“It’s Sisyphus,” Vegas said with a pleased grin.
Jackson groaned and tossed up his hands. “Again with the Sisyphus bullshit.”
Vegas nodded. “Once a year we must remind ourselves that humanity is torture and hopeless.”
Jackson fell back on the counter like a spoiled child. “And whose bright idea was it to decide to move out of the Seventh Circle? The condo was nice and out of the way of all of that nightmarish traffic coming off the Phlegethon River.” He rubbed his temples as he slumped off the counter. “My God, I can still hear the shrieking when we had to make a grocery run.”
Vegas shrugged. “The rent’s cheaper here. And I didn’t have to make a Faustian deal to get a business license. Can you imagine what would have happened to us when it came time to collect?” He snorted. “No thanks.”
“And now you get to freely serve your sinfully delicious pies to silly humans who take a wrong turn.”
Vegas furrowed his thin blond brows. “Is that sarcasm? I’ll have you know my pies are damned good.”
“Fuck yeah, they are,” Jackson agreed with a nod.
“I didn’t earn that TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence on my megawatt smile alone, you know.” He pointed to the aged, peeling window cling on the scratched-up glass door. “How’s the counter coming?”
Jackson wilted. He could feel his spiritual energy leaving his body in sickly coils. “I am Sisyphus,” he muttered and picked up the rag. “Doomed to this hell.”
“Don’t insult home like that,” Vegas warned him.
Jackson wiped down the counter again.
One thousand and three.
Vegas chuckled behind him. “You have any better ideas of what to do for the holidays?”
Jackson snorted. “Yeah, genius. Fucking. Fucking. And”—he turned, giving Vegas a lecherous grin—“more fucking.”
Vegas scowled. “You know the rules. While we’re among mortals, our powers are sealed.”
Dammit. If he wasn’t so adorable, Jackson would have gladly pushed Vegas off that damned cliff epochs ago. “We’re incubi,” Jackson spat. “You know what that means.” He slapped a hand to his chest. “We fuck. A lot. We do it to live. We do it to give our partners a good time. A real good time. We’re damned healers!”
Vegas pursed his lips as he peered at Jackson. “You got that last bit from that Channing Tatum movie.”
“Vegas! Work with me,” Jackson snapped. “Do you even feel what it’s like walking around as living Viagra?”
“Of course I do.” He fixed Jackson with a dour look. “Because. Duh.”
Jackson slowly rocked his hips in the customary motion. “Don’t you want your own holiday feast? We could eat our way through Santa Fe in singles looking for a good time for the holidays.”
Vegas crossed his arms. “Grindr is not a damned menu. They’re humans. You need to respect them.”
Jackson threw up his hands. “Why are you so impossible?”
“How’s the counter looking?”
Jackson made an overdramatic sigh and made another pass on the immaculate counter.
One thousand and four.
Pots and pans clattered, and the stream of water hissed from the kitchen—Vegas starting yet another round of washing already clean pans.
One thousand and five, Jackson counted. He looked over his shoulder, watching Vegas in the pass-through. His face heating at how Vegas’s shoulders flexed under his tight shirt. His jeans low on his hips and frayed at the pockets, the denim dappled with stains from an array of grease, ingredients, or whatever else missed his chef’s apron. It baffled him how Vegas could get so damned dirty, yet look flawless, as if he meant to do that.
The human world had softened Vegas. He’d adapted better than Jackson had. He fell in love with the quaint, quiet charm of Tezcatlipoca, and Jackson didn’t argue. Their super in the Seventh Circle was a bit of a prick.
Jackson had picked up on Vegas having a thing for the bubbly redheaded guy who ran The Charms of Zephyr, a hokey New Age charms and crystals place. Over a Fourth of July bar-b-que, the guy revealed he was truly an alien from an ancient galaxy. And that was their cue to pass on the wine coolers and fireworks and make for the quickest exit.
For Jackson, the guy was a big bucket of nope. But he knew Vegas was still sweet on him.
They stayed friends. Awkwardly and pretending they’d never heard about his xenomorph heritage. But friends all the same.
Vegas absolutely spent more time in the shop than he should have. Always special-ordering shit that was nowhere near authentic. Like wine coolers made with the tears of angels. Fuck if humans knew where to get genuine seraphic anguish. It was probably fucking tap water from Wisconsin.
Jackson polished the aluminum edging on the counter.
One thousand and six.
He really was Sisyphus. Doomed to a worthless cause.
He watched Vegas happily clean the pots, rinse them, and then clean them again.
Dammit. Why did he have to be so gorgeous?
Tall, blond, piercing green eyes in that “Top 10 Sexiest Chefs in the World” way, and a megawatt smile that could light up the Vegas Strip. Which was why he chose the name for himself when they arrived. Vegas looked the part of a high-roller and dripped with himbos when he took the casino for all it was worth. He showed everyone a good time.
A real good time.
But Jackson wasn’t prepared for when Vegas made a vow of celibacy.
And he decided to move them out to the middle of nowhere to make goddamn pie.
Jackson went along with it, hoping that one day, just one day, Vegas would finally notice his incubi roomie wanted to be way more than just a roomie.
Jackson had no idea what sex between two incubi would even be like. Would the world explode? Would he explode?
But he’d seen what Vegas was capable of in the sack.
And what a way to go.
One thousand and seven.
“Okay,” Vegas said, his voice gentle but sudden enough to startle Jackson out of his illicit thoughts. “I’ll make you a bet.”
“Yeah?” Jackson grinned. When they had done their whirlwind casino tour, bets with Vegas were always good. In many, many ways.
Vegas slipped out of the kitchen, seeming to contemplate the parameters of his wager. He stepped to the corner booth and looked outside the windows.
Tez was a dark-sky town, not that it mattered much—even the streetlights only had the power of a sixty-watt bulb at most. And Eaven’s lights poured out over the empty streets like a soft golden nightlight.
He nodded to Jackson. “If you win, we close Eaven for every holiday and go on vacation.”
“Every holiday?” Jackson asked. “Even the bullshit ones like President’s Day?”
Vegas nodded, grinning confidently. “Even Arbor Day.”
“Shit,” Jackson hissed, brightening. “That’s some pretty high stakes.”
Vegas shrugged. “It’s a high-stakes gamble. It’s how I roll.”
Jackson crossed his arms and frowned. “And you always win. Deal’s off.”
“That’s because I cheat,” Vegas said firmly. “No cheating this time. Fair and square.”
Jackson scratched his chin. There was a certain sincerity to Vegas’s tone. Did he really mean business?
“And if I win—”
“Here we go…,” Jackson groaned.
Vegas batted him on the back of the head in retaliation. “If I win, we close Eaven every holiday, including the bullshit ones like President’s Day and Arbor Day, and keep paying penance.”
Jackson scowled. “How the hell is that a win for you? We still close the diner.”
Vegas hooked a thumb toward the kitchen. “Because you’re going to clean the grease traps.”
Nausea hit Jackson like a tsunami of stomach acid in the throat. He gagged under psychological suggestion. “How can you even enjoy the spoils of your prize?” Jackson asked. Surely Vegas had an underhanded plan.
Vegas frowned, his eyebrows drawing together in that sexy, authoritative way. “Because you need to be taught a lesson in humility.”
Jackson’s rag hit the floor as his jaw dropped open. Who did he have to hit with a bus to be taught humility by the dirtiest incubus to waltz out of the Seventh Circle? Vegas couldn’t really mean grease traps. He more likely meant trussing up Jackson like a Thanksgiving turkey and beating his ass as red as a red velvet cake.
“Hey!” Vegas snapped his fingers in front of Jackson’s face. “Are you here right now?”
Jackson stammered and shook his head. The fight to dismiss his delicious fantasies failed when Vegas made a pointed glance at Jackson’s half arousal filling his jeans.
“It’s not what it looks like,” Jackson grumbled. “We’re living Viagra, you know.”
Vegas snorted a chuckle, dismissing the awkwardness. Walking around with hard dicks in plain view was never an issue for either of them. Seventh Circle had always been “clothing optional.”
“Fine,” Jackson spat. “What’s the bet?”
Vegas remained silent for irritatingly dramatic effect. His grin widened with amusement, and Jackson’s cock wilted with annoyance.
“Well?” Jackson asked, gesturing for Vegas to spit it out.
Vegas put up a finger between Jackson’s eyes. “Wait.”
Jackson blinked, going cross-eyed at the digit. The diner clock ticked off thirty more seconds. The neon signage flickered outside. Jackson chomped on his lower lip.
Vegas smirked, his green eyes sharp and dangerous. “We have to fall in love.”
The last thing Jackson remembered was the heavy thump on the back of his head from hitting the lunch counter, and his world went dark.
“Hey,” Vegas’s voice drifted through the darkness.
Jackson felt a rhythmic poking of flat metal at his chest. He groaned and swatted weakly. His fingers brushed against Vegas’s hand.
“Jackie? Did you die?” Vegas asked in a baby-talk tone before poking again.
Jackson snapped awake, jerking into a ramrod-straight sitting position. He snatched the offending metal thing out of Vegas’s hand. A spatula. He glared at Vegas. “I’m alive,” he said, and it almost came out as a condemnation. “Regrettably.”
Vegas patted Jackson’s hair like a kitten. “But I’d miss you,” he said, pouting his lips.
Jackson peeled himself off the pristine checkerboard tile floors. He pointed a finger, nearly touching the tip of Vegas’s nose. “You know that isn’t the slightest bit attractive.” Jackson scowled and scuffed his feet on the floor. His black Crocs looked just as spotless as the empty diner. “So. About falling in love… with each other?” Jackson asked shyly. Timidity wasn’t in incubi nature, but where Vegas was concerned, Jackson couldn’t help going weak in the knees.
“No, no, of course not.” Vegas laughed.
A shot of anguish hit Jackson directly in the heart. He shivered as Vegas thoughtlessly destroyed any chance they had at love.
“With others.” Vegas smiled. “You need a date and I need a date, by Christmas.”
“Christmas?” Jackson asked after pulling himself together and sweeping up the crumbs of what remained of his shattered heart. He clenched his jaw. “Why Christmas? Are you aware it’s Thanksgiving? That’s only a month. And are you missing something super important?” Jackson gestured furiously to Vegas and then to himself, specifically to their crotches.
Vegas pulled a frown and narrowed his eyes. “Yes. We’re demons. We can still celebrate.” He smiled brightly. “It’s romantic, don’t you think?”
Jackson had no idea what flavor Kool-Aid Vegas had drunk today, but it sure as hell wasn’t the “angel tears” wine coolers.
“One condition,” Jackson commanded.
“Uh-oh. Here comes the angry face.” Vegas shrugged. “Lay it on me.”
“You don’t seduce the New Age guy.” Jackson wasn’t jealous. Nope. Nuh-uh.
Vegas pressed his lips in a thin line. “He has a name.”
“Moonbeam Rainbow-whatsit,” Jackson mumbled out of the side of his mouth.
“That’s not his name.” Vegas crossed his arms.
Jackson groaned in frustration. “That’s my condition. We need to level the playing field. You’ve been flirting with the guy.”
Vegas’s eyes widened. “I have not. He’s just nice!”
“Well,” Jackson muttered. “He is.”
Vegas smirked. “Jealous.”
Jackson felt himself flush head to toe with embarrassment. “No, I’m not!”
Taking a step back, Vegas smiled softly. “Cool your jets. It’s okay. I get it.”
“You do?” Jackson asked, uncertain. There was no way Vegas could have. He cleared his throat, faking confidence. “Of course.”
“You haven’t been seeing anyone. So it’ll make it even.”
Jackson wasn’t going to question Vegas agreeing. His fake confidence grew into true confidence. “Yes. It’s a bet.”
“You have to fall in love by Christmas,” Vegas said, extending a hand.
“Deal.” Jackson planted a high five in Vegas’s palm, and they exchanged a series of claps and gestures, concluding in a fist bump.
They watched each other for a moment, and Jackson arched a brow. Vegas was on the verge of saying something. His eyes lit up in just a way that suggested so. Instead, he yawned wide and stretched with an overdone arch of his back.
Jackson’s mouth ran dry at the flex of Vegas’s spine. His libido pinged in the back of his mind. It was a blessing that he could at least control it and hide his body’s attempt to betray him. He couldn’t hide it for long, though, and his closest chance to get relief was the public restroom. In the off chance a customer miraculously walked in, Jackson would never hear the end of it for shirking his responsibilities.
“Anyway,” Vegas said, cutting through Jackson’s sensuous thoughts. “I’m gunna take out the trash, and we’ll close up for the night.”
“Thank fuck,” Jackson said, pumping his fist victoriously.
Vegas turned to head back into the kitchen. “Get the floors mopped and count the till.”
“But the floors are perfect and we haven’t had a single sale.” Jackson sighed.
Vegas winked at him over his shoulder. “Sisyphus.”
Instead of arguing, Jackson headed for the custodial closet. “I’m so over this human-suffering bullshit.”
“Then win the bet,” Vegas called from the kitchen.
Jackson nodded as he pulled out the mop and bucket. He hefted the bucket to the sink and turned the faucet, watching the water pool in the dingy, stained container. He’d show Vegas.
He started mentally planning their vacations. Tahiti first. Then Thailand. Then Tasmania. He would work them through all the T’s first. Just because Tahiti came first in his top vacation lists.
The back door opened and then slammed. Jackson listened to Vegas’s shuffling around the dumpster. Scaring away the stray cats, as usual. Or feeding them. Jackson had seen bowls of chicken out there more than once.
Vegas had seriously gone soft among the humans. He turned into a baby-talking goober around newborn bunnies. Where was that hot, hard demon lover in the sack? The one who could put the Conqueror bent on conquest to shame?
“Jackson!” Vegas hollered from outside. “Jackson! I need you!”
And damn didn’t Jackson need Vegas.
The panic in his tone had Jackson out the door in less than five seconds.
Vegas stood over a pile of trash bags, staring wide-eyed. He hesitantly put his hand to his mouth and then pulled it away again when he realized he’d been touching trash. “Oh my God…,” he whispered.
Jackson swallowed. It couldn’t be good. When Vegas panicked, it was never good. “Did one of the cats die?” It was a terrible question, but he had to ask.
“Nonono,” Vegas said and pointed to the mound of bags.
Finally, Jackson came to Vegas’s side, took Vegas’s hand, and squeezed tight in reassurance.
Vegas blinked at the gesture. “No. I’m really fine.” He pointed down. “It’s that.”
Jackson squinted into the darkness and peered into the piles of bags. Something wiggled, and he smiled. “The cats had kittens, didn’t they?” He wasn’t totally heartless about Vegas and his cats.
He moved another bag as he listed to the sound of mewls and gurgles.
“We’ll get them something to eat and a place to sleep,” Jackson comforted Vegas.
He moved the last bag and fell back.
It wasn’t a litter of kittens.
“It’s a… I-It’s a…,” he stammered.
Laying in the trash, swaddled in a fuzzy pink blanket, the baby cooed.
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