The ice cream parlor was a secret gateway to Hell. It was the only logical explanation.
“It’s fucking December,” I muttered as I stared down the dark street. It was the only place still open at this time of night; the rest of the buildings in the area consisted of office space. I quickly tugged up my hood as a mother herded a troop of giggling eight or nine-year-old Girl Scouts out of the ice cream shop. They began walking straight towards me, whispering to each other conspiratorially. I narrowed my eyes suspiciously, glaring at them from beneath my hood as I relaxed my hands, preparing for an attack. Which one of them was the demon? I swiveled one boot on my heel in an arc so that my toes swept over all of them. My boots tingled when they pointed at demons.
I relaxed, realizing the Girl Scouts were not demonic.
That’s when I heard the distinctive sound of a pistol cocking. The Girl Scouts bolted behind a nearby minivan parked on the street, moving in perfect formation—like a military unit. I slowly raised my hands in clear view as I looked up to see the mother now pointing a pistol at me; her face was as calm as a winter pond. A quick once over showed me she was in her early thirties, wore a blue Royals baseball cap, an open jean jacket, and a t-shirt underneath that said I love vegans. Especially when they’re cooked medium rare. I bit my lip so as to not burst out laughing, because she looked like the kinda gal who had been waiting her whole life to justifiably pump a dangerous criminal full of lead.
“Keep your eyes to yourself, freak,” she said, keeping the pistol trained on me as she unlocked the van. “Get in, girls. Now. On the double!”
Jesus. They really were trained soldiers. “Misunderstanding,” I assured her. “A young girl stole my niece’s backpack and ran this way,” I lied, letting a little emotion into my voice. “It had her brand-new laptop inside, and…I don’t have the money to get her a new one.”
The momster’s outrage faltered…slightly. “Well, I haven’t seen any girls run by here. We were eating ice cream,” she said, barely shifting her chin to indicate the nearby shop. Her eyes never left me, and her pistol remained steady. She saw me eyeing the weapon and lowered it from my face, still keeping it trained on my lower body as a precaution. Definitely trained. “Strange times,” she explained. “You should get going.”
I nodded slowly, keeping my hands up as I side-stepped away from her. She turned with me, keeping the pistol between us until I was a safe distance away. Then she climbed into her minivan and was driving away in less than five seconds—at a reasonable speed rather than peeling out in fear.
I let out a nervous sigh. “Christ. Almost got myself killed by a Den Mother,” I muttered. I walked to the ice cream shop, opened the door, and slipped inside, discreetly sweeping the space with my eyes and boots. I felt no tingle and saw nothing suspicious, although the place was packed. This only made me more concerned. Where had the demon gone?
Most of the place was occupied by exhausted parents allowing their sugared-up kids to scream, laugh, and liberally pour ice cream on every part of their face, except for their mouth—using their fingers instead of the plastic spoons. One group of college kids sat at a table near the register, and I rolled my eyes to see that it was less of a group and more of a harem. One handsome guy wore sunglasses, a hipster man-bun, and he was grinning as three overly bubbly girls took turns fawning over him.
“Ice cream is great, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Frappuccinos,” he told them. “Especially with the whipped cream and chocolate drizzle,” he added in a suggestive tone. “Everything is better with whips and chocolate.”
They laughed or shrieked in feigned outrage, and one of them even tried to debate his point by shoving a spoon of her ice cream into his mouth. Of course, she had to lean forward rather far, showing off her cleavage so he could get the full experience of the mint chocolate chip. I checked the group with my boots and felt nothing demonic. I sighed, stepping up to the counter and doing my best to tune out their existence. Their shameless lack of pride was appalling.
Needing to fit in until I officially cleared the building of demonic presence, I approached the beefy kid behind the register—who was obviously only working there to pick up girls. He was handsome, didn’t much like the suave hipster behind me, and looked like he worked out at the gym more often than he worked for a paycheck.
He lifted his gaze from the counter, taking me in from the waist up in slow motion, a grin stretching across his face as he finally met my eyes.
And he blanched in apparent recognition, jolting so hard that he knocked over his workout shaker bottle. “White Rose,” he said in a muffled hiss.
I tensed, glancing left and right to make sure no one had heard him. Then I settled my glare on him. “Shh!” I warned in a firm whisper. “How do you know that name?”
He nodded shakily, carefully setting his palms on the counter where I could see them. “Everyone knows your name.” He indicated for me to look down at them, moving only his eyes. Then he subtly checked that his two coworkers couldn’t see. For a brief second, fur grew out of his knuckles. Then it evaporated and he let out a nervous breath. “Werewolf,” he whispered. “You’re not here to kill me, are you?”
My eyes widened. “No! Just give me a scoop of chocolate!”
He nodded in relief, snatching up an ice cream scooper. “Of course,” he stammered, dropping the spoon in his haste to obey my request. “Please don’t kill me,” he murmured like a mantra. He scooped up a liberal dollop of vanilla into a cup and then frowned at it. He added a scoop of lime sherbet, still looking confused by my complicated order, and then dropped the scooper onto the ground. He slid the cup of ice cream towards me and plastered on a fake smile. “Have a nice day!” he practically yelled into my face, dry washing his hands.
“Have you seen anyone suspicious enter in the last fifteen minutes?” I asked, quietly.
He shook his head anxiously. “No. I p-promise,” he stammered.
I held out a ten-dollar bill and he stepped back as if it was poison, lifting his hands. “No charge for the White Rose,” he whispered.
I stared at him, thankful that the table behind me hadn’t taken note of the bizarre exchange. I shoved the money into a tip jar and smiled reassuringly at him. “Thank you. I’ve never had chocolate like this,” I said with a teasing smile.
His eyes widened in horror. “I’m so sorry! Here, let me—”
“No. It’s fine. Really. Thank you.” I grabbed a plastic spoon from the counter and I turned around before he decided to set off the fire alarm or something. I bumped right into the hipster who had been backing away from his table, fending off three force-feedings now. I stepped back quickly, relieved that I hadn’t spilled the ice cream.
He turned around and flashed me a dazzling smile. “I’m so sorry,” he said.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said.
He took off his glasses and cocked his head. His blue eyes were deep and dreamy, and I suddenly had more sympathy for the desperate girls behind him. He truly was handsome. “Did it hurt?” he asked, sounding concerned. He gave off no magical aura, and he didn’t appear to recognize me like the werewolf ice cream server had.
“What?” I asked, confused. He’d barely bumped me. The girls behind him practically hissed at me, arching their backs, and skipping sideways like yowling alley cats.
“When you fell from Heaven,” he explained, somehow managing to keep a straight face. “Did it hurt?”
I blinked at him and then I burst out laughing at the terrible pick-up line. “Wow. Okay. Enjoy your night, Rico Suave,” I said, rolling my eyes. I turned and made my way to the door, giving up on demon hunting for the night. I’d attracted far too much attention, unfortunately. I’d been so surprised to randomly pick up a demon’s trail—which had practically been on top of me—after weeks of nothing, that I had pounced on it. And then lost him thanks to Sergeant Mom and the terrified werewolf.
“It was worth a shot!” the blue-eyed hipster called out, chuckling. “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”
He made a good point. “Keep shooting,” I said from over my shoulder, and then I stepped back out onto the street. Kansas City was quiet tonight, but I spotted a couple walking their dog on my side of the street and a car driving past. I took a bite of my vanilla lime concoction and grunted. “That’s not half bad,” I admitted.
The hair on the back of my neck suddenly rose and I looked up to see that the car had stopped moving about fifteen feet farther down the road, looking as if it had been frozen in time. I glanced over at the couple walking their dog to find their faces locked into smiles and each with one foot in the air, frozen in mid-stride.
I dropped my cup of ice cream, scanning the street warily. Nothing moved. I stepped away from the door to the ice cream shop, risking a glance inside. Everyone within was also frozen—ironically—and the blue-eyed hipster was laughing as he fended off the three groupies and their spoons of sans-dignity flavored ice cream.
I heard a steady metallic tapping sound and spun to see an old man walking down the sidewalk across the street, tapping a cane on the pavement with each step. He wore an old-fashioned suit and a bowler hat with a black feather in the top. He paused when he was directly across the street, and then turned to face me with a genuine, grandfatherly smile. His bushy, curled, white mustache twitched at the motion.
“Hullo,” he said, waving jovially. “Finished with your ice cream? I thought I would be forced to stand out in the cold all night! I’m accustomed to warmer climates, I’m afraid. Blame it on old age,” he said, shuffling across the street at the speed of an old man strolling through the park.
Despite his non-threatening demeanor, the hair on my arms rose up on end as I stared at the amicable gentleman, fearing for my life. Because as my eyes flicked over the bright yellow cufflinks peeking out from under his coat sleeves, I caught the smell of sulfur, and my boots were suddenly tingling like mad.
Which only meant one thing.
“Demon,” I hissed. Rather than me finding him, he had found me.
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