Courting Nuns

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The convent resides in an adobe-style mansion with a terracotta exterior. Cross-cut logs stained a dark brown, dot across the full length of two floors. Foothills rise in the distance, but the building sits on flat and barren wasteland, covered with rocks, sagebrush, and sparse ponderosa pine trees.

Trisha makes herself at home by opening the tall, ornately carved door that swings on black metal hinges. I, on the other hand, hesitate to walk through the archway, expecting Boss and I will burn up like vampires.

Trisha waves me inside. "The nuns are sweethearts, and Father Timothy should be pleased you're joining us."

'Should be?' Boss says. What does she mean by, 'should be?'

Cautiously, I stride through the doorway unharmed, but the place is so quiet, the echo from my cowboy boots could wake the dead.

We pause under a black iron chandelier and face a set of grand staircases with dark oak steps and twisted railings. "They must be praying," she says, then turns right, leading the way down a long hallway with tall windows that look out onto the front yard. Statues of saints are inset on the opposite wall.

Double doors lead into the chapel. Behind the altar hangs a life-like painted figure of Jesus on the cross. Twenty nuns in black veils kneel in the pews, chanting a prayer in Latin. Goosebumps break out on my arms from the decrease in temperature or the smell of incense that flashes me back to an unhappy parochial education.

I say to Boss, You're remarkably calm for a demon in church.

What do you mean? he replies. A chapel's the best place for a demon to fuck with sinful souls.

I half grin.

The dark-haired priest closes the Bible and steps away from the pulpit. He's wearing the traditional clerical collar and black shirt above jeans. His sandals flap against the wood floor as he hurries to meet us halfway down the far-left aisle. "Trisha," he says.

"Father Timothy." She kisses his cheek, leaving a momentary glow of lip prints.

He frowns and extends a hand. "Who's this?" While we shake, he focuses on my violet eyes.

"Name's Pete."

"He's a courier," Trisha says. "The man wanted for closing the hellhole."

The priest stiffens and jerks away his hand. A few of the nuns turn and gasp. "Why would you bring him here?"

"I didn't do it," I'm quick to assure him, although I expect Father Timothy's two seconds away from throwing me out on my ass.

"It's okay," Trisha says. "He's willing to help us with Azael."

"Sisters." Father Timothy's voice echoes throughout the chapel. "Please go to your rooms until dinner."

The nuns stand in unison. If it weren't for their varying sizes, they'd be clones in their oversized gray sweaters and black skirts. With their veiled heads bowed and their hands clasped, they file out of the pews and through the doors where we'd entered.

Once they're gone, Father Timothy says, "Trisha, there's no one I trust more than you, but—"

"He's immortal," she says, "and has worked for Margery since the end of the Second World War. Anyone who can evade me for that many years has the skills we need."

"You're giving me too much credit," I say. "Without Margery's protection hexes, you were able to corner me in the Purgalator." But no one seems to care about my objection.

"We're under a time crunch," Trisha says.

"But we still have to be cautious." Father Timothy turns to me. "No offense, but I've been fighting on God's Behalf for ten years, and never once have I met anyone or anything trustworthy on the side of evil. How can we be sure you won't align yourself with Azael?"

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