"I won't let you go," Marcia shrieked, slamming her fists against John's chest. Blood from his soaked jacket spattered her face. "He'll cut your heart out of your chest, and then he'll steal your soul!"
John cradled her face between his hands. "If that's what it costs to send that murdering bastard back to the abyss, I'll pay it." He kissed her as if their lips would never again meet, and then slid his hands under her bottom. "Just one more time," he muttered as he lifted her onto the edge of the desk and pushed her skirt up, tearing at her panties. "One more time, I have to f--"
John drew his service revolver and hauled Marcia off the desk, shoving her behind him as he faced the stranger. The man wore a beautifully tailored white suit, a salmon-colored shirt, and a pale blue tie. In his right hand he carried a white-flowered mauve briefcase. "Who the hell are you?"
"Cantwrighthat," the man said as he held out a pink business card. "Concerned friends of the author sent me. I see I'm just in the nick of time."
John snatched the card and read the pretty italic printing on it aloud. "Euwell Cantwrighthat the third, Escapist Artist?"
"C'est moi. I've been sent to redecorate the story. Call me Euwie." As Marcia peered over John's shoulder at him, he gasped. "Dear girl, there's blood smeared all over your cheeks. Did John do that? Haven't you people heard of AIDs?" He whipped out a snowy handkerchief and tossed it to her. "Run along to the little girl's room and have a wash while I talk to your hero."
"Don't let him summon the demon," Marcia said as she hurried out of the room.
John shrugged out of his jacket. "Look, this isn't a good time--"
"No, it's not, which is why I'm here," Euwie said, taking a can of freesia-scented air freshener out of his briefcase and spraying the air around John. "This scene has become far too realistic and graphic for the delicate sensibilities of your readers, who, by the way, don't appreciate the way you've been handling the heroine. She's a lady, remember? Not a slab of meat."
John watched Euwie use rhinestone-studded tongs to pick up his blood-soaked jacket and drop it in a lemon-scented pastel garbage bag. "I love Marcia. I'm going to die for her."
"So that makes it okay to brutalize her first?" Euwie shook his head. "You were about to use the eff word when I came in here, too. Is that your idea of true romance, my boy?"
John blinked. "I . . . I didn't think about it."
"Of course not. You alpha types never do. Too busy thinking with that." The escapist artist sniffed as he gave John's crotch a contemptuous look. "Now, go get changed out of those disgusting clothes while I check on your lady. Use some deodorant, too. You smell."
"That's because I'm sweating."
Euwie shook his head. "You never sweat around the heroine, or tear at her clothes, or force her to have sex on a desk. When you make love, it has to be in a bed with candles burning and moonlight pouring through the window. Preferably initiated by her, after you're married and you've had a good long shower." He strolled out of the room and followed the smell of sweat and blood to the little bathroom down the hall. Through the door he could hear a distinctive tinkling sound.
"Marcia?" He tapped on the door. "That's water running in the sink, isn't it?"
"No, I'm peeing."
"Don't tell me that!" Euwie winced as the tinkling ended and a muffled fart erupted inside the bathroom. "Oh, for heaven's sake. Can't you wait until the scene ends?"
"Sorry. I had broccoli salad for lunch." The toilet flushed. "Euwie, John is going to battle a demon to save me from certain death. I just know he'll be killed."
"That's what you're supposed to think, dear." Euwie took out his copy of the first draft manuscript and thumbed through it. "Oh, no. No, he can't do that. All this blood and gore. We'll have to think of something else."
The door opened, and Marcia came out, her face freshly washed clean of every scrap of makeup. "I'm ready."
"For sixth grade, maybe." Euwie pulled out his emergency makeup kit and began fixing her shiny face. "I can't say I'm happy about this John person. You'd do so much better with a beta hero in this story, darling. They're too pussy-whipped to mess you up like this."
"But I love John!" Marcia wailed.
"Is that why you were slamming your fists against his chest, and about to let him schtup you on top of the monthly planner?" Euwie whisked sheer rose blusher over the apples of her cheeks. "Is that how a lady behaves?"
Marcia pursed her lips for the gloss wand. "I'm not a virgin, you know."
"You had a single, dismal experience in college that lasted three point six minutes in the back of a Gremlin with the boy who jilted you the next morning for the Homecoming Queen, and then quick, emotionally unsatisfying sex with John in Chapter Seven. All very forgivable. I wouldn't be surprised if it grew back before the honeymoon." Euwie's upper lip curled. "Now, repeat after me: I am not a slut."
"I am not a slut."
"Sluts do it with blood-soaked boyfriends on the desk. Ladies do the college thing to take care of the pain and bleeding prior to meeting the hero, have one brief encounter with the hero to establish physical chemistry, but then save it for the wedding night." After Marcia dully repeated the words, he nodded. "Right, that's the best I can do without a hair stylist or Botox. Back to the library."
Euwie and Marcia joined John, who had changed into faded jeans and a skin-tight black T-shirt.
"Why are you dressed like you live in a barn?" the escapist artist demanded. "Is this a cowboy novel now? And what demented creature picked out this godawful wallpaper?" He pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers. "I'm getting such a migraine. Both of you, sit down while I try to sort this out."
John and Marcia sat and held hands as they watched Euwie straighten the desk and use stain remover on the crimson spots John had dripped on the beige rug.
"We have a demon problem that won't wait," John reminded him. "He has to die before midnight or he'll use the diamond to fully restore his powers--"
"And he'll take over the world and make Marcia into his unholy bride, yes, yes," Euwie snapped. "I read the synopsis." He went to his briefcase. "I despise paranormals, they're beyond gruesome. At least there aren't any of those icky undead vampires running about biting everyone."
"But Euwie, our author couldn't sell the story as a romantic suspense," Marcia protested.
"I don't want to hear it. Ah, here we are." Euwie drew out a glass vial filled with a sparkling lavender liquid. "Make the demon drink this, grab the diamond, and then run away."
John took the vial and held it up to the light. "What does this do?"
"It won't kill him, but it gives him a very bad tummy ache. He'll double over, drop the diamond, and you'll take it away from him. No blood, no swords, no hearts being hacked out of chests, just some nice, tidy shadow beings emerging from the depths to whisk him back to Satan. Remember, like what happened to Tony Goldwyn at the end of Ghost? Mix it in some Tab and he'll never taste it." Euwie checked his watch and then took the vial from John and handed it to Marcia. "You'd better hurry, dear."
"What?" John stood up. "Marcia can't go!"
"Oh, please, do you really think a demon would drink a Tab for you?" Euwie sighed as he went over and retrieved the iron poker from the stand by the fireplace. "By allowing Marcia to square her shoulders, take control of her destiny and defeat the demon, she becomes empowered and superior to you. That's what true romance is all about, my boy. Fictional compensation for the fact that in the real world, we men have all the power, make the best salaries, and own everything."
Marcia squared her shoulders. "I'll be all right, sweetheart."
John frowned as Marcia grabbed her car keys and fled the room. "But what will I do while she's gone?"
Euwie hit him over the head with the poker, sending John crashing to the floor. "You'll be unconscious." He smiled as he took off his jacket and went to lock the library doors. "And, just for the homoerotic thrill of it all, completely at my mercy."
[Can Marcia retrieve the mystic diamond without wrinkling her twinset? Will John wake up before Euwie has his wicked way with him? How bad will the demon's tummy ache be? Stay tuned . . . ]