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Prologue By The Redheads

"It's time you girls took your new jobs seriously." Satan circled the four redheaded women enjoying four o'clock tea at Hell's finest bistro. Satan's steel-reinforced stiletto-heeled boots struck sparks on the obsidian floor. She snatched a lady finger sandwich from the tiered tray. As she bit into it, her teeth ground on something hard. Swearing under her breath, she plucked the neatly manicured finger from her mouth and muttered, "I always get the ring finger."

  Satan slipped the two-carat diamond ring onto her pinkie, glanced at it admiringly, then pulled a page from her back pocket. She slapped a memo, singed around the edges and smelling of brimstone, onto the table. In bold print, it read: NO MORE VACATIONS ON EARTH.

Vacation was the only time when demons, imps, and the already deceased became mortal—a condition that had proved fatal for the redheads' husbands. Unfortunately, second deaths resulted in total oblivion.

Satan perched her fists on her hips. "I don't suppose any of you ladies know which of your husbands was dumb enough to light a fire in their ice-fishing shack? I swear, between them, they almost had a brain."

"It was probably my husband," all four women, the widows of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, said in unison.

Bunny, War's Widow, said, "That's sweet of y'all not to blame War, but we all know the truth. War was pretty stupid. But thanks for trying." The willowy redhead sipped around the tiny mushroom cloud erupting over the rim of her cup.

Satan rolled her eyes. "Thanks? War doesn't thank anyone."

"Sorry," Bunny said, her lower lip starting to pout.

"And War sure as Hell doesn't apologize!" Satan threw up her tattooed arms. "I swear!"

"Where is all this written down?" the new War asked. "Because if there's a manual—"

"It doesn't have to be written. It's understood." Satan let out a slow, calming exhale. "You know what, just do it your own way. I know you will anyway." To that she muttered, "Hard-headed girly-girls."

Sara Lee, the Widow Famine, cocked her head, her red curls bouncing against her shoulder. "So you're saying to use our discretion in how we manage our jobs?"

Satan squinted at the only redhead whose cup remained empty no matter how often the waiter tried to fill it. Liquid turned immediately to dust and blew out like a west Texas dust devil. "You used to be a lawyer, didn't you?"

The new Famine gave Satan a truly evil smile. "How do you think I ended up here?"

"Ooh, me too," said Butterflye, Plague's Widow. The petite redhead wore an authentic Miss Texas competition evening gown bought on consignment. The bugs that scuttled from under the hem, however, were new.

"I do get a disproportionate share of lawyers," Satan said. "Okay, here's the deal—and Famine, Plague, you girls don't go looking for loopholes. My personal lawyers are the best. Now, as you may have heard, I'm eligible for retirement. I've bought a cozy little volcanic island in the South Pacific—got it for a real bargain on eBay. But I can't retire until I name a replacement. Under The Rules"—Satan threw a baleful look Heavenward—"my successor has to come from one of the Horsemen. So whichever one of you impresses me the most in handling your late husbands' jobs gets the gig."

"But why are we the new Horsemen, er persons?" asked Zoe, the Widow Death.

"It was in your marriage contracts," Satan said impatiently. "On any Horseman's death, his job goes to his next of kin. You girls should have read the fine print."

Sara Lee scoffed. "As though we were going to read all 666 pages of that damned contract! The print was microscopic."

"You lawyers never bother to read what you sign. Seems to me, you should know better." Satan turned to the smallest redheaded widow. "Out of curiosity, are you going by Plague or Pestilence? Your husband's schizophrenia drove me nuts."

"I'm Plague-Pestilence." Butterflye shooed flies from her cup with a cockroach-topped swizzle stick. "Hyphenation is the latest thing."

"Oh my gawd, ain't that special?" Satan rolled an eye upward. "Good. He's not paying attention—like He ever did."

When a sarcophagus beetle crawled from under Butterflye's gown, Satan crushed it beneath her pointed toe. "Now, because some of you are a little slow"—Satan glanced at the new War—"I'll repeat my offer. Whoever proves herself the best Horsewoman of the Apocalypse gets my job and I get my island. It's simple."

"Horses are so dirty," Zoe said. "But a classic Mustang convertible ... now that's style." She sighed. "Can't I change jobs with someone?"

"No," Satan said.

"But this job will be the death of my social life."

"Life sucks and then you die," Satan said. "Oh, that's right, you've already discovered that. Well, ladies, good luck and may the best Horsewoman win."

"No wonder people think Satan's a guy," Butterflye said. "She comes off very butch."

Bunny nodded. "But in a cute way."

Satan cupped her hands under her large breasts, gave them a heave up, then stomped off, sparks flying in her wake. "This damned job is like having PMS 24/7. I'll be glad to get out of here. As if their husbands weren't bad enough. Now I've got the damned Redheads of the Apocalypse to deal with. If I didn't know better, I'd swear God was playing a freakin' prank on me." 

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