Authors: Michele Hauf
Tags: #Fantasy, #Demon, #Witch, #Paranormal, #Shape Shifter
“I do need a demon conduit,” he said. “A familiar.”
He paced around me, taking me in, so I tilted back my bare shoulders. Let him look. I think I make a pretty hot human. Men always follow me with their hungry eyes. Such looks make me feel good. But this man hadn’t stroked me right yet, and I didn’t expect he’d learn. Not with his less-than-courteous record.
“I’d give you my assistant’s contact info, but—” I glanced toward the cage. “—I’ve decided not to like you,” I said, “so I won’t bother.”
“I don’t want to go through your assistant.” The shadows in the ill-lit room darkened his eyes, and I wanted to move closer to see if the pinpricks of light in his pupils were fallen stars. “In fact, I went directly to the source tonight because I need to do this without an assistant.”
I let out a chirp of laughter. “You’re drunk then, eh?”
“I’m perfectly sober. I cannot abide alcohol.”
He stepped closer to me and smiled to reveal beautiful white teeth, and now his alluring scent tickled my nose. I tried to decide how it made me feel. Curious? A little. Hungry? No. Hmm….
“I want to cut out the middleman,” he said. “Just you and me. And demon makes three.”
“So what you’re saying is you want to have sex with me and summon the demon at the same time? In place of my assistant, who would normally get me off, while you wait to conjure?”
He nodded. “I want to streamline the process. Make the connection stronger. Summon a really big demon.”
He sounded dead serious. And I finally decided how he smelled—lickable.
Don’t lose your focus, Star. Drag your nails across his face, and make your escape.
“You insult me,” I said. “I never allow clients to touch me. It’s just not done.”
“It would be strictly business.”
I lifted my chin, haughty in my refusal.
“Of course you would. I don’t conduct demons to the mortal realm for free.” Nor would I ever work without my assistant. But how to refuse an offer when I hadn’t worked in months? My purse had become a cavernous thing. “You can’t afford me.”
“I know I can. For the first summoning I’ll pay your last month’s rent and this month’s rent. I know you’re behind. I did my research.”
So he had. I was desperate to make that payment before I got evicted in two weeks. But I didn’t like his tactics. He’d put me in a cage. He’d taken me from my neighborhood. He’d been following me? Researching me? And yet….
He nodded and gave me another taste of that sexy smile.
Oh, Star, don’t fall for his charm. It can’t go well with a witch who wants to use you as a direct demon conduit.
No, not well at all.
But my empty bank account and I decided to stick around for the punch line.
The familiar was not shy about her nudity. The blanket slipped as she strode about my loft, inspecting everything, from the coatrack where I hung my spellwork talismans from leather cords to the dust coating the shelved glass jars containing a plethora of herbs and amulets.
She caught the chenille blanket about her waist and walked through the kitchen, bare-breasted. Very nice breasts, I had to admit. Yes, indeed. High, round and pert. A handful worthy of handling.
But I couldn’t begin to allow her beauty and curvaceous attributes to distract me from my goal. A goal achieved only by maintaining a distinct distance from any desirous feelings that might arise for the cat-shifter—yes, even while in the heat of having previously proposed sex with her.
“Watch for the glass!” I warned as she neared the shattered vase.
The familiar stepped back, and went around the counter.
“My name is T.J.,” I offered. “What’s yours?”
“T.J.?” A delicious apostrophe quirked the corner of her pink mouth. “Your parents couldn’t manage more than two letters? I’m sorry for you.”
“It’s short for Thoroughly Jones.”
She pulled the blanket over her breasts. Thank the goddess for small miracles. “Thoroughly? You’re kidding me.”
“Old English name. My twin brother is Certainly. And we’ve a sister named Merrily.”
“I see. Now I really feel sorry for you. T.J. it is, then. I’m Star.”
Like the white star on her black fur. Cute.
Familiars didn’t usually have surnames, nor did they remember their lives from one to the next, so in actuality they could have nine names in total. I wondered if she had her life information tattooed somewhere on her body, then tried to keep my gaze from roaming her soft, glowing skin. It looked dewy, as if she’d lain under a tropical sun, soaking in the humidity.
“So.” I cleared my throat and steeled my focus. “Will you agree to my proposition?”
“I never get involved with the witch,” she said, peering into the toaster slots and sniffing. She wrinkled her nose. “It’s bad karma.”
“So is demon-conducting. Dark magic, that is. Gotta be hell on the karma.”
“You’re telling me.”
“But it’s necessary, the dark magic. To counterbalance the good,” I gave my usual explanation for a craft I’d practiced dutifully for centuries. Seriously, someone had to summon evil or the balance would be shattered.
Star nudged up a brow, but gave no reply.
“Using an assistant to bring the conduit to the relaxed state following climax—which then enables a demon transfer—depletes the conductor’s energies,” I tried explaining my motives. “With focused magic and only two people involved, I can conjure greater energy.” And maintain the control I required. “More energy equals bigger demons.”
“What kind of demon do you want to bring to the mortal realm? No!” She put up a hand. “I don’t want to know. I never want the details.”
“Screws with your karma?”
“You got it. But you must be into some very bad magic.”
“I have reason to bring forth one buried deep in Daemonia.”
She nodded, taking in that shocker as if I’d merely explained that toast crumbs are annoying. Strolling along the kitchen counter, the blanket trailing behind her as if it were a royal garment, she walked over to the bed. My loft was all open, save the bathroom, and the bed sat on the north end, opposite the living room on the south. Walls were intrusive. It was best when conjuring to have all areas visible and open.
She leaned against the high mattress and traced a finger over the gold silk threading the damask coverlet. A family heirloom my mother had sewn long ago after a trip to India to study their magic.
Star asked, “You actually think you can have sex with the familiar
conjure a demon at the same time?”
“Absolutely. The conjuring follows the climax. So it’s actually sex, then conjure. But I have been known to manage two things at once. I’m quite clever.”
That sexy grin curled her mouth again and I triumphed at the reaction. She’d loosened her defenses. I might have a chance at winning her over. Now if she’d tug the blanket over her backside, which was revealed as she leaned over the bed, then I could actually concentrate on closing the deal.
But those curvy assets were like peaches under the sun, and oh, so—
“What if you develop feelings for me?” she asked. “I take my job very seriously. It’s strictly business. The assistant gets me off. I conduct the demon. Deal done. There’s a certain art involved for the one who has to get me to climax, you know.”
“I won’t fall in love with you. Promise.”
“I made no mention of love. Love isn’t even on the table. It’s the feelings and emotions that cause problems. Can you maintain distance while also getting the job done?”
“That job being…bringing you to climax? Yes.” Oh yes. I could stroke those gorgeous curves to a delicious, shuddering climax she would never forget. “I like to think I know my way around a woman and would never dream to leave her unsatisfied.”
“That’s the whole point in this particular transaction,” she said. “Satisfaction.”
She sighed heavily. Long hair fell over her shoulder, swishing her cheek and getting caught in her lashes. My fingers ached to brush it aside. “The money you offer is irresistible, but I don’t know. You were following me. Studying me. How creepy is that? This feels wrong.”
And she would feel, oh, so right.
Climbing onto the bed, she tugged the blanket along with her, but wasn’t concerned that now, as she stretched along the end of the mattress, it fell away to puddle about her lithe, peach-sweet skin.
I would have no difficulty satisfying this woman. Not one bit. Parts of me had already begun to—
“What about you?” I posited, stepping closer, but not daring to spook her by getting too close. The sweet scent of her skin filled my head with a heady fragrance I couldn’t name, but that made me want to taste and devour until I was sated. No, that was wrong.
No tasting, T.J
. “Can you maintain distance? Not fall for me?”
She smirked. “I make it a point not to get turned on by a man who puts me in a cage. Do you…” Her lashes dusted her cheeks as she lowered her head to flash those green peepers up at me. “…think I’m pretty?”
I felt my muscles loosen and the stir in my belly grew. Which meant I was getting turned on by the display of gorgeous female flesh sprawled across my bed.
Bad witch. Your pleasure is not paramount in this transaction. It’s all about the girl. You’ve thought this through. You can do this
“Erm, I mean—” I slapped my arms across my chest. “—sure, you’re attractive, but I’m not interested. You’re a cat-shifter. I make it a point not to get turned on by girls who chase mice for their lunch.”
“I don’t eat mice. They’re nasty and their tiny bones get stuck in my teeth.” She smiled and rolled onto her back, flexing her arms and legs in a kitty-cat stretch.
Seriously? I don’t think it was a tease, because I sensed she was merely comfortable with her nudity, and surely she had been naked before strange men. A lot. How many witches had she worked with? Of course, not all were men. Female witches outnumber us men by a large number. But those witches who tended to conjure demons were generally male, because for some reason the females deemed the practice vulgar. Evil.
To each his own. Evil—or dark magic—was necessary to balance good. And I had an ulterior motive I felt was unnecessary for the familiar to learn.
Shoving my hands into my pockets helped ease the pressing need to lean forward and stroke my fingers over her tantalizing breasts. The nipples were not rigid, and sat like rosy petals upon the firm handfuls—
“I haven’t seen any cash yet.”
Dragged from the sensual fantasy of rose petals and succulent nipples, I was thankful for her business demeanor. “It’s on the counter in an envelope.”
She eyed the brown envelope I’d placed in sight. “So you want to do this right away?”
Yes, before I lose my cool and all hope of ever performing the task properly.
“That was my hope.”
“Do you guarantee I’ll get paid, no matter the outcome?”
I nodded. “The money is yours. No strings.”
“What about my safety if and when the demon is conjured? Can you guarantee that?”
“I’ll put a protection spell around you the moment the demon incarnates.”
She sat up and studied me so carefully I felt as if she were touching me. There, at my throat where my pulse pounded and I felt the blood from her claw wound had dried. And then against my chest to further gauge my sincerity.
I’m no fool. Such an arrangement was going to try my every steely nerve and put to the test my ability to remain a cold participant in an act I normally indulged in with gusto and desire.
Could I do this?
You have to summon the nefari demon or you’ll never see your brother Certainly again
“Okay,” she said. “Deal.”
I think I threw the witch for a wild and crazy loop by agreeing to work with him. His jaw dropped and he didn’t utter a word. Instead he stared at my breasts. Typical male.
I had no doubt this little experiment would fail grandly. Without proper training and practice, the man couldn’t possibly retain a cool distance while pleasuring me. My assistant was a professional, and had worked with me for years.
Flashing my glance to the counter, I felt the saliva pool. I entirely expected to walk out of here with that fat envelope in exchange for my playing along with the witch’s grand designs.
And besides, he was sexy in a dark and mysteriously appealing way.
I’ve never had a boyfriend. It’s not so easy to explain to a new lover your job involves having sex with a man and then conducting a demon to this realm. Mortal men didn’t get it. Even the paranormal breeds sneer at the idea of their girlfriend having sex with another man and claiming it as business.
I mean it when I say the sex is business. The fact it feels great and leaves me satisfied is a bonus. But when the demon comes through me to this realm it is not pleasant, so the satisfaction is short-lived.
I immediately shift following a demon conduction to sleep off the incredible energy I’ve expended. That’s another reason I need to work with an assistant I know and trust. After I’ve shifted I must be in a safe place in case the witch or demon tries something.
But with my assistant Chris away on an unexpected trip to care for his ailing mother who had fallen and broken a hip, that left me behind on the rent.
So I agreed to this crazy deal because I was feeling lonely. Needy. And poor. I admit it! And since I knew whatever happened in this home could never be business sex, I felt safe in taking a chance I’d get a little loving tonight.
I’ve never had loving in the sense of well, loving. It is something I aspired to.
“You got the spell memorized?” I asked.
T.J. tapped his head. “Right here. What do you need? Or require? I’ve usually sat in another room while this part happens, so I’m not up on the details.”
“I just need to come. Quickly is preferable. You can take off your shirt but leave the pants on, buddy. This isn’t about you, it’s all about me.”
“I got that. Uh…” He cast a glance along the wall, fighting the sudden nervousness I could smell on him. Poor guy. He was in way over his head. I liked that. It made me feel powerful. Something I’d never felt before. “So we…start?”