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Damned If You Do: The Complete Collection
By JL Merrow, Sarah Frantz
Riptide PublishingCopyright © 2013 JL Merrow
All rights reserved.
The rush of the summoning fizzed through Rael's brain, leaving his mood switched to high and all his senses buzzing. He'd materialized in a small room with the drapes drawn—a teenager's bedroom, he guessed from the unmade bed, Little League pennants on the walls, and the aroma of eau de socks perfuming the air. There was a raggedy salt circle messing up the carpet around him, and thirteen stubby, smoky little candles he was just itching to snuff before they made the whole room reek like rancid fat. Damn, someone's mom was going to be mad about this little stunt.
A pimply faced kid in sweats and a baseball cap was sitting on the bed with his jaw hanging open. He stared straight at Rael, who raised an eyebrow. A grimoire slipped from the kid's slack fingers and fell with a thud to the carpet.
Rael gave Teen Warlock his best slow smile. "You called?" he breathed, every inch of his skin tingling as his powers rippled right on out through the air.
"You ... you can't be a succubus!" the kid croaked, pointing a trembling finger in Rael's direction. "You're supposed to be a woman!"
Rael pouted. "You know, there are laws against gender discrimination in the workplace."
"We're not in Hell now, are we, honey?" Rael leaned forward, watching with satisfaction as the kid's face flushed, his sweats tented, and his eyes turned darker than a sinner's soul. "Now, why don't we get me out of this circle, and I'll show you what a real demon can do for you?"
* * *
Detective Lars Thornsson of the Paranormal Enforcement Agency (Tartarus Street Precinct) massaged his temples, trying to stop the iron bands of an incipient migraine from tightening around his forehead. He'd been hoping to go home on time for once, but the chances of that happening looked so slim they were damn near invisible. His partner Rochelle had just thwacked a skinny case file down on the desk in front of him. Lars groaned. "Another one already?"
They'd been on the succubus serial killer case for three weeks now, and were getting nowhere fast. The demon they were after had put, at last count, thirteen men in the morgue, their souls literally sucked out through their dicks. The thought of it made Lars simultaneously wince and think, Damn, what a way to go.
Rochelle frowned, although that was kind of her default expression. "Maybe; maybe not. This one's still alive. Morton Meers, age eighteen; youngest victim so far. Found by his parents. He'd called a demon into his bedroom, would you believe it? Salt circle a fucking fairy could have gotten out of, and the candles damn near set fire to the drapes." She snorted her disapproval. "Amateur."
"Successful amateur," Lars reminded her. "Even if he did get more than he bargained for." He had a grudging respect for anyone who actually managed to get magic to work for them, seeing as his own Talent level rated slightly lower than your average tabby cat. As the half-human son of an Immortal—and he was well aware that was the only reason he'd ever gotten into the PEA—possessing less intrinsic magic than a dime store conjuring trick had been a source of acute embarrassment all his life. "So what was the damage? To the kid, I mean."
Rochelle shrugged. "Usual. Dehydration, exhaustion. Only not fatal this time."
"So either our serial killer's developed a conscience, or we got us a whole different demon," Lars mused.
"Guess so. Or it was real grossed out by the kid's acne."
Lars smiled despite himself. "Doesn't sound like our girl's M.O. The bedroom setting, yes, but there were no signs the other victims had recently performed a summoning. And they were all older—single men living alone. But I guess we'll have to check it out. Has the kid made a statement?"
"Oh, yeah. Doesn't remember a damn thing, he says. Can't explain how the salt got there, just lit the candles because he thought they were pretty, and no, ma'am, he'd never seen that grimoire before in his life." She laughed. At least, if it'd been anyone else, Lars would have called that sound a laugh. Rochelle wasn't exactly known for her sense of humor. Unlike her parents, of course. Actually, come to think of it, being christened Chelle Rochelle probably went a fair way toward explaining why she didn't have a sense of humor.
"So, do we know if he had the brains to command the demon to get its ass back to Hell after it had done its thing?" he asked without a lot of hope.
"Actually, we pretty much know he didn't. According to the officers first on the scene, the kid's window was broken from the inside—left glass all over the front yard. Our demon must have leapt out after it munched on the kid."
Fantastic. So now they might have two rogue succubi running loose in the city. Lars sighed heavily, rubbing his forehead again. "Hell. We have to get a description out of this kid so we can put out an APB. Just because Meers got lucky doesn't mean the next victim isn't going to wind up dehumidifying the morgue. I guess we'd better go see him."
Rochelle pushed back her chair. "Gotcha. He's down at Eymeric General." She cackled. "Probably doing one hell of a lot of explaining to his mom and dad."
* * *
Morton Meers, when they pitched up in his hospital room a half hour later, looked a hell of a lot younger than eighteen. Maybe the hospital gown covered in teddy bears was part of the reason, but Lars reckoned the fact that he was a scrawny little runt with a face you could play connect-the-dots on probably had more to do with it. When Lars and Rochelle walked in, Meers was perched on the edge of his hospital bed with an IV in his arm, his gaze darting around the room. Probably hoping one of the walls would sprout an extra door so he could run far, far away and pretend all this had never happened.
Lars dragged up an encouraging smile. "Mr. Meers? I'm Detective Thornsson, this is Detective Rochelle. We need to ask you a couple of questions about your, uh, ordeal."
Meers blanched. "I told you guys already, I don't remember anything."
"That was the regular cops, son. We're from the Paranormal Enforcement Agency. We understand you might not want everyone to know exactly what happened that night." Lars grabbed a chair and sat down, hoping it'd make him appear a little more approachable. At six foot four with a build bequeathed him by his Valkyrie mother, he knew he tended to intimidate people without even trying. "Maybe you'd prefer to talk to my partner?" He looked hopefully at Rochelle, who might at least theoretically be expected to seem less threatening. She had the sort of frame that was generally described as "petite," although not in her hearing. Not by any guy who valued his gonads, at any rate. And then there was the whole female-equals-motherly thing ...
Lars probably should have realized by now that Rochelle wasn't too big on maternal instincts. She was leaning against the wall with her arms folded, and scowled at Lars briefly before stepping forward and directing an insincere smile at the victim. "You know, you'd hardly be the first young man who's wanted a little supernatural assistance in finding a girlfriend." Her tone, Lars guessed, was meant to be reassuring, but it came out sounding more gritted than sugared.
"It wasn't a girl!" the kid blurted out, clapping his hands to his mouth afterward, presumably scared of what else might slip out.
Well, that put a different slant on it. "I'm sorry, Mr. Meers," Lars said, getting up. "I guess there's been a misunderstanding. We're on the hunt for a succubus that's a serial killer. But if you called up an incubus and this was all consensual—"
"No! I'm not like that!" Meers jumped down off the bed and took a step forward as if he was trying to carry his point across bodily.
Lars felt sorry for him. "Son, there's no shame in being gay. I'm that way myself—"
"I'm not!" The kid backed away a little, his hands disappearing behind him like he was trying to hold his hospital gown closed at the back. He yelped as his legs hit the bed, then felt behind him and sat down again firmly. "I wanted a girl, okay, but this, this man turned up, he said he was a succubus even though he was a guy and he ... oh, fuck, he ..."
"Blew your brains out?" Rochelle's tone was sardonic.
"Oh, God!" The kid collapsed into a crumpled pile of teddy bear chic and put his face in his hands. "Am I going to turn into a fag?"
* * *
That migraine was coming along nicely now. "That's generally not how it happens," Lars said, as kindly as he could.
"So, do you think it's our serial killer?" Rochelle demanded as they got back into their squad car.
Lars shrugged. "Hard to tell. Hell, I didn't even know you could get male succubi."
Rochelle had a speculative glint in her eye. "Lemme guess, Thornsson—your teenage years would've been one helluva lot more interesting if you'd known."
Lars colored. She wasn't far wrong, especially if he'd known about this particular succubus. It'd practically taken a crowbar to prize a detailed description out of Meers, but reading between the lines of his not-entirely-complimentary phrasing, it sounded like this demon was hot stuff. Smooth dark skin, slender, graceful body, mischievous brown eyes, and a mouth that—well, Meers had gotten kind of incoherent at that point, but Lars had a damn good imagination and he figured he could fill in the gaps.
He was looking forward to apprehending this suspect in more ways than one.
"We need to re-examine the files of the previous victims," he said, pressing on with business before he could get distracted by any thoughts of pressing on something else. Even if this demon did sound like he hit all of Lars's buttons. "See if there's anything to suggest they were homosexual or bisexual."
Rochelle chewed her lip reflectively. "Or we could try a scrying. Get me some of the glass from the kid's window—a dollar will get you twenty the demon left blood on one of them when it busted outta there."
"Good point. If it did, that could be our big break in this case. Odin knows we're due for one. Okay, C, you're the expert here. Fire up that bowl of yours when we get back to the precinct and see what you can get."
* * *
Licking distractedly at the scratch on his hand, Rael wandered through the darkening city streets with a big old happy grin on his face. Damn, it had been way too long since he'd last been topside. What was it, a century? Two? The population seemed to have exploded since then. Main Street was like a frickin' smorgasbord. A fine-looking young man in jeans so tight he had to have made a deal with the devil just to get them over that perfect, round ass sauntered on by, then stopped, spinning on his heel. He tipped Rael a wink and handed him a flyer.
"You been to Mefisto's yet? It's down the end of that street, you can't miss it." He pointed to an encouragingly dingy alleyway. "It's the best place to meet hot guys."
Rael tore his eyes away from that gorgeous bod long enough to glance at the leaflet. "Hey, I think you got a spelling mistake here. That's usually a p-h in the middle."
Cute-as-a-button grinned. "No mistake, dude. It's kind of a play on words, you know? Referring to a, uh, specialized interest of some of the clientele. But that's on a strictly voluntary basis. Plenty of guys go there just to dance and meet up, and Friday nights the drinks are half price if you take your shirt off. And that shirt of yours seriously needs to come off."
Rael pouted. "You don't like my shirt?"
"Hell, no. That shirt has way too much fabric in it." The kid licked his lips.
Rael raised an eyebrow. "Well, honey, maybe we should do something about that. You got a minute?"
Perky-and-shiny was practically drooling now. "Dude, I got several."
Man, Rael loved this city with its big wide streets and its dark, narrow alleyways. Perfect for when you really couldn't wait for your next meal. Didn't take but a minute before they were both shirtless, Rael's knees on the floor and his mouth wrapped around that young, sweet cock.
"Dude!" the kid gasped as Rael swallowed him down, careful not to get too carried away with feeding off him like he had the last guy. Rael felt kind of bad about that. Poor kid had summoned him out of Hell, given him a free ride to the all-you-can-eat buffet topside, and Rael had damn near sucked the life out of him. That was just rude.
Plus, he'd tasted kinda icky. Damn low-calorie foods. You ate and ate and you were never satisfied. This guy now—man, he had plenty of mojo. Sexual energy was coming off him in soft, golden waves, making Rael's taste buds sing.
"Oh, man ..." The guy's hips bucked as Rael's mouth filled with the sweetest salty snack he'd had in an eternity. Damn, he had to find himself some more guys like this.
"Honey, they should bottle that and sell it," Rael purred, licking his lips and springing to his feet. "You look after yourself now, you hear?"
The little cutie nodded, seeming kind of dazed. Rael zipped him up and kissed him good-bye before heading on down the alleyway to Mefisto's. He'd had the appetizer; now it was time for the entrée.
The place wasn't much from the outside, just a big old black door opening on a staircase that could have led all the way down to Hell itself. There was a bruiser on the door in an ill-fitting suit, his face kinda sad under all the ugly. Rael flashed him a smile full of promise in lieu of payment and sauntered in, the beat of the music heading straight on down to where he lived. The club was all dark corners, loud music, and hot, hot men. Rael figured he finally knew why the angels kept banging on about Heaven because, baby, this was it and it rocked. Anyone who said the Devil got all the best tunes clearly hadn't heard the music they were playing in this joint. Damn, Satan needed to get his hairy ass up here and update his playlist before the sinners started repenting en masse.
Rael sashayed through the crowd, brushing hips here, laying on a sultry caress there, getting drunk on the rush of male hormones, alcohol, and good old-fashioned lust saturating the air. If he flicked his tongue out, he could taste it, rich and spicy like the best goddamned banquet he'd ever crashed. Rael had never known anything like it. He was starting to wonder if anyone would mind if he just orgasmed himself to death right there in the middle of the dance floor when she walked in and called out the rainclouds on Rael's parade.
She was tall and stacked, with hair the color of hellfire and a figure that'd make an hourglass run crying to its momma. She had on a low-cut, skin-tight dress in deep, deep purple, and those heels she was wearing were not so much killer as genocidal. She stood out in this joint like a bishop in a bordello, only Rael didn't figure her intentions were any too pure. This kitten was sin on a stick and damn, did she know it. Easy to spot the bi boys—they were drawn to her like flies to Beelzebub himself. A whole group of them, around a dozen or so, started dancing around her, trying to get her attention. Although from the expressions of surprise on some of their faces, half of those boys had figured themselves to be as queer as a satyr's horn not five minutes ago. Man, what Rael couldn't do if he had a quarter of her power. This chick was way out of his league—must be eighth, even ninth circle. Rael was just a small-town boy from the fringes of the second, and man, was he feeling it.
Sonuvabitch. This was supposed to be his party. Rael's happy buzz went up in smoke like a pious thought in Hell.
"Hey, man, you wanna dance?" a reedy voice piped up in Rael's ear.
Rael turned to the guy mournfully. He was short and cuddly, with the brightest pair of eyes Rael had ever seen languishing in a face like a potato. "Not really in the mood."
A coaxing smile full of crooked teeth was sent Rael's way. "Hey, c'mon man, lighten up a little. Someone as pretty as you shouldn't be looking so blue."
"Honey, looks aren't everything." The puppy eyes drooped, and Rael's conscience gave him a tap on the butt. "Maybe I could go for one little dance," he said, and those eyes lit right back up again as the guy took his arm.
They moved off into the throng, Rael making damn sure he steered their asses well away from Hell Chick. Not that they could have gotten near her if they'd tried, with all those macho types jostling and fighting for position around her like vultures on a three-day-old corpse.
Potato Face snorted, a bitchy little curl to his lip as he wiggled his pudgy hips just out of time with the music. "What does she think she's doing in here with her high heels and her implants? On a mission to convert the masses?"
"Honey, you don't know how right you are," Rael purred. He was getting to like this guy.
* * *
Back at Tartarus Street, Lars did his damnedest not to drum his fingers on his desk as Rochelle got out her scrying bowl, filled it up from a bottle he was damn sure he'd seen her topping up at the station's watercooler earlier, muttered an incantation, threw in a handful of herbs, added a shard of glass from the crime scene—and then just sat there with her eyes shut for a nerve-grinding fifteen minutes.
Excerpted from Damned If You Do: The Complete Collection by JL Merrow, Sarah Frantz. Copyright © 2013 JL Merrow. Excerpted by permission of Riptide Publishing.
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