Excerpt: Dance with the Devil

Case #503: The Devil’s Consort

Chris groaned in protest as the blankets shifted and cool air slipped beneath them. “Mmrf,” he grumbled, still too asleep—too exhausted—to manage better. He got a soft, warm chuckle in reply, and then the blankets were rearranged so that he quickly warmed up again. Chris would have preferred to have a certain long, lean body still wrapped around him, but the blankets would suffice. “Grmf,” he mumbled.

Another soft chuckle and his head was turned just enough for a soft kiss to be pressed to his mouth. Then a quietly murmured, “See you later, beautiful,” and Chris heard footsteps walking away from him, muffled against the carpet. The bedroom door opened, then quietly clicked closed and he was alone. He burrowed deeper into the soft bedding, pulling the blankets more securely around him and letting his sore, tired body relax again. Comfortable, sunk in the scents of sex and magic, warm and sated, Chris drifted off back to sleep.

The shrilled ringing-buzzing of the alarm clock jerked Chris out of a pleasant dream a couple of hours later. He reached out and swiped at the alarm clock, annoyed when he knocked it off the nightstand, but satisfied that it stopped making noise. Dragging the blankets back up, he settled in for another ten minutes, reluctant to leave the comfortable bed.

Twenty minutes later, he finally forced himself to get up, grimacing as he threw back the blankets and was hit with a wash of cold air. He strode quickly across the soft, dark blue carpet and into the bathroom, climbing hastily into the shower as soon as the water was hot enough.

Half an hour later, he padded back into the bedroom, scrubbing at his hair with the towel until it was mostly dry. Opening his wardrobe, he pulled on a pair of red boxers, then his favorite pair of jeans, the denim dark and perfectly worn. He slipped on a plain black t-shirt, ran a comb through his hair, and sat down to lace-up sturdy black boots. Stuffing his essentials into his pockets, he snatched his black leather jacket from its hook by the bedroom door and pulled it on. Dressed for the day—night, really—he vanished downstairs.

He appeared just outside the main dining room of the Tantalus, the largest of the three interconnecting casinos that dominated the city.

“Chris!”

Turning, Chris spotted Doug across the room, seated at the end of the bar. Moving easily through the crowds that hastened to get out of his way, Chris slid onto a barstool caddy-corner to Doug and said, “So what’s the case?”

Doug looked at him, amusement in his mismatched gold and green eyes. “Good evening to you, too.”

Chris grunted and yawned, raking a hand through his dark blond hair and flagging down a bartender. “Coffee, black,” he requested, and ignored the way the man’s eyes bugged slightly as he took in the diamond ring on Chris’ left ring finger. Turning back to Doug, Chris repeated, “So what’s the case?”

Rolling his eyes, Doug said, “I’m surprised he didn’t tell you himself.”

“All he said was the guy’s daughter is acting odd—our kind of odd—and the guy was a good friend for a normal, so he’d appreciate the favor.”

Doug smirked. “Did you get the ‘appreciation’ in advance?”

“Why do you think I’m twenty minutes late?” Chris muttered.

Laughing, Doug said, “Well, I called as you asked. The man’s name is George McGovern. He’s a normal, owns several restaurants in the area, a few retail shops. Wealthy member of the city, regular guest to the casinos. Keeps a room on the twenty-fifth floor of the Tantalus.”

Chris whistled. A room in the Tantalus wasn’t cheap and the higher the floor, the higher the cost. Floors three to thirty-five were all guestrooms. Thirty-six to thirty-nine were administration and special suites. Forty belonged exclusively to the owner, Sable Brennus. He owned all three of the casino-hotels that dominated the city—the Tantalus, the Seraphim, and the Seventh Circle. Situated in the center of the city, they seemed to form a castle at the heart of a kingdom.

Which made perfect sense, seeing as Sable Brennus was not only the wealthiest, most powerful man in the city—he was also the demon lord who had claimed the city and the surrounding land for miles as his territory.

“About two weeks ago,” Doug continued, “McGovern’s daughter started acting weird.”

“Weird how?” Chris asked, drinking his coffee. When the bartender wandered by to refill it, he requested, “Pancakes.”

“You do realize it’s nine o’clock at night, right?” Doug asked.

Chris only looked at him.

Rolling his eyes, Doug flipped through his little notebook of meticulously written notes. “Her name is Philipa McGovern—”

“What a name,” Chris muttered.

“She’s twenty-three, went to school for fashion, manages a couple of the stores her father owns. About three months ago, she broke up with a man she’d been seeing for roughly nine months. She caught him cheating.”

Chris thanked the bartender for the pancakes, took a bite, and then commented, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, I’m going to bet.”

“You’d win that bet,” Doug replied. “George says Phil pulled out all the stops making the guy miserable. She turned his life into a living nightmare. She has connections and her father has connections, and she did not hesitate about using every last damn one of them. One month after being caught with another woman, he left town just to get some peace.”

Chris drank his coffee. “But?”

Doug grimaced. “But two weeks ago, Phil abruptly decided to go on vacation and George says she’s been spending it at a fancy beach resort—with the ex.”

“I don’t see how this is our kind of weird,” Chris said.

“Wait for it,” Doug said, looking at him in amusement. “Have I ever mentioned you suck at patience?”

“At least three times a day,” Chris replied. “Moving on.”

Rolling his eyes again, Doug said, “George didn’t like it. He says no way in hell would his daughter go back to this guy. So he did some poking around on his own, initially. Long story short, they’ve both undergone one-eighty personality changes—and his eyes are gold. They should be blue.”

Chris stopped with his coffee halfway to his mouth and set it down again. “Demon. He’s been possessed. But why drag the girl into it? I wonder if he’s got her spelled.”

Doug grinned. “So I guess we’re taking the case?”

“Like I ever had a choice,” Chris replied, and finished his coffee. “Where is this place?”

“Quite a bit away, which was the first thing to tip off George. It’s on the opposite end of the country, a private stretch of beach in wolf territory, few hours south of Desrosiers territory, west of Sampson territory.”

Chris frowned thoughtfully. “So the demon might be poaching. Let’s go, then. Do you know the place or do we have to take the long way?”

“I know it,” Doug said, tucking his little notebook away in his wool pea coat. Then he grasped Chris’ forearm and they vanished.

They reappeared in a parking, just outside of a club alive with neon, music, laughter, shouting, and talking. The night air was cool, but still stifling compared to the perpetual chill and wet of home, which ever showed the effects of being ruled by a storm demon.

“So this is wolf territory?” Chris asked thoughtfully. “Not familiar with this pack or even this corner of the country.”

Doug reached into his jacket and pulled out his notebook. “Yes. Pack Blue. They’re in heavy disorder right now, due to the recent murder of the late alpha. Even the wolves can’t peg who did it and the candidates are all accusing each other. Until it gets sorted out, Blue has no alpha.

“So no one is really controlling the pack,” Chris said. “What a pain. I want no involvement with pack politics if I can possibly help it. Our business here begins and ends with Ms. McGovern.”

“I can’t believe it’s so warm,” Doug said, stripping off his coat and sweater and magically banishing them. He was left wearing only his jeans, a dark blue t-shirt, and his brown work boots.

Chris did the same with his own leather jacket. “I hate the heat.” He’d lived his entire life in his city, a place that almost never saw full sunlight because Sable Brennus was a storm demon and the foul weather was ever drawn to him. Chris had read, heard, that such weather depressed people and other such things, but he just didn’t see it himself. Sunshine was hard, exhausting; he was eternally grateful that it was night at the moment.

He contemplated his left hand, the platinum band set with diamonds on his ring finger. The damned thing was flashy, impossible to miss even when he did bank his power. The easiest thing would be to take it off, but he would never do that.

Shoving his hands into his pockets, Chris said, “Let’s go.”

Doug led the way, smiling and nodding at the people they passed. With his mop of copper curls, the freckles scattered across fair skin, and the guileless smile he had perfected over the decades, no one was better at playing ‘I am cute and harmless’ than Doug when he took on his human guise.

They were stopped at the door by a rent-a-thug—a wolf, Chris noted, looking him over. Odd that he was so complacent; wolves without an alpha tended to show a great deal of restlessness, tension. “We’re looking for someone. We just want in for a few minutes to find him.”

“No invitation, no party,” the wolf replied. “This is a private event.”

Chris smiled and looked over the banister at the crowd below. Demons, he knew all too well, liked to be in the thick of things, but not actually a part of it. Born rulers and one of the Enslaved races, they liked to be absolute lords of their territory, even before they had properly claimed them.

It took Chris only a moment to pick the demon out of the crowds of people crammed into the place. He was off to one side, on a couch that might as well have been a throne, in a raised seating area just off the dance floor. Next to him, all but laying on top of him, was a beautiful young woman that was probably the girl they were there to help.

Turning back to the wolf, Chris jabbed a finger in the direction of the demon. “You’ve got a demon down there. He’s looking to poach. Shall we go fetch your three potential alphas and do this officially, or are you going to let us do it quietly?”

The wolf looked suddenly exhausted, worn out and just plain defeated. If the Candidates were bickering, dragging them in to deal with a demon would probably only acerbate the situation, add another problem on top of a situation that was already messy. The demon would not go easily if confronted, and without an alpha, the wolves would not work well together to bring the demon down. The wolf waved them toward the stairs, then turned away to deal with another batch of people.

Chris took the stairs quickly, Doug on his heels, ignoring the looks and stares of the people they passed. They were out of place, given everyone else was wearing swimsuits and other such beachwear. It didn’t help that most of them could probably feel some sort of power on him, even if they couldn’t quite peg the nature of it.

The noise made it hard to hear, so Chris switched to thoughts. We need to determine why he’s so hooked on the girl. I guess we’d better start with the nature of the demon itself.

Doug looked toward the demon, studying it thoughtfully, then around the room, before finally looking at the demon again. His mismatched eyes glowed in the dark light of the club. What I wouldn’t give to see energies the way demons do. But look at him, Chris; look at everyone around us. That’s a seven sins demon, definitely, and I think I know which of the seven.

Chris nodded, inclined to agree as he looked the demon over more thoroughly. He’d possessed a very handsome man, someone good enough to be slapped on the cover of a men’s magazine—or a porn magazine. He wasn’t Chris’ style, but he was attractive. His slacks and white button-down short-sleeved shirt were high-end, tailored and expensive-looking, even in the dimness of the club. Chris had zero interest in such ostentatious clothing, but he was very familiar with the ins and outs of it. Blond hair and the gold eyes shimmered even at a distance. Chris had always preferred a smoky, silvery shine himself.

The woman was just as beautiful, if not more so. Chris knew less about women’s clothing, but even he recognized her slinky little sundress as designer, as well as the high-heeled sandals she was wearing. It was the hair, though, which was most impressive. She had pulled it into several small braids, and then twisted them all together in an elaborate knot at the back of her head, securing it with jeweled hairpins.

Demons had immense power—power that could overwhelm them, prove too great, if they did not anchor themselves and bind the power to their territory, to the mortal plane. This immense power most often manifested itself via a particular element, aspect, or trait on the mortal plane. The most powerful demons typically had power that manifested as an aspect of the natural world; they were referred to as elemental demons. Sable Brennus was an elemental; specifically a storm demon. Because of his affinity for storms, his territory was prone to bad weather and hard storms could last for days when he sank into a foul mood. As Doug had said, the demon across the room was more than likely a seven sins demon, which meant that he controlled some characteristic or trait, the common of which fell under the classic Seven Deadly Sins: pride, lust, greed, envy, gluttony, sloth, and wrath.

To judge by the amount of bare flesh, the way everyone was all but fucking on the dance floor, and the unmistakable scent of sex … I’m going to hazard he’s got the most basic control over lust, Chris thought dryly.

Doug nodded. I’d put his age at right around a hundred, give or take a couple of decades, to be so cocky and flamboyant with his power.

He probably thinks the turmoil here makes for easy pickings and he wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But what’s with the girl? That is what bothers me most. Why her?

I’ll poke around, Doug replied, and without another word, slipped off into the crowd.

Chris moved to the bar, not in a hurry to draw the demon’s notice. He ordered a beer and sipped it idly as he glanced covertly around the room, appearing to be nothing more than a bored attendee.

Roughly half the club was wolf, which was and was not surprising. Gatherings like this were not normally a wolf thing, but with the pack in turmoil, instinct would draw the weaker members toward the dominant nature of a demon, the stability that seemed to offer. Wolves, unlike most abnormals, blended very easily into the normal world. Also unique to wolves was a complete lack of magic, minus their shifting. They were also amongst those abnormals with a more normal lifespan; most abnormals, including humans with abnormal abilities, lived for hundreds, even thousands, of years. It was a side effect of magic, of having abnormal blood.

Wolves had none of that; they were as normal in some respects as they were abnormal. Of the three territorial races—those abnormals which required large tracts of land and often ruled over all other abnormals on that land—wolves were the only with short life spans and the most given to internal strife. The other two, vampires and demons, were very solitary in nature. They typically had very small families and a small circle of real friends. Demons could not have children, an effect of having to possess a human in order to have a body on the mortal plane. Vampires had always struggled with reproduction; most couples were lucky to have one child and two was considered a miracle. Wolves, by contrast, made up for their perceived weakness with numbers, with pack strength. But a good pack required a good alpha, and the drama and difficulties revolving around that issue were only completely understood by wolves.

Chris knew the basics, the things that everyone knew: the alpha position was determined by strength; it could be, but was not always, or even often, an inherited position. That strength was not merely physical, either, but an instinctive, inherent dominance that other wolves naturally sought out and followed. Combined with other qualities, it made for an ideal alpha. After the alpha came three potential alphas, selected for that same inherent strength. These were called the First, Second, and Third Candidates, and upon the death of the alpha, it was most often the First Candidate who took up the role—but pack was pack, and pack meant trouble could, had, and always would rise up.
A pack with no alpha and three bickering Candidates was prime material for a demon looking for a territory of his own to claim. The first step for a demon to remain on the mortal plane was to possess a body, take on a ‘mortal’ form—the second step was a territory. But demons were usually free to wander until they were roughly two hundred, two hundred and fifty years old. No demon would settle down early; freedom was a precious gift to them. Once bound to a territory, a demon could never leave it again. Of all the races, demons were the most powerful—but they paid for that power by also being one of the Enslaved races.

Demons young enough to flaunt their power would not be old enough to settle down. So why the contradictions in this one? And where were the fucking candidates, that they didn’t notice a poaching demon? It was probably for the best that they weren’t here, if all they were doing was fighting, but they should also be setting aside internal strife to deal with a threat to the territory. The candidates should be noticing the demon—wolves didn’t have magic, but their senses and instincts were off the charts. Someone should have noticed this club and why it was attracting so many wolves.

They probably have their hands full controlling the increased ‘fuck me’ vibes in the air. I doubt they can find him or even pinpoint the problem exactly. Wolves are deplorable when it comes to magic, to the point that they should be embarrassed.

Chris scowled. Stay out of my case.

But I gave it to you.

Exactly. Gave it to me. Mine now.

Soft, warm laughter washed through his mind, rich with affection. Yes, beloved.

The presence faded from him mind and Chris smiled faintly, before turning all his attention back to his case.

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