Excerpt: Love Tokens

“That is a simple wish to fulfill, good sir. I can give you exactly what you want,” Chanda said, smiling slow and hot. He felt more than saw the man’s shiver of anticipation. Humans were so easy to please; they were by far his favorite clients. Chanda let his eyes skip around the room until they landed upon the woman he sought. With the crook of a finger he brought Arietta over to him, her soft lavender scales gleaming in the carefully arranged candlelight of the general parlor.

She slid onto the human’s lap, bold as anything, long tongue teasing briefly. Chanda smiled again and left her to it, slipping quietly away to speak with a handful of other patrons and lingering employees. Meela, his right hand, winked at him as he drew close and handed him a glass of dark, green-blue liquor. “Good night tonight, boss, and as of last night we broke even on monthly costs, so everything from here on is pure profit.”

“That is what I like to hear,” Chanda murmured, taking a sip. The liquor was cold at first, then abruptly warm. Fox fire, it was called, one of the more expensive touches around his brothel. He combed his fingers through Meela’s wild tumble of silver and gold curls, smiling fondly as she grasped his hand and kissed the palm. “Keep up the good work.”

“Of course.”

Leaving her to do what she did best, Chanda slipped from the main parlor to do what he must: paperwork. As with so many things, the glamour at the front of the house was maintained by the drudgery in the back, and there was nothing more tedious than the administrative duties that came from being the owner and proprietor of what guests so quaintly called a ‘house of pleasure’. Triad forbid they call it what it was: a whorehouse. Even ‘brothel’ tended to be too scandalous for most of his clients.

Sighing, he took another sip of the fox fire before setting it aside to pull up the bills in want of payment and letters from various officials—some who needed bribes, others who needed appointments, and a few who were actually completely legitimate and only wrote to remind him of renewals coming due.

He stopped for a break when the clock in the hall chimed two. Was it so late already? Groaning as he stretched, Chanda leaned back in his seat and indulged in more of the fox fire. He cast his senses out, lapping up the pleasure filling the house, sighing softly in dissatisfaction. He had no right to complain, not really. He was wealthy, powerful, and wanted for nothing. Had nothing to fear, which was a rarity in Trice City.

But lapping up residual essences of pleasure was not nearly as satisfying as acquiring it the old-fashioned way. An incubus in his position, however, trod a tricky path. He was heartily sick of being used and disappointed, anyway. People saw incubi and succubi and only wanted one thing—and assumed lusteaters felt the same. Trying to convince them otherwise had never ended well for him.

Shoving errant strands of red-blond hair from his face, he returned to his paperwork. He had only just started reading through the draft of a new employee contract when Meela’s distinctive knock came at his office door. “Come in!”

Her face was set in grim lines as she entered. Chanda lifted his brows in silent inquiry. “There is a demon who insists on speaking to the proprietor.”

What in the name of the Triad was a demon doing in a whorehouse? “I’ll come at once,” Chanda said. “Did you put him in the red or black parlor?”

“Black.”

“Keep an eye on the rest of the house. If something seems to go wrong, make certain everyone either gets out the back quickly or stays locked in their rooms.”

Meela nodded and slipped away. Chanda sighed and stood up. Swiftly unbinding his hair, combing his fingers through it, he let the long strands fall about his face and tumble over his shoulders, a beautiful mass of red-toned gold that distracted countless people from turning into problems.

Smoothing his black breeches and cream-colored silk shirt, he left his office and returned to the front of the house, slipping down a short hallway to the black parlor. He could smell the smoke-and-blood scent of the demon as he opened the door, his skin instantly prickling from the overabundance of power.

Hardly his first encounter with a demon, but even an incubus of Chanda’s power and skill did not rest easy when there was a demon on the premises.

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