(And if you leave a comment here, you just might win a copy!)
“So, the usual next week, Dag? Same bat place, same bat channel?”
Dagney Night squinted near-sightedly at her fuck buddy and tightened the belt of the silk robe around her waist. The slick sash always slid loose, leaving her flesh exposed. Why the fuck couldn’t designers make ties long enough to hold together a peignoir made for more curvaceous frames? Pieces of material the size of mailing labels might work for runway X-rays, but they abso did not work for real women.
She took her irritation out on the male already cracking open her apartment door to make his getaway, and shot him her patented look from point-blank range. The look, he’d once told her, poisonous enough to shrink a man’s nuts. Randolph McNeer tapped his foot, waiting for her answer, the picture of impatience, one jaded eye already turned toward the elevator down the hall. Yet, sure enough, as the halves of her wrap gapped open again, his gaze dipped to her cleavage. Hers dipped to the erection straining the denim of his jeans.
“Coming or going, Randy?”
He glanced at his watch. “Guess I have a few minutes.” Lifting a hand, he circled his forefinger around her nipple through the shiny fabric of her robe.
“I bet you do.” She stepped back, squirming out of his reach. “But don’t let me keep you.”
As with most incubi of her acquaintance, it was all about him. Slam. Bam. Yeah, and whatever. Still, this one usually managed to scratch her ever-present itch. The inner warmth from the afterglow of their brief encounter still radiated through her, even if her heart and soul remained empty and unfulfilled. But the sexual gymnastics burned more calories than Zumba and kept her electrolytes in balance so the voltage she generated during sex remained controlled and contained, and errant zaps did not black out the nation’s power grid. Or short circuit her unsuspecting partners, landing them in comas…the way her sister, Lily, had inadvertently flattened Campbell Jones on their prom night ten years earlier. But Dagney didn’t need a repeat tumble from Randy McNeer.
“So what about it, Dag. Next week?”
“Do you know what next week is?” Her voice sounded wistful. Too needy. Not. Her.
“Yeah, um, the fourteenth.”
“And the fourteenth of February is….”
Her prompt turned his tanning-bed bronze skin the color of belly lint. “Oh. Fuck. My busy night.”
Yep, as usual. All. About. Him. She had to laugh. “Yeah, so I thought maybe instead of getting right down to the bump, hump, tickle and grind…we could do something first? Outside of bed, I mean? You know. Dinner? A movie?”
“Shit, Dag. You know I won’t have time for that. Not on the fourteenth. Probably won’t make it here at all.” He didn’t even have the good grace to attempt an apology. “All those mortal women calling out for me. So many beds. So little time to visit. You know how it is.”
The fourteenth of February normally kept her hopping, too. But this year she craved a change. This year…she wanted a valentine. “See you around, Randy.” She shut the door in his face.
After a brief stop in the kitchen to extract a chilled glass from the freezer and pour a glass of ice wine, she returned to the bedroom.
The thing was she did know what Randy meant. As a succubus, of course she would. One of the sexiest, if she did say so herself. More flesh on her bones than her willowy sister, Lily. Less threatening than her sister, Zena, an über-slinky seductress, whose insatiable hunger occasionally frightened mere mortal men. No, she landed somewhere in the middle of the demonic spectrum herself. A decadent sex goddess, as attractive and welcoming to males as her soft and comfy bed piled high with plump pillows, the sheets warmed by her body, perfumed with her scent. Or so she’d been told.
Once, while lying there with a partner, she’d idly leafed through Vogue as he recovered from an earth-shattering orgasm that had rendered him slack and inert. He’d tossed the magazine across the room with a shudder.
“I’d rather fuck you than one of those fashionista skeletons,” he’d said. “I’d rather sleep on a feather mattress than snooze on a concrete floor.” And true to his word, he’d rolled on top of her, sliding his hot, hard cock between her thighs with a grunt of pleasure.
Generous thighs, you might say. For sure that guy—whose name she could not even remember—would have. He’d said her voluptuous flesh reflected her nature: giving.
What would it be like to be on the receiving end, though? To be catered to and taken care of? Nurtured? Cherished as something more than a vessel for a man’s sexual release?
She took a sip of the luscious dessert wine made from grapes frozen on the vine then fermented to perfection. Cold and frosty. Similar to the more remote persona she adopted to protect the vulnerable woman inside. Untouched.
Unreachable. No matter how much quickie sex she had.
Retrieving her eyeglasses from the bedside table, she perched them on the bridge of her nose and powered up her laptop, considering whether she could shoehorn a quick jaunt to the upstate New York Ice Wine Festival into her tight schedule. Just to shake things up a bit. She shook her head. About to mount a new exhibit at her art gallery, she couldn’t spare time away.
Her mouth watered at the images on the computer screen, of plump grapes rimed with wintry crystals. Well, at least she’d acquired the frost. Still waiting for the fire, though.
Maybe she didn’t need hearts and flowers. But she needed…something. Could she be getting bored with sex? Dear Goddess. She had to admit it. Whether strictly vanilla or the more kinky variety, she hadn’t met a male who’d really turned her on in years. Kind of unfortunate, considering as a succubus, she needed sex to survive. Even with lusty, paranormal fuck buddies of Randy’s ilk, she went through the motions mechanically, the way she brushed her teeth. Oh, not that her partners didn’t experience sex to die for when they were with her. After selecting the lucky male who would be her Lover of the Day, she proceeded to blast his rocks off. But she remained aloof, never that into him.
She wanted something…more.
Would she have to return deep into the bowels of the mystical Catskill Mountains for some sort of tune-up or refresher course with the Succubus Queen? The former ruler had been killed a few years earlier after trying to bring hordes of demons to Sleepy Hollow. Gossip tagged her replacement with a more benevolent reputation. Still, Dagney shuddered at the idea. She hadn’t been part of that world since her family put down roots among the humans before she’d been old enough to toddle. She lived her life as a human. More or less. Well, except for that pesky sex thing.
She thought suddenly of the exclusive 1Night Stand dating service she’d talked Lily into trying and sighed at the irony. She got plenty of sex. But that mysterious something…special…seemed lacking in her encounters. No chemistry. No romance.
Sex aside, she’d trade anything for a whole night of pure, unadulterated passion. Just. One. Night. Something to get her jazzed again. Because if she turned off sex, she’d be a goner.
Could Madame Evangeline do that for her? Hell, Madame Eve could do pretty much anything, if the spectacular success of Lily’s 1Night Stand was anything to go by. Did she dare give 1Night Stand a shot?
Gulping the last of her wine, she took a deep breath and accessed the site.
An insistent ringing jarred her awake.
Grabbing for the screeching phone, she nearly knocked over the bedside clock. After nine. Cripes.
“Hello?” Remnants of sleep thickened her voice.
“Dag, you’ve got to get down here!” Julian Graves, her right hand at the gallery, shouted into the phone. Dag froze. Excitable as Jules could be, he never raised his voice. Even when he verged on hysteria, his voice retained its sophisticated modulation.
“I mean, like, OMG, ASAP. Now. Right away. Yesterday.”
Shit. Jules slipping into a combination of Facebook and Valley Girl-speak? Something horrendous must be happening at the gallery.
They were expecting a sight-unseen shipment from a new artist that day, a painter they’d gambled on based solely on the cryptic query from his agent, Bryce Blackburn, and a couple of photographs of the work. Something she never did. She always made an effort to view the totality of the work in person if possible, hand-selecting which pieces to use for the show. But there’d been something about those photographs…as she studied each one, an odd warmth suffused her body.
She screwed her eyes shut again. “How bad is it, Jules?”
“No. Wait. It’s not bad. It’s just…. Fuck. You’ve got to see this, Dag.” “Don’t panic. I’ll be there in twenty.”
Leaping into the shower, she lathered, rinsed, and three minutes later emerged, squeaky clean. No time to deal with the blow dryer. She leaned across the vanity to wipe the steam off the mirror and squirted a dime-sized dab of product into her palm. Fluffing the gel through her hair, she scowled at the springy, siren-red ringlets twining around her fingers. So subtle. She might as well have SUCCUBUS tattooed across her forehead. Not for the first time, she envied Lily’s silvery blonde mane and Zena’s sultry raven hair. Sometimes she couldn’t believe they were blood sisters.
But she had no time to ponder the vagaries of fate when a crisis plunged the art gallery into chaos. She threw a long paisley skirt over leggings, a gauzy blouse over purple tank top, and a couple of layers of scarves and beads. Artistic chic from the vintage collection of a designer boutique. Finally, she slipped on a pair of funky Fendi booties, grabbed a purse, and ran for the door. Moments later, she entered the gallery.
Julian met her at the door and shoved a steaming latte into her hand. “You’re gonna need this.”
“Does it have tequila in it?”
“It’s 9:30 in the morning. Red eye shot.”
“Yeah, but I may require more fortification to deal with Julian Graves in full-tilt Barney Fife mode and whatever calamity has put him there.”
“Come see.” He grabbed her arm. “It’s the opposite of calamity.”
He guided her into one of the exhibit rooms, where workers were busily setting up the new Maxwell Raines show. The stark white walls and ceiling sported strategically placed spotlights, designed to rivet a viewer’s attention to the art. Raines’ work needed no such help.
Dagney nearly choked on her sip of latte. The paintings burst from the walls in stunning arrays of swirling color that boggled the mind, the medium the artist used thick and filled with texture. He’d slathered on layer after layer of paint. His bold, aggressive brush strokes exuded masculine sexuality, a strong, darkly erotic force that captivated the beholder.
The sensuality of the work beckoned her nearer, encouraging her to touch the canvas, to feel the suggestive emotion the artist poured into each powerful line and emphatic dab of bristles and oil. The carnal urgency of the artistry reminded her of the quickening pace of a man’s thrusts during intercourse, sure, purposeful, inexorably driving toward release.
Indeed, several of her female staff members stood mesmerized before different works, their eyes wide, heads thrown back and mouths agape, caught in the throes of ecstasy. They wriggled inside their clothes and emitted soft moans and mewling sounds. One held a clipboard in front of her chest and appeared to be fondling her breasts through the silk shirt behind it. Another slipped her hand down the waistband of her skirt, caressing herself and groaning, apparently about to come.
A workman on a ladder above them stopped to stare from the women to the paintings. A large erection strained at the fly of his work pants, and he eased his zipper down to relieve the pressure. Sighing, he took his cock in his hand.
She didn’t mind if the guy needed to jerk off, but she’d be damned if she’d sweep his scrambled brains—or other body parts—off the floor. Her insurance couldn’t take that.
“Get off the ladder first!”
He clambered down, panting, his face the color of an overripe tomato. Looking at the floor, he shuffled his feet, the image of a man beyond embarrassment. Standing in a corner of the room, clearly bewildered, he fisted his dick and stroked its purple head with his thumb.
“I’ll do you, dude.” Henrietta Blythe dropped her clipboard with a clatter and sidled over to him, pressing him into the wall. She glued her body against his, grinding her pelvis into his groin.
Dagney’s fingers tightened on her cup, making indentations in the foam. Great Goddess. I’m a freakin’ succubus. She’d participated in plenty of threesomes and orgies, knew every fetish and kink known to man or woman. But she’d never seen anything to equal these paintings in her life. The canvases in their tempered metal picture frames pulsed with throbbing visual orgasms.
Maxwell Raines had come all over her walls.
The seemingly mundane subject matter— landscapes, seascapes, still life arrangements of incredible fruit and flowers, a few odd portraits and character studies—belied their erotic, racy effect. A strange, sensuous vibe emanated from every painting. The compelling passion infusing them leaped from the canvas and infected the viewer with lust.
Holy shit. The incredible works gave new meaning to “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” She inched nearer and surveyed the exhibits. One painting in particular grabbed her eye. And then the rest of her. A still life of a plain, cream-colored vessel filled with extraordinary peaches, ripe and dripping with juice; bananas long and thick and phallic. Not exactly subtle. But not screamingly obvious, either. Each element of the composition showed magnificent detail, the artist at once fierce and savage. And controlled. Clearly, he’d used his technical expertise to forcefully rein in whatever sharp compulsion drove him. But she did not doubt she studied the work of a wild man, an utter force of nature, an artist of unquestioned talent. Damn, the guy was good. Genius good.
The more she stared, the warmer she grew. Electric vibrations ran from the painting straight to her erogenous zones. Her nipples peaked and hardened, erect and ready. Between her legs, the sharp ache of arousal grew and the crotch of her panties dampened. She understood the hot, hypnotic pulses of pleasure that had her gallery staff hypnotized, acting out their desire in public in ways they’d otherwise be too mortified to do.
Was the sexual effect solely the result of the artist’s rare talent? Or could something more demonic be at work?
A drape of red satin curved around the unadorned bowl in the painting, and she imagined herself stretched out upon the voluptuous length of slick material, naked, arms and legs splayed, writhing in an agony of lust beneath the artist’s scorching gaze. Who the hell is this guy? And where the hell had her phenomenal new find been? Dear Goddess she wanted him.
The way she’d agreed to mount his show.
The way she suddenly envisioned herself mounting him. And vice versa. Everything inside her unfroze. Softened. Melted. Spirals of need ricocheted
from her breasts to the center of desire between her legs. She hungered to be touched and petted, to be filled and fulfilled. To have a man clamp his lips around her jutting nipples, to ease his cock into her swollen core. One man in particular. Maxwell Raines.
For the first time in a long, long while, she awakened. Fully.
Great Goddess. Why didn’t Madame Eve text her? She needed that 1Night Stand date. More than ever. And she needed it now.
If Madame Eve could match her with someone as ferociously, savagely sexual as Maxwell Raines, Dagney would reach the erotic equivalent of Nirvana: That elusive place where all good little succubi went when their inner sex demon shrieked the need to get down to business and stop screwing around.
“You must come in, sir.”
Max Raines stared at his canvas through narrowed eyes, not quite absorbing the words of his majordomo. Fever clouded his head; his body temperature spiking off the charts. Desperate for release, he stood, legs apart, atop the windswept bluff comprising the only wall-less boundary of his compound in Sleepy Hollow. Below, the green waters of the Hudson boiled. The stark cliffs of the Palisades, fringed with ragged trees, rose with dark majesty from the banks on the other side of the river, to the west and south, jutting into cloud-filled heavens. An ominous gray sky seemed low enough to touch. He couldn’t capture any of it. Not in any way that satisfied him.
“Damn it. Still not right.” A gust swirled the tails of his paint-spattered linen shirt, the sleeves rolled up to reveal his biceps, in a manner more suited to the dog days of August than the chill gloom of February.
“You haven’t eaten in two days. And the wind’s kicking up. Nor’easter brewing.” Bryce Blackburn put more iron insistence into his words this time. “Time to call it a day.”
Max tore his gaze away from the unacceptable painting at last. Irritated, he tossed his brush, a No. 10 bright, the hog bristles thick with cadmium green, onto the palette. Only the unfinished landscape stood between the predatory beast pacing with increasing agitation inside him and the rest of the world. His muse had deserted him.
“You picked a fuckin’ fine time to leave me, Lucille.”
Christ. Channeling Kenny Rogers? Who’s next, Justin Bieber?
Instead, the hard-driving intro of the Stones’ classic, “Satisfaction,” popped into his head. The unwelcome earworm taunted him. Yeah. He couldn’t get no. That’s for fuckin’ sure.
Raines dragged a finger around his collar, popping open the top button. If he couldn’t achieve release soon, he’d go mad. Jacking off into his fist gave him insufficient gratification. Human women proved too delicate and fragile, too breakable. Demons glommed onto him, far too needy, attaching themselves with the tenacity of barnacles, draining him of inspiration and clinging long past their expiration dates. He’d learned from bitter experience he could crisp any woman he touched. The infamous Maxwell Raines: a six-foot-six, two hundred twenty-five pound hunka burning love. And now I’m channeling Elvis.
Odd, all things considered. Usually he exhibited no more of a musical bent than he did humor. And in light of the bland landscape he’d committed to canvas, he had nothing to be whimsical about.
His heat, his ardor, his raging libido—all of them had to be expelled from his head and his body and poured into his work. But the painting before him remained flat, emotionless, devoid of his usual sensuality and passion, further frustrating him but offering no relief from the devils that plagued him and the sexual beast that howled within.
Standing patiently beside him, Blackburn shifted from foot to foot, clearly aware of his inner turmoil. The majordomo stamped his boots on the frost-glazed lawn and blew on his knuckles. At least one of them couldn’t get warm enough.
Without Blackburn, he’d be a total recluse. But the other man had been with him for years, knew his secrets, his needs, served him in every capacity from butler to valet to nanny. More family member than servant. He even acted as manager and art agent, most recently arranging the exhibit at the Night Gallery.
Now, he held out his employer’s overcoat, a muffler and a pair of leather gloves. Max turned to face him and met the other man’s eyes full on.
Blackburn whistled, but had the good grace not to recoil. “They’re red.” “Can’t cool down.”
“Not a good sign.” Blackburn removed one of his own gloves and touched Raines’ bare forearm, then drew back as if his fingers had been singed. “Fever again.”
“Through the fucking stratosphere.” He brushed his hand through his hair. “You’re getting worse, Max.”
Raines acknowledged the other man’s statement by packing up the art supplies. He hoisted the easel onto his shoulder. “Mind carrying my coat?”
“I’d carry you if I thought that would help.” Though no 90-pound weakling himself, no one would mistake Blackburn for The Incredible Hulk either. The smaller, slighter man eyed his employer up and down, craning his head to do so. Raines had at least half a foot on him and a lot of muscular poundage. “But I doubt I could without my knees buckling.” He stuffed Raines’ gloves in a jacket pocket. “There’s still some decent light in the studio…if you must keep at it.”
Max snorted but didn’t reply. “The painting’s not helping?”
“Not going well.” He shifted the easel to a more comfortable position on his shoulder.
Blackburn opened his mouth then shut it again. But they knew each other too well. He considered his assistant a friend.
“Spit it out, man.”
The majordomo frowned. “You realize the paintings are getting darker and darker? More—”
“I was going to say sexual.” “Same thing in my case, isn’t it?”
His works filled the studio and entire top floor of his large Tudor mansion. He rarely exhibited, but every once in awhile he sold a piece to a private collector. Blackburn handled the deals. What the hell. He didn’t need the money, but it never hurt to unclutter.
They walked the rest of the way to the house in silence. Viewed from the bluff, the estate appeared more imposing, if possible, than it did from the front. Behind iron gates and a high stone wall the main entrance didn’t beckon visitors. Just as well, since intruders were the last thing Raines wanted or needed.
“You can’t go on this way, Mr. Raines,” Blackburn said, as they entered the glass-enclosed studio attached to the main house.
“Back to ‘Mr. Raines’ now is it?”
“You need to eat something. Can I coax you into the dining room?”
Max looked at the troublesome painting, at the dwindling light. “Let me get cleaned up first. Gimme ten.”
After Blackburn left, he tossed his brushes into a jar of turpentine, stripped off his paint-splattered clothes, and dumped them on a drop cloth. Then he climbed the wrought-iron staircase that spiraled from the studio to the master suite.
Standing beneath the shower, as cold as he could get it, he waited for the frigid water to slice over his skin, controlling the burn. Making a trip into the mountains wouldn’t help. The new Queen of the Succubi wanted him too badly, although she hid it better than had her deceased predecessor, a fountain of pure evil. Still, he doubted he’d return from a run to Demon Hall.
By the time he slid into his seat at the head of the long, formal dining table, he’d managed to clamp a lid on the furnace broiling within. Not that he considered himself human, even on the best of days. But the shower had brought his temperature down. He glanced at his reflection in the back of a soup spoon.
“Your eyes are lighter,” Blackburn confirmed. “Almost normal.” “Yeah, if normal is the color of dirty snow. Or ash.”
“As a matter of fact, I could use a new tube of Opaline gray, if you’re ordering. Also, Mars black. I’ll get you a list.” Raines dipped his spoon into the bowl of chilled gazpacho Blackburn had served, but looked up when the majordomo remained silent. “What?” His razor-thin patience wouldn’t tolerate social diplomacy today.
Blackburn cleared his throat. “You could use a woman, sir, is what you could use.”
“Yeah. Don’t go there. You know the drill. Unless you want to sweep Opaline gray ashes off the sheets?” His stomach grumbled and he turned to the cold, delicately spiced mélange of tomatoes and peppers with gusto.
When the silver utensil clattered against the delicate china, Blackburn sighed and whisked the empty bowl away. He returned a few minutes later with a crystal goblet filled with ice and ringed with an artistic array of shrimp and lemon wedges.
“I sense a theme.” Raines speared a jumbo shrimp on a tiny cocktail fork and squirted it with lemon.
“I didn’t think hot and sizzling would be your preference.”
“What’s next on the menu? Cold cuts? Frozen daiquiri?”
Blackburn ignored the remark. “Your show at the Night Gallery is a spectacular hit. Why haven’t you asked me about it?”
He shrugged. “Once I’m done, I’m done. I leave it on the canvas. You know that.”
“You can pretend a lot of things with me, but you can’t fake indifference about your art. I know you care.”
He chewed slowly, swallowed, took a sip of ice water. Curiosity grabbed him by the throat. “The paintings have been well-received?”
“To put it mildly. You’re a sensation. Dagney Night wants to throw a party at the gallery in your honor. Introduce you to the public. She’s dying to meet you.”
“Absolutely not. Out of the fuckin’ quest—” He froze, the shrimp fork poised
over a pool of cocktail sauce. “Dagney Night?”
“You Know her?”
One of three demonic succubi sisters, all Triple-A rated, Super 10 Class. Not as sweet as the youngest, or badass as the eldest. Somewhere in the middle of the demonic spectrum. But she’d been around the block and knew the score. Could she handle him?
He drummed his fingers on the top of the tablecloth and clamped his mouth shut, grinding his back teeth until his jaw went rigid. Along with another part of his anatomy.
“Set it up.” He bit the words out, short and clipped. “Private party. Contact Madame Eve. Get me a 1Night Stand with Dagney Night.”
A rare grin split Blackburn’s face. He took a bottle from the sideboard. “You’ll want to bring this with you, sir.”
Raines scrutinized the label with disgust, his lower lip curling. “What the hell is it?”
“It’s ice wine. An upstate Riesling. Sweet but tart, Ms. Night’s favorite. Her assistant, Julian Graves, let that drop when we were arranging the exhibit.”
“You think I’m going to need to get a woman drunk?” He nearly laughed. An unfamiliar buzz of anticipation shot through him. Hell. It had been a fuckin’ long time.
The paintings had spoken for him for years. He might be out of practice. But he was a fire-sex demon, after all.
Seduction, one way or another, was what he did.