Excerpt

Free Chapter: Falling Angels #1 Vale Sevin Versus the Succubus

“Good morning, everyone. As you can see, we have some new blood in our midst. Found him on the front porch this morning at dawn like a lost puppy looking for a new home. Say hello to the new puppy, guys.”

Vale Sevin managed to command an air of authority, even after a long night of no sleep and much liquor. Even dressed in a silk floral bathrobe with her long lavender-hued hair pulled up in a towel, fresh from the bath. She poured herself a cup of coffee and relaxed back into the plush blue velvet sofa. All throughout the living room, the other four members of the Falling Angels plus their newest applicant sat, stood, or perched over their breakfast cocktails and plates laden with breakfast. They waved and murmured greetings to the applicant, who returned a solemn nod of his head.

Raena, their elven assistant and receptionist, silently brought in a fresh tray of brightly flavored chamberry scones. She tucked a stray strand of ice-blonde hair behind her delicately pointed and heavily pierced ears and gave the dark, handsome sorcerer seated in an armchair across from Vale, a friendly wink.

His name was Davien Euphialtes, and he had showed up that morning looking to join their crew of sometimes-heroes sometimes-con artists. His somewhat curly hair had a tousled, just-woke-up look that matched the sleepy, heavy-lidded stare beneath a pair of thick eyebrows.

Vale took a long sip of her hot coffee and gave him a close-lipped smile as she assessed him. He seemed for all the world to be deathly earnest about joining them, and yet he only ever spoke when directly asked a question. He and Tarik were supposedly old friends, but aside from a good to see you again, they hadn’t exactly acted like childhood chums.Certainly he didn’t seem to care if he impressed them or not. She sensed an arrogance about him. This sorcerer was used to getting his way, no questions asked. Well. Now he had to contend with her as his boss, and Vale certainly liked to ask questions.

“So. Davien. Tell us all about yourself.” She put emphasis on his name as if she only half-believed it was his real name. Which it very well might not have been; sorcerers were a superstitious group and were always adopting and discarding ‘wizarding names’ to keep their true identity hidden from enemies.

“Yes, Davien, please do,” Colt Evenstar said around a mouthful of eggs and toast.

He had been very obviously flirting with Davien all morning, from the moment he’d met the mage. Colt was an elf, like Raena, and though tall and lithe as all elves, he still managed to build up a considerable physique. Vale often overheard Colt quietly refer to himself in the mirror as an elven god of athletics when he thought no one was in earshot. His woodland-bright eyes and silvery hair completed an attractive picture. Most men, if they were also interested in men, would be drooling at Colt’s feet with the attention he was giving Davien, but their new applicant didn’t seem to be affected.

Davien brushed a stray lock of black hair out of his eyes and pursed his lips as though concentrating on a deeply serious question. While everyone else in the room carried an air of mirth or at worst, sleep-deprived and slightly hungover nonchalance, the sorcerer was as calm and dark and deep as a midnight lake in winter. He seemed to take everything with grave seriousness and Vale sensed that his guard was up. The Falling Angels were a charming bunch, but Davien carried himself at brunch as though he had been invited to a top secret cabinet meeting.

“Where shall I begin?” He said in his lush, sonorous voice. Vale couldn’t place the accent, but he sounded cultured and well-educated. “Let’s see… My name is, as you know, Davien Euphialtes, and I am a sorcerer with a few years of independent experience under my belt. I apprenticed under Gemmer of Tevenwold, which is also where I was born and raised.”

“Ohh a country boy,” Colt interjected. His eyes sparkled no doubt with a dozen different fantasies. “Compared to Tevenwold, Waelora must be an awfully big, scary place, hm? I’d be happy to show you around sometime, if you like.”

“Down, Colt,” Vale held up a hand and laughed.

That could have gone double for everyone assembled, however. Vale glanced around casually over the rim of her mug and noticed that every single one of them—herself included—was more than a little spellbound by the magnetic young sorcerer in their midst. Davien had to be in his late twenties, if not younger, and looked every bit the part of a virile, smoldering, mysterious sorcerer ready to make his mark on the world. Something in his eyes burned with a passion that spoke directly to Vale’s soul. No doubt everyone else in the room felt it, too—the need to tame, to establish his mastery over the wilderness of life.

“What sort of magic do you focus on?” Vale asked aloud, hoping to get the subject back to something more mundane.

“I dabble in… just about everything, Mistress Sevin,” Davien said. “Many practitioners focus on a certain element of magic to hone: summoning, elemental work, illusions, healing, and so on. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you every school of magic there is. But I… was never quite content with the idea of limiting myself to just one or two. So I suppose you could say my focus is on magic itself.”

Was that a smirk she detected? Just a hint of one? It was gone in a flash, if he’d smiled at all, but Vale felt almost certain that he had, and had intended it just for her. Well, it would take a lot more than a shy-boy act to get past her guard. And he was coyly avoiding the question by basically responding I suppose you could say my greatest weakness is that I have no weaknesses. She poured herself another cup of coffee and crossed one leg over the other.

“Okay, elaborate on the dabbling,” she instructed. Davien hesitated and glanced at the others as if waiting for someone else to step in.

“Well I practice elemental magic routinely, but I always begin my mornings with exercises in—”

Tarik Othorion, dwarf, man-about-town, and artificer of the group, rolled his eyes with a mighty groan of impatience and set down his empty plate. He swept crumbs out of his prodigious beard with stout fingers.

“Vale, I’ve known Davien since we were kids, I vouch for him, alright? Ain’t that enough? Why the third degree all the sudden?”

“I have to agree, Vale,” Kate spoke up. “My ‘interview,’ as it were, was a drinking contest. And Tarik got hired after he showed us that trick for getting free rides from the water-striders. We weren’t even nearly this formal when Griffin joined, remember?”

Griffin, the most recent member of the Falling Angels, joined some months back during a magically-enhanced gunfight in a dusty, no-name tavern ten miles outside of Langdon. Vale remembered that little predicament all too well.

Me and Kate against five wizards with guns for wands. Sure was an obvious way to overcompensate for the lack between their fool legs. What local law existed in those parts evaporated when the Rowdy Warlocks came out to play. No surprise there, the five of them played rough—like, kidnapping daughters and setting churches on fire rough. So the local townsfolk took up a collection and hired Vale and Kate to settle the situation, which they had been more than happy to do.

The only problem was, the townsfolk hadn’t mentioned the gun-wands, or the fact that one of the Rowdy Warlocks was also an accomplished summoner.

“Shoot, oh I remember,” Vale laughed as she pictured the scene in her mind. “You and me had just finished our welcome-to-nowhere round of whiskeys when that fat warlock, the one with the crazy hair—”

“Jasper,” Kate said.

“Yeah, that’s right, Jasper. We’d just finished our first round when Jasper burst in through the tavern doors and sicced an abyssal scorpion the size of a horse on us. He was yelling ‘Death and dismemberment to the interloping city bitches!’ like a fool. Damn thing broke three different tables on its way over to the bar. And then Griffin here comes running downstairs naked as the day he was born, flashing those glorious abs of his and some other nice parts, and summons a giant rock right on top of the beast!”

“Everyone in the tavern—even the Rowdy Warlocks piling in the door—stopped for a moment to stare at the naked summoner!”

“His rock did not kill the abyssal scorpion, mind you, it just really pissed it off. But Griffin’s… performance did give us the edge we needed to turn the battle in our favor and finish them off.

Vale and Kate laughed at Griffin’s reddening cheeks.

“I did leave to find my pants and came back to keep fighting,” he pointed out desperately.

“Mhm, and what were you doing upstairs, again, Grif?” Kate asked, teasing.

“The tavern owner’s daughter wasn’t far behind him, that’s all the evidence I’m laying out about the matter,” Vale said.

“I was new in town! She was… helping me get the lay of the land!” Griffin protested, but he laughed afterward and took a big bite of a scone to delay any further questions.

“My point is, Vale, Griffin dropped a rock on a giant bug and you hired him on the spot.”

“And I wasn’t even looking for a job,” Griffin interjected. “You just told me that I worked for you now, and I never bothered to argue the point.”

Kate nodded and continued.

“I mean I’m sure the fact that Grif was still fully undressed when you made that offer had no bearing whatsoever on your decision, but… c’mon. Why give Davien the full inquisition? He’s vouched for.”

Vale knew she was being overly formal, and couldn’t really say why. Maybe she just wanted to exert some authority over the newcomer who made her so inexplicably weak at the knees. Maybe after her prior evening servicing the demons, Jarik and Davor, she was looking to taste control again.

Just hire him, you know he’s fine, she told herself. And she was just about to relent and say so out loud when Davien spread his long, sensuous hands, palm-side up, looked her directly in the eyes and said, “I could strip, if that’s what is… required.”

Raised eyebrows, coughs, and a few chuckles were shared all around. No one could tell if he was being serious or just mocking their leader. Vale licked her lips and shook her head. This one’s going to be a handful, she thought. The cocky ass is acting like he’s already got the job and trying to undermine my authority with humor on top of it.

“Yes,” she said finally, pouring herself a glass of sparkling wine. She raised the glass to the light, pausing to admire the tiny bubbles racing to the top, making all of them wait for her to finish speaking. She took a small sip, inclined her head to Davien, and smiled, showing all of her teeth. Vale was in a bit of a mood. “Actually, that is what’s required. A Falling Angel’s got to know how to put on the right show, for the right client. Go ahead and give us your best strip tease. While you finish that cinnamon muffin.”

Alright, let’s see what you’ve got. If Vale were honest with herself, Davien’s magnetism more than made up for anything he could show off physically. He had a presence surrounding him that made him hard to look away from. And the intensity in those black eyes when he had looked directly into her own… it had been difficult for her not to shiver.

Kate stood up and grabbed her violin off of its stand near the fireplace and struck up a slow, sensual tune. The others refilled their drinks with amused expressions and sat back for the show. When the music started, Raena popped her head in and watched from the doorway, suppressing a laugh.

“Oh, you mean this hot, soft, scrumptiously sweet muffin?” Davien asked. He held up the baked treat and slowly licked some of the cinnamon-sugar off the top, moaning as if it were the most delicious pastry he’d ever tasted.

Vale smirked. Was he trying to shock her? He would certainly need to try harder, then.

“It would be my pleasure to eat your muffin, Mistress Sevin,” Davien said with grave seriousness. He stood up, breakfast in hand, and began slowly gyrating to the music.

He moved with a lazy grace to the sinuous, enchanting music of the violin. His heavy eyelids remained seemingly half-closed the entire time, and the corners of his lush mouth, framed with a close-cropped beard and tidy mustache, never twitched once. It was as though he were casting a spell with his entire body.

Davien ran one hand slowly down his chest, magically popping the buttons of his black silk shirt as he went. He revealed a surprisingly well-toned chest that Vale found extremely tempting. She hid her interest by taking another lingering drink of her sparkling wine, but Davien was only getting started. He locked eyes with her once again and brought the cinnamon-sugar muffin to his mouth, then took a fierce bite that flashed a little teeth before sinking into the sweet. He moved like a predator, like a powerful creature barely tamed. It sent goosebumps down Vale’s arms.

He broke his gaze from hers to turn around, spreading his legs slightly for balance, and used his free hand to slowly slide his shirt from first one shoulder, then the next, letting it fall to the floor to reveal a back just as rippling and craveable as the front of him. He glanced over his shoulder and took another bite of the muffin.

The sorcerer’s hips cocked to the left, then swerved in time with the music to the right. Davien spun slowly around to the rhythm until he was once again facing those assembled. He bit his lip in a convincingly eager and sultry fashion, then went back to nibbling the muffin. Small, delicate bites as though the muffin were the sexiest woman in the world and he couldn’t get enough of her. His other hand moved to his belt, which was deftly undone, and slid his trousers down just far enough to reveal a well-defined V of muscles at his hips. Vale heard Kate and Colt both inhale sharply in surprised delight and Kate’s music faltered momentarily.

Davien had finished the muffin and was licking his fingers slowly, one by one, as his trousers barely clung to his hips. Finally he finished the breakfast and moved both hands down to slide his pants off. Vale stood abruptly before he could get them much further and put her hand up to stop him.

“I think we’ve seen plenty,” she said. She meant to sound playfully bored, but she could not keep the haste from her tone, nor the breathlessness. The others looked at her as though she’d lost her mind.

“I mean… I could stand to see a little more,” Colt said.

“It was just a dumb joke,” Vale insisted. “And anyway, Davien passed. He took the instructions like a champion and gave us quite the little show.”

She laughed and sat back down, pouring yet another glass of sparkling wine for herself to cover up any residual shakiness. Davien simply put his clothes on without another word, staring at her with an unreadable expression the entire time.

“Soooo… he is hired now, right?” Tarik asked. He looked exasperated and Vale could tell he was quickly losing interest in the morning’s events. Tarik never liked sitting still for long.

“Hmm… I’m still considering,” Vale said with a smirk. “You dance well enough, but do you dance well enough to be a Falling Angel?”

“Hate to interrupt the fun, but we’ve got a bit of important news.” Raena pushed away from the doorframe and stepped further into the room to address the group. She held up a piece of paper, folded over like a letter. “Davien’s just in time for the next job assignment.”

“Ooh work, yay. My favorite,” Kate said wryly as she put away her violin.

Vale stood and took the letter from Raena, eternally grateful for the distraction and the opportunity to wipe Davien’s muffin dance out of her mind for the moment. She’d die before she let him know how attracted to him she was. He’d hold it over her for the rest of time.

“It’s from a Duchess,” Vale announced as she scanned the contents of the letter.

“I can hear the gold pouring into my coinpurse now,” said Griffin. Others murmured agreement.

“Anyone know Saera Ehferthal, Duchess of Vorah Nal?”

“Never heard of her,” Kate said after a moment. “I’ve been through Vorah Nal a few times, though. It’s one of the furthest dukedoms to the north. Very cold and drab, but the weather makes a great perpetual excuse to snuggle up by a fire with something warm to drink.”

“What about someone warm to join you by that fire?” Colt asked. Kate laughed.

“I’ve only been through Grand Vorah, the biggest city in the duchy. If we’re going there? You will definitely have your pick of eligible and extremely handsome, broad-chested young men to cuddle up to, Colt. They grow them big and sturdy as pine trees up there.”

“Well, hopefully they grow them just as strong in Darkholm,” Vale said, “because that’s where the job is.”

Darkholm,” Colt shuddered dramatically. “What a terrible name for a city.”

“Sounds downright depressing, I agree,” said Vale. “According to the duchess, Darkholm is where all of her zalberry crops are grown, used in making her favorite zalberry liqueur. Harvest season started a month ago, but she hasn’t seen a single shipment from Darkholm and on top of that, her own people that she sent to investigate disappeared without a trace. No one’s heard or seen a soul from the village in weeks.”

“Wow, so how much is the lovely duchess paying us to go get creepy-village-murdered?” Kate asked. Vale grinned.

“She’s willing to pay for transportation expenses to and from, of course, and this letter will give us access to all accommodations and provisions needed during our time in town, on top of a fee of ten thousand sen each.”

“Okay, I’m in,” Colt said immediately.

“Same,” Tarik and Griffin said in unison. Kate raised her hand as well.

Ten thousand sen was a small fortune—almost as much as any of them made over the course of a year. Even with the customary twenty percent handed over to the Falling Angels general fund, it was still enough coin for each of them to live however they liked for quite some time.

“How about it, Davien?” Vale asked. “Ready to show us what you’re made of? We can use this job as sort of… an assessment. If you make it to the end alive, you’re in!”

“I’m not going to need to strip again, am I?”

“I mean, if that’s what it takes to get the duchess her zalberries,” Vale smirked.

And now we’ll see whether or not you’re just another pretty, pompous ass who knows a couple of cantrips. Can you handle being a Falling Angel, I wonder? The question she wouldn’t—couldn’t—ask herself was: could she handle it if he could? She pushed the thought from her mind entirely and focused on the job at hand.

“Alright, everyone get your gear together and meet back in the foyer in one hour. We’ll take an airship as far as Vorah Nal, then we’ll need to travel by stagecoach to Darkholm. It’s not a big town—the duchess mentions the inn as though there was only the one, so I guess that’s where we’ll be lodging. Bring warm clothes, good weapons, and a book or two to read along the way. Somehow, I doubt Darkholm has much in the way of an entertainment district.”

With that, the Falling Angels cleared their brunch dishes, finished their drinks, and dispersed to go pack their bags for the job ahead. Raena and Vale stayed behind to go over the response to Duchess Ehferthal.

“Make sure she knows there’s six of us coming, and be sure to include a note that alcohol is to be compensated along with meals.”

“You got it,” Raena said cheerfully. When the others had all gone, she lowered her voice conspiratorially and said, “So Davien, eh? Remind me to send Tarik a really nice thank-you basket for bringing that one in.”

“You like him?” Vale said with unconvincing casualness.

“Uh, yeah. I have eyes and I like dick. So do you, by the by. Unless…. Vale, don’t tell me those demons won you over for good?”

Vale shook her head.

“Nope,” she said firmly.

The demons Vale partnered from time to time often included fun sexy times in their fee, and it was always a payment Vale liked to hand over in full, but they were at the end of the day, still demons. And a demon was never to be trusted. She was happy to play the part of their mortal willing slave from time to time, but if Jarik and Davor had their way she’d be in chains right this moment begging for them to do terrible things to her, and she doubted she would have a choice when things got to be too much. She couldn’t let anyone take away her will like that.

“I just… think Davien’s a bit of a show-off, you know? He’s got a big head about his abilities and that kind of makes me believe he’s… over-compensating for what he lacks in other departments.”

“Oh, I doubt that very much,” Raena countered with a smirk. She was always so blunt, the opposite of most elves Vale knew, and it made her a refreshing friend. Still, sometimes she was too honest and Vale wasn’t in the mood to be reminded of how lickably sexy their newest recruit was.

“I’ve gotta get packed,” she said, heading for the door. “Make sure the duchess gets our response today.”

Raena tossed Vale a smart, playful salute and settled back to her desk with a knowing giggle. Vale might have fooled herself into thinking she wasn’t interested in the sorcerer, but Raena knew the boss better than that.

“Those two are going to bang before the airship even lands,” she muttered into her coffee.

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