A Rough Night at the Office

"I sentence you to ten years in Monk's Hill cemetery." I pressed the tip of Nightshade's razor-sharp, bone blade into the vampire's neck, drawing the tiniest drop of blood. What once was a labored process was now something I could do as easily as breathing. Unlike sorting human souls, judging supernaturals only required the offender's own sacrifice, not mine. I watched his eyes grow wide before he poofed to the confines of the graveyard.


Ten years was a light sentence, but honestly, this time the victim asked for it. Literally.

"What have you done to him?" the brunette sorority girl screamed in my face, turning in circles as if I'd performed a magic trick with smoke and mirrors.

I pulled a tissue from the pocket of my long wool coat and mopped the blood from her neck. "Um, you must know he was a vampire. You were attacked. You're safe now."

"I know he was a vampire. Why do you think I come here?" She pointed at the door to Mill Wheel.

Stupid Twilight. These young girls actually wanted to be vamp fodder. "He could have killed you," I stated firmly.

She popped her hip out and placed her hand on it. "Or turned me," she said wistfully. She grinned like the thought warmed her soul.

I slapped my forehead in frustration.

Rick placed an arm around the girl's shoulders and turned her body to face him. Their eyes locked. "Vampires don't exist. You are going to collect your things and go straight home. Forget this ever happened."

Her face blanked for a moment. She smiled. "I've gotta go home. Nice to meet you." She disappeared through the door, leaving us alone in the alley.

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"Nice," I said. Rick could channel the powers of the baddies we faced, which meant he could compel people, just like a vampire.

"I hate to do it. Taking away someone's free will is against everything I believe in."

I shook my head. "You had no choice. She needed it, she really did. Her free will was going to get her dead or turned."

He nodded and reached for my hand. "We have more work to do."

Next stop was Maison des Etoiles. We arrived minutes before midnight and found a shadowed place behind a dumpster to stake out the alley. The temperature had dropped. A chill breeze made me shiver. Thoughtfully, Rick wrapped his arms around me. I was dressed in a pair of stretchy black wool blend pants, boots with heels I'd enchanted to be comfortable (thank you Book of Light) and a gray sweater that was more librarian than soul sorter. I'd wrapped it all up in a black wool overcoat that could have been described as badass if it weren't for the J. Peterman embroidered pockets and cuffs. Still, it was cold when the wind blew, so I appreciated Rick's physical closeness for more than the immediate pleasure of his touch.

"What does Maison des Etoiles mean?" I asked Rick.

"Mansion of the stars. The fae here have a close relationship to the celestial."

"Like they're into astrology or something?"

He licked his lips and hummed like he was thinking. "Fae are born from and attach to natural things. For example, the forest fae who dwell behind my house are tied metaphysically to the trees. With a steady breath, they can make a sapling grow. Kill the tree; kill the fae. Maison's fae are tied to the stars, the moon, the planets and so forth. It's said that they came from the heavens originally."

I had no idea there were forest fae behind Rick's house. I wondered what they looked like. I wondered if any of them had ever come onto Rick. My stomach twisted. Why did I do this to myself? I shook away the uninvited thought and tried to concentrate on my work.

Every day as the witch was a learning experience. Rick said these fae were celestial. I tried to imagine the implications of such a thing. Did they change with the course of the moon? If the forest fae could make a plant grow with a steady breath, what could celestial fae do?

"Have you noticed that there's no snow in this alley? It's been snowing since early evening and, before we left, it was already accumulating in your yard. What happened to the snow?"

Rick didn't have to answer my question. Just then, a woman exited the Maison and click-clacked her way into the circle of light cast by the lamppost near the door. Her strappy silver stiletto heels made her legs look impossibly long, and her shimmering blue dress gave her dark red hair a purplish tint. Stunning.

With a deep cleansing breath, she tossed her head back and spread her arms wide, heart raised to the stars. Two gossamer wings unfurled from her back, stretching and flapping. Instantly, a wave of tropical heat blew through the alley, warming the skin of my face and sending a trickle of joy through me.

"Oh," I whispered. I pulled out my phone and started recording. "For my new database."

Rick brought his lips to my ear. "Shhh."

I was afraid to blink, that I might miss the beauty of the fae's connection with her roots. The air around her shimmered as if the stars were sprinkling her with their magic.

"Hello, Stella." A man moved into the alleyway, bald, with unusually large dark eyes and a tight mouth. Something about the duster he wore bothered me, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I reached for Nightshade. Rick placed a hand over mine. I paused.

Stella's wings retracted so quickly even I questioned whether they'd been there. She turned to face the man. "I'm sorry, sir, but as I mentioned inside, it's my break. If you want a girl, you need to go in the front door. Someone else will be provided for you." Her silvery voice chimed like a bell against his dark presence.

"What I want, I can't get inside." He extended his hands toward her shoulders.

Crap. With a thrust of encouragement from Rick, I bounded into the alley, Nightshade heralding my arrival with the blue glow of her blade. "Hold it right there," I yelled, using his startled composure as opportunity to slide in front of Stella. "Identify yourself."

The man took a step back, and the angle of the light gave me a good look at his coat. Seal skin. Bastard. With a strange hand gesture that I assumed was a foreign version of giving me the finger, the stranger turned to run. I wasn't sure what I was dealing with, but he wasn't human, not if he'd popped up in our silver mirror, so I leapt forward and swung Nightshade. I wasn't trying to kill him, only to maim him so that I could find out more and pass judgment. But I missed because at that moment Poe came shrieking at my face, talons bared.

"What the fuck?" I yelled as I dove sideways to avoid him. My shoulder smacked on the concrete but not hard enough for me to miss the enormous barbed club that whistled through the air over me. My momentum rolled me to my back.

A smoky black column blew through the alley. Rick! He materialized in front of the stranger in the seal coat, blocking the man's escape. "Grateful, move!"

The barbed club came crashing down toward my head. I barrel-rolled out of the way, getting my first glimpse of a meaty, stump of a leg and a furry bare foot as large as my torso. Flipping to my feet, my eyes followed the leg to a fur-toga wearing creature, big as a house, with a pushed-in pig face complete with lower tusks that protruded in hideous arcs on either side of its snout. Poe was circling its head, trying to distract it, but the creature kept coming.

This time when the club fell, I darted between the beast's legs stabbing toward the Achilles tendon on the back of the ankle. I missed. The force of the club upended the section of concrete I stood on, sending me flying into the opposite wall. I bounced off the bricks and landed on my feet. Thanks to the magic of my role and Rick's blood, I was stronger than an ordinary human. Good thing. That last blow to the head would've been fatal.

I raced forward before the beast had a chance to turn around and stabbed where I knew it would be most effective-the balls. Sure enough, as Nightshade sank through fur and soft flesh, the club dropped and the creature listed to the side, hands cupping between its legs. I wasted no time with formalities; this thing had tried to kill me. Using its knee and hip as leverage, I propelled myself over the massive pig creature and, in one lithe stroke, decapitated it. Blood erupted from the kill, a geyser of red that showered the alleyway.

Once the spray of blood settled, I pivoted toward Rick and the creepy stranger he restrained at the front of the alley. Soft sobs reached my ears, Stella crying in the arms of another fae in the doorway to Maison des Etoiles.

"I'm sorry you had to see that," I said to her, then stomped up to Mr. Evil-Seal-Coat-Wearer and pressed the tip of my bloody blade into his neck. "Who the hell are you? And what the hell are you?"

The man started to laugh, so hard that it sounded like a low bark. With a movement like a backward shrug, he offed the seal skin, slipped from Rick's arms and fell to the pavement, writhing and foaming at the mouth.

"What's happening?" I asked Rick as the man flip-flopped. He coughed up a spew of liquid, and gasped repeatedly. "Does he need CPR?"

Rick looked at the pig creature I'd slain behind me and then at the coat in his hand. I was so busy analyzing his expression that I didn't see the seizing man reach out and grab my ankle.

I hit the pavement so hard my teeth clacked together.

I came awake with a gasp, stretched out on my side in a Victoria's Secret ad-cherry red silk sheets, a plush velvet comforter. Rick leaned over me, blotting the back of my head with a rag. I grabbed his wrist.

"Where am I?"

"Inside Maison des Etoiles," he said, placing the rag on the nightstand.

I tried to look around the red-on-red decorated room but my head was throbbing. I closed my eyes and leaned into the pillows. "What happened?"

"The finfolk caught you off guard. You hit your head. He's dead."

"You killed him?"

"No. He committed suicide. When he shed his skin, he reverted to his water form. He suffocated."

"Finfolk? So he was a type of shifter, like a mermaid? A sea creature that turns into a human."

"Yes, but, usually, they must return to the sea within a few days or they die. I've never seen one this far inland."

I thought about the coat the man wore. Rick's explanation sank in. That wasn't sealskin; it was his skin, the finfolk's. I shivered at the thought of wearing my own skin as a coat. Eww.

"And what was that thing with him?" I asked.

"An Appalachian troll."

"Of course it was. Seriously, can my life get any weirder? You know, a few months ago, I'd never have believed any of this existed."

Rick sighed and resumed cleaning my head wound. "Would you like some of my blood?"

His blood would heal me. As the vessel of my soul, my caretaker was mystically designed to maintain my life. Vitamin Caretaker. But I balked. Not that I didn't want it; his blood was liquid orgasm, but something was bothering me about the finfolk attack and my injury was making it difficult to concentrate. I couldn't get distracted.

"Even though it's strange for finfolk to be this far inland, the troll bothers me more. We are a hundred miles from the Appalachians. Is that a misnomer?"

"No, it is not. I have never seen one in the city before."

"It's not like he could've taken a bus," I mumbled. "What was a troll doing here?"

"I am not sure, mi cielo, but the bodies are still in the alley and an investigator is on his way."

I sat up abruptly. "The police are coming? We need to hide the bodies!"

"Don't worry. This investigator is familiar with supernatural activity. He is a detective, but he's sympathetic to our cause."

I flopped back on the pillow, head pounding.

Rick scooped an arm under my shoulders, pulled one leg across his lap so I was straddling him, and tipped his head to expose his neck. "Come, mi cielo. Take of me."

His voice in my ear was as deep and soft as the velvet I'd been nestled in. Warm breath stroked my cheek. He adjusted the neck of his shirt to expose more skin. I nuzzled the smooth expanse over his artery. At the same time, his hand massaged behind my knee and began drifting up my outer thigh. When his hardened member grazed between my legs, even the fabric of my pants couldn't stop the pulse of need that jetted through me.

I bit down hard on the web of flesh between his neck and shoulder, his gasp an appetizer for the meal I was about to indulge in. The first drops spread across my tongue, salty and warm, enticing a deeper bite that proved prolific. I swallowed greedily, heat blossoming where he rubbed in just the right spot between my legs. I writhed in his lap. His fingers at the base of my skull massaged my neck, pulling slightly at the roots of my hair.

Rick's blood was a drug, building within me, coaxing me toward orgasm with every swallow. As I neared the brink, I had a vivid hallucination of a man's chest pressed up against my back, sandwiching me against Rick, and his hands sliding around my rib cage to roll my nipples between his fingers. That did it. I came so hard, only Rick's arms kept me from falling off his lap.

When I was capable of thought again, I sat up, feeling Rick's hands all over me. Looking down myself, Rick's hands were literally all over me! Or more accurately the hands of his two twins. One knelt by my side and one stood near my head.

"Holy crow! What the hell is going on?"

Rick cleared his throat and muttered a spell under his breath, sending the other two into oblivion. "It is the fae enchantment on this room. The magic picks up on your fantasies and provides, what you might call, virtual reality. They're not real and they can't hurt you, but the experience is very... intense. You can imagine why the Maison is so popular."

"Uh, yeah." I smoothed imaginary wrinkles from my shirt. "We are definitely coming back here," I mumbled under my breath.

A low rumble vibrated against me, Rick's laugh. Of course, he'd heard me. He had super hearing and eyesight. I stood and straightened my clothes again.

"Well, I guess it's no secret that I'd like to stay here and continue to test the room's charms, but I want to meet this investigator and see if he has any idea why a finfolk and troll would be willing to risk their lives to travel this far into the city."

Rick nodded his head and held open the door.

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