Valentine & Maxwell online series

 

Velvet Valentine and Burgundy Maxwell; private investigators in one of the roughest parts of Hurst. Their cases are many and varied, their relationships complicated, and their office is a mess, but this Half-Incubus and Mermaid have got everything under control.

Most of the time.

Warning: Adult content may occur. There’s a sex demon, people. Obviously, there’s going to be adult content. If you’re a prude, turn back. Or if you’re related to me.

Hurst Proper

Introduction of a Horny Half-Dragon

I’m half incubus.
I know that women are technically succubi, not incubi, but I’m not a succubus, I am half incubus. As in, my father is an incubus. Thank the fates I didn’t turn out a total sex demon like him; I’m just the daughter of one, which has left me with an incurable, never-ending horniness and a need for sexual gratification at least every other day or else I go insane. Lucky for me, though, my mother’s genes managed to sneak into most other areas of my life.
Because I’m also half dragon.
By this, I don’t mean that my mother is one of those dragon species who can turn themselves into a human at will. If only it was that simple. But no, see, my father wanted an offspring that was his, without a mother who could claim custody and child support and other nonsense like that.
So he decided to use an abundance of experimental, dangerous and very expensive magic to turn a pure, female dragon into a human woman for one night only, impregnate her, and then have her turn back to a dragon to lay the egg with their person-shaped, half-incubus, half-dragon offspring inside.
That’s right. I was hatched, from an egg.
And my mother flew away back to the Red Hills as soon as I hatched. Talk about teenage identity issues, I cannot even tell you. But I got over that a few years ago.
Now, in my late twenties, I am completely fine with being a constantly horny half-breed who can spew fire from my mouth at will and make my hands glow.
And to top it all off, my father decided to name me Velvet.
Velvet Valentine. That’s me. Because the half incubus/half dragon needs a name that makes her sound as much like a stripper as possible.
… If the world was fair, I would at least be able to fly, too.
Really, though, I have made the most of my situation. Raised in Sagemill under my father’s watchful eye, I learned a lot about how the dark and dirty parts of our world works.
Sagemill is not a place for children, so unless you’ve been raised there, it’s really not anything that can be explained, or even understood if you haven’t experienced it for yourself.
If you have, you’ll know what I mean when I say that I got the hell out of Sagemill when I was fourteen. I got lucky and made a home for myself in the orphanages of Norhill – not the perfect situation, but a massive step up.
At least in Norhill – home of the lost souls with nowhere else to go, haven to the lost children of Hurst – there were other messed-up kids like me. Even kids more messed up than me. Being a freak in Norhill is the same as being normal.
If you’re from Westerland or Corton or somewhere big and fancy like that, and you’ve had a functional family where your parents have regular jobs and you lived in a respectable neighborhood, and you come for a stroll through the city of Norhill, you will stand out like a sore, unusually clean thumb.
‘Normal’ does not belong in Norhill.
That’s not to say that there aren’t happy families in Norhill; they just work differently. Take my best friend, for example, whom I met about a week after I walked into this city.
Allow me to introduce Burgundy Maxwell. Burgundy has a big, happy family; always big and mostly happy. She’s a mermaid, and her parents and 16 siblings have a beautiful home in an underwater cove in Wintersea, just by the coast nearest Norhill, close to that huge beach on the shore where only Norhill locals go to escape the world and soak in a bit of beauty.
All nineteen don’t live in the cove anymore – some of the older siblings have fled the nest, some have gone as far as Morlyn.
But a lot of them live in Norhill.
Burgundy got out of the water and moved in with one of her big sisters and her husband when she was sixteen, when the water became just a bit too crowded for her.
We ran into each other – literally – on the street one day, and both started yelling at each other instead of apologizing. I noticed her green hair, thought it was amazingly cool, and asked if she wanted to go for coffee instead of yelling at each other.
She said yes, and we’ve been best friends ever since.
Burgundy Maxwell could also sound like a stripper’s name, except hers, at least, makes sense, because even though her hair is as green as over-lush, bright grass; when she is in water and her tail revealed itself, the colors of her scales range from dark red to brown, and mostly a gorgeous shade of burgundy.
So that one made sense.
Burgundy and I were inseparable from our first day together. I spent more time at her sister’s place than I did in the orphanage. The streets between the orphanage and her apartment became our playground, or territory, our hood. We knew it like the back of our hands and everyone in those streets knew us.
We were reasonably clever kids, and overly obsessed with justice and finding the answers to riddles and mysteries. I guess knowing things was really what we loved. Not knowing the answer to a question was the most massive thorn in our sides.
If anyone in our circle had any problems, we volunteered to help them solve it, if for no other reason that we couldn’t walk past an unanswered question without learning the truth.
So naturally, when Burgundy finished school and I outgrew the orphanage, we started our own P.I. firm.
Valentine & Maxwell: Private Investigators.
It was perfect. It was our dream. And we made it happen.
It was hard, and more work than we really preferred, but there’s few things we’ll set our minds to and not see through.
So that is how we – Velvet Valentine and Burgundy Maxwell – ten years into the business, have become some of the most respected private investigators in Norhill and the surrounding cities. And undoubtedly the hottest.
And there’s our backstory. We’ve had a lot of adventures so far. I thought I’d start out by telling you about one of them.
For me, it was the most important case we ever worked. That might be because I kinda sorta died in the course of the investigation. It might also be for other, much more enjoyable reasons.
Anyway, we’ll get to all that, and I promise it will all make sense in the end.
But let me start at the beginning…

The Case of the Missing Human – Episode One

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“Velvet, you in here?” Burgundy called from the office just as I came tumbling down the steps from my apartment upstairs.
“Yes! I’m here, I’m working! I didn’t oversleep!” I skipped into the office on one leg while pulling on my jeans.
Burgundy laughed and rolled her eyes, hanging up her dripping wet jacket on the coat rack next by the front door.
“Of course you didn’t,” she said. “You’re the very embodiment of professionalism.” She waved a bag of doughnuts in front of my face that I greedily snatched.
“Exactly! Unless for some reason you consider it unprofessional to stay out until the middle of the night and sleeping with clients.”
“Vel, you didn’t!” Burgundy exclaimed, though she didn’t look as surprised as you might expect. “Rita, the lady with the missing cat?” She dropped into her chair, propping her feet up on her desk.
The missing cat hadn’t been our most thrilling case so far, but it had taken minimal effort, paid well, and Rita – the cat lady – had very pretty eyes. “I thought you said she had cat-nip breath?”
“She did. Which is why I made us a pitcher of minty-fresh mojitos.” I winked and gobbled up the remains of my breakfast doughnut before starting in on the coffee Burg has also been considerate enough to bring.
She laughed and spun around in her chair. “You always have a solution for everything, don’t you?” She flicked the switch on her ancient computer. I never touched the thing myself. Not a lot of places in Hurst had things like a computer, but Burgundy decided we needed one to be more efficient. Probably would have worked if it wasn’t a hundred years old.
“So what’s on the agenda today?”
“We have a meeting at nine with some rich princess from Windport. Think she has a missing person’s case, which could bring in a tidy sum. We could use a good payday.”
“Fun.” Burgundy cocked her head and looked at me. “Windport’s a lake-town. You know what she is?”
“Nope. You know I don’t like to ask these things unless it’s relevant.” I leaned back in my own chair and looked at Burgundy as she struggled with her computer. I knew why she asked; there were a lot more sea creatures around the big water towns out west, like Windport and Corton. As a mermaid, Berg was always curious about other water creatures like her.
“There’s fresh water for you in the tub if you feel like soaking before she gets here,” I offered. Besides my own private bathroom upstairs, we had a big one down here in our office with a large hot tub. I made sure it was always filled with salty lake water so Burgundy had it available any time she needed a soak.
You never know when a mermaid gets that burning need to let their fin out, and they get very cranky if they don’t get to do it.
She tossed a grateful smile at me.”Thanks, doll, but I got up early for a swim in the tank.”
Burgundy lived with her sister (and sister’s husband), and they had a whole room at home that was basically a giant tank filled with salt water.
She flicked her green, rain-soaked hair over her shoulder and licked her lips, tasting the remaining salt water left on them.
Gawd, you don’t make this easy, I thought and I forced myself to turn away.
Burgundy was my best friend in the world, and she had been from the moment I met her. She was always been on my side, even when she thought I was dead wrong, and she seemed to be the only water creature alive who never had any qualms about being so close with a half-fire creature (to all you judgmental water creatures out there; you have a completely skewed view considering water puts out fire, not the other way around, you morons).
Burgundy and I had been inseparable for thirteen years. She would have been just like a sister to me.
You know, if I wasn’t so unbelievably, madly, heart-thuddingly, head-over-heels in love with her.
Even sleeping around with every willing woman and occasional man in Hurst hadn’t proved an effective way to make my feelings disappear.
And there she sat, all sexy in her jeans and loose, white shirt, dripping wet from the rain, completely unaware that she was driving me insane. I bit my lip extra hard to distract myself when she started combing her fingers slowly through her bright, green hair.
“Whatcha doing over there?” Burgundy asked without taking her eyes off the computer screen. I looked down at the papers that I didn’t actually remember taking out of my drawer. It was my notes from the Cat-Lady-case.
“Just putting the finishing touches on our last case,” I lied.
“Right; because it’s very important for our files to include the favorite sex-position of our clients,” she teased. I chuckled and write that down just for fun.
“There!” I grabbed the file and headed down the hall to our filing-cabinet/storage closet in the back, across the hall from our minuscule kitchen that we only used for making coffee or storing evidence in the fridge since I had a larger, cleaner and fully equipped kitchen in my apartment upstairs.
The closet was where we were supposed to keep our old client files – and we did – but it’s also where old clothes and knick-knacks that we never used anymore went to die. I shuddered to think of all the things that were hiding inside that bottomless pit. I think there was even a box of my old sex-toys in there somewhere.
Don’t ask me why.
Listen, I understand that I’m giving off an impression here, but it’s not like I’m a sex addict or anything. Dad’s genes have just left me with quite the hankering. I kind of have sex the way other people have chocolate, or alcohol. It’s not like I would die without it, but it would be hard to stop, or go without a long time.
Of course, I would give up chocolate, alcohol and sex any day for Burgundy…
I shook my head in an attempt to rid myself of my patheticness before returning to my desk. I halted in surprise just where the hallway opened into our office space, when the front door opened.
Apparently our client decided to be twenty minutes early. Naturally.
Out of the rain and into our humble headquarters walked a tall, blond and blue-eyed lady in a tight, blue dress and heels. She was gorgeous and didn’t seem to have taken any damage from the pouring rain.
Burgundy and I shared a knowing look. The woman had to be an undine – a water spirit, at one with the water; they could take human form, but the form was essentially all made up of water. When the raindrops hit her, she would just have absorbed them, which was how she managed to look all dry and fresh.
“Valentine & Maxwell investigations?” she asked in a high-pithced, elegant voice with a drawling accent one would expect find in certain parts of the human world. The heaviness of the accent generally indicated she’d spend a lot of time in that part of their world, or that her family originated there and kept the dialect even here in Hurst.
It had  to be the second option. I couldn’t imagine why an undine would spend any time at all in the human world, with their polluted waters. Undines preferred their water pure and clean.
“That’s us,” I confirmed and walk up to her, hand out. “Velvet Valentine, glad to meet you.”
She shook my hand with a surprisingly firm grip for someone who was technically made entirely out of water. “Lavender Lacada,” she introduced herself. I would have accused the name of being ridiculous, but someone named Velvet isn’t in any position to judge.
“Sorry I’m early,” Lavender added, “but this really can’t wait.”
Burgundy came to join us, and introduced herself to our guest. “Missing person, right?” she asked.
Lavender nodded, and we led her over to the two sofas in the corner. If Lavender had been on time, the table would have been set with a pot of tea and some muffins. Maybe wiped down to remove the fine layer of dust on the black wood surface.
Burgundy and I sat across from Lavender Lacada as she started talking. My pen and notepad were ready for me to scribble down details as she went along. I had learned the hard way that clients hated to repeat themselves.
“My fiancé is missin’,” she said. “He just vanished into thin air the night after his bachelor party.”
She paused, biting her lips like she was trying not to cry.  Dear heavens, do not let her cry, I thought. I was horrible with crying women.
“I know what that sounds like, but my Thomas wouldn’t run out on me. He loves me. That might sound naïve, but it’s true. He’s the one came after me in the first place! Finally won me over, got me all pathetic and heart sick for him and then he goes and disappears on me. You have to help me find him.” She looked from Burgundy to me, and continued to switch back, waiting for one of us to speak.
“Have you talked to anyone else about this?” I asked. I preferred not to have competition.
“There’s no one else I can go to,” Lavender said, and she bit her lower lip again while looking nervously around the room There was obviously something she didn’t want to tell us.
“Miss Lacada, if you’re not upfront with us, we can’t help you,” I prompted. That seemed to convince her to suck it up and spit it out.
“Thomas is human,” she admitted quietly, as if afraid the place was bugged or something.
I looked at Burgundy, and she had the same expression on her face as I did. Disbelief, surprise; the look of someone who had just been told insects have taken over the world and we all have to bow down to a cockroach named Sir Crawlsalot.
“I see,” I said, trying to keep any judgment out of my voice.
I clearly failed as Lavender Lacada glared at me, but come on! It’s not like human and Magical relationships were so unheard of, but to be fair, they weren’t usually about love and marriage, if you know what I mean.
“I ain’t dumb,” Lavender exclaimed. “I know what people think of me, and I don’t care. We met about two years ago, when he was hiking in Canada and I was out for a visit to my favorite little forest spring. I’ve lived with him in the human world for a year now, in a cute little town in Louisiana.”
A faint smile appeared on her face like she just couldn’t help it, and I knew she was probably recalling that first meeting or picturing their happy little house in Louisiana. Then she remembered why she was here, and the smile vanished.
“There wasn’t ever a problem until the one time he came to Hurst. My big brother insisted on throwing the bachelor party here to show Thomas where I came from, and, as he said, show him that even if he was human, that he was part of the family now.”
That is a shockingly loving gesture for any Magical to make when their sibling was about to marry a human. I didn’t even think any of Burgundy’s siblings would have done anything like that, and that was the closest family I’d ever met.
“But I didn’t believe him,” Lavender continued. “He never liked Thomas. I tried to talk Thomas out of going, told him I thought Leland wanted to scare him away. But my Thomas refused to listen; that boy always has to prove himself.” Her pride in her Thomas was was obvious as her annoyance that he hadn’t listen to her.
“After the party, he didn’t say much about it, but it sounded like things had gone well. Except, a week after, his human friends threw him a party, too, and he never showed up. That was four days ago and no one has seen or heard from him since.”
“Have the human police come up with anything?” Burgundy asked.
“Not a thing!” Lavender rubbed at her eyes in frustration. “But I just know this ain’t anything the police can deal with. I’m sure my brother got him mixed into something bad when he was here. Please, tell me you’ll help me get him back.” She looked at us with big, blue, teary eyes. ”I can’t bear the thought of anything happening to him because of me, because of what I am.” Some of the tears spilled over and ran down her cheek, only to get absorbed back through her skin before they reached her chin.
I bit the inside of my cheek. Snooping around Windport for a human could easily get us into trouble. When humans come to Hurst, it’s usually to seedier towns like Sagemill or one of the Underland cities. Certainly not respectable places like Windport.
And if we didn’t find anything there, this case might even drag us into the human world, which seemed particularly unappealing.
I glanced over at Burgundy, who was staring awkwardly at her clip-board, clearly also a but startled by the case that had fallen into our laps. She was waiting for me to make the decision, like she usually did.
It wasn’t that she was a pushover or anything, but she always let me take the wheel when it came to picking cases. She always joked that it was her way of giving me the illusion I was in charge.
I wondered, for a moment, what I would do if she went missing, in a place she knew nothing about, and no one was willing to look for her properly because it could be too complicated.
I’d panic, is what I would do. Search every nook and cranny of Norhill, then Haldil, then the rest of Hurst, and then every inch of the human world until I knew she was safe and sound.
“We’ll help you,” I finally said, tearing my gaze away from Burgundy.
“Oh, thank you!” Lavender jumped up and gave me an unexpected hug. I wasn’t a great hugger, but somehow managed to come out of it with some dignity intact.
“When do you want us in Windport?” Burgundy asked, getting to her feet, already ready for action.
“I can have horses ready for you by tonight,” Lavender offered, “unless you want a carriage?”
Cars aren’t very big in Hurst; we prefer the steady old horse and carriage approach to travel. Or possibly some kind of magical transportation.
Except for some ancient computers and the occasional doorbell or cash register and the likes, technology isn’t really big in Hurst. Why use technology when magic can do the trick?
“We don’t need a roof, we’ll take the horses,” I replied. “We’ll pack and meet outside your hotel at noon? We’ll be in Windport before it gets dark.”
Lavender Lacada agreed, and after giving us the name of her hotel and settling on hourly fees and details, she walked back out into the rain.
Burgundy and I sat on top of our respective desks and stared at each other. No one wanted to say it, but we were both thinking it. Burgundy, as per usual, was the one to cave.
“We’re gonna get in trouble.”
“We can’t just walk away,” I argued. “Did you not hear that sob-story? Can we really leave some poor defenseless human to fend for himself?”
If this Thomas had accidentally made some sort of deal or lost a bet during his bachelor party, some big scary Magical could have dragged him off to get his payment. That usually including the guys’ soul, or his eyes for a special snack, or a lifetime of indentured servitude. You really never know in Hurst, even in up-scale places like Windport.
Burgundy gave me that look; the one that said I’m smarter than you so stop talking like I don’t know what needs to be done, and I knew she was sold.
Defeated, she sighed, flipping her green hair over her shoulder. “We’re still gonna get in trouble,” she repeated sourly.
Well, it’s not like she was wrong.

The Case of the Missing Human – Episode Two

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The road from Norhill to Windport is about a five hour ride on horseback, and it’s not a comfortable one. The road doesn’t even get smooth you get passed Sagemill, one hour away.
As our horses flew by the town entrance to Sagemill, I couldn’t help but throw a melancholic glance towards it. I could feel Burgundy looking towards me, probably worried I’d decide to go in and abandon this whole case.
She didn’t have anything to worry about.
I have very mixed feelings about Sagemill. On the one hand, it’s a haven of depravity, and houses the largest number of sex-demons of any town in Hurst, and worse. It’s full of succubi and incubi, and other demons or creatures who feed of off sex or sin of any kind. Gambling, sex, drugs; it’s all just a day’s work for Sagemill. If you can compare it to anything in the human world, I suppose it would be like a kind of Las Vegas, but a hell of a lot less clean and fancy, and with a lot less rules, laws and morals. It’s the capitol of depraved behavior with a splash of ‘everyone-here-is-going-to-hell’ vibes.
So that’s one side of the Sagemill coin.
On the other hand, it was where I grew up, and it wasn’t as if every single memory of the first fourteen years of my life were completely terrible. I wouldn’t still be on speaking terms with my father if that was the case. Still, Sagemill always gave me a chilling sense that time would rewind and I would get dragged back into the pit of doom and never be able to leave again. It was tough enough to get out the first time.
I turned my head away, not spearing it a second glance as our rental horses kept thundering down the road that was slightly less lumpy and uneven now that we had gotten out of the slum that was anything further east than Sagemill.
It had turned out Miss Lacada was in quite the hurry and had departed ahead of us in a wagon carrying all our bags. She gave us an address of where to meet up in Windport, and instructed us to hurry. Following her wishes, after riding two hours straight we cut a huge chunk off the estimated travel time. I made a note to tip the horse-rental-guy for giving us his best.
We slowed down at the city gate. We’d taken special care to dress in our most prudent clothing before we left home, though for me that consisted of a pair of black jeans that were so tight I might as well not be wearing them at all, and a white sweater that didn’t do much to dial down my sex appeal even though the neckline went higher up than anything else I owned.
Windport isn’t quite as open-minded and free spirited as Norhill and the rest of East Haldil. Actually, even compared to all of Haldil, Windport isn’t a exactly a merry town.
It’s generally the home of the quiet Magicals, like the ones’ with no special powers or those who just want to live in peace with their elements, like the undines with water. If you stirred up trouble in Windport, you wouldn’t get burned at the stake – you’d just get kicked out for “disturbing the peace”. It’s not that all of Windport is boring; it’s just that they’re not big on raves and one-night-stands.
Which is too bad, really. What else did they do for fun on weekends?
We rode slowly through the shiny streets of Windport, almost blinded by the buildings even at night-time.
“Can you believe how clean this place is?” Burgundy asked.
“Yeah, kind of makes Norhill seem… Well, like Norhill,” I commented, and Burg chuckled. We were both used to the non-glamour of our home town, but it was still nice to be breathing fresh, big city air. Windport was the third largest city in Haldil, making it a grand metropolis compared to home.
We found Lavender’s address easily enough. It was an apartment building with two doormen outside. The architectural style in big cities usually has a remarkably human touch to them. This building could blend right in wherever this human Thomas came from, I was sure of it.
“Come in,” Lavender’s voice said from the other side of the door on the ninth floor. It had taken a good ten minutes for Burgundy and I to finally argue our way past the doormen.
Evidently, no matter how well dressed we thought we were, the people of Windport weren’t fooled. My cleavage (which is difficult to hide even in modest clothing) probably didn’t help matters much.
This was confirmed when we entered the room and Lavender froze mid-gulp of whatever expensive beverage she was consuming, and stared at me. Down, then up, then down again. She wasn’t even pretending to be subtle about it.
Okay, so I’m not great at turning of my slut-button, okay? It’s in my blood! And I didn’t think Lavender should be so judgmental – if she uncrossed those long legs, I’m sure I would have spotted something tiny and lacy underneath that short blue dress.
To her credit, Miss Lacada gathered her wits quickly. “So glad you could make it in such good time,” she said, though she had probably only got here thirty minutes before us.
She placed her glass delicately on a coaster on an expensive-looking table. Burgundy was already busy looking around the fancy apartment we stood in. Mermaids love all kinds of pretty, luxurious and posh things. I had to agree; Miss Lavender had herself some nice digs.
“Where do we start?” Lavender asked, straight to business.
“First of all, we’re going to need a list of everyone who was at the bachelor party,” I said. “Also of anyone else they might have come into contact with that night, and just anyone in general you might think of that could have a reason to wish Thomas ill, human or otherwise.”
“I thought you might need that.” Lavender gestured towards a desk on the left wall. The way she carried herself on her home court made her look a lot less fragile than she had in our office. “I already prepared one, it’s over there. All of Leland’s friends, the driver I’m certain they used, and a few places they may have stopped by.”
I headed for the lavish desk that was so neatly organized I felt like a slob just looking at it. At the corner of the desk stood a crystal decanter with a brown liquid in it – the decanter itself was probably worth more than all of my belongings combined.
Perfectly placed in the very center was a list written in neatly curved longhand. Lavender was definitely thorough; not only had she written down at least ten names, but she had even included addresses of where to find most of them.
“Great,” I folded the paper and put it in my back pocket. “I’ll start talking to some of these people first thing in the morning.”
“And I would like it if you could take me to your home in Louisiana,” Burgundy added, She was a lot less uncomfortable with human-world-visits than I was. “I know you said the police didn’t find anything there, but it’s worth a look around.”
“That’s not a problem.” Lavender tried to keep her voice neutral, but there was a catch in it that revealed how hard she was truly working to appear so composed. She did a good job of hiding her pain. “I’ll accompany you to the Portal House tomorrow. Is eight too early?”
“It’s perfect,” Burgundy assured her. She used that special tone of voice she had that always seemed to calm everyone down, make them feel taken care of.
“Very well. And of course you should stay here with me, Miss Valentine,” Lavender said to me. “I do have two guest bedrooms, but since we’re so close to the water I assumed –”
“I’ll find somewhere below the surface,” Burg finished for her. Given the choice between wet and dry, Burg would choose wet every time. I guess we sort of had that in common. “I’ll be back here first thing in the morning so we can discuss our game-plan. How does that sound?”
“Be here at seven, I will arrange breakfast,” Lavender said before she disappeared down a hallway, presumably to prepare the guestroom for me.
Hands on hips, I looked accusingly at Burgundy. “Not only are you leaving me alone with this princess over night, but I have to be up at seven in the morning?”
Burg just smirked at me. “It’ll be good for you. Just try not to sleep with this one, okay? We are looking for her fiancé, after all.”
“Have you seen this place?” I gestured at the extravaganza around us. “Those are freaking real candles in her chandelier. She’s not exactly my type.”
“Vel, she’s a living, breathing creature who presumably has some kind of sex organ. That’s the definition of your type.”
I placed a hand over my heart and feigned shock. “Are you calling me a slut?”
“Just keep your hands and other things to yourself,” Burgundy smiled at me and hugged me before she left to find an underwater tavern. They always had them in water towns. She would probably have a great night.
Me, on the other hand, spent my night tossing and turning in the satin sheets. It was too slippery, too unfamiliar. And there were paintings on the walls of people who kept staring at me, completely freaking me out. And it was too quiet.
In Norhill, there’s always sounds. Ruckus from the streets, kids or gangs running around getting into all sorts of trouble, or lovers who couldn’t be bothered to find a room before getting their groove going. And of course the drunks tumbling out of taverns at all times, singing songs and laughing and puking.
Windport was too quiet. How people were able to live somewhere this clean and peaceful, I would never understand. Life was messy; I preferred my surroundings to reflect that.
I tossed the silky sheets to the side and got up. Maybe fresh air would help with my restlessness. I opened the large window that faced a side road and the building next door. I guessed the rooms with a good view were reserved for Lavender herself and her more high-brow visitors.
I leaned on the window frame and felt the cool lake breeze wash over my body. I always slept in the nude, and the wind caressed me in a way that was much too comfortable. I tried to do as little naughtiness as possible when we were on a job, keep the blood flowing to my brain rather than other parts of my anatomy… But it wasn’t easy.
Even now, just standing here, exposed in the open window and thinking about doing something to release the tension inside to help me sleep, I felt that familiar sweet tingling between my legs and the urge to do something about it. I probably would have been able to resist if I didn’t spot something right then that had me catch my breath and bite my lips.
A light was on in the building across the street, in a room where they had obviously forgotten to close the curtains. From here I had a perfect view of the brunette woman who was currently leaning against the window frame while a tall, studly man had his arms wrapped around her, kissing her neck, her shoulders.
And they were both naked. The woman was full-figured, her body plump and soft and her breasts… Dear goddesses above, her breasts were fantastic. Two massive orbs of pale, soft flesh that swayed with her every movement. Even from here I could see how puckered and hard her light brown nipples were. The man reached a hand up and massaged one of them gently. I felt warm liquid slowly trickle down the inside of my thigh.
Damn it..
Unable to stop myself, I took a seat on the wide windowsill, one foot dangling out into the open air, the other propped against the frame.
When the man’s other hand began to wander slowly down her stomach, my own hand did the same. From the widening of her eyes and the parting of her lips, he obviously reached her happy place at the same time I reached mine. I eased my fingers between the lips that were already open wide, not so much welcoming me as begging for my touch.
In the soaking wetness I found my clit and started playing with it, gently at first, and then harder as I watched the lovers across the street, watched the pleasure on the woman’s face as her man did the same to her. When he bit down on her neck and she let out a scream of pleasure so loud it could be heard through the class, I couldn’t fight it any longer and slipped two fingers inside myself, shuddering with pleasure and biting my lips to keep my moans from waking up my hostess.
I rubbed my fingers roughly against my favorite spot, moving around it, pressing it harder and harder each time I slid across it but rarely enough that the teasing was driving me mad, and my leg leaning against the window frame begun to shake with anticipation.
Finally my heavy breathing and shuddering was matching the woman as the man drove her to the same point of madness I found myself on. As she once again screamed in ecstasy, I let my fingers slide over my oh-so-sensitive spot and nearly bit my tongue of as the orgasm rippled through my body, nearly sending me falling out the ninth floor window.
I managed to keep myself seated and continued to fuck myself until I couldn’t take another second, and slowly I pulled my sticky, wet fingers out, groaning happily as I slid them up and across my sensitive clit.
I glanced down at the window and found the couple had moved over to their bed. I could see more of him now than I could of her, and figured it was time to give them their privacy.
With the warm and pleasurable feeling of satisfaction flowing through my veins, I wobbled back to bed on shaky legs.
I definitely didn’t have any problems falling asleep after that.
Of course, life decided to be a bitch as usual and I only got about two hours of blissful dreams before there was a knock on my door and Lavender cracked it open to tell me breakfast would be ready in ten minutes.
When I groaned and buried myself under the pillow, I heard a muffled “excuse me”, and two seconds later someone jumped into my bed, making me shriek in surprise and sit up, half expecting to find a guy with a knife and dirty tank-top about to murder me.
“Rise and shine, sleepyhead,” Burgundy chirped, trying not to topple over laughing at what I was sure was a hilarious expression on my face. I grabbed my pillow and hit her over the head with it.
“You are evil!” I accused her. “What if I’d melted you without thinking out of fear for my life? Ever think of that?”
“Oh, please – mermaid, remember? Water trumps fire.” She ruffled my probably already messy hair, and my heart did that thing where it forgot how to beat properly.
Burgundy was sitting in my bed, inches away from me, looking amazing in her loose jeans and bright green shirt that matched her hair. Why did she always have to look so gods damn beautiful? Her shirt wasn’t buttoned all the way up, and the pale, soft flesh of her cleavage was right there. It took all my self control not to look.
“Get dressed, we’ve got a case to solve.” And just as quickly as she had appeared, she bounced out of the room. I forced myself out of bed and into the bathroom, staring at myself in the mirror.
“You’re completely pathetic,” I told my reflection. “I just wanted you to know that.”

*

The fancy breakfast was awkward, though I didn’t complain about the feast of pastries, eggs, meats and fruits that would have lasted us a full week at home. And we did get some useful information during the meal; apparently, for the few days Thomas had been home after the party, he had been acting very figity and nervous, Lavender told us; but he had also been overly affectionate with his bride-to-be. Wrapping his arms around her randomly, kissing her deeper than the occasion called for, and pulling her into the bathroom much more often than usual.
What she was describing sounded a lot like similar stories we’d heard about people who had made deals but were given a few days before payment was due.
I didn’t really like where this tail seemed to be leading us.
After breakfast, our trio split up. Burgundy and Lavender left for the Portal House that would take them to the human world, and I went in search of the first name on my list; Lavender’s brother, Leland Lacada. He had arranged the party in the first place and seemed like a good place to start. Even his sister had been suspicious of his intentions.
I’d been told he would be at work by now, and headed directly to the office. Apparently Leland ran the family business since their father was too old and frail to handle the reins anymore. It wasn’t a long walk from Lavenders’ building down to the pier where the Lacada’s main headquarters overlooked Fraylake.
From what I understood, they were the largest producers of underwater housing and travel, designing and building pretty much everything not naturally occurring in Freylake. And from the look of their office, they did a pretty decent job.
It was more like a mansion than an office building, with towers and archways and a fucking courtyard that faced the water. A huge, gorgeous boat was docked right on the opposite side of the building, with the words “The Lacada Warrior” painted in big golden letters across the stern. So I guess a taste for the extravagant ran in the family.
“I have an appointment,” I told the guy at the reception. I didn’t know what he was, but the antlers on his head didn’t stop the rest of him from being gorgeous. In fact, everyone who walked by seemed to be incredibly beautiful. Must be a job requirement – apparently at Lacada Water Realty, even the employees weren’t allowed to be unattractive. Couldn’t wait to meet the CEO. He was obviously overcompensating for something.
That something apparently turned out to me “not god-like enough”. My first thought upon entering his office was that if he had been human, they would have put him on the front cover of every magazine they had. Perfect, blonde hair, eyes the color of the Fraylake waters and a body that looked like it had been sculpted by someone who definitely knew what they were doing with their hands. Hotness ran in the family.
When he saw me, he dropped his papers down on the desk and ogled me without even pretending to be proper about it.
You’re the one my sister hired to find her human fellow?” he whistled under his breath. “Man, if the private investigators my ex-wives hired to spy on me looked anything like you, I’m sorry they were so good at hiding themselves. I could’ve given them something a lot more fun to report back to my women.”
Oh, good. A sleazebag. “Yeah, I’m already finding you gross so I’m just going to skip right to the part where I ask you what happened at that bachelor party.”
Leland chuckled, and even just with that little noise he sounded full of himself. “I’m not going to lie and say I was thrilled about my sister falling for a no-talent, run-of-the-mill human boy like Thomas. But I love my sister, so I was willing to show him a good time, just like I would have if she was marrying a Magical.”
Gee, how generous. “And I’m sure if you got to give him a hard time in the process, push his buttons a little bit, that wouldn’t hurt either, am I right?”
“What are future brother-in-law’s for if they can’t push a few buttons?” he smirked.
“So what happened?” I asked again. “Talk me through it. What the hell kind of trouble could you have gotten him into in a place like Windport that caused him to vanish mysteriously a week later?”
Leland laughed, not just a chuckle this time but a full out booming, mocking laugh, so much that he had to lean on his desk to catch his breath.
“You think we held the bachelor party here? In Windport?” he scoffed. “Don’t I look like I have higher standards for a good time than that?”
He certainly did. Leland looked like the kind of high-up, self-obsessed guy who would do anything for a thrill. A guy rich and powerful enough to break all the rules and get away clean.
Fuck. My stomach churned as I put it together. “You took him to Sagemill, didn’t you?”
The smug look in his eyes told me the answered before he even opened his mouth. “The whole point was to show him a good time before his wedding, right? Treat him like a part of the group, make him feel welcome?” There was that smug, gross chuckle again. “So we took him to the most exiting place we could think of. Show him what a really good time looks like.”
“Why didn’t Lavender mention any of this when she came to us?”
“She doesn’t know.” Leland looked at me like I was an idiot for even asking the question. “We made Thomas swear up and down that he wouldn’t tell. Lav despises Sagemill. She’s a good girl. If she knew I took her precious human boy to that snake-pit, she’d rip my head off with her bare hands.”
Sounded like fun. I hoped she would do just that when I told her. “I see,” I said. “I take it you’re a frequent visitor, are you? Of Sagemill? You look the type.”
“I enjoy a good time. Nothing wrong with that.”
“Not for you, maybe,” I agreed. “But even a silver-spooned asshole like you ought to know how most humans fare in Sagemill. Most of them are lucky if they even make it out alive. And you still brought your clean-cut in-law-to-be human into that mud-bath?”
Leland finally had the decency to look offended. He crossed his arms and glared at me, shoulders squared as he tried to show off how powerful and important he was.
“I admit, I wanted to see what the guy was made of, and he didn’t disappoint. I’m not going to apologize for giving him a hard time to some private investigator who looks like she belongs wrapped around a pole having gold coins thrown at her feet.”
Admittedly I had a lot more questions to ask Leland Lecada, but after I punched him in the nose I decided to storm out with grace and ask his friends those questions, instead.

The Case of the Missing Human – Episode Three

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It turned out most of Leland Lacada’s friends were as large and wealthy creeps as he was. Shocking, I know. The answers to my questions varied from straight-up-asshole, to undercover-sexist, to cowardly and intimidated. I knew how to handle all these types without trouble, but it still wasn’t the best morning ever.

The first guy I went to see didn’t exactly raise my level of respect for Leland and his palls. When I showed up at his luxury apartment at eleven on a work-day, it took about fifteen minutes and a hundred rings of the doorbell for him to open up, naked except for his snazzy robe. His hair was still fuzzy from sleep, so I assumed the fifteen minutes had all been spent on getting his tiny little butt out of bed.

“Toshej?” I asked, half hoping I had the wrong place.

“I didn’t order any entertainment this morning,” he replied groggily, and I resisted the urge to punch this one, too. He had just woken up – I would give him a pass. Next time, there would be a ball-kick involved.

“Well, I didn’t order a lazy dick, either, but here we are. Can I come in? I called your assistant like two hours ago.” Using Lavender’s phone. I hated phones. That’s what we had the messaging system for.

“Oh… So that’s what her note was about. Guess I should have read the message.” He clearly hadn’t woken up yet.

“You really should. But since I’m here,” I shoved my way passed him and into a grand foyer. “I assume that’s the living room?”

Without waiting for a reply, I headed for the room with the open double doors where I could see a fluffy-looking couch on the other side. Ignoring the extreme extravagance of the room, I told the flustered man-child to sit down, which he did, probably too confused to argue.

“I’m here to talk about the bachelor party Leland Lacada threw for his sister’s human fiance. You’re going to tell me everything that happened that night.”

“Uhm… Okay.” Toshej scratched his head, confused and still half asleep. I did not have time for this.

I pulled at the fire that ran through my blood thanks to my mothers’ genes, and in a second my hands were glowing like molten glass. Toshej’s eyes widened in shock, and he actually scrambled on the couch like he could get further into it somehow.

“Toshej,” I said firmly, trying to get the guy to focus. “Wake up, pull yourself together and start talking, or your I’m going to grab something on your body and burn it off. And trust me, it’s going to be something you don’t want to have burned off.”

My methods might be crude, but hey – they work.

Toshej memory of the night seemed to open up after that, at least until the moment he passed out high out of his mind in a back room of a Sagemill gambling house. His memory wasn’t exactly the best – unsurprisingly there were a lot of gaps he couldn’t fill, but essentially this is what I managed to piece together.

Thomas had arrived through the Windport portal in the early afternoon, and they had all been there to greet him with a bottle of the finest alcoholic beverage money could buy and a long carriage drawn by no less than six horses like they were the fucking princes of Hurst.

Unsurprisingly, Thomas had been a little overwhelmed at the luxury, the magical world he found himself in and the variety of males greeting him (Toshej had orange skin and horns poking out of his hair, and he probably wasn’t the strangest-looking Magical there that night), and they all thought a great way to get him to relax would be to get him drunk on the road to Sagemill. I doubt his future wife would have approved of that plan.

The guys had apparently had a lot of fun at Thomas’ expense, pretending to be friendly while all along they planned to put him through the roughest parts of the roughest city in Hurst and see how he fared.

“Honestly,” Toshej said, “Leland hates the idea of their family name being sullied by a human that I think he subconsciously hoped Thomas would get himself killed that night.”

No kidding. And I didn’t think it was all that subconscious.

“We took him to the Jade Vine,” Toshej continued, and I nearly burned his balls off right then out of pure rage.

“You took a newbie human to the Jade Vine? What the hell is wrong with you people?” I snapped. “You couldn’t take him to Midnight or Aurora or the Glass Slipper or literally any other place? You just had to take him to the fucking Vine?”

Leland must really have wanted Thomas to get himself into trouble. The Jade Vine was one of the most hardcore clubs in Sagemill, and that was saying something.

It wasn’t just a brothel or a gambling house or a dance hall or a drinking establishment; it was all of the above, and it was filled to the brim with the darkest, cruelest and coldest bastards in Sagemill – all the baddest bad guys co-owned it, and most of them frequented it for the sole purpose of finding vulnerable, naïve Magicals or humans who were just dying to get themselves into some kind of trouble or other.

The Jade Vine was a bad place. I should know. My father owned their biggest competitor club, the Black Opal. The only people who got safely out of the Vine were rich, influential types like Leland and his friends, who knew how the game worked and spent enough to be considered more valuable as free men than indebted to one of the owners.

“Look, it’s Leland’s playground, okay?” Toshej said defensively. “He has a permanent room upstairs, he’s one of their favored customers. He didn’t want to dial down his ways just because we were dragging around a human.”

He spoke the word human like he was talking about being stuck with an unwanted, sick animal for the night. He didn’t have any more friendly feels towards humans than Leland did. Had none of these men given a damn about how bad that place would be for an inexperienced human?

I took a moment to reminded myself that people being scumbags wasn’t anything new, and I was here to do a job. “Okay. So, what happened at the Jade Vine?”

Sadly, after they walked through the front doors, Toshej’s memory got very foggy – apparently the first thing he had done was purchase himself a nice mixture of the best opiates in Hurst and proceed to taking all of them nearly at the same time. I couldn’t get any details out of him as to what actually happened next.

I had a bit more luck with the next friend on my list, though he was even more frustrating than Toshej. When I entered his fancy office, he was standing by the window, looking out on the water and playing on a fiddle. It was a beautiful, sad tune, though he looked quite cheerful while playing it, standing there in his perfect suit.

Tall, muscular, with pale skin, the only thing that didn’t fit with his looks was the wild, dark brown hair that looked like it had never met a comb. It was long, going far down his back. The hair, the fiddle, and the fact that he had an artificial waterfall along an entire wall of his office told me to beware. This guy was a fossegrim.

When I cleared by throat, he immediately stopped playing and turned to face me. For a moment he looked insulted at my interruption, and then a playful flicker appeared in his eyes for just a moment before he put on a friendly, welcoming and incredibly forced smile.

“Ah, you must be my twelve o’clock,” he said in a voice as clear and pretty as his fiddle tune. He rounded his desk and extended a hand. “Thedrick Brooks; it’s a pleasure.”

He looked down my body in that a way that was less than flattering, and I knew what he was thinking – he would do me right on his desk if I offered, but he wouldn’t be seen with someone like me on his arm in public. Oh, well. Fossegrims generally preferred men, anyway.

“Yeah, I’m sure. Velvet Valentine. I prefer to get straight down to business, if you don’t mind.” Which he obviously did. For just a second, anger flickered across his face before he managed to smooth it down again. Apparently someone had issues with a woman taking charge of the conversation. Fossegrims were old-fashioned in too many ways.

“Indeed,” he said, the picture of politeness. He gestured to a set of blue leather chairs by the waterfall, and I took my seat in one of them. I didn’t miss it when he glanced down between my legs as I crossed them, and he frowned as he caught a glimpse of my panties beneath the short skirt. Funny that he seemed to mind my impropriety when I knew that he willingly followed his friend to Sagemill.

“Tell me about the bachelor party.” I didn’t want to waste any time with this guy. “I know you took Thomas to the Jade Vine. What happened there? What kind of trouble did you and your rowdy, rich friends get him into?”

Thedrick dropped the facade of pleasantness then, and his distaste at both my behavior and accusations showed on his face.

“What kind of right do you think you have to come to my office and judge me?” he asked angrily. “We had fun with the boy – of course we did. A human wanting to marry a Magical, a Lacada no less?” He laughed mockingly. “A family of high standing? The whole situation was laughable. Naturally we wanted to teach the boy a lesson or two.”

“Oh, please tell me about these lessons. I’m sure there’s a great story in there somewhere.” I raised my eyebrows, quietly daring him to keep fighting me.

“Very well,” Thedrick spread his arms as if he were an open book. “I have nothing to hide. Telling you will cause me no harm. We brought him to the Jade Vine because Leland is a favorite there, and we knew we would be shown a good time. We also knew they love fresh humans. Somebody new walks in and they just have to get their hands on them.”

“Yeah, I remember. But they need to have a reason for putting their hands on them. So, what reason did you give them?”

Thedrick smirked. “The human was already good and tipsy from the ride. The minute we stepped foot inside the Vine, and we started handing him pipes and glasses, well… He didn’t much care to ask what was in any of them.”

He seemed too chipper about that. “So you got him drunk and high. Then what?”

“We started playing, of course. What else do you do at a gambling house? And the boy clearly knew at least a thing or two about cards, because he did pretty well for himself. At first. Wasn’t long before his laughter got louder, his speech got blurrier and he started losing. Big. Didn’t quite hit zero, but he got close.”

He folded his hands in his lap, tapping his thumbs together and grinning at the memory of Thomas making a fool himself in front of them and the rest of the perverts in the Jade Vine.

“Then, before long, a young lady – a background dancer for the band – caught the boy’s eye. He nearly started drooling, the pathetic creature. Muttering about how beautiful  she was, how he was just dying to have her.”

“And I’m sure Leland, like any kind future brother-in-law, wisely advised Thomas to not let the booze and drugs go to his head and instead remain faithful to his future bride?”

Thedrick laughed. “You are more than welcome to think that if you like, but it didn’t exactly go down like that.”

“How did it go down?” I asked, my impatience growing with every smug word that left this creep’s mouth.

“We encouraged him to go for it. He only had a short while of freedom left, after all. Why not enjoy it?” He grinned. “Soon as the band got a break, we told him to buy the lady a drink.”

“I’m sure you also warned him that anyone who goes below zero at the Vine and still tries his luck with one of the ladies of the house receives a not-so-friendly invitation to come meet the big men upstairs?”

He didn’t reply, simply kept that smug grin on his face and waited for me to move on. I swallowed my disgust and focused on doing my job. “What happened next? After you sent a defenseless, broke human over to buy a drink he couldn’t afford?”

“I honestly couldn’t tell you,” Thedrick said. “We saw him buying her a drink, and after that nobody spotted him for the rest of the night. I swear it on my fiddle,” he winked at me. “Next thing we heard was that Leland had gotten a message the following day from his very unhappy sister who was none too pleased with the state her man was in that morning when he stumbled through the front door.”

“And in between, you’ve got nothing?” I highly doubted that was the truth.

“Nothing at all.” He held my skeptical gaze, and it was clear that I had gotten everything out if him that I was going to get. I didn’t want to waste another moment in his company.

“Very well then. I’ll get out of your…” I looked at the knotted mess on top of his head. “Hair,” I finished, and hurried out of my chair and towards his door.

“Oh, one more thing, Miss Valentine.” I looked back to watch as Thedrick walked over to his desk and picked up the fiddle. “I hope you’re not getting Lavender’s hopes up. The state that human of hers was in, I doubt he made very good choices. She really shouldn’t expect to get him home in one piece.”

He turned his back to me and continued playing his fiddle before I could reply.

*

I got the same story from every slimy man-thing I interviewed throughout the day. They filled Thomas up with drugs and booze, got him to loose all his money, and sent him after the pretty background dancer. Not that a single one of them could tell me anything about her, not even what she looked like.

A real helpful crowd Leland ran with. I couldn’t imagine why his sister had been worried about letting her fiance party with them.

When I entered the office of the last man on my list, my expectations were at rock bottom. They were raised slightly though, when Mr. Jordan Wayland didn’t send his business partner out of the office the second I told him who I was. All the other creeps had insisted on being questioned in private.

Jordan was a dark, handsome man with kind, brown eyes, and judging from the pile of hair-covered blankets in the corner of the otherwise spotless office, I guessed him to be a shapeshifter of the canine variety. The first non-water creature I had encountered all day.

“Oh yes, Miss Valentine,” he greeted me. “You’re here about the bachelor party, I assume? Good, I’ve been expecting you. Poor Lavender, I hate to think what she’s going through right now.”

He was the first man I had spoken to that sounded sincere when he spoke, and I was more than a little surprised. “She’s holding it together respectably,” I replied. I glanced towards the business partner who was standing besides Jordan’s desk, arms crossed and curiously raised.

She was a gorgeous creature, that was for sure, and her strangeness enhanced her lovely features, her slight, tall stature, her subtle curves. Her yellow skin was dotted with spots of orange, and her shaved scalp was covered in short, fuzzy white hair that made me want to run my hands over it to see if it was really as soft as it looked.

She stared at me with curious, giant eyes, the color of the flaming orange sky just before the sun is about to set, and she licked her lips whenever I looked her way.

“Are you sure you don’t want to have this conversation in private?” I asked Jordan, who responded with a humorous chuckle.

“Please; if Rendra and I had any secrets from one another, our company would have gone under years ago.” He looked towards her fondly, like a brother, and I immediately understood that this one was ten times more trustworthy than any of the other scum I had spoke with.

“Forgive me for saying so, Mr. Wayland, but I’ve spoken to all the guests at that party, and you don’t really seem the type to hang out with their crowd. Why were you there?”

Another good-humored chuckle. “Leland and some of the others know me from various business dealings. It’s true I don’t tend to party the way they do, but they’re not all as bad as they seem. We get along well enough. And honestly, I was glad for the invitation.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, the party was for a human. I doubted many of the others would be very sympathetic to that. I felt someone needed to be around to look after the man. It shames me that I failed.”

Normally, I would have doubted anyone who spoke so kindly, who seemed so perfect, but something about Jordan Wayland left me with the feeling that he was incapable of lying. A truly genuine person. It wasn’t uncommon for shapeshifters to be more… human – for lack of a better phrase – than most Magicals.

“Could you tell me what happened that night, in your own words?”

He proceeded to tell me a story that for the most part matched the descriptions I had gotten from his friends, with slight alterations. Jordan described the things the others had glanced over; their mockery of Thomas, their continuous filling of his glass and persuasions of him to drink it. Jordan had tried to warn Thomas to slow down, and had done his best to look after him, but he was fiercely outnumbered by the others, and after a while, Thomas was too far gone to be interested in his help at all.

“When he was running out of money, I lost on purpose to help him stay above zero, but it didn’t help,” he said sadly. “The drugs had gone straight to his head. And by the time he saw the girl… there was nothing to be done for him.”

“None of the others seem to have gotten a good look at this mystery dancer girl. Perhaps you could give me a description?”

He thought for a moment. “She was tall and thin. Her hair was very long, all the way down her back, and golden blonde, like honey. Eyes the same color; quite extraordinary. She was beautiful, there was no denying that, but Thomas looked at her like she was one of the great goddesses. I can’t blame him, but it was as if he was spellbound.”

“Sounds like he must have been under the influence of something strong. Or maybe she was just that hot. Is it true that he was last seen buying her a drink?”

“That’s true. One minute he was by the bar, slurring his words as they spoke, and another… poof. Nowhere to be seen.”

“Great… That will make him easy to find. Thanks anyway. It’s been a treat talking to someone who didn’t act like a total pig.”

“My pleasure,” he grinned. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“I don’t think so, but…” I turned my attention to the woman, Rendra. “This place is a practical maze of hallways and stairs. Easy to get lost, especially with my sense of direction. I don’t suppose you could do a girl a favor and show me the way to the ladies room?” I flashed her my best seductive smile. “I promise I’ll make it worth your while.”

A point that was proven a short while later when I had her moaning against the cubicle door. My fingers deep inside of her and my tongue moving softly over her clit, touching it just enough to drive her a little bit crazy while my fingers moved fiercely around inside, making her grip my hair so tightly it hurt but I didn’t mind – the pain made me all the more eager to please.

She wasn’t able to keep her happy-sounds very quiet, and as I continued my quest to get her to that dreamy place where there is nothing but sweet pleasure, she was banging her free hand against the door behind her, whimpering under my touch.

Just as I was nearing the finish line, feeling her warm liquids run down her thigh as I moved my fingers in circles around a spot she seemed to find particularly enticing, someone started to knock on the door.

“Is everything okay in there?” some annoying busy-body asked, presumably thinking I was committing murder or something. I would have told her to fuck off, but my tongue was a little occupied.

Luckily, just as the woman knocked again and repeated her question, I pushed Rendra past the breaking point to where the mind shatters into pieces of bliss, and she banged against the wall, screaming out, “Yes, yes, oh gods, yes!

That certainly made the busy-body scamper away in a hurry.

*

I beat Burgundy and Lavender back to the apartment by an hour or so. I sat curled up on the sofa with a glass of something expensive in my hand when they walked in. Lavender barely glanced at me as she hurried down the hall, and I heard the bathroom door close behind her.

“What was that about?”

“She’s had a rough day,” Burgundy replied. “I had to ask her a lot of personal questions.”

“Well? What did you learn?” I asked before she had even hung her coat up. Burgundy paused, took one look at me and put her hands on her hips.

“Vel, you look way too cheerful. I thought we agreed you were going to try and keep it locked up when we work?”

I shrugged innocently. “Key word ‘trying’. Nobody’s perfect. So what did you find out?”

Burgundy just shook her head with a little smile that said I was already forgiven for my little indiscretion. She hung her coat and joined me on the sofa.

“This is definitely not a human thing.” She threw her legs up and into my lap, and I automatically started rubbing her feet. “Everything looked beyond normal, and the police certainly don’t know a thing. Their theory is that he ran off with some broad.” She moaned slightly as I pressed a good spot on her foot. The sound sent a shiver through my body.

“Thomas seems like a clean-living, almost boringly decent guy. There was nothing dark and dirty about his place. But I did find something suspicious.”

Burgundy pulled her little notepad out of her pocket and flipped it open. “He’s been doing some strange things since he came back from that party, things that leads me to think he got himself into trouble. It looks like he settled or pre-paid every bill they had, donated a lot of his clothes and personal belongings, and I found a fresh will in a locked drawer where he left everything he owns to Lavender and various charities.”

“Damn it. I was hoping you wouldn’t find any of those,” I admitted. Although I was surprised Thomas had anything left to leave anyone after his trip.

“How come?”

I told her everything I’d learned from Leland and his friends, from Sagemill to the Jade Vine to the mysterious dancer girl. “We both know how this story ends, Burg. At best, we’ll find this guy chained up in the basement of his new demonic owner. At worst…”

I let my voice trail off, and I saw in her eyes that there was no need for me to go on. At worst, Thomas was already stone cold dead.

“Well,” Burg said with determination, “as much as it sucks, it’s our job to find out which. In the meantime, who gets the short straw and tells our client what her fiance was up to during his bachelor party?”

That turned out to be me. Burgundy excused herself to run pick us up some food, and left me alone with Lavender. I tried to get her to sit down while I calmly explained her what I had heard (I internally pinched myself for my honesty policy of never lying to a client), but the second I was done she jumped up from her seat with clenched fists.

“Those bastards!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe Leland would do this to me!” She ran a hand through her previously perfect hair. “No, never mind that, I can believe it. What I can’t believe is that Thomas would have fallen for it! The drugs, the girl?! How could he do this to me?” She sat down again, burying her face in her hands, proudly trying to hide her tears.

“You know how fragile humans can be,” I tried to reassure her. “One whiff of a magic opiate and they’re off to neverland; you can’t be sure he meant a thing he said or did after that poison got its claws into him.”

She remained down, taking deep breaths in and out, and I stayed silent until she came back up, her make-up a little smudged but otherwise her expression was composed.

“You’re right, you’re right. I know. I’m angry, but it doesn’t change anything.” She took another deep breath. “I love him, and I want him back. I can yell at him after I have him in my arms.” Damn. It might be time for me to think more of Lavender Lacada than I had before. She was a strong lady, this one.

“Good idea. Very big of you,” I complimented her.

“Yes, well… One more thing.” She looked up at me, her face dry as the tears had already been absorbed back through her skin. “If… When you find Thomas… Whatever trouble he has gotten himself into with the help of my brother, I want you to get him out of it. If it’s worse than I fear and requires a lot from you, I will triple your pay. Is that understood?”

I swallowed hard, trying to keep from whooping with joy. That might come across as inappropriate. “Understood.”

*

“Holy crap! Triple pay?” Burgundy exclaimed when I told her a few hours later. Lavender had gone to bed while Burgundy and I were sitting by the window talking about our game-plan. “That’ll come in handy.”

“Are you kidding? For that money, you could get the hell out of your sister’s place and I could get actual walls to cover up the freezing brick in our office.”

Burgundy chuckled. “You do know that will only happen if we actually solve the case, right?” I nodded. Of course I knew that. “And to solve the case, we have to follow the clues. Find this girl he fell so hard for.”

And just like that she dumped the mental bucket of cold water on me, forcing me to acknowledge the truth that I had steadfastly ignored all day long.

“Fuck.” I looked out the window, over the still water of Freylake. “We have to go to Sagemill, don’t we?” I’d known it would come to this, and still I wasn’t prepared for it.

“Yeah,” Burg replied, sounding as happy about it as I felt. “And you know what that means.”

“That my lady-parts will be on fire from the time we hit the city gates thanks to all the sexual energy that floats around in the city?”

“Yes, that. And, more importantly, if we don’t stay at your dad’s place, he’ll be pissed off and blame it on me.”

I turned away from the window and met Burgundy’s stunning eyes. “Right. Staying at Dad’s place.” I sighed and looked back out at the water. “Double fuck.

The Case of the Missing Human – Episode Four

vm

It was raining buckets when we rode through the city gates of Sagemill. The familiar scent hit me like a wrecking ball; puke, alcohol, sex, sweat… Smelled like home. All the rain in the world couldn’t wash away that stench.

We followed the dirt road towards the actual city. The buildings stretched up high, all bricks and stone, grey, red and brown. There were no fancy carvings here; no pretty engravings like the marble buildings of Windport. No paved streets, either. This mucky road wasn’t going to get replaced by nice little smooth stones once we reached the city.

Sagemill wasn’t a place that pretended to me more than she was. Sagemill was dirty, rotten and perverse, and she looked like it.

“How do you feel?” Burgundy asked. She looked snug as a bug with the rain pelleting down on her. She wasn’t wearing a coat, and the water made her blue shirt cling to her body, making everything visible. Hair sticking to her face and neck made her look sexier than anyone had a right to.

“I’m fine,” I said, but she didn’t buy it for a second.

“Don’t lie to me, Vel. It’s been a long time since you were back here; it’s got to be hard.”

“Not hard, just… Weird.”

She wasn’t wrong; it had been at least two years since I’d been back in Sagemill – longer than I’d ever been away from it. The sexual aura of Sagemill can be intoxicating and sometimes maddening to sex demons; even half-sex demons. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing prim and proper about me and I sure as hell didn’t have any objections to kinky or frequently, but Sagemill made me feel utterly possessed by my urges, completely out of control.

And I liked control.

So two years ago I’d told Dad that if he wanted to see me anymore, he’d have to come visit his daughter in Norhill, because I was done with Sagemill.

Apparently not as done as I had hoped.

“Sure you can handle this?” Burg asked as we walked past our first buildings. I could see people in the distance. It was nothing but warehouses out here, but a few blocks in and things would start getting uglier.

“I’m a professional; I can handle anything.” I winked at her, and Burg laughed, knowing damn well that I was full of shit. I was already getting dizzy just from the movement of the horse beneath me; I worried things would get so slippery that I’d end up sliding right off and into the mud. Velvet Valentine; the picture of elegance

Second thing that hit us after the smell was the music. There was always music in Sagemill, like a soundtrack in the background of the drama and horror that went on. Saxophones and piano, the soft clinking of guitars and the occasional violin and lyre. Some of the music came from street performers or outside establishments, but the rest were snippets that floated out through the doors and windows of gambling houses or dance halls.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” I said before I could stop myself.

“Really?” Burgundy asked. “It sounds all disorganized and jumbled to me.”

“That’s because you’re fresh meat. I’m a seasoned, well cooked steak marinated in the juices of this place. I grew up to these sounds. If you hear past the discord and focus on the individual tracks, the music is spellbinding.”

Burgundy was quiet for a moment, looking at me with searching eyes, and then her expression softened into a smile. “I think you miss this place sometimes.”

“Not intentionally,” I assured her as I swung down from the horse. “We’ll walk from here,” I instructed. “Gets crowded just around the corner.”

“Your dad’s expecting us, right?” She got down and led her horse after me down the road, mud splashing all over her shiny black boots.

“No doubt he’ll have sent his lackey to stand outside in the rain, awaiting our arrival.”

“Shit, I had completely forgotten about the lackey! What’s his name again, Nicky, Nakki, something like that?”

“Niku, though I just call him Hairball. He’s never complained.”

“Maybe because he doesn’t talk?” Burg suggested.

“He grunts – he could have grunted in an unsatisfied manner at the name if he didn’t like it. Besides, the thing’s known me my whole life; he could have eaten me when I was little if he so chose.”

“And risk being skinned alive by your father? No one is that brave, or stupid.”

“Now that you mention it, that thick, coarse fur of his would probably make a pretty decent travel blanket. Think I should ask Dad about it?”

“Absolutely not! You are not planning the death of Niku just because you like his fur. Will you just lead the way?”

“I’m multitasking,” I quipped back, but did as ordered. We made our way through the smaller streets and back-alleys of the edge of town, but soon we rounded a corner and found ourselves in the heart of the beast.

The music got louder, the smells got stronger, and I got wetter – and I’m not talking about the rain. It was like being slapped in the face with sexual energy. Every inch of the place was seeped in it, it pulsated at you like a damn curse making its way beneath your skin, trying to take over your body.

If I hadn’t been holding on to the horse like it was a chain tying me down, I would have run off into one of the dancing establishments and probably never be heard from again. Instead I displayed and uncharacteristic amount of willpower as I led Burgundy straight through the city center, though the giant square that housed the biggest and baddest places Sagemill had to offer.

In the very middle of the square was a giant fountain where muddy brown water sprouted from the pornographic images of humans and demons going at it like bunnies. Drunkards and lovers alike lingered around it, or sat on the wide edge of it, or danced around it to the early evening music.

The sun hadn’t set yet, which meant you could still see too much – Sagemill was a place best observed under the cover of night. During the day, you had to look away. Too many things no one was supposed to see, like that male Merrow over there in the corner having a knife held to his throat as a group of three white-dressed women robbed him blind. Even took his hat.

But nobody saw, of course. Even the ones looking right at it. That’s how things were done in Sagemill. Nobody ever saw a thing they weren’t supposed to.

I looked up at the buildings surrounding the square, and there was the Jade Vine, dominating the skyline like a bejeweled queen, the only building taking up one whole side of the square. Her green and blue lights shone out through the windows like the eyes of demons, which was exactly what lurked inside.

On the next line of the square sat the Devil’s Flower, a tavern famous for serving multiple beverages that caused incredible hallucinations or dreams, among other things. Beside it was the crystalline façade of the Jewel Caterpillar – the most notorious smoke and drug house in town, with it’s tent-covered tables and very expensive guest rooms upstairs. Third on that side was the Amethyst, which was a hotel but also housed a gambling facility in the back of the restaurant and was very famous for their incredible dance performances.

Directly on the other side of the square from the Jade Vine lay two buildings – the Haladie, which housed the most beautiful and rare dancers and sex workers in all of Hurst, and next to it; the Black Opal. My father’s prized property.

The building was black as the soul of most people who passed through it’s doors, with a pattern of silver stones embedded on every level. The ground floor had red stained glass windows that looked so alluring that most people would stop by just to see what it was, and not leave until all of their goodness had been cut out of them.

The last side of the square was filled with three taverns and a smaller gambling house, and of course even more depraved establishments were hiding behind all these places, all just as bad and just as filled up with lost souls.

I aimed us towards the Black Opal, and down a side street next to it.

“Forgot how cozy this place is,” Burg muttered behind me.

“Don’t let my father hear you say something like that; he’ll think you’re insulting his pride and joy,” I warned.

“I thought you were his pride and joy.”

“I’m a close second to the Opal.”

We reached the end of the alley and stopped on the street behind the Black Opal, where there were more dance halls and taverns, but also apartments. Outside of the one directly across from the Opal’s back entrance stood a large, hairy beast with the body of a man and a face more closely resembling an ape. His hairy hands had long fingers that ended in claw-like nails, and he stared at us with a very disturbing intensity.

“Hello, Hairball,” I greeted him. “Long time no see.” Dad didn’t exactly bring him along on his trips to visit me.

“Rrrrrh,” Niku replied before taking our horses and bags from us and pointing towards the front door. “Rrrh grrrfha,” he added as he walked away with the horses, probably to put them in the stable.

“He’s just as charming as I remember him.” Burgundy stared after the hairy man-thing in wonder. “Did he try to say that we could just go upstairs?”

“Even if he didn’t, I have no intention of standing out here in the rain to wait for his return.” I heaved open the heavy doors and shooed Burg in ahead of me. She really needed to get herself dried up; if she kept looking like that, something very inappropriate was going to happen.

“Is that supposed to be an elevator?” she asked skeptically when I opened the iron bars in front of a tiny little room.

“Of course it is.” I stepped in and pulled eight times on the thread that hung from floor to ceiling in one corner.

“There are no buttons.”

I looked at her incredulously with hands on my hips as she closed the iron bars behind her. As soon as they clanked shut, we jerked into action and started moving upwards.

“What the hell!” Burgundy grabbed on to me as she looked frantically around, as if she would solve the mystery here in this little wooden box.

“Burg, there are people in the basement,” I said matter-of-factly. “Pulling on ropes. Don’t have a panic attack.”

“Excuse me if I’m not used to some sort of slave system running my elevators!”

“Oh please; it’s a job like any other. Don’t go all worker-union on me.”

She silently pouted as we moved further and further up, but her cute pout was replaced by anticipation and nerves when we stopped at the eighth floor. “You told him you were bringing me, right?” She was clearly anxious.

“I told him, and threatened that if he’s not nice to you, I’m going to knit him a sweater very year for his birthday. And make him wear it.”

“That’s no way to treat your father, Vel; no one should be forced to wear anything you’ve tried to knit.”

I poked her in the arm as revenge for her mean but true comment, and pushed open the iron bars that separated us from the gold-covered hallway. Gold wallpapers, golden carpet on the walls, golden vases filled with gilded flowers on top of gold and white tables.

I took a deep breath and knocked on the only working door in the hall. Dad had bought up the entire floor and converted it into one huge apartment. He still kept the hallway and all the doors, though; according to him, it slowed down thieves and murderers if they didn’t know which door to open.

We held our breaths as the second ticked by, and soon we heard steps approaching from inside. The door opened, and there in all his glory stood my father dressed in nothing but a golden robe with blood red lining and borders, and slippers. He didn’t look a day over forty with his smooth dark skin, black hair peppered with flecks of white and his muscular build, but he had the power of centuries behind him.

“Velvet, my precious diamond; welcome home at last!” He pulled me into an embrace that I found myself returning despite the embarrassment of Burgundy seeing my father in a robe.

“It’s good to see you, Dad.” He smelled exactly like I remembered; like exotic tobacco and expensive wine, and spices; he always smelled of spices. I hugged him tightly in return -despite our sometimes strange relationship, he was my father and I loved him.

“Dad, you remember by partner and friend, Burgundy Maxwell?” I let go of him and held out my arm towards Burg, who had already put on her brave face and smiled at my dad.

“Miss Maxwell,” my father grumbled and extended his hand. “My name is Markus Gawain Agreril Ulrick Valentine. But please, call me Gawain. Unless it’s in writing, then call me Markus. Apparently even centuries old creatures cannot manage to spell Gawain.”

I fought back an eye-roll, and luckily so did Burgundy, who simply shook his hand. They had met several times over the years, and he always introduced himself. And any time he introduced himself to someone, it was that same line; ‘Call me Gawain, unless it’s in writing.’ Dad liked to think he was funny.

“It’s very nice to see you again, Gawain,” Burg said as politely as possible.

“Well, let us not just stand here; come in, come in!” Dad disappeared into the apartment and we followed, exchanging amused glances when he couldn’t see.

“This place hasn’t changed one bit since the last time I was here,” I remarked as we entered the massive living room, filled with simple but elegant furniture so not to distract the eye from the impressive artworks that covered every wall.

“Why mess with perfection?” he countered, and I laughed. Yes, Dad would consider this place perfection, that was for sure. It was his little, modern castle on the top floor. He could have had bigger and taller if he wanted to, he certainly had the money and connections, but he was happy here. He always said that the only thing missing was me.

“I am beyond thrilled to have you back home, my dearest, although I must admit I am less than pleased that it was your meager little business that pulled you back here.”

“Really, Dad? You’re not going to let me get two seconds in the door before starting this conversation again?” I glared at him to make sure I was ready for the fight if he was.

My father had never made a secret of his disappointment at my leaving Sagemill, nor of his disapproval of my ‘silly little career choice’, which he considered below me. We never made it through a visit without having an argument about it.

He held his hands up in peace. “No, no, by all means, let us at the very least get a few drinks in us before attempting that battle.” He strolled over to the silver drink cart and filled up three glasses without asking what we wanted.

Burgundy threw me a displeased look, but I just shrugged. She knew resisting Dad’s version of hospitality was pointless. “Good idea,” I said just as Niku came slouching into the room with our bags slung over his back.

“Niku, my friend; put those in Velvet’s old room, will you? And then let the Amethyst know I’ll be by for my usual table in an hour, with guests,” Dad ordered.

“Hrrrrmf,”Niku replied and shuffled back down the hall.

“You know we can’t afford the Amethyst, right?” I pointed out.

“It is my treat and you know it.” He handed us both a drink and then threw himself down on a divan like he was posing for one of the colorful paintings on the walls. “We have much to discuss, and there is no place more private than the most popular restaurant in town.”

“Why aren’t we going to the Opal?” I plunked into my favorite old chair, curling my feet underneath me as if I never left.

“Vorviel’s people spot you in my company at my establishment, you’ll never even get through the front entrance of the Jade Vine. At the Amethyst, it’s much less conspicuous.”

“You told him about the Vine in your letter?” Burgundy asked me calmly, but her disapproval was evident underneath her words. My dad caught on to that, too.

“Well of course she did!” he huffed. “My daughter is aware that nobody knows this city better than I do, and I am a useful asset.”

“Of course, Mr. Valent—uhm, Gawaine,” Burg hurried apologetically, “I only meant that—“ Dad waived a hand, cutting her off.

“You meant that my daughter hadn’t told you and you don’t like me any more than I like you so it bothers you not to be informed; yes, I am aware, Miss Maxwell.”

“Call me Burgundy, and I’m fairly certain I never said I didn’t like you.”

“I might be old, Burgundy, but my faculties are very much intact. I don’t take any offence; like I said, I don’t like you, either. You’re a water creature. Much too clean and proper for our kind, and if it wasn’t for you, my daughter probably would not be in this lowly business the two of you have gotten into.”

“Dad! That’s my best friend you’re talking to!” Not to mention the woman I loved.

“It’s okay, Vel,” Burg smiled at me before meeting my father’s eyes. “I’m not afraid of a little criticism. And it’s true, I don’t like you, either, Gawaine. You’re corrupt, self-important and seem to think your daughter isn’t enough as she is but constantly want her to do and be more just to be a more valuable feather in your cap.”

Dad stared at Burgundy for a while, and she stared back while I downed my drink in two gulps. Show-down between my partner and my father. And we had only been in Sagemill for forty minutes. Great start.

After a minute or two, Dad started to chuckle, and then he started to full-out laugh. Burgundy joined in, and I just stared open-mouthed at the two of them.

“Ah, how refreshing to have some honesty thrown in my face in place of the constant pandering by my employees and customers. Bravo, Miss Maxwell. I suppose I can tolerate your stay in my home after all!”

He raised a toast to her, and she returned it, and then turned and smiled at me as she drank. The smugness in her face was poorly hidden. Oh, she was definitely going to brag about this as soon as we were alone.

After another round of drinks and time for us all to slip into something fancier than travel clothes and a robe, we all headed back out into the rain and down the street to the Amethyst. I was wearing a scandalous little green thing that shamelessly made my cleavage pop and barely hid my lace knickers beneath, and yet even with that, my high heels and fancy hairdo, in this city I stood out less than Burgundy in her pretty black dress that basically left everything besides her arms and legs to the imagination.

In Sagemill, fancy and proper stands out like a sore thumb. Dad asked Burg if she was on her way to a convent when he saw her attire.

We entered the grand reception hall of the Amethyst Hotel and Restaurant and were shown directly to Dad’s regular table – which naturally turned out to be directly in front of the stage where the dancers would start preforming in ten minutes.

Burgundy excused herself to the ladies room, leaving me alone with my father for the first time in a long while. Thank all gods we had champagne to accompany us.

“Still in love with the mermaid, I see,” he said, and I nearly choked on my drink.

“Dad!”

“What? I am your father, I notice things.”

“That is so none of your business!”

“It very much is my business,” he insisted. “Do you have any idea how much I paid for you to be born?”

Don’t you mean hatched? “No, Dad, I have no idea,” I said dryly. “If only you had reminded me all through my childhood. Oh, wait. You did that!

Every time I screwed up he kindly reminded me how much money he had to spend to get the spell that turned a dragon into a woman for the night so he could impregnate her. It had gotten old before even before I hit puberty.

“I did that because you were supposed to do incredible things, Velvet!” he exclaimed. “You were born for it, bred for it. You have the beauty and power to conquer the world, to be queen of this shameful city, to raise it to glory!” Here we go, I thought. Same argument we always had, with the exact same words.

“And what fun that sounds like!” I yelled back at him. “You might have had ambitions for me when you bought and made me, but I’ve never shared those ambitions, Dad!” I forced myself to take a deep breath. “What I do makes me happy. Ruling this little corner of hell wouldn’t. I decide my own destiny; which means who I am or am not secretly in love with really is none of your business!

My father stared at me in silence for a moment, sipping his drink as though we were having the most normal of conversations. Then he raised an eyebrow.

“I knew you were in love with her,” he said with a sly smile.

I sighed and took another very large sip from my glass. “So what? What do you care? It’s not like anything will ever come of it.”

“And why is that?”

“She’s my best friend, Dad; and my business partner. She has no feelings for me, and if she learned about mine, it would only complicate the relationship we have, make things awkward… I don’t want that.”

“You would rather stay miserably in love from a distance than risk losing what you have?” Dad asked in that annoyingly insightful way of his.

I slapped a hand against my forehead and groaned. “I’d really prefer if we never had this conversation, ever.

“You might not live under my roof anymore, but you are still my daughter. I believe that entitles me to make you feel uncomfortable on the few occasions we still see each other.”

“Saying you don’t get enough time with me?”

“There is no such thing as enough or too much time with you,” he said with a wink that made me chuckle, and just like that, our argument was forgotten. Burgundy came back to the two of us laughing together, and seemed relieved that the tension had dissipated.

Some of that tension came back, though, when the curtain on stage drew back and out stepped a curvaceous, dark-skinned beauty wearing nothing but fish-net stockings and a feather in her hair. Music started playing from the jazz band in the corner, and the beauty begun to dance.

Damn. In the usual drama from my father, I had been temporarily distracted from the sexual energy of Sagemill. Now that our argument was over and this busty dame was dancing so sensually in front of me, it all came rushing back.

Let’s say I was very grateful that I remembered to put on underwear. This woman was too smooth in her movements, too graceful and rhythmic, and I already found myself squeezing my thighs together in an effort to alleviate the lust. It didn’t work.

The naked woman moved so delicately in tune with the trilling sounds of the piano and the gentle lull of the saxophone. Her movements were like sex without a partner, with no physical action whatsoever – like purely emotional, fluid sex, so inciting were her movements. A witch casting a curse over us all, and we were all willingly submitting under it because how could we not? With such a magnificent creature luring us in.

Her golden eyes seemed to be far away. She was deep inside the music, as much a slave to her own passions as the rest of us, moving as though led by an invisible hand. She seemed so pure and vulnerable that I had to wonder if she was human. She wouldn’t be the first human to have been swallowed up by the monster that was Sagemill.

Was the music, the dance, her escape? When she was up there, could she pretend that she was somewhere else, preforming for a much less despicable audience? Perhaps she was waiting for a real someone to come whisk her away from this life in hell, to bring her back to wherever home was. Or perhaps she was one of those humans. The ones who loved the danger and monstrosity of this city and voluntarily surrendered to it.

Whatever her story was, it didn’t make her any less beautiful, or the fabric of my knickers any less soaking from the lust that made my body shiver at the sight of her.

“Now tell me about this… what do you call it?” Dad asked suddenly, very rudely tearing me out of my fantasies. “The case you are working on?” He did actually manage to hide his disapproval quite well, though I could still hear a hint of it.

“Uhm…Yeah, case.” I took a sip of my drink to clear my thoughts. “We’re looking for a missing human, Thomas Farland,” I said, though it was still hard to focus with the entertainment happening right in front of me. “He was at a bachelor party at the Jade Vine about a week ago, with a bunch of rich, rowdy boys from Windport. His fiance would very much like her human back, preferably in one piece.”

“You truly believe this boy is still alive?” Dad sounded skeptical.

“After a wild night at the Jade Vine, it’s hard to say, but we intend to find him either way,” Burgundy assured him.

“I don’t suppose this face is familiar to you?” I asked as I subtly slid a photo Lavender had given me of Thomas across the table. Dad peeked at it like a card he was trying to keep shielded; he knew how to keep a secret.

“He doesn’t look familiar, no. And if he owned me money, I would remember him.” He slid it back to me. “So, what is your plan to find this Thomas character? Your little lost human?”

“Ask questions at the Vine until someone tells us something useful, and then we dig even deeper until we learn the whole story,” I answered over a large sip of champagne. “We’ll start first thing tomorrow.”

“You do realize that no one at the Jade Vine is going to talk to a couple of private detectives. Even at the Vine they’re not that dumb.”

“Of course I realize that. Which is why I have a plan.”

“You do?” Burgundy asked. It clearly hadn’t occurred to her that we couldn’t just waltz in as ourselves and start asking questions.

“Of course I do,” I grinned mischievously at her. “We’re going in undercover.”

“Excuse me?” Burg looked at me with wide, horrified eyes.

“Undercover. The only way we’re gonna get these people to talk, is if they think they’re just gossiping with their own.”

“And how do you suggest we make them think that?”

My grin widened, and I glanced back towards the dark enchantress dancing on stage. “How are your table-dancing skills, partner?”

The Case of the Missing Human – Episode Five

VM kiss

“No,” Burg stared at me when I came out of the bathroom. She was sitting on the bed, pulling on her silk pantyhose underneath the cinnamon-shade wrap dress, which covered most things up but fit so snugly that you hardly noticed.

“What do you mean, no?” I ran a cloth under my eyes to sweep up any charcoal that may have gone astray.

“You’re not wearing that dress on the tour. We’re supposed to establish trust!”

“How does this outfit not establish trust?” I posed in front of the wall mirror with hands on my hips and a sarcastically sexy pout. “I’m hardly leaving anything to the imagination!”

“If you come strolling in like that, the other girls will hate you before we’re even clocked in,” Burgundy pointed out. “You’ll already be more gorgeous than half of them. We need to befriend these women if we want to get our hands on their gossip, not alienate them.”

Ignoring how she’d just called me gorgeous and how it made my stomach do that fluttering thing, I focused on the pragmatic advise and studied myself more closely. The black dress barely covered my ass, and the front and back consisted primarily of laces running up and down, revealing far more than the skimpy fabric on the sides hid.

Her point was valid. Nothing with a pulse could resist me in this dress.

“Don’t we want the clientele to like me, too?” I countered, knowing it was already a losing battle. “And the bosses would be happy! We want that, right?”

But Burgundy was already handing over my silver slip-dress, the one that hung loosely around my curves but still revealed enough cleavage and thigh to make me look yummy, yet approachable.

“Change, so we can get this insanity over with.”

“I don’t know what you’re complaining about,” I said as I shimmied out of one dress and into another. “You’re going in as a waitress, just like you wanted.”

“That doesn’t make this any less dangerous, and you know it.”

I didn’t reply to that, because she was right. My father had gone through a few of his back-door contacts to get a neutral party to submit a recommendation to the Jade Vine for two young girls from Valhurst, looking for work in the big, dangerous city.

The neutral party was connected enough that the Vine had responded within the hour, hiring one of the small-town girls as a waitress and the other as a dancer. We would report to the floor manager after the dinner rush to work the midnight shift.

“Are you ladies decent?” Dad asked from outside the bedroom door. “Dinner is served in the dining room, if you would honour me with your company.”

“We’ll be right there, Dad!” I yelled while pulling on my silver shoes to match the dress. “You can handle one more meal with my father, right?” I asked Burgundy. Once we were in at the Vine, we wouldn’t be able to stay with my father anymore, but would need to lodge in the staff quarters of the Vine.

“Gawain’s not so terrible, really,” Burg replied as she clasped shut her travel bag. “I simply have to remind myself that he really does love you more than anything; that’s enough to make me respect him, even when he’s being an ass.”

I smiled at the thought of Dad’s only redeeming quality being his love for me, when I was at least half as irredeemable as him. “He does have good taste in daughters, I’ll give him that.”

“Don’t you mean good taste in dragons?” Burg teased, and I grabbed a pillow off the bed and flung it at her head. Major giggling and pillow-flinging ensued, and soon there was a loud knock on the door.

“Will you two behave like grown women and get out here before the food gets cold?” Dad yelled, and we heard him mutter as he walked back down the hall. “Cannot believe I just had to say that…”

Burg and I stared at each other for one moment, then burst out laughing so much my stomach started to hurt, but we eventually managed to pull ourselves together and join my father in the dining room.

Burgundy froze in the doorway as she took in the exquisitely laid table, and I couldn’t blame her. Though I was used to it at one point, the years of barely getting by on scraps had rekindled an admiration for Dad’s dinner tables. He never did spare on anything – it was a table full of more food than you could ever possibly eat, or there was no food at all.

The blood-red cloth was covered with dishes piled in shining golden plates; roasted birds of all sizes; meats smoked, braised, roasted and grilled; potatoes mashed and boiled, every vegetable you can imagine, prepared in only the most delicious ways, and sauces; so many sauces it made my mouth water.

“This can’t all be for us!” Burgundy exclaimed as Dad escorted her to her seat.

“Of course it is,” he replied, holding out her chair. “If I see any part of the table I lose my appetite.”

“Don’t listen to him,” I rolled my eyes at Dad’s attempt to act wasteful. “Every bite we don’t eat goes down to the staff quarters of the Opal, and everything they don’t eat goes to the poor house.” My father didn’t like to receive credit for doing nice things. In his mind, only ruthless and heartless acts earned you respect. In this city, he might be right.

We feasted until our stomachs were fit to burst, knowing full well the staff meals at the Vine would likely be far less appealing than this. I savoured the last bite of my turkey as long as I could, letting the richness spread over my tongue, hoping it would seep into it so I could carry the taste with me for days.

The food was so delicious that none of us deigned to speak, lest we waste our tongues with words when we could instead soak up these enticing flavours.

“I really forgot what a good cook you are, Dad,” I practically moaned after the last bite.

“You cooked all of this?” Burg asked, astonished.

Dad took a sip of his spiced wine. “I am several hundreds of years old,” he shrugged. “One does pick up a few skills in that time. I don’t do it very often nowadays; there is so rarely anyone here to cook for.”

I cringed at the last comment, obviously aimed at me, and tried to gulp the guilt down with a sip of wine. “Don’t pretend you don’t still host as much as always. I’m sure there is no shortage of beautiful people regularly invited up here to examine that beautiful work of art hanging on your bedroom wall.”

“Indeed,” Dad agreed, “but of course cooking dinner implies a desire for my guests to linger, which is very rarely the case.”

Lucky Burgundy was so used to me speaking like that, she didn’t blush nor judge. My father was pure Incubus. Sex was how he survived, there was no other way around it.

“Are you ladies prepared for the Vine?” Dad asked me.

“Cover stories all memorized and ready.”

“And they are?” He knew full well what they were – he helped us come up with them – but I took pleasure in his question. It meant he was still concerned for my safety, even if he didn’t approve of the task.

“Bridget Talbot and Valery Aldridge from Valhurst,” I began, “grew up neighbors, always dreamed of leaving the small town and enjoying the naughtier aspects of life in Sagemill.”

“Both from neglectful households,” Burg continued, “and lucky enough that a wealthy man travelling through town learned of our dreams and agreed to sponsor two young, pretty and ambitious ladies, and help them get a job.”

“Very good,” Dad nodded in approval. “And who will you ask for when you arrive?”

“Madame Constance,” I replied. “She’s in charge of all the girls, their schedules, paychecks, lodging, and so on.”

“She should introduce us to Mr. Frances, who is in charge of assignments and security, and he’ll get us started,” Burgundy added.

“And if they ask who sent us we claim he never gave us his name, but he did wear a large, tall hat, thick mustache, and told us to send Voreviel best regards from his friend in green,” I finished with a final, deep gulp of wine.

“Yes,” Dad said, “my acquaintance would be more than eager to help two beautiful damsels, but he would never give them his name.”

“Who is this Voreviel again?” Burg asked.

“The chief owner of the Jade Vine,” Dad replied solemnly. “Daemenothil Laradomethboen Ybib Adwigokath Voreviel is is full name, but like me he uses only one of them for business. If he considers you his friend, he will allow you to call him Daemen, and he will be very good to his friends, but they are terribly few.”

“I gather he’s not so good to those he doesn’t consider friends?”

“Quite right,” Dad said. “He is as ruthless a bastard as you can find in this city, and he can afford to be; he owns half of the damn place.”

“Dad’s the only one close to competition,” I added. I remembered Voreviel from when I was younger. They hated each other; as two of the most important people in the city, he and my father had to keep up appearances, having meals together, meetings to discuss trouble-makers, that kind of thing. He hadn’t seen me in at least ten years, though; even if by some small chance he saw me in his club, he wouldn’t recognize me as his competition’s daughter.

“The only reason he hasn’t put an end to me is because I stay out of his way.” Dad sounded more serious than he would on any other subject. “But mark my words, I am not so arrogant that I don’t know he could wrush me if I gave him a reason.”

“He won’t find out you helped us, Dad,” I assured him. He would never say it, but I knew he was concerned about more than just my safety in this. “I give you my word.”

“And mine,” Burg added, and I gave her a grateful smile over the edge of my glass now empty, but I still clutched it as though it would be magically refilled, that we could stay in this luxury for a while longer.

But no such luck. We had a job to do, and we were about to get a look at luxury from the other side of the curtain.

*

“And this is your room,” Madame Constance declared at the end of the tour.

We arrived at the Jade Vine an hour ago, blinded by the splendour of the sparkling marble floors, painted ceilings and tall columns in various shades of jade, and Madame Constance made us walk around with our bags for an hour as she showed us every part of the establishment before finally leading us to the staff quarters.

“You ladies will have to share, but you’re lucky there’s a double room available at all – usually we have the new girls sleep in the open dorm. Ten beds in one room, but my current batch of ladies happened to bump into a bit of trouble last week, and I won’t reward any of them by moving them here.”

Lucky indeed, I thought, though it wouldn’t help earn us any instant friends among the girls. We’d have to work for it.

“We’re so grateful, Madame Constance,” Burgundy said earnestly, really laying on the innocent small-town-girl act. “And thank you so much for the opportunity, it’s such an honour to get a chance to work in such a beautiful place!”

Madame Constance raised a perfect eyebrow at Burgundy, as if assessing whether or not she was being sincere, and seemed to decide that she was. “Don’t get all starstruck now, Miss Bridget,” she warned. “It’s a big city, with big customers. I need assurance that you girls won’t be gushing over the first handsome fellow that sits in your section.”

“Never mind her, Miss Constance,” I said more harshly. “She gets so flustered sometimes, but she’ll be good when we’re working.”

My hard-knocks demeanor seemed to satisfy Madame Constance. “Get yourselves settled,” she ordered, “and I’ll send Mr. Francis here to fill you in on your duties for the night.”

She disappeared without another word.

“Remind me why we decided I be the naïve country girl, and you be the tough bitch?”

Burg dumped all her clothes out on the bed. We’d been given a closet to share, and it would look suspicious if we didn’t unpack, even if it freaked me out that we wouldn’t be ready to bail at a moment’s notice.

“We’re playing to our strengths. You’re not naïve or innocent, but you’re a hell of a lot more of both than I am.”

“True, I can’t really imagine you doing the whole wide-eyed damsel-routine,” she agreed. “I’m still not happy about it.”

“How about Madame Constance?” I asked. “Think she’ll be of any use to us? She seems like the kind of broad who knows everything that goes on in her building, from the basement to the penthouse.”

“She also seems like the kind who learned to keep her mouth shut a long time ago,” Burg pointed out. “We’ll have more luck with the working girls.”

“Oh yes, we will,” I said, and even as I spoke, I heard the words come out far more amorously than intended. “Sorry!” I hurried before Burg could chastise me. “I know, I know! Here for work, not for play.”

Though that was going to be very hard. From the moment we set foot in this place, my skin had been on fire, the blood pumping so hard in my veins I was sure I would burst. My skin had actually begun to glow a few times as we were shown backstage, with the ladies getting ready for the night shift. It had been a nightmare trying to cover it with my bag.

It was one of the more embarrassing side-effects from dragon-mom’s genes. Occasionally, when I became extremely aroused and couldn’t do anything about it, my skin would glow like an ember of a fire that refused to die out.

I managed to hide it mostly, but Burgundy always noticed. At some point, I was so horny that even the older, strict-looking Madame Constance had begun to look ravaging in her grey, long dress buttoned all the way to her throat, that still enhanced her body in a very attractive way. She might be older, but there was no trace of grey in her dark hair yet.

“If you absolutely have to do something about it,” Burg said, trying to remain practical as always, “at least remember to stay in character. People find out what you are, we’re done; everyone knows the truth about Gawain’s daughter.”

“I know, I know,” I repeated. “I’m a simple Ordinary, with a little extra leftover horny-ness from her half-succubus mom.”

That was my cover story; Ordinaries were Magicals who didn’t have any powers or gifts whatsoever. They were practically humans, except they weren’t. Ordinaries were pitied, and the occasional snob would look down on them as lesser, but for the most part they were treated just like any other Magicals.

“And don’t you forget it.”

We’d just gotten all our clothes put away when a tall man with entirely white skin and eyes that glowed pink appeared at our door, wearing a white tuxedo that made him look frighteningly transparent. I fought the chill running down my spine.

Dad had neglected to mention that Mr. Francis was a virility demon. It was the pink eyes that gave him away; the shade of pink revealed the strength and prowess of a virility demon, and from the brightness of his eyes, Mr. Francis was not a man to be messed with.

Virility demons were essentially a broader version of incubus. They didn’t feed off sex, but they lavished on the admiration and attention brought by his strength and prowess. And they could usually spot sexual energy a mile away.

The look he was giving me revealed that I was a hot, red beacon on his radar. It seemed Burgundy noticed, too, because she took a hurried step forward and reached out her hand.

“You must be Mr. Francis!” she exclaimed. “I’m Bridget Talbot, and it’s such an honor! I can’t wait to work for you, I promise not to let you down, this is such a great opportunity!”

Laying it on a little thick, but it seemed to do the trick. Mr. Francis turned his focus towards business, though his gaze still lingered on me a moment too long.

“How lovely to hear,” he said in a rumbling, deep voice. “Are you the waitress or the…” he glanced at me again, “dancer?”

“Waitress,” Bridget replied. “My friend Valery here is the dancer. Her mom’s half-succubus, you know; taught her everything she knows! She’s really very good.”

Thank you, Burg! Hopefully that would be enough to stifle any suspicions Mr. Francis might have.

“I’m sure she is,” he said, and his deep voice seemed to reverberate into my bones. It made me uneasy. “Follow me, ladies.”

He led the way down the hall, past the other rooms that were currently either empty, or filled with women sleeping, exhausted after their day shifts. Most of the doors were open – best to remember that and keep ours open, as well. Modesty would really stand out in a place like this.

“Miss Bridget, you’ll be helping behind the bar for tonight,” Mr. Francis spoke as we walked. “Want to make sure you memorize all the drinks so if a bartender happens to get it wrong at some point, you’ll recognize it right away. I doubt you have much experience from home.”

Burgundy nodded along, though we both knew she could name and prepare pretty much any cocktail in existence. It was a long-standing hobby of hers.

“And Miss Valery,” Mr. Francis continued, “you’ll be starting off simple, walking the floor, giving attention to those that ask for it. Dance if they ask you to, or sit with them, but never single one table out for more than half an hour. We want everyone to want a taste of you, so they’ll come back when you’re put on the stage.”

“Yes, sir.” We were walking up the stairs towards backstage, where I would be put into a costume of some sort. I’d befriended enough working girls to know the routines of an establishment like this one.

We reached backstage, and Mr. Francis paused to let me through the door to the dressing rooms. “Wait in the hall,” he ordered. “I’ll escort Miss Bridget to the bar and return shortly.”

“Yes, sir,” I repeated – he seemed to like it when I said that.

The two kept walking, Burg throwing one last “good luck” look at me over her shoulder, and I headed through the door.

The hallway stretched far, and I didn’t want to get lost on my first day, but I did walk a bit down, glancing through the open doors. There were beautiful women getting dressed and undressed, putting on their make-up and arranging their hair while talk flowed freely.

None of them even glanced my way, so occupied were they with their own reflections. I walked a bit further down but paused after passing by another open door when I heard an all too familiar sound.

A soft, quiet moan.

I took a step back, peering into the room, and sure enough, there they were; two women in an otherwise empty dressing room, all lights off except the dim illumination from a make-up mirror in one corner.

One looked like she might have just finished a shift. She wore lacy, black underwear and something that looked like black decorative wings tied on her shoulders, but as far as I could see reflected in a mirror, her make-up was removed and her hair was a mess.

The black popped against her ghost-pale skin. Even her hair was white as an angel, making her blue eyes shine in her pretty, oval face.

The other woman seemed to be just getting ready for her shift. She wore a green silk robe, the kind that’s just long enough that it softly grazes the top of one’s thighs. Her brown hair was neatly put up in a bun, and her makeup seemed perfect – the result of hours of preparation. Her skin was like honey, and seemed to shine in the low light. I could see this one’s face better on account of her sitting on a dressing table, back pressed against the mirror.

The winged one was holding her hand, kissing her way up her arm so deeply and thoroughly that just that small action caused the honey one to moan. As the winged woman reached her neck, it seemed to be getting harder for Honey to catch her breath, and she ran her fingers through Wing’s messy, white hair.

Okay, Vel, I told myself. This is a private moment. Turn and walk away.

I’m sure I would have, too. If Wing didn’t start slowly sliding her hand up Honey’s thigh as her lips began to work their way down. The green silk robe slipped off one shoulder, giving Wings full access to a pair of small, perfectly round breasts.

As her pink little tongue begun to circle Honey’s nipple, I lost the battle; I was so not leaving. I mean… they’d left the door open, right? They clearly weren’t too concerned about being seen.

When Wings tugged at the nipple with her teeth and Honey whimpered in pleasure, I gripped the edge of my dress to keep my hands in check. I was standing in the middle of a hallway – all I could do was watch. But damn, as Wings dug into the soft flesh of Honey’s thighs with her nails and Honey gripped Wings’ hair so tightly it had to hurt, it was torture not to do anything about the urge rapidly building inside of me.

I’d been in Sagemill for over twenty-four hours, and I had been very well behaved due to the fact that I didn’t want this city to control my sex-life, but fuck! These women were making it so hard to resist.

Wings began to move her lips further down, teasing with her tongue down Honey’s stomach, hands roaming her thighs, sides and back, as if possessed by a craving she was in no control over. Gods, did I know that feeling well.

As her lips moved lower, I felt my insides starting to burn, desire welling up to fill every cell, my skin getting warmer with that skin-deep glow. I was so wet I felt it soaking through the skimpy fabric of my knickers, and my fingers itched to touch, to satisfy this need my body was subjecting me to.

Her head blocked my view, but I knew Wings found her target when Honey arched her head back, mouth gaping but only allowing low whimpers and moans to escape.

I watched her expression, pained and lost in pleasure at the same time, as Wings moved her tongue around all the good spots. I recognized the biting of the lip Honey did each time the tongue flickered across her clit, and without having to touch, my own was growing sensitive even to the simple touch of fabric. I wondered what Honey tasted like, I imagined being in Wings’ place, pleasuring her to the edge of insanity with every lick.

Honey bit down on her lip so hard I feared the skin might crack, and her sounds grew louder, more intense as she begun to loose control of her body, and I was starting to feel like I might die if I didn’t touch myself, if I didn’t release this tormenting urge for pleasure.

My grip loosed on the dress I was crumbling up in my attempt to stay in control, but I was so close to giving up on that now as one of my hands begun to trace careful lines on my thigh, making me shiver just as Honey let out another, louder moan, and Wings gripped her butt so hard that Honey groaned in pain, but I knew it wasn’t the bad kind.

Oh gods… I was going to go mad if I didn’t do something. Honey was beginning to shiver and writhe up against the mirror, thrusting herself against Wings, begging for that ultimate mindblowing orgasm, and I wanted to go there with her. I might collapse if I didn’t.

My fingers began to creep up, lifting the hem of my dress, just caressing the outside of my knickers, briefly moving across my clit, nearly blacking out with desire – my need growing so uncontrollable I might die if I didn’t –

A throat cleared, and I flinched noticeably, yanking my hands back and crossing them as if that made everything look casual, and I turned to find Mr. Francis looking at me with his glowing pink eyes, arms relaxed at his sides and face entirely neutral.

I blushed, to my embarrassment, but quickly straightened my shoulders and met his intimidating eyes. “You were longer than I thought.” To my relief, my voice didn’t shake despite the lustful heat that still roamed around inside of me.

Oh gods, there’s no turning it off now… My body was on fire with the need for sexual release, and now there was no way I would have time to get it. At least I wasn’t glowing right now.

“My apologies,” Mr. Francis said in his rumbling voice. “Please, allow me to show you to your dressing room.” He slowly raised one eyebrow, and his eyes ran down my body in an unmistakably suggestive way. “Unless you would like to finish first?”

I swallowed hard, glancing towards the dressing room, but somewhere in my distracted moment, someone had closed the door. That didn’t do anything to release the yearning, but… I swallowed again, trying to clear my head. I couldn’t afford to lose my cool anymore than I already had in front of Mr. Francis.

So I forced the fire deep down, ignored the throbbing that was begging for my touch, and cleared my throat. “There’s nothing to finish. Lead the way.”

To be continued…

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