A Glutton for Punishment (A Damned If You Do Tale)
Revenge can be very sweet indeed.
Sexy male succubus Rael is a tasty little morsel—and he has a talent for creating them, too. He’s become a huge success as a regular guest on the cooking show Devon’s Plate—so much so that when host Devon LaGrande disappears under suspicious circumstances, Rael’s the number one suspect.
With the case being handled by other detectives, Rael’s lover, Detective Lars Thornsson, is left out in the cold. All the more so because, to save Lars’s career, Rael is forced to move out of their apartment and pretend to be with another man.
When Rael starts getting threatening letters, things hit even closer to home. The detectives on the case are worse than useless, and Lars’s partner is unable to help, distracted by imminent motherhood and her demon baby daddy’s parole hearing. Though he’s all alone for the first time in ages, Lars knows he’s the only one who can solve the case—and save his lover.
Get this title in the following bundle(s):
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
“Night, Mr. LaGrande.”
“Goodnight, Nathan.” Devon LaGrande dropped his trademark smile as the last of his minions walked out of his kitchen studio and left his house. Peace at last from those braying fools. Really, they were hardly worthy of his time. Always pestering him: Time for makeup, Mr. LaGrande. We need to do a run-through for the lighting. Can you do that bit again for the close-up? Television could be so exhausting. Using his own kitchen to film the show might be a selling point with the star-struck masses, but sometimes Devon wondered if it was really worth putting up with the constant plebeian presence in his home.
Still, one did what one must. And Devon’s Plate was the highest-ratedcooking show on network television, so clearly he, in particular, did it rather well. Devon frowned. Although it had to be said, the latest jump in the ratings, much to his annoyance, coincided exactly with the arrival of his latest minion: the demon, Rael, with his perfect, dark skin, pouting lips and come-hither eyes.
Oh, he didn’t admit to being a demon, and he was always careful not to let anyone see any of his more obviously demonic physical characteristics, but the closed circuit TV Devon had installed in Rael’s dressing room had shown him doing something positively disgusting with the monolithic lover who’d come to pick him up, and there had most definitely been a tail involved. Intimately. Devon gave a fastidious shudder and adjusted his trousers. Inter-species fraternization was so déclassé. Well, he would just have to inform the proper authorities and have the nuisance removed—as soon as the ratings showed the viewers beginning to tire of the wretched imp. Or, as might be, if they showed him getting just a little too popular.
Devon poured himself a large gin and vermouth, and was about to take the first sip when he heard a footstep on the tiled floor. “Nathan?” he asked wearily, not bothering to turn round. “What is it now—”
A moist pad with a cloyingly sweet smell was pressed to his mouth. There was a strangely muffled crash as his glass shattered on the tiles, and then the whole world went dark.
Lars couldn’t help smiling as Rael bounced out of the LaGrande place and into his car. “I guess you’re still enjoying this gig, huh?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe, honey.” Rael leaned over for a kiss with a tantalizing flicker of forked tongue that left Lars having to adjust himself before he could start the engine. Even after a hard day in the kitchen—hell, especially after a hard day in the kitchen—Rael was buzzing with energy in a way that, if Lars had been a less trusting man, would have had him worrying that his sweet little succubus had been snacking on someone. “You know people are sending me fan mail now? I got one from a lady out in Duluth who says she made my tiramisu for her man, and he proposed to her. Ain’t that the sweetest?”
“That’s great,” Lars said, but he had to force a smile. That anecdote hit a little too close to home. Truth was, Lars had had marriage on his mind for a while now. Rael had been tipping a sack of coal into Kitty’s bowl one night and remarked that he thought their little salamander was getting kinda big for the apartment, and maybe they should look for a larger place? It’d gotten Lars thinking—if they were planning on buying a house together, why not make it official?
He’d actually gone down on one knee right there and then, but Rael had misinterpreted his actions, and they’d both gotten a little distracted from thchatpere question of houses, marriage, or, in fact, anything except the way Rael’s wicked, hot cock thrust between Lars’s eager lips. And then Rael had done that thing with his tail—hell, Lars hadn’t been able to think of anything else for hours after that.
And since then, the doubts had started to creep in. Would Rael even want to get married? Lars could just imagine the expression on Eisheth’s face if he told her he was planning to make an honest demon out of her boy. Lars was uncomfortably aware that he hadn’t made a very good impression when he and Rael had spent Saturnalia in a cabin in the mountains with her. Eisheth’s current boyfriend—and, with her being a succubus, her own personal Dish of the Day for the planned evening feast—had gotten one look at Lars, turned tail (literally), and run. Apparently there was some outstanding arrest warrant for fraudulent fortune-telling. Lars hadn’t gotten a chance to explain that he was off duty and wasn’t about to break up the party over a misdemeanor.
With his momma going hungry for the night, Rael had insisted on separate beds to show a little solidarity. Figuring he’d be expected to do the same, Lars had only picked at the food on offer, realizing too late he’d managed to mortally offend his hostess. Oh, she’d listened when he’d explained his motives, but it still hadn’t made for the happiest of holidays. And anyway, in Eisheth’s line of work, she was more in the business of breaking marriages than making them. Was that how Rael saw it, too?
Then there was the whole age gap thing. Rael was a little coy about his age, and Lars figured it wouldn’t be gentlemanly to ask, but from a few things he’d let slip, Lars knew it’d been a while since Rael had seen a hundred. Would a guy like that really want to be shackled to a wet-behind-the-ears kid of fifty-eight? And sure, what with their immortal genes and all, neither of them looked a day over twenty-five, but looks weren’t everything.
Lars wished he’d thought to ask his father how he’d ever gotten up the nerve to propose to his mom. It couldn’t have been easy for a mild-mannered attorney to go down on one knee to a Valkyrie. Mom was a larger-than-life woman whose idea of casual feminine dress was exchanging her bronze breastplate for chain mail, and who frequently had to be reminded to take off her winged helmet—and her sword—in the house. Lars had fond memories of his human father, but it wasn’t much of a surprise that the old guy hadn’t lived to see eighty.
“Sweet thing, you are so damn quiet tonight,” Rael murmured, placing a rather distracting hand on Lars’s thigh. “Is everything all right?”
“Uh, yeah. Sorry. I was just thinking of my dad.”
Brown eyes softened. “I guess you miss him, huh? Were you very young when he died?”
“Forty-nine. So, uh, not that young, but you know . . .” Damn, Lars could have done without the age thing coming up. “You know, you never talk about your dad. Is he still around?”
Suddenly it seemed chilly in the car. Lars flicked the air conditioning off.
“No, and a damn good thing too. He was a lyin’, cheatin’ bastard from the fourth circle who ran out on my momma when I was a kid.”
Lars wished he wasn’t driving so he could comfort his Rael properly. “Babe, I’m sorry. You must have been real cut up about that.”
“Yeah,” Rael sighed. “Not half as much as he was a couple weeks later when my momma got her hands on him, though.”
Lars swallowed. “Uh, Rael? Remind me to be extra nice to your mom next time she comes around, won’t you?”
Lars was a little late getting into work the next morning, on account of Rael insisting he needed a big old American breakfast to set him up for a day of filming. And him being a succubus, he wasn’t talking waffles, although he’d made Lars a stack of them afterward. They’d been smothered in blueberries and whipped cream, which had gotten Lars wondering how Rael would look given the same treatment, and all in all, it was a miracle Lars had made it to the Tartarus Street Precinct before noon.
Rochelle actually seemed pleased to see him, probably because Dee had his ample butt parked on her desk and was waving a cup of coffee in her face. Lars was willing to bet that, unlike the cup she was holding, it was full-caff—and that Dee knew damn well what kind of torture the smell of it had to be for Rochelle. She hadn’t gotten any less cranky since she’d gotten pregnant, and now that she was almost ready to pop, most of the department would rather go undercover cleaning cesspits in Hell than spend a shift in the precinct with her. If Dee hadn’t been a socially challenged Neanderthal weasel with no sense of tact—make that no sense, period—Lars might have been tempted to admire his guts in risking baiting her.
Still holding his skinny moccachino (decaf, in the hope a show of solidarity might make Rochelle a little less likely to bite his head off), Lars headed over to try to defuse the situation. “Hey, Dee,” he said. “Can I help you with something?”
“You can help him get his fat, hairy ass off my desk before he breaks the damn thing,” Rochelle snarled.
Dee’s smirk got a shade more obnoxious. “Aw, Rochelle, you’re cute when you’re all maternal.”
“Kiss my maternal ass.”
The sad thing was, Lars figured Dee was right. It was hard to take all those threats and profanities coming from Rochelle seriously when she was roughly as wide as she was tall, and dressed in a maternity smock lent to her by one of her sisters-in-law whose tastes seemed to run to pale pink blossoms and teddy bears.
Dee didn’t move an inch. “So when this thing’s born, is it gonna be like Alien, all blood and stuff busting out of you? ’Cause if so, maybe you should think about going on leave already? I’d like to keep my lunch that day.” He smirked. “Or will the midwife just do a summoning on that demon spawn of yours?”
“It won’t have horns, will it?” Dumont, Dee’s partner, spoke over Lars’s shoulder. Lars turned to see piggy eyes narrowed in fake concern. “Because that’s gotta be a bitch coming out.”
There was a loud crack as Rochelle’s fist tightened around the takeout cup of decaf she was holding, crushing the Styrofoam and sending the contents spurting out all over Dee’s crotch.
He leapt up, cursing. “Dammit, that’s hot, Rochelle.”
She sneered. “Got your ass moving, didn’t it?”
Her face was a little pale, though, as they made tracks, Dee for the washroom, and Dumont following on behind in the absence of anything approaching independent thought. “Don’t let those assholes get to you,” Lars said as she threw the cup in the trash and wiped her hand.
“Easy for you to say, Thornsson. You’re not the one who’s gonna have a demon clawing its way outta her insides a couple weeks from now.”
Lars frowned. “Shax doesn’t have claws, so I don’t think the baby—”
“What, so that’s gonna make it any easier? Have you any idea how frickin’ painful childbirth is? You ever try to crap out a planet? Because that’s what it’s gonna be like.”
“You could still have an elective caesarian.”
Rochelle looked horrified. “What, and miss out on the most magical experience a woman can have? Are you nuts?”
Lars was relieved when his phone rang. “Thornsson.”
“Lars, honey?” It was Rael, talking in a low voice like he didn’t want to be overheard. “I’ve got some bad news. And I don’t mean the soufflé hasn’t risen or the cakes have gotten charred.”
“What is it? Are you all right?”
“Oh, I’m fine, but Devon LaGrande’s been abducted. At least, that’s what it looks like. There’s a bunch of broken glass on the kitchen floor, and when I got here with Nathan this morning, the front door was wide open and the alarm switched off.”
“Damn. Has anyone called the police? Officially, I mean?”
“That’s what Nathan’s doing right now.”
Lars thought fast. “Okay. Are there any indications this is a paranormal crime? You know, salt on the floor, scorch marks, weird smells . . .”
“Sweet thing, you remember I work in a kitchen, don’t you?”
“Uh, right. Anything magical or demonic at all?”
“Not that I can see. At least, not until they ask me for my ID,” Rael added darkly. “Now, maybe I’m being cynical, but I’d bet my tail they’ll take the fact that I’m on this plane illegally as a pretty good sign there’s a demon involved in Mr. LaGrande’s disappearance.”
“Damn. Okay, babe, I’ll see if I can get through to whoever’s on the case. I’ll have a quiet word with them, explain they’d be wasting their time trying to pin this one on you. Maybe I can persuade them to overlook the residency violation.” Lars’s free hand clenched into a fist. “I’m sorry. I should have gotten that sorted out a long time ago.”
“Honey, we had this conversation, remember? About how there’s no way in hell I’d let you throw away your career for something that might not even work.”
“I know. Listen, I’d better go. I’ll talk to you later, okay?” Lars hung up, his thoughts grim. Yeah, being discovered harboring an illegal demon wouldn’t do his career as a paranormal cop any good, but more importantly, with the quotas the way they were, Rael ran a real risk of being deported—which meant being banished back to Hell. Which might only be a salt circle away, but Lars didn’t have the magic to do it himself, and he wasn’t about to ask Rochelle to risk a longer sentence than her jailbird lover by summoning an officially banished demon.
Lars swore under his breath. Okay, he could see the point, objectively speaking, of the clamp-down on sex-demon immigration, but damn it, Rael wasn’t a drain on the economy. He wasn’t even a drain on Lars—at least, no more than Lars could handle. Why hadn’t he gotten his act together and married his honey? Sure, it would have meant he’d have some explaining to do to the captain, but at least Rael would’ve gotten a green card.
Rochelle raised an eyebrow. “Who crapped in your coffee?”
Lars checked to make sure Dee and Dumont hadn’t crept back, and leaned on her desk. “C, have you got any contacts with the regular police these days?”
“Well, duh. Only about a classful of guys I came up through the academy with before specialization. You telling me you don’t keep up with any of the guys you trained with?”
“Hey, I did for a while, okay? We just don’t have a lot in common these days, that’s all, what with them all having grandkids and talking about their retirement . . . Hell, half of them aren’t even on the force anymore.”
“Huh. That age thing—how’s it feel when you see people you grew up with start wearing high-waisted pants and drawing a pension while you still can’t even walk into a bar without getting carded?” Rochelle grimaced. “Not that I’m, you know, jealous or anything.”
Lars shrugged. “Doesn’t bother me. It’s the way the other guys start treating me differently I’m not so keen on. Like I’m my own son, or something. But listen, C, this is important.”
“Well excuse me for asking. What happened, your boy get caught jaywalking?”
“Worse. He’s about to get involved in a kidnapping case. Maybe even murder. Devon LaGrande has gone missing, and Rael said there were signs of a struggle.”
“Jeez. Why’d anyone want to abduct that slimy bastard?”
“You don’t like Devon LaGrande?” Lars frowned. “He’s always seemed . . .” His frown deepened as he tried to think of something simultaneously positive and honest to say about his lover’s employer. “Really well-groomed,” he said at last.
“Yeah, like a hyena that’s discovered hair gel.” Rochelle brightened. “Hey, this could be a good thing for Rael. The show’s gotta go on, so if the star’s missing, the understudy gets a call, right?” The smile she’d been almost wearing disappeared faster than the clothes at a midsummer sabbat. “Shit. I guess your boy’s gonna be suspect number one.”
Lars nodded. “And even if they don’t make that connection, the investigating officers are going to want to see ID from everyone involved.”
“Which, unless he can conjure something up real quick, Rael ain’t got. Damn. Okay, I’ll make a couple calls. Though they’re gonna want to know why I’m interested in the case, and I’m guessing you don’t want the whole world knowing you’re living with an illegal immigrant from Hell. I don’t think they’re gonna buy that I’m just a big fan of smarmy TV cooks.” Her eyes narrowed. “Jeez, Thornsson, lousy timing, much? I got enough to deal with right now—I don’t wanna have to break in a new partner because you got your ass busted over your love life.”
Lars’s head was beginning to ache. Damn, he needed caffeine. “Just tell them Nathan Dever’s a friend of mine.” Well, it was only stretching the truth a little. He’d been round for dinner a couple times . . . “Damn. Nathan’s gotta know Rael’s a demon. I mean, we’ve never talked about it, and I’m pretty sure Rael’s kept quiet about it, but Nathan’s been to our place, seen Kitty, watched Rael not eat dinner . . .”
“You think he’ll squeal? Hell. Don’t answer that. Lemme get on the damn phone and find out what’s actually happening.”
Rael shuffled nervously from foot to foot and tried to remember not to lick his lips. Detectives Rivers and Brook wouldn’t have to be the sharpest skewers in the kitchen to work out what a forked tongue meant. They were standing in the hallway, talking with Nathan, and every now and then they glanced over in Rael’s direction. Nathan’s slumped shoulders said he was feeling kinda bad about something, and Rael figured he wasn’t going to need three guesses what.
Detective Rivers was tall, handsome, and African-American. Rael could tell from the military precision of her cornrows that she was one scarily efficient lady. Brook was around a head shorter, with close-cropped blonde hair and a determined jaw to set off her elfin features. Both of them looked a little too on the ball for Rael’s liking. Why couldn’t they have been the regular police force’s equivalent of Dee and Dumont? Preferably without the obnoxious attitudes, of course.
Nathan’s expression was somber as he came over to where Rael stood. “Rael, I don’t believe for a moment you had anything to do with Devon’s disappearance, you know that. But I had to tell them you’re a demon. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, honey,” Rael said sadly. Brook was talking on her cell phone, and he didn’t have to read her lips to know she was calling in the Paranormal Enforcement Agency. He wondered if he should phone his lawyer, but figured he ought to wait until he’d actually gotten arrested. Which was likely to be, oh, around thirty seconds from now, give or take. Now he just had to hope against hope that Lars and Rochelle would be assigned the case, and that it wouldn’t spell the end of both his time in this dimension and his lover’s career.
Nathan was still hovering. “I, ah, I told them something else, too.” He rubbed the back of his neck, glancing around the room. “I know your, uh, situation could land Lars in trouble, so . . . I kind of told them you were living with me. I figured since you come in with me most mornings anyhow, as far as anyone on the crew knows, it could be the truth.”
That, Rael hadn’t expected. “Honey, that’s so sweet of you. But . . . I don’t want you to think I’m not grateful, but are you sure you’ve thought this one through? I mean,” he said, gesturing down at his little old self, sinfully tight jeans and satin shirt included. “Me being a succubus, there are going to be certain assumptions made.”
Nathan reddened. “I, ah, yeah.”
“So what do we tell them? I eat out a lot? Because last I heard, you were strictly a ladies’ man.” Rael wasn’t sure how those mean old detectives were going to react to any stories about him going around snacking on the general populace. People with no connection to the demonic planes tended to freak out about that sort of thing.
“You don’t like that idea? It’s okay. We can say we’re, um, lovers.”
Rael smiled. “Damn, if you weren’t straight, and if I weren’t taken, I’d be showing you how much I appreciate this right about now.”
Nathan swallowed. “Uh, thanks. But you might want to save that anyhow. One of the detectives is coming over.”
Detective Rivers’s voice was low and musical, like a harp dripping with honey. “Rael, right? No last name?”
“Nothing you could pronounce, anyhow.” Rael smiled in apology.
She nodded. “Mind if I have a few words?”
“You go right ahead.” Rael gave a sly glance up at Nathan. “Me and my man want to do anything we can to help.”
“So you and Mr. Dever are partners?” she asked, glancing between them.
Nathan flung an arm around Rael and hugged him. “That’s right. What can I say, it was a workplace romance.”
“Well, sometimes they work out,” Rivers said with a flicker of a smile. Rael had an idea it had nothing at all to do with him and his supposed lover. Interesting.
Nathan coughed. “Shall we all sit down?” He indicated Devon’s hand-finished Italian leather couch.
“Thank you, Mr. Dever. But I’d like to speak to Rael on his own for now.” Rivers stared Nathan down until he gave in and scurried away. Damn, Rael felt bad about all this. He hunched up a bit as he perched on the edge of the couch.
Rivers leaned right back against the opulent cushions and slung an ankle over her knee, but Rael wasn’t fooled by her seeming nonchalance. Not for a second.
“So . . . you’re a succubus, I hear?” She frowned. “Shouldn’t that be incubus?”
Rael arched an eyebrow. “Sugar, do I look like an incubus to you?”
She shrugged, but there was another tiny curve to one corner of that business-like mouth of hers. “I try not to make judgments based on appearances.”
“Honey, with me, what you see is what you get—or rather, you don’t, you being of the female persuasion. No offense meant.”
“None taken.” Her tone was drier than a summer’s breeze in Hell. “And I’m assuming you’ve got your residence permit?”
“Would you believe me if I said I’d left it in my other pants?” Rael asked, working the wide-eyed and innocent look for all he was worth.
“Unlikely.” The other corner of her mouth lifted up a millimeter. “At least, not if they’re as tight as the ones you’re wearing.” She sat up and leaned forward, her elbows on her knees. “Rael, I’m going to level with you. I don’t give a damn about your residence status. All I want is to figure out what’s happened to Devon LaGrande. But if you obstruct my investigation, I can and will use any irregularities in your status here against you.” She sat back again and pulled out a little black notebook. “Now, you want to tell me about your relationship with Mr. LaGrande?”
Rael gave a little involuntary shiver. “Sugar, I’d rather you didn’t use that word when talking about me and Mr. LaGrande. Folks might get the wrong idea.”
“So what’s the right idea?”
“He’s my employer, that’s all.”
“Uh-huh. And you got the gig how?”
“Through Nathan. It was kind of how we met—I’d been doing some cooking for a real good friend of mine who runs a delicatessen, and Nathan came looking for the man behind the recipes.”
Rivers nodded. “I guess he saw you and decided you had a face for TV.”
Rael pouted. “Only the face? Damn, and here I’ve been working this pert little ass for all it’s worth.” He figured she’d have smiled a lot wider if she hadn’t been working.
“Well, something’s been working for you, from what I hear. Your popularity ratings are threatening to overtake those of your boss.” Rivers paused. “Now, can you think of anyone who might want Mr. LaGrande out of the way?”
Rael knew a non sequitur when he heard one, and that was so far from being one that they weren’t even on the same continent. “You mean, apart from me?” he said candidly. “Honey, I wish I could help you. But I’m damned if I can think of anyone who’d want to hurt Mr. LaGrande. He’s been nothing but good to me, I can tell you that.”
“Still, as long as he’s around, you’re in his shadow. I wonder what the network’s planning on doing if their star doesn’t show up soon?”
Damn, Rael could take lessons off her on the art of looking innocent while guilty as sin. He gave her a mean old stare. “You’d have to ask Nathan about that.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I will. Now, can you tell me about the people who work on the show?”
“All of them?”
“Well, let’s concentrate on the people who work for Mr. LaGrande, rather than the network employees. Everyone who has regular access to this house.”
“Well, first off, there’s Nathan. He’s Mr. LaGrande’s PA.”
“You don’t call him Devon?”
“Mr. LaGrande? No, he kind of likes to preserve the formalities.”
“Likes you to know who’s the star here, does he?” Her tone was bland.
Rael gave her a sidelong glance. “I figure he’s worked hard to get where he is. The man deserves a little respect.”
“Even if he’s climbed up on the backs of other people?”
“Have you been reading the gossip magazines, honey?”
She smiled. “Maybe. So he’s never given you personally any reason to hold a grudge?”
“Well . . . To tell you the truth, I am kind of new here,” Rael had to admit. “But Mr. LaGrande has never taken advantage of me—and believe me, I know all about taking advantage.”
“Oh, I’m sure you do.” Rivers’s tone was wry. “Okay, so tell me about Nathan. Is he happy in his work?”
“Sure thing, sugar,” Rael said with his biggest, sincerest-looking smile, because no way was he going to give any kind of answer that might land Nathan in trouble. “Every morning, he just bounces out of bed because he can’t wait to get on up here and start work. He lives for this show.”
“You know, I’d imagine some demons in your line of work might take that kind of eagerness to get out of bed as a slur on their professional abilities,” Rivers said, making a note in that little black book of hers.
“Honey, I never said he wasn’t even keener to get back in that bed come nighttime.”
“Okay, what about the rest of the staff?”
“Let’s see . . . Well, there’s Sophie, she handles all the paperwork, answers Mr. LaGrande’s fan mail, that kind of thing.”
“The big woman with the beehive?”
“That’s her. Girl has one mean sense of humor.”
“Mean? In what way?”
Damn, Rael needed to learn to watch his words. “I was talking figuratively. Sophie’s the sweetest thing you could ever wish to meet. Gets on well with everybody. Especially Mr. LaGrande.”
“Okay. Who else?”
“Unless you’re counting Maria, who comes in to clean everywhere except the kitchen, there’s really only Donovan, Mr. LaGrande’s kitchen assistant.”
“That’s the, ah . . .” She was clearly struggling to find a polite way to describe the guy.
Rael took pity on her. “Guy with a face only a momma troll could love? That’s him. He doesn’t say much, but he’s been with Mr. LaGrande forever.”
“You get on okay with him?”
“He’s, uh, not exactly the socializing type.”
“But you have a good working relationship?”
“Sure thing, sugar. And I’ve never seen a cross word pass between him and Mr. LaGrande.” Rael hesitated, his conscience pricking at him with an itty-bitty pitchfork. “Well, maybe one or two coming from Mr. LaGrande’s direction. He’s kind of a perfectionist. But never going back the other way.”
Rivers nodded and made another note. “Okay, I want you to go over the last time you saw Mr. LaGrande and Donovan together. Can you remember what they were talking about?”
Rael hid a sigh. He had a feeling this was going to be one long day.
Word Count: 33,700
Page Count: 136
Cover By: Imaliea
Series: Damned If You Do
Release Date: 06/22/2013