It took some effort to quash the normal bodily reaction to sitting next to a woman of such power. In fact, I barely looked at her. The city outside looked so much more interesting, right? Right. Now keep your eyes off. I never met someone whose very aura gave men hard-ons, making me wonder just who let her run amuck on the city streets. Didn’t Stella say all the succubi in the city were registered or something? That kind of thing should include house arrest. Or some abstract don’t-rape-men-on-the-street magic. Maria seemed like the type to know that. Aw hell, I’m sweating in the middle of winter.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
I swallowed hard. “Yeah, just… admiring the scenery.” Why did she have to sit next to me? There were dozens of other seats available ever since everyone cleared out of there.
“Are you sure? You’re breathing pretty heavy. Do you have asthma?”
If only that were the case. “Nah, nothing like that.” The other two monstrous women on the bus started taking notice of me, too.
She sighed. “Look, I’m not going to rape you, if that’s what you’re worried about.” Right to the point, I see. “I’m still on probation. I’m not about to mess that up.”
Tentative, I turned to look at her. Despite my caution, I could see she definitely looked down. “Probation?”
The businesswoman put her hands in her lap. “According to my probation officer, I require ‘written, verbal, and signed’ consent now. Don’t know how he expects me to carry a ten-page contract wherever I go.”
Huh. That actually really sucked. For anybody, really. “Sorry to hear that.”
She chuckled. “Really?”
“Yeah. Being on sexual probation like that’s gotta suck. You’re a succubus, so you can’t really help yourself.”
A glint of opportunity appeared in her eyes as she pulled a thick folded stack of papers out of her cleavage and offered them to me. “Then how about a pity fuck?” Well, that’s one way to carry a ten-page contract with you.
“Are you… soliciting me for sex?”
“Yes.” Like the most natural thing in the world to her.
I should have known, really. “Uh, I have a girlfriend, so…”
“So… what? Ever heard of an open relationship? Everybody does that these days. Come on, why not try it out?”
A hardballer, huh? “She and I haven’t talked about that kind of thing, so I don’t think she’d appreciate me suddenly sleeping around with strangers.”
“My name’s Janet Hamlin, I’m thirty one years old, I work at the Empty Co. boxing company, and I’ve lived in New York for five years.” When she reached for my leg I slapped her hand away, making her recoil in faux sadness. I knew it was an act, but… well, to be perfectly honest, she really was a beautiful woman. Big bright eyes, large red kissable lips, just enough of a nape showing to— okay, enough of that. Deep breaths.
I coughed into my fist raised an eyebrow at her. “Telling me your name and occupation doesn’t suddenly make us fuck buddies.”
“Then what would?”
“If you can get her to break up with me in a big sobbing angry breakup. Then, and only then, I would definitely consider it in a moment of weakness. A pity fuck would be great if that happened.” Boy I hoped I wasn’t giving her any bright ideas. I was totally giving her ideas, wasn’t I?
She reached a hand toward me again, “My good man, I can rock your world so hard you’d wish she dropped you sooner.”
A tremor of anger surged through my hands. Before she could touch me, I grasped her by the wrist and help tight. Looking her right in her wide, startled eyes I muttered, “Stop it.” Releasing her ruffled cuff from my clenched fingers, she pulled her hand away and gave me a bewildered look.
It took a minute before she could form the words she wanted. “Well, poo!” With a pout she rested her head on her palm, propped up on the armrest. “I was just trying to be friendly. And get a nice meal.”
“Ha. I won’t apologize for not having ‘feed a succubus’ on my list of things to do today.” I totally had that list in my pocket, too. Not that she had to know about that.
The succubus rolled her head back and looked at the roof of the bus. A sigh. “Alright, sorry.” A succubus was apologizing to me?
“Huh… to be honest, I thought you’d push the issue more.”
“The contract’s like a brick wall. If I don’t get consent, I’ve automatically violated my probation. Even if the guy vouches for me, the court would say he’s under the influence of ‘succubus magic.’” The finger quotes helped.
She continued. “It’s been… real frustrating lately. You’d think they’d think up programs for this sort of thing, like with volunteers and shit, but nope!” Janet waved an arm in the air. “Just leave the beings that rely on sex to survive by themselves. It’s disgraceful to allow them a voice in politics and law-making. All human men are pure and innocent as the driven snow, so we should focus on restricting the monsters and their bedroom antics. Oh, and put them on the list of registered sex offenders if they can’t keep it in their pants without written consent from both parties— that’ll teach ‘em! It’s not like that’ll drive away their steady boyfriends or anything! It’s all just so—!” She grasped the horns on her head and grinded her teeth. “Sorry. I bet you didn’t want to hear about my problems today.”
Not really. Jeez, what sort of landmine did I step on? “It’s fine.” I couldn’t argue with the contracts effectiveness at keeping my general vicinity mostly rape-free. “But I stick by what I said before: that really sucks.”
She scoffed. “If only.”
Janet ran a hand through her hair in frustration. “Haven’t had a guy seriously sign this damn thing for two weeks. Not without breaking the mood, anyway.” That’s got to be, like, a year of no sex in succubus time. “I thought the whole ‘document between the tits’ shtick would help.”
“I think it did. You should keep that up.” For real, though, did I just ruin her day? Might be best to patch things up with this stranger. I didn’t need a random person holding a grudge against me. “Since you’ve already introduced yourself, my name’s Jeff Osborne. Twenty seven years old. I’m a bush pilot in Alaska. My girlfriend grew up here, so we’re visiting for New Year’s.” I extended my hand to her for a friendly handshake. Emphasis on friendly. “And just to be clear, I hope that we can have a professional, platonic, non-sexual relationship, however short it might be.” The length of the bus ride, for example.
Janet perked up right quick and put on a bright smile. “Well, that’s something, at least. It’s nice to meet you, Jeff.” She shook my hand daintily with just a few fingers, the way dainty ladies sometimes do. “And what’s a bush pilot? Is that, like, an oral sex work thing?”
“No. I fly planes.”
The bus staggered to a stop at the curb, jostling us forward a bit. A look through the front window showed me miles of street ahead of us with cars packed bumper to bumper. So much for my pleasant half-hour bus ride.
“So hey, what the hell is your girlfriend like?” Janet asked. She looked excited to find out, bobbing back and forth in impatience like a kid.
“Why do you want to know?”
“I’d like to know about this girl you like so much. Not every day a guy turns down fucking a succubus, you loyal Mister goody two-shoes.” She playfully poked the end of my nose with one of her dark painted nails. I itched away the lingering poking feeling with my sleeve.
“Well, if you put it that way, alright.”
“Yay!” She was getting downright giddy about it, hunkering down in her seat with her legs pulled to her chest. Her tail wrapped around her ankles to keep them there. Pretty cute, actually, but that was clearly what she was going for. You won’t pull one over on me, Ms. Hamlin.
“She’s a couple years younger than me. Flies mail with me up north. She’s incredibly fit, loves good food, loves being outdoors, and…” I stopped for a moment. “And I think she’s been having some ‘down’ moments ever since we got here.”
“Down?” Janet echoed.
“Yeah. She’s been… sorry, I bet you don’t want to hear about my problems, either.”
“It’s fine. The least I can do is listen after ‘soliciting you for sex.’”
A pause. “Well… yeah, I think I could use someone to talk to.”
Janet waved an arm before her in a flourish. “Then talk away, Jeff.”
“Heh. Thanks.” But where to start? “Our job, flying mail and freight, is really dangerous. I always worried about her. And she hates that I worry. I said I wouldn’t but, you know, I do anyway.”
“Uh-huh…” Janet had since dropped her cutesy act. She propped her feet up on the seat across from us and started picking something out of her ear. Was she really listening?
Oh well. “But on Christmas, she got hurt while I was flying my plane.” That caught Janet’s attention, not that I needed it to vent. “It was an accident, but now she can’t fly for two months. She’s been putting on a big show of confidence and everything for the people we stayed with last night, but I know she’s depressed about it.”
“And there’s also this thing about her friend. Something about them getting in a big fight when they were younger. She says ‘we don’t talk about’ that friend, but she does anyway. I don’t get that. She keeps saying it’s just ‘complicated girl stuff,’ and that I shouldn’t ask her about it, but it’s definitely eating at her.” I let out a sigh and leaned my head against the fogged up glass of the window. “I don’t know what I should do to cheer her up, or help, or something.”
Janet had since crossed her arms underneath her ample bosom with a look of contemplation in her eyes. “Alright, I think I get it.”
“Oh, so you were actually listening? Thanks for that.”
“You should sit her down and talk to her about the old friend. Something like, ‘Hey, what’s going on with you? Is it about your friend?’ That kind of thing. Turn on the charm. But don’t touch her or anything when you do; that’ll close her up.” Okay, making sense so far. “And for her not flying for a while, take her somewhere nice. Do things for her. Make it so she thinks being hurt means she has the privilege of being waited on hand and foot. Try it out. Works like a charm”
“’Try it out,’ huh?”
“Hell, we can do it right now!” Wait, what? “Close your eyes, I’mma do some magic.” I batted her hand away when she reached for my face.
“Why should I trust a succubus to use magic on me?”
She rolled her eyes. “Because I’m still on probation. Now come on, close your eyes. This’ll be therapeutic, I promise!”
She left her hand hovering just in front of me. “I can make myself look like any woman a guy wants. I can look like your girl, too. But I need to have a ‘look’ at her first. So I’ll be taking a peek.” Jeez, these monster women and their magic.
“Can’t you use a picture?”
“Oh! Do you have one?”
“Uh… no.” I should remember to put the phone on my camera to good use. And ask Matt when we’ll send us the pictures from Carson City.
“Then I just need a few seconds.”
“Well.” A glance at the digital readout on the ceiling of the bus told me we were still several stops away from my destination. A sigh. “Just make it quick. And no funny business.”
“Hey, we’re just a couple people in a professional, asexual relationship, however short it might be.”
“Don’t do that.”
“Sorry. Here we go.”
I closed my eyes like she told me. Moments later, I felt her fingertips press against my forehead. Immediately a surge of something, like a wave of goosebumps or a chill, washed over my head. Hair stood on end, everything above my neck itched, and I couldn’t move my arms or legs. Did she paralyze me so she could have her way with me? Oh God, did I fuck up? I should never have let her touch me or use her weird sex magic!
“Okay, Jeff. You can open your eyes now.”
Wait. As soon as her fingers left my skin, I could move again. Like suddenly breaking out of a shell of stone, I moved my hands up to scratch all the itches that sprang up.
“Aah~ jeez! Warn me about what happens when—” My eyes cracked open. Sitting next to me, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, was Stella. Her height, up to my chest. Her hair, light brown and roped back in a slightly sideways ponytail. Her eyes, dark and joyful. And the air— oh, the air— had that same scent of lingering gym sweat and pine needles as soon as she came into view. If it weren’t for the business suit I would have thought she were truly sitting right next to me.
“I gotta admit, she’s a cutie, your girl. Athletic, too! Looking like this makes me feel all full of strength and womanly righteousness. Not bad at all!” Even her voice was the same. She flexed a bicep with a giggle, then this “Stella” looked at me with a tilted head. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m—” I looked her up and down. “I’m… you… you have…” In short order I reached down to her side and grasped one of her hands. Human hands. Five fingers and featherless. I looked down her legs. She had human legs. One rested atop the other lazily. Awash with thoughts— possibilities abound— I couldn’t help but think how things might be different. Might have changed. If Stella were wholly human, would Mom have accepted her? Would she have gotten in that fight with her friend all those years ago? Would she be so oppressed by rules and regulations in the city she was born in that she would want to leave the people she’d known her whole life?
I held back a surge of tears as my breath turned ragged.
Would we have died in a crash on Christmas Day if she was an ordinary human?
Would we have met at all?
Bad thoughts. Change direction, Jeff.
Her hand slipped from mine. “Change back, Janet.”
“Huh?” It was Janet’s voice this time. “But we haven’t even—”
I made sure not to look at her as she pouted with Stella’s face. “Jeez. What’s up with you?”
“Sorry, it’s just…” I glanced at the succubus— with the Stella hair and Stella face and Stella eyes— and gave her a weak smile. “To be honest, you look nothing like her.”
She grudgingly dispelled her magic in a puff of purple-colored smoke. “I only catch glimpses. Like, the important bits in memories. They’re mostly memories about sex, so it’s not my fault if I miss some details. Just how the magic works.” Janet leaned back in her seat once more.
“I probably should have mentioned the wings, then. And that she can’t fly right now because she hurt a talon.”
Janet turned her head so fast to look at me that I could have sworn I heard a crack. “Wait… she’s a harpy?”
“Guess I forgot to tell you that?”
Janet stared at me wide-eyed for a moment. Puffs of air blew from between her lips as she tried to keep in a laugh.
My cheeks flushed. “What? What’s wrong with her being a harpy?”
At my words, the bus erupted with the laughter of the succubus. It sounded almost like that of an entertained noblewoman of some sort. My ears rang at the noise and my head shrunk inside the curve of my scarf once I felt the eyes of the other monstrous women on the bus. Pin-pricks of hot sweat cropped up under my arms and around my neck from the embarrassment.
“Come on, quit it!”
She finally wound down after a good half-minute bout that felt like a year to me. “Oh man, okay. Okay, let me just say this: forget everything I just said about how to help her out.”
I shunted my head back through my scarf and took the garment off. “Oh yeah?”
Janet wiped a tear from her eye. “So. Harpies?”
“They’re really single-minded. I bet you’ve noticed.”
“Sort of, yeah.”
“So if she’s depressed, you just have to distract her from it. Pay attention to her. Make her only think about you and how much fun she’s having with you. Make her forget all her problems, and she’ll find out they don’t mean much as long as she’s got you.”
I rested my chin on my fist. “That actually makes a lot of sense.”
“But man. I thought it was just the usual human relationship bullshit. Your situation’s a lot simpler.”
She smacked my shoulder. “It’s a compliment.” Did a bit of Stella rub off on her? “Humans dating humans is normal and all, but it’s so full of drama and blah blah blah, feelings this, restrictions that!”
“What, dating a harpy’s different?”
“Dating any monstrous woman is a very different thing compared to another human. You have a whole slew of crap to deal with that no man in his right mind would want to.”
“You saying I’m crazy?”
She laughed once more. “No, Jeff. Not at all. Maybe. Shut up. The real difference between dating a human woman and you dating your woman. Can you guess what it is?” She was starting to get on my nerves. With one finger she raised my chin from below and looked me in the eye with a smile. “It’s love, Jeff. A different kind of love. Like, on a whole other level. That’s the big difference, and that’s all you need.”
My brow furrowed. “You’re sounding like a Beatles song.”
“I’m not wrong, though. You love her, right?”
I glanced around to see if either the elf or werecat were listening. They were, in fact, sitting right behind us, hands/paws set against the backs of our seats in anticipation of my answer. Who knows when they changed seats?
“For the love of— Yes!” Red flooded into my cheeks as the trio of women all happily giggled and smirked at each other with nods of approval. I wrapped my scarf around my neck and tried to hide myself inside it. How long they were there listening in? Probably ever since I mentioned Stella was a harpy.
“But really,” Janet said, “going back to that Beatles song.” Jeez, what now? “That perfectly applies to what you need to do to cheer her up. ‘All she needs is love.’”
Before I could stop them, my eyes rolled so far back in their sockets I thought I’d see inside my head. “God, that’s corny.” And it didn’t exactly solve the core problem of whatever was bugging her in the first place.
“Jeff, honey, please. I’m a succubus. We’re demons of love just as much as we’re demons of lust.”
“Yes, and?” She looked so proud of herself that I couldn’t for the life of me bring myself to comment any further. “Also, you should totally pay attention to her wings the next time you fuck.”
Memories resurfaced of the first time I thought it’d be cute to rub her feathers. “She doesn’t appreciate that.”
“Well, talk to her about it. Harpies only let the ones they’re really close with touch their feathers. Try it out. Couldn’t hurt.”
At least she was cool about the whole thing. “Thanks, Janet.” A look at the blinking digital bus readout told me my stop was next. “I have to get off soon, actually.”
As I stood up and lugged the bag of clothes over my shoulder, I pulled out my phone. “But. If you ever need a wingman, I’ll be in town at least ‘til New Year’s. So hit me up if you’d like a bit of help with that contract-signing.”
For a moment, the woman stared at me. “You— you mean, like, as friends?” She said it as if the notion gave her a sense of nostalgia.
The look in her eyes wasn’t what I expected from someone like her. In the back of my mind, I probably accepted the notion that succubi had plenty of friends, acquaintances, and fuck buddies at their beck and call. Before me, instead of a commanding and regal mistress of desire, all I saw was a woman surprised at the notion of simple friendship. The gears in my head began to turn, and that expression told me all I needed to know: in modern society, such promiscuity probably alienated succubi from a lot of people. Humans don’t see sex the same way they do, after all. Adding a sex demon into the social mix more than likely strained some relationships and destroyed others. Isolation and one-night stands might be the only things left after a certain point in their lives.
“Well yeah. I sort of let you in on some pretty heavy memories, right? It’d rather have a friend know those than a stranger.”
Janet clasped her hands together in front of her lips, very nearly on the brink of tears. “That sounds great, Jeff.” She pulled her phone out from the same place she pulled the contract: nature’s pocket. “Be sure to call and tell me how it goes with your girl, okay? I want details.”
And so, that was how I traded phone numbers with a succubus on relatively non-sexual terms.
Though that still didn’t stop her from asking for a quickie as I stepped off the bus.
* * *
I rang the buzzer at the front of the orphanage later that afternoon. It took a while to find my way back to the thrift store where I got on the bus. I may or may not have gotten lost in the three blocks between it and the orphanage. In my attempt to not rely on technology for everything, I ended up displaying just how much I needed it. On the other hand, maybe I just wasn’t used to such vast city streets? Let’s go with that.
In the front yard of the old school house, several of the kids were playing around in the snow. The three giant mice were building three tiny snowmen side-by-side, a werewolf and werecat chased each other in circles through the powder, and the moth girl was busily climbing across the ceiling of the chain link cocoon that encased the building. Guess they had that fence for good reason. Can’t have the little flying ones leaving the nest early, so to speak. I had the feeling if it were any other orphanage with any other caretaker in charge, Stella would have loathed it. The cold probably kept the others inside. I had a feeling Cleo was having trouble staying active in the winter, too. I didn’t see a single lamia on my trip to get the clothes and nab the hotel room.
The door unlatched after I hit the buzzer. It was the third or fourth time I used it, but still I wondered what sort of magic Maria used on it to make it so hands-free. It didn’t look like she needed to be there to do it, either. After dodging between the groups of children at play, I opened the heavy wooden front door to a wafting warmth.
“Keep the door closed, please!” Cleo called from the back corner of the room. The lamia was lounging across five bean bags in the corner with her tail coiled around herself and covered in a few layers of blankets. I think that was the heating vent right next to her, too.
I hopped inside and shut the door behind me in response to what she said. For the first time I noticed a long row of small wet shoes and snow boots lined the wall next to the front desk. Above them was a long rack of coats across the wall at around belt level, made with a variety of wall-nailed clothes hooks and other improvised hooks. Most of the little coats and boots were pink.
“Sorry,” I said, “Didn’t mean to let the cold in.”
She shivered a little with a forced smile. “It’s okay.” Then she noticed the bag of clothes slung over my shoulder. “Oh, if those are from the thrift store, you can put those behind the front desk. Sister will take them later.”
“Ah, cool. Thanks.” As I started setting each piece of folded clothing on the desk, I couldn’t help but wonder something to myself. “Don’t lamias usually hibernate around this time of year?”
Cleo set her book face-down on her tail. “I’m practicing. For when I open my own book store. I shouldn’t hibernate if I want to keep the store open, right?” The tip of her tail thumped against the floor a few times.
“Oh yeah? Why a book store?”
She smiled warmly. “If I run a book store, I can keep it as hot and arid inside as I want.”
“Huh.” One way to look at it. “By the way, how old are you?”
“I’ll be eighteen in fourteen months.”
Well, that was roundabout. Sixteen. “Do you have to leave here when you turn eighteen?”
The girl sighed. “Yeah. I’m counting the days ‘til then.” Clearly. “Been trying to get a job at a book store nearby, but nobody’s interested.”
Sounded all too familiar. “Yeah, I know that feeling. Nobody wanted me to fly for them for the longest time. I had to work a bunch of jobs I didn’t want before finally landing my job in Alaska. Never even expected that to happen, actually. Before that, I had to do all my flight hours on the side for three years after I got out of school.”
“What kind of jobs?”
What a list that would have made. “Let’s see. Halfway through school, I started washing dishes at a restaurant across the street from campus. Hated that. My hands were permanently pruny.” Cleo held her hand to her mouth to keep from laughing as I wiggled my fingers. “Then I worked at an auto shop. I was an engineering major, so it made sense. That lasted a lot longer. A year and a half, I think?” That brought back plenty of memories, good and bad. I felt I should tell Stella about the other girls I dated during my time at the shop. Boy did those not work out. I certainly wanted to hear something about her previous partners, too.
The lamia looked concerned. “And after that?”
“After that, I went unemployed for another year. Had to live with two other guys to pay rent. I paid for my plane fuel steadily, out of pocket. My flight hours went real slow for the longest time. The campus library was close by, so I went there to study more and look up jobs on their computers. I couldn’t afford a computer of my own for a while. Even when I did, we couldn’t afford internet at the apartment, so I still had to rely on the library.” I glanced at Cleo. The poor girl slumped back into the bean bag at her back. Crap. Hearing about the difficulties of adult life would definitely bum out a teenager like her. “Sorry, I guess that wasn’t as encouraging as I thought it would be.”
“No, it’s okay.” Back to her book she went.
Disappointment in myself gradually grew. “But, uh…!” She turned to me again, peeking above the top of her book. “It gets better, though.” Her book lowered again. “Growing up isn’t all that bad once you get used to it. And it’s really good that you have all these friends here. Sister Maria’s great, too. So…” I was totally not ready for kids. “You look like you have a good head on your shoulders, so, uh… you just have to keep going, you know? If you stop you might end up unemployed for a year like me.”
Once more, Cleo set her book down on her tail. This time, however, she reached for something in the pile of bean bags next to her. After a bit of rummaging she brandished a small notebook. It was green with green lines, about as tall as the pen that was inserted through the rings. She opened it to a fresh page and jotted something down.
“Do you have… any more advice about jobs?”
Nice save there, Jeff. “I might have a few.” I took to leaning against the wall next to her, arms crossed and one leg over the other. I might have tried too hard to look confident in my knowledge of job searches and handling life after school. In her case, it would be life after living in an orphanage, but that was only if she never got adopted. Or maybe she could go to community college if she wanted, which I made sure to mention. Cleo busily wrote down notes based on what I said.
“Thanks for the help,” she said.
“You’re welcome.” As she put her little notebook away, I felt something else nag at me. “Just be sure to be a kid while you have the chance, too.”
She smiled. “I know! I just have to stay inside during the winter.”
With that, we waved goodbye as I went to find Stella. While I was away the hallway had apparently become home to a massive network of red yarn tied to doorknobs and chair legs. They called it “Playing Arachne.” While most of the kids had no problem crawling and hopping through the maze, hissing and pretending to shoot webbing at each other by tossing around bundles of yarn, I had to manhandle my way over and under. At least the door to Stella’s old room was close. Unraveling some loops of yarn from the doorknob, I slipped inside before I had the chance to trip over someone and/or made someone cry.
The door at my back, I looked around the room. Stella stood next to the bed, dressed in just her black and yellow shorts and sports bra. A dull shine of sweat glistened off her powerful shoulder blades, shapely arms, and curvaceous back. Looked like she was in the middle of doing a squat. Both wings were stretched out at an angle for balance. A wafting hint of body odor hung in the stale air of the room. The window must have been closed for a while.
Stella froze when she turned her head to see me enter, eyes wide. “Oh! Uh, hey!”
I uncoiled the scarf from around my neck. “Looks like you’re getting back into the swing of things. Whatever happened to rest and relaxation?”
She stood up and let herself fall back to sit on the bed with a puff of air. “Sorry. I’m being careful about my talon, so…”
“Don’t have to make excuses to me, I get it. But if Dr. Doctor found out, she’d have some words for you.”
“Yeah she would.”
As she kicked her legs up and down on the edge of the bed, the cries of children and heavy stomps of feet rebounded through the hall outside. Ignoring the noise, I slid off my coat and walked up to her.
“So I got us our hotel room while I was gone.”
Her eyes lit up. “Oh, nice! You didn’t have to look on your own, though.”
“I know, but I recently discovered the magic of smart phones. Oh. And I met a succubus.”
Stella’s smiling expression gradually faded into one of horror. “Oh God, are you okay? Where did she touch you? Did you call the cops?” She stood up and started fussing with my head, looking for hickeys, and checking for tears in my clothes.
“Hey, hey, calm down.” She did not calm down, and continued to fuss over me as if I just got mugged and raped. On the plus side, it helped me remember the advice the succubus gave me. With both arms I grabbed her around her waist and picked her up.
“Whoa! Hey! Quit it!” Her wings waved side to side in an attempt to achieve balance.
“No. Calm down first.”
Stella tried her best to put together some kind of retaliatory response, but ended up with random stuttering until she finally gave up.
I set her down on the bed before sitting down next to her. “So anyway. This succubus’ name was Janet. Pretty cool, except for the part where she tried to sex me.”
She frowned. “Jeez, I warned you about succubi mostly as a joke! I didn’t think you’d actually run into one!”
“Yeah, me too. But when I told her about you she seemed cool about the whole ‘no means no’ thing. There’s actually a bunch of red tape she has to get through before she can sleep with anyone and… Anyway, we even exchanged numbers. And, uh, I might have offered to play her wing man sometime before New Year’s.”
Stella stared at me slack-jawed. “I will use all the best words I know for this. You occasionally baffle me with your tales, Jeff.” Hey, that was actually pretty good. “But you know what?”
Too late. She already swung around, straddled my legs, and pushed me back onto the bed. She wore a dire, serious look as she held my shoulders against the sheets. Her claws against my shoulders almost hurt. Not like I was going to stop her, of course. The scent of her sweat from earlier was already getting me going in a good way.
“Now that I know a succubus would actually try that on you in broad daylight, I feel like I have to mark my territory.” With that, she drove her lips into mine, her claws clutching the sleeves of my sweater. She was in the middle of her workout when I came in, so her lips were soft and her breath held a wet heat that passed into my mouth. Not to let her do all the work, I pushed myself back up with one arm and pulled her close with the other just above her tail fan of feathers. Stella pressed herself against me, gently dampening my clothes with the thin layer of sweat on her skin.
“Whose ‘territory’ am I, again?” I breathed onto her lips.
It was probably a mistake to get cute like that, as I quickly realized once she bit my lower lip. “Mine.” It was both an answer and a declaration. She settled herself on my lap with a squirm of her hips before letting go of my lip.
I leaned down and kissed her neck. “You know, Stella.”
“Hmm?” She sure seemed comfortable.
“Sorry to be a buzz kill, but, we probably shouldn’t be doing this here.” Despite my words, I continued to kiss her up her neck until I reached her ear lobe.
Stella sat rigid for a moment. “Right.” An errant yelp of joy sounded from the hallway. “Kids.”
“Do you, uh, want to go to the hotel room?”
“Yes.” She hopped from my lap and headed for our suitcases. The limp in her step reminded us both of her ailment as we gathered our things.
“But we’ll be coming back to visit this place later on, right?”
I laughed. “Yes.”
* * *
After saying goodbye to the kids and Maria, promising to come back before New Year’s, Stella and I hopped on a bus. We hunkered down in the seats right next to the rear exit door. Not much time had passed since I rode it, so the streets were of course still packed. And I think the smell had worsened, which I didn’t think was possible.
When the massive vehicle turned a corner I said, “You want to just get off here and walk? It’s just a straight shot down this street.”
Stella rolled the idea around in her head for a few seconds. “Nah.” Instead of continuing the train of thought, she leaned against me and nuzzled her cheek against my chest. That earned us a few tired looks from other passengers, but she was smiling so wide I didn’t mind the stares too much. The few monstrous women I saw didn’t seem nearly as annoyed as the humans. I suppose they believed me to be the one “captured” by the harpy, in a sense, giving them a sort of pride that one of their kind did her job in getting a man. Great, that line of thinking was starting to annoy me instead.
Once we got off at our stop, we entered the hotel through the lobby. It was one of those places with a nice open wide lobby with some modern art placed on columns. The ample ceiling space lead up through the first few upper floors. Some rails looked like they were modified to allow harpies and other flying women to perch or land there. Of course, there were designated “lift off” points on either end of the lobby. Naturally, I carried our luggage through the lobby, up the elevator, and down the hallway of the ninth floor. From the windows I saw through on the way, we could just barely see the skeletal trees of Central Park among the white snow.
Stella used our key card on our door at the end of the hall. It was a nice, sequestered room far from the majority of the rest of the hotel. And that was just grand, in my opinion. It meant a measure of privacy and less people nearby to hear us if we get a little crazy. Really, though, I needed to get my mind out of the gutter once more. I was starting to wonder if all that old church propaganda I learned about from history class about “demonic energy” was true. Either way, Stella and I were most certainly corrupting each other in some way or another.
Upon prying open the door, Stella let out a “Whoa!” and rushed inside. “Why’s it so big?”
Indeed, the room was much larger than the one we stayed at in Carson City. It had the requisite Queen sized bed, television, dresser, and desk. Further toward the outside of the building, however, was an open carpeted area with two armchairs and a couch with a coffee table between them. In the corner of the room was a small gas fireplace with totally fake logs in it. Instead of just a window, we had a balcony with two lounge chairs that overlooked the tops of the nearby buildings. I took a glance into the bathroom as well. It had two rooms: one with just a sink, and another deeper in with the toilet and bath.
Hotel suites in New York definitely didn’t disappoint.
“Are all the rooms like this?” Stella called back as she opened the sliding glass door to the balcony.
A swirl of cold air rushed inside as I set our suitcases by the bed and caught up with her. “Nope, only a few per floor.” While she gazed out across the view of Central Park, partially hidden from view by neighboring buildings, I came up behind her and slid my arms around her neck and down her front with my chin resting on her head.
She leaned back against my chest and looked up at me. “Did you do this?”
“Happy almost-New Year’s.”
With a shake of her head, she did her best to hold in a smile. “You ass, you don’t have to go out of your way to do this.”
“Does it annoy you?”
“What? No, no! I’m just, just surprised! I’ve never been in a room like this!”
I rocked us back and forth. “I just thought you’d like having more open space than the last hotel we stayed in.”
Stella wiggled out of my arms and walked back inside. “This really nice, Jeff,” she said as she pulled her hair tie off, letting her wavy locks loose around her shoulders. “I haven’t washed off from my workout yet. So, uh, I’ll be in the shower.” She turned toward me and flashed me a smirk before heading off to the bath with a prance in her step. Taking the hint, I nonchalantly stepped inside, closed the balcony door behind me, and followed her into the bathroom.
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