Demon Apprentice (Soul Debt)
Second Edition
Sarah Barimen
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2013 Sarah Barimen

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Imagine for a moment that you've been a human all your life, okay? Just try to imagine that. I'm sure it won't be difficult. You get tired of all the limitations of life there, so you move to the big city. In your hometown, people knew you but there is nothing to do but work and maybe go to keggers, rodeos and dances. Worse than that, it's never going to change: no excitement, no future, no hope. As soon as you can, then, you move to the big city.

Maybe you get a decent-paying job that people back home would drool over, but everything costs more in the city and maybe it eats up the difference you were so proud of. Also, now you're a nameless person in a faceless crowd. You want more, so you make a deal with the devil and skyrocket to the utter heights of dizzying fame and fortune. You kind of forget you ever made a deal or signed a contract in your own blood. It's easy to forget that kind of thing. Your brain tricks you, tells you it wasn't real. You're busy. Oh God are you busy. It's called success.

Then one day a tall dark stranger hunts you down and fucks you like you've never even imagined -- and takes the devil's due in the form of pieces shaved from your soul. He comes back again and again. You're exhilarated and terrified at the thought of his next visit, because you know that sooner or later, one of those visits will be the last. By the time your soul is gone, you've become like him: a winged, fanged gargoyle with the power to slice away someone's soul. And then the training begins.

That first collection was memorable in so many ways I lack the words to describe it. I mentioned before that the first time -- that first training run -- happened in the blink of an eye. I'm sure I was gone from my hotel room for no more than thirty seconds, although I didn't look at the clock when the first knock came, so who knows? Anyway, the next thing I knew I was standing next to Darius with my heart caught in my throat.

Being close to him always turns me on, and just being in arm's reach of him makes me hard as a rock even when it's not exactly convenient -- like standing outside somebody's door when you're about to go in and extract a payment. He knocked on the door while I looked up and down the generic hallway whose walls were adorned with equally generic art between the numbered doors. This was a hotel hallway, then. Could be anywhere.

"Amsterdam," Darius said, as if I'd asked aloud.

"I was in Tokyo a minute ago."

"Oh, hey, nice. I was in Atlanta." He smiled, a quirk I wished I could follow up on, but we heard a young female voice from inside the room call, "Who is it?"

"It's the plumber. I've come to fix the sink," Darius called back, then turned to me with a grin.

I got the reference, but I suspected the woman inside wouldn't because her voice sounded too young, and he didn't wait for her to answer anyway. As he had always done with me, he simply walked in, and if she'd locked or chained the door, you couldn't tell. I followed him in. What a pair we looked: two handsome men in exquisite suits that were also part of the magic, since I certainly hadn't been wearing a suit when I heard the knock on the door of my own hotel room.

"Monique Forhan?" Darius asked, eyebrows raised in polite inquiry.

She was wearing a fuzzy bathrobe and fuzzy bunny -- yes, bunny, and I don't mean the Playboy kind -- slippers. She looked small-town and wholesome, not exactly what I was expecting on this kind of assignment. "Yes. Who are you? Are you with the hotel?" She frowned at us, clearly uncertain whether we were new security or something else. We certainly didn't seem to be on her mental schedule for the night, anyway.

"No, ma'am. We're here to collect on your debt."

She looked from Darius to me. I remembered my first payment. I'd been impatient, irritated at having been disturbed in my office late at night, and brusque. I'd even tried to write Darius a check, as if that would have worked. I cringe now, thinking back. She was much quicker on the uptake than I had been. "You're here for my soul, aren't you? But I'm not really very famous yet."

"That's how it works, ma'am," I cut in. "Your career takes off as soon as payments commence."

"Payments? Plural?" Again, she looked from him to me. "It takes two of you?"

"Two of us take you," Darius said. "It was in your contract."

I expected her to blanch, panic, say "no" or otherwise indicate that there was no way she was going to cooperate or declare uncategorically that she hadn't agreed to this, and threaten to call hotel security. I remembered my own initial shock and thought a woman's reaction would be more intense even than mine had been. I was wrong.

She smiled. "I remember the fine print. I'm used to casting couches. You wouldn't believe some of the sweaty, fat, ugly old men I've seduced to get this far. This is much better." She reached out her hand to me. "If you're half as gorgeous naked as you are in that suit, I'm going to enjoy this." She paused and studied me, head canted. "You look terribly familiar." Her expression cleared, and wonder showed there. "You're Jack Brannard, aren't you? I saw you on the cover of --"

"Guilty as charged." I took her hand. God, but she was hot. I could have lost myself in her eyes, let alone the rest of her. The belt on her fuzzy robe hinted at glorious curves.

"But what are you doing here? You're not seriously with --"

Darius broke in. "You'll find a lot of powerful people in our organization. If you think about it a moment, you'll understand why that's true."

She smiled and nodded. "I get it." She reached for his hand too, then, drawing us both along as she walked backward toward the bed.

I followed as if in a dream. She was so beautiful and so willing. Don't get me wrong: since I began my meteoric climb up the social ladder, my life has been filled with plenty of willing women I haven't had time to entertain -- an assortment of gold diggers, groupies, roadies, thrill-seekers, and social climbers -- but this was different. She didn't expect me to give her anything except pleasure, and she knew perfectly well what we were there to take. I glanced at Darius. His nostrils were flared like a stallion's. I knew that look, having enjoyed his attentions for months. Within the confines of his sleek, perfectly cut trousers I knew he was hard as steel. I was almost jealous that she was going to get what he had to give, but then I remembered I was supposed to be working...

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