Demon born, p.1
Demon Born, page 1
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, organizations, or persons, whether living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2019 by Christine Pope
Published by Dark Valentine Press
Cover design by Lou Harper
Ebook formatting by Indie Author Services
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems — except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews — without permission in writing from its publisher, Dark Valentine Press.
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A gentle night breeze stirred the grapevines, which shimmered under the light of a nearly full moon. Cat Castillo stood in the covered entry of her newly remodeled home, thinking she could almost catch a glimpse of the dark fruit nearly hidden beneath those broad leaves. In that moment, she wondered if she’d made the right decision in selling the grapes, rather than attempt to continue making wine here at what had once been the Rio Luna vineyard. Sure, she didn’t know anything about viticulture, but she could have hired someone to help her. She’d been watching these vines since they began to bud in April, had shared every thrill when they reached a new milestone, experienced every pang of fear when the weather forecasts called for a late frost. After investing so much time in them, they almost felt like her children, and surely it was a terrible thing to sell your children on the open market?
After that thought crossed her mind, though, Cat wanted to shake her head at herself. Of course those grapes weren’t her children. She might have helped to nurture them, but they were only a crop, an asset she could sell to help earn back some of the truly alarming amounts of money she’d spent getting the house that had come with the vineyard updated and ready to be lived in.
No, although she really didn’t want to admit such a thing to herself, she knew the real reason for her current maudlin state was the news that her brother Rafe and his wife Miranda — the Castillo clan’s prima, or head witch — had just relayed at their father’s birthday dinner. Although the ostensible reason for the get-together had been Eduardo’s fifty-sixth birthday, Cat had been able to tell from the moment she’d laid eyes on them that Rafe and Miranda were bursting with news they wanted to share.
It had come out soon enough — they were expecting their first child, who was due sometime around the beginning of January. And even though Cat had known this sort of announcement could come along at any time, since Miranda and Rafe had been frank about trying to get pregnant, she still couldn’t help experiencing an odd pang of…what? Jealousy? Melancholy? She couldn’t even be sure what the emotion really was, because she knew she was also happy for the two of them, had a feeling that she would be closer to this particular niece or nephew than she was to the children of her sisters Louisa and Malena. At the same time, she couldn’t quite stop herself from wondering whether she would ever be a mother herself. So far, the answer seemed to be no.
Restless, Cat stepped out from the shelter of the high vaulted roof of the entryway, moving toward the orderly rows of vines that were planted to the south and east of the house and its various outbuildings. The night air was so mild, she didn’t need a sweater or shawl, despite the lightweight dress she wore, which she’d put on earlier so she’d have something nice to wear to her father’s birthday dinner.
She wanted to be happy for Rafe and Miranda. No, she really was happy, only…
…only she wanted that same kind of happiness for herself. It had been exciting to oversee the renovation of the house, the remodel of the winery’s former tasting room into the fiber arts studio of her dreams, but now that Cat had moved in and was here all by herself, she was starting to realize how big the house really was, how her footsteps seemed to echo off the stone floors, despite all the expensive rugs she’d bought to cover them. And night times were the worst, because at least during the day she had Roberto, the vineyard manager, and his son Miguel around the property. It didn’t feel empty the way it did now.
The syllables seemed to drift on the air, barely louder than the rustle of the grape leaves in the night wind.
She froze, heart pounding as she scanned the moonlit landscape for signs of an intruder. Everything appeared as it should be, the track that led from the house to the former tasting room empty, the gravel bleached nearly white under the light of the moon.
There was no one here.
Her pulse slowed somewhat, but still she stood where she was, arms wrapped around herself, the night breeze pulling at the loose strands of hair that had freed themselves from the French braid at the back of her head. No one called her Catalina except her parents. Her mother was dead, and that voice hadn’t sounded at all like Eduardo’s. It was smooth and deep, with the barest trace of an accent she couldn’t quite place. The voice felt almost familiar, and yet she couldn’t remember where she might have heard it before. It teased at her memory, plucking at threads of recollection that had been buried deeply for months and months.
He stepped out of the vines, the night wind blowing his black shoulder-length hair away from his face. Cat blinked, blood in her veins going to ice, even as she cursed herself for being stupid enough to leave her cell phone sitting on the table just inside the entryway. How the stranger knew her name was secondary to the chilling realization that they were all alone here. The property was large enough that she knew her nearest neighbors wouldn’t be able to hear her even if she screamed with all her might.
Then he spoke again. “Catalina. You do not remember me?”
As he asked the question, he moved closer. The moonlight was bright enough that she could see the handsome, sculpted planes of his face, the sensual fullness of his lips, the faintest trace of stubble on his strong chin. He was goddamn gorgeous, that was for sure, but he still had intruded on her property.
She found her voice. “I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
He smiled. “Perhaps not in this guise.”
It would have been easy to blame what happened next on too many glasses of wine at dinner, but Cat had drunk only one, knowing that she needed to drive back to her home in Pojoaque after the dinner in the heart of Santa Fe ended. She was, if not dead sober, at least the next thing to it.
The handsome man who stood a few feet away from her shifted, his face and form melting like overheated wax. He grew taller by more than a foot, even as black, leathery wings emerged from his back, spreading out into a span that stretched more than ten feet across. His features grew harsh, monstrous, skin darkening, eyes flaring with red.
And despite all this, Cat experienced only a brief rush of fear, gone as quickly as it had come. Because, incredible as it was to admit such a thing to herself, she knew this being.
The Lord of Chaos, summoned by the dark warlock Simon Escobar to be his slave. That scheme hadn’t exactly gone to plan, and
His voice echoed in her head. You know me.
Yes, she replied. Why the disguise?
I fear I am somewhat conspicuous in my natural form, he said. I thought it better to blend in.
And just like that, he was once again human in appearance, if one of the best-looking humans she’d ever seen.
Despite herself, Cat grinned. “I hate to tell you this, but you’re still pretty conspicuous in this form.”
The Lord of Chaos looked down at the human body he now wore. For the first time, Cat realized he was wearing a plain black T-shirt and dark jeans, motorcycle boots covering his feet. “Am I?” he asked. “I did not have much frame of reference, so I chose something that would be agreeable to most of the people I met.”
Oh, it’s agreeable, Cat thought. Maybe a little too agreeable. Because…damn.
“I can see why you’d think that,” she said. “But…why are you here?”
He frowned slightly, and she wished she could take back the question. It had sounded pretty rude, as though she didn’t want him here, that she thought he was intruding on her solitude uninvited. And although it might have sounded strange to admit she was happy to have a disguised demon lord suddenly show up on her property, she actually was glad to see him. Even in the brief exchanges they’d shared when they were working to defeat Simon Escobar, she’d felt strangely comfortable with the Lord of Chaos, which she guessed was not the normal reaction to the presence of that sort of being.
“I mean,” Cat went on hastily, glad that he hadn’t replied right away, “it’s been eight months. You said you were going to find someone to help you get back to your own world, and so when none of us heard anything….”
“Yes,” he said, sounding more resigned than anything else. “That endeavor did not go precisely as planned. I found no one who could assist me, and so I thought it best if I returned here. At least you and your brother and your prima know what I did to aid you in your fight against Simon Escobar, and so I hoped….”
The demon lord stopped there, as though he was vaguely ashamed that he’d been forced to return here once all his options had run out. A stir of pity went through Cat, and she said quickly, “Yes, we do know, and we’ll never forget. Why don’t you come inside?”
He hesitated, his gaze moving from her to the warm yellow light that spilled out of the living room windows of her house. “Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure,” she replied immediately. “Are you hungry? I’ve got some tamales my Aunt Rosa sent home with me. She thinks I’m living on frozen food and yogurt out here.” Which isn’t all that far from the truth….
“I don’t know what a tamale is,” the Lord of Chaos said, a frown once again pulling at his brows.
“Well, then,” Cat responded, “you’re definitely coming in.”
This was crazy, wasn’t it? She sat across from the demon lord, watching as he demolished a plate of pork and beef and sweet corn dessert tamales. Obviously, he wasn’t too worried about maintaining the trim, muscular human form he’d assumed. Then again, she supposed if he could make himself look like anyone or anything he wanted, then it didn’t really matter how many calories he consumed.
And if he’s still himself under there, she thought, reaching for the glass of wine she’d poured for herself, then he probably needs a lot of food to even begin to maintain his weight.
He slowed down enough to take a sip from his own glass of Tempranillo. Estate-grown, too, from one of the bottles that had come to her with the sale of the house. “It’s all very good,” he said. “Thank you.”
“It’s no problem,” she responded, although inwardly she knew she probably wouldn’t pass the Lord of Chaos’s compliments regarding the tamales on to her Aunt Rosa. The source of the praise would have been way too difficult to explain.
Another flicker of worry passed through her mind, the fear that she might have made herself vulnerable by allowing him into her house, openly inviting him here. No, that was silly; that sort of rule pertained to vampires, not demon lords of unknown origin. Besides, vampires weren’t real.
Cat sipped some more wine, then said, “So…what happened? Was Simon Escobar really the only warlock with the power to send you back to your own world?”
The demon paused, fingers tapping against the stem of the glass he held. “It would appear so. That is, I had to be discreet in my inquiries, because the last thing I wanted was to attract the attention of yet another person who was only interested in exploiting my powers, but I came across no one with that sort of skill. It seems that all you witches and warlocks have been very serious about ignoring any fields of inquiry that have been deemed remotely unsavory, and so there doesn’t appear to be anyone who can list demon-summoning on their resumes.”
His tone as he said this sounded almost amused, as if he’d already moved far past his disappointment and had done his best to come to terms with his current situation. Cat wondered if she should leave it alone, but she couldn’t help asking, “Not even in Central America? That’s where Simon’s father came from, right?”
Expression unreadable, he answered, “That was the first place I looked.”
After delivering that somewhat quelling comment, the Lord of Chaos returned to eating his tamales. Cat noticed that he’d left most of the sweet corn tamale alone as he ate the other two, although once those were gone, he devoured that one with relish as well. Saving it for dessert? Maybe. She supposed she should be glad that his table manners were pretty much impeccable, especially since she’d never thought of demons as the sort of beings who’d be handy with a knife and fork. Knives, maybe, although their talons had certainly seemed sharp enough on their own.
“I’m sorry,” she told him after a pause, since she really didn’t know what else to say. “But you’re welcome to stay here for as long as you need to.”
That offer made him look up from his plate, dark eyes intent. Cat had to make herself sit still and return his gaze, which was harder than she’d thought it would be. He really was insanely good-looking.
Not really, she reminded herself. This is all just window dressing. Underneath….
Well, underneath he was an eight-foot-tall demon with red eyes, sharp teeth, and bat wings that could probably knock you into the next county if you weren’t careful. For some reason, though, that mental image didn’t bother her as much as it should have, probably because the last time she’d properly seen him in that guise, he’d been busy helping to save all their asses.
“You mean that?” he asked. He sounded genuinely surprised.
Cat wondered exactly what he’d been through these past eight months, what he’d seen, what seamy undersides of the witching world he’d explored in order to find the one person who could send him back to his natural plane of existence. Even for a being with his powers, it couldn’t have been easy, or fun. No wonder he appeared so startled by her offer of hospitality.
“Yes, I do,” she said. After all, the house was large, with four bedrooms and three and a half baths. It wasn’t as though they’d be tripping over each other if he hung out here for a little while. “If you’re done eating, I can show you where you’ll be staying — that is, if you want to, of course.”
He lifted his wine glass and drained the last of its contents before setting it down once again. “I am ready.”
There was enough left in Cat’s own glass that she knew she wouldn’t be able to finish it off in one swallow. Instead, she took a sip for courage, then got up from her chair. “All the bedrooms are upstairs. This way.”
She led him up to the second floor and then down the short hallway to the space she’d designated as a guest room. It wasn’t overly large, but it had a balcony that looked to the north and the magnificent cottonwood trees that marked the northern perimeter of the property, and a ceiling fan overhead that helped to move the warm air that had collected here during
A few steps across the room, and she’d opened the French doors to let in some of the evening breeze. “Because this side of the house faces north, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about the sun waking you.”
As soon as she’d spoken, though, Cat wondered if she’d just made herself sound like an idiot. After all, she had no way of knowing whether demons — or demon lords — even had to sleep. The thought disquieted her. She didn’t want to think of the Lord of Chaos awake and roaming the house while she was asleep in her own bedroom down the hall. Her guest might have seemed friendly enough, but, after all, he wasn’t human.
He didn’t correct her one way or the other, only stood there for a moment in silence as he inspected the room. Did he think it was too plain? She’d been going for a Tuscan farmhouse style in her decorating, and the furnishings in here were simple, just a queen bed with a dark wood frame without any adornment, a writing desk placed up against one wall, and a ficus tree in a basket in one corner. Also, she’d hung a cross of pierced tin above the writing desk. At the time, she hadn’t thought much about it; being Catholic was all part of being a Castillo, the same as being a witch or warlock, but maybe a demon had different thoughts about overtly religious symbols.
Not that he was the sort of demon talked about in the Bible, as far as Cat had been able to tell. These demons were simply beings from a different plane of existence, given the name mostly because it served to describe them better than anything else humans had been able to come up with. As for what his world was even like, she really had no idea. It must have its attractions, though, or he wouldn’t have been trying so hard to get back there.
by Christine Pope / Romance / Science Fiction & Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes