Embracing the Demon (Box Set)
by Amanda Steiger
Ebook ISBN: 07492-02416
[ Demon Romance, MF & MM ]
Love is always a gamble, but when you bargain with a demon the deck’s stacked in his favor.
Publisher’s Note: Embracing the Demon (Box Set) contains the previously published novellas Demon’s Bargain, Living with a Demon, Playing Games, and Escaping Darkside.
Demon’s Bargain [ Book 1 ]
A human approached his castle from the east. Vaz felt the light of its soul, a small, fragile spark in the darkness. Opening his eyes, he rose from his chair. A fire crackled in the hearth, but did little to illuminate the vast, stone hall. Neither the dark nor the cold bothered him. He was accustomed to both.
It had been some time since he’d seen another person. Most humans feared him and gave his castle a wide berth. Who was this lone traveler approaching his home?
Vaz reached out with his mind. His thoughts swept outward, like a vast web of invisible tendrils, touching everything within a mile of his castle. He felt the mind of a sea-hawk as it wheeled over the foamy, gray water, its keen eyes searching for the silver flash of a fish. Looking through the hawk’s eyes, he scanned the shore.
Vaz saw a small, human form, walking near the water’s edge, head bent against the wind. Young and female. He sampled her mind as his consciousness flowed into her, tasting fear and determination. Vaz felt the chill of wet clothes against her skin, the hunger gnawing her belly, the ache of fatigue in her muscles. He looked through her eyes and saw his own castle, dark against the gray sky.
Vaz withdrew back into his own mind and stood, thinking.
For nearly twenty years, he had lived here alone, feeling nothing save the old ache of bitterness and the empty indifference growing like a cancer in his soul. Now, he felt a rare flicker of curiosity, like a tiny candle flame in the dark catacombs of his heart.
Who was she, this girl?
* * *
Cold wind howled, stinging Ella’s cheeks and eyes. She wrapped her cloak tighter around herself, tucked her numb fingers under her arms, and raised her head. Ahead, atop a mound of rock at the ocean’s edge, stood the demon’s castle, a crumbling stone monolith. Dark, empty windows seemed to peer down at her like the eye sockets of a skull. If she hadn’t known better, she’d have said it was deserted. It looked cold and ancient, like a ruin.
Waves crashed against the jagged rocks on the shore. Clouds of sea foam leapt into the air. A sea-hawk swooped down from the sky and its claws skimmed through the water. The bird rose into the air, a twisting silver fish speared in its talons.
Ella’s arms tightened around herself. Even the landscape was cold and unforgiving. She wondered if the castle’s lord was just as ruthless.
Ella stared at the sheer stone walls, the sharp-tipped towers, like jagged teeth piercing the sky. Her heart knocked against her chest. She didn’t want to go any nearer to that place, but what choice did she have?
Ella squared her shoulders and approached the towering, weathered wooden doors. She raised a fist and knocked. A long moment of silence passed. Her heartbeat filled her ears like thunder as she knocked again, harder. “Hello? Lord Vaz? If you’re there, please, I need to speak with you.” Ella waited, holding her breath, and heard heavy footsteps from within the castle. She forced her trembling legs to stand their ground.
The doors creaked open, and she took an involuntary step backward. A towering form stood in the doorway. He was enormous, broad of shoulder and chest, with long legs and thick, powerful arms. His black, silk shirt and matching trousers were snug enough to show the rolling hills and valleys of muscle. A silver-buckled belt gathered his shirt tight about his narrow waist. His skin was dark, not brown, but true, inky black, as if he’d been sculpted from solid ebony. His hair, in striking contrast, was a pale white-blond, like frosted ice. It spilled over his broad shoulders, thin and fine as silk, shining like metal. At the sight of her, his eyes narrowed, and her breath caught in her throat. She stared, like a rabbit pinned by the gaze of a hawk.
His eyes were red, an intense, vivid red, like polished gemstones. Demon’s eyes. They stared into hers, and suddenly, she couldn’t speak. Her mouth moved, but no words left her throat.
“Well?” he said at last, his voice low and smooth. A hint of sharp, white teeth showed between his lips when he spoke.
Ella bowed her head and struggled to hold her voice steady as she spilled out the speech she had rehearsed in her head a dozen times. “Lord Vaz, hear me out. I beg you. My people are dying. A dragon stalks Mill Town. We’ve lost over twenty men, women, and children and have no defense against the beast. Please help us.”
He shook his head. “Fools. They expect me to rush to their aid after they branded me an abomination and drove me out.” He glared at her. “Why should I help those who wish me dead?”
“We can pay you.” Ella pulled a pouch from inside her cloak. The coins inside jingled and clinked as she held it out to him with both hands, head bowed.
“And what use would I have for money?”
“Then… you will do nothing?”
A rippling growl rose from his throat. “Find another warrior. I want nothing to do with Mill Town or its people.”
“Please.” Ella wet her lips and met his gaze. “There is no one else. You are our last hope.”
He stared at her, his face unreadable. “Come inside.”
His eyes narrowed. “Do you want to save your people?”
She took a deep breath, lifting her chin. “Yes.”
“Then come inside.”
Slowly, she stepped through the open doors, into a large, dimly lit room. The walls and floor were stone, bare of rugs or tapestries. The only warmth and light came from a huge fire blazing in the hearth at the far end of the room.
The doors slammed shut and Ella gave a start. Turning, she looked up at Vaz. There was no trace of mercy in his red eyes as he stared down at her. With his dark clothes and onyx skin, he blended in with the surrounding shadows, so he was only a hulking shape outlined by the dull glow of firelight. “You are afraid of me.”
There was no point in denying it so she nodded.
“Yet you came here to ask my help, even knowing I might kill you.” He shook his head. “Cowards, sending a slip of a girl to do their dirty work.”
“They didn’t send me. I chose to come. The others were convinced you wouldn’t help us, that asking you would be a waste of time, but I had to take the chance. You alone can help us. I don’t expect you to do it for nothing. If you don’t want money, there must be something else you want, something we can give you.”
He raised one eyebrow. His brows were blond, like his hair, pale arches, like crescent moons against his night-black skin. “You are prepared to offer me anything?”
“Anything I can give.”
“And what if I want you?”
Her heartbeat quickened. The bag of coins slipped from her trembling hands and spilled on the floor. “Me, my Lord?”
“Yes. Suppose I asked for your body in exchange for my help?”
Ella steeled herself. “I’ll do whatever it takes to save my people.”
“Are you sure?”
Ella swallowed, mouth dry. Demons’ desires were dark and twisted. Human women were playthings to them, to be used and discarded, or so she’d always been told. But what choice did she have? Whatever he did to her, it couldn’t be worse than standing by and watching the people of her village killed one by one.
“Yes. If you agree to kill the dragon, I will offer myself as payment.”
“You show more courage than most of your kind.”
Her cheeks flushed. “I’m terrified, if you want to know the truth.”
“Yet here you stand.” He raised one hand to her face, fingertips grazing her cheek very lightly. The touch sent small, electric tingles skittering up her spine, and she shivered, confused at her own reaction. Vaz gripped her chin between a thumb and forefinger and lifted her face. His eyes captured hers, held hers. “What is your name, girl?”
She wet her lips. “Ella.”
“How old are you?”
“You were but a child when I was cast out, then. I suppose you don’t remember.”
“I remember very little.”
His eyes stared into hers. They were completely inscrutable, those orbs of solid, lustrous ruby red, without iris or pupil. They glowed with their own bloody light, like fire within stained glass.
Ella felt a tickle in the center of her head and tensed. She knew Vaz was inside her mind, examining her thoughts, her memories. The secrets of her heart lay bare before those emotionless, blood-red eyes. She wanted to look away, but his gaze held her.
Vaz’s thumb brushed her lower lip. She tensed, startled by the gesture. “Why not just leave the village?”
“I can’t abandon my people.”
His thumb moved slowly back and forth, stroking her full lower lip. “Why do you care? What have they done for you?”
“It doesn’t matter. They’re my people. How could I do nothing while they suffer?”
His face was like the face of a statue, rigid, emotionless. Firelight and shadows danced over his high, proud cheekbones, his strong, aquiline nose. His thumb still rested against her lower lip, a warm pressure. “Very well. This is my offer. Share my bed with me tonight. It has been some time since I have tasted the pleasures of a woman’s body. For this night, you will belong to me, body and mind. I will know the secrets of your soul and your flesh. Give me this, and I will save your people.”
“And after tonight, you will give me my freedom?”
He nodded. “One night. That is all I want.” He leaned closer, his eyes burning into hers. “Do you agree to my terms?”
Ella took a deep breath. All he asked was one night. Surely, she could survive one night in a demon’s bed. “I agree.”
He smiled, and the expression sent chills through her. It was a smile of cold triumph, utterly ruthless. “Very well.” He folded his arms over his chest. “Take off your cloak.”
Ella tensed. Fingers trembling, she undid the clasp of her cloak and let it slip off. He took it from her and draped it over a nearby chair, then turned to face her. His gaze moved up and down the length of her body.
Ella wore only a simple, white dress beneath her cloak. Her stiff nipples poked through the thin cotton. She told herself it was just the chill in the air.
“You aren’t dressed for travel.”
“I’ve never traveled before,” she murmured. “I don’t know how one is supposed to dress for it.”
“Generally, one wears something a little sturdier. That garment is almost transparent. Not that I’m complaining.” Vaz cupped her breast through the dress. Ella gasped. The heat of his hand burned into her skin, even through the thin cloth. She watched, breathless, as his thumb circled her tingling nipple. One long, dark finger trailed over the pearl buttons of her dress. He undid the first button, then the second. “You aren’t wearing anything beneath this, are you?”
“No.” She’d dressed in a hurry, not wanting her parents to overhear her, before sneaking out of the house. She wished she’d at least taken the time to put on a brassiere.
He undid a third button, a fourth. Her dress fell open, exposing her breasts. Goose bumps rose on the smooth, white flesh, and her areolas puckered around her rosy nipples. “Your tits are exquisite,” said Vaz. He cupped them and hoisted them, weighing them in his hands. “So round and firm. And such nipples. Like little candies begging to be sucked. I wonder if they are as sensitive as they look. Are they?”
Ella’s cheeks burned. She lowered her gaze.
He placed a finger beneath her chin and lifted her face. “I said, are your nipples as sensitive as they look?” His voice was velvet-soft, iron-hard.
Ella swallowed. It seemed he was determined to make this as embarrassing for her as possible. “I-I don’t know, my Lord.”
“You don’t know?” He raised his eyebrows, then chuckled. His fangs flashed as he smiled. “You are very pretty, Ella. You must be aware of that. That silky skin, those plump, pink lips… the village boys must be panting after you like dogs. Are you telling me that you have never lain with a man?”
“You know I haven’t.” Ella’s hands clenched into fists, nails pressing into her palms. “You can see into my mind, can’t you? You know I’m a virgin.” True, she’d let a boy put his hand beneath her shirt once, but that was all. And those fumbling caresses, stolen hastily in a dark barn on the night of Midsummer Feast, had not prepared her for this in the least.
She felt Vaz’s eyes on her, and her cheeks grew hotter. “It is unusual to be a virgin at nineteen, is it not? Most village girls your age have already started a family. So why do you remain untouched?”
“I… I haven’t found the person I want to spend my life with. That’s all. I’ve seen too many girls marry the first boy who called them pretty, and now they’re tired and bitter, minding a litter of children while their husbands drink away their pay in the tavern. I vowed I wouldn’t give myself away so easily.”
“Hmm.” His hands remained on her breasts, warm and firm. “So no one has ever done this to you?” Vaz rolled one aching nipple between his thumb and forefinger, then tugged it. The sensation produced a strange, sharp, burning mixture of pleasure and discomfort. A small sound escaped her throat. “I asked you a question.”
“No,” she said breathlessly. “Not… not like this.” Her eyelids fluttered and slipped shut. She panted as his thumb toyed with her sensitive nipple. Damn him! Had he cast some spell on her? “If all you want is my body, then just take me and get it over with,” she said through clenched teeth. “Why do you torment me like this?”
“This is torment?”
Ella didn’t answer.
Vaz gave her nipple one last, gentle tug. Then he undid the last few buttons of her dress, exposing her stomach, then the white, cotton panties: the only thing that stood between him and her untouched sex.
Ella drew in her breath sharply as he cupped her mound through her underwear. Heat rushed to her core, pooled between her thighs. The lips plumped and wetness tickled her folds.
Vaz’s hand slipped beneath the waist of her panties. Two hot, thick fingers delved between her lips and pressed into her folds. His palm grazed her clit. Ella’s teeth pressed into her lower lip. The feel of his hard, calloused fingertips against her private flesh was shockingly intimate, shockingly exciting.
Her legs trembled as his fingers explored her. One finger brushed the barrier of her virginity, and she tensed. “Ah,” he breathed. “You are untouched. A rare treasure.” His hand withdrew. Her heart pounded as he pulled her panties down, exposing her aroused pussy to the cool air. Vaz stared at it, his eyes unreadable. Her clit poked out like a pink button. His thumb stroked the hood. “Untouched and very responsive.”
Fresh wetness tickled her folds. Her body had never responded so fiercely to anything, but she had the impression this was not even intended as foreplay. He was simply testing her body, judging her, like a merchant judging a piece of silk or a jewel. Her jaw tightened, and she lifted her chin, determined to bear it with as much dignity as possible. Of course, it was hard to be dignified when she was flushed and trembling with desire.
He pulled up her panties, covering her. Ella exhaled, relieved and disappointed. She could still feel the imprint of those large, warm fingertips on her aching flesh, as if they’d left a brand.
Vaz folded his arms and stared at her, his expression inscrutable. “You have come a long way. You must be tired and hungry.”
“I… well, yes. But –”
“Did you think I would throw you into bed without first allowing you the chance to rest and eat?” He chuckled. A glint of sharp, white teeth showed between his smiling lips. “No. I want you refreshed when you come to my bed.” He took her hand and led her to a chair in front of a blazing hearth. “Sit and rest. I shall prepare a meal and a hot bath. You may cover yourself. Though if you wish to come to the table like that, I would not complain.”
Ella flushed and hastily buttoned up her dress.