Lesson #1: Choose Your Target
by Rin Sparrow
Sometimes the most momentous days of your life can start off in ways you never imagined. Like sitting in a crappy little cafe, listening to the slob nearby chew his food louder than a lawn mower. Typically, I adored being in Italy, especially Sorrento. It wasn’t as obvious as Rome or Venice, though in all honesty Naples was my favorite city. It was a little dirty, a little dangerous. But I was in deep need of a good fuck, not just a one-night stand. So I was hitting the more affluent, tourist-ridden, lemon-loving city of Sorrento. It held more romance. And, yes, as a demon I still had a thing for romance.
Not chaste romance, but…
I winced as I heard a new round of sloppy chopping noises and seriously considered cursing the guy with every affliction known to man—and a few humanity still hadn’t figured out yet—for his grotesque eating habits. Or maybe I should blame whomever raised him, as they obviously had never taught him to shut his goddamn mouth while eating.
Why was this stupid little man getting to me? Why was I so irritable? Oh yeah, my brain reminded me, I need to get laid. I rubbed my eyes; my energy was at a very low ebb.
“Hey, Modi. Hel-lo.”
I blinked, remembering I wasn’t alone. “Oh, sorry Sam. I got distracted.”
From across the table, he gave me a smirk. “Distracted, but not by a pretty face? You’re off your game, brother.”
Scowling, I said, “Tell me something I don’t know.” Was it just my lack of conquests that had me so prickly? If I was honest, I hadn’t felt fully satisfied in quite some time, though I couldn’t pin down why.
Sam sat back, sipping his wine, and arched an eyebrow at me. “Touchy. How long has it been?”
I rolled my eyes. Samael might’ve been my closest friend, but he was still a pain in the ass. His hazel eyes crinkled with amusement—amusement at my expense, of course.
“Scusi,” he said, catching the waitress as she went by. She blushed as he touched her arm and asked for more wine. I could see in her face how infatuated she was. I can say without exaggerating that all us demons were quite good-looking, but Samael looked more like an image of an angel than a demon: perfect bronze skin and that halo of platinum blond hair. But his eyes gave him away. Even now I could see the knowing way he followed the waitress with his eyes. I was the exact opposite, with paler skin and raven locks, and I did a better job of hiding my intentions behind my dark eyes.
Turning back to me, he waggled his eyebrows.
“Did you come up from Hell just to annoy me?” I sighed.
“Mostly,” he replied unrepentantly. “Though I’m glad I did. You don’t look you’re usual, cheerful self. You can’t be having problems with seduction in a place like this, surely?”
With a shrug I said, “I don’t know. There’s options available, but…”
“Their energy never feels right. Maybe everyone is just too jaded these days. Their auras always feel too murky, too tainted.”
“You need someone fresh and innocent, eh?”
I snorted. “Are there any left?”
“Perhaps. I did hear some news that you might find interesting.”
The waitress brought us a fresh bottle and I gratefully refilled my glass before prodding, “Do tell.”
“Well, you know what year it is—how the stars are aligned and all that bullshit?”
“I haven’t really being paying attention. Isn’t there a lunar eclipse or something coming up?”
“Much better: there’s a rare syzygy between several planets, including Venus and Mars. Do you recall what that means?”
I took a moment, but shook my head. “Enlighten me.”
“It’s a Khronos year,” he said with a wide grin.
It didn’t hit me for a second, then I shook my head more emphatically. “No way. There’s no way they still do that.”
“No? How can you be so certain? Even heaven has to be in touch with humanity on their own playing field occasionally.”
I wasn’t so sure. After all, the whole schism between angels and demons had been over how to interact with humans within the mortal plane. Other than that, when it came down to it, angels and demons weren’t all that different. The one thing mortals got right was that we did start off the same. But angels—whiny wusses that they are—didn’t think we should interact with humans. Oh, no. Just watch them from a distance, they said. Guide them with gentle, positive thoughts.
As if that shit was gonna get anything done.
So some of us left and decided we weren’t just gonna sit around and watch. No, we were going to get in there, make things messy, push people who needed it. And, well, have a bit of fun while we were at it.
Really, it was a shame we’d let such distance grow between us over one stupid issue. Angels—when they let themselves chill and got the sticks outta their asses—could be really damn fun. At least from what I remembered, which was literally ancient history. Nowadays the stubborn snobs didn’t belittle themselves to speak to us.
“An angel actually deigning to place his or her precious feet on the earth? I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“Maybe you will,” he said, still beaming. “Rumor has it Italy is the expected destination.”
“How do you hear these rumors? And why do you listen to such obvious bullshit?”
He laughed. “Just the reaction I expected. I heard it from some of the sentinels. They’ve got their pulse on the energies between worlds and something has definitely been going down.”
When I didn’t take the bait, he pressed on. “Come off it, part of you has to be intrigued by the idea.”
“Not really,” I said. “If I remember correctly, they’re stuck up little shits. I’ll never understand what their problem is, anyway. We’re always getting a bad rap, but at least we make things interesting.”
“But what if you could meet this angel? When else would you ever get the chance to fuck around with one?”
“Ah-ha,” I said with a snort. “And now the real reason for your visit is revealed.” Shaking my head, I told him, “Assuming any of this is true, how would you even manage to go about finding this angel?”
Sam shrugged. “Who knows? It’s worth a shot.” He paused. “You might want to keep an open mind,” he said. “Your specialty is lust, and imagine how it would boost your reputation if you banged one of the heavenly host?”
Though he said it lightly, I could read the tension in his shoulders. I knew him too well. An uneasy thought circled in my head.
“Does my reputation need a boost?”
He looked away, sipped his wine, and avoided my eyes. What the Hell was this? Nothing made Sam uncomfortable.
“There’s been talk,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
Clearing his throat, he replied, “Some people—not me—are saying that you’re going soft.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I snapped.
He shrugged. “I understand your way of doing things, that you like to savor it and take your time. You know not everyone understands that. And since you haven’t been to He—I mean, since you haven’t come home in so long,” he corrected with a glance around, “some are saying that you’re avoiding it.”
“What? I’m busy working and somehow that’s a bad thing?”
“You know how it is. Everyone’s expected to visit now and again and share some of the energy they’ve gathered.”
“It hasn’t been that long…”
“Two centuries isn’t a short time either.”
I glared and he raised his hands. “Hey,” he said, “I’m on your side. All I’m saying is you need to make a big score, and soon.”
His tone raised my hackles and rang warning bells in my brain. “Just how far has this ‘talk’ gotten?”
Sam rubbed the back of his neck. “It might have reached the boss...”
Shit. Running a hand through my hair I sighed and shoved my plate aside. “You’re not serious? Don’t people have anything better to do than gossip?”
“Look at it this way, you need a good score anyway, so do what you normally would…just a little more quickly.”
There wasn’t much to say after that and we left, in opposite directions. How fitting. I watched Sam as he strolled down the lane, eying people here and there, enjoying himself. At ease, carefree.
Of course, he could afford to be.
Damn, I needed a fucking plan.
No, I needed a damn good conquest. I just needed to find the right candidate. I headed down little side streets. They were clustered with quaint shops, spilling out into the street with their wares and vying for room on the cobblestone paths with small vendors and their overloaded carts.
My eyes wandered over the crowds, hoping for the best even as a headache grew behind my eyes. It was easy to spot the tourists among the locals. No decent Italian would be caught dead wearing a t-shirt with baggy shorts and trainers. But a tourist would be easier pickings, if I could find the right one. I stretched out my senses, feeling through the air for energies the way a bloodhound sniffs the air for scents. There were so many, but no one was standing out. Not yet.
I syphoned off tiny waves of energy here and there from lovers strolling down the lanes. Thank Hell below for horny Italians. They usually didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘discretion’, and that was fine by me.
Demons could gather energy to them in any number of ways, but I’d always preferred good ol’ fashioned lust. And don’t get the wrong idea, no matter what film directors or horror writers might like think, demons didn’t cause disasters or catastrophes; we didn’t plant suicidal thoughts in people’s heads or have secret dark wars to steal away babies or some such dramatic crap! Even if demons had such ambitions, such grand schemes were far too much work.
I sighed. I was thinking too much and not focusing. This should be enjoyable dammit, I said myself. It was a gorgeous day out, the perfect weather to hunt—err, peruse. I moved back towards the heart of town in the wide city plaza and then veered off on a smaller street in the general direction of the train station. Maybe I should try Naples—or Positano.
I was so certain I wasn’t going to find anyone that I nearly missed the perfect ass bent over to chase a stray lemon that had escaped from one of the fruit carts. When the man righted himself, I froze. For a moment I stood in disbelief. It was as if someone had deliberately set him in my path. Holy Hell, but he was just what I’d been looking for.
There he was. Petite. Blond. Innocent. Oblivious. Blue eyes to melt over. I grinned, my hunger for lust stirring deep within. He had energy so inviting it would make a lesser demon swoon from its sheer juicy potency. Lucifer save me, he was perfect.
And fucking Hell, I was sure you could bounce pennies off that ass. It just looked so…squeezable. Especially in those snug little jeans. The casual dress said he wasn’t a local, but not a typical tourist either.
My mind quickly began formulating a plan of seduction.
Demons pretty much used the same pick-up tactics as humans. We ought to; we invented them. But this one was special—and I couldn’t afford to fuck it up. I had to figure out just the right approach. I kept him in my sights and casually perused the shops nearby, keeping a discreet eye on my target.
I have to admit, this initial game of luring someone in was always my favorite part. It took finesse and knowledge and patience to truly seduce someone. Some demons rushed in, preferring messy one-night stands. I, on the other hand, liked a more subtle approach. Anyone could lure a human into a quick fuck—it was amazingly easy—but I considered myself a true craftsman, and lust was my medium. I was willing to put in the work, because it was all worth it for that moment when you looked in someone’s eyes and saw them melt for you—yielding and opening like a shy flower.
I smiled. Yes, I like to think of myself like a Cassanova of sorts. (Who is a demon much like myself, by the way. I had the honor of meeting him once, after he ‘retired’. His startlingly handsome looks were second only to his ego—but with his history of conquests and his undeniable skill, one could hardly fault him for it.) Though I didn’t compare to such a legend, I was good at what I did and I was very much going to enjoy luring the man before me into my bed. It was about time I had found someone worthy of it.
That thought reminded me of Sam’s warnings, his nudging for me to make quick work of it. I might prefer to take my time, but could I afford to now?
Fuck it. I knew what I was doing, and I was going to enjoy it.
With careful skill and feigned nonchalance I made my way in his direction. His energy was delicious even from across the street. I was damn lucky I had been the first to spot him. This one was sending off a signal a mile wide that might as well have said in neon letters ‘FUCKABLE VIRGIN’. It was like waving raw meat in front of a tiger for any demon within a mile radius.
But as I examined his fine ass and crystal blue eyes, I knew with a sixth sense in my gut that it was going to take all my skill and powers to seduce this little gem to part his thighs. At least I had the advantage of being in Sorrento—if there was anywhere someone was going to let themselves be swept away by a handsome stranger, it was in Italy.
Mr. Perfect was chatting with the lemon vendor and the street was just crowded and narrow enough for me to bump into him without looking like I was trying. I glanced about the wares in a nearby shop window and deliberately backed into him.
“Ah! Scusi!” I gasped, grabbing his lovely arm as I reached out to steady him after my ‘clutziness’. “I’m so sorry!” I told him in my best ‘I’m harmless and handsome’ voice.
“It’s all right,” he said, smiling up at me—and, oh, if that wasn’t the most beautiful voice I’d ever heard. I was so going to enjoy hearing him cry out my name.
We’d both spoken English, so I assumed I’d guessed rightly that he was a visitor—one ready to give in to holiday temptation.
Ripe for the plucking. I had to stop myself from drooling.
But as he turned to the vendor and picked up a few other fallen lemons, he spoke apologetically—and in perfect Italian—to the older man.
Hmm. I hadn’t expected that. Was he just talented with languages? What else could he do with that talented tongue? My mind whispered with glee.
Perhaps he was a professor or translator living here? I put aside my questions as the man turned to me and those azure eyes caught mine.
“Sorry about that. I probably wasn’t paying attention—I do that sometimes,” he said, blushing and running a hand through his curls.
I suddenly had a very hard time keeping myself from leaning down to nip at his neck, just to see what reaction that would get me. Instead, I gave him a disarming grin and told him, “I can think of far worse things than bumping into a handsome stranger.”
The pretty thing blinked up at me like an owl and for a moment I thought I’d misread him. Then he swallowed, drawing my eyes again to that graceful neck, and somehow his blush deepened.
“Oh,” he said, chewing his lip.
Before he could think too much or make excuses to leave, I took his arm and steered him away from the vendor cart. “I think I’ll let you make it up to me by buying me a drink.”
He gave a sweet little laugh. “How very generous of you,” he teased.
My smile widened. My instincts were on target. He might be a little shy, but he enjoyed my obvious flirting. This man was definitely game for a bit of fun—he just needed the right kind of prodding to help him realize it.
“Have you been here before?” I asked as we approached one of the better cafes bordering the plaza.
“Not exactly…” he began hesitantly, “I’m familiar with Italy, but I haven’t been on the Amalfi Coast long.”
“Your Italian is impeccable. So you know other areas of Italy better?”
Angel-eyes gave a cute, sulky sigh. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to spend time anywhere, really. But you’re right, I know Rome and other places better. I’ve never really walked around Sorrento.”
“What perfect timing for me to show you around then,” I said with a smile. He laughed and allowed me to give him a tour of the little town, pointing out where to get the best gelati or the best Italian shoes.
He shook his head at me as I pointed out some well-made leather satchels. “You must really love to shop,” he said.
I shrugged. “Why not?” With a grin I added. “What can I say? I have an appreciation for beauty, in whatever form it may take.” My hand drifted into the small of his back to steer him back down the street. I’d slowly been closing the distance between us as I took him around, and now I had the pleasure of feeling his arm brush against me as we walked. I could see him flush from the unintentional contact, and as he opened his mouth—probably to give an excuse to slip away—I motioned him into the main café along the town plaza.
“Let’s sit for a bit.”
I found us a cozy table in good view of the bustling plaza. At night the cars would be banned from driving through it, but in the daytime it stirred with tourists, cabs, cars, and locals going about their business.
“This is a nice spot,” he said congenially. I wasn’t sure if he meant it or if he was merely being polite.
I smiled and mentally reached out to taste his energy, see what he was feeling. I barely restrained a frown; this man was more difficult than most to assess. It felt as if he had a cloak dampening his natural energies.
Giving a mental shrug, I ignored the oddity and opted to focus on more immediate—and pleasant—pursuits. After all, not being so easy to read just made him more of a mystery and a challenge. Two things I definitely hadn’t had much of in at least a century.
The waiter came by and I told him in Italian, “A bottle of your best white wine, and…a side of bread and olives. Thank you..”
My pretty thing just sat and smiled, so I took it as a sign he was ok with the order.
“Now where are my manners,” I said. “I whisked you away without even asking your name.”
“Oh.” He blinked. An odd reaction to such a simple question. “It’s umm. It’s rather old fashioned…”
“I doubt it will seem so to me,” I replied with a bright grin. If only he knew what I actually considered old-fashioned!
Clearing his throat, he said, “Everyone just calls me ‘AJ’.”
I tilted my head so my dark hair fell across my brown eyes in a way I knew to be heart-stoppingly gorgeous. “That’s sweet.”
AJ bit his lip and gazed down at his water glass, running a finger along the edge. “So,” he said after a moment, “Do you live here?”
I shrugged. “I’m here for now, but…I get around.” In more ways than one, my mind added. “I never stay in one place for long.”
“No?” his voice seemed sad.
“Too much to do and see in the world.”
“But…then nowhere would feel like home.”
I shifted in my chair and was glad when the waiter reappeared with our order. AJ had put his finger on a sore spot. I always had Hell to return to, but for the last few centuries it just hadn’t felt…right. Not that I was willing to admit that to him, or anyone else.
I cleared my throat as our glasses were poured, then lifted mine towards him. He gave a soft smile, clinked glasses, and let the matter drop—much to my relief.
“Do you have to travel often for work?” he asked.
“I don’t necessarily have to, but I do prefer it. And you? Are you here on business or pleasure?”
He smiled coyly over the rim of his glass. “A little of both, I suppose.”
“I hope I’ll be able to contribute to making your time as pleasurable as possible then.”
“You know, my friend Mike warned me about smooth-talking handsome men like you,” he said with amusement.
“Oh? So I’m handsome?” I smirked, quirking an eyebrow.
He gave an indelicate snort. “You know you are,” he said good-naturedly.
“But it’s always nice to hear it.” I grinned shamelessly. “Especially from someone who is himself a stunning example of male perfection.”
The sweetest pink glow crept over his cheeks and he sipped his wine to hide behind the glass. Fucking adorable. “You’re making me blush.”
“I know.” I wanted to make him do a hell of a lot more than just blush—like scream with pleasure as I made him come over and over again—but I’d settle for it for now.
He popped an olive in his mouth and his eyes brightened. “Wow,” he exclaimed. “They’re amazing.” He took the seed from his mouth and set it onto the plate before him. Just the sight of him licking the olive’s salty brine from his fingers had me salivating over far more delicious conquests. Bloody Hell, I wanted to grasp him by the nape of his neck and hold him still while I slipped my tongue between his teeth to sample the flavor of his mouth.
I shifted in my chair as my pants grew uncomfortably tight. This man was having a swift, potent affect on me. The scent of his desire was growing stronger as well, and it was damn near maddening. I was tempted to skip my usual slow-paced seduction and just get him into bed at the first possible opportunity. And it would’ve been a smart move, considering the lovely ‘reputation’ I had apparently developed. But I was enjoying the slow burn of desire in my blood. It had been so long since I’d had game this promising.
“Aren’t you going to have any?” he asked, offering me the bowl of olives. I nodded politely and reached for one, deliberately letting my fingers brush his. The slightest tremor rippled through him and I almost growled aloud in satisfaction.
Fuck, but I was in trouble. Just when I’d decided to take my time, all I wanted to do was toss the damn bowl of olives aside and pull him across the table to lick his salty skin.
My companion was oblivious to my torment. He sat back in his chair and watched the crowds in the square, sipping his wine: the picture of contentment.
“Such wonderful energy here,” he said idly.
I titled my head inquiringly. “Yes?”
“Why is everyone wearing purple? Sorrento isn’t known for textiles or dying so…why one specific color?”
I gave a light chuckle. “It’s Italy. They’re fashionable, and purple is the ‘it’ color this season.”
“But it’s everywhere.”
“That’s Italy.” I shrugged.
“I suppose that’s not the side of Italy I usually see, or pay attention to.”
His eyes drifted over the crowd as he sipped his wine. I let myself do the same, glad to have the chance to calm the conflict building inside me.
We sat people-watching in amiable silence for a while, which was unexpectedly pleasant. I wasn’t exactly the contemplative type. But I did like eying people and assessing them as they went about their day. I could smell and sense the connections and attractions between people; who’d just come from tumbling around in bed together, who was about to.
Glancing at AJ, I could see his eyes flickering from person to person. Keen eyes, I thought, the kind that nothing gets by. I watched him as he watched everyone else, every so often he’d pop an olive in that pretty mouth of his, humming with satisfaction as he slid it over his tongue. I was already envisioning his mouth sliding over something much larger and making the same lovely sound. I grinned.
Sensing the movement, AJ turned toward me to find me gazing at him. His cheeks flushed. “Sorry,” he said, “I drift off like that sometimes. I must make dreadful company.” He pushed a stray lock of hair from his face, which stubbornly fell forward again.
“You make wonderful company.” I reached out and tucked the soft blond strand behind his ear, letting my fingers brush ever so slightly over his cheek.
His breath caught; his eyes met mine. His skin was warm from the sun. Such a small touch, yet his energy rippled and sparked. For a moment his wonder and desire came through to me clear as a silver bell. Then it was gone.
He looked away. I dropped my hand.
It was going to take time with this one, no mistake. Normally, that wouldn’t have troubled me.
Noticing his empty wine glass, I moved to pour him more.
“Oh, no more for me please,” he said, holding a hand over the glass. “It goes straight to my head.”
“Pity.” I smiled and topped off my own glass.
All too quickly, the afternoon drifted by through pleasant talk and a haze of even more pleasant wine. AJ allowed himself a second glass. I had to admit, he did seem slightly tipsy by the time we stood to go. The man must never drink, I mused, reaching a hand out to steady him.
“Thank you,” he said sweetly.
Someone else might’ve felt guilty at getting him to drink to his limits. But what fun was there in life unless one pushed boundaries? And if it helped me out, so much the better.
“I’ll walk you home.”
“That’s kind of you, but I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
I kept the hand on his arm and gave him a pout. “Trying to get rid of me?”
“N-no! I just…”
“Are you afraid of letting me know where you live? Think I’ll take advantage of it? Of you?” I arched an eyebrow; he looked away.
“I… it’s not that.”
“No?” I grinned. “Because I will, you know.”
“What?” His eyes went owl-wide.
“Take advantage of you. And I think you’d enjoy it.”
For a second he blinked at me like a stunned deer, then gave a laugh. “I don’t know what to do with you!”
“I could think of a few things.”
Even his ears were pink now. “Are you always this forward?”
“Sometimes.” I dropped some money on the table and led him back onto the street, now filled with people rather than cars. “It depends. If I want something—someone—I see no reason to hesitate in going after it.”
AJ bit his lip. “What if you scare someone away by being to forceful?”
“You think I’m being forceful?”
“Then I’m not scaring you away,” I concluded with a grin. He shook his head, giving another laugh. His eyes looked into mine as I slipped a hand about his waist—and he promptly lost his footing.
Before I could catch him, he bumped roughly into a man walking in front of us. The ass started shouting in rapid Italian before AJ even had a chance to apologize—though he tried to anyway.
“Idiota!” the guy spat, turning on his heel in a huff.
AJ was left staring after him like a wounded puppy.
“Come on, let’s get some gelati,” I said to distract him. I motioned to a street on our left and AJ nodded absently.
I kept my eye on the asshole, though. He was walking just up the street from us. I didn’t get angry often, but seriously, how could someone look at AJ’s angelic, sweet face and rant at him that way? Looking for an opportunity, I glanced above the man’s head and grinned.
A second later one of the lovely little songbirds overhead unloaded a huge stream of crap onto the dickwad’s head.
I chuckled as he flinched, then touched his hair and inadvertently made it worse, smearing the white fecal matter over his fingers. I tried not to chuckle too loudly. Sometimes it was good to be a demon.
Looking back to AJ at my side, I saw him staring at me, an unreadable but tense expression over his face.
He hesitated, then shook his head. “Nothing. Where is this gelati place again?”
“Just down the street here, passed the boutique.” I had no idea why, but I could feel his eyes on me, searching, when I looked away.