Demon Duke

an excerpt

Chapter One

"Someone you love is sick. Poor baby. I can fix that, you know."

The words replayed through Calvin's mind, as they had so many times in the past month. Were they true? Could the demon who'd spoken them heal his brother? And if Sallos could, how would he do it? And for what price? A demon never gave away anything for free.

Calvin sagged down on the bed, lying on his side, his gaze fixed on the bright, sunlit day beyond his bedroom window. A month ago, when he'd answered a request on a witchcraft forum, he had no idea what he was getting himself into. All he saw was the large sum of money being offered to anyone who could summon a specific demon and jumped at it, figuring he'd work out the details after he got the job.

He didn't know the intention was to bind the demon. He didn't know it was a trap to capture a young man, a former blood slave. He sure as hell didn't know it was vampires behind the ad, not until he'd met them, and what a shock that was. Sure, he'd seen postings online by other witches who claimed to have run into vampires, but who knew what to believe online? With him still learning about his own power, he wasn't about to disregard vampires could exist, but did he have some doubt? Absolutely. That doubt had gotten knocked out of him. And it was in learning vampires were behind it that his instincts blazed with warning and everything started to feel wrong.

It was stupid of him to take the deal. Wrong and insulting to his beliefs, his gifts, his power, but the money...he needed it so damn bad. Ten thousand dollars wouldn't take care of all his brother's medical expenses, but it knocked out a chunk. Except now, it seemed for nothing. Nathan was thinking about stopping his treatments.

His brother told him the day before, he didn't know how much longer he could continue with dialysis, or really, what the point was in doing it. He'd argued with Nathan, telling him if he didn't keep fighting and going to his treatments, his kidneys would fail and he would die. Nathan gave him a smile that told him more than the words he spoke; Nathan had accepted his fate. And as for Nathan's words? "If God still has work for me here, then I'll recover."

But for all Nathan's faith and devotion--even going to seminary school--God hadn't helped his brother. Instead, Nathan became sick...and suffered.

Calvin closed his eyes against the burn of tears. He didn't understand Nathan's faith. It seemed it was something his brother had always possessed. Even as teens, when their father died from a sudden heart attack. Even two years ago, as they watched cancer steal the life from their mother. Each time, Nathan would pray and seem to come out of it with a greater sense of peace.

Since it seemed to comfort Nathan, he tried to follow him into that faith. It didn't work for him. He'd recite prayers to the same God and he felt...nothing. No sense of peace or enlightenment. No calm or warmth or love. More than that, he felt odd, out of place, as if he was pretending to be someone he wasn't. He came to the conclusion Nathan's path of faith wasn't meant for him, and maybe no path was.

Until he discovered the faith he was meant to follow, the Craft, the way of being a witch.

He'd been in a park near his home, a few days after his mother passed. He needed solace and comfort that he couldn't find with anyone. As it always had, going to nature, sitting among the trees, cool earth beneath him, the wind whispering around him, he found peace. He found strength. A stick in his hand, he absentmindedly sketched in the dirt, and drew a five-pointed star. It was a symbol he'd drawn often, never knowing why, but thinking it was probably because it was easy to do and his artistic talent wasn't exactly high. Only that day, he caught himself as he drew it. He stared at it, wondered about it, and from the shadows of his mind, a thought rose.

He carried that thought to the library, where he found a green volume in the New Age section with that five-pointed star on the cover. He checked out the book and what began as a pursuit to satisfy his curiosity, became a quest for greater knowledge and to understand himself. To be a witch was to live a spiritual life bonded with nature and those who shared the world, animal and human. Witches were healers and helpers, seekers of knowledge and truth. They could even be warriors, if their path called for them to be.

He still remembered the joy that shone through him when he opened himself up to learning the Craft. He felt uplifted, as if he'd discovered a hidden part of himself. He understood why it was in nature--being surrounded by trees, finding a quiet spot on the beach, gazing at the moon and stars--that he felt more peace than when he'd prayed in Nathan's faith. Why when he touched gemstones, he felt more than the cool stone itself, but also a subtle hum of the power within. In his heart and soul, he'd always been a witch. All he'd needed was for his mind to make the discovery.

But in the two years since that discovery and for all the honing of his skills, he hadn't found a way to save Nathan. Though, he knew and understood that being a witch was a lifelong pursuit in strengthening his skills and gaining knowledge. He just didn't have that much time if he wanted to save his big brother.

Calvin rolled to his back on the bed and pulled in a long, slow breath. Not that Nathan was inclined to let him use spells, incantations, or magic to try and save him. His brother refused to take part in any pagan ritual. His being a witch was the one thing they continuously fought over. When he'd revealed to Nathan the path he was taking, Nathan had argued fiercely with him, to the point where he felt akin to those of old who'd suffered the Inquisition and persecution. It was only when he pointed out to Nathan that the same zealotry had led to the deaths of countless innocent people that Nathan backed off.

For that moment, at least.

They continued to argue about it from time to time, but not as heatedly. Despite each of them lacking faith in each other's beliefs, they loved each other. And he was positive Nathan prayed daily for him to turn his back on the Craft, but same as his prayers hadn't brought him the results he wanted when he'd tried to follow Nathan's faith, Nathan's weren't changing him from being a witch.

He still managed to sneak a few healthy herbs into Nathan's food when he cooked dinner, but it wasn't enough. Nathan was growing weaker. Going in for dialysis three times a week was the only thing keeping Nathan's kidney disease from total kidney failure. Hopes for getting a donated kidney were almost nonexistent, especially since he hadn't been a match.

He couldn't lose him. Nathan had always been there for him, and despite their differences, he knew there was nothing his brother wouldn't do for him. And he was the same toward Nathan. Only, Nathan wouldn't accept his kind of help. Regardless, he wasn't going to let him slip away, not when there was the smallest of chances he could save him. His big brother was the only family he had left.

The tears Calvin had managed to hold back threatened again. He pulled off his silver rim glasses and set them on the nightstand by his bed. He closed his eyes and two tears escaped from the corners of them. They left warm trails over his temples and into his hair.

"I can fix that, you know."

The voice played again through his mind, deep and seductive. Sallos...Sal...manifested behind his closed eyelids in such detail, he could be looking at him in reality. Whether in his human guise or his true form, the demon was beautiful. When in his human form, it seemed at this period in time Sal preferred to have flaming red hair that fell to the tops of his shoulders, layered, sharp angles to it. His body was slender and muscular, his fair skin flawless. Sal's face held so much beauty, he seemed sculpted by a divine hand. And his eyes, the enchanting lavender hue, Calvin had become captivated when he'd looked into them.

He thought Sal couldn't be any more stunning, until Sal shifted into his true form.

Calvin laid a hand over his chest. His heart started racing whenever he thought of him. Sal's hair had grown longer to hang down his back. Horns, thick and curled like a ram's, emerged from the sides of Sal's head. His height increased, his body's frame and muscle thickened. From two smoking slits that opened in Sallos's back, great leathery red wings emerged. Fangs that put to shame any vampire dropped down from Sal's canines. And Sal's eyes...they glowed with that stunning lavender color, the round pupils becoming slits.

Calvin rolled from his back to his stomach, pinning his hardening cock between his body and the bed. Was it completely crazy of him to fantasize about having those wings wrap around him as Sal embraced him? If it was, then he was a certifiable lunatic because he'd thought of it daily since meeting the demon.

He knew, though, his lusting for Sal would never go beyond his thoughts. He couldn't get human men interested in him. No way would a demon as gorgeous as Sal want him. And he wasn't entirely sure he'd want Sal to want him.

On the witchcraft forums he hung out at, he'd seen more than one person post about summoning a demon, some even claiming to have had sex with them. It never worked out well. The demon always used the summoner to get a strong hold over their life and use them for their own benefit. While someone might think they had control over the demon, they never did. Ever. A demon would always find a way to get the upper hand and once they did, only pain came from it. It took a lot of powerful magic to banish a demon once they became deeply connected to a person.

In the month since everything went down at the blood house, he realized how much he had to learn about summoning, binding, and compelling demons. He studied his craft for hours each day. If he wasn't working or helping Nathan get to and from his dialysis treatments, then he was striving to gain more knowledge and control with his power. Along with studying evocation, he'd searched for, gathered, and read everything he could on demons, working to not only learn about Sal, but others as well.

He understood their hierarchy now, how the titles weren't a matter of bloodline or age, but power. The stronger the demon, the greater the title. The counts were at the bottom, followed by the marquises, then earls. Next in line came the dukes, then it moved up to the princes, followed by the kings, to the last and most powerful, the Emperor.

Sal was one of the great nobles. And his true form showed it in his powerful body and massive wings, in his strength and his beauty. Sal may have said his true form wasn't as pretty as his human one, but he'd been awestruck by him.

All of it told him, though, despite how much studying he'd done, he didn't know if he was strong enough to compel a noble demon like Sal. And really, he didn't want to. He'd rather have Sal help him of his own free will than try to bend him to his. The only way that might happen would be to strike a deal with him. He never thought he would be one to consider a deal with a demon, but if Sal could help him, it might be worth any price the demon duke asked for.