With sexy devil Prince Dialle at her side, Astra Q Phelps finds herself embroiled in yet more danger and intrigue at the royal devil court. As Astra discovers her family tree might be growing right in the middle of the current mess, her career as a demon slayer is put at risk, her dignity is seriously damaged, and there might be a pair of giant granny panties in her future. Fortunately for her she doesn’t have much need for dignity. It's a whole mess of trouble for one determined halfling to sort through, but Astra Q Phelps is…hopefully…up to the challenge.
Sometimes, if events keep you from visiting the devil, he finds a way to visit you. That sad reality also occasionally applies to mothers. I was putting the finishing touches on my makeup the next morning when the door monitor announced that Danika Phelps was standing outside my door.
I was sooooo tempted to just leave her standing there. If I’m being honest, I was actually tempted to find a snug corner and assume the fetal position. But in the end I decided to be a man about it and let her in.
I opened the door and recoiled. She was smiling. Terrifying. “Hello, Mother.”
Danika Phelps barely deserved the moniker but still she insisted that I treat her as if she did. “Is that any way to greet your mother?”
She gathered my stiff body up into a hug that I knew was pure show. She’d never had the maternal feelings one would expect when one carries a life within one’s perfect body for six full months—halflings don’t need to cook for quite as long as humans do—and then spews it out through an impossibly small hole at great risk and pain.
Releasing me from the fake hug, she cocked her head and her beautiful oval face crinkled prettily in mock disapproval. “Where are your manners, Astra. Aren’t you going to ask me in?”
The word “No” shot up my throat from my roiling stomach and pounded on the back of my lips, trying to escape. But I clenched my teeth on the thing and opened the door wider, stepping back to let her pass. “What are you doing here, Mother?”
She ignored my question and walked around my small living space, touching everything with long elegant fingers. I gritted my teeth, sure she was passing judgment on each and every item.
Following her into the living area, I perched on the very edge of a padded arm of the divan, ready to explode into action if necessary. I waited silently for her to tell me why she’d come. It didn’t take long.
“I’ve come to make you an offer.”
My eyebrows peaked in silent question but I didn’t open my mouth for fear all the bad words clanging against my teeth might escape.
She examined the cushions on my divan as if expecting to see poop on them and gave them a swipe with her hand before she lowered her tight ass carefully onto them. Then she looked at me and smiled again. “I’m sure you know by now that I’m part of the local coven?”
She stared at me for a long beat as if she expected me to make some comment but I was still clamping down on my errant opinions lest they befoul the air between us and get me eaten.
Finally she gave a delicate little laugh and went on. “I’m sure that came as some surprise to you but, as you know, we have witches in our family and the powers and inclination have been passed down through the generations. I felt my calling when I was very young, recognizing the signs of my…um…talents in black magic even as a child in the Royal Court. In those days it was unheard of to practice witchcraft. It was considered a lesser art than royal magic and its practice was discouraged at Court.”
My lips stayed firmly closed.
Smiling a little less fake happily as the result of my silence, she stood up and walked to the single window in the room. Staring out at the sky, which had finally cleared and was a bright blue, she continued. “I see the same inclinations in you, Astra.”
She turned back in time to see my eyes widen. Damn! I slammed my facial expression back to neutral and sat on silently.
“I want to bring you into the coven with me and teach you. From what I’ve seen and heard your powers have already grown beyond all expectation and continue to change and stretch. You’ll need help learning how to manage and use them.”
“For black magic?” My voice told her clearly what I thought of that idea.
The fake emotion of the moment was sadness. “Witchcraft embraces both dark and light magic, Astra. You can practice any way you wish. I only want to help you.”
Pretending my response hadn’t been dripping with sarcasm, she gave me a fake bright smile. “We’ll have so much fun together, darling. I’ve missed you over the last few months…”
“Try years.” I tapped my lips with a fingertip. “It might even be decades.”
She shrugged. Months, years, a lifetime…what was the difference?
I had absolutely no inclination to join my mother’s coven but I decided it made more sense at that moment to leave the option open until I could try to wrangle some intelligence out of her.
“Before I would consider joining you I would need some information.”
She opened her arms and smiled at me as if she were an open book.
I transferred my butt to the divan in an attempt to seem more relaxed, figuring she’d be more willing to spill if she thought she was succeeding in drawing me in. “First I want to know what you’re up to with the king.”
She gave me fake shock on that one. “The king? Astra I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She shook her head. “Of course not.”
“I felt your magic signature in the room he disappeared from. As well as father’s. Prince Dialle almost killed me because he thought I was working with you.” Okay that was a slight exaggeration but it served my purposes for the moment.
That little tidbit brought on fake thoughtfulness as she turned away to stare out my streaky window again, as well as a little bit of faux reluctance. Finally she looked at me and said, “Okay, it’s true, we kidnapped the king. I just wanted to try to talk some sense into him. The witches are an important component of the council and he refuses to give us our due.”
“So you’re working to turn the demons against him?”
I thought the surprise at my accusation might have been real but who the hell knew?
“I needed a bargaining chip.”
“So what’s next? What are you going to do with him? Kill him?”
She laughed her tinkle-toned fake laugh that meant I’d struck a nerve and pissed her off.
I liked that laugh.
USA Today Bestselling Author Sam Cheever writes romantic paranormal/fantasy and mystery/suspense, creating stories that celebrate the joy of love in all its forms. Known for writing great characters, snappy dialogue, and unique and exhilarating stories, Sam is the award-winning author of 50+ books and has been writing for over a decade under several noms de plume.
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