Chapter 1 – The Demon Lord of California

This is an LGBTQ+ romantic fantasy with graphic content. For mature readers only.

San Francisco, 1900

He was the Demon Lord of California, dammit. His California citizens counted on him for guidance and protection. But here he sat in a stuffy, dark, and nearly empty theater. With peeling wallpaper. Watching the most god-awful vaudeville try outs.

The matinee had been half-price due to the open casting call, so he’d ducked inside to seek some relative quiet. Agustin had needed a place to think. To reflect on the life choices he’d made—as well as ponder future obligations to the angelic-run Infinity Corporation. Obligations he never wanted to begin with.

And of a more immediate concern, to digest that questionable lunch from an even more questionable eatery. Holding a fist against the fading heartburn, he quietly belched. Thankfully, at his distress, the mundane human waitress had taken pity on him by offering water with a sprinkle of baking soda. He’d tipped her generously.

Fidgeting in a chair too small for his size, Agustin didn’t want to dwell on why the floor was sticky beneath his polished oxfords. He really didn’t, for the theater was vaudeville by day, and burlesque shows by night.

He made a mental note to burn his shoes before entering his home.

He’d chosen the front row against the stained wallpaper because it was the only place suitable for his long legs. Even here in the shadows, he stood out like a peacock amongst plucked chickens. His towering height and perfectly pressed nobleman’s attire were to blame for that. His black braids, brown skin, upside-down golden triangle earrings, and heterochromatic eyes didn’t help matters.

The mundanes—the humans—speared him with nervous glances. Unfortunately, he’d wrecked two acts already; the performers couldn’t handle his scrutiny. While Agustin felt guilty over that, he reminded himself actors couldn’t let distractions ruin a show.

The exact reason why he was at this matinee had to do with Etney. His Infinity Corporation second-in-command did her job too well. She’d been the one to rally their Infinity 8 team, as well as his entire household staff. They’d informed him it’d be too much of a temptation to think of work if he visited his usual haunts. So he’d been temporarily barred from seeking paranormal places to loiter.

They’d all insisted he’d been working himself too hard when that wasn’t the case at all. Still, he’d been mob-escorted—with Etney in the lead—out to the motorcar anyway. They’d ordered him to telepathically shut out the chaotic minds of every San Francisco resident for six hours and just relax. Then, he was chauffeured into the heart of the city and abandoned.

He’d been kicked out of his own damn mansion before he’d realized it.

Agustin grumbled. Corporation duties always caused his California work to suffer. There were trade agreements and various contracts stacked on his desk, waiting for approval. Laws to enforce. Meetings to attend. Reports to read. Not to mention he was still working to merge his offices with the court of the Demon Queen of the United States—with permission from the Demon Queen of Mexico, of course. The mundane humans had only made California a state fifty years ago. And it’d taken this long to convince Her Mexico Majesty the unification would be a smart move for their kind.

However, those duties paled in comparison as to what Harper expected out of him. Infinity Corporation was yet another duty of his dual birthright. One that came with a tremendously heavy burden.

Protect the humans from the Amaranth Empire’s harvests at all costs.

That was Harper’s motto. The Corporation’s motto.

And the pledge of all earthbound angels employed by IC. That maxim had been drummed into Agustin’s head since he’d been a small boy.

Harper’s severe training had begun and ended with him reciting that phrase three times in a row. But the only lesson his young brain absorbed was: At all costs… At all costs… At all costs…

Damnation, Agustin, Harper would yell when presenting another lecture, which had been often during his childhood. The Lady California was too lenient with you. I knew I should’ve removed you from her care sooner. If you love me, if you love humanity, just do as you’re told. Why can’t you just do as you’re told?

It was suddenly difficult to breathe. His heart was pounding too fast. He felt like he was coming out of his own skin, then running away from it. The numbness swallowed both his heart and his brain, sinking into his gut and spreading from there.

Think about something else, dammit. Anything but Harper.

In the low, shadowed light of the electric wall sconces, Agustin hurried to consult his fancy new wristwatch on a shaking wrist. It was a gift from his son away at University. It was 3 p.m.

The day was half over. He might survive his forced recess after all. But he had to get out. He had to move. Had to keep moving and get Harper out of his head. He clenched his fists to quell his upset.

His feet wouldn’t yet obey.

He winced when the miniature dogs on stage all started barking on command. As much as he loved dogs, the constant, high-pitched cries had him shrinking down in his squeaking chair. Vaudeville was too mundane, too pedestrian for his taste. It reminded him too much of what he was forbidden to have.

Happiness. Joy. A family of his own. A life of his own.

A jarring sensation started in his gut, and blossomed. It nearly had him doubling over. Not in pain, more like… an epiphany unfurling in his brain. Where this originated from, he didn’t know. His powers didn’t work this way.

Why? Why couldn’t he have the life he wanted? Harper didn’t own him.

Agustin had put in his time to the Corporation, and more. He’d given everything, even when he’d had nothing left to give. Still, Harper demanded even more over the centuries. And he’d dutifully obeyed.

But now, in the last century, there were others among Harper’s ranks who were more dedicated to such an unwavering, angelic cause. They were just as capable of running the business and keeping the humans safe.

Others who were actively willing to be Harper’s shiny new puppet-in-command.

What Harper thought, of him, suddenly, strangely, didn’t matter anymore.

Agustin took a moment to let that sink in.

He was going to quit the Corporation.

Quit Harper.

He let out a little laugh. Of joy. Of relief. The realization flooded outward. Its soothing tendrils sluicing through Agustin’s mind. He felt lighter. More at ease and eager to explore this newfound revelation of freedom.

What he would say in his resignation letter bloomed in his mind. His hands shook with excitement at the thought of putting pen to paper. Of handing it to the bastard personally.

From the other side of the theater, movement caught Agustin’s attention. A man, vibrant with paranormal—nym—energies, emerged from the side stage door. He was engaged in animated conversation with the human beside him.

Agustin reeled. His psychic abilities hungrily soaked up the discarded thought-threads from the pair. But the remnants from this exchange weren’t in English. Or any other language his hyper-polyglot brain could interpret.

Yes, there were root words of other languages he could identify. But those words were cut in half. Stitched together with another word from a completely different language he did, or did not know. Some of these cleaved words blended better than others, but it still made an all new comprehensive language he didn’t understand.

Both men appeared to be of the working class. Although the nym’s suit was of better quality, the human wore the more contemporary style. The nym clutched at his top hat along with a flimsy-looking box.

The noise and barking onstage blotted out their voices. But Agustin continued to savor the happy thought-threads pouring out of them both. Sampling another’s contentment—a fellow paranormal’s contentment—temporarily consoled his own that was forever limping along.

He was breaking his promise to Etney and his household staff. But when attraction and feelings were involved, it wasn’t as easy to mute psychic abilities that had been switched on during his time in the womb.

Attraction? Agustin felt the heat rising in his cheeks. And at the back of his neck, and his armpits. His fellow nym was adorable. Wholesome in a sense, although he wasn’t sure where that observation came from. Maybe it was the way the man moved. Proper, yet bubbly. Carrying himself somewhat stiff, maybe a little awkward, with his arms up and elbows out. The tailcoat of his jacket brushing that trim backside with each step. As if the nym wasn’t quite comfortable in his overly thin human form, but embraced it all the same.

Nyms were often in human spaces, although hidden from the mundane world. Many, like himself, wore spells to conceal their most frightening and fantastic attributes. Or could shape-shift. Agustin wondered what ability allowed his fellow nym to hide himself.

Besides sporting a nice black jacket, the nym wore a matching silk scarf tied neatly around his head. A modest bun of dark hair hid beneath the knot at the nape of his neck. He continued to balance that thin box he carried along with his top hat.

While the nym was vibrant with paranormal energy, Agustin could tell there was something wrong with that energy signature. Like it was broken or disrupted somehow.

The two men parted with a wave, and the human retreated backstage. The nym came striding across the aisle in front of the stage, waving and smiling to the theater management seated there. They exchanged brief pleasantries, as well as the box of… Agustin craned his head to see. Cupcakes topped with brightly colored frosting. The treats were gladly accepted.

Gifts given, the nym moved on. Agustin almost chuckled at the endearing quality of the man’s gait—slightly march-bouncing up the middle aisle. He chose a row of seats and sat down.

Agustin wanted to go over. But as usual, would his height and heterochromatic eyes be too intimidating? Even to a nym? Especially to a nym who seemed so… adorably… wholesome? Agustin suddenly wished that in weaving his own concealment spells, he’d added the guise of matching-colored eyes.

When the dogs stopped barking and scurried off the stage, the nym leapt up in a standing ovation and clapped wildly in support. He did the same for the next two acts.

Agustin found himself smiling at the carefree nature of the moment itself. Of this fellow nym finding joy in the smallest of things. It shocked Agustin to realize he was still sitting here, in the theater. Not watching the tryouts, but the nym who was the only other spectator in the audience. One was being genuinely supportive and kind to complete strangers—to these mundane humans, at that.

Agustin felt lured. Sunk. Captured. Thoroughly intrigued.

By this time, romantic piano and flute tunes echoed throughout the auditorium. A quick glance at the owner and managers showed they had kerchiefs at teary eyes with one hand, and half-eaten cupcakes in the other.

Agustin hadn’t realized he’d gotten up and strolled over to the nym. In his eagerness, he realized he’d been looming a little too close, and backed up a bit.

“Hello,” Agustin said, getting his voice to work. “Is this seat taken?”

Okay. Good start, he told himself. You’re not so rusty in a courting attempt after all. He stopped. Courting? Was that what he was doing?

Sky-blue eyes blinked up at him in question. Then widened in surprise. The matching smile melted Agustin’s heart.

“Gus!” the nym man exclaimed in shockingly deep, guttural tones. “Where have you been?”

<<<>>>

Eager for more? Pre-order now! Due out January 3, 2023.

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