Friday, April 29, 2011

Riddles and Validations

A little bit of tubthumping I did over at The Self Publishing Revolution.

Riddle me this:

What’s the difference between a self-pubbed author who sells X copies and a trad-pubbed author who sells X copies?

(I haven’t, by the way, but if you’d like to help me achieve this goal and have a liking for weird, kinky horror, please feel free to mosey on over here…)

It’s easy to be insecure as a writer. There aren’t finishing lines to cross first, opponents to punch out or teams to score more points than. As with most creative endeavours, where quality is subjective, it’s hard to tell if you’re any good or not.

Acceptance with a publishing house gives validation, or so the argument goes (although Joe Konrath refers to it as an example of Stockholm Syndrome). It’s a stamp of approval. Get that deal—and the advance—and a writer can say with authority, “Yes, I am a real author!”

The problem with self-publishing is the ‘published’ part is always going to come with air quotes. If any old oik can shove their badly written mush up onto Amazon, then ‘being published’ no longer feels like an achievement. For that reason self-publishing is often pushed aside and treated as a special case. If the author had to do it themselves, they probably weren’t good enough to be published in the first place. I think many of us have held this view at some point and some almost certainly still do. Check the membership guidelines of professional writers' organisations like the HWA and SFWA and you’ll see very clear stipulations on what does or doesn’t count as a valid publication for obtaining active membership.

Now that the ebook explosion has burst the dam, how important is the traditional stamp of approval?

As validation goes, that stamp is only a proxy when you think about it. To use a simple fantasy analogy, it’s an entrance exam granting permission to go and slay the dragon. Congratulations! You passed. But you still have to go and kill that dragon…

If someone else decides to skip all those stupid trials, goes straight to the dragon and hacks its head right off, are they any less of a dragonslayer?

In this case the dragon—and true validation—is finding an audience, whether it is small and distinguished or massive and lucrative.

What happens when more and more writers choose to go it alone, not because they aren’t good enough, but because it makes more economic sense than signing away a huge chunk of their royalties? Clauses like this (from HWA’s active membership requirements)

With the sole exception of comic books, self-published work can not be used for qualification purposes. "Self-published work" is defined as written material disseminated by the author (for example, email or electronic publications, publication on the author's Web site, or printed publications sold on consignment or solely by the author), or written material whose basic publication costs are defrayed in whole or in part by the author.

will cease to make any sense. As will references to 5¢/word rates and minimum advances.

Riddle me this:

Person A gets a $5,000 advance from an accredited publisher, but only goes on to sell a couple of hundred copies. Person B makes $10,000 a month selling 99¢ self-published ebooks on Amazon. Which one is the professional author?

(I’m not trying to bash the HWA, by the way. I was a fresh-faced wannabe member a while back and I found them helpful in terms of market information and discovering new writers I hadn’t read before.)

Which leads us back to the original question:

What’s the difference between a self-pubbed author who sells X copies and a trad-pubbed author who sells X copies?

My gut says the answer is this:

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Locked in with a Succubus, part 6

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.

“Then I’m sorry to disappoint you,” George said. “I only run that line to make the ladies think better of me. Do you honestly believe a man can get to thirty-four—in this day and age—without ever having sex?”

Nicole chuckled. She leant over him until his eyes were staring up into hers. Their emptiness was a hole that threatened to tug out his soul and reel it up into limitless black depths.

“Cute bluff,” she said. “Not very effective when I can see it clearly for myself.”

“How?” George said. “It’s not like I have a hymen or anything. What’s the difference between spunking my load into a woman’s vagina or the palm of my hand?”

“We know,” Nicole said.

She dipped her head and sniffed George’s chest. Her cheeks reddened and she sighed in pleasure.

“Here.” She took his hand and pressed the palm against her crotch. “Do you think this happens around every man?”

George’s eyes widened. The fabric of her panties was completely sodden. He felt the cleft of her sex beneath. He drew his hand back in alarm as he felt her vulva move independently against his hand. Like a mouth.

Unabashed hunger shone in Nicole’s eyes.

“I want so much to shove your hard cock in my pussy and suck and suck and suck,” she said, her supple lips coming together in a luscious pout.

As much as the prospect thrilled George, he knew it would be too much for him. She’d be too much for him. Her passion would incinerate him like a moth in a candle flame. He had to get away.

Nicole started to undress him, first peeling off his jumper and vest from his unresisting body. As she moved down to his trousers George felt flickers of life return to his limbs. The paralysis, or strange state of blissful enervation, was wearing off. He rolled over and kicked out blindly as Nicole tugged at his trousers and underwear. The bed rocked and swayed with violent motion as he struggled beneath her.

His trousers came away and with them Nicole. Naked now, George crawled across the wildly pitching surface of the bed. He reached out with a hand, found the hard rim of the bed, started to pull himself towards it.

A warm weight settled on his back. Nicole lay on top of him, her soft breasts squashed against his back. George stopped squirming.

“It’s really not possible for a man to fight a succubus from this position,” she whispered in his ear. “Not when he’s naked and she’s on top of him. Not when her naked flesh is pressed against his.”

George’s mouth gaped open and he released a little sigh. Her skin felt so good against him—warm and smooth like silk. He felt a pleasant buzz wherever she came into contact with him, a luxurious tingle which left the rest of his skin hungering to experience the same pleasure.

“It takes the fight right out of them.” Nicole dripped honeyed sin into his ear. “It’s pushed aside as all those illicit little desires come bubbling to the surface.”

George gave another soft little groan. His thoughts were submerged beneath a deluge of pornographic images. Full pouting red lips; eyes gleaming with lust; ripe, round breasts with perky erect nipples; glistening pink pussies—all calling out to him, hungry for him. George struggled to hold on as the torrent threatened to wash his mind away.

Nicole came closer. Her soft lips brushed against his ear. “I can satisfy all of them, every last filthy one of them,” she whispered in his ear.

George shivered beneath her.

She ran a claw lightly over the skin of his shoulder. “What? Doesn’t that appeal to you?”

It did, but his terror of the consequences more than outweighed the stirrings he felt in his balls. It was so unfair.

“Being a virgin at thirty-four is bad enough,” George said. “Now I get to be savoured as a delicacy by a devil because of it. Whatever happened to punishing the deserving sinners?”

Nicole’s finger tickled down between his ass cheeks.

“We wouldn’t be considered evil if we only targeted the bad people,” Nicole said. “Do you consider this to be punishment?”

She lightly kissed the back of his shoulder. Her hand cupped his balls and gently pumped. A warm burst of pleasure washed over George’s body.

“Oh, but you do,” Nicole said. “You tremble like prey. You smell of fear like prey. If I fuck you like this I’ll surely eat you all up like prey.”

She straddled the small of his back and sat up. Out of the corner of his eye George saw her tail loop around the handle of one of the exotic bottles sitting on a bedside shelf. Her tail lifted it up and brought it back to her.

“I think we’ll wear away all those fears with a sexy little massage,” Nicole said.

George heard her work the pump handle of the bottle. He felt a cool liquid splash across his back. It didn’t remain cool for long as her skilful hands started to rub and knead it into his flesh. She pushed her hands up either side of his spine and then across his shoulders, spreading a pleasant little buzz in her wake. They moved up to his neck and she used her long fingers to work out the knots in his muscles. The fragrant aroma of the massage oil tickled his nostrils.

“My, so much tension,” she said. “Have you ever been massaged before?”

“No,” George replied.

Nicole squirted more oil onto his back and danced along his spine with her thumbs. She pressed down with her palms and slid them out to George’s sides, smoothing out the flesh beneath them. A nice feeling of warmth permeated through the muscles of his back.

“You were never tempted to pay a visit to one of those naughty little massage parlours?” Nicole asked.

Her hands glided up to the back of his neck and rubbed behind his ears with soothing circular movements.

“I was always curious about what went on in those places,” George replied. “Miss Kitson suggested I go in and find out. We had a little joke about it.”

He paused.

“I thought about it,” he admitted, “a little, but it was never going to happen. You never know where the girls are from, whether they’re on drugs, crazy, under duress. Not worth the risk. Even if it went fine, I’d still feel like I cheated.”

George didn’t know why he was so forthcoming all of a sudden. He felt odd again. Fogged up. The scented oil smelt extremely pleasant and Nicole’s hands were supremely skilled at working out the kinks and knots in his muscles.

“Miss Kitson did book a masseuse for me one time,” he said. “Not this type,” he added hastily, “a sports masseuse.”

“Sports masseuse?” Nicole queried.

“Yeah. I hurt my knee and Miss Kitson sent a girl round to look at it. A pretty young oriental woman. Really pretty, actually. She had me strip down to nothing but a towel and I was really embarrassed she’d see I had an erection.”

Nicole paused. She chuckled at a joke only she understood.

“Of course she’d try Arisa first,” Nicole murmured. “The weaver and the serpent aren’t reliable enough and she definitely couldn’t send you to the Scottish village.”

“Arisa, yes, that was her name,” George said, surprised Nicole knew it also. “Lovely girl. Had a really nice smile. We never went through with the massage in the end. Something cropped up at the last minute and she had to leave in a hurry. Some kind of family emergency. At least that’s what she said. I think she took one look at my hairy back and legged it.”

Nicole laughed at another private joke.

“I think you have a very nice back,” she said, straightening her arms and rubbing her hands over his shoulder blades. Her sultry voice drifted over him like a warm quilt.

“We never did get round to making another appointment,” George said wistfully.

“A shame,” Nicole said. “I hear Arisa gives a very pleasant body-to-body massage. Truly enveloping.”

Her fingers kneaded the muscles of George’s neck and shoulders.

“And lucky,” Nicole added. “I hear she’s also quite the maneater.”

She bent down low, sniffed the back of George’s neck and murmured contently. George felt the wetness of her sex where it rubbed against the small of his back.

“I’m not without my own talents,” Nicole whispered in his ear.

She lay down on top of him. Her arms went around him, her thighs squeezed against his sides and she squashed her soft breasts against his back. The pleasant tingle of skin-to-skin contact was all around him. Ripples of pleasure ran out across his skin from where her nipples pressed against his flesh. Her heat—and lust—enfolded him. He soaked in it, drew it in through his skin in a form of osmosis. Nicole murmured. She held him tighter. The flow of pleasure increased. George felt trailers of fire race through his blood vessels. He moaned as he felt the heat settle in his balls. They felt bloated—overripe—and the desire to plunge his cock into a soft, snug orifice and relieve the pressure grew overwhelming, shouldering aside other thoughts.

“Relax. There’s no escape now,” Nicole whispered in his ear. “Mmm, I like to let my victims melt with pleasure. Then I slurp them all up like delicious ice cream.”

George remembered why he should be afraid.

To be continued...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Close, but no Earth Day goodies for me

The winners of Literotica's 2011 Earth Day contest were announced yesterday. My internet connection has been lousy all week (which is why this is a day late), but I was able to log in and find out I'd finished outside the top three.

Don't Fuck The Flowers did a lot better than I expected considering it's a weird erotic horror story with a bad ending and some highly dubious humour. At one point, right before the cut off, the story was in second place, although I think this was more a quirk of the anti-cheating measures Literotica has in place. It finished 5th, about .01 off third place in score.

I was surprised by how close it came. Traditionally, slushy feel-good stories come out on top. People like nice endings. I enter freaky kinky horror stories that are more likely to squick out than please the average reader because... well, that's just the way I am. :)

Thanks to everyone who read and voted. Hell-Space is turning into a nice little playground for me. I have a word file filling up with snippets and story ideas, so expect me to return there again in the future.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Locked in with a Succubus, part 5

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

The plot thickens...

“I’m a succubus. I guess Inari neglected to tell you that,” Nicole said. “And you appear...” she turned a key in the door, locking it with a click “ be locked in with me.” She turned to George with a predatory smile on her face. She hung the key around her neck like a pendant and dropped it down into her bosom.

George flailed out with his arms and legs. His attempts to get away were hampered by the rocking motions of the bed beneath him.

“I love this bed,” Nicole said. “Aside from being extremely comfortable, it’s also quite difficult to get out of.” She smiled, showing off two long fangs. “Perfect for my more surprised guests.”

She crouched and jumped. A downward thrust of her bat wings boosted it into a graceful leap that took her right onto the bed and astride George’s body. The bed rocked and swayed with the force of her landing. George lashed out with his arms and legs and tried to buck her off him.

“So lively,” Nicole said. “You should save that energy for later. You’ll need it.”

She whispered words so alien they slipped from George’s ears before his brain could register them. She leaned over George’s struggling form, pursed full lips and exhaled a breath. It took form—a giant peach-coloured heart—and expanded to cover George’s face and upper body. He gasped as it sank into his body. Pleasant energy flowed into him in a wave. It felt like he’d been dipped in warm honey. His legs stopped kicking. His arms fell back against his sides. He felt relaxed. Languid.

“That’s better,” Nicole said. She settled down astride his stomach.

She noticed George’s gaze hovering in the vicinity of her exposed chest.

“Like what you see?” she said. She folded her arms beneath her breasts, pushing them up and accentuating her cleavage.

George hadn’t seen anything like them, at least not in the flesh. They were gorgeous—big, round, soft. They were better even than the perfectly sculpted examples he’d seen while surfing for porn on the internet. They didn’t need the elaborate tattoos to be eye-catching.

He couldn’t look away. He didn’t know why. He felt strange—clouded, horny.

“How about I give you a closer look,” Nicole said, her voice low and dirty.

She folded her body over George’s until he felt the soft pillows of her breasts against either side of his face. Nicole twisted her body, playfully buffeting him with the heavy, soft flesh of her boobs. George couldn’t think straight. Too fogged up. A strange desire came over him for Nicole to press down harder, to bury him in the soft valley of her cleavage, to smother him completely in her tits.

Nicole sat up. One arm was folded beneath her breasts. Her other hand rested on her chin.

“Hmm, I wonder,” she said.

She bent down again. This time she wrapped her arms around the back of his head and squashed his face tight up against her chest. The warm flesh of her boobs pressed tightly against his face. It felt good until George realised he couldn’t breathe. His nose and mouth were completely smothered by her flesh. He tried to squirm out. Nicole wrapped her arms more tightly around his head, keeping his face wedged up in the soft valley of her cleavage.

It should have been easy to throw her off. She was smaller, lighter than him.

He couldn’t. It wasn’t because she possessed excessive strength or anything like that, but rather his had deserted him. He didn’t have the energy to break her grip.

Nicole shifted position, relaxing her grip long enough to allow him a shallow breath, one filled with the spicy perfume of her body. Then she pressed back down again, smothering him in the warm space between her breasts while the waterbed rocked and undulated beneath them. She played the game for a while, each time seeming to take longer and longer between allowing George breaths, until he thought he must pass out for sure.

She stopped and sat upright. George opened his mouth and gasped in the air his lungs craved. Nicole straddled him, a contemplative expression on her face. She reached behind her and stroked a hand along the noticeable bulge in George’s trousers.

He was hard? Why was he hard?

“I thought so,” Nicole said. “I had a feeling I wasn’t too far off with the first room.”

The first room—that dungeon? What did she mean?

“Mmm, this is going to be fun,” Nicole said. “I really enjoy playing the wicked seductress. It’s been a while since I could really cut loose with all of my talents.”

“What do you want with me?” George asked.

Nicole gave him a predatory smile. “I’m a sex demon. Take a good guess.”

She bent over and ran the moist tip of her tongue up George’s cheek.

“Mmm, a truly delicious virgin and a well-matured one at that,” she said.

“What does my virginity have to do with anything?” George asked.

“Claiming a man’s virginity is a succubus’s greatest prize,” Nicole said. “The older the virgin, the greater the pleasure. At your age, you’re quite the hot commodity in the succubus world. I’m going to savour this.”

Nicole ran a long black fingernail down George’s chest. Her other hand gave his balls a teasing squeeze.

“Then I’m sorry to disappoint you,” George said. “I only run that line to make the ladies think better of me. Do you honestly believe a man can get to thirty-four—in this day and age—without ever having sex?”

To be continued...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Encouragement for all Erotica Writers

Zowie! Go Selena Kitt! Or should that be $elena Kitt.

Selena Kitt started off eXcessica publishing and is now doing very very well out of erotica ebooks. Success well deserved, I'd say. Selena was ahead of the curve when she set up eXcessica. Back then it was to have the requisite stable of writers to get work up with Fictionwise. Of course, then Amazon came along with the Kindle and ebook publishing mushroomed into a huge market.

It's encouraging news and indicative of how much the ebook revolution has opened things out. I wonder how many more Amanda Hockings, Joe Konraths, Selena Kitts and M.E. Hydras will emerge in the new world of epublishing.

Okay, maybe not that last dude. Should be locked up in the nuthouse if you ask me. Writes those horrible stories...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Locked in with a Succubus, part 4

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

Time to start turning up the heat...

“Would you like a little tour of my house of sin?” she whispered. “I’m sure you must be curious to see how a high-class escort plies her trade.”

George was, actually.

“Why not,” he smiled.

Nicole looked at her wine glass. It was still full.

“It would be a shame to let this go to waste. Here,” she said, passing him the glass.

Well, it would be a shame, George thought. Before he knew it, he’d tipped the glass back and poured the whole contents down his throat.

“Heh, seems like you really like it,” Nicole said. “Why don’t you bring the bottle with you?”

Whoa, George thought as bubbles of light-headedness trickled up through his brain. He was probably going to regret this come tomorrow morning. Against his better judgment he picked up the bottle anyway. Damn stuff was so moreish.

Nicole led him through the back of her house. It seemed a lot larger than it had looked from the outside. And deeper. She led him down some steps and into a maze-like basement area. The first door Nicole opened led to a very odd room. It looked like a cross between a medieval dungeon and a fitness suite. There were stocks and full-sized crosses covered in black padding. A cage big enough to hold a man if he was on his hands and knees stood in the far corner. A variety of whips and floggers were mounted on the walls.

“Is this your...?” George asked.

“Yes, it’s my dungeon,” Nicole answered. “I bring naughty boys here and teach them some discipline.”

She looked at George and smiled. The bright red colour of her lips contrasted with her pale complexion.

“Have you been a naughty boy?” she asked.

“No no no!” George said, backing away with his hands up. He was thankful Nicole was still wearing her large shades. He suspected he’d be quite unnerved by the look she was giving him right now.

Nicole doubled up with laughter.

“That room was scary,” George said once they were back in the corridor. “Do people really pay you to tie them up and beat them?”

Nicole nodded. “People in power often have their day-to-day lives filled with hard choices. I think sometimes they enjoy ceding that power to someone else.”

George looked at her as if she was speaking Swahili. He shook his head.

“Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks,” he said.

They continued on through Nicole’s lower floor. She skipped the next door, but opened the one after it. Now this room was more like how George expected a tart’s boudoir to be. The lighting was low and soft. The walls were hung with heavy black velvet drapes. A huge circular bed took up most of the centre of the room. It was covered in glossy black silk sheets and plush black pillows. An apothecary’s dream of bottles and vials stood on the back shelves.

“This is my relaxation room,” Nicole said.

“Is that a waterbed?” George asked.

“Yes,” Nicole answered.

He pushed down on the edge of the bed and watched the surface sway with wet sloshing sounds.

“Can I?” he asked.

“Be my guest,” Nicole smiled.

“I’ve always wanted to find out what one of these felt like,” George said.

He put the wine bottle down, took off his shoes and dived backwards onto the bed. The bed rocked and swayed beneath him, waves lifting his body up and down. He grinned as he stared up at his reflection in the mirror on the ceiling.

“Yes, I think this is the right room,” Nicole said, looking about her.

George lifted his head up, puzzled.

Nicole took off her coat and hung it on a peg next to the door. Her body was even more gorgeous than George had imagined. She was curvaceous around her chest and ass, but there wasn’t an ounce of spare fat anywhere else. George knew this because he was seeing a lot more of Nicole’s body than he was entirely comfortable with. Beneath her coat she wore a skimpy black bra, panties, thigh-length fishnet stockings, and that was about it.

Her skin was the biggest surprise. She was covered from head to toe in black tattoos. It was an unusual design; George hadn’t seen anything like it before. It looked as if a mad scientist had scribbled all over her body in black pen, covering every inch of her exposed flesh in bizarre symbols and pictograms.

Nicole hadn’t finished disrobing. The bra went next. The mad designs continued across the ample swell of her breasts. Her left breast was decorated with a complex whorl that spiralled all the way down to the pink disc of her areole. George thought she didn’t really need additional help to draw the gaze to the perfect curves of her bosom.

His mouth gaped open. She was topless. Why was she topless?

“Uh...I thought you said Miss Kitson hadn’t given you any money.”

Nicole looked at George and smiled. “She hasn’t.”

Her skin wasn’t the biggest surprise.

She finally took off her shades and shook out her hair. A chill ran through George. What was that at her temples? Horns? And her eyes—god, her eyes—where were they? He saw now why she always wore those dark glasses. There were two empty black wells where her eyes should be. Nicole stretched her shoulders and a pair of black bat wings erupted from her back. A black tail—slender as a whip and ending with a spade-like point—unfurled down the back of her legs.

“Ah, much better,” she said.

She smiled at George. It was the same elegantly angled face; the same full, kissable lips; the same gorgeous contours of her body. Her features should have been perfect, but they also came with horns, wings, tail and those unsettling empty black eyes. It turned her beauty into something horribly wrong. Sexy into perverse.

“W-w-what are you?” George asked.

“I’m a succubus. I guess Inari neglected to tell you that,” Nicole said. “And you appear...” She turned a key in the door, locking it with a click. She hung the key around her neck like a pendant and dropped it down into her cleavage. She turned back to George. A predatory smile was on her blood-red lips. “ be locked in with me.”

To be continued...

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Officially good enough to be plagiarised

Some people have a lot of nerve.

A few days ago I got an anonymous email through Literotica’s feedback system (thanks, whoever you are) asking if I was posting chapters up on under a different username. I followed the link and found a gallery with the first eight chapters of my Succubus Summoning 101 series.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen my stories crop up elsewhere on the internet. It’s the nature of the beast. If you post something up where everyone can see it, it’s inevitable the same work will be reproduced elsewhere. As long as my name’s still on the top and no-one’s milking it for cash, I’m usually content to turn a blind eye. Often it’s extra advertising and the stories are already available for people to read for free online anyway.

This is the first time I’ve ever had someone else try to claim my work as their own and that’s a whole damn different ball game. When they’ve already picked up fanart for my original characters you know this shit has to be sorted out damn quickly. Obviously, I couldn’t resist leaving the odd sarcastic comment or three, especially a “Please tell, I’m curious to know myself”, in response to their answer of “All will be revealed in time,” when someone asked what Verdé’s plans were.

Sadly, DeviantArt gives page owners the ability to hide comments, which rather spoiled my fun somewhat.

Fortunately, I also frequent the Monster Girl Unlimited forums, where a good proportion of the members also have DeviantArt accounts…

I’m not sure whether DeviantArt terminated the account after it was reported, or the plagiarist de-activated it themselves once they realised it was impossible to maintain the pretence anymore. Either way it was gone by the time I got back from work.

I wonder how they thought they could get away with it in the first place. One google search to the wrong place by any of their fans would have blown the deception wide open. It’s a little mortifying to think they managed to get eight chapters up without anyone actually noticing, and that the chapters hadn’t really picked up many comments either. Take that knee in the soft and squishy parts, ego. Big time infamous succubus writer, ha!

Oh well.

I suppose I was lucky. It was only a case of someone trying to impress their circle of friends on an art site. Other writers from Literotica are still struggling to get stolen work pulled down from amazon’s ebook store.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Locked in with a Succubus, part 3

Part 1. Part 2.

“I’m a prostitute,” Nicole said, absolutely straight-faced and without a hint of shame. “Men pay money to have sex with me.”

Her directness completely threw George off.


“Does that bother you?” Nicole asked in a voice that sounded as if it had been dipped in honey.

“ mean if you’ it’s what...”

He held out his palms.

“I’m not judging,” he said.

Oh dear. George knew he was making a hash of it and tried to rally.

“I mean, if you look at it a certain way, I do the same thing with the people I go and visit,” he said. “We’re both giving people a bit of company. Only I don’t have to do the...uh...physical side of things...”

George ran aground.

“I’m trivialising it, aren’t I? It’s not the same at all. I’m not forced those...uh...other things...”

Dear oh dear. Keep on digging why don’t you, George.

Nicole didn’t seem to be taking any offence. She laughed at his discomfort. That was good, he supposed.

“It’s fine,” Nicole said. “I get paid well and I enjoy the work.”

Understanding suddenly dawned on George. There could be another reason why Miss Kitson had sent him here.

“Um...Miss Kitson, she didn’t give you any money to...”

“To do what?” Nicole asked, affecting an air of deceitful innocence.

“Oh, nothing,” George said.

It must be the wine, causing his tongue to flap like a flag in a gale.

“Nothing?” Nicole said. She raised a pencil-thin eyebrow.

Her sunglasses made it impossible to tell, but right then George fancied she was staring right through him with a piercing stare. She examined him, no trace of emotion on the flawless mask of her face.

“You’re a virgin, aren’t you,” she stated.

“What,” George protested. “Me? No...of course not. I mean...I’ve had my share...I know what it’s...” he blustered. “Yes,” he admitted. No point lying; she’d see right through it anyway.

“I thought as much,” Nicole smiled. “I saw how uncomfortable you looked whenever I stood close to you. You’re shy around women.”

“Yes,” George admitted. “Don’t make a big thing about it, okay.”

“I’m not judging,” Nicole said, smiling as she held out her palms.

George realised he’d used the same response when she’d told him she was a prostitute. He laughed.

“Another glass?” Nicole asked.

“What?” George looked down. He’d managed to empty the glass without realising it. “Oh, yes please.”

Nicole refilled his glass and walked back to her seat, leaving behind a swish of her musky scent. It really was rather fine, George thought as he started on a second glass. Fruity, bubbly...vital, somehow. Really moreish. He’d have to be careful he didn’t drink it too quickly, in case it went straight to his head.

He noticed Nicole still hadn’t touched her glass.

“You’re not drinking?” he asked.

“I don’t drink wine,” she answered. “I do love the aroma of a freshly popped bottle, though.” She picked up the glass and swirled it beneath her nose, savouring the aroma. “Especially a vintage brimming with such youthful vigour.”

George smiled and shook his head. Beautiful, delightful and very odd.

“How old?” Nicole asked.

George realised she’d gone back to the other topic. “Thirty-four,” he answered with a grimace.

Nicole’s supple red lips formed a perfect ‘o’. She sat back in her chair.

“Really?” she said.

George nodded.

“I always thought it would be one of those things that would know...happen one day. And, well, it didn’t. Or rather it hasn’t.”

“I think it’s sweet,” Nicole said. “It’s admirable to wait so long for that certain special person.”

George’s expression became pained.

Nicole raised an eyebrow. “You’re not waiting for someone?” she said.

“I’m not against the idea of sex for a bit of fun,” George said. “It’s the deception I don’t like. You know how it is. Some blokes will say anything to get in a girl’s knickers. And then they’ll kick them out of bed the next morning without so much as a how-d’you-do. There’s the other stuff as well—getting them drunk, getting them vulnerable—”

“Paying for it,” Nicole interrupted.

“Paying for it,” George repeated. “Drugging the poor lasses if they’re desperate and ratbag enough. Raping them.” George shook his head. “I’m not going down that route,” he said. “I’d rather go without than resort to tricking or forcing the girl.”

Nicole made circular motions with her finger on the table. “So you’re not against the idea of casual sex, so long as the other participant is willing.”

“Oh no,” George said. “I’m not one of those no-sex-before-marriage types. Not that I’ve got anything against them,” he hastily added. “I’m fine with the idea of sex for fun, with the right precautions of course. It’s just I’m a bit...well...crap around girls as you noticed. And I’m not exactly a prime specimen of manhood. Let’s face it, there’re easily hundreds of blokes a girl at a nightclub would rather take home first before getting to me.”

George paused. Nicole didn’t appear to be paying attention. Hard to say with her sunglasses—why was she still wearing them?—but she looked like she was staring into space. George watched as she ran a moist pink tongue over her supple red lips. He caught a whiff of her musky perfume again. Stronger this time.

“Sorry,” Nicole said, snapping out of her sudden trance. “Daydreaming.”

Had her pale cheeks picked up a red tinge?

“Um, Miss Kitson, she didn’t...?”

“No, Inari has not given me any money,” Nicole said with a smile.

“That’s a relief,” George said. “She has some very strange ideas sometimes. About what she thinks people need.”

Nicole leaned forward towards George.

“Does it disappoint you Inari hasn’t given me any money to have sex with you?” she asked.

George recoiled. That directness again. He guessed it came with her profession, but it sure made him feel uncomfortable.

“ mean you’ beautiful and I’m sure you’re at what you do...”

Good golly, could he dig himself any deeper?

George took a deep breath.

“I’m sure it would be very pleasant,” he said, “but it wouldn’t feel right. I’d always know you only did it because you were paid to. It would feel like cheating, like it didn’t count.”

Nicole smiled at his tongue-tied stammering.

“It’s fine. I understand perfectly,” she said.

“You do?” George said, letting out a sigh of relief. He looked down at his ratty old jumper. “Besides,” he said. “I must be way below your usual clientele. Who are they?” he asked. “Lawyers? Politicians? Football stars?”

Nicole regarded him with an enigmatic little smile.

“Is that the writer in you?” she said. “Digging for interesting stories.”

George blushed. “Sorry. Mustn’t pry.”

Nicole leaned right across the table. Conspiratorial.

“Would you like a little tour of my house of sin?” she whispered.

To be continued...