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Authors: Tamara Hogan

Touch Me

BOOK: Touch Me
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TOUCH ME

An Underbelly Chronicles Novella

 

 

Tamara Hogan

 

 

Copyright 2013 Tamara Hogan

 

All rights reserved

 

By payment of required fees, you have been granted the
non
-exclusive,
non
-transferable right to access and read the text of this book. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented without the express written permission of copyright owner.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

 

 

 

 

Author’s Note

 

For readers unfamiliar with my Underbelly Chronicles series, this novella stands on its own, but for those of you who’ve wondered what happened between human hacker Bailey Brown and hedonistic incubus Rafe Sebastiani the night of Scarlett Fontaine’s homecoming show at Underbelly? Here’s your answer. ;-)

 

Some readers may notice I’ve started this novella with a scene from my first book,
TASTE ME,
to orient readers in the timeline.

 

If you’d like to stay informed about my upcoming releases, please check out my website. While there, you can read excerpts from my previous releases, learn about future releases, click to follow me on social media, or email me at
[email protected]
.
Like all authors, I love to hear from readers!

 

Enjoy!

Tam
ara  

 

 

 

Other titles by Tamara Hogan

 

TASTE ME

 

CHASE ME

 

 

Acknowledgments

 

Many thanks to my
eagle-eyed critique partner Brenda Whiteside, and beta readers Sheronda and Rebekah. Thanks to Susan, Carolyn, Midwest Fiction Writers, and my blogmates at The Ruby Slippered Sisterhood for their continuing friendship, wise counsel, and always having my back. A special thanks to Patty, for providing such a friendly place to write, and for keeping me caffeinated.

 

Last but definitely not least, endless thanks, once again, to Mark—for holding down the fort, for herding the cats, and for the gift of time.

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

 

Bailey Brown looked to the corners of the conference room for hidden cameras.
I’m being punked.
“Could you… repeat that?” She swallowed noisily. “Just the part about the…”


Crashed spaceship?” Lukas Sebastiani said, watching her closely.


Um, yeah.”

And then he repeated it. The same damn thing. Her boss was an incubus, an incubus whose ancestors’ spaceship—yes, spaceship—had crashed on Earth. And the incubi hadn’t been alone. Oh, no. Vampires, werewolves, Valkyrie, faeries,
sirens, God knew what else had been along for the cosmic road trip.

And humanity had shared the planet with them for thousands of years.

She sat back in the large conference room chair, hearing air shushing in and out of her lungs. Intellectually, she knew she was going into shock, but thankfully her brain kept working, the hard drive kept spinning. Because… ho-ly shit. Her employer, her co-workers, most of her new friends were…

Holy shit.

“Sorry I’m late.” Sasha Sebastiani breezed into the windowless conference room and dropped into the huge leather chair next to Bailey. “Problem with the delivery from the blood bank. You know how crabby the vamps get when they can’t drink an authentic Bloody Mar—” Her nostrils flared. “Jeez.” Sasha grabbed her hands and rubbed them. “Time out, guys. She’s freezing. Give her a minute.”

For some reason, Sasha’s touch, and her blithe reference to Underbelly’s vampire clientele’s drinking preferences, injected a note of normalcy into the conversation. Just a delivery problem at the bar, because vampires, who drank blood, got really annoyed when they couldn’t get their favorite drink. Bailey laughed, a laugh even she could hear veer toward hysteria.

The friction felt good. Why wasn’t she pulling away from Sasha, instead of clutching at her hand like a lifeline? She was being touched by a succubus whose ancestors had come from another planet, who’d been cruising through the neighborhood when—oops!—a cosmic fender-bender had altered Earth’s history forever.

This succubus was her friend, and the incubus jamming his hands into his streaky, shoulder-length hair across the table was her boss.

She should have known that something was just a little… off. Both Lukas and Sasha were preternaturally attractive—physical ideals, really—even if Lukas dressed more like hired muscle than the owner of the company. And Sasha was gorgeous, with fine bone structure and a delicately muscled body. Wiry and tough, she was built like the dancer she’d been before a blown ACL had halted a promising professional career in its tracks.

She stole a glance across the table at Jack. Her longtime friend watched her closely. Appearance-wise, Jack fit right in, though he’d assured her just a few minutes ago that he was as human as the next guy.

As long as the next guy wasn’t an incubus. Or a vamp. Or a werewolf.

Earth still spun on its axis, molecules combined, and gravity still pulled objects to the ground, but Bailey’s reality had taken a quick hairpin turn. Just about everything she remembered reading about incubi and succubi had negative religious overtones, with the God-fearing women of the Middle Ages swearing to the heavens—and to their judgmental neighbors and clergy—that while their husbands had been away at war, demons had come to them in the night, impregnating them. Considering the beauty and charisma of both Sebastianis—hell, the whole damn family—Bailey could see how night visitors this gorgeous just might make you do something you wished you could take back the next morning.

She now had a better understanding of why Jack rarely met Sasha Sebastiani’s eyes if he could possibly avoid it.

She took a deep breath and sat up straight in the slouchy leather conference room chair. Jack, Lukas, and Sasha were waiting for her to suck it up and deal.
“Okay, I’m fine,” she told the three of them. “Curious, yes, and Jesus, do I have a lot of research to do,” she muttered. “But there has to be a reason you told me this now. What’s up?”


I knew this wouldn’t knock you for a loop for very long.” Sasha shot a fake smile at Jack. “It took some people a lot longer.”

Jack simply resumed his typing.

“I’ll be honest, I have so many questions, and I don’t know where to start. But what do I need to know right now?” Bailey said.
And why does Lukas look so wiped out?

The conference room’s integrated projection screen lit up the wall behind Lukas, illuminating his face with its phosphorescent glow. He levered himself out of the chair, dimmed the lights, and stayed standing, leaning against the wall, in the shadows, behind Jack. For someone so large, the man moved like smoke.

Bailey looked to the screen, where the familiar-looking Sebastiani Inc. website was displayed. Now they were talking. She’d regain her footing more quickly if she could analyze some data. Jack scrolled down to the bottom center of the page, to where a very small globe twirled and sparkled. He clicked on it, and then drew his index finger across a pad on his laptop. Then he lifted his head and winked.

So, she was finally going to find out what was behind the damn firewall. She’d bumped up against it a couple of times, had circled around it like a wolf cornering prey, but she’d backed off. It had almost killed her, but she’d backed away, not just punched through the damn thing. Because it would have been so damn easy. Her fingers practically twitched as she watched Jack at his keyboard.

“We need you to tighten this up,” Lukas said matter-of-factly.

She nodded like this was a request she received every day, but her curiosity spiked like a pegged CPU. What was out here that needed more than strong passwords and fingerprint recognition?

When the screen came back up, it displayed a website that looked very much like the site they’d just come from, except there were now several additional navigational controls presented at the left side of the screen. Jack cruised his mouse over an “Archives” link that hadn’t been there before, and then clicked on a link which now read “Council Members” instead of “Board Members.” She had to chuckle when Jack clicked again, displaying an org chart. Apparently even extraterrestrial beings couldn’t escape PowerPoint.


The Underworld Council is our governing body,” Lukas said. “Each species is represented by one representative, and that representative chooses a backup—a second, if you will.”


A term from the days of dueling,” Sasha added, extending her arm like she carried an epee. “‘Name your second.’ ‘En garde!’” She tilted her head. “We like to think that things are much more civilized these days.”


Bullshit,” Lukas grumbled.

 

UNDERWORLD COUNCIL

INCUBUS—Elliott Sebastiani*
      Second: Lukas Sebastiani (acting)

SIREN—Claudette Fontaine
          Second: Annika Fontaine

WERE—Krispin Woolf
                  Second: Jacoby Woolf

VAMPIRE—Valerian
                     Second: Wyland

VALKYRIE—Alka Schlessinger
    Second: Lorin Schlessinger

HUMANITY—(Vacant)
                 Emeritus: Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

SEC/TECH—Lukas Sebastiani
       Second: Jack Kirkland

*President

 

 

Bailey could almost feel her synapses snap as she skimmed the information. Carl Sagan? Jack? She blinked, and then swallowed audibly. Yes, that was Jack’s name next to Lukas’s in its neat little box. Humans were members of the Underworld Council?


The Underworld Council governs Earth’s non-human species. These are the current representatives,” Lukas said. He pointed to the bottom of the list. “As you can see, there have been some recent changes. After long deliberation, a human was asked to join the Council about twenty years ago. Unfortunately, Carl wasn’t with the Council very long. But we have to take the long view and prepare for the day when we either decide to, or are forced to, reveal our existence to humanity. We need to find someone to fill that chair.”

Bailey remembered the many hours of pleasure she’d gotten from Dr. Sagan’s work during the time she’d been incarcerated. She’d have to watch
Contact
again through the lens of a completely changed reality.


I see you chose a scientist, not a politician.” Bailey nodded in approval. “Good call.”


We needed someone less likely to have preconceived notions about our existence.” Lukas sat down, the projector casting shadows on his face. “Carl’s seat has been empty since his death, but several promising candidates are being evaluated as replacements.”

Lukas pointed to his own name.
“I recently abdicated my seat as the Incubus Second to focus on security and technology risks. Homeland Security is a significant risk to our anonymity.”


Will you become the Incubus Second?” Bailey asked Sasha.


Hell, no.” Sasha raised crossed index fingers in a warding off motion. “As if.”


Sasha’s dislike for Council matters is well established,” Lukas responded. “Rafe’s got his own thing going on. It’s Dad’s decision, and he’s still making it, but Antonia’s the obvious choice.”

Sasha nodded her agreement.
“Clearly. She’s a brainiac, scary-smart.”


She’s so young,” Bailey said quietly. A sixteen-year-old with a seat on their ruling council?


You, better than anyone here, should understand that age isn’t the most important indicator of someone’s competence,” Jack responded.

The chair creaked as Lukas leaned back and speared his hands wearily into his hair.
“I’m serving double-duty until Dad makes a final decision. I hope he hurries up,” he muttered. “Okay. To cut to the chase, Jack was the second human to receive the Council’s sanction to learn of our existence. As of this morning, the Council authorized a third. You.”

What?
Bailey’s heart pounded like a tom-tom.


The Archives are a mess. The older materials are barely catalogued. They aren’t digitized, aren’t searchable. And what is isn’t adequately protected.” When Lukas kicked back to stare at the ceiling, the chair squeaked alarmingly. “But screw our unsecured archives; screw all of our other work. Today, we’re pulling every employee so we can babysit a prima donna rock star.”


This isn’t Scarlett’s fault,” Jack said.

Lukas leaned into the table with an audible growl.
“Nearly getting killed wasn’t Andi Woolf’s fault either. We should be out there finding this asshole.”


So we find a way to do both,” Jack replied in a reasonable tone of voice that just seemed to piss Lukas off more.

As Jack discussed staffing with Lukas, Bailey looked at the org chart displayed on the wall behind Lukas’s head. The prima donna in question was obviously Scarlett Fontaine. Her mother, Claudette Fontaine, was the
Siren Council rep, and her sister Annika, Sasha’s other roommate—who could drink six Kamikazes and still dance all night—was the Siren Second.

Mythology was full of stories about seagoing men crashing their ships into the cliffs, lulled by a
siren’s song. Suddenly Scarlett’s vocal talent made a whole different kind of sense. But why was Lukas so pissed off? “Who’s Andi Woolf?” Bailey asked aloud.


Krispin Woolf’s youngest child,” Jack said, quickly explaining the details of the assault. “We don’t have any reason to believe that Andi’s assault was politically motivated, but unfortunately we can’t rule it out yet either. Claudette is worried, and asked us to put additional security measures in place at Scarlett’s show tonight.” Lukas tossed his pen to the table, and Jack cleared his throat. “Of course we’re going to fulfill Ms. Fontaine’s request. So here’s the plan.” He tapped some keys on his laptop and displayed a three-dimensional schematic of Underbelly’s performance space. Plucking the stylus off his mini-comp, he activated it and pointed a red laser beam to an area backstage. “Lukas will be positioned in the wings over here, where I was going to be. Jesse will still be standing stage right. I’ll be down in the pit,” he said, “which frankly I’m a little happier about.”


Why is that?” Lukas asked.


In case she stage-dives.”

Lukas sat up in his seat, massive booted feet dropping from the adjacent chair to the floor like blocks of cement.
“Damn it, I thought you’d nipped that in the bud, Jack. It’s not safe.”

Jack shrugged.
“You know Scarlett.”

Lukas swore, and a flush crawled up his neck. Sasha’s nostrils were twitching up a storm. Hmm. Just how well
did
her tight-lipped boss know Scarlett Fontaine? She opened her mouth to tease Lukas about his crush, but then stopped. Sasha looked deadly serious. Something was going on here that she didn’t understand.

BOOK: Touch Me
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