June Novella

This is A Big Bright Shining Star, the story of Ishtar, the story of the Vampire Mistress of Silicone Valley, and a guy named Hugh. It’s the story of certain doom, and mortals caught in the games of gods. And it’s the story of porn. Sex Comedy, Action. First chapter is available here, the rest of the novella is available here: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=5359808

Chapter 1: Foreplay

It was midnight on the streets of Los Angeles. The date was late September of 2016. The sun had set, and the world was still bright and shining. The temperature was stuck in the default 68 degrees that had been written into the very nature of California, like an angel on the tramp stamp of the continent. The clouds in the sky were lit brilliantly from below by the vast expenditures of energy, banishing the night everywhere except the alleyways. A young woman stepped off of her bus, and into the world.

From this, you will presume that this story, except where otherwise mentioned, takes place in a world just like yours.

As she stepped down onto the pavement, she brought to mind a certain vulnerability. Dark hair and skin the color of coffee- The kind of coffee drunk by someone who truly loathed the taste of coffee, more milk than roast, and probably with foam or even whipped cream on top. She walked out into the night without looking in either direction, and before long, someone was following her.

From this, you will presume that this is a true crime story, and that a grisly murder or some awful thing is about to happen.

The man walked through the night, dressed in a style that has been out of style too long to be out-of-touch, and not quite long enough to be retro. Dark haired, with hair cut into a short and rather punk haircut, his leather jacket would seem somewhat out of date nowadays, though if the Sex Pistols were still a thing, he’d probably be taken for someone who still thought they were cool, particularly with the metal studs hanging in every part of the human body that dangles. It was not particularly cold, and no one’s breath is steaming, which is a terrible shame, because if it were, he would give a telltale sign of his true nature, by having no condensation, or indeed breath.

From this, you will presume that this is a horror story. That the man is a monster.

The young woman knew that the man is following her. She is not remotely afraid. This is not because she is stupid, or arrogant, though some might presume that. It is because she is the Goddess Ishtar, the Goddess of Love and Conquest, still one of the most powerful beings in the world despite not having been worshipped in close to three thousand years, and having been only recently released from Hell. Ishtar, who desired Gilgamesh, and sent forth the Bull of Heaven when she was denied. Ishtar, who threatened twice to shatter the gates of the underworld and unleash the dead on the living, to feast on their blood and flesh. Ishtar, who is a sign that the urge to fight and fuck is never separated as much as humanity would be comfortable with.

From this, you will probably still presume that this is still a horror story, but we have been following the monster, rather than its unwitting victim. And on this, you might be right, save this.

Ishtar has turned over a new leaf. She has been released from Hell on what might be called parole, with a rather maddeningly vague mandate: Help people. Don’t hurt people. The example she has been given is… mixed. I’d love to tell you what, precisely, she is thinking at this moment, but I don’t know.

I am Ishtar’s divine wisdom, and she has let me go, for the moment, refusing to tap into me. When you are a god, you have a certain awareness of everything that falls into your bailiwick, and when your bailiwick is love and conquest, it can be an incredible power. That same wisdom, however, can be dangerously draining, especially to a goddess without worshippers. So, for the moment, she holds me at arms length, not accessing me. We’ll see how long that lasts.

“Hey, baby,” the man says, and I can feel the creeping desire beneath his voice. He is undead- The precise kind does not matter to me. The porn industry in San Fernando Valley has been dying, and where industries and towns and people die, the undead congregate. Because the undead are nothing if not conservatives, and so, they often don’t get the memo that something is dead until long after everyone else. “You look lost. You need some help?”

“No, thank you, not from you,” said Ishtar, softly, pleasantly, but the words are clearly meant to cut to the bone. The man smiles, but there’s an urge inside of him, an urge to put the young woman in what he believes is her place. This would, in other circumstances, be a suicidal urge, since Ishtar would respond to such a thought with brutality that I am just as happy I won’t be discussing.

“Now, hey, don’t be that way. You’re fresh in town, right? How about a place to stay for the night. I’m guessing you don’t have much money on you. Fresh from the sticks?”

“I have been isolated, lately,” Ishtar said, without any apparent sign of fearing this man.  I know his true intentions. Drugs, most likely, giving her a chance to develop bad habits that can be taken advantage of. I do not find that particularly horrible or loathsome. Worse things are done over and over again. The only thing I take offense to is that he is trying it on Ishtar. But she… She is trying to be a different person. She is trying to change.

“My name is Ishtar,” she said, her voice taking on divine tones, her eyes glittering, and she turned towards him. Her power is wan, but she has eaten deep of the fruits of Hell. For a moment, there is a flash of inhuman features- Rooster’s legs and bat’s wings and serpent’s tail and goat’s horn and bull’s skull. Symbols of fertility, of fecundity, of virility. Sex and death, in one unbeatable package. The walking corpse sinks to his knees, his expression full of tears, his body shaking like a leaf. Immortality once yawned in front of him, and now it seems like it won’t be nearly so long as he was promised.

She was trying to be better, but her role model had taught her there was nothing wrong with scaring the absolute shit out of someone in order to set them down a healthier path. So long as they don’t have a heart attack, terrifying someone does them little lasting physical harm. Psychological harm is another question, but people will take any excuse to blame their faults on their mental trauma. She’s trying to be better, not a Buddha.

“Please,” the man whimpers. “Please- please- please don’t kill me.”

“I am going to ask you questions. I will know if you lie. Do not lie.”

He nodded. This statement was, itself, a lie- I would know if he lied. But until she reached out to me, I wouldn’t be able to tell her. But he didn’t know that.

“First. I want to know where to make money.”

He stared at Ishtar, blankly. Then, with a sneer, and an apparent lack of care for his own life, he shook his head. “Probably could get a job at one of the porn studios as a fluffer. Or just sell your body on the streets.”

It was such a strange time, when people could sneer at the idea of sex for money. It was as absurd to rail against the sale of food, or the running of an inn. People needed sex. That was the whole reason I had become so powerful. Ishtar didn’t seem to acknowledge or even notice the insult intended by it. “Good. My second question is, where can I find a better selection of clothes? What I have currently is…” She looked down at herself, and frowned. “Beneath me.”

“Well-“ He swallowed. Her reaction to his mockery had cowed him substantially, and he was beginning to feel the distinct, unpleasant sensation that he was in it, up to some part of his anatomy he’d rather not have so close to danger. “There’s Dominic’s. He’s a pretty popular costumer, if you’re looking for something, uh, suitable… He’d probably have something.”

Not entirely cowed, then. Dominic’s served the porn studios. The fashion he would have on offer would, to most women, be considered an insult. It was right in line with our style, though. Ishtar seemed to recognize this, and nodded slowly, grabbing the undead’s chin, and lifting it slowly so he was forced to meet her gaze. “Who is your mistress? Who controls this place, who is responsible for what you do?”

“My mist- I guess the Notte Nostra are in charge of the town’s-“

“No,” she said, softly. “I am your mistress now. You are my responsibility. And I believe I will remind you of that.”

The man’s eyes widened as she grabbed him by the shirt, dragging him into a nearby alleyway. No one saw as she divested him of his clothing, tearing it away forcefully, pressing him against the wall, her eyes hungry. Gods are practically defined by being above the petty methods of gathering energy, person by person, that lower creatures depend on. Gods need only be thought of, beseeched. They need give nothing, though it is considered good manners to distribute some of that power back. But a god is capable of gathering energy as one of the lesser races of supernatural beings would. Be it feeding on seed, need, or greed.

Ishtar, for her part, was feeding on all three at once, and quite vigorously. Perhaps she did not wish to announce her status as a goddess to the city as a whole, and attract undue attention. Or perhaps she simply did not want to make herself vulnerable to changes. Divinities become vulnerable to the weight of belief when they accept that power, and Ishtar and I had more experience than most- We had expanded much too quickly, both in Assyria and Hell, leaving us splintered and somewhat unfocused, leading to our inevitable downfall. Here, the undead man was much too busy to concentrate on anything but the soft sensation of Ishtar’s heel as it pressed down against his erect-

What?

Oh, I see. Yes, changing mores. You’re growing squeamish over the descriptions of what is happening. The reminder of sexual acts, particularly the fetishistic and intimate, leaves you feeling subtly violated. A little bit pathetic, if I may say- Surely you, like anyone else, need to engage in these things. Even more than most-

Well, fine. I’ll let my attention wander away from the scene of the intimate, if somewhat predatory and coldly transactional act of congress, to another player in this story, whose acts of predatory and coldly transactional congress have just finished.

“I think you have what it takes,” purred Carmilla. This was not her original name- She was not born a vampire, and although she was born a very devoted lesbian, she did not realize this until some eighty years into her unlife. It might be more dramatic and exciting to leave her as an unknown, as a dark figure whose true motives and desires are a mystery, but in frankness, she is a very straightforward being. Born in France in the 1700s, she was an unremarkable daughter of an unremarkable cobbler, blessed with the name Louise Lefevre. She was turned into a vampire- Specifically, one of the Strix- by a Romani man with a particular fondness for her, who proceeded to make use of her for the next decade. You can be forgiven for thinking this had something to do with her sexual orientation, but take it from me, it only highlighted the fact for her.

Her entrance into the Notte Nostra came soon after she murdered her founder. They apologized profusely for the disrespect he had shown her and proceeded to induct her. She made her way up the ranks, at a painfully slow rate, until the mid 70s. She realized three very important things during that long, lonely two centuries. First, she liked girls. Really, really liked them. Second, she found Elizabeth Bathory an interesting figure, though she was substantially less fond of the homicidal aspects. The young red-haired woman currently sitting on the bed, shivering a bit despite the warmth of the room, is in no physical danger, though she is about to sign a contract that can only be described as blood-sucking. Finally, Carmilla realized that she would never amount to anything waiting for the world to make room for her.

In the 70s, the pornography industry in San Fernando exploded. California had, up to this point, been largely a place for the Fae. Its vitality, creativity, and excessive sunlight tended to annoy most undead. Carmilla had not been one of them. She had seen the potential, and with deeply un-undead daring and speed, had established a major outpost in the then-burgeoning industry. France had always been linked with pornography in the American culture, for reasons that have mostly to do with dull discussions of copyright and publishing profits.

Carmilla’s big break came with video-tape. She established an empire, became immensely wealthy, and benefitted the Notte Nostra immensely. She also ruined a number of lives that is, for all intents and purposes, countless. Drugs, the degradation of the work, brutal contracts, both legal and illegal depredations gave her the power she had so desired. The power that, rightfully, was mine.

“Now. I’m going to be starting you in Golden Sunset’s studio. Tasteful stuff. Girl-on-girl.”

“Ah- But- I mean, I’m not-”

“That’s not what you were saying a few minutes ago.” Carmilla gave a razor sharp smile. “You’ll be great. You’ve got the right look for them. Trust me. You’ll be making a mint.” She did not mention the drugs that would likely be offered to the girl, too. Carmilla liked girls, but times were tough.

The industry was in trouble. It was the internet’s fault that Carmilla was failing- There wasn’t much she could do about that. Streaming services, the death of traditional media- The empire that Carmilla had carved out was still formidable, but any time that profits start going down, it’s not long before something collapses. That which does not grow must change, and that which does not change must die. So she is forced by her superiors to find additional sources of profit, many of which kill, or at least shorten the life. Carmilla hates this, but she doesn’t see a way out.

“Now. I need to get dressed and keep an eye on things out there. You want something to eat? A little fruit salad? Maybe a steak tartare? Just ring that bell there.” Carmilla flowed into her outfit. Image is everything, which is why she responds to ‘Carmilla’ and not ‘Louise’ nowadays. It is also why the outfit practically screams ‘Vampire Queen of Criminal Empire’, with its black lace, expensive material, and notable exposing of her bust. In an industry where time and wrinkles are the enemy of all women, she cheats, and offers others the chance to cheat. There are perhaps half a dozen young, orphaned vampires without bloodlines who work for her, being shifted from one identity to another, making the best of their eternal youth.

“Monty didn’t show up? So what? We’ve got about a hundred recruiters out there. What’s special about him not making a check-in?” Carmilla glared at the lower-level functionary. She knows his name; I don’t care enough about him to bother remembering it, even though it would be effortless. He’s a ghoul, and not only metaphorically, nibbling on a piece of very suspicious jerky as he looks over his papers.

“He’s one of our more reliable recruiters. Scares the girls sometimes, but he’s very good at picking up new talent. He never misses a check-in.”

“So? Everyone fucks up sometimes.”

“It’s just- with the auditor coming-”

“Christ,” growls Carmilla. “That’s right. That’s this week.” She knew this, and hasn’t forgotten. She likes to create an image of being scatter-brained among her functionaries. In the past, this has allowed her to lure out the ambitious and foolish into making plays against her. Evolutionary pressure did its work well, and now, everyone knows not to presume she’s getting soft. She still does it anyway- There’s no point in breaking a good habit.

“Yes. So any unfortunate… accidents, anything that could bring heat down, I’m being extra sensitive.”

“Fuck. Alright, send someone around to his place, find out where the hell he is. How’s production going?”

A very dignified man in his 50s who has not had a meaningful libido in the last twenty reeled off a list of movie titles that start with “Big Booty Beauties 18” and goes downhill from there. Carmilla nodded at the reports on each.

“And how are we doing on recruiting one of those Atlanteans? I got a feeling about it. People are wild about that sort of stuff.”

“Good news. We got Guillermo del Toro attached to direct, and we’re in negotiations with the Atlanteans. Real artistic, but the theatres are going to have to buy extra mops, the floors are going to be so wet. Still working on the title, though. ‘The Babe of Water’ didn’t focus group so well. But women love a man with scales.”

“Mmmmm.” Carmilla nodded briefly, frowning. “Anything else?”

“Oh. One of the studios had some trouble. Apparently some friction between Yannatos and his secretary.”

“God, he didn’t hit on her, did he?”

“Oh, he did. They had a real thing going. But apparently she didn’t do anal. This led to some irreconcilable differences.”

“Christ. That man goes through secretaries like…” She paused, and shuddered, mostly as an affectation. Almost all seemingly genuine behavior on her part is an affectation, at this point. “Well, put out a want ad. Or maybe go through some of the girls. Look for the ones who are tired of the spotlight. And who have done anal videos.” She paused for another moment, remembering a previous incident. “And femdom. Motherfucker. He can’t just go out and hire a dominatrix like an ordinary human being?”

“You know how fairies are,” said the functionary.

“You can say that again,” she says, and chuckles to herself as she turns her eyes to her window. The sun has safely set, and the valley stretches out beneath her. There are barbarians at the gates, but this empire still belongs to her, and she’ll give it up over her dead body.

A damned shame, that, but conquest is always thus. Ishtar and I left a trail of humiliated, broken goddesses in our wake in Assyria. It won’t do any harm to take everything from Carmilla. Anything she does in response to that loss- Well, that is on her head, not Ishtar’s. Nash could hardly blame us for that, could he?

“Alright. So, put out a job ad for a secretary. If that fails, promote one of the girls from Mundane Magic. They’ve all been working with Yannatos for a while.” Carmilla sighed, leaning back in her chair, already feeling the knotting in the shoulders. “Any fun?”

“Well, we’ve got another girl looking for an audition.”

“She cute?”

The functionary shrugged, and waggled his hand. “Not really your type.”

“Fine. I’ll just have a quick bite. I’m starving. That girl this afternoon was anemic. I couldn’t feed on the poor damn thing, I’d have felt like an asshole.”

As the girl was led into the room, doped out of her brain on quaaludes that had been in the tea the secretary had offered her, Carmilla licked her lips hungrily. Again, no need to worry- This particular girl’s in no physical danger, though she’s unlikely to enjoy the job she’s going to get out of this.

Now, we move to the third protagonist of this drama. He is completely ordinary, totally human. He is modestly college educated, and was foolish enough to pursue a communications degree, dreaming of someday becoming a movie star. His family was not particularly notable, and has not been since time immemorial. No inhuman relatives, no divine lineage, no heroic ancestors. The most notable thing about this young man is the fact that his surname is Hefner, and that his parents were so deeply out of touch that they thought Hugh would be a good name for the boy, who grew up very shy, very reserved, and has not touched a woman romantically since a brief and furtive kiss in college with a girl who pitied him just enough to reach first base.

Now, Hugh has found work in Hollywood. He tells his family he works for a small production studio, and he might get a job any day. This is wholly untrue, but it gives them hope, and false hope is infinitely better than no hope at all. Hugh works among a large number of very beautiful women, and a large number of very handsome men. He makes very little money, and for a young man in his twenties, he has watched his dreams shrink constantly. Now, there’s just one small, rather pathetic dream left to him.

You see, Hugh fancies himself chivalrous. He wants to rescue a girl. He wants to find someone who is trapped in a life of pain and suffering, who is selling her body because she has no other choice, and he wants to offer her that other choice. He feels that if, perhaps, he can just save a single other person from the pain and degradation that he feels so keenly in his soul, his life will not have been a waste. He just wants to rescue someone. He is surrounded by women who are doing something no less inherently degrading than what he does, and they make much more money doing it, with a greater potential for someday becoming someone who matters. And still, he wants so desperately to rescue one of them.

This is important. Because for any number of reasons, so often, love stories involving goddesses involve men just like this. There is something about this desperation, this desire, this soul-searing need that attracts the hunger of a goddess. And this is a love story.

Specifically, it is a tragedy. A tragedy of a young man who will bring himself to believe that a goddess could need to be rescued by one so worthless as him, that she would ever choose him. A belief that Ishtar will nurture, drawing the power up and out of him, leaving him hollow. So hollow that when she leaves, he will collapse inwards on himself.

Not doing harm at all. He doesn’t have to be the way he is. He’s a mortal, he is young, he could change his mind. But chances are very good that he will not. And neither I, nor Ishtar, care.

At the moment, he was packing up for the day. He yawned just as Candy walks by. She smiled warmly at him. She doesn’t resent him for asking her why she works in this industry, and she very softly and politely explained why exactly she lives very well, and needs absolutely no rescue. Hugh accepted this without growing angry or expressing his real emotions, and as such, the two have become friends.

“You need an escort home?” He asked, smiling politely, with only the tiniest flicker of hope that she will say yes, let alone be romantically attracted to him.

“Thanks, but I’m taking an Uber.” She grinned at him. “Thanks for the offer, Hugh.” She doesn’t call him ‘playboy’, which is what half of the people here call him, and so he didn’t feel the white-hot surge of rage at being mocked. He just felt a little hollow inside as another sliver of hope he didn’t even realize he still had collapses.

“No problem. Stay safe.”

Hugh does not cut an impressive figure. He is short, and somewhat overweight, though he is trying to fix the latter. His hair and his eyes are both mundane, brown as mud. He has no capacity for a proper beard, though he tries anyway. Working a job has led him to dress and groom himself with some care, and if he were working in a normal profession, and if his expectations were remotely realistic, he would have no trouble finding an average, homely woman who he could live his life with, someone who he matched. Remember that humans create their own tragedy by not understanding how to avoid it. Hugh could avoid all of this, if he simply knew his place.

Nonetheless, he walks the streets with a lack of fear. Hugh doesn’t have anything left to take, and a part of him almost hopes someone tries to mug him. He believes he would win the fight, be allowed to take out his anger and rage at the world on a deserving target. It is far more likely that he would be beaten savagely or killed, but frankly, he doesn’t particularly care about those outcomes either.

It is a cold, dark night. Cold, that is, for Southern California, meaning the temperature is sixty five, instead of sixty eight, prompting the natives to walk around in heavy coats and shiver overdramatically. Hugh, who has been in town for three months and came from the Midwest, was completely unaffected. He simply walked through the evening towards the small apartment he rents at painful expense, unmindful of his surroundings.

It could have been anyone. Ishtar was not looking for him, and indeed, was not looking for anyone in particular. She could have preyed on any random loser who roughly fit Hugh’s milieu. It just so happened that his eyes fell upon her as she passed beneath a streetlight.

To Hugh, it was as though an angel had stepped out of the night. A formative moment watching Aladdin as a child had countered an upbringing rife with islamophobia, and to his eyes, the young Middle Eastern woman standing beneath the street light was the divine embodiment of beauty. Hugh was right about this, but let’s not get the wrong impression. It wasn’t because he was perceptive. Even a stopped clock can be right twice a day.

The sheer strength of the desire, the need, the beseeching prayers, were too clear for Ishtar to miss, even with me separate from her. Her head turned, and soft brown eyes- Brown like chocolate, brown like Mother Earth, not brown like mud- met Hugh’s.

She stepped towards him in the night, dressed modestly, her chin lifting so her gaze met his. The scent of jasmine and rosewater surrounded her like a shroud, beguiling and mind-fuzzing. Her soft lips parted. “Can you help me?”

“Yes,” said Hugh, because he couldn’t possibly say anything else in the circumstances. In just that moment, she could have told him she needed a dragon slain, and Hugh would have given it his very best shot. She could have told him she needed him to cut his own throat, and there were even chances he would have complied.

“I just arrived in town.” She wrapped her arms around herself, a slight shiver spreading through her body. “I was supposed to stay with a friend, but they flaked out on me, and now…”

Innocence. Naivete. Hugh is not a predator, despite his anger and his rage. He doesn’t have the instincts necessary to hurt others because of how he has been hurt. But he is extremely aware of one thing: This woman is vulnerable. She needs to be rescued, and she’s asking him. It’s everything he ever dreamed of, and frankly, if she’s scamming him and plans to rob him- or for that matter, to steal a kidney- he’s willing to take the risk.

“Yes.”

She smiles, a smile of absolute gratitude. The walk home is both eternal and painfully brief. She takes his arm, holding it with both of hers, walking alongside him. He feels pain and shame as he enters the apartment, noting the strewn clothes, the empty pizza box. His first impression, and he looks like a slob. He opens his mouth to apologize, and Ishtar beats him to it. “May I take a shower?”

“Sure. The bathroom’s through there.” He pointed to the cramped room, feeling a terrible grinding shame. He didn’t expect for anyone to see this room, let alone a woman who is everything that he ever dreamed of.  “Uh, you can use the bed, I’ve got a couch I can sleep on.”

“That is a very kind offer,” Ishtar said, her voice soft, stepping through the door. She smiled over her shoulder. “No peeking.” The tone is not one of anger, or fear, but something else. If Hugh had more experience with women, he might have known what to expect. As it was, he bustled into the kitchen, trying in vain to cook something that might impress. After perhaps twenty minutes, the door to the bathroom opened.

“Dinner’s almost ready,” began Hugh, as he turned his head towards the bathroom. Ishtar stood there, framed by the light, naked save for a towel which was wrapped around her hair. Hugh had spent the last few months constantly around extremely attractive naked women, and thus had become very used to it. Inoculated, if you will, to the effects that bare skin can have on a man’s libido.

It was rather as though someone inoculated against the flu was given a dose of ebola. Ishtar smiled sweetly at him, as he completely failed to think of anything to say.

The next few hours passed dizzily, and in a great deal of distraction. I will avoid the details because I can see how squeamish you are about them, but suffice it to say, Hugh’s dreams were nothing compared to glorious reality. The night passed in a haze of lust and desire and perhaps, just perhaps, the startings of infatuation on Hugh’s part, pink and bright and fierce and thoroughly one-sided. Ishtar was, I could be sure, not affected in the same way. This was no different from most of her experiences, and even the undead man was a more experienced and caring lover than young Hugh, who was overeager and clumsy. But she was good at hiding such things.

After Hugh passed out, Ishtar studied his phone. The message had come from work, asking if anyone knew of candidates for a secretarial position. She nodded with satisfaction to herself as she sent a message mentioning a candidate. She left only a single note to Hugh. “We will discuss the price later.” Then she left into the night, and made money.

From a young drug dealer, rough and unpleasant, she extracted fifty dollars in exchange for brief and furtive activity in an alleyway. He called her a bitch, and was slapped firmly across the cheek, giving him a fetish that he would never truly escape.

From a successful lawyer, who had a penchant for women who tied him to a bed, she extracted five hundred dollars. The lawyer was willing to pay a great deal for secrecy, and she was happy to accept the money, as he clearly valued her silence.

From an older woman with a very great deal of hostility in mind, she extracted twelve dollars- And that, only reluctantly on the woman’s part, for cab fare. The woman called her a whore, and Ishtar didn’t care in the least, or think of the woman ever again.

At the crack of dawn, Dominic opened his store to find a young woman standing and waiting for him. She had a very unusual set of outfits she wanted him to begin on, and $562 to spend. Nonetheless, Dominic loved a challenge, and had a soft spot for a young up-and-comer. He agreed to see what he could do.

Hugh woke, feeling rather like he must have died and gone to heaven. When he found the note, his stomach sank. He had not gone to a prostitute to lose his virginity because he had wanted his first time to be special, and now, it seems, he had managed it completely by accident. Part of him was defiant, angry, scornful. How dare she trick him, how dare she deceive him, pretend to be someone who cared about him, when it had been just a cold and mechanical transaction.

Another, much larger part of him, had remembered the intimacy, the soft words between the two of them. The explanation of her dreams, her desires, his secret revealed. He remembered the night, and she had been caring, attentive, thoughtful. It began to justify. The money- Well, he’d always wanted to save a woman. She was new in town, lost, she needed money. He could save her from all of that. If she needed money, he would find money. Somehow.

It was with this warm thought bubbling in his head that he arrived at work, and found the front door manned by someone new. His eyes widened a bit as he recognized Ishtar sitting behind the desk, dressed in an elegant white silk dress. Well, broadly a dress. It exposed far more skin than a dress should, the skirt barely preserving any measure of modesty, the top exposing midriff, and, for that matter, better than half of Ishtar’s breasts, all designed to hit the libido of anyone walking in like a rat trap hits a rodent’s spine.

“Ah, Hugh. Thank you for last night.” She let her fingers rest together. “I’ll need ten thousand dollars by the end of the week for my services.”

Several responses played through Hugh’s head. Indignation and refusal ran face-first into the memories of the previous night.

“Okay.”

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