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Authors: Katana Collins

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Soul Stripper

BOOK: Soul Stripper
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SOUL STRIPPER
KATANA COLLINS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
For Sean
Acknowledgments
When I set out to be a writer, I made a goal for myself that I would be a published novelist before I turned thirty. And I am thrilled to say this book is scheduled to come out less than a month before my thirtieth birthday! As exciting as this is, goals are rarely accomplished without the help of others. And this dream of mine would certainly not be a reality without the help of so many.
Tremendous thanks to everyone at Kensington who worked so hard for this book to hit the shelves. And to my editor, Martin Biro, for taking a chance on me as a writer. For believing I had the talent. And for pouring so much of yourself into all you do. You are an inspiration to watch.
My gratitude to all the ladies and gentleman at the NYC chapter of Romance Writers of America—especially Lise, Shara, Teresa, Mageela, and Leanna. Each meeting was just the boost I’d need to put myself out there. To my critique group—Krista, Derek, and Shauna—you guys are all so talented and always the kick in the ass I need.
Lots of love and thanks to my canine “assistants” Red and Bebop, who offer kisses and snuggles late into the night as I’m writing—there will be many Milk-Bones waiting for you! To my sister, Bridget, for teaching me to believe in real-life fairy tales. To my brother, Bo, whose imagination never ceases to amaze. And to Mom and Dad—for always filling my life with books, dreams, and inspiration.
And last but not least, my husband, Sean. Thank you does not even begin to cover it.
PROLOGUE
S
he lay on top of his body, her bare breasts pressed against his tight muscles. His breathing was steady against her chest. She lifted herself up quietly so as not to wake him. She hadn’t known her date for long, but he seemed nice enough.
She walked to her bathroom, not bothering to turn on the light. A candle glowed on the sink, and she ran the faucet to splash some water on her face. A tendril of red, curly hair fell over one shoulder, and she could taste something bad in her mouth—what was that? Morning breath? She grabbed her toothbrush, which hadn’t been used in ages. Every now and then to spruce up before a date, but really—she had no need for one other than keeping up appearances. She scrubbed the bristles against her teeth, the action feeling foreign, and stared at her reflection.
It was dark, but her succubus vision was sharp.
There was something next to her mouth—a crease? It couldn’t be. Succubi don’t
get
wrinkles. She closed her eyes and shifted, thinking about what areas she wanted to change. Where there would normally be a tingle—some shiver of magic running through her body—she felt hardly anything. A few goose bumps rose on her arms. When she opened her eyes, the crease was still there, though slightly less visible. She spit the minty foam into the sink and tossed her toothbrush down, bringing her face in closer to the mirror to investigate.
She was naked with the exception of the beautiful anklet dangling just above her foot—a gift from the man lying in her bed, fast asleep. Her breasts brushed the cold porcelain of her sink, making her jump back slightly. She closed her eyes and shifted into clothes. The power was still there, though barely. She looked down, now wearing a sheer camisole and panties. It wasn’t what she had in mind, but at least it was something. Her head was spinning and she was dizzy, faint from the energy spent.
The light behind her clicked on and she jumped, turning to find her date standing behind her. His eyes, which had been so kind only hours before, now seemed like empty, bottomless holes. “Trouble sleeping?”
She shook her head, fiery hair tickling her collarbone. A pull came from deep in her gut, feeling his aura’s shift from earlier in the night. It was red—a purplish red. She sent him the sweetest smile she could muster and casually tossed her hair behind her shoulder. “Not at all. Just wanted to freshen up before round two.” She reached for the sink, grabbing her porcelain hand mirror from the vanity and slowly brought it to her face. She kept one eye on him and managed to act as though she were looking at her reflection.
His chiseled jaw clenched, and his face twisted into a sadistic smile. “Come now, Savannah. We both know there’s not going to be a round two. I can smell your fear.” From behind his back, he pulled out a knife with a serrated blade. He moved quickly, lunging at the succubus, but even in her exhausted state she moved faster.
She smashed the porcelain mirror against the counter, the glass shattering, leaving her with the pointed shard of the handle. She swung the shiv toward him, just barely missing his arm. They each stood in a crouched position, ready to strike.
He laughed at her. His head tipped back, the low chuckle escaping his throat like the soft rattle of a dangerous snake. With no warning, he threw his knife, the blade slicing through her bare foot, staking it to the hardwood floor.
She screamed, her body crumpling into a heap, and yanked the knife away. She sat there, blade in one hand, shiv in the other, waiting for her foot to heal itself. Waiting for regeneration that didn’t come. He cackled above her. She looked up to find him standing over her, another knife in his hand.
He knelt, eyes cold like stone. “You’re waiting for something that’s not going to happen, hun. You are practically human. Nothing’s going to heal itself this time.”
Her breath became shorter—panic. She had not felt true fear in such a long time. Not since she was human. She forced her breathing to slow down. Forced herself to stop the tunnel vision from closing around her. She still held two weapons, his knife in one hand and her shiv in the other. She would not go down without a fight. The small tingle of power coursed through her veins, reminding her she still had a touch of magic left—she would find the right time to use it.
She swiped the knife across his bare chest, and the blade slid into his tender flesh. He fell back, a scream echoing in the bathroom. In the moment it took him to gather his composure, she leaped over his body, running to the bedroom. Her leap was not high enough and he raised his knife, cutting her deeply behind the knee.
Both legs were damaged. She could hardly stand; most of her weight rested on her hands, leaning on the dresser. She had lost the knife somewhere along the jump, but the shiv was still clenched so tightly in her fist that her palm was bleeding. The blood from her knee traveled down her leg, over her calf, and as it dripped across her beautiful anklet, steam rose with a sizzle, as though the anklet were absorbing the blood. The blood that hit the anklet dropped to the floor, still steaming and sizzling, creating burn marks like a chemical spill.
He walked slowly toward her, knives dripping with blood. His, hers—did it matter? “It’s over, Savannah.”
She shook her head, eyes wide and wet. “Why?”
His eyes creased, and he smiled in that evil way again. He shuddered with pleasure as her body trembled in fear before him. “You kill for a living. And now, so do I.”
Adjusting her body, she forced herself to stand so that she was leaning only against one arm—the shiv stretched out in front of her. “Then come and get me, fucker.” Despite her tough exterior, her heart hammered against her ribs.
He ran toward her. As he did, she shifted into a serpent with her last remaining power. Her fangs sunk into his abdomen just before his knives slit her throat. A handful of scales fluttered to the floor and a fang ripped out of her mouth as she choked on her own blood. She fell to the ground, transforming back into her human form. A bloody goddess with lifeless eyes.
He chuckled softly and licked the blood from his knife, his body radiating with the power of fresh blood and a new kill. Her magic entered his body with her blood, slithering down his throat like a fine cognac. He bent down and ran his hand down the length of her lifeless body. Using the edge of the knife, he gathered a pool of blood on the blade and scraped it across two small test tubes. “I’d fuck you one last time, but I fear it would somehow wake you,” he whispered to himself. “Such a waste.” His fingers trailed down her hips, across her ass, and down her thighs until he reached the anklet. He ripped it swiftly from her body, pocketing it before taking off.
1
T
he smell of coffee always turns me on.
Well, it might not be the coffee as much as it is my manager
at
the coffee shop. Drew. I liked to repeat his name in my head. Drew.
Drew. An
drew Sullivan—one of the best men I’ve ever met. Which might not be saying much for him considering the degenerates I hang out with. I wiped down a table with a few stains, thinking about those dimples of his. He always had the faint aroma of coffee on his clothes. And under his cotton T-shirts, I could see the slightest ripple of muscles. Long and lean. The muscles of a soccer player.
I stood there wiping the same spot over and over, my nails scraping against the tabletop. I imagined Drew’s lips gently brushing against the dip in my neck. His growing erection pressing into me as he tenderly nibbled the soft skin above my collarbone.
Monica, Monica,
he’d moan....
“Monica?” His smooth voice snapped me out of my dream. “I think that table’s clean.” His lips curled into a playful smile, eyes sparkling with mischief. He turned his attention back to the faucet, wrench in hand, fixing the constant drip that had been annoying all the baristas over the past week.
“Oh. Right, of course. Sorry, Drew. I’m sort of lost in my own thoughts today.” My eyes traveled to his tight ass; his signature dirty towel was hanging from the back pocket of his jeans. Disoriented, I turned to move on to my next task and slammed into a customer closing in on the table I just cleaned. His iced coffee spilled onto my chest. Ice dribbled down my white T-shirt, and cold coffee covered my now-tight nipples.
“Oh shit.” I looked up at the regular customer whose caffeinated beverage I was now wearing. He looked angry—which for anyone else might have been a problem. But for me? This was an easy fix for any succubus over a century old. That’s what I am—a succubus. And whatever notions you have in your head about succubi are probably wrong. Just because I am a minion of Hell doesn’t necessarily make me an “evil” being.
I used to be an angel and am apparently the
only
angel-turned-succubus known within the demon realm. I guess this sort of makes me a celebrity. They call me the golden succubus—the nickname makes me cringe. It’s a bit too reminiscent of a particular “golden” sex act.
I looked up at the angry man standing over me and felt the tingles as my succubus magic handled the situation. My bottom lip pouted naturally when I spoke. “I am just
so
sorry.” As I took a deep breath, his eyes fixed on my nipples pushing out my wet T-shirt. “I’m such a klutz!” Running my fingernail along his forearm, his face softened.
“It’s really no problem.” He flashed a smile after licking his lips. “We should really get you out of that shirt.” He lifted a hand to his mouth, and I noticed a wedding band on that ring finger of his.
Fucking men.
I opened my mouth to answer, but before I could, Drew stepped between us, his eyebrows low over his eyes. “You can go have a seat—we’ll bring you another coffee.”

Iced
coffee.” The married man smirked and looked past Drew, meeting my eyes.
“Iced coffee? What’s the matter—can’t take the heat?”
“It’s Vegas, man. Who drinks hot coffee in the middle of the desert?”
Drew’s mouth tipped into a barely visible smile. “
I
do.”
The customer ran a hand through his dark brown hair. “Fine, whatever man.”
Drew was still standing protectively in front of me, and I touched his arm lightly, an attempt to break him from his aggressive stance. As he rocked back on his heels, Drew’s face cracked into a friendlier smile—one that was much more appropriate as the owner of the coffee shop. He clapped the man on the bicep in that weird way men do to each other. “Just messin’ with you, man. Have a seat. I’ll get your iced coffee.”
Once the customer was out of earshot, Drew swiveled around, his smile entirely gone, replaced again with the anger I had seen a moment ago. He leaned down, his face suddenly close to mine. “Do you have to come on to every friggin’ customer?” He grunted and pushed past my shoulder, heading back behind the counter.

Me?
I don’t know if you saw the whole thing, Drew—but that guy came on to
me
. Not the other way around.” I was whispering so not to create a scene in the crowded café.
“You don’t even realize how much you flirt.”
I paused, taking in his vibe. “We’re not talking about
him
anymore, are we?”
He snorted and slammed some of his tools around, not answering right away. After a few seconds of silence, he stood with his hands on his hips, not meeting my eyes. “That was a long time ago, Mon. Trust me, I’m not exactly sitting at home pining away over you.”
“Six months is not that long ago.” Ever since I started working for him here at the coffee shop, I knew he was bound to ask me out at some point. He managed to hold out longer than most men—almost two years after we first met, he invited me to dinner. And I for some stupid reason still have a conscience—that little bit of angel left in me—and had to say no. I couldn’t take that risk with Drew’s soul.
He sighed. “It is in the dating world. You should know that.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. “Whatever. I’m happy you’ve moved on.” I swallowed. His lips pressed together and one eyebrow twitched into an arch. Maybe he knew I was bluffing, maybe he didn’t. It didn’t exactly matter anymore. We held each other’s gaze for seconds too long. I broke the eye contact first and joined him behind the counter, pulling out a new cup of ice for the customer’s replacement coffee.
Drew cut me off, taking the cup from me. “Why don’t I refill this for you? You’re still a little bit—eh—indecent.” His eyes flicked toward my breasts.
“Oh. Right.” I glanced down at my shirt. Brown stains covered my hard nipples. “And—I really am sorry. About spilling the coffee,” I clarified quickly. “I feel off my game today. Spilling stuff, drifting off, daydreaming . . .”
Drew smiled at me, turning back into his normal self. “It’s fine, Monica. Really.” He tossed me the hand towel that was hanging in his back pocket.
I smiled back. “Well, feel free to take the refill out of my hips—oops, I mean,
tips.
” I smirked, exaggerating the flirting.
He rolled his eyes. “There you go again.” He smiled, lines creasing around his mouth. “I have an extra shirt in my office, if you need it.”
I headed to the bathroom. “No, it’s fine. I think I have one in my bag.”
I shut the bathroom door and slid the lock to the left. Can’t have anyone walking in while I’m shapeshifting. In actuality, my shapeshifting is just a mind-trick on mortals and immortals. A mirage of sorts. I took a look at the reflection in the mirror. My dark blond hair still looked in place, parted on the side with a slight curl at the ends. But my shirt was a mess. I focused—closed my eyes. A familiar prickle surrounding my body as I shifted into another clean, white shirt.
The idea of stealing souls for Hell makes my stomach twist. Even though I am technically a demon, you could say I sort of play for both teams whenever possible. Ethical souls are the nutrition. They’re like eating fresh vegetables and free-range chicken. The bad souls, well, they’re the fast-food equivalent. I’m essentially sustaining my existence on this mortal plane on a diet of chocolate and potato chips. My body certainly craves something better, but I allow the indulgence only when absolutely necessary.
I looked away from the mirror. I wasn’t always such an immortal vigilante. There was a time I accepted my fate as a succubus. A time in my existence I wasn’t exactly proud of.
Maybe I should try a new hair color—go blonder—surfer bleach blond . . . like Drew’s new girlfriend, Adrienne. Ugh. I couldn’t even bear the thought of it—Drew with a girlfriend. A
blond
girlfriend. It was just so . . . so . . . obvious. I mean, okay, my hair was blond, too, but mine was natural. I hadn’t changed my looks much since my angel days, partially because I liked my cherub features but also because the art of shifting takes a lot of power. It simply takes less energy to adjust the looks I already have in people’s minds rather than create a new vision entirely.
I thought again of Adrienne and her platinum blond hair. The sort of white blond that looked as though it had been singed at the bottom—brittle and crisp. It just screamed Pamela Anderson. Sighing, I walked out of the bathroom to finish up my closing shift duties.
I finished cleaning the tables and restocked the sugar, and as I carried another bag of arabica coffee beans to the front, I inhaled their scent and thought of Drew. That sweet smell that hits you at the back of the throat. That scent will get me through the end of my night job. The strip club doesn’t always have the nicest men . . . or the nicest smells, for that matter.
“Aren’t you going to be late for the club?” Once again, Drew snapped me out of my thoughts.
Nine p.m. Which meant yes . . . I was going to be late. I flashed him a smile. “Yes, probably. With any luck, I’ll be fired.” I laughed to myself at the thought. Lucien would never dream of firing me. I’m his best dancer and the closest thing to a sister that he’s got. As my ArchDemon, Lucien is in charge of Nevada and the entire Southwest region. He may seem threatening to most, but when he pitches his fits, I only ever see a petulant teenager stomping his feet and raising his voice.
Drew took a few steps closer to me and placed his rough hand on my elbow. They were the hands of a carpenter. A hard worker—rough and masculine. “Maybe you should quit. I could give you a raise here.” His green eyes grew wider with hope—and perhaps a slight hint of desire.
My mouth tipped into a sad smile. “You can offer me a thousand dollars per night?”
Not to mention the easy access to men’s souls.
The strip club is the best way to meet bad boys and avoid the good ones. The degenerates that come into that club give me just enough energy to keep running. I glanced back up at his green eyes, his warm breath tickling my lips. Drew’s soul was clean. Pure and totally Heaven-bound. Sure, he was quite the flirt—even with a girlfriend. But that alone doesn’t warrant a one-way ticket to Hell. He deserved better than me. Even still, when he was this close to my body, my ethical stance became fogged.
Drew chuckled, and his laugh reminded me of water bubbling over a fountain. “No, I definitely can’t offer you that.” His hand was still on my elbow, and his fingers moved in gentle circles over my skin. “But I can give you unlimited coffee and an extra two dollars an hour.”
“That’s a
tempting
offer,” I teased, “but somehow I’m not so sure I can sustain my life on coffee.”
“I could find other ways to keep you happy here.” His breathing became more shallow and his face lowered closer to mine. I knew he was just reacting to my succubus pheromones. It wasn’t Drew talking—it was simply his carnal desire coming through. No man can resist a succubus in heat. And though I rationally knew this, I still couldn’t pull my gaze away from his. I could feel the need from deep within my body, an itch to have sex with someone so deliciously pure and good. I looked down at my nails and they were glossier, with a sheen most women paid good money to get. My powers were running low, which meant only one thing—I needed to sleep with someone tonight. Everything about me was designed to draw in humans. I’m like a shiny, intricate spiderweb, waiting to catch my prey. As my body requires a recharge, my hair gets shinier, my eyes become more vibrant, and I emit a pheromone unlike any a human has ever produced.
We stayed there, eyes locked, as the bell above the door chimed. I sensed Adrienne’s aura before even hearing her acrylic heels clacking against the floor—another succubus perk. Being able to sense most auras—human and demon. I quickly broke away from Drew’s grasp and grabbed my bag.
“Well, hey there, handsome!” Adrienne came up behind Drew and wrapped her orange, faux-tanned arms around his shoulders. Her platinum hair fell into her eyes, making her black roots even more painfully obvious.
Ugh, a typical Vegas girl,
I thought. Which was admittedly ironic, since
I
was the stripper out of the two of us. Her aura shone as a bright red. That usually meant one thing—adultery. I’d seen her aura just the other day and it had been green. She must have recently finished the deed. I inhaled, and though I couldn’t smell the stench of sex on her, there was something different about her scent.
Drew’s face faltered and he withdrew his hand from me as if my touch burned. His eyelids drooped in that way that a man’s does after watching golf for a few hours.
“Hey, back at you, gorgeous.” His voice sounded genuine, for the most part. It strained a little bit on the word
gorgeous,
but that also might have just been my imagination.
Without thinking, I groaned. Adrienne darted an agitated look in my direction and Drew’s head dropped to the side, his eyes rolling at me in a chastising way that made me feel like a teenager.
“Oh, um, sorry. I can’t find my costume for tonight. I thought I had it in my bag.” Adrienne narrowed her eyes at me, obviously not buying my story. Maybe I’m not as smooth as I thought.
Drew sighed. “Don’t mind Monica, babe. She’s our resident cynic here at the café.”
I shrugged at Adrienne. “Well, I’d better get going. See you tomorrow, Drew.” I rushed past them, bumping her shoulder in the process.
But before exiting through the door, I saw the married man from earlier. The one whose coffee I spilled. His eyes went directly toward my tits, acting as though if he just stared hard enough he’d develop X-ray vision. I ran up to him, grabbing my card from the bottom of my bag. “Here,” I said, handing him the card. “If you’re interested, I’ll be dancing there tonight.” It simply had my stage name,
Mirage,
listed with the strip club’s name and information.
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