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A winner and two runners-up were chosen. N.K. Jemisin’s “The Dancer’s War” shows us the sensuous magic not of a stock fantasy medieval Europe, but of an Africa that never was. Bernie Mojzes “Ink” combines H.P. Lovecraft and Raymond Chandler into a surprisingly soulful story of sexual transformation. And our winner, “Ota Discovers Fire,” by Vinnie Tesla pokes gentle fun at all the traipsing into exotic lands depicted in fantasy quests. Sometimes the traveler you meet on the road is nothing like what you expect.
Featuring stories by Frances Selkirk, Elizabeth Schechter, Kierstin Cherry, Angela Caperton, Sacchi Green, Kal Cobalt, Elizabeth Reeve, Kathleen Tudor, Monique Poirier, Sunny Moraine, Clarice Clique, Nobilis Reed, David Sklar, Michael M. Jones, David Hubbard, Shanna Germain, N.K. Jemisin, Bernie Mojzes, and Vinnie Tesla.
“This brilliantly imaginative compilation of short, steamy tales of contemporary and period fantasy, fairytale, future dystopia, and space opera, chosen from Circlet’s e-book anthologies by a popular vote of readers, succeeds both as speculative fiction and as erotica. ”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Praise for Circlet Press:
“When it comes to delivering a strong fix of sharp future erotica, you can rely on Circlet Press every time.”
“Though Circlet’s works span galaxies, time, and gender, there is one thing the stories have in common—they are stirringly sexy.”
“It seems less an act of bravery and more a necessity to publish works of erotic sci-fi and fantasy. Our applause then should be directed at Cecilia Tan and Circlet Press, who are filling this need with some of the finest erotic fiction in any genre.” —Taste of Latex
Look under the cut for a hot excerpt!
from Devil’s Masquerade by Michael M. Jones:
As Grace’s hand lifted to fidget with her mask for the twelfth time in as many minutes, I lightly swatted it away. “Quit it. You look fine.” It was true. With the elegant white feathered mask masking her features, all I could recognize of my partner were her short brown hair, sharp green eyes, and scarlet-painted lips, currently pursed in a frown.
“I feel ridiculous, Starling,” she grumbled, reluctantly lowering her hands while I gave her the once-over. “This job is ridiculous. We should be out on the streets in nice, sensible leathers and armor, beating people over the head until they stop misbehaving. Not tarted up like harem girls.” Despite her obvious discomfort in the brightly-colored silks that draped her slim frame and hinted at the curves underneath, there was no hiding the fact that she cleaned up very nicely indeed, when she so chose. I reached out, retying the cord around her waist. We only wanted the illusion that things would come apart at the slightest provocation, not the reality. I stepped back, studying her before giving my nod of approval. Inspector Grace Wintersford, champion of the downtrodden, terror of the wicked, in as unlikely an outfit as you’d ever find her.
Wrapped in gaudy, diaphanous clothing that fluttered with every movement, she looked like a tropical bird set free in an alien environment. I’d lost the argument when it came to jewelry; Grace refused to wear anything shiny or sparkly. It would have to do.
“I know.” There was genuine sympathy in my tone. “This isn’t my ideal assignment either. Nor my ideal outfit.” While I wore something much like Grace’s fluttering silks, I’d put more effort into artfully arranging them to show off my own generous curves, my long red hair teased into a bead-decorated waterfall of curls. Teasing and provoking without giving anything away: that was the only way we’d get anywhere tonight.
Grace’s eyes flicked up and down as she eyed me, and I could feel her attention linger on my breasts, which currently threatened to escape their dubious coverage. As it stood, there was certainly plenty on display to ogle, nipples barely concealed. One wrong move on my part and…. I shivered, turning away after a few seconds, trying not to let the gaze get to me. Bad enough I felt all but naked dressed like this; I didn’t need to go in already aroused. That would be… awkward. “You look a lot better than I feel,” Grace said. “Clearly, you should have been a courtesan, not a Ducal Investigator.”
“It was my third career choice, falling right after any-bloody-thing else,” I replied. My hand on the hallway door, I paused. “Ready? Once we go out there, it’s showtime.”
“After you,” said Grace, giving me a cocky grin. “Let’s go find us a demon.”
We exited the bedroom we’d been lent as a changing room and staging area and made our way through the opulent halls of Dressarie House, passing idealized portraits of long-dead people, sculptures that bordered on obscene, and knick-knacks worth more than the both of us made in a year. We passed one closed door after another, slowing whenever we heard a suspicious sound slipping through the cracks, speeding up once we were sure they were sounds of pleasure. One particularly enthusiastic squeal was enough to make my own toes curl with envy; I picked up the pace. Soon enough, after descending a winding marble staircase, we found ourselves downstairs. A moment later, a silently attentive butler ushered us into the ballroom. And that’s how Grace and I entered the infamous Devil’s Masquerade. Not as Inspectors Grace and Starling, armored both literally and figuratively with our authority as official representatives of the Duke, but as a pair of anonymous pleasure girls.
Grace whistled, low and impressed despite herself, as she took in the sheer decadent splendor of the ballroom. It was chock-full of the city’s elite, the rich and powerful, mingling and drinking and indulging in various vices, a gathering unlike any other held all year long. On any other day, half of these people would be arguing with, ignoring, or dueling the other half. On any other day, they’d be dignified, maintaining their courtly manners and aristocratic demeanors. On any other day, they’d be unmasked… and wearing somewhat more clothing. But on the night of the Devil’s Masquerade, all bets were off, no hunger too perverse and no desire too extreme. Here in this House, on this night, the people who ran the city were encouraged to indulge, as per ancient pacts and promises made to those who’d inhabited the land long before humanity settled here. And so the nobles danced and drank and fucked with wild abandon, glittering eyes framed by physical and social masks, their identities politely hidden even as they bared their bodies and souls.
It was early yet; the real debauchery didn’t get going until after the Devil’s toast at midnight. Sure, hands wandered along exposed skin, lips trailed lovingly over a stretch of shoulder, and the darkened corners were already occupied with writhing, tangled bodies, but this was nothing. Once the glasses were lifted and the lights all but extinguished, the wild revels would be underway.
Grace and I had no intention of being here that long. We’d never seen a Devil’s Masquerade before, partly because it wasn’t for the likes of us, and mostly because we had way too much class. We kept our vices out in the open and indulged like honest people. Technically, our authority gave us the right to be here, but realistically, it wasn’t something that ever actually happened. Short of murder and rape, there were very few laws that could be broken or enforced on this night. If we made a spectacle of ourselves, blew our cover, it was likely that more than a few attendees would take offense to our presence. And not just because we’d pissed them off in the past.
Unannounced and unnoticed, we meandered through the crowd, side by side as if tied together. This was not a crowd in which we wanted to be separated. Time and again, Grace bumped my hip with hers, or jabbed me with an elbow to get my attention. “Lady Northgate really shouldn’t wear that color,” she hissed with evil glee. “Especially not while draped over–is that Magistrate Gabriel? His hands aren’t where I think they are–oh, they are!”
I shushed her quickly. “Ours not to wonder why, ours not to give a damn. You know why we’re here. Now hold still.” I laced my arm in hers, letting her balance me while I called up my Witchsight. The room shimmered and blurred, the assembled masses of the city’s elite becoming prismatic silhouettes, their emotions and thoughts flickering within them like so many bonfires. Unsurprisingly, greed and lust and gluttony dominated everything else; even those of more virtuous natures, like the aforementioned Magistrate, were indulging themselves tonight. Also unsurprising were the spells woven into the very fabric of the room, sorcerous cobwebs scattered over every surface to prevent eavesdropping, scrying, and other outside intrusions. Dressarie House took privacy and security very seriously, as befitting its status as the city’s premiere brothel and discreet meeting spot. I saw beauty charms and protection spells on many of the individual guests, anchored to their masks and jewelry, and a few questionable-yet-legal allure charms, but nothing to cause alarm. What I didn’t see, however, was the telltale crimson aura of a sex demon.
A sex demon. Believe it or not, even the Devil’s Masquerade had standards, and incubi and succubae were strictly on the do-not-allow list. But one had been stalking the city for weeks, and everyone from the Duke on down was rightly confident that the demon couldn’t bear to miss out on the fun and opportunities of such a night. It was like putting a buffet in front of a starving man. So a breach in the magical protections had been arranged, while two of the Duke’s very best–that being Grace and myself–were sent in undercover, armed with magic and steel, with the understanding that if we ever talked about what went on tonight, there’d be trouble. The sort involving boiling oil and wild dogs, I assumed.
I dismissed my Witchsight, and reality slammed down around me. Grace held me tight as I reoriented myself, the feel of her arms around me rather more enjoyable than I let on. For an extra moment, I rested against her, savoring her unyielding air of protection. I pushed myself free once I realized I was enjoying it a little too much, immediately missing the way her fingers had brushed my bare arms. Another shiver, a deep breath to get myself under control, and, “It’s not here yet.”
“Damn. Let’s get some punch, Star. I’m working up a thirst just standing around. It’s blasted hot in here.” The complaining was good-natured, but it was based in truth. The Devil’s Masquerade was held at Midsummer, so the heat of a roomful of overindulging bodies was only made worse by the lingering heat of the day. I let Grace lead the way, watching the confident, authoritative way in which she moved, appreciating how her outfit accentuated her body more than she realized.
I wasn’t her only fan. A noble I couldn’t identify reached out to smack her on the rear, goosing her in the process. Grace tensed, ready to turn on the poor fool, but I cleared my throat, silently reminding her that we weren’t here to make a scene. She subsided, still simmering, and I knew that the noble, should she ever discover who he was in real life, had best never misbehave around her. Grace held grudges like a champion.
The punch turned out to be both oversweet and slightly bitter; after a sip, I was ready to discreetly pour mine back into the bowl. Instead, the next time a groping hand reached my way, I pressed the glass into it while moving on. Grace drained hers, made a face, and muttered something about nobles having no taste whatsoever. We kept moving, constantly circulating through the crowd like dozens of other men and woman dressed as we were, here to give the guests a little extra variety in their… activities. Only difference was, we didn’t stand still long enough to get dragged into any of the “games” that were already starting to take place. As the night dragged on and the drinks and drugs flowed, people were losing inhibitions and clothes at an alarming pace. At regular intervals, I paused to invoke my Witchsight, always with the same lack of results.
Everywhere I looked, there was something new to consider. Swaying breasts, roaming hands, stiffening cocks, adventurous mouths. Kissing, licking, sucking, biting. One woman who I was sure was the Lady Farfield, one of the most dignified and elegant bastions of decorum at court, knelt in front of a domino-masked man, taking his cock into her mouth with the utmost of grace. I turned away as her head began to bob, feeling my own skin heat with an aroused flush. I was no innocent, nor a prude, but I preferred my bed games to remain private. It was one thing to disrupt a whore’s transaction in a back alley, and another to see the most powerful men and women in the city fuck on the ballroom floor, surrounded by their peers. I glanced at Grace to see how she was taking this, and I was just in time to catch her looking at me, a guilty spark in her eyes. Her mask couldn’t hide her wicked smile, either, one that fled as quickly as it had come. She cleared her throat. “Anything?”
I shook my head. “Nothing. Let’s go check the other rooms before circling back here. Our ‘friend’ may want something more private.”
Grace nodded. “Makes sense. Now that the festivities seem well and truly underway.” With an uncharacteristically saucy sway to her hips, she threaded through the nobles, trusting I’d be right behind her. Knowing she couldn’t see me, I took a second to readjust my clothes, plumping up my breasts a little more. My nipples ached with barely-acknowledged tension, my skin tingled with desire. This place was getting to me… and so was the movement of Grace’s ass under those flimsy, gauzy silks.
Mind on the job, I told myself. There’d be time afterward to reward myself. A long, hot bath and a long, slow fuck were in my near future. Of this I was sure. Of course, that didn’t stop me from wanting to grind my thighs together as I walked, to capture the silks between my legs and rub them against a traitorously wet pussy. The more I thought about it, the less I could ignore the tempting distraction. I stifled a groan of frustration and refocused. Find the demon. Deal with it. Get out of here. Never speak of this night again. Find out how the hell Grace could remain so cool and collected while surrounded by erotic displays of every nature and more than a few perversions.
The “private” rooms budded off a long hallway running behind the ballroom. It was easy to poke our heads into each room in turn, but it was harder to turn away after each new display, especially when invited to join in. In one, I counted at least four bodies, slick with sweat and undulating in a chain of ecstatic pleasure, breasts heaving and cocks sliding in and out of tight pussies. In another, a man cried in pained pleasure as a statuesque blonde whipped him with a velvet flogger, his body arching every time he was struck. Another man stroked himself feverishly as he watched, murmuring, “Yes, my Lord, yes.” I was torn between lingering and fleeing; Grace solved it by tugging me away.
Room after room, scene after scene. In the space of an hour, we’d seen a lifetime’s worth of sexual variations and would never be able to see the elite of the city in quite the same light again. We paused in the hallway to catch our breath and fan ourselves. I wasn’t sure if I was sweating just because of the heat, or because my body was placing unreasonable demands on me. My silks clung to my curves, outlining me shamelessly, but I no longer cared. “Nice assignment,” I said. “Remind me to thank the Duke.”
Grace’s chuckle was low and throaty as she placed a hand on my shoulder for a moment. “Beats scouring the sewers for wererats,” she said. I shifted into the touch, letting my body rest against hers, breathing in the unique scent of her hair and skin. Even here and now, she was still Grace, a reassuring constant in this utterly bizarre environment. She kissed my forehead with cool, smiling lips. “I know, Star.” I didn’t even have to say anything, she knew me that well. “And yet, we were the best choice for the job. We know the value of discretion. Plus, I can’t exactly see some of the other Investigators pulling off this look.”
I giggled, pulling away again. “True. Hulking thugs, the lot of them. Two minutes out there, and they’d be killing innocent bystanders with their erections.”
With only a few rooms left to inspect before we went back to the ballroom to start all over, we got back to work. I had to pull a mildly-protesting Grace away from the next room, where they were doing interesting things to a voluptuous lady involving candle wax and signet rings.
“Were they really playing X’s and O’s?” I asked, the laugh bubbling up within me.
“Afraid so. I wonder what the winner gets.”
“I’ve never known anyone to actually win that game.”
“True.” Grace pushed open the next door, and we paused, framed in the doorway, to check out the latest tableau of debauchery. Unlike many of the ones we’d seen of late, this one was deceptive in its simplicity. A dark-haired man, his features obscured by a simple yet elegant black mask, lay sprawled languidly on a chaise lounge, utterly naked. His head thrown back, lips parted, cock thick and erect, he was clearly in the throes of passion. The cause of the passion was evident: a curvy blonde was draped against him, one hand teasing through his hair, the other teasing along his hard length. With lurid crimson lips, kohl-and-red stained eyes, and decorative jewels pasted to her pale skin, she was both exotic and tawdry, a combination guaranteed to attract attention on a night like this. She was almost naked, the barest of flowing silks still covering her essentials; she might as well have been wearing nothing. She was beautiful. She was tempting. She was dangerous.
The woman looked up at us as we entered, eyes reflecting darkly against the light of the hallway, and her lips twisted in a wicked greeting. “Private party,” she murmured. “Go peddle yourselves elsewhere.”
Grace glanced to me, and I dropped into Witchsight, long enough to confirm what we both already knew: we’d found our target.
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To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Circlet Press, Fantastic Erotica presents the very best erotic science fiction and fantasy short stories published by Circlet in the past five years. Chosen by popular vote by the readership from among all the stories published by Circlet from 2008 to the present, these favorites are the cream of the crop.
Also in paperback!