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A Lesson in Wickedness: Grim Alliance, #5
A Lesson in Wickedness: Grim Alliance, #5
A Lesson in Wickedness: Grim Alliance, #5
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A Lesson in Wickedness: Grim Alliance, #5

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Mika has always been alone, one way or another, throughout her long and lonely life.

But it’s easier that way. Easier for her to do her job as a Reaper. Easier for her to close herself off from her feelings. From the memories that can drag her into the darkness of her past. From the wickedness that still haunts her nightmares.

But when her heart speeds up at the sight of a Valkyrie in need of her aid, she can do little to refuse the beautiful woman who is capturing her heart. Sigrid Odinsdottir is special. A Valkyrie with a heart—and a curse. Only together can they remove the curse. And only together can they both allow themselves to have what they have vowed never again to feel. Love.

While the Reapers ready themselves for a state of war for the Otherworld, Empusa finds new allies to aid her in taking the Hall of Rest for her own. But little does the fiery goddess know that those she trusts the most will spell her doom. Revenge can be served in many different ways, and Arasia the soothsayer might be the difference between who holds Helheim and the Fields of Deity in their grasp.

Someone will get a lesson in wickedness.

PublisherIsara Press
Release dateJun 30, 2016
A Lesson in Wickedness: Grim Alliance, #5
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    A Lesson in Wickedness - Miranda Stork

    A Lesson In Wickedness

    Miranda Stork

    Published by Isara Press

    Copyright © Miranda Stork 2016

    The right of Miranda Stork to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

    All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers; Isara Press.


    This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


    Chapter One

    Excuse me? The, er...Pleasure House? Mika gave a nervous glance along the petal-strewn floor of the hallway.

    The turbaned woman before her gave a sigh, rolling her eyes dramatically and throwing her palms upwards. Speaking slowly, as though explaining it to a child, she replied, Yes. And I am Madam Roussand. Please don’t tell me I have to explain what that means this place is?

    A convalescent home for Catholic nuns? Devin quipped from the back of the group, waggling his eyebrows at the others. Or maybe a pottery school?

    Madam Roussand fixed him with a cold glare, narrowing her eyes. Only if you like that sort of thing. This isn’t some whore house, you know. Her large arms folded over her chest, making her appear even more rotund as her layers of silken shawl gathered up in the hold. This is a classy establishment, and my boys and girls are the best at what they do. Even if you just want to talk for a while. Funny what some people pay for, but there you are.

    Mika wrinkled her nose. I’m not a fan of brothels at the best of times, and something seems very off about this one. Ever since they had felt the magic when entering the house’s garden, this soul collection had seemed strange. Waving her hands impatiently in front of her face, as though she could wipe away the connotations of the place, the Reaper interrupted in her clipped Northern Irish lilt, All very pleasant, I’m sure. But leaving aside the details for a moment, we’re here—as I said—for business. There’s a soul we need to collect here, and if you don’t let us in—

    The large woman laughed sharply, fixing her small, beady eyes on Mika. Soul? Here? I doubt that very much.


    Because all my boys and girls are immortal, dearie. I’m not debating they have souls, but certainly not any to collect.

    Mika sighed heavily. She couldn’t shake the feeling. Turning away, she cast her eyes over the inside of the building again. The hallway was littered with rose petals like the ones adorning the garden, but on closer inspection, some appeared wilted. The scent still came from them, mixed with jasmine and spice, heavy in the air. Red swathes of silk hung from the ceiling, giving a feel of opulence amongst the copies of old masters hung on the walls. Although the doorway was brightly lit by electric Victorian-style scones, the far end of the passage ended in almost-blackness. The Reaper shifted uncomfortably on the step, one foot raised on the threshold of the house as she looked back over at her companions. Drew and Devin both gave her an imperceptible nod, and Helena raised an eyebrow slowly. Even Sakura’s expression was tight with anxiety. They all feel the same thing.

    Madam Roussand clucked her tongue. Look, it’s one of my girls. She...goes through some changes, at night and at morning. She has two sides, and when one side...goes to sleep, it can send the signal of being dead. I assure you, though, the middle-aged woman fixed them with a keen glare, even though she smiled widely, she’s not dead.

    Jerking her head inside, Mika’s tone was firm as she stated, All the same, I’d like to check. Let me speak to the, er...’girl’.

    As you will. But you won’t be able to speak to her until nine-o-clock. Leyleth will look after you until then. The turbaned woman stepped back, sweeping her arm out with a flourish. Please, enter. Leaning her head back, she called out to someone further along the corridor, Leyleth! Come here. We have guests. Show them to the Silver Room.

    The small group marched inside, the door creaking shut behind them and leaving them bathed in the heady fragrance and dim lighting. The madam gave a short laugh after giving them all a searching look, before shaking her head and vanishing through a doorway to one side, her skirts ruffling against one another. Mika took in a deep breath, widening her eyes in surprise as the ‘someone’ the madam had called to came forward. A succubus? I haven’t seen one of them for decades. I thought they were all dead.

    The succubus came into the dim light, a demure smile over her red-tinted lips. She was typical of her species, with a long serpentine tail coiling around her shapely legs, two black goat horns arching out from beneath the dark tresses of her hair. Crooking a finger to the group, she winked, speaking in an exotic accent reminiscent of ancient nights, I’m Leyleth. This way, ladies and gentlemen. You can’t enjoy the sweets unless you come into the shop. She turned on her heel, the small black dress she wore riding up against her thighs as her gait swayed from side to side.

    Keep your eyes above sea level, sailor, Helena murmured to Devin under her breath, stepping forwards hesitantly.

    He caught her wrist, pulling her back gently as he cupped her cheek, pressing a light kiss to her lips. In a husky whisper, a smile over his lips, the blond Reaper replied, My eyes will be on one woman only. You don’t have to worry.

    Mika cocked an eyebrow, opening her mouth and imitating vomiting noises. For crying out loud. Will you let off? It’s bad enough I’ve had to listen to your puppy talk on the way over here. She took in a deep breath, striding over to the succubus. At Leyleth’s gesture, she turned and stepped inside the so-called Silver Room. True to its name, it was strewn with silver-thread cushions across the plump vintage sofas, the walls covered in mirrors and silver beads. As the group marched inside, their footsteps were lost in the plush cream carpet that adorned the floor, covered in turn with heavy Persian rugs, like in the hallway.

    The female Reaper gave a snort as she gazed around, sinking down into one of the seats. There’s no accounting for taste, is there?

    As Drew brought up the rear, his hands shoved deep into his pockets as though he was afraid to touch anything as he came into the room, gave a chuckle. Certainly not good taste. He perched himself on the arm of a sofa as Sakura settled into the seat, silently placing her hands together in her lap as she gazed around. Mika gave a snort of agreement at Drew’s reply, her gaze cast over the mirrors as she caught sight of her own face. A severe, dark expression stared back at her, and she blinked, hurriedly looking away. 

    Leyleth swept between them all, swaying her hips as she reached out for a crystal decanter of amber liquid, raising it in invitation. Drink, anyone? Everyone? Without waiting for an answer, the succubus poured out five generous measures of the bourbon, handing the thin glasses across to her guests. Leaning back against the silver-and-glass drinks stand, she brought her glass to her lips, taking a long draught as she took in the group. Licking her lips in a sultry manner, she tilted her head and regarded them with some curiosity. Why are you all here? You don’t seem like our usual clientele.

    You don’t seem like a typical...lady of the night, Helena countered, swirling her whiskey with some suspicion as she leaned back against the sofa, crossing her legs.

    The succubus gave a short laugh. True. It’s not every day you see a succubus.

    "It’s not every decade, for that matter, Mika broke in. I didn’t think any of you were left."

    Leyleth twisted and fixed her yellow snake eyes on the Reaper, smiling demurely. As far as I’m aware, there’s only myself and my brother. We are the last of our family line, at least. She took another swallow of whiskey, pulling a face. Ach, that’s sharp.

    Sakura shyly lifted her hand for attention, putting the heady drink to one side on another glass table by her side. She cast her dark almond-shaped eyes around the small room, nervously glancing at the mirrors as Mika had done. What...exactly is this place?

    Oh, honey. If you don’t know that, this will be a long conversation.

    The doppelgänger’s cheeks flushed red as she shook her head, licking her lips anxiously. Devin, by her side, leaned over and wrapped his arm around her shoulders protectively. She glanced over her shoulder to him, smiling gratefully as he winked at her. Turning back, her voice braver, she replied, "No, I...I don’t mean that. I know what this place is. What I mean is...are you all immortals? Really?"

    Ah, now I see your meaning. Leyleth’s middle-eastern accent deepened as her fingers played along the sides of the crystal tumbler, and she slowly strode across the room, the leather of her knee-high boots creaking as she walked. Her hand came up to caress the edge of one of the mirrors, feeling along the silver-gilt. This is a refuge. A home for those who cannot, unlike yourselves, she paused and peered over at the five immortals, hide their true nature amongst the humans. Once, my brother and I were not only able to live and enjoy ourselves amongst humanity, but they searched us out for our company, too. Not just us, there’s others here. Furies, sirens—one of them sings for us, to bring people in—even a mermaid. Madam Roussand looks after us, keeps us safe and ensures those who come here will be understanding of how we are.

    Mika flicked her fringe out of her eyes, taking a long sip from her drink. I can’t imagine everyone is happy to work in a brothel, safe or not.

    Not everyone enjoys it as much as others. Leyleth grinned, giving a delicate shrug. My brother and I enjoy it, however. We thrive on pleasure, in any form—we don’t just do the obvious, here. We sing, we dance, we tell tales of the old world. It’s—literally—what keeps us young.

    Drew leaned forwards, the sofa protesting as his weight shifted. Clasping his hands together in a pyramid, he gestured toward the closed ebony door to the corridor outside. And what about the woman we’re here to see? The one who gave off the fake ‘soul down’ signal?

    The succubus’ brow furrowed for a moment, and she crossed the room again, placing the tumbler down on the drinks table hard enough for it to clank loudly. Fake signal? Oh...you mean Sigrid. She’s a Valkyrie. Kind of has a...dual personality thing going on.

    Dual personality?

    Before Drew had a chance to have his question answered, the ebony door creaked open, and a woman stepped through, tall and blonde, wearing lingerie liberally decorated with white feathers. Glancing between the group, she gave a shrug, throwing her arms up in confusion. So, which one of you is Mika? She said the name slowly, her Norwegian accent soft as she added, I am Sigrid. Madam Roussand said you wanted to speak to me about a...soul collection?

    The others all turned their heads expectantly towards Mika, who blinked back at the woman standing in the doorway. Sigrid stood elegantly, her long golden hair cascading around her shoulders, her piercing hazel-green eyes following the movement of the others as she gazed back at the Reaper. My gods...she’s stunning. Like an angel or something. Mika swallowed against her dry throat, her stomach twisting as she took in the sensuous curves of the Valkyrie. Aware that she hadn’t spoken for a few seconds as Devin raised his eyebrows at her with a grin, Mika cleared her throat and glanced away, pushing herself onto the edge of the sofa. I’m Mika. Hearing her voice huskier than it should be, she cleared her throat again, before continuing, we came here for a soul collection, but apparently no one here can die...so...

    Letting her words die off, Mika watched as the Valkyrie folded her arms over her chest in a protective motion, gazing over at the succubus. Leyleth gave a shrug, sighing in response to whatever silent conversation was going on between them. Sigrid’s throat bobbed before she nodded over to Mika, moving and easing herself down beside Helena, who shifted awkwardly over a few inches. The Valkyrie ignored the movement as she finally said, No, no one here can die. And yes, it is...possible that I gave off the signal. I am able to change form once a day.

    You aren’t a doppelgänger, Sakura broke in dryly, tucking a long strand of black hair behind one ear.

    No, I’m not. I’m a Valkyrie. Another sigh. A...cursed Valkyrie. I’m trapped in an endless cycle of becoming a swan by day, and myself by night. She leaned back against the silver roses of the embroidered sofa, nodding over to the crystal decanter. Is someone going to pour me one of those, or will I sit here with a dry throat?

    As though a fire had lit beneath her, Mika jumped up before Leyleth could respond, and marched across to the drinks table. Her cheeks flushed as how her action would be seen dawned on her, and she kept her back turned as she trickled amber liquid into a tumbler. Swivelling back quickly, avoiding the amused smiles of the others, she held the glass out without looking at the Valkyrie. Here. You were saying?

    "Ah, that’s better. Skål. Sigrid raised her glass, knocking the contents back in one gulp. As I was saying, I am a cursed Valkyrie. My father—Odin—did not appreciate something I did, and so he cursed me. When I was banished to Earth many millennia ago, he forced me to be a swan by day so that no one would know my true form, and I would be unable to...continue as I had before. My mother tried to step in, but he could not be moved. I came here, and ever since then, I become a swan by day. When I switch back to myself, my swan half...well, it...it kind of goes to sleep. That may have been your ‘signal’ for a dying soul. I don’t know. Who knows what my curse could include."

    Makes sense, I guess. Mika tilted her head back, narrowing her eyes. Little bit odd, though. A Valkyrie happily walking around with a curse. Why haven’t you lifted it?

    The glass in Sigrid’s hand banged down heavily on the table, and she latched her long fingers together, eyes burning with fire as she stared up at Mika. She rose up so sharply from her seat, teetering on her white stiletto heels, that the dark-haired Reaper took a step back. Her voice was a low rasp as she hissed in reply, None of your business, Reaper. I thought you just wanted an explanation of the soul mix-up, not my life-story.

    Devin leapt up in front of Mika, holding his hands up in a gesture of calm. Woah, she was only asking.

    Sigrid glared at Devin as though she had only just noticed him, scanning him up and down with a look of distaste, before jerking her head back at Mika, jabbing a finger in her face. Leave me alone, okay? I don’t need anyone poking their nose into my business. Just go. Leyleth held out an arm to stop the Valkyrie as she turned to leave, but Sigrid solemnly shook her head, her face pinched. No, leave it, Leyleth. Not this time. The succubus snapped her mouth shut as the group watched Sigrid turn and snatch the silver door-handle, storming outside into the corridor as she slammed the door closed.

    There was a breathless pause of silence, before Drew cleared his throat loudly, slapping his hands to his knees as he stood up with a polite nod at Leyleth. Well, um, thank you for the drink. We should probably be going now. The others mumbled their agreement, all standing up awkwardly and waving to the succubus, who gave them a tight smile in return, folding her arms over her chest.

    Mika swallowed hard, still shocked by the Valkyrie’s reaction, her scalp prickling with anxiety. She hated awkward social situations. Why did she snap like that?

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