Author Blog

The Stroke of Midnight, or: The Well-Mannered Host

{Author’s note: It would not be a release without Amazon causing issues! For those of you who pre-ordered and are still missing this chapter, I hope being able to read it here makes up for its absence on your devices. I’m waiting to hear back from KDP, and hopefully you’ll be receiving an email with push instructions soon! In the meantime, this chapter is meant to be a bit of a palette cleanser, and takes place in between Gruss vom Krampus and The Vacation. Content Warnings still apply, dear hearts!}

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The tree was truly magnificent. 

Everyone had said so, each guest who’d come through that night, doffing their furs into the arms of a waiting servant, air-kissing her cheeks in the glow of the twinkling golden lights. Davina, that tree is simply magnificent! You’ve outdone yourself this year, darling! It was true, she thought dreamily, gazing up at the coniferous wonder. Eighteen glorious feet of Fraser fir, trucked in from some far-off farm on the opposite end of the state and stood upright at the base of the wide, curving staircase, giving guests who wandered up to the second floor a view of the upper branches. The tree was strung with garland and twinkling lights that reflected on hundreds of glass and crystal ornaments, the crowning star unfurling ribbons of red velvet that cascaded down the branches like a rich waterfall of blood, slashing through the blue-green needle-tipped boughs. It was a stunning display, and she had outdone herself that year. 

Waistcoated servers had kept the table of hot hors d’oeuvres replenished in a never-ending procession of lobster rolls and prime rib pasties and savory vegetable tarts; the champagne flutes topped with the bubbliest vintage, no guest needing to worry about an empty glass at any point during the night. All evening, the bite of cold from outside sliced through the foyer as friends and neighbors and assorted other merrymakers dropped into the Devlin’s annual Christmas open house, the fête of the season, a non-stop flow of cheeks to kiss and arms to embrace. The guests were resplendent in their holiday finery, sipping champagne and gliding around the dance floor; graceful waltzes followed by upbeat foxtrots, the tuxedoed quartet she’d hired for the evening playing without rest for hours. Yes, the fête of the season which the whole community looked forward to, and Davina Devlin did not disappoint.

The house was quiet now, the strains of the quartet long ago faded to echoes in the rafters. The holiday merrymakers had moved on to other celebrations, to their own homes to tuck expectant children into their beds and indulge in a final eggnog before retiring themselves, in anticipation of a visit from old Saint Nick.  The guests had left and all through the house, not a creature stirring, a thought that made a burble of laughter make its way up her throat, nearly choking her as she pursed her painted lips, refusing to let it out. Davina stepped over the shards of glass beside the staircase, pausing to stare up in dreamy wonder at the tree, at the wide-open space that had been filled with bodies such a short time ago. 

What a difference a few hours could make, she thought, coming to stand before the stately grandfather clock in the alcove behind the stairs. It was nearly midnight now, close to the witching hour. The final guests had departed more than two hours earlier, a span of time that somehow seemed too enormous to be real and like no time at all.

It would all be over soon. She’d heard tales of the creature who came to punish wrongdoers at Christmastime, with whips and chains and other horrors, and she had no doubt in her mind that tonight it would come for her. She had, after all, been rather naughty. 

She wasn’t especially worried. It may have appeared to onlookers that Davina Devlin’s main strengths lie in the pedestrian folds of gracious hostessing, acting as a pillar of the community, and performing the role of a perfect trophy wife, but onlookers only tended to see a very small prism of reality. They saw what she wanted them to see, for Davina Devlin’s secret superpower was the ability to control her own narrative, an enormous point of pride, if she did say so herself. Grand diversions and simple magician’s patter were usually enough to alter perceptions, and as they said, perception was reality. Tonight she would employ every trick she knew, would turn the demon visiting her to her side, convince him that she had simply been acting in self-preservation, paint herself as sympathetically as she knew how, until he too was rooting for her. She was certain she would be able to enact her particular brand of subterfuge on her last guest of the evening, her own personal guest of honor, and in the event that she wasn’t, well . . . she had always been a believer in divine retribution. If she got what was coming to her at long last, at least she’d had a good run.

She’d only just taken up her wine glass when the hour began to chime. Davina counted each reverberation from the belly of the grandfather clock as she sipped, straightening up once the clock had struck ten, crossing the foyer back to the bar before it had reached twelve. She had another glass already prepared. 

Candied orange sugar on the crystal rim, a cinnamon stick and several whole cranberries already placed within. The wine had been slow-mulled since that morning and maintained throughout the evening, a hit despite the argument it had caused before the guests arrived. It was the perfect marriage of a dark, jammy red and a generous glug of Grand Marnier, simmered with whole cloves and star anise, an abundance of cinnamon sticks and cardamon pods, and only the brightest, juiciest oranges. Orange slices had been candied to place on the rims of each stout-stemmed toddy glass, and guests had enjoyed cup after cup, long into the night. The grandfather clock completed its audit of the hour, echoing through the silent house, and before its last chime faded completely, a different reverberation shook its way to where she stood. 

The door knocker, a stately lion’s head, rapped with a force that rattled the windows in their casings. Davina closed her eyes and took a long, steadying breath. This was to be her finest performance, and it was showtime. There was no reason to go scurrying off to answer the door at this late hour, no sense in taking a chill from the blowing snow and wind outside. She would pour her wine and wait. It would come to her, she knew. 

She was not kept idling long. A slice of icy air cut through the entry hallway and foyer, reaching her from where she stood beyond the tree, this newcomer to her holiday celebration. The creature silhouetted in the foyer entrance was a solid mass of black, huge and looming. She was able to pick out the curved horns of a ram with matching hooves and bent hocks, shaggy black fur covering the goat-like legs of her newest guest.

“Won’t you please come in?” she called to this latecomer, still welcome regardless of the hour, for it was Christmas Eve and she was nothing if not a consummate hostess. 

He was draped in gray furs, strapped in leather. The toneless bells upon his straps made a flat little jingle as he stepped further into the house, the animal-like ruby glow of his eyes fixed on her firmly. Upon his back was a great basket and Davina shivered, not allowing her smile to break. 

“Welcome,” she greeted with a beatific smile. “I’m so glad you’ve arrived safely, I hear the roads are a fright with this snow! Please, take off your furs and warm yourself by the fire. I hope it’s not too late for you to join me in a glass of wine,” she greeted her newest guest. “I’m afraid the food has already been put away, but if you’re hungry I can go to the kitchen and find you something. But first . . . a Christmas toast.”

The newcomer to her holiday open house surveyed the empty dance floor, the broken crystal and spill of crimson across the floor, eyed her magnificent tree. He took his time examining the scene before him, took several steps up the staircase as if to view the room from a different perspective, chuckling darkly to himself as he did so. When he turned to her at last, his smile revealed gleaming white fangs, setting his basket and furs at the base of the staircase before stepping over the shattered glass, his cloven hooves dragging through the crimson puddle upon the tiles.

“What lovely manners you have, sweetling. I’m happy to share your wine. It has indeed been a very long night.” 

She laughed as he approached, a warm, engaging sound; one designed to cocoon its recipient into a feeling of cozy camaraderie, feeling herself shrink as he grew larger with every step. 

“Well, manners are all we have, are they not? It’s the only thing that sets us apart from the animals.” He was broad and well-muscled, an admirable partner for this final holiday farce. “Slow-mulled with cranberries and oranges, traditional glühwein spices, and fine orange brandy. The wine is one of the best summer vintages from our cellar, and I had it mulled just for the occasion. My husband was furious that I would waste such a good cask for such a ‘silly flight of fancy,’ as he called it, but only the best for my guests and after all, it is Christmastime. What better time to celebrate with friends?”

“There is no one who can claim you do not keep the spirit of the season, Davina Devlin.” His laughter was a low scrape, colored in amusement. “And this is a very fine vintage indeed, dear heart. I believe you already know why I’m here, do you not? It pains me to admit it, but you have been a very naughty girl. It is time to face the punishment for your wicked deeds, but I do appreciate the civility. It’s quite missing in the world these days.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” she nodded seriously, laying a warm, conspiratorial hand on his wrist before sipping from her own glass. The creature brought with him the smell of the cold — of icy pines, thick with sap, and drifting snow, but there was also something warmer there . . . bright orange peel and cinnamon, reminiscent of the drink they shared. “Too many people these days simply don’t care about decorum. Gentility is sorely lacking in society.”

Another glimmer of white fangs before he took a long swallow from the glass. “And you provide it in the places it’s lacking. Opening your home to all, a generous benefactress of all the local charities. A heart overflowing with the spirit of the season . . . but that’s not why I’m here. You know that of course, don’t you, clever girl.” 

It was not posed as a question. The first flutter of fear moved through her, surprised to find she was well-matched by this man-creature. She didn’t know why she thought he would arrive on her door a slobbering, uncouth beast, as artless as the easily subdued fools that surrounded her. She imagined she’d be able to offer him food and drink, show off her generosity and her festive house, perhaps regale him with a few tales of holiday mishaps, and see him on his way, warmed by the wine. She’d not been expecting this towering man-beast, as well-spoken as she. He finished the glass of wine, setting it carefully on the edge of the long banquet table, already stripped of its linens, waiting to be folded and stored by the morning cleaners until it was needed for the next soiree. She wondered, with a flare of genuine remorse at the thought, if it would ever have use again. Nothing to worry about yet — just call his bluff.

“I’m sure you’re quite eager to finish your tasks for the evening, and I hate to ask for any favors, but perhaps you’ll indulge me in a dance first? My guests danced all evening, and the music was so lovely . . . but a hostess never has a moment to stop, you know. Friends and neighbors to greet, making sure the food is kept hot, the drinks replenished, that everyone is having a good time. I never had a chance to enjoy a single dance.”

She moved to the antique phonograph cabinet as she spoke, allowing her words to set the stage direct the actions that would follow. The creature made no move to stop her as she set the needle to the edge of the record, a static crackle issuing from the old-fashioned trumpet speaker before a Christmas waltz filled the space. 

“A glass of your finest spiced wine and now a dance? How can I resist such hospitality?”

She met him at the base of the steps, meeting his outstretched hand, beaming when he led her to the center of the floor. The creature’s hand dropped to her lower back, pulling her with improper closeness to his caprine form, and her heart fluttered on fairy wings. Steady, girl. You’re still in control. 

“But it makes no matter what pleasures we might share, sweetling — you’ll still receive your punishment all the same.”

He was a surprisingly nimble dance partner. They spun and whirled, one melody bleeding into the next, steps never faltering. Davina leaned into the broad, densely-furred body of her partner, the events of the previous hour falling away. She had loved to dance, once, had nearly made a career of it. An international ballroom championship had once been hers before she’d become Mrs. Devlin, trading title for title, one aspiration for another. She’d never had a chance to miss the glamorous costumes, for her new wardrobe had been just as ornamental; the smiles she’d once given to judges just as false as the ones she flashed for her husband’s coterie of well-heeled society friends. The trick to ballroom dancing was keeping up the illusion of fluidity, that the movement of one’s feet had no bearing on the regal carriage they presented, and she was, after all, a master of illusion. 

She had missed the music. The music and the closeness, the matched heartbeat of having a partner in step with her, that had been something she’d never been able to recapture. She was close now, so close to getting everything she wanted. This night would be one more hurdle to clear, and then she’d be free. For the moment though, her surprisingly graceful partner and his strong arms would do. 

“Do you have any requests for the evening?” His voice was nearly a purr against her neck as they glided over the tiles. “The end result will be the same, of course, but such gracious hospitality deserves a reward.”

“A-a request?” she squeaked, ignoring the tacit threat. The end result. “I’ll have to think on that, I suppose.” 

“Think quickly, sweetling. Bribery, embezzlement, defrauding a charity . . . your naughty list was jam-packed before this night, and now . . . well, you’ve outdone yourself. But I do so love a bit of civility.” 

A stone turned in her stomach, the realization that the beast knew everything, making all of her machinations seem rather pointless. She wasn’t in charge at all, and she hadn’t been from the instant he knocked at her door. The music swelled and she was spun, returning to the strength of his arms without so much as breaking a step, a sudden weightlessness dissolving the stone. She was reaping what she’d sown and had long ago accepted this possible outcome. Well, not this outcome, but punishment surely. It wasn’t imprisonment or public castigation from her peers. The creature would whip her, torture her, would go out of his way to break her spirit, but she could at least enjoy another dance before all that. 

“I think what I’d like most,” she managed in a tremulous voice, still playing the role of the perfect hostess, “is to keep dancing like this, for at least a bit longer. Is that an acceptable request?”

“I was expecting precisely that, sweetling,” he chuckled, claws lightly grazing her skin as the music changed again.

Every time they took a turn at the corners of the room, his hand steadied at the small of her back and she leaned into him on the turn. At first, it had been a way to keep their footwork neatly matched, but her pelvis pressed to his wide hips in an unexpectedly delicious way, one that soon had her seeking the friction even as they glided in a straight line. A tilt of her hips, a quickening in her steps, and soon she was able to keep the pressure as if their bodies were fused. 

Her actions did not go unnoticed by the beast. She gasped when he turned abruptly, taking advantage of her momentary bobble to grip her leg by the knee, lifting it over his soot-black hip, opening her in a way that made her see stars as he ground their bodies together. 

“Is this more to your liking, sweetling?”

Davina was unable to answer, her breath suddenly coming in great, heaving pants. She was no longer an active participant in the dance as the creature lifted her just high enough to continue moving without her free toes dragging on the ground. The cutaway nature of her dress created a dramatic silhouette — the frothy, swinging skirt just barely brushing her knees, cascading in a graceful tail at her back with a slight train. It had been cumbersome to flit about all evening without dragging, but the effect had been well worth it. Now though . . . now the dress’s design was positively indecent, raising the hemline over her thigh as the creature held up her leg. Her undergarments were flimsy and thin, and the spread open lips of her sex were pressed flush to the coarseness of his furred body, rubbing against her as he continued the waltz without her.

Another turn as the corner of the room, the hand that pressed to her dropping to cup her bottom as they whirled, a white spark of stars as his leg moved forward, grinding against her tingling pearl in a way that made her shudder. This was not at all what she had anticipated from her midnight visitor, but all men, she had learned, were the same. Easily turned, easily led. This goat-man would surely be no different, she thought, once more certain she could control the situation. If he decides he wants to fuck you instead of punishing you, are you really going to complain? Let him have his fill and be on his way.

Strings and horns, festive waltzes and foxtrots, one after another, the music continued long beyond what she thought the record might be capable of. Her partner never slowed, hitching her leg a bit higher on his hip until he practically carried her like a doll. Davina was reminded of illicit afternoons in her youth, sitting on the corner of the dryer as it tossed and rumbled, bringing herself to weak orgasms before she even knew the word for the physical sensation she experienced. The varying pressure of her dance partner’s body as he moved was not constant enough for her to reach that level of satisfaction, but she still found herself gasping on every turn, a lightning bolt of pleasure making her arch against him every few steps. 

When the hand holding her against him slipped beneath the hem of her skirt, Davina’s manners failed her, all of her witty retorts drowning in a flood of arousal. Her lingerie was modest but expensive — beribboned silk, tissue-thin and soft to the touch, and the sensation of a long, thick finger grazing her cleft over the silk nearly made her light-headed as he turned once more. Back and forth, a slow, feather-lite massage against her clit, she felt the points of claws and the slight press of his knuckles as the Viennese waltz slowed to one of English measure, and all too soon the delicate silk was damp and sticky with her arousal. He caressed her through the silk as adroitly as he danced, and despite her desire to remain in control, her body wanted more. 

“It seems to me, sweetling,” he purred into her ear, a red snake of a tongue darting out to taste the skin of her neck, “that what you’re most in need of is a good fucking. Perhaps if your husband had been a bit more astute in ensuring he was taking care of you in that department, you might not have gotten up to the mischief that you did. What is that silly saying? Spare the rod, spoil the child? Well, the same is true with ambitious little wives. Spare the rod, and she’ll cause all manner of trouble with her excess energy. Keep her well fucked and she’ll be well behaved. Fortunately for you, sweetling, I believe in laying down a rod of both pleasure and punishment.”

She could feel that rod, rising up between their bodies like a club, hot and thick, pressed to her front. She had only just wondered what it might feel like pressed to her own dripping sex when the monster relieved her of her ruined panties with a slice of his claws, pleasure and heat blooming through her as she gasped. Magic seemed to hold her in place as he positioned her legs around his waist, his leading hand still gripping hers as he moved through the dance alone. She was wide open now, his swollen member flush against her slick folds, and as he turned at the corner of the room, she was able to feel the ridges on his cock, sliding over her swollen bud in a way that made her cry out, desperate for completion.  A rod of both pleasure and punishment.

The monster’s laugh was a slow rumble that began in his belly and moved up his chest. She could feel it vibrate against her, felt it reverberate against her body, leaving his obscene mouth in a dark wave, like plush black velvet. He would not help her further. This was the start of her punishment, she realized: set her on fire and let her smolder without fanning the flames. 

Davina was gasping, the need to come slowly obliterating all other desires with which she’d started the night, as his every turn gave her a hint of the climax she might experience with her legs wrapped around his waist in such a way . . . but she’d need to do the work herself. When she whined in frustration, the volume of the music increased, his shining red eyes slipping closed with a serene smile on his face. There was something intoxicating about the smell of him, the curious combination of cold and spice and sparkling citrus making her lean into him to inhale, the heady mix only adding to her arousal. A shift of her hips and she gasped, finding the friction she needed, if only for a moment, exactly what she needed . . . she realized what she’d need to do, her cheeks coloring. 

Heat pooled in her belly as he continued to waltz, her heartbeat thudding in her ears, matching the pulsing between her thighs. Davina wondered if he could feel it, could tell how wet she was; if he could feel her quickened pulse. Of course he can, this is a game to him. She’d started the night thinking she could control the outcome, not realizing her guest would be a game player himself, but she could control this. If he wants to play games, let’s show him how well we can play.

The first raising of her hips was almost enough to cause her to lose her grip on his neck as she slid, the swollen lips of her cunt wrapped around the equally swollen rod of his cock, the weight of her body making her drop like she was sliding down a fire pole. Once . . . twice . . . the third time she raised herself against him she cried out, a yelp of unrestrained pleasure that broke through the music. Her shame was lost then, the pleasure of his ridged cock against her clit the only thing in the world that seemed important. Davina humped against him like a beast, as mindless as an animal, chasing a wave of pleasure that seemed increasingly in her reach. Her dance partner laughed again at her undignified display, but she was too far gone to care. When she came at last, the lights of the tree towering above them blurred into a million pinpricks of rainbow light, her core clenching in time to the music as the wave of ecstasy carried her away.

She didn’t have a chance to react when he lifted her, guiding the bulbous head of his cock to her opening.

“I’m going to stretch this hungry little cunt of yours,” he smiled, a flash of fangs and glimmering red eyes, “and fuck you the way you should have been fucked all along, sweetling, hard enough to knock the naughtiness right out of you.”

It was too much, she wanted to scream as he breached her, every inch feeling like he was stretching her far beyond her body’s ability, certain he would protrude right through her belly. He was squeezed in tight, so tight, a burn that made tears well in her eyes when he bottomed out with a grunt. She sucked in a breath when he began to move, prepared to scream . . . moaning instead when she felt the press of those ridges within her, the tight squeeze of his cock rubbing her in a way that nearly made her sob. When he began to use her in earnest, Davina knew she was lost. There would be no playing games with this creature, no gaining the upper hand. He fucked her like a toy, gripping her hips and raising her up and down the long, thick length of his cock like a sleeve.

“It’s such a shame, dear heart,” he said in a conversational tone as she fell apart, the sounds coming from her throat once more making her sound like a mindless animal. “If you had been fucked half so well and punished regularly, it may not have come to this. You might have been a docile as a lamb, your mind too clouded by pleasure to come up with your devious schemes. If only . . . too late for regrets, though.”

Her muscles contracted painfully around him as she came a second time, a wail that cut through the swelling strings, clenching around his cock and flooding him in her heat, the room spinning wildly. She cried out again when they dropped against the staircase, the lights of her beautiful tree nearly blinding her. It was his turn to rut her like a wild animal, fucking into her hard enough that it nearly made her teeth rattle.

“As I said, it’s too late, unfortunately. I’m glad to have offered you this final accommodation though, sweetling. Lovely manners deserve a reward, no matter how naughty the recipient. Thank you for the wine and the lovely dance.”

He came in an explosion of burning heat and her legs seized at the pressure of it, the obscene, sloppy squelching of their bodies drowning out the music as he thrust through his climax. She was able to feel him filling her, overflowing her, felt his hot release running down her thighs and pooling under her ass, spoiling her dress. When he pulled out, it was like unstoppering a bottle. His spend gushed out of her, her muscles spasming anew at the unexpected emptiness. Davina watched as the viscous fluid dripped off the step, mingling with the spilled wine and pooling blood, a grotesque display.

“If your husband had fucked the naughtiness out of you, he might not have wound up like this,” he mused, gesturing to the rigor-struck crumple at the base of the steps, the broken crystal framing him like snowflakes. 

“He shouldn’t have argued with me over the wine. He couldn’t just leave it be, couldn’t let it go. Do you know how much wine he has down there? Why does it matter if I took one fucking cask for my party. He wouldn’t have even known it was missing if the servants had gotten rid of the barrel as I asked. Can you blame me for making sure I had my own income? A girl needs to be able to support herself when she’s thrown out in the cold.”

His laughter was an echoing ring, the supernaturally-extended record finally coming to an end.

“You-you’re going to punish me now.” Her voice trembled, but she would persevere, Davina told herself. He could beat her and whip her, torture any way he wanted. She would persevere. She always had.

“I’m afraid not, dear heart. Krampus’s punishments are for those still able to be saved. It’s too late for you, Davina Devlin, but I am glad we shared a dance.”

She watched as he rose, stepping over the gore at the base of the wide staircase, redressing in his furs. The bells on his straps were flat and joyless, a chill sound that made her shiver. Furs restored, once more ready to venture out into the cold, he lifted the basket.

“It’s time to get in, dear heart. This is the end of the road, I’m afraid.”

She could have tried to run. She could have scurried up the steps and hid in the house, could have made a dash out into the cold, could have fought and bit. Instead, she sat there mutely, not protesting when he lifted her easily. She believed in divine retribution, after all. The basket appeared to be empty when she was dropped into it, and the world went black.

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