QSFer Juna Ratnam has a new MM urban fantasy romance novella out: A Demon at Midnight.
Daniyal Zaman is an expert in running away.
Case in point: Last summer, I hid out for three days in a stranger’s bedroom so I didn’t have to deal with the Demonica Weekly photographers swarming the street, or my four nosy grandmothers (don’t ask), or that stupid viral video of me crying on the dance floor.
And when I began to like my sweet host a lot more than I should, I retreated to Earth and threw myself into 3D modelling for video games.
Now my nani and grandma have summoned me to host their seventh anniversary ball on New Year’s Eve, and I can’t say no.
Even if it means working with the event architect Surrith—who just so happens to be the handsome demon I ghosted six months ago.
A Demon at Midnight is a 13k sweet holiday romance with a HEA. This is a spin-off of The Vampire Stayed for Breakfast, but can be read as a standalone.
Sunlight hit me like a bag of bricks when I experimentally opened my eyes.
I yelped and retreated to the relative safety of the floral-print blanket that almost certainly didn’t belong to me, but the damage was done. My headache flared, and vivid red afterimages joined the vision of a hot demon in the doorway.
“Not funny, Surrith.” I groaned into the covers. “S’why we sleep with the—those cloth hangings—” I waved a hand towards the curtains—that was the word.
“Oh good, you’re up,” he said in his unfairly deep voice. I heard footsteps and a glass being set down. “Come on, you’ll be late.”
I blinked. Then I blinked again, shifting to my demon eyes—solid black with very orange irises—to adjust to the light faster.
“Late for what?” I asked blearily, sitting up and reaching for the frothy, orange-scented drink in a champagne flute. “Don’t say breakfast, we were both up till like three.” I took a sip and shivered as energy zinged through my body. “And why do Magnifiers taste like cough syrup anyway?”
Surrith crossed his arms. He was a little taller than me, with olive skin and curled ram horns. Dark purple moth wings with gold patches were folded at his back like a very exotic cape. “I believe you have an appointment at the Potentate’s Palace—”
“I do not—I’m still giving nani the cold shoulder for abandoning me at The Escalator because grandma called her home for a nightcap!”
“—and then you need to go back to Earth to give your ex his stuff from your apartment.”
I sagged against the pillows. “Fuck.”
“Now you can say ‘fuck’?” He sounded amused.
“Oh shush. That’s not the point.” My second-favourite cotton t-shirt suddenly felt very tight. “I can’t go. It’s too soon.”
“I’m sure your grandmothers will be very happy to see you again.”
“Not them.” I ran my fingers through my hair. “Aserad’s going to kill me.”
He pursed his lips. “Breakups happen all the time, Daniyal. It’s not the end of the world.”
“Except I uninvited him from my apartment wards instead of talking to him like a normal half-demon.”
“And then I waltzed off to the demonic plane—or let nani kidnap me, which amounts to the same thing.”
“And now I’ve spent three days hiding out in the home of an absolute stranger—no offence—who was inexplicably nice to me, and the whole realm knows we’re—you know—and thinks we’re dating, and Aserad’s gone four nights without a decent change of clothes and he most definitely hates me.”
I was working myself up to a real panic, and I hadn’t even got to the part about the photodemons camping out on the street outside.
Surrith sat at the foot of the bed. “So your solution is to put it off longer?”
He didn’t sigh exactly, but this was the third time we were having this conversation and he must have been getting real tired of me. “Do you want me to come with you?”
“No!” I put down the glass and jumped out of bed. “I mean, I can totally handle it.”
“It’s going to be fine,” I told myself. I rummaged in a bowl of fabric scraps and buttons for the shirt I’d been borrowing from Surrith. I hoped I’d bothered to put it somewhere safe. I’d been a little, uh, distracted last night.
“It’s under the night stand.”
As soon as I picked it up, the black plastic button turned into a blue and cream checked shirt. It was light and soft and somehow already ironed. Go demon magic.
The wildflowers on the wallpapers swayed gently and I could almost smell the musk rose and blue pimpernel. The Art Deco pattern in the big circular window cast a gorgeous shadow on the blue tiled floor.
“I made it myself,” he’d admitted casually when I asked him who had built his home, as if stable construction wasn’t incredibly hard magic even for centuries-old full-blooded demons.
I eyed the phone of doom on the avenwood shelf as I buttoned up the shirt. I didn’t need to switch it on to know what was trending right now on the demonic internet.
The stupidest part was that I had burst into tears because I broke my slippers (and why, why did anyone allow me into the club in my pyjamas?) but everyone was posting about poor heart-broken Daniyal Zaman—and the handsome demon who’d had the presence of mind to get me out of the crowd.
Why couldn’t I stay here forever?
Surrith was still watching me when I turned around. “You look like you’re preparing for battle.”
“It feels like that sometimes. Did I tell you how last time a pink demon showed up at my office with a tub of butterscorch ice cream ‘because I looked so sad in the photos’? At my office, Surrith. Where I work with humans.”
He shook his head. “That’s horrible.”
“Nani helped me ward the building after that. We had to hide the anchor point under my desk.”
“Do you still have stalkers?” he asked with a frown.
That was one of the things I liked about Surrith. He didn’t think I belonged to the public just because my step-grandmother was Her Grace, the Potentate Iscaribel. It felt surreal that someone outside my family actually cared when random demons invaded my privacy.
Pity I wouldn’t be around to enjoy it for much longer.
“Not on Earth anyway. Grandma Iscaribel saw to that.”
He nodded seriously.
“I kept the ice cream, of course,” I said. Though it had been hard to hide it from my co-workers. “I never say no to butterscorch.” Sizzling hot bits of chewy caramel, yum. Not for the first time, I wished I was better at conjuring food.
His eyes had a speculative glint. “Good to know.”
I flopped down on the bed beside him. “I don’t want to go outside.”
Juna Ratnam is a bisexual feminist and an incorrigible procrastinator. She has been known to subsist entirely on a diet of queer SFF and puffed rice. She writes the stories she wants to read, which means her characters navigate power imbalances and sprawling cities, and they always find their happily ever afters—even (or especially) if it takes murder, magic and/or mayhem to get there. On any given day, she can be found sneaking chocolate pieces, talking tropes with her sister, and chasing plot bunnies into the wee hours of the morning.