With the battle of Egypt behind them, Alec and Cronin are enjoying the thrill of new love. Though fate doesn’t wait long before throwing them back into the world of weird.
They know Alec’s blood is special, though its true purpose still eludes them. And given Alec’s inability to be changed into a vampire, Cronin is free to drink from him at will. But the ramifications of drinking such powerful blood starts a ripple effect.
With the help of Jorge, a disturbing vampire-child with the gift of foresight, Alec and Cronin face a new kind of war. This time their investigations lead them to the borders of China and Mongolia—but it’s not what lies in the pits beneath that worries Alec.
It’s the creator behind it all.
In the underground depths of China, amidst a war with the Terracotta Army, they will find out just what the Key is, and what Alec means to the vampire world.
Alec sat on the sofa with his feet on the coffee table reading the New York Times on an iPad. He’d look up every so often at the apartment, at Cronin’s walls of memorabilia, smiling at the antiques shelved there, then at the vampire beside him.
“What’s so funny?” Cronin asked. He didn’t even look up from the Chinese newspaper he was reading, though a smile played at his lips.
“I was just looking over all your relics,” Alec explained. Cronin had told him about most of the artifacts he’d collected, and despite their conversations starting with good intentions, they usually ended up in the bedroom. Or on the sofa, or on the floor, or over the dining table. “I mean, those antiques are pretty cool, but you’re my favorite.”
Cronin looked up at Alec then. “Your favorite antique?”
“Well.” Alec’s grin widened. “You are a 744 vintage. I think you qualify.”
Cronin smiled, amused. “And you’re a what?”
Alec imitated the guy from Antiques Roadshow. “A contemporary piece, 1980s Americana. Perfect condition, well-endowed.”
Cronin laughed at that. “You’re bored.”
“Ugh.” Alec groaned and let his head fall back on the sofa. “So bored.”
He’d spent the last eight weeks holed up in Cronin’s lavish New York City apartment. His days, which were now fully nighttime hours, consisted of a workout regime—Cronin had installed gym equipment in the cinema room to curb Alec’s boredom—hours of foreplay and sex, the occasional movie on Netflix, and reading and researching vampire histories. He rarely left the apartment.
The view was spectacular, and if he wanted something—anything—he could simply order it, pay for it with Cronin’s black credit card, and have it delivered. But he was still confined to quarters. Meaning he was still wanted by NYPD, his former colleagues no less, though the hype had died down.
The fact that his and Cronin’s disappearing acts, which had been caught on CCTV—once in his department’s office area and once in the department’s stores facility—had been leaked on YouTube, meant Alec’s relatively quiet and unnoticed disappearance had gone global.
The footage went viral, making news headlines around the world and him an internet sensation. Some called it a hoax and disregarded what was just too impossible to understand, and others called it what it was.
Cronin’s ability to appear anywhere in the world—or leaping as they called it—was, in Alec’s opinion, the best talent a vampire could have. And it was awesome. Not that they really went anywhere these last eight weeks.
It still wasn’t a great idea for Alec to be seen in public, and Cronin couldn’t go out in the sunlight. That limited their outings to faraway places, wherever it was night.
Alec sighed and went over to the shelves lined with Cronin’s memorabilia. He had wanted to know about all the items Cronin thought important enough to collect over the last twelve hundred years. As a vampire, Cronin had seen things Alec couldn’t begin to imagine, and he wanted to know as much as he could. He’d asked about most of them, but went to one display that held three items he’d not gotten to yet. Alec put his hand out, almost touching the artifact. “Can I touch it?”
Cronin now stood beside him. “Of course,” he answered with a smile.
Alec carefully picked up the small, crudely glazed bottle, admiring it as he turned it in his hands. It was whitish-brown and looked like a child had made it in school art class “What about this one?”
“That is a Mayan poison bottle.”
Alec blinked. “Oh.” He changed how he was holding it, as though it would now bite.
Cronin smiled. “The year was 821. Jodis and I went there and were ill-received. Can’t imagine why.”
Alec laughed and rolled his eyes. “No, I can’t imagine why either.”
“A witch-doctor offered us a drink,” Cronin said, nodding toward the bottle. “Courteous fellow.”
“Well, it would have been rude to refuse,” Alec added sarcastically.
“Yes, quite.” Cronin said, amused. “In the end, he drank it himself rather than see his end with one of us.”
“And this one?” Alec picked up what looked like a bone knife.
“Ah, that’s a Peruvian weaver’s bone wand.”
“Of course it is.”
Cronin chuckled. “It’s from 1288. An old woman stabbed me with it.”
Alec’s mouth fell open. “She what?”
“She stabbed me, only barely.” Cronin was still smiling. “Eiji and Jodis thought it funny that an elderly human woman could do such a thing. She was no taller than four foot.”
“I hope you killed her.”
Cronin barked out a laugh. “Uh, no. Her heart gave out before I had the chance.”
Alec turned back to the shelves and picked up a long metal pin with a jeweled end. It looked expensive. “And this?”
“That is a seventeenth century French shawl pin,” Cronin said, almost wistfully. “A man tried to stab me with it. I believe it belonged to his wife.”
“What is it with you and being stabbed?”
Cronin sniffed indignantly. “It must be my charming personality.”
Alec snorted. “If by charming personality you mean vampire about to kill them, then yes, I think so too.” But the truth was, Alec knew from years of police work that stabbing was an intimate crime; the offender was well within the other person’s personal space. He frowned. “I don’t like the idea of you being close enough to bite someone else. Or that you have your mouth on their skin… or your teeth.”
Cronin took the shawl pin from Alec and put it back on the shelf. “It doesn’t bother you that I kill people, only that I have my lips on them when I bite them?”
Alec looked to the floor and nodded. “You get close, you touch them, you put your lips on them,” he said. He knew he was pouting, but he couldn’t seem to stop. “It’s not fair.”
Cronin put his finger under Alec’s chin and lifted his face so he could see his eyes. “It is not the same.”
“I know,” Alec said petulantly. He knew he was being unreasonable. He craned his neck, exposing it to Cronin. Alec knew there were vampire puncture wounds marking his skin, and he loved them. He wore them with pride. “I like it when your lips are on my neck, when you bite me. When you drink from me.”
Cronin leaned in and ran his nose along the bite wounds. “Do I not take enough from you?”
“Never,” Alec whispered.
Cronin licked the two bruised hole marks, making Alec shiver. “Do I not bite you enough?”
“Never.” Alec was getting dizzy with want. He had to remind himself to breathe. He leaned against Cronin, feeling the strength and warmth of him from his thighs to his neck. He was already getting hard. “It will never be enough.”
Cronin kissed Alec’s neck once more but pulled away. “I can’t keep feeding from you. It can’t be good for you.”
Alec chuckled. “It is really good for me.”
This time Cronin laughed, a purr rumbled through his chest. “You test my restraint, yet again. Please know, Alec, I’m not opposed to such a notion. Though the hours spent in bed this morning may suggest you need a rest. Just because I can bite you without changing you, doesn’t mean you are unaffected.”
Alec groaned. They’d found out after the battle in Egypt that Cronin could bite Alec and not change him into a vampire. It opened a whole world of questions, but more than that, it meant they could have sex while Alec was human. And yes, as much as he wanted Cronin to take him, fuck him, and bite him, his human body needed recuperation. The intense sexual pleasure and slight blood loss took its toll when it was for hours at a time. So as much as he didn’t like it, he knew Cronin was right.
But Cronin also had a warped sense of time. Living for twelve hundred years would do that, Alec conceded. So while Cronin was patient and content to sit and read or research for hours upon hours, Alec was restless for something else beyond that, some sense of normalcy. He was used to police work, and now he sat around doing a whole lot of nothing. Even though he’d left normal behind the day he’d met Cronin, the vampire he was fated to, he was still a twenty-nine-year-old man. He needed to do something human. He grinned at Cronin. “Come on, let’s go out.”
Cronin quirked an eyebrow. “Where to?”
“A club somewhere.”
“I meant in which city.”
“Oh.” Alec was thinking some nightclub in the Meatpacking District would do. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to being able to leap to any country he chose. He grinned. “Well, it’s night time in Europe. I’ve always wanted to go to London.”
Cronin smiled. “I know just the place.”
* * * *
It took Alec a second to get his bearings. Leaving a warm and well-lit apartment and landing in a cold, dark alley in the time it took to blink was disorienting. He was used to the pain of leaping now. The feeling of being pixelated and shredded at the cellular level was expected, but he knew it was only momentary.
The cold air blasted him regardless, and he shivered against Cronin. Cronin took his hand and led him down the alley, out onto the street.
Alec noticed the cars first. The steering wheel was on the wrong side of the car, the cars were on the wrong side of the road. He looked down the neon-lit street, hearing the foreign accents around him as they passed Londoners having a night out. It made him grin.
Cronin walked up to a nightclub door, ignoring the waiting line-up of hopefuls. The bouncers gave him a nod, and Cronin pulled Alec through the doors with him. “Known around here, I take it?”
Cronin looked over his shoulder and smiled at him, giving Alec a glimpse of his vampire fangs. “This establishment is owned by a friend.”
Okay then. A vampire nightclub. Alec had no clue what he was walking into, yet he felt no fear. He was with Cronin, after all.
Cronin was an elder of the US East Coast, well-known and well-respected. A healthy dose of well feared didn’t hurt his reputation either.
The room was packed and pumping, the floor filled with dancers and drinkers. It was dark inside like most nightclubs Alec had been in, but he could still see that most of the people inside were human. They seemed blissfully ignorant of the company they kept. Alec guessed it kept in line with the vampire law of anonymity, though he did wonder how many of these unknowing humans wouldn’t see morning.
As if Cronin could read his mind, he leaned in close and whispered over the loud music, “No one can be harmed here. It would bring too much attention to the owners. It is simply a business owned by one of our kind.” Cronin pulled back, his dark eyes black, his normally rust colored hair tinted blue from the neon light above. “Drink?”
Alec nodded and Cronin led the way to the bar. Cronin stared for a beat too long at some guy who was leaning against the bar by himself before he nodded and called him by name. “Lars.”
Alec wanted to ask what was up with Lars—he was obviously a vampire—but before he had the chance, a voice came from behind them. “Cronin.”
Cronin smiled before he’d even turned around. “Kennard.”
Alec recognized the man as the elder of the London coven. He’d spoken to him via a video call when they were planning their attack in Egypt two months ago. Kennard was young in human years, no more than twenty. He was shorter than Alec imagined, with a slim build outlined by his fitted jacket with the collar upturned, perfectly styled blond hair, pale skin, and pink lips. He was boyish in looks, but there was a ferociousness lurking under the innocent façade. Alec thought that was what made him even more frightening.
“And Alec!” Kennard said, his eyes lighting up delightedly. He took Alec’s hand. “An absolute pleasure to meet you in person.”
Cronin made a point of looking at Kennard’s hand on Alec’s and feigned a snarl. It was hardly menacing, considering he did it with a smile.
“Oh, hush,” Kennard waved Cronin off. “You’ve been hiding him away for weeks now.” Kennard smiled up at Alec. Kennard’s flair and inflection reminded Alec of an over-acted Shakespeare play, and given Kennard was indeed a London elder, Alec wondered how far wrong he was on when exactly Kennard was human. “So, the hero of Egypt? No wonder you’re fated to Cronin. Only someone rather remarkable would be a match for him.”
Alec wasn’t sure what to make of Kennard. “Um….”
Cronin laughed and took Alec’s hand out of Kennard’s. “Ignore him. He’s an insatiable flirt,” he said, smiling warmly at his English friend. “But yes, Alec was very brave and clever.”
“You forgot handsome and good in bed,” Alec added.
Cronin blushed and Kennard clapped his hands as he laughed. “Oh, how I like you.” Then Kennard gave the barman a nod, “Get my friend here whatever he wants.”
Alec ordered a scotch and lime water, rather thankful he didn’t have to pay, because the only money he had was American dollars.
They followed Kennard through the crowd, up a few stairs, to a booth on a platform. It was clearly Kennard’s table, where he could sit and watch over his club. It also gave them privacy to speak freely without fear of being overheard by human ears. When they were seated, Kennard was still smiling at Alec. “So, the key is still human,” he said. “I have to say Cronin, I’m surprised.”
“Yeah well, about that,” Alec said, sipping his drink. “I can’t be changed. Not for the lack of trying.” He craned his neck slightly so his jacket slid down his neck, knowing Kennard would see the bite marks.
Kennard’s eyes shot to Cronin’s, and he sucked back a breath. “What is the meaning of this?”
“We don’t know,” Cronin said, his arm sliding protectively around Alec’s shoulders. “His blood is… special. It’s what made him the key to defeating Keket in Egypt—he resurrected a mummified vampire with his blood alone,” Cronin said. “Though our seer says his work is not yet done.”
Kennard’s eyes narrowed, but he shook it off and schooled his features with a smile. He looked again at Alec’s neck. “Well, if any one of us were fortunate enough to have the best of both worlds, Cronin, it would be you.”
Alec finished his drink, Kennard waved his hand, and not a moment later another full drink was on the table. “Thank you,” Alec said. “And thank you for helping us in Egypt. I’m glad I got to thank you in person.”
“It is I who should be thanking you,” Kennard said. “It’s not every day we get to meet and talk with a key.”
Alec was beginning to hate that word.
Maybe he wouldn’t hate it so much if he knew what it fucking meant.
Kennard was still obviously shocked. “Yet you can bite him and he remains human?”
Alec swore he heard a rush of whispers from the edges of the crowd. The vampires in the club clearly heard what Kennard said. Cronin let out a low growl. Kennard raised a hand dismissively and the whispers stopped. Cronin’s growl lowered but took a while to fade completely.
Kennard laughed. “Maybe we shouldn’t talk about biting here, no?”
Cronin’s reply was low and final. “No.”
Kennard changed the subject of conversation. “How’s Eiji? Is he getting better?”
“All but healed,” Cronin answered. Word had spread quickly that Eiji had survived exposure to sunlight in saving Alec’s life. “He and Jodis are in Japan while he convalesces.”
Alec finished his drink, and a third appeared in front of him. He was already a little buzzed, so he sipped his next drink and scanned the floor while Cronin and Kennard talked of vampire matters. It was all rather political, and Alec was too busy checking out the dance floor to pay any attention. He wasn’t one to dance often, but in the end, it got the better of him. Alec downed his drink and stood up. “I’m gonna hit the dance floor,” he said.
Cronin started to object, naturally, but Kennard put his hand on Cronin’s arm. “Ah, Cronin,” Alec heard Kennard say. “Let him dance while we talk business. No need for the three of us to be bored senseless.”
Not caring they had company, Alec leaned down and kissed Cronin soundly before going back down the stairs and making his way through a sea of people. They were a mix of men and women, and from the lingering, knowing looks by some of them, Alec knew they were a solid mix of human and vampire.
Alec didn’t care. He let his head fall back and closed his eyes, feeling the bass of the music in his chest. It felt good to be doing something so normal, so human. He knew Cronin never took his eyes off him, and once upon a time that would’ve annoyed Alec. He’d have forbidden such possessive behavior, but now he reveled in it. He craved being owned by Cronin, as much as Cronin longed to be owned by him.
Being fated was a beautiful thing.
Alec couldn’t believe he’d once tried to rebuke the idea.
A warm body pressed a little too close, making Alec open his eyes. He knew it had to be some human—no vampire in the club would be stupid enough to approach another vampire’s mate, and Cronin’s mate no less. It was a guy who smiled at him, but before he could even speak, Cronin was in between them, staring at the now-pale human man until he backed away.
Alec pulled himself against Cronin’s ass and laughed. “Jealousy looks good on you.”
“We must leave,” Cronin said.
“He didn’t mean anything by it,” Alec started to say.
But Cronin had Alec’s hand and was leading him to what Alec realized was the back way to the fire escape. “No, we must go. Now.”
Alec knew from Cronin’s tone something was wrong. He tried to clear his head. “What happened?”
“It’s not what has happened,” Cronin said as he pushed through the back door into an alley where Kennard stood waiting. “It’s what’s going to happen.”
Alec had no sooner stepped into the alley, than Cronin looked around and checked that the three of them were alone. He put his arm around Alec, pulled him close, put his hand on Kennard’s shoulder, and they leapt.
N.R. Walker is an Australian author, who loves her genre of gay romance. She loves writing and spends far too much time doing it, but wouldn’t have it any other way. She is many things; a mother, a wife, a sister, a writer. She has pretty, pretty boys who live in her head, who don’t let her sleep at night unless she gives them life with words. She likes it when they do dirty, dirty things…but likes it even more when they fall in love. She used to think having people in her head talking to her was weird, until one day she happened across other writers who told her it was normal. She’s been writing ever since…