Recovering vampire Ben is discovering that life after death is hard work. It will take more than a reflection to impress his boyfriend Nate’s religious mother. And Nate’s twin brother, Ethan, openly resents Ben’s presence at the family farm. Nate is confident they can build a normal life together, but Ben’s not even sure he knows what normal is. He can’t face his reflection, let alone his past, while Nate refuses to divulge his family’s supernatural secret. Can they build a future on such shaky foundations?
When a supernatural hunter is found dead on the family farm, Ethan becomes the main suspect in a murder investigation that puts Ben and Nate at odds. Nate wants to protect his family and stay silent about what he is, but Ben knows no one is safe until the demonic agent responsible for a string of murders is caught. Defying Nate to investigate alone, Ben can’t let the demon claim another victim. But as his investigation continues, he discovers links to a past he thought he’d buried—and a past Nate refuses to acknowledge. With a desperate killer on a deadline, Ben must face the literal demons in his past if he wants to have any chance of saving himself and Nate from a fate worse than death.
Publisher: Ninestar Press
Word Count: 118,000
Setting: Small country town
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Heat burned a line across his exposed skin.
Ben startled awake instantly. He knew he was in trouble, even before he saw the dim light filtering through the drawn curtains. No ordinary light. Sunlight. Death.
Ben grabbed the blankets lying around him, tugging them over his body as his heart raced.
How did this happen? I never take chances! Other vampires might play chicken against dawn’s slow approach, but Ben was always back in the crypt well before daylight. Along with the fangs, the blood lust, and the lingering sensation of something missing, being a vampire brought with it an ever-present awareness of the coming sun. Ben’s body should have screamed at him, every sense straining with the awareness that dawn—and a horrible second death—approached. Instead, he felt nothing beyond the adrenaline of his near escape.
Ben dug deeper beneath the blankets. Something is seriously wrong—READ MORE
He collided with something warm. It shifted, murmuring a sleepy protest.
Ben froze. That was a body. A warm, living body—
A rough hand reached out to wrap around him, pressing him against the almost indecently hot body lying beneath the blankets. Naked, Ben realized. And most definitely male.
Most definitely aroused male.
“Not a morning person?”
The words were slurred, but Ben was confident he understood them. His heart switched gears, accelerating in a different way. “Says the guy who sounds more asleep than awake.”
Nate chuckled, shifting to press a sleepy kiss to Ben’s neck. His movement dislodged the blankets covering Ben, leaving him exposed to the light, but Ben didn’t try to hide.
I’m alive. The sun couldn’t hurt him now. Alive.
Ben turned his head to catch the next kiss on the full. Nate’s mouth was just as hot as he remembered, searing like the sun but infinitely kinder.
Nate seemed happy to share a tender moment, too sleepy or too content to pursue needs beyond the reassurance of Ben’s presence. When Nate broke the kiss to burrow back into the pillow at Ben’s neck, Ben left his eyes open. He followed the curve of the sheets over Nate’s body to the sliver of sunlight coming through the curtain that made his dark hair shine. Everything about Nate was warm, from his healthy tan to the heat of the arm around Ben’s waist.
Their first night together, he’d watched Nate sleep, but he’d retired to the crypt before Nate woke, leaving Nate to be unceremoniously bundled into a taxi. That should have been it. A simple tryst Nate didn’t remember and Ben didn’t regret. And here they were. Him, a vampire, lying in sunlight next to a man who looked human but remained a mystery.
Ben shifted so he could study Nate’s sleeping expression. Nate made a vague sound of protest but relaxed as he realized Ben wasn’t going anywhere.
This shouldn’t be possible. Ben frowned, reaching out to stroke his fingers through Nate’s hair. I shouldn’t be awake at all. And Nate…
Ben looked quickly away, but the memory came too fast to avoid. Nate, paler than he should ever be, lying still in the dirt, his blood mingled with the dead leaves and his throat—
Ben’s fingers stilled to a halt. Nate shouldn’t be alive.
ARX had a clear procedure for encountering an unknown supernatural being. Ben sat up, mentally running through the checklist. First, assess the immediacy of the threat.
Ben bit his lip. Unless the threat is never getting out of bed again, I’m safe. Nate clung to the pillow with the dedication of a poor swimmer to a flotation device. He didn’t bat an eyelid, even as Ben shifted and the crack of light fell directly on him.
That’s dedication. Ben studied the rise and fall of Nate’s chest and the slight flutter of his eyelashes until, with a guilty start, he remembered step two—gathering all available information.
What do I actually know about Nate? Apart from the fact that he is incredibly distracting, even when half-asleep? Ben considered his companion.
When they’d first met, Nate displayed the sleek, self-satisfied confidence of a well-fed tomcat, too smug to know he should be ashamed of himself. Given his job as an escort, it made sense. Nate was polished, confident, and annoyingly, gloriously sexual. Ben had disliked him purely on principle. He could never have imagined that Nate concealed a thoroughly selfless heart, or that he would risk his neck—literally—for Ben’s right to feel.
Now that Ben looked closely, he could see traces of the intense strain of the last week. There were exhausted shadows beneath Nate’s eyes, bruises on his arm from their narrow escape in the cemetery. Holding his breath, Ben leaned forward to get a closer look at Nate’s neck.
Where there should have been an ugly gash, there wasn’t even a scar.
Not even a werewolf heals like this. Nate made a plaintive grumble, and Ben settled back, thinking hard. A skilled magic user might have been able to pull it off, but there was no way they could do it without leaving their magical traces all over Nate. The only thing Ben detected was a warm, gooey feeling that he suspected had its origin less in Nate’s magical state and more in Ben’s proximity to him. Which leaves what Nate told me. He healed himself.
Ben had four years of the best supernatural education under his belt—just enough to know how inadequate his knowledge was. First, the middle ages had hunted the supernatural into hiding, while the church, the greatest authority on unlawful magic, guarded what knowledge they had to prevent it falling into the wrong hands. With the Renaissance had come rationality, the lessoning of the church’s grip on knowledge and a lack of belief in magical beings the supernatural were quick to exploit, fading almost entirely from sight. The lore that remained was piecemeal at best, focused more on killing the supernatural than studying it.
Not undead. Not a witch. Well—probably not a witch. Nate had potential but lacked the knowledge. He’d also walked through wards aimed against anything of magical or demonic origin… No matter how you look at it, Nate shouldn’t be possible. Ben tapped a finger thoughtfully against his chin. Maybe I’m looking at this from the wrong perspective—
“Like what you see?” Nate tilted his head back, watching Ben through half-lidded eyes. His smirk was lazy.
Ben started. “Um—”
Nate chuckled. “That’s not a difficult question. You’re here, after all.”
Here. Ben’s mouth quirked. Accompanying an unknown supernatural being and his equally unknown brother to an unspecified location without telling anyone of his plans was not ARX procedure—unless they were talking procedure that resulted in Ben’s instant dismissal. Perhaps it’s a good thing I quit when I did. ARX wouldn’t know whether to fire me—or investigate me as a supernatural threat. “Where is here?”
“You don’t remember the drive?” Nate relaxed, leaning back against the headboard.
“I remember a drive.” Ben stayed sitting. “That’s about it.” He looked around the room. He remembered peeling off his clothes as he fell onto the bed, but nothing else.
His location was a mystery, but his surroundings were definitely prosaic. The morning light gave the wooden walls and floor a pleasant warmth. An old-fashioned wardrobe with a mirror built into the door stood against the wall. On its far side was a table with a sewing machine and a basket of fabric scraps at its base. The bookshelf above it sagged beneath the weight of its paperback burden, and an armchair was positioned in front of the drawn curtains. The sunlight fell across the floor in a direct line. “Are we in your mother’s bedroom?”
“Spare room.” Nate’s fingers rested on Ben’s waist, playing with the sheet fabric. “Doubles as Ma’s sewing room.”
That explained the sewing machine and the quilt covering the bed, which was old, probably a family heirloom, with a solid carved headboard and footer. The mattress was just as old. It sagged in the middle, inviting Ben to roll against Nate. Tempting, but a sound from outside caught Ben’s attention. “Are we near the ocean?”
“I can hear waves.”
Nate snorted. “Look out the window.”
How late in the day is it? Without the vampire’s internal alarm, Ben felt lost. He slid out from under the quilt, discovering that the only thing he wore was his briefs. “Am I going to alarm your neighbors?”
“Nearest house is a five-minute walk.” Nate shifted so he lay on his side, supported by the pillow as he watched Ben. “You’re fine.”
The emphasis he put on that made Ben feel warm in a way that had nothing to do with the sunlight, warming the wooden floor beneath his feet. To counter his confusion, he lifted a hand, drawing back the curtain fully.
All he saw was green. The fresh green of the grass stretching all the way to the fence and the glossy dark green of the bushes there. Beyond that, willows, their long branches dragging on the ground. A breeze lifted them, and Ben heard the sound he’d mistaken for the sea. Beyond the willows, extending all the way up into hills, was a varied collection of deep greens. “Forest?”
“National reserve,” Nate explained. “Borders the farm. You’re allowed to gather fallen wood and hunt if you’ve got a license, but nothing else. Not without permission. We can go hiking later if you’re interested.”
Ben looked out the window again. If he looked away from the hills, following the line of the willows, he could see more trees, these spaced regularly, with the bright green of new leaves.
“It’s quiet, compared to New Camden. Nothing ever happens out here.” The bed shifted as Nate sat up. “I wasn’t kidding about the place being small.”
There was a large building, the faded-red paint worn away in patches to reveal weathered board, and fences, but no other buildings in sight. Only trees.
“You could murder someone out here and no one would ever know.”
“What the hell?”
Ben flushed, turning back to the bed. “Sorry. Was that weird?”
“Just a little.” Nate patted the bed next to him. “But considering that you used to be a vampire, I’ll give you a pass. This time.”
Ben took the invitation, curling up against Nate’s side. It wasn’t cold exactly, but separation gave the rush of warmth to their reunion. “I’m not used to so much…country.”
“You know we don’t actually marry our cousins out here, right?” Nate settled his arm around Ben’s shoulder automatically. “Or fuck goats or dismember people with an axe or whatever else you city people think we do to pass the time.”
“It’s the quiet,” Ben said. “Growing up in the city, you could always hear your neighbors, even if you couldn’t see them.” He settled his head on Nate’s shoulder. “This… I don’t know how to take this.”
Nate laughed. “You can take down any number of revenants without batting an eye, but peace and quiet has you beat. That’s… I don’t know what to say, Ben.”
After a moment, Ben smiled. “When you put it like that…” He settled his arms around Nate’s torso, enjoying the solidness of his body. This was real. “I have to get used to the idea that I’m not a vampire—not even an ARX employee anymore. From now on… I’m ordinary.”COLLAPSE