~ March 1997 ~ Chicago, Illinois ~
Benton Fraser was bored. He was the one who wanted to return to Chicago … To reacquaint himself with the city that gave birth to his Clan. What he hadn’t counted on was Inspector Margaret Thatcher being such a tight ass. She was so busy making sure her subordinates knew who was in charge, she was becoming a caricature of a hard-nosed officer.
He had allowed his annoyance with her political maneuvering to overrun how a Human subordinate behaved with a superior officer. Benoit Franciscus, 1800-year-old Leader of the Tallikut Clan of Vampires didn’t always mesh with Benton Fraser, 38-year-old Human, Constable at the RCMP. He was now paying the price for his rebellion by standing ‘guard’ at the door to the Canadian Consulate.
His inborn time sense told him there were ten minutes left to his torture … Err … Shift. To pass the time, he began reciting a list of his Clan members and Hunters, checking his memory for their locations and current professions. He’d made it through the Council and Hunters, but before he could start on an alphabetical list of Clan members, a clear baritone voice broke his concentration.
“Excuse me, Dudley Do-right, could you help out a fellow flatfoot?”
Benton couldn’t fathom what Dudley had to do with anything as he was presently stationed close to the Canada – Montana border, but he shifted his eyes slightly to see the owner of the voice. Black leather jacket, t-shirt, aviator sunglasses, experimental blond hair that looked like it wouldn’t move in a Lake Michigan gale, and a line of piercings in both ears sans earrings. The wiry figure wasn’t like any cop he’d met, but most of them were throwbacks to the era of Prohibition and Al Capone. He pulled pictures out of his inside pocket revealing a silver badge attached to his shoulder holster.
“I guess I should introduce myself since you’re being so chatty and all. Detective S. Raymond Kowalski, call me Ray, 18th District Station … For the moment. While you’re out here doing your impersonation of a hat rack, did you happen to see any of these upstanding citizens?”
The Detective waved three pictures under his nose. Three minutes until the end of his shift. The detective’s foot started to tap as he waited. Apparently, patience was not one of Detective Kowalski’s strong points. Benoit saw the anger building in grey-green eyes. Two minutes.
“Fine.” He stuffed the pictures back in his pocket. “And everyone tells me Canadians are helpful and polite. Ain’t that a kick in the head. Thank you for your cooperation, Sergeant Preston.”
The blond reminded Benoit of a Bantam rooster as he stalked toward a mint condition black 1967 Pontiac GTO. Benoit could think of several members of the Clans who would be orgasmic at the sight of such beautiful American muscle. The detective wasn’t bad either, but only in the most aesthetic sense to the Clan Leader. Thirty seconds. Long fingers ruffled spiked hair in frustration. Time. He was off shift.
“Detective Kowalski!” Benoit moved toward the car.
“Oh, now you wanna talk. I wasn’t good enough to talk to five minutes ago.”
“I was still on duty five minutes ago and could not leave my post.”
“Is there an invasion I should tell my Lieutenant about?”
“I could not break protocol.” Benoit insisted. “May I see your pictures again?”
“Sure. So, Sergeant …”
“It’s Constable … Constable Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”
“So … Park your horse ‘round back?” Kowalski snickered as he handed Benoit the pictures.
“May I ask why ask you are looking for these gentlemen?” His tone was snippy, but it had been an irritating day ending with Detective Kowalski.
“Word on the street has it they’re sniffing around the bottom of the food chain looking for a foot in the door.”
Benoit blinked several times. He was tempted to call his Second in Command, Jim Ellison so he could translate the Detective’s slang.
“Could you repeat that in English, Detective?”
“Ray … Call me Ray. I guess they don’t teach Chicago speak in Canada.” He chuckled. “It means someone is looking for fresh territory and they’ve got their bully boys …” He pointed to the pictures. “Testing the waters.”
“I am sorry … Ray. I have not seen these men.”
“Thanks for your … Oomph.” Ray fell back against the side of his car.
“Diefenbaker! That was not polite, at all.” Benton scolded his wolf as said wolf continued to scent mark the blond police officer.
Kowalski grabbed the wolf by the fur on his face.
“Enough, Fur Face. Now I got dog spit in my ear.”
“What?” Ray looked at Benton.
“Is that some kind of dog speak for get off the skinny Polock.”
“No, Ray. Diefenbaker is a wolf … Well mostly wolf … A deaf mostly wolf to be precise, but he does read lips.”
“Oh yeah, the world will stop turning if we’re not precise.” Ray turned the wolf’s head, so he looked him in the eye. “I like you, too. Now, let me up.” He released Diefenbaker’s face.
Moving to sit at Benoit’s feet, the wolf waited for his new friend to get back on two legs.
“Since Canada’s part of my district ‘til my next undercover gig, maybe I’ll see you around, Constable.” He gave Benoit a wink and a little salute. “You, too, Fur Face.”
Surprise sparked through Benoit as Diefenbaker barked his agreement.
“That would be acceptable, Detective … Ray.” He answered as the blond head disappeared into the car, only to reappear.
“Hey, Constable, you got plans for supper?”
“Err … No, Ray.”
“You got duds that don’t glow in the dark?”
“Of course.” Benoit looked down at his red serge, confused.
“What say I go back to the station, clock out, and meet you back here? We’ll go grab a bite. I can teach you Chicago speak, and you can teach me Canadian.” Ray grinned.
Fraser was shaken from his stupor by Diefenbaker’s bark.
“Yeah, Buddy. I’ll introduce you to Sandor. If you promise to be good, he’ll probably let you sneak in.”
Green and amber eyes looked beseechingly at Benoit.
“All right, but no begging from the other patrons.” Benoit told the wolf.
“Cool. I’ll be back in an hour.” Benton blinked at the speed at which Ray moved. “Pitter patter let’s get at ‘er, Benton.”
Benoit watched the black muscle car until it disappeared into traffic. What in the world made him to accept Kowalski’s invitation? He seldom developed friendships with Humans. His tender heart grieved too long and too hard when he lost them to age, disease, or in Kowalski’s case, the villains of Chicago. An undercover operative had the worst odds in the world of survival. Giving himself a Gallic shrug, he hailed a cab. If he wanted to be back at the Consulate in an hour, there would be no walking to Clan’s estate, as was his norm. With a yip of joy, Diefenbaker jumped in the cab.
“You are getting entirely too soft.” Benoit crumbled to his companion. “Next you will insist I buy you winter booties.”
Tongue lolling … Diefenbaker thought this was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.
~ March 1998 ~ New York City, New York ~
The slight bump of the helicopter touching down on the landing pad perched at the edge of the East River jolted its single passenger out of his thoughts. The ground crew scrambled to unload his luggage and a few boxes of cargo. A hand reached over the pilot’s shoulder holding a red envelope.
“Split this among everyone that stayed so I could get home tonight.”
“Thanks, Mr. Parks.”
“Thank you, Ted. See you next time.”
Silver buttons flashed in the streetlights, as Jeremiah Parks threw his bags in the cab he ordered when he landed at LaGuardia. The cabby never blinked as the man dressed like an extra from a pirate movie climbed in the back seat. Jeremiah was only a half mile from home, but he was too exhausted to feel guilty about using a cab.
Yanking the blackout curtains closed, he left everything where it dropped and climbed into his wonderfully decadent bed … Drifting into sleep while still pulling the covers up under his chin.
Drinking two mugs of warmed blood, he made notes on taste, texture, and the way he felt after he finished each individual mug of the cloned blood. Being a guinea pig for the Vampire Clans’ brain trust wasn’t always a good thing, but the cloned blood research and development seemed vastly improved. Chasing the blood with coffee woke him up enough to start a load of laundry before heading to the dry cleaners. He made a stop at the café to grab breakfast before heading downstairs to his nightclub and haven, Lost Children of the Blood.
Locking the door, he rested against it for a moment, savoring a few sips of coffee while it finally settled in his brain he was home. He’d only been away from New York for two weeks but being in Chicago always made time crawl until the city was in his rearview mirror.
Giving himself a mental kick to get moving, he headed toward his office, doing a visual scan of the club’s condition as he walked. He exchanged greetings and news with the cleaning crew before settling in his office.
Between his doctorate in psychology, his years of exposure to Lady Heather, her Mate, Evy, and his own empathic talent, he was cognizant of why he was on high alert when he was in Chicago, but he was 100 years old for crying out loud. It was about time he got over the mind fuck that had been his Turning. He thanked all the Gods every day his Sire hadn’t burdened him with a strong parent/Childe bond. He locked that dark roiling cloud at the bottom of his soul in a mental vault to keep her psychosis from polluting his own psyche.
Crushing his anxiety, he mentally prepared for another trip to the city of his birth, death, and rebirth to close the deal on a pile of bricks the realtor swore had once been a firehouse. If he hadn’t been living in Chicago when George Pullman had built the firehouse, he’d have called her a liar, but the historic building was solid, and with some work, it would be the newest Lost Children of the Blood.
Dealing with realtors, bankers, members of academia, plus a series of lectures he’d given at the University … Jeremiah Parks, PhD, was ready for the company of people that didn’t speak in psychobabble. He was positive a lot of his mental house cleaning could be accomplished by selling his childhood home. By cutting ties leftover from his Human life, it might move the memories of his Turning into the darkest recesses of his mind. Besides, the place was a mausoleum, even if it was premier lakefront property. Selling it would provide a slush fund for renovations but would deprive the Clan of an easily defensible safe house ... Something to consider when he wasn’t mentally and physically strung out. Now, if he could find an architect and contractor that wouldn’t drive him to dragging out his whips and chains to get them to see his vision for the firehouse.
~ September 1998: Chicago, Illinois ~
The building was silent. The revitalized antique wood gleamed in the dying light coming through the one-way bullet proof windows hidden behind stained glass panels. The indirect red and direct cool white lights gave the impression of secret assignations and clandestine lovers.
Two rows of red and black coffin couches lined each side of the room with Moroccan coffee tables of dark wood and exotic inlays providing a place to set drinks. Two bars on each side of the long room … Their dark wood reflecting red light from the small recessed lights under the edge of the padded bumper, broke up the rows of couches. A stage along the back wall would be used for the DJ or live bands. The reproduction antique ceiling fans assisted the ventilation system dissipating the heat from a room packed with living bodies. He called the interior design Moroccan Gothic. It appealed to Goth/Vampyre clientele without falling into Victoria depression.
The ground floor was split in half … The front half for young people who needed a place to feel like they belonged outside the trials of their mundane lives. If needed, there would always be someone with whom they could share their thoughts and sorrows. The décor in the back half of the club mirrored the front but was set up for adults also looking for a place to belong outside their mundane lives.
Six months of fits of temper, hours of his own blood, sweat and tears … He was finally ready to hire staff and prepare for a soft opening at Thanksgiving.,The grand opening set on the day youngsters were released for Christmas break. Jeremiah was not looking forward to conducting job interviews. Goths and Vampyres were at the top on his list for servers and bartenders because they understood the culture, but he might have to settle for mundanes that didn’t mind uniforms of corsets, lace, and accessories that had them looking like extras from a Victorian melodrama.
What he really wanted was a good general manager. He wanted out of Chicago. His intuition had been pinging him since he arrived, and every day it pinged a little louder. Jeremiah had reached the conclusion whatever was coming would be a milestone moment that would break the people involved or raise them up stronger.
He couldn’t run. It took a very special person to manage all the aspects of his clubs, and he wouldn’t abandon the club to someone who couldn’t handle his clients’ unique lifestyles. The tower that had once been used to hang fire hoses to dry had been expanded. It now contained playrooms for those wanting to use their evenings to take a walk on the wild side. Each of the five rooms had a toy trunk and small bathroom. When the rooms were in use, there would be a medically trained attendant. Jeremiah knew Lady Heather always had at least one nurse on staff at her houses ... Maybe he’d give her a call to make sure he’d covered all the angles.
Along with hiring, he needed to start the guest list for the soft opening and follow up with the restaurants within a mile of the club. Having a menu of finger foods without installing a kitchen could be an advantage. There would need to be guarantees that the club’s orders got priority.
The thoughts tumbling through his mind nearly sent him running to his newly renovated apartment, so he could lock the door and hide from … Everything. The upper floor of the firehouse had gone from firefighters’ barracks to a hedonist’s soundproof haven of comfort. It was his loyalty … His sense of duty to his ‘kids’, and his Vampire brethren that needed the haven his clubs provided for the unseen and the unheard, that helped steady his nerves.
Tomorrow, renowned photographer and Tallikut Clan’s Lead Hunter, Peter Parker, would be coming to photograph the club. The pictures would be used for publicity, and a website the Clan Archivist, Blair Sandburg, was building. They were advertising the nightclub’s opening in the Goth/Vampyre chatrooms and forums along with ads in the culture’s print publications.
A call to his Clan brother, Elwood Blues, caused the blues man to threaten a raid on his clubs to show youngsters real music. Elwood never met a person he couldn’t convert, but he promised to make some calls on Jeremiah’s behest.
But right now, he just stood and let himself feel a sense of satisfaction at the completion of the massive rebuild. If he were already moved in upstairs, he’d be home. Shrugging into his coat, he started the twenty-mile drive to his lakefront house. He had a stack of applications in his briefcase that would surely be enough to put him to sleep, but the closer he got to his historic home, the greater his sense of dread became.
Pulling into the garage, Jeremiah was glad his heart to longer beat. He would probably be passing out from the fear coursing through his body at the sight of the living room light he had not turned on when he left this morning. His Sig P938 was tucked in the small of his back ... He had a sword in the trunk, along with others scattered throughout the house, but at the moment, his only option was to go inside in order to assess the situation. He could easily subdue a burglar until the police arrived, but his intuition whispered, It’s time.
Entering through the kitchen, Jeremiah kept his briefcase in his left hand, freeing his right to reach for his weapon if the need arose. He didn’t try to hide his presence as he moved through the kitchen to the living room.
Sitting beside the fireplace like the lady of the manor was a woman he never wanted to see again. His Sire, Victoria Metcalf sat primly with two dark thuggish men standing behind her chair, and a wiry blond man, with grey/green eyes spitting fury, bound and gagged at her feet.
Using every talent at his disposal, Jeremiah continued over to a simple oak sideboard table where he put his briefcase, keeping his hands in sight.
“Victoria, this is an unexpected surprise.” Jeremiah kept his voice cool as he leaned against the sideboard, crossing his arms over his chest. “Who’s your Pet?”
Ever since finding out the identity of the woman who turned him without consent, he’d made a study of her personality through stories told by Javier, other Clan Hunters, and the tales from his Clan Leader, Benoit Franciscus. Benoit had told him about Victoria killing his Mate in the 16th century during his visit to The Farm to determine whether he wanted to swear loyalty to the Tallikut Clan, or one of the other North America Clans.
Jeremiah had not seen the woman since the night she Turned him, for which he thanked all the Gods every day. All he had to do was keep his head … Literally and figuratively until he discovered what she wanted. News must have reached whatever rock she lived under that Benoit was once again walking among mortals, so she was fishing for information with dynamite … Starting with the pissed off pretty boy lying on his antique rug.
“I know I was a perfectly dreadful to you.” Victoria tried to look coy and repentant. “When I returned to our room the day you disappeared, I thought my enemies had taken you so I ran. I have always searched for you in my travels.”
“I take it your enemies are not on your trail … For the moment.” He arched an eyebrow toward Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.
“Time is always a precious commodity for me. I can’t stay in one place very long, and I was hoping I could count on your support while I’m in Chicago.”
She made it sound like a request, but he could hear the demand behind her sweet phasing.
“Does this have to do with your Pet? Did you happen to borrow something without his Master or Mistress’ permission?”
“This pathetic Human has information I want. I merely need someplace to convince him to tell me what I want to know.”
“I know many things about many people. Perhaps I can be of assistance without getting blood on my antique Wilton carpet.” He offered, keeping his tone neutral.
Green eyes narrowed as though trying to discern Jeremiah’s game.
“Why?” The petite brunette snapped.
“My schedule is very full right now. I have several projects coming to fruition and have no need for the local police sniffing around my business. The quicker you receive your information, the quicker we can conclude our business and you can vacate my life. I especially don’t need Hunters sniffing around.”
Leaving his position at the edge of the room, he crouched near Victoria to light the fireplace. Jeremiah continued to act as though Victoria and her trussed up plaything were a small inconvenience. Victoria stepped over the blond to stop at Jeremiah’s side.
“I should have come to visit sooner. Who knew you’d become such an interesting man?” She ran a hand down Jeremiah’s arm flirtatiously.
Repressing his aversion to her touch, he allowed her to play her game. He wanted to get himself and the bound blond away from Victoria with the least amount of damage.
“Forgive my manners, can I offer you and your companions refreshment? I’m afraid my pantry is woefully under stocked. My schedule has simply not allowed me to keep ahead of things. There are several excellent choices nearby I can order something in for us.”
“In a bit.” She pressed against his side. “Show me some place I can put my toy.”
Jeremiah led the way as the thugs pulled the blond man to his feet. Their strange procession ended in a large bathroom he’d installed off the laundry room for when he was too dirty to trail through the house. Bully boys shoved the wiry man onto a metal chair before backing out of the room.
“I’ll leave you to your Pet.” Jeremiah started to leave Victoria with her captive.
“Jeremiah, stay. You said you deal in information.”
He gave a brief nod.
“I need to find a very old, dear friend of mine.” She turned back to the man tied in the chair.
“Before I must bleach the room to clean up the blood, who is this person?” Jeremiah asked.
“He’s really more than an old friend … You could say he’s an old flame.” She blushed and twittered girlishly.
Jeremiah wanted to roll his eyes at her overacting, and he looked behind her to the man in the chair who did roll his eyes.
“His name is Benoit Franciscus.” She dropped the name like she expected a reaction.
Not reacting to his Clan Leader’s given name, Jeremiah saw the blond shrug his shoulders.
“You’ve wasted your time and mine, Lady. Don’t know anybody by that name. Who is he? A Monk or something? You might want to try Holy Name Cathedral.” The blond snarked after she removed his gag.
“Who is your pretty Pet, Victoria?” Jeremiah shifted the Rogue’s attention as he watched her volatile temper ignite.
“A little Polish boy that has befriended Benoit.” She tapped a manicured nail on her chin. Detective Stanley Kowalski.” She planted the sharp toe of her shoe in his ribs.
“Ray, you psycho bitch. Stanley Raymond … Ray … Kowalski.” The blond growled as he tried to catch his breath.
Jeremiah admired the blond detective for having the brass balls to challenge said psycho bitch.
“You have my deepest sympathy, Detective Kowalski.” Jeremiah tried to divert Victoria again.
“Call me Ray. It looks like we’re goin’ to be gettin’ real cozy.”
He smirked at Victoria, which earned him a backhand. The Rogue did not pull her punch. Jeremiah’s neck ached in sympathy as the blond head snapped to the side. Ray licked the trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth before he sneered.
“I’ve taken harder hits from a 12-year-old.”
She started for the Human again when Jeremiah laid a gentle hand on her arm.
“He is Human.”
“I don’t care.”
“Others will care.”
He cautioned again against bringing the Hunters down on them without revealing their nature to Kowalski. Being a detective, the man was obviously intelligent.
“Don’t matter. I still don’t know no Bennett Francis.”
“Benoit Franciscus, you idiot. You do know him. You just know him by a different name … Constable Benton Fraser.” Victoria ground out from between gritted teeth.
“If I was Fraser, I wouldn’t have given you my real name either. He draws enough nutcases using his real name. Besides, I don’t know where he is. He was taking the wolf on a Boys Gone Wild weekend.” Kowalski gave Victoria a happy grin.
Shaking his head, Jeremiah admired Ray’s chutzpah and loyalty. Personally, he wouldn’t bait Victoria. Kowalski was right when he called her psycho. He needed to let the Clan Hunters know she was in town, so someone could get Benoit to a place far, far away. For someone as old as his Clan Leader, the man had no sense of self-preservation when it came to the beautiful Rogue. He mentally crossed his fingers Victoria would let him keep his appointment with Peter.
The sound of a palm meeting flesh drew Jeremiah out of his woolgathering. Apparently, Ray’s continued goading had finally set her off. Her voice was a screech as she yelled for Tweedle Dee to bring her toy bag. Once again, he moved to intervene.
“Victoria. You need to calm yourself. You know you do not make good choices when you’re angry.” Jeremiah modulated his voice to the one he used for teenagers in a high dudgeon.
“You’re my favorite Childe, for the moment, Jeremiah, but you’re becoming quite tiresome with all your mewling.” The Vampire flashed in her green eyes.
She spun back to Kowalski, the heavy ring on her forefinger laid opened his cheek. Praying she didn’t shoot him and take his head, Jeremiah stepped between them and caught her hands. He heard the click of guns being cocked as the Thug Brothers came back in the room.
“I’m trying to save your life. They’ll come for you, and probably me, too, if you kill him. This man … This Benoit will not look kindly on you if you harm his friend.” He kept his voice calm as he restrained her.
She relaxed in his hold, so Jeremiah released her hands. In his own way, he was pushing her as much as Kowalski. He didn’t relax when she stepped back. It was only Vampire reflexes that kept her from laying open his cheek the same way she had Ray’s. Tweedle Dum grabbed ahold of his long pony tail and restrained him against his chest. When Jeremiah tried to break the knuckle dragger’s grip, it became evident that she had Turned her enforcers. When Tweedle Dee stepped in front of Ray, Jeremiah knew he had to try again to make Victoria listen.
“Victoria, please, he’s Human.” He hissed knowing her enhanced hearing would catch his plea, but low enough to keep Kowalski from hearing. “Your gunsel could kill him with a single punch. Then you would learn nothing about Benoit.”
Green eyes narrowed as she tried to stare down her Childe, but Jeremiah refused to be submissive about Kowalski’s life.
“Fine.” She spat.
“Dale.” Victoria laid a restraining hand on the heavily muscled arm. “I believe questioning Detective Kowalski is going to require a lighter touch. Why don’t you contact Thomas and have him report on what he’s found?”
With a nod, Dale left the bathroom to make his call. Victoria ignored the bag Dale had retrieved and pulled a black leather case out of her coat pocket. From the case, she removed a fingernail file, but Jeremiah’s Vampire eyesight saw the keen double edge. He sent out a mental prayer to the Gods that protected law enforcement officers to look favorably on the blond detective as his Sire reached out to run her small dagger down his shirt front.
Ray Kowalski watched the four people in the room not liking the odds of him getting out of this situation with his hide intact. It seemed like the long-haired guy, Victoria had called Jeremiah, was on his side, but couldn’t do much as long as the crazy bitch’s lunkheads were in the house.
When Moose #1 stepped in front of him rubbing his knuckles, Ray tried to relax his body, hoping to mitigate some of the damage he was about to receive. He tried to see around the human mountain when he heard Jeremiah and the Bitch hissing at each other like two strange cats. When the moose did move out of the way, it was because Victoria had ordered him away. Next thing Ray saw was the finger nail file. He was about to make a crack about a manicure, but he noticed Jeremiah shaking his head. Victoria began running the file down the front of his shirt, cutting through the material like tissue paper … Crap. A very lethal fingernail file.
“Now, Detective Kowalski … Or as you said, Ray. After all, I’ll soon be licking your blood off my beautiful little toy … Now, Ray, why don’t you tell me about dear, sweet Benoit … Sorry, Benton. It’s been such a long time since we’ve seen each other. I feel the need to renew our acquaintance.”
The brunette tried to sound flirtatious, but it came out sounding like one of those crazy broads that marry death row inmates.
“It’s Detective Kowalski, bitch, and I already told you I don’t know where Fraser went, and I wouldn’t tell you if I did know. He wanted to detox the wolf off junk food. For all I know, he’s out lickin’ strange stuff in the Canadian wilderness.”
Fire ran from the base of his throat to his bellybutton as the fingernail file from Hell cut a furrow down his torso. Victoria ran her finger through his blood and licked it off like an all-day sucker. He could swear her goons were scenting the air like a couple hounds, but a new pain grabbed his attention as she drew another line down his chest … A few inches from the first.
“Try again, Detective. I didn’t care for your first answer.”
“You are one unhinged bitch, and when I get out of this, I’m kickin’ you in the head. Then I’m puttin’ you someplace where they have coats with the arms in the back, and throwin’ away the keys.” Ray growled.
“You underestimate Benoit’s love for me, and your stubbornness is delaying us being together as Fate meant us to be.”
A third line of fire joined the other two.
“Victoria! You cannot kill a police officer.” Jeremiah jerked free from his captor.
“Don’t be so dramatic, Jeremiah. We’ve barely begun to have fun.”
“Victoria, he’s telling the truth. It’s only due to the of pain that his heart rate changes when he says he doesn’t know.” He ignored Tweedle Dum trying to pull him away from the slim woman. “It’s the weekend. Doesn’t this Benoit person have to be at work on Monday?”
She tapped the bloody dagger against her lips as though thinking, and from her expression, Jeremiah hoped she listened to him. Eyes narrowed as Victoria studied her Childe.
“Fine. The Detective stays with you for the weekend. If he gets away or contacts Benoit, I will make you both pay very painfully.”
Jeremiah let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding.
“Pretty Ray may still be useful if Benoit proves to be stubborn. Dale will be spending the weekend to make sure you behave.”
“I have an appointment tomorrow I cannot break. It would cause questions you don’t need people asking.” Jeremiah informed her.
“Then you better be getting your new Pet cleaned up and keep Dale with you to ensure everyone’s good behavior.” Victoria announced as she turned using her Vampire strength to bury her slim dagger hilt deep into Kowalski’s shoulder.
Victoria and her thugs smirked as the cop screamed. They headed out the door while Jeremiah turned on the hot water, grabbed towels and threw them in Kowalski’s lap, then hurried to the butler’s pantry where he kept a first aid kit. While scrabbling for supplies, Jeremiah turned the dial up on his hearing. He wanted to know Victoria’s orders to Dale.
‘Why do I gotta stay with the cop?’ Jeremiah heard Dale ask. ‘I should be with you.’
‘Jeremiah doesn’t have what it takes to go against me, and if Benoit’s scruffy detective causes a problem, we’ll kill them. Benoit will be mine, and I don’t care how many bodies I have to step over to find him.’ Jeremiah waited to see if he could hear anything else. He started to relax when Victoria seemed to re-think her plans. ‘You’re my most trusted Childe. I need you to keep watch and stay with him for this supposed appointment. Let me know who he sees and calls.’
‘You got it, Boss. I’ll take you back to the hotel, then come back and sit on this guy.’
‘Thomas and Randy will take care of me. It’s much more important that you stay here and be my eyes and ears.’
Jeremiah wanted to gag as he listened to his Sire manipulating Dale. Instead he took his supplies back to the bathroom and began tending to Kowalski’s wounds.
“I really liked this shirt.” Kowalski lamented as Jeremiah finished cutting off the blue button down and black t-shirt.
He tucked a towel around the waist of his jeans. Blood was almost impossible to get out of denim, and he didn’t know when he’d be able to get clean clothes for the blond. Jeremiah could lend him shirts, but the cop’s wiry frame was slimmer than the Vampire’s. Jeremiah ignored the sluggish bleeding of the long cuts for the knife sticking in the muscular shoulder and the gashed cheek.
“I’m afraid, Detective, that there is no way to remove the knife without considerable pain.”
“Since it seems we’re going to be hanging out, you better call me Ray.” In case I don’t remember later … Thanks for keepin’ Psycho Barbie from doin’ too much damage.” He chuckled. Eyes grey with pain met eyes the color of the finest Spanish sherry filled with concern at having to cause him more pain. “You can’t hurt me any worse than some of the wildly bizarre ways Fraser tries to get me killed.”
Remembering the long ears sitting outside the house, Jeremiah dropped his voice.
“Victoria has left a man outside the house, so we must be circumspect in our conversations.”
“You think they bugged the house?”
“I would not be surprised. Victoria will go to any lengths to bring Benoit to heel.”
“You know, you got a real old-fashioned way of talking.”
Jeremiah placed a towel around the knife wound while they talked to distract Ray from his ministrations.
“She always this unhinged, or is Fraser a special case? What’s with calling him Benoit?”
As Ray asked his last question, Jeremiah pulled the knife free.
“SON OF A BITCH! Warn a guy next time.” The blond growled.
“Victoria has always believed herself above we mere mortals, you will need to ask Benoit for his story. It is not my place to speculate.”
Wishing he could lick the shoulder wound to facilitate its healing, but not wanting to explain to the snarky detective why he was licking him, especially after his comment about Benoit licking things. Jeremiah gathered spittle on his fingers and placed it in the wound. It may not help, but then again it might.
“Will there be anyone concerned about your disappearance from your home?”
After he finished bandaging the shoulder, Jeremiah moved to the three cuts on Ray’s chest after checking his eye had not been damaged by Victoria’s backhand.
“Naw. I ain’t due back to the station until Monday. Why Benton took Dief into the wilderness.”
Hissing from the antiseptic running into his cuts, Ray threw his head back as he closed his eyes against the sting. Jeremiah took advantage of the closed eyes to add his saliva to the cuts on his cheek and chest. He watched as the shallowest parts of the cuts healed to a thin pink line. Ray’s returning attention didn’t allow for any more, so he had to settle for antibiotic salve and a lot of butterfly bandages. Jeremiah handed him a couple painkillers and a glass of water while he cleaned up the bathroom. Thankfully most of the blood had been soaked up by Ray’s shirts.
Throwing anything blood stained in the trash, and sealing the bag against the smell, Jeremiah led Ray upstairs. They paused on the landing to look out on the street. Half a block away sat Dale in a silver sedan. He must have moved to the edge of his Vampire hearing to not draw attention. The house didn’t have many neighbors, so it was doubtful anyone would report a suspicious car.
“Wow, you must be loaded. You got a better place than my Gold Coast ex.” Ray commented.
“Belonged to my parents.” Jeremiah placed a hand on the slim back.
Nudging Ray to keep moving, Jeremiah guided him to his bedroom, and pushed him down on the blanket chest at the end of his bed.
“You’re not going to dress me up like something from the cover of one of those trashy bodice rippers, are you?” Ray grinned.
“I own several Goth nightclubs … It behooves me to dress the part, but I do own a few sets of clothes for when I need to blend in with the ‘Normals’.” Jeremiah snarked back as he threw a blue t-shirt and black button down at the blond.
“Goth uh? I like leather, eyeliner, and head kicker boots with the best of ‘em.” Ray cracked as he gingerly slipped the t-shirt over his injured cheek and shoulder. “Just never got into the whole lacy handkerchief wavin' thing.”
Jeremiah chuckled as he helped Ray with the button-down shirt. Once the shirts were settled to suit the blond, Jeremiah led the police officer back to the kitchen.
“Not sure what’s in the pantry. I haven’t been home much to enjoy the fruits of my housekeeper’s labor.” He stuck his head in the refrigerator. “I would call my style more pirate than Scarlet Pimpernel.” He set several dishes next to the stove and handed Ray a beer. One beer wouldn't hurt him with the ibuprofen he taken. If the wounds didn't look like they were healing, Jeremiah would take him to the hospital where the Clan’s Doctor, John Carter, had his practice.
“Know a lot of pirates and English lords, do ya?” Ray toasted him with his beer bottle.
“You’d be surprised.” Jeremiah muttered as he turned on the oven. “I’ll set you up in the guest room next to mine. I’ll check your wounds and put on fresh bandages after you shower in the morning.”
“I guess that’s the best I can do as long as the knuckle dragger is watching.” Ray lamented.
Voice low, Jeremiah laid a hand on Ray’s good shoulder.
“I’ll do the best I can to protect you from Victoria.”
“No offense, but how are you going to help me without gettin’ yourself killed?” Ray sounded skeptical.
“Tomorrow, I’m going to dress you up like a Goth Ken doll, so you can be in the photoshoot for my new club, and we’re going to sic someone on Victoria that will cause her to leave Chicago so fast it’ll even blow back your hair.” Jeremiah answered as the timer on the oven told them dinner was ready.
After dinner, Ray pleaded fatigue, so Jeremiah settled him in the guest room with sleep pants and a loose-fitting t-shirt. Retiring to his own room, he pulled out his phone and sent a quick text to Peter.
Knowing a call was imminent, he turned on the shower hoping Victoria’s guard dog wouldn’t overhear his conversation.
‘Is your text some kind of joke?’ Peter demanded.
“Peter, good to hear from you. I assume you’re calling to confirm our appointment tomorrow to take the publicity stills for club?”
‘What the …?! I take it you can’t talk?’
“That’s right. Mother came to visit, and it’s making my schedule tight. So, just confirming two o’clock, sharp. Also, there’ll be a slight change in our layout plans. I’ve got a friend I think will be perfect for some of the shots. Has a sharp, wiry, bad boy vibe going. A little eyeliner, leather pants, a few spikes and chains will have the ladies and more than a few men coming to the club to find my blond Polish prince.”
‘Okay. Watchdog, Human in danger, you’ll talk to me tomorrow at the club. Mother … Shit … In the meantime, I’ll call Malone and Ness … Maybe Esposito. Are you okay?’
“Fine. I’ll see you tomorrow. I may be a bit rushed if my brothers stop by. You know how family can be?”
‘Shit. She’s Turned her enforcers.’
“I appreciate you calling, Peter. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
‘Stay strong, Jeremy.’
Now, all that’s left to do is find a pair of leather pants that fit Kowalski’s tight ass.
After a night startling awake at every sound, Jeremiah was up early the next morning. Anticipating Victoria appearing like a nightmare made sleeping an exercise in futility. Apparently, his house guest was not having the same problem. Jeremiah had checked on Kowalski several times during the night. Each time the blond was sleeping soundly, though that was more likely due to pain killers and blood loss than psychological fortitude.
Vampire eyesight negated the need for lights, so he paused at the bottom of the stairs to check if Dale was still keeping watch. The silver sedan had moved closer to the house, but Jeremiah could see the enforcer had fallen asleep.
‘I guess they don’t make gunsels like they used to.’ Jeremiah thought as he started the coffeemaker before warming blood in the microwave. He made a journal entry after downing the cloned blood. Better to get his breakfast out of the way before Kowalski made an appearance. He washed his mug, refilled it with coffee and stepped out on the patio.
Indian Summer was his favorite time of the year. The oppressive heat of Summer gave way to cool evenings and mornings, and bright temperate days. Most of the milestones in his life occurred during Indian Summer. The most important one thus far had been meeting Javier Esposito. The older Vampire saved Jeremiah’s fledgling ass from losing his head to a Rogue behind one of New York’s underground clubs a few years after he’d been Turned. Javier had taken him in … Taught him what it meant to be a Vampire and their laws. Jeremiah soon considered him family.
~ September 1900 ~ New York City, New York ~
It had been a month since Javier Esposito found him trying to fight off a Rogue in one of the city’s back alleys. After taking the head of said Rogue, Javier hauled him back to his hotel and demanded his story. It took him most of that month before he trusted Javier was not like the One that Turned him, or like Rogue he had attempted to distract from the street urchin the Rogue was about to have for dinner. As soon as he agreed, Esposito packed their bags and trundled them onto a train heading into the wilds of Montana … A place he called The Farm. There he met Benoit Franciscus, Clan Leader of the Tallikut Clan. Benoit asked him about his Turning and listened as he told his story of a beautiful green-eyed brunette who made him feel like the center of her world, and how she said she wanted nothing more than to become a part of his life. They had retired to her hotel where she had seduced him with a passion that drove him into the arms of oblivion. He woke the next morning to an empty bed, with a ravenous hunger that could not be appeased with food and feeling like his world had ended. Before he could return to his home, the woman had returned and tried to convince him the only way to survive was to stay by her side. When the opportunity finally presented itself, he escaped.
Benoit’s empathy with his story prompted the Clan Leader to share own painful history with a beautiful green-eyed brunette named Victoria that had killed his Mate before he could be Claimed. Bonding over the chaos beautiful brunettes spread through their lives, he had sworn loyalty to Benoit and the Tallikut Clan. As the year drew to a close, his Vampire education, and swordsmanship skills had vastly improved, so he allowed Javier to convince him to be his traveling companion until he decided where he wanted to settle.
~ September 1903 ~ Chicago, Illinois ~
They returned to the city long enough for him to arrange his affairs. Hoping loyalty was stronger than religious upbringing, he’d sat down with Aileen Barkley, who’d run his household since his parents’ death from influenza during the epidemic of 1891. He told her about being a Vampire, and gave her an overview of their Community, and that as his Chosen One she and her family would always be protected by him and the Clans.
Aileen didn’t run screaming for the nearest priest after his explanation, so he gave her a broad picture of his future plans for his familial home. When she offered to continue maintaining his Chicago household, they introduced her to Robert and Carolyn Fraser, the Tallikut Clan Caretakers. Together they worked out the best way to utilize the lakefront home should the Clan need a sanctuary.
Arriving in New York City, he’d shortened his name to Jeremy. Then making good use of his inheritance, he bought the Dickerson mansion, and the three adjoining townhouses on East 34th Street. The top three floors of the brownstone Queen Anne mansion, and observatory became his new home.
He’d barely unpacked his suitcase when the eyes and ears for the city’s robber barons began calling to take the measure of the man who had bought the home of one of their beloved society matrons. He allowed them to see Jeremiah Parks, Doctor of Psychology, alumni of John Hopkins University, and newly arrived from Chicago. Javier helped in recommending staff for the mansion … Some of them Chosen Ones, and Jeremiah began to settle in his new home.
He questioned Javier about other Vampires in the city, but his friend was strangely reticent. Instead of answering his questions, Esposito flagged down a cab and directed the driver to a house built practically under the Brooklyn Bridge where Jeremiah was introduced to Sylum Clan member, and Elder Vampire, Lenny Briscoe.
Lenny was very helpful in directing him to craftsmen who gave him honest work for honest money. The Elder guided the younger away from the graft and corruption that drained many aspiring businessmen’s bank account.
The basement of the mansion was soon converted into a gathering space for those interested in the shadow side of life. Continuing his studies into the darker side of the psyche, Jeremiah decided to provide a haven for those who wished to revel in those things which seldom saw the light of day.
Those who fancied themselves characters from the pages of gothic fiction flocked to his club. Admittance into the public area was carefully monitored, with a sheltered entrance for those whose appearance at his club would be considered beyond the pale. Many famous and infamous names sat in the shadowed alcoves to speak with their compatriots in hushed tones on topics never discussed in polite society.
It didn’t take long until he was expanding the private rooms into the basements of his other three townhouses. Thank goodness, the houses used steam heat instead of coal furnaces.
The clientele that most interested him were the libertines and grifters who preyed on the young and bored society children seeking the thrill of flaunting the Victorian and Edwardian sensibilities of their elders. Men and women with the charisma to charm people out of their money, and in some cases … Their lives. He wanted to prevent others from experiencing what he had with Victoria, so kept a watchful eye on those he felt most vulnerable to their machinations.
The Brownstone soon became known as a sanctuary for the Vampire Community, and those out of step with Edwardian society. He’d often joked he should put revolving doors on his guest rooms. His unique clientele provided an enthusiastic source of fresh blood, but he also provided a haven for many a wounded soul. Javier and Sylum Hunter, Eric Brooks teased the younger Vampire about his ‘kids’ … Those lost souls to whom he provided a job, a meal, or simply a willing ear for their troubles.
After a time, the Brownstone became known as Lost Children of the Blood. The irony of it made him smile so he kept the name. Finally settled and content with the direction of his life, he’d relaxed until the morning he stepped into his kitchen to find Lenny Briscoe and two beautiful ladies drinking tea at his kitchen table.
After introductions were made, Lenny pled business across town leaving him alone with two of the most influential Elders of their kind.
“Sit, Childe.” The sable haired woman indicated the chair next to her with a graceful gesture. “We have several matters we need to discuss.”
By the time they had breakfast, Lady Heather and her mate, Evelyn Callahan, had convinced him to stop being a spectator to the shadow side of life. That he should take a step into the life so that he could stand in the shoes of those who would come to him for help ... To truly embrace his own ‘shadow self’.
~ September 1905 ~ New York City, New York ~
Jeremiah let his mind drift. Lady Heather ran her fingers through his hair, tugging gently on his curls as he leaned against her leg. He continued to drift on the endorphin high leftover from his session … Enjoying her nails massaging his scalp.
Tonight, was the culmination of his training. He’d never experienced anything like the blissed-out expression on Heather’s face as she sat at his feet while Evy directed him on the ways of a good Dominant. The women apparently knew him better than he knew himself to be able to bring him to this point in his understanding of ‘self’. Who needed Jung and Freud when you had Shepsit Hemet Amun-Ra, former priestess of Ra and the Egyptian Princess, Nefertiri.
Evy waxed poetic over discovering such a perfect Switch. He’d blushed to the roots of his hair, and she’d teased him about being one of the quiet ones that would need watching. The way Heather raised him from his knees, wrapped him in a soft blanket, and led him to the suite’s bathroom for a warm bath scented with oils was perfect. The smells and water grounded him back into the real world. When they returned to the living room, a Chosen One from the hotel staff was waiting along with their dinner.
By the time he left the hotel, Heather and Evy had extracted a promise he’d be available should they have need of his services. Heather also gave him the contact information for her twin brother, Hetshepsu, known to courts everywhere as Harvey Specter. Harvey was in the process of establishing a new law practice in the city. Her laugh was musical as she swore America didn’t stand a chance. She was right.
Jeremiah was pulled out of his memories by the sounds of Ray communing with his coffee maker. Taking an unneeded breath, he closed his eyes and let the breath out slow. Settled back in the present, Jeremiah grabbed the first aid kit from where he’d left it the night before. It was time to get in the headspace he needed to deal with Victoria.
“Strip.” He told Ray as he sailed through the kitchen.
It was apparent Kowalski had a minimum daily requirement of caffeine to kick that sharp mind into gear.
“Off with the shirt. I need to check your wounds.”
Jeremiah was interested to see if the small amount of saliva he worked into Ray’s wounds had helped with their healing.
“This is twice you’ve gotten me out of my clothes without so much as a kiss.” Ray continued to inhale his coffee. “But I’m easy. Just keep feeding me this fantastic coffee.” He set down his cup long enough to slip off his t-shirt.
Because he liked Ray’s spirit, Jeremiah lifted the stubbled chin and covered his mouth in a soft, coaxing kiss. When he felt the blond respond, he reached up and pulled the bandage off his chest.
“Dammit! Talk about a buzz kill. You some kind of Saxon or something?”
“That’s sadist … And I can be for the right person.”
He purred as he pulled back to look at the long red lines running down Ray’s torso. Removing the bandage from the cop’s shoulder and cheek, he was amazed that the small amount of his saliva had made a difference.
“That’s what I said.” Ray pouted holding out his coffee cup. “Wait … What?”
Jeremiah smirked as he refilled Ray’s cup. He was about to ask if he wanted cream and sugar when a long-fingered hand dove into the jar of Smarties most members of the Tallikut Clan kept around for their Clan Leader … Counting the Smarties in his hand, Ray tossed them in his coffee.
“Our watchdog still out front?” He asked as Jeremiah examined his wounds.
“Yes. I suspect he will shadow us until Victoria calls him off.”
He finished bandaging the healing wounds then turned his attention to breakfast.
“How’d you hook up with the crazy lady? She seems to think she’s got you right there.” He pointed at the palm of his hand.
“It’s nothing sinister. Typical boy meets girl in a bar … Takes girl back to her hotel … After a few days realizes girl is a whole bubble off plumb. Girl is content being a few degrees past level … Boy sneaks out of town covering his tracks hoping to never see girl again. Victoria has a unique way of looking at life. What she believes is her reality, and she doesn’t care who she has to kill to make that altered reality come to life.”
“So … What? You’re just riding the crazy train?”
“Long enough to figure a way off. We may get a little battered and bruised but stay alive. We need to keep our heads in the game, and don’t buy into Victoria’s brand of crazy.”
“Just another undercover gig.” Ray chuckled as Jeremiah set an omelet in front of him.
“About that … I think you’ll be perfect in the photo shoot for the club. I can see you doing the angry, punk, grunge thing with the eyeliner, mousse, and jewelry. I can probably outfit you unless you have something at home that fits the bill.” Jeremiah sat down across from the blond. “Maybe Bowser will let us stop by your place on the way to the club.”
“You want me to model?” Ray practically squeaked.
“Oh yes. The hair, eyes, wiry build, tight ass … Anyone who sees the pictures will be hot, hard and wet without actually meeting you in person.” Jeremiah teased.
Blushing furiously, Ray concentrated on his plate. “I’ve got some stuff.”
“I’ll talk to Rover and assure him we’re merely getting you some essentials. He’ll probably insist on accompanying us to your apartment. I’m going to ask that you be a good little captive, and not try to get your gun or call your superiors because there is a much longer game in play. Right now, we’re bit players whose job it is to keep the game moving while the heavy hitters get in place. Can you do that for me, Ray? If not for me … Then for Benton. I’ll protect you as best I can and explain everything when this is over.”
“I’m a cop. I supposed to protect civilians … Not the other way around.” The blond complained.
“This goes beyond something as simple as good guys and bad guys. It goes into shades of gray that most people never confront in any lifetime.”
“I’ll go along … For now, but I’ll kick someone in the head if it goes sideways.”
“This is Victoria and Benton we’re talking about, of course it will go sideways.” Jeremiah lamented.
“Don’t tell me he’s almost gotten you killed in wildly bizarre ways, too.”
“No, but I’ve heard stories.”
“Be thankful it wasn’t first-hand experience. There were nights I crawled in bed beat to hell writing out a transfer to another district.” He drank down the last of his coffee when he saw Jeremiah glance at the clock. “Show time?”
“Yeah. Let me grab my bags, and we’ll take this show on the road.”
Dale followed them into Ray’s apartment, holding a gun on Jeremiah to guarantee Kowalski’s good behavior. Victoria apparently hadn’t gotten any better at being a Sire in the time since his Turning. It didn’t seem that Dale knew a gun wouldn’t kill him, and Jeremiah had no intention of enlightening him.
“Victoria have a lot of you boy toys hanging around?” Jeremiah asked as they watched Ray dig through his closet.
“Enough to get the job done.” Dale growled. “I’m her number one.”
“She did tell you Benoit is very experienced and well trained?”
“Won’t matter when we tranq his ass.”
“Smart.” Jeremiah commented. “Your idea?” He ducked his head and bared his neck to the enforcer.
“Yeah. Boss Lady really liked it. She likes being in control.” His grin was lecherous.
Before Jeremiah could do more than roll his eyes, Ray straightened out of the closet with a duffel bag. To keep Dale calm, he made sure the gunsel had directions to the club.
In the car, Ray watched Jeremiah like he was a particularly fascinating puzzle. He glanced out of the corner of his eye at the blond.
“You’re real good at that.”
“What?” He asked innocently.
“Readin' people … Makin' ‘em see what you want them to see.”
“It’s my super power.” His grin was flirty. “I imagine it’s yours as well when you don’t let your temper rule your head.”
“I do all right.” His cheeks tinged pink at the compliment.
“You ever want to stop being an under paid civil servant, call me or leave a message at the club. I’m always looking for good people that know how to quietly diffuse a situation.”
“If that don’t work … Kick ‘em in the head.” Ray laughed as they pulled into the club’s parking lot.
“As you say.” Jeremiah winked.
They were pulling the bags out of the trunk when Victoria’s enforcer finally pulled in the parking lot.
Jeremiah was having a whispered conversation with a short, brown-haired guy holding a camera bag when Ray came out of the loft’s guest room. Both men stopped and stared as he walked toward them.
“What? I smear my lipstick?” Ray teased.
“I’d smear your lipstick … Even if you aren’t wearing any.” Jeremiah crooned.
Grey-green eyes blinked in surprise at the reaction of the man he’d only met the night before.
“You’re right, Jeremy, he’s perfect.” Camera guy chirped up.
“Stop that!” He pointed at Jeremiah. “Perfect … Perfect for what?” Ray thought the two men were looking at him like a prime cut of steak and they were starving.
“The publicity photos. Lost Children of the Blood has a unique, and at times … Exclusive clientele who depend on our discretion when they come to the club to exercise their unique desires.”
“You’re not just a Goth club?” The cop asked.
“We also provide private rooms for client use. The front half of the club is for our underage customers … The back half for the adults. We work hard to insure the two don’t mix, and we always have someone available who can lend a neutral ear for a troubled soul.”
“Jeremy’s known for his ‘kids’.” The shorter man added. He stuck out his hand. “While he’s admiring the scenery … I’m Peter Parker, photographer, photo journalist, friend.”
“I know you. I’ve seen your pictures on the front page of the paper. Helped point the cops in the right direction a time or two.” The blond gushed.
“That’s me. Always sticking my camera where it doesn’t belong.” He grinned at the two men. “Ready?”
Jeremiah drew Ray to a stop before they went down the stairs to the club.
“We think Victoria will make her move today. Some friends have made sure Benton’s safe. They put the word out he’s heard about your abduction and will be returning to the city to ‘rescue’ you.”
“You set a trap with me as bait?”
“Essentially. I’ll be with you throughout. Some friends from the local FBI office will be helping. They’ve been after Victoria a very long time. She always lets her muscle take the fall, and she always has an escape plan that usually involves bleeding and dying.”
“Stick with you and keep my head down.” Ray confirmed.
“Let’s go have some fun before the last act of our little drama starts.” Jeremiah’s smile held a hint of sadness as they entered the elevator.
Ray stood close, not understanding wanting to offer comfort for that small bit of himself Jeremiah had shown him.
It didn’t take long before Peter had them posing all over the club. On the bar, behind the bar, standing on stage with a microphone. Ray saw Jeremiah and Peter exchange a look that had Jeremiah leading them up the tower. Pulling a ring of keys from his coat pocket, He unlocked a door that was only a few steps from the elevator.
When the door opened, Ray felt his entire body flush as his brain was titillated by the items in the room. If you were a Dominant or submissive, it was the perfect playroom. A door that blended with the original brick wall led to a bathroom, and a storage trunk with a padded top the size of a single bed sat against the far wall with a vast array of tools for most any scenario.
Before he got too far inside his own head, Peter started chattering about how he wanted his models to pose. His senses were jarred when Jeremiah began stripping off his coat.
“What the …?”
Before he got the words out, Peter was pulling him to the metal chair in the center of the room. Shoving him onto the chair, he turned back to Jeremiah, who had pulled off his shirt and was shaking out his long curling hair from its ponytail. Ray swallowed hard when Jeremiah turned around and he saw the hammered gold collar with a gold ankh lying in the hollow of his throat.
“I can’t believe you brought that with you.” Peter’s face lit up.
“Never leave home without it.”
Jeremiah shrugged off his comment and kneeled at Ray’s feet. Peter started snapping pictures quietly waiting to see what would happen once the two men settled. It only took a minute for Ray to slide long fingers into the russet waves, and rest on the kneeling man's head. He gently pulled Jeremiah’s head back until he was staring into the Vampire’s eyes.
“That’s it.” Peter called after several shots.
Jeremiah rose gracefully and got dressed … Slipping the collar back into its velvet bag and tucking it in an inner pocket of his galleon coat. They had stepped off the elevator when the back door opened admitting a broad muscled, leather clad black man wearing wraparound sunglasses.
“Eric!” Jeremiah moved forward to embrace his friend from New York. “Is Javie with you?”
“He’s taking care of Benoit and Dief. He sent me to help here in the city.” He looked past Jeremiah to Kowalski. “Who’s the pretty boy? Yours?”
“He’s Benoit’s police officer friend. Eric Brooks … Detective Ray Kowalski, undercover specialist. Ray, this is our friend, Eric Brooks, known affectionately as Blade.”
“Blade, huh?” The men shook hands as they took each other’s measure.
“What can you do when you look this good.” Blade teased.
“You sure Fraser’s safe?” Ray asked.
“As he can be, but you know Benoit.” He grinned widely.
“He’s a Freak.” Ray grinned back.
“That he is.” Peter joined the bantering.
A noise from the front of the bar caused Eric to slip into the shadows filling the club. Peter hung back while Jeremiah and Ray moved toward the sound. Catching the scent of his Sire’s perfume, Jeremiah moved ahead of Kowalski.
“Jeremiah, my boy, where is my Human?”
“He’s here, Victoria. I told you I would watch over him. I’m sure Dale has kept you apprised of every little thing.”
“Yes. Dale is a good boy. He does as he’s told.” Dale straightened under her praise. “Has he told you where I can find Benoit? I find my time in the city must be cut short.”
“He truly doesn’t know anything. I’ve been informed Benoit often keeps his own counsel.” Jeremiah’s tone was low and soothing. “My contacts did not locate him in the city.”
Growing impatient with the posturing, Ray shouldered past Jeremiah.
“Look, Sister … I ain’t his keeper. He told me he’d be home in time for work, and that’s all I know.”
Several things happened all at the same time. Ray waved his hands to emphasize his point. Victoria saw Peter then Dale noticed Eric moving to block their escape out the front door.
“You’ve betrayed me! You joined his stupid Clan!” Victoria screeched taking her hands out of her pockets.
“I needed their protection. You left me alone without teaching me.” Jeremiah begged … Trying to keep her attention. “We don’t even have a proper Bond.”
“Why would I want to be tied to such a pathetic creature?” She snarled. Her eyes narrowed at Kowalski. “He cleaned up nicely. I was going to keep him for my new Pet as a reward, but since he can’t give me Benoit … He can give me his life!”
She tried to catch Ray’s arm as she aimed a haymaker swing at his head. Short, slim blades glinted from between her fingers. Jeremiah saw the flash of metal as he stepped toward Victoria and caught Kowalski’s arm. He yanked Ray behind him, feeling the blades slice through his face and neck.
“NOOoo!” Ray screamed as he yanked off his jacket and t-shirt. Throwing himself to his knees beside Jeremiah he used his shirt to try to stem the bleeding, but one of blades had nicked Jeremiah’s carotid artery. Gunshots rang out as Victoria ran for the door when she finished her swing. Eric had turned Dale to dust while Peter sprinted after Victoria.
“Take care of him!” Peter yelled at Eric as he slammed out the door.
Blade dropped to his knees and pulled the blood-soaked t-shirt away from the wounds. The slashes on Jeremiah’s face had started to close, but the wound to his throat continued to pulse blood onto the floor.
“Damn. A little longer blade you’d be joining Dale.” Eric murmured.
“Ray doesn’t know.” Jeremiah’s voice was almost too soft for the Hunter to hear.
“Well he’s going to know unless you got an extra Chosen One hanging around.” He growled.
“Chosen for what?” Ray asked. “Why ain’t you calling an ambulance? This is so bad. I told you cops protect civilians.”
“I’ll live, Ray. I still have my head. You would have been killed.”
Stormy grey eyes caught dark as they pled with Eric. Sighing, Eric cradled Jeremiah against his chest.
“You need him. You’re still losing blood, and we’ve got no one at the hospitals in this part of the city.” He argued.
“If you two don’t tell me what the hell you’re talking about I’m going to start kickin’ heads until I get some answers. Now, why aren’t we callin’ the EMT’s?”
“Because the EMT’s around here won’t have what Jeremy needs.” Eric watched Ray’s face as he pulled the t-shirt away from his face.
“What the …” Kowalski sat back on his heels. He watched as the neck wound finally stopped bleeding and the facial slashes continued to heal. “What are you” He sounded breathless.
“Vampires.” Blade answered.
“Yeah, in fact he’s the head honcho in this area.”
“That explains a lot.” Ray’s tone was thoughtful as he watched Jeremiah’s eyes flutter closed. “Always wondered how he could get beat to hell and come back the next day looking like he stepped out of ‘Mounties Monthly’. What’s he need. He protected me from that unhinged bitch.”
“Blood.” Eric looked at the cop. “This is going to change some things now that you know about us.”
“Less explaining and more about the blood thing.” Ray prodded.
“I’m going to prop Jeremy up, and you’re going to offer up your neck for a donation. He’ll only take a pint or so. He’s old enough to not lose control of his Vampire.” Eric explained as he got Jeremiah more upright.
“Come on, Jeremy. I need you wake up and bite Ray.”
“He’s a Chosen One now, so shut up and Feed. After that we’ll get you upstairs to clean up and get some take-out since I know this place isn’t stocked, yet.”
“No … Just no. You want Esposito kickin’ my ass ‘cause you won’t listen?”
“It’s such a nice ass.”
“What you don’t like Polish food.” Ray teased to hide his nervousness.
“I prefer it when the Polish food is a friend.” Jeremiah ran his fingers down Ray’s face.
“Forged in fire.” Ray leaned down and exposed his neck.
Jeremiah ran his lips over the stubborn jaw and down the slim throat causing Ray to shiver as his nerves fired with anticipation. Cool lips and tongue continued over tender skin until he felt the Bite. Affection, warmth with a hint of lust seemed to flow through his body as his blood flowed out. Finally, he felt Jeremiah’s tongue again before he leaned back against Blade’s chest. Ray’s butt hit the wood floor with a thump, but a hand grabbed his to keep him from tumbling over.
Ray looked up to see the slashes healed to pink scars. He ran his fingers over the scars.
“Thanks to you, they’ll be gone by morning.” Eric said as he helped both men to their feet. “Let’s get you both upstairs. I’ll make a food run while Jeremiah tells you about Chosen Ones and Vampires.”
“This is going to make my hair hurt, isn’t it?” Ray asked.
“Probably.” Jeremiah frowned. “I liked this outfit.”
“Like you don’t have as many pirate outfits as Sparrow. Besides, the blood will have turned to ash by the time you strip down.” Blade teased.
“Good thing. I’d hate to have to explain blood stains on my refinished floors.” They helped Ray up the stairs. “Check with Peter, Malone and Ness while you’re out.”
“Victoria may come back.” Blade cautioned.
“I have weapons in the residence.” Eric set Ray on the couch. “I’ll take care of him. Where did Javier take Benoit?” Jeremiah asked as cleared his pockets then stripped off his ash covered clothes. He went to the kitchen to fix Ray a glass of water.
“He actually flew to The Farm for the weekend. Javier will keep him there until we’re sure it’s safe.” He headed back to the door. “Lock up when I leave.”
“Eric, hold up.” Jeremiah tossed him a set of keys. “Lock up downstairs.” He followed Blade to lock the apartment door behind him then turned to Ray. “Let’s get cleaned up.”
“What!? … What happened to all the blood.” Ray shook out his t-shirt after handing the empty glass back to Jeremiah. Ash flew through air causing him to sneeze.
“Vampires are technically dead, so hair and body fluids turn to ash when it leaves our body. Use the room you used to change. Everything you need is in the bathroom. We’ll kick back until Eric gets here with the food.”
After they were showered and changed, Jeremiah pulled a bottle of Ultimat Polish vodka out of the freezer … And where had that come from … He wondered as he sat down and considered his newest Chosen One. There was something … But there was just too much going through his head to sort it all out. Fortified with a shot of the fiery liquor, he explained the Vampire facts of life to Ray Kowalski.
Jeremiah looked out over the underage section of Lost Children of The Blood. He loved his clubs. He felt called to provide a place of refuge for those who wouldn’t or couldn’t walk in lock step with the mainstream. The haven he provided for Clan members and Chosen Ones was just as important as his work in the community. He enjoyed the sense of family the Clan gave him, but knew his place was among the shadows, gleaning information from the unseen, unheard, and forgotten.
He was drawn out of his mental meanderings when a familiar scent tickled his nose. Smiling at the man coming toward him, eyes highlighted by kohl and mascara, ears, fingers, wrists shimmered with silver, and his hair was more experimental than ever.
“Ray …” Jeremiah breathed out … Tension drained from his shoulders. It would be nice to have this feeling always.
Since their little tête-à-tête with Victoria they’d become … Close. Jeremiah enjoyed the show that was Kowalski … Polish temper full speed ahead, he’d lit into Benton when Javier had brought the Clan Leader and Diefenbaker back from The Farm. Fraser had derailed the rant by repeating the detective’s name until Ray wound down.
Benoit glared at Jeremiah, Eric, and Javier as they laughed at their antics. Ray had been gearing up for round two when Eliot Ness and his Mate, James Malone walked in the club with a follow-up on Victoria and her Rogues. Ray had been slack jawed at meeting the legendary FBI agents, and Benoit was stunned that Victoria was Turning her minions.
She had escaped, and when questioned, the Rogue gunsels had known very little of her plans. They became the latest addition to the list of deaths laid at Victoria’s feet.
“Man, you looked wiped.” The blond sat down across from the Vampire.
“Interviews. I’ve got everyone I need except a General Manager. I want to head back to New York soon, and I haven’t found anyone I trust to handle the private side of the club, or the at-risk kids.”
“I hear you. Need a little pick me up?” Ray asked but wouldn’t look at him.
“I’m good. The Clans’ brainiacs are working on developing cloned blood. I volunteered to be a guinea pig. It’s not as good as the real thing, but it works as a stop gap. It would solve a lot of supply problems for the more isolated Vampires.”
“Tryin’ to make us Chosen Ones absolute?” Ray teased.
Jeremiah blinked at the question.
“You mean obsolete?”
“What I said.”
“Chosen Ones will never be obsolete. Many families have been in the Clans since the beginning.”
“From what Benton’s told me the beginning was really the beginning.”
“Not that I haven’t missed seeing you … Why are you here in the middle of the day, shouldn’t you and Benton be out making the criminals of Chicago lives miserable?”
“I know I ain’t been around much … Chicago’s underbelly decided to walk in the sun for a couple of weeks, and Fraser’s been in the wind.”
The hurt in Ray’s voice and body language set off alarm bells. He’d never know Benoit to turn his back on someone he considered a friend the caliber of Ray Kowalski. He pulled out his cell phone and called Bob Fraser. He asked the Caretaker about Benoit then sat back and listened. By the time he hung up, Ray was beginning to twitch with impatience.
"Victoria's unexpected appearance and our experience has caused long buried memories to resurface. One of those is the memory of his Mate's death shortly after they met. Benton’s not handling it well.”
"There was a time when he thought they were Mates until his true Mate appeared. She killed him."
"Ain't that a kick in the head. How can an uptight person be the Mate to someone with a hole in their bag of marbles?"
"You mean upright?"
"That too ..." Ray frowned.
“Some Mates choose not to Bond because one cannot tolerate the morality of the other, or because they’re the wrong … Use the worn-out list of prejudices to fill in the blank."
"Sucks to be them. What about you?"
Jeremiah wasn't surprised how quickly Ray's mind went from point A to point Z in less than 60 seconds.
"We never know when, where, or how long it will take to find our Mate or Mates. Some have waited centuries." Jeremiah began straightening files hoping Ray would change the subject. “You never did tell me why you’re not working.”
“Hoping you were serious about that job offer.” It was Ray's turn to look away.
“I was serious, but what about your police career?”
“I quit. They wanted me to go undercover to replace some cop that’s going into the mob for the FBI.”
“Undercover is your specialty, Ray.”
“I know. My specialty … Bein’ anyone but me, ‘specially since my divorce, but I did a lot of thinkin’ after we had our Wild Weekend. Peter did those pictures … He gave me copies … When I looked at them it was like Detective Stanley Raymond Kowalski was an undercover identity, and the guy in Peter’s pictures was the real Ray Kowalski.”
Jeremiah reached across the table to cover Ray’s hands. Ray nervously tangled their fingers together.
“When I went back to the station, I felt like I was outside lookin’ in, but I had Fraser to talk to because you guys are always remaking yourselves. Then Fraser was gone, but there were those pictures. I couldn’t go undercover because I was already undercover. So, I quit. Technically, I’m using my leave …”
“So, you thought you would come be my General Manager?”
“I love the night life ...” Ray sang.
“Disco? A nightmarish time for the Goth and Vampyre culture.” He chuckled as he studied the blond for a time. “If you’re sure you want to do this, grab a cup of coffee and I’ll throw you in the deep in the swamp.”
Working with Jeremy, Ray found he was a natural at juggling all the aspects of Lost Children of the Blood. By the time he finalized his separation from police department, Ray Kowalski was finally at home in his own skin.
A few days before the club’s soft opening, a bundle of fur and red serge blew through the front door left unlocked for last minute deliveries and ran right into two of the club’s security detail.
“Sorry, we’re not open, but that’s a cool costume if you're coming to the opening.”
“Yes, I saw your sign. I’m looking for a friend of mine who is supposed to be working here.”
“We’re not open.”
“Yes, I realize you’re not open, but I’d like to see my friend.”
“Nobody here ever mentioned a friend that dresses like they’re a Mountie.”
“I assure you, I am a member of the RCMP currently stationed at the Canadian Consulate.”
Ray could see Fraser was getting frustrated, so he stepped out of the shadowed doorway between the two clubs.
“It’s okay, Cole. I know the big freak. Hey Fur Face.” Diefenbaker leaped and took Ray to the floor covering his face with I missed you licks. “Missed you, too, but I need to get off the floor.”
Even though the blood had turned to ash, and there was no stain, Ray was acutely aware he was on the spot where he thought Jeremy was going to die. He stood, brushing the wolf hair off his black clothes, Ray leaned against the bar.
“What's up, Fraser?”
His tone was cool. Jeremy had become very important to Ray, and their conversations had helped the former cop deal with his experience with Victoria. Though he still woke from the nightmare of Jeremy falling at his feet with his throat slashed open. That was the one thing he hadn't shared with his friend.
As much as he liked Eric, Peter, and the other Clan members and Chosen Ones he'd met, Ray wanted to talk with Fraser. The Clan Leader had been MIA since THAT weekend, and he was a combination of pissed and hurt. He took a breath and waited. He really did listen to the advice Jeremy gave out like Halloween candy.
“I went by the 18th precinct and they informed me you no longer worked there. I went to your apartment several times, but you were never home. Did something happen, Ray?”
Ray’s temper flashed like phosphorous. Straightening, he stalked over to Fraser and hit him with a right hook that knocked the Vampire on his ass.
“Did something happen!? Are you unhinged? I get kidnapped, tortured, and almost killed by your psychotic ex. I could have used at least a phone call from my best friend ... The one I don't have to scissor out the Vamp stuff. That’s not buddies, Benoit.”
"Censor not scissor."
"I pour my heart out and you correct my grammar? You really do have a hole in your bag of marbles." Ray huffed.
Benton stared, taken aback at the growl in Ray’s voice. Oh my. He was brought out his thoughts by a head butt from Diefenbaker.
“It depends on who you speak with as to my mental stability ... I apologize, Ray. I got caught up in my … Well, I’m afraid time got away from me. They didn’t tell me you had been injured …” Rubbing his thumb over his eyebrow to hide his discomfort, Benoit tried another track. “Surely you didn’t quit the police force because of that?”
A nip from Diefenbaker let him know how tactless he was being.
“I’m sorry, that was insensitive …”
“I quit being a cop because after my weekend in Girlfriend Hell. I discovered my whole fucking life was one big undercover gig. So, I quit. Dug my freak flag out of the closet and asked Jeremy for a job. Now I’m his General Manager. Jeremy’s helped me … A lot. How come you waited ‘til today to track me down?”
“I waited until Diefenbaker was released from quarantine. He made me promise not to visit without him. During our time together, he’s become aware I am not very eloquent when expressing my emotions."
“Why? Don't they have phones where you were?”
“Yes, but my bodyguards were quite adamant in not allowing me to do anything that would allow Victoria to find my location." You’re the first person I've contacted other than the Clan when I arrived back in Chicago.”
“Okay, I'm glad Psycho Barbie didn't find you, but I'm already down a pint so I'm off the donate list for a while. You know, being a Chosen One, it’s kinda cool ... Sorta like that Melting Minds thing.”
Benoit was wide-eyed at Ray’s declaration. What was Melting Minds? He needed to talk to Jeremiah. He should be able to give him a more detailed account of their time with Victoria. Peter hadn't reported anyone being injured, or that Ray Kowalski was now a Chosen One.
It made him wonder what other little details slipped under his radar.
His meeting with the managers of the bands he'd booked for the next month finally ended. Before he had time to release his frustration at prissy prima donas, his phone signaled a text message. The message caused him to laugh out loud.
Jeremiah, Benoit here, call me and explain what the hell is Melting Minds.
Jeremiah Parks felt the tension drain from his body as he relaxed into the luxurious seat of his Clan’s private jet. After spending most of the year in Chicago, he was finally going home to New York.
Bob and Carolyn Fraser had gotten a Chosen One to take over management of the lakefront house, and he'd had his personal things moved to the apartment over the club.
Ray Kowalski was successfully managing the Chicago club, and getting his footing with Vampire Benoit as well as Benton the Mountie.
His newest Chosen One had become a good friend. The blond had a quick, intelligent mind, and a unique perspective on the world. He would keep the Clan members in Chicago on their toes.
~ March 2004 ~ New York City, New York ~
Jeremiah loosened his ponytail and scrubbed his fingers through his hair in an attempt to relax the tension in his scalp. The last of his Wednesday afternoon young men’s group had finally run out of steam leaving the psychologist alone for the first time all day. Convincing his tired body to move, he left the door open for the attendant to clean the room before the next client.
Blackout drapes drawn, clothes and boots landed in a heap by the bed as he burrowed under the covers, asleep before the blankets settled. He felt like he’d just gone to sleep when his phone rattled out Javier’s ringtone.
“What!? Is it too much to ask that you let a person get some sleep?” He growled.
“Didn’t you have group?” Esposito asked.
“Yes, and I was planning on sleeping until time to go to the club. Did you actually want something, or do you enjoy interrupting the first sleep I’ve had since Saturday?”
“Why aren’t you sleeping? We arrested Dimitri Sânge, Saturday.”
“How wonderful for you. After you took that poser, George Randall away to jail, what did you do for the followers innocent of their Master’s crimes?” Jeremiah was already upset over his sleep being interrupted so the longer he talked the angrier he became. “Did you bring someone along on the raid to talk to them … Give them anything, or did you just cut them loose to fall prey to the next con artist to come down the pike.” He growled before he ended the call.
Javier stared at his phone for a minute before slipping it back in his pocket. Refilling his coffee cup, he thought about the questions Jeremiah had asked before he hung up. Randall was the latest in a long list of grifters that preyed on the lost and disenfranchised. His Clan brother had been instrumental in helping Javier get Randall aka Sânge, and others like him off the streets of the city.
Javier hadn’t given much thought to what became of the grifter’s victims. He knew there were Victims’ Advocates, and he knew that department's resources were stretched thin. There were always new cases hitting his desk and going to court to wrap up old ones. There just weren’t enough hours in the day to follow-up officially, but Esposito knew that due to his own experiences, Jeremiah was always fiercely protective of those who existed on the fringes of the mainstream.
Settling back at his desk, Javier went back to work on the case he’d called Jeremiah to discuss. With the younger Vampire’s name constantly coming back to the forefront of his thoughts, the Tallikut Hunter left the precinct. Finding a quiet spot in a nearby park, he dialed his fellow Hunter.
“It’s your nickel.”
“Have you seen Jeremiah lately?”
“Oh my God, you woke him up. It’s a wonder you still have your head.”
“The beheading was figurative. I didn’t know. It was his usual time to be awake.”
“Oh, Man, he cleans up after the NYPD …”
“You’re enjoying this way too much, Blade.” Javier growled.
“Have I told you we’ve been sparring?”
“I think I hate you. What can you tell me? I have a huge favor to ask, and if he says yes, I’m going to be in his debt until the next century.”
“Randall was planning his retirement. The Sânge ID was his long game. He went as far as to set up his loft up as a church. Made it all nice and legal even. Jeremy’s Anton ID was in the process of paying the guy off. He’d just bought the loft and was declared the new head of the church. If you’d waited a few more days he’d have had the church members settled, but you had to rush in before it was set.”
“Not my call. I chewed Jack’s ear for jumping the gun, but he was getting pressured for something to change the headlines from the mayor’s latest PR nightmare.”
“You keep pushin’ him, and I’m callin’ Kowalski.” Eric threatened.
“Dammit, Eric, that’s just nasty.”
“Man takes his role as a Chosen One real serious … Knows how to hide bodies, if there’s one to hide … Harvey likes him.”
Javier groaned. If Jeremiah’s general manager from Chicago teamed up with Harvey Specter, he might as well plan a move back to Spain and save himself a lot of pain.
“I get it. I’ve been using him like a rented a mule. Jeremiah’s just too good at what he does. I can hear McCoy whining from here.”
“If Ray calls Harvey, Harvey will feel inclined to call his twin.”
“Ah hell to the no! I do not need Lady Heather paying me a visit. That woman terrifies me.”
“Smart man. Why don’t you go by the club around midnight?”
“Think I will. I could do with a ‘real’ drink.”
Javier headed back to the precinct and wondered how bad the gauntlet was going to be to get to Jeremiah this evening. The man could probably take over the world with his network of people. Maybe he’d take a vacation after this case or talk to McCoy about moving back the DA’s office as an investigator for a while. With the success Jeremiah brought to his cases, Javier conveniently forgot he had an actual life … His own businesses along with his counseling clients.
Damn, he owed his Clan brother … A lot.
Yon Rhee, Jeremiah’s general manager gave Javier a scathing once over when the Hunter slipped into Lost Children of the Blood. The young Korean woman reminded Esposito of Lady Blossom. Petite, beautiful, and dangerous to underestimate. She jerked her thumb in the direction of Jeremiah’s office.
Jeremiah arranged his businesses, so his general managers were the public face of the popular nightclubs. It allowed him to move through the underground clubs without being recognized. It was also the reason he was such an asset for Javier. Jeremiah was a chameleon … Always molding himself as the situation dictated. Now he’d fallen into ranks of those who didn’t see beyond the surface masks. Javier made a silent vow this would be the last time he asked for the younger Vampire’s help. Esposito had gotten lost in his own alias as a Human cop … It was time to get back to Javier Esposito, Vampire and Hunter. The irony struck him hard. Vampires were the best undercover operatives. Their very existence demanded they change their identities constantly. Taking an unnecessary, but fortifying breath, he went to beard an exhausted Vampire in his den.
Putting down the monthly reports from the clubs in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., Jeremiah rubbed tired eyes. The figures were one of the few bright spots in the past months. His whole being was exhausted, and he was seriously giving thought to leaving the city for the rest of the year. That the year was only three months old was telling. He looked up at the sound of his office door opening. Few people got into his private haven, and when he saw Javier, he wanted to run for one of his escape routes.
“Esposito.” His tone was neutral.
Ouch. Javier thought. Nothing I don’t deserve. “Jeremy.” Looking at the exhausted man, Javier cringed inwardly. “I need your help.”
Jeremiah pinched the bridge of his nose to stave off the headache he felt building.
“I’ve helped you four times. I’m tired, Javi.”
“I know, Bro, and I wasn’t going to ask, but this guy is smart, and we … I think he’s going to escalate.”
“What makes you draw those conclusions?” Jeremiah asked picking up the file Javier laid on his desk.
“Jonathan Parrish aka Virgil, Human. He’s fanatical about being authentic in the Vampyre scene … Has a strong aversion to ‘posers’. Believes he’s an elevated being. That’s all we’ve been able to determine trying to get an undercover close to him.”
“I take it he likes to prattle psychobabble and expound on his blindness to the sex of his special snowflakes to impress the children?”
“Yeah. The one UC said the guy made her brain hurt.”
That did draw a tired chuckle.
“I’ve never seen this guy in the club. Where’s he trolling?”
“Club Stigmata and The Holy Mother.”
“Damn. This guy’s going to take time. If he’s obsessed with authenticity, he’s going to go through all the levels. You act too trusting too fast, it’ll blow the game.” He rubbed his gritty eyes. He wanted to say no, but he didn’t want this guy going after his ‘kids’. “Javier …”
“Jeremy …” Javier spoke at the same time. He walked around the desked and squatted down so he could look up into the handsome face. “I’ve been an ass. I kept coming to you because it was easy without giving a thought to everything else you’ve got going on. I took advantage of the fact you won’t let these people operate where they can get your ‘kids’.” He laid a hand on the leather clad knee. “I’m sorry, Jeremy. I’m taking some time after this case. Maybe go to The Farm … Maybe Spain. Probably go back to work for McCoy when I get back. Get my perspective back. I forgot myself for a while.”
“We’re just as susceptible as everyone else. Odd as it is, it seems like the Rogue population is staying under their respective rocks like they’re waiting.”
Javier shivered as he watched Jeremiah turn inward. Several Vampires across the Clans were sensitives, and it was never wise to ignore their warnings.
“You got anything?”
“Nothing solid, just a general sense of … Like being at the racetrack. The horses are in the saddling paddock being readied for their jockeys. They’re getting ready to head to the starting gate.”
“I’ll talk to Blade.” Javier straightened to move back to his chair on the other side of the desk.
“Already did.” Jeremiah continued reading about Jonathan Parrish.
Javier knew Jeremiah didn’t mean anything by what he said, but the Hunter felt like he’d let down his Clan and fellow Hunter. His thoughts were drawn back to the office by Jeremiah pulling his watch out of his vest pocket.
“Actually, he should be here about any time. He’s become quite the nag lately.” He sighed.
Before he could form an answer, the topic of their conversation stalked through the door.
“Javier! Just the man I wanted to see.” Blade flashed a smile that had way too many teeth.
“Good thing I came by.” It sounded lame, even to him.
Eric eyed the file Jeremiah was reading. He gave his fellow Hunter a glare over the top of his dark glasses.
“What you got there, Little Brother?”
“A new case Javier brought by this evening.”
“Thought you were going to visit your other clubs?” He growled.
“If I’m reading this right, Parrish is moving deeper into his psychopathy. If he’s not killing yet, he’ll start as soon as he finds a disciple/fall guy.”
Blade turned his dark glare back to Esposito.
“So, you’re not leaving town?”
“This is the last case.” Javier jumped in the middle. “I’m putting in for a transfer after this.”
Jeremiah tried to hand him his file. Javier waved it away.
“Give me a couple days to make contact and feel this guy out. I’ll give you a call Monday.”
Knowing a dismissal when he heard one, Javier grabbed Blade’s arm.
“Buy me a drink. I’m just an underpaid civil servant.”
Understanding Javier didn’t want to talk in front of Jeremiah, Eric let Esposito lead him toward the office door.
“Not very subtle, Javier.” Jeremiah yelled after them.
Snickering the two Hunters headed for the bar.
When Jeremiah finished his reports, he opened his copy of the casefile on Jonathan Parrish. Since his Anton LeBron persona was already in place, he needed to call Tim McGee to make sure his ID in the police database was air tight. He trusted Esposito implicitly, but he did not trust the NYPD's IT department. As soon as this was over, he was having Tim delete Anton, and make sure only Jeremy Parks appeared in databases having to do with his businesses. Good thing about being a Vampire … No DNA and hard to acquire fingerprints to profile. Now all he had to do was decide how to best snag Virgil, but first he needed to inform Lady Heather The Holy Mother might become involved in Esposito’s investigation.
Checking the time, he hit #2 on his speed dial.
“Jeremiah, how lovely to hear from you.”
“Heather. I know we’re supposed to have a conference call next week, but something has come up. I wanted to bring you into the loop in case The Holy Mother makes the news cycle.”
“Let me get Evy and you can tell us about your target, and how you plan to put yourself in his sights.”
Jeremiah laid out Javier’s case and the profile he’d started on Parrish from the little information Esposito provided. After they exhausted their suppositions on the case, the women gently poked and prodded until Jeremiah had told them everything that had happened during the past two years.
“You’ve been very busy. Have you taken time for yourself?” Evy asked.
“That was my plan until Javier brought me this case. I estimate three to six months to hook Parrish … Hopefully before he begins transforming people through death. This is my last case. I’m going to do my yearly visit of the clubs then take some time.” He assured them.
“Do come visit us in Las Vegas, Childe.”
Jeremiah knew when a suggestion was not a suggestion. A few days being pampered at Caesar’s, and a session with Lady Heather would do wonders for his psyche.
“I will forward my dates when I make my reservations at Caesar’s.”
“That would be acceptable. We will contact Delilah to warn her people to be vigilant at the club. Be careful with yourself in your encounters with this man.” Both women admonished.
“I will, My Ladies.”
After ending the call, Jeremiah called Yon to office and showed her a picture of Jonathan Parrish. He explained what he anticipated happening with case, and that he would be doing his annual club visits. He also warned her to have the employees watchful if the man should come into the club.
“We’ll take good care of the club and the ‘kids’. Jerome and Vivienne will take care of the Coven. You should visit Ray while you’re traveling.”
Jeremiah watched his friend and manager from across the desk.
“I always visit Ray when I do my check of the Chicago club.”
“He’s good for you … You should take personal time, too.”
He gave her a soft smile.
“When did you become such a Yenta?”
“Just looking out for the boss. A happy boss makes a happy work place.”
Standing, she gave him a wink as she returned to the club. He shook his head in exasperation. He was over 100 years old, so he wasn’t sure why the women in his life felt the need to act like hens with one chick.
Two nights later, dressed in black and silver brocade, Jeremiah glided down the stairs to the basement of Club Stigmata. He pulled the owner, Domina, to the side and warned her to be on the alert for Parrish. She studied the photo for a minute.
“He was here. Called himself Virgil. Tries to come off aloof and bored while spouting Jungian psychobabble, or as I call it … Bullshit. The newbies and posers were eating it up with a spoon. Nothing caught his fancy, so he moved on.” She tapped a long red nail against her lip as she thought. “I heard him ask Andrew about other underground clubs. Andrew gave him The Holy Mother, and your place.”
“Thanks, Domina. You and your people be careful.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“I may call you later for a workout.” She whispered in his ear.
“Make it soon. I’ll be out of town for a while after this.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Watch yourself out there, Anton.” She scrapped her long nails flirtatiously down his chest, and pinching his ass, before merging into the crowd.
Not finding Virgil at Club Stigmata, he grabbed a cab to The Holy Mother. He acknowledged Delilah when he stopped by the bar and ordered his usual when he was working … Club soda with lime. Scanning the crowd, he saw a black-haired man head and shoulders above the crowd. The file said Parrish was 6’4”, so now that he had his target … Let the games begin.
Jeremiah sidled up to a pretty young man listening to Virgil prattle on about freeing the darkness of the soul … Blah, blah, woof, woof. Slipping into Hunting mode, he soon had the blond coaxed into the shadows where he indulged in a fresh meal. Leaving a satiated and blissed out Human sitting at a table, Jeremiah returned to the main part of the club. He moved through the crowd in such a way, so he was always in the periphery of Virgil’s vision. After two hours of sipping the nectar offered him, Jeremiah had Parrish’s scent, and more information for his profile of the man. He’d been right in thinking Virgil was hunting for a disciple/patsy to fulfill his plans.
He looked back over his shoulder and made eye contact with Parrish. Holding his gaze for a full minute, Jeremiah turned away using his Vampire speed to disappear. For the next three nights, he repeated his teasing … Moving in closer each night until he’d moved to the edge of Virgil’s crowd of sycophants, keeping his back to the man. Just about ready to head for home, Jeremiah caught Parrish’s scent as the taller man leaned down to speak breathily into his ear.
“Don’t tell me you’re leaving? The night just got interesting.”
“It’s all in your point of view … I suppose.” Jeremiah tilted his head, causing his long hair to fall away from his throat. “I didn’t find anyone unoccupied that caught my fancy.”
“Then I’m glad I had the good sense to stop wasting my time on that group of wannabees. I’ve been watching you as you searched for that elusive something we’re told we deserve. My soul urged me to come to you from the first time I saw you. I am Virgil.”
“Your soul?” Jeremiah fought the urge to roll his eyes.
“Yes. I believe you, too, felt the call. It’s why you have returned every evening, always leaving alone and unsatisfied.” Parrish purred.
“Was your yearning so that you also left the club alone?” Jeremiah put a little flirt in his smooth baritone.
“Not alone, but unsatisfied because they were poor substitutes for the one I truly wanted.”
Javier so owed him for the months of this Victorian angst he was going to have to tolerate. He was drawn out of his thoughts when Parrish wrapped a long arm around his waist as his mouth worked along his neck.
“Come with me. Let us give in to what our souls desire so that we may become true soul mates.”
Oh please, shoot me now. Jeremiah thought as he tolerated lips on his neck and leaned back against the taller man. Always sensitive to people’s auras, and empathetic to their emotions, the budding psychopath’s damaged aural field made him want to find the nearest shower.
“I have just the place. I’ve recently had a small windfall that I have yet to truly utilize.” Jeremiah crooned.
“By all means let us explore its possibilities.” Parrish took a step back. “Lead on, my precious one.”
“Anton … Anton LeBron.”
“But so precious to me.”
Jeremiah’s growl was sub-vocal as they left the club and hailed a cab. Giving his Carmine Street address to the cabbie, Jeremiah forced himself to be submissive to Parrish’s advances. Once inside the sanctuary of George Randall’s faux church, Parrish’s eyes went wide. George may have been a con man, but he certainly knew how to set the stage for his marks.
“This is so perfect.” Virgil sounded awestruck. “This place is exactly as it appeared in my dreams. You answered my spirit’s call with everything we need to realize my … our dreams.”
“What dream is that?” Jeremiah asked.
“A sanctuary … A place for those whose thoughts synchronize with ours. A haven for those shunned by society.” He spread his arms to encompass the room.
“Sounds perfect.” Jeremiah encouraged. “Is there room for two in this dream?” He made himself sound needy.
“Always. In the short time you’ve been at my side, you’ve provided such solace to my turbulent soul.”
“That pleases me.” Jeremiah ran his hand down Parrish’s chest. “Come. Let us consummate this perfect partnership.”
He took his hand and led Parrish through a hidden door to the private quarters. Kissing and teasing their way to the bedroom, Jeremiah pushed the bigger man back onto the king size bed. Stripping the man of his clothes, he pulled out his Vampire bag of tricks to convince Parrish they were having a night of passion like he’d never experienced. There was no way he was giving this man use of his body if he could avoid it.
Jeremiah cleaned off Parrish’s belly before stripping off his clothes and curling up against Parrish’s back. He dozed lightly until Parrish began to stir just before daylight. He pulled Jeremiah tight to his chest.
“This night has provided my best rest for a very long time. I told you, you were my soul’s solace, Anton.”
“The beginning of a beautiful partnership.” Jeremiah sighed as he let himself relax.
~ Late Summer 2004 ~
For the past six months, Jeremiah followed Parrish’s lead on building their dream sanctuary. He had Vivienne come into the Coven as one of the true believers so there would be someone to take care of the other members when things with Parrish came to an end. The itch under his skin, and his observations told him the scene was set for Virgil to take the next step.
Jeremiah gave up trying to sleep, and after getting dressed went down to his office to catch up on the paperwork he’d let linger for the past week. The stack disappeared in congruence with his lack of sleep caused by his Vampire being hyper alert. Checking the time, he saw it was finely a decent time to call people that slept through the night.
“Do you know what time it is?”
“You should be thanking me for not calling you when I got up.”
“Ever think you might be taking the whole creature of the night thing a little too far?”
“Not my idea to not be sleeping. You need to put surveillance on Parrish.”
“Why? Your spidey sense tingling.”
“You making fun of my intuition?” A shard of ice entered his voice.
“Never. Only someone who hasn’t known you as long as I have would do that.”
“Sorry … Little sleep deprived, but my all my senses are screaming. Everything is in place, and Parrish has been getting restless.”
“I’ll get on it as soon as I get to the precinct. Hopefully this will be over soon.”
“I’m more than ready. Keep me posted.”
Javier sent up a quick prayer of protection for Jeremiah. What he thought would be a simple case of information gathering had turned into a nightmare for his Clan brother. The exhaustion he heard and saw every time he got updates from Jeremiah increased his guilt over being the one to put him on the case. Blade was so angry with him that the Sylum Hunter had taken to shadowing Jeremiah when he was meeting with Parrish.
Clipping his gun on his belt, Javier started his mental checklist to present to his Captain. He was glad the end of this case was in sight.
Twenty-four hours later, his Captain called him into his office to inform him all his files on Jonathan Parrish were to be turned over to the Major Case Squad.
Jeremiah observed Parrish as he watched the beautiful young couple who’d just come through the door of The Holy Mother. Parrish had insisted they come to the club, saying he was tired of the other clubs. He’d had Parrish to almost every club in the city to keep him away from his and Heather’s clubs, and the look Delilah had given him told him she had Esposito and Blade on speed dial. Watching Virgil’s pupils dilate at the sight of the brown-haired woman, he moved into her space as soon as her boyfriend headed for the bar.
“I could make you my next meal.” Jeremiah crooned in her ear.
“What would I taste like?”
“At first bite, a dark chocolate truffle.”
“And if you take more than one bite?” Her voice was breathless.
“Like a lamb … Fileted of its skin … Bleating, but quivering wanting more.”
Jeremiah knew he had her hooked when ‘Kyle, the boyfriend,’ appeared with the promised drinks, and it took her a moment or three to acknowledge him. Parrish moved in to console the boy as Jeremiah led the girl away to one of the semi-private candlelit alcoves Heather had carved out of the basement. By the time he released her, he’d indulged in a bit of an appetizer … Just enough to convince her she’d shared blood and sex with her dark prince of the night.
He had as much romance in his soul as the next person … Maybe a little more considering his lifestyle, but after six months of Parrish’s drivel, he was ready to go hang out where no one knew Jeremy Parks or Anton LeBron.
Locking the private entrance to the club behind his visitor, Jeremiah started his daytime inspection of the club. After slipping away from his dark princess, he’d met with one of his ‘kids’ who was a doctor at a nearby clinic. She took blood from certain people that Jeremiah sent to the clinic. Ashley thought he used the blood for his Coven, but he sent most of it to be used in the ongoing development of cloned blood.
Detective John Munch would drop by the club, pick up the blood, and deliver it to Dr. Gregory House, one of the Clans’ research brain trust. It was one of the strangest friendships Jeremiah had ever witnessed. The pessimistic, paranoid detective and the cynical, irascible doctor. If he ever got the time, he was sure they were a character study waiting to happen. They would make for a fascinating paper.
Leaving a note for Yon on her desk, his phone sang out Javier’s ringtone.
‘Something’s happened. Major Case is taking my files on Parrish.’
‘I don’t know. I’m hoping Eames.’
“Isn’t she partnered with Goren?”
“Lovely. As if I haven’t played enough mental chess this year.”
“If I’m going to have company, I have a lot to do before my appointments.”
Not wanting to deal with Javier’s guilt over how many ways this case had gone up, down, and sideways, he grabbed a cab to the loft sanctuary. He had a Coven meeting to conduct and couldn’t afford to be distracted.
He was just closing the Coven’s weekly ritual when Detectives Alexandra Eames and Robert Goren sauntered through the door. He winked at Alex but continued the ritual.
“Anton LeBron?” Goren waved his badge like a knight wielding his shield.
“Enter. Be welcome. We have nothing to hide here.” He made a formal bow with a sweep of his arm.
“We’d like a word.” Eames grinned from behind her partner.
“You may speak freely here. I will only speak in front of them.” Jeremiah indicated the Coven.
“Performance art?” Goren cocked his head like a fascinated spaniel.
Jeremiah exchanged a look with Vivienne.
“Give us the room.”
The petite brunette led the Coven members out of the sanctuary exchanging another look with Jeremiah. He gave her a slight nod, letting her know it was okay to answer truthfully any questions the members had about the police presence. Sarah Price’s gruesome death had shaken many in the community.
“Sarah Price?” Eames handed Jeremiah a picture.
“Ah yes, the headlines that brought you here.” He made his voice condescending.
“Among other things. Her boyfriend said he saw you with her prior to her death.”
“Ah well … Many offer themselves to the leader of a Coven.” He smirked at Eames.
While Goren poked around in the corners of the sanctuary, Eames gave him a look that said there wasn’t anything she could do … The case had to play out.
‘I’ll do what I can, but …’ She whispered below the Human range of hearing. “We’re not interested in your conquests … Let’s stay focused on the one that was murdered.”
Goren paused at the altar and swirled the contents of the ritual cup.
Acting as though the big detective’s actions were of no consequence, Jeremiah turned back to Eames. Before she could ask another question, her partner interrupted again.
“Mind if I check the … Uh …?” He indicated the refrigerator.
“By all means.”
“Welcome to the darkest part of the dark side, Detective.” Jeremiah moved into Goren’s personal space giving him a warm, sensual look.
“You think you’re a Vampire? You drink human blood?” He frowned as though he was trying to fit Jeremiah’s relaxed attitude with what he’d found in the sanctuary’s refrigerator.
They called a CSI unit to the sanctuary to collect the blood from the refrigerator, and anything else they considered evidence. Goren and Eames escorted Jeremiah to an interrogation room.
In an attempt at intimidation, Goren read a litany of charges from Anton LeBron’s file. He poked at the extremes his LeBron cover legend supposedly had done to solidify his Vampire persona. Just for fun, Jeremiah gave Goren a hiss and flashed his fangs. Eames gave him a scorching look that told him to behave.
“You can only hold me another six hours without charging me.” He glared at Alex.
He knew she knew his lawyer. She wouldn’t want Harvey Specter spreading his type of mayhem through the Major Case Squad.
“We can hold you a lot longer if the blood in your fridge turns out to be the dead girl’s. Explain the eyewitness account of seeing you with dead girl.” She glared back.
“I didn’t say I didn’t have her … I said I didn’t kill her.”
He went step by step through his evening with Sarah Price while moving through the small confines of the room like he was an actor in a play.
“We drank blood … Had sex … Good clean fun.” Jeremiah leaned over the table into Alex’s space. “You should try it some time.” He flirted with his sister Vampire.
“Blood as foreplay?” Goren sounded incredulous.
For a man with his extreme curiosity and genius mind, he seemed a bit of an innocent.
“Blood arouses, but I don’t kill for it.” He lectured. “If you’re interested.” He gave Alex a black look.
The woman knew her work partner was also her Mate but was dragging her feet Claiming him. It was a point of contention between them. She informed Jeremiah she was waiting until Bobby got the chaos in his personal life settled.
Trying to get things back on track before her partner got a whiff of the unspoken conversation she was having with Jeremiah, she attacked Anton’s finances.
Throwing enough sexual energy into his aura to appear the Libertine, Jeremiah slouched in his chair and expounded on love in the vein with rich, bored spouses of the city’s elite giving them the name of a Chosen One. He had worked out a story with her ahead of time and gave her Virgil’s contact information to pass on to the detectives when they came to visit.
Michelle Linden and her husband were getting counseling with Jeremiah to negotiate their diverse sexual needs. Their marriage was strong, but Michelle wanted Darren to occasionally step over into the erotic intimacy of the dark side. Darren was the epitome of a corporate banker, but he loved his wife enough to get a little bent to keep her happy.
Darren watched how Jeremiah aroused his wife as the Vampire delicately sipped her blood … Leaving behind small scratches on her sensitive throat … Jeremiah left the apartment when the pheromones from Darren’s sexual arousal hit a high note.
The interview was interrupted by a knock on the door. Goren stepped out leaving Eames alone with Jeremiah. She hissed at him about bringing a Chosen One to light as an alibi. Jeremiah hissed back that when he wasn’t playing decoy for the NYPD, he had a counseling practice, and if she didn’t get Goren pointed toward Virgil, he was bringing the whole house of cards down and letting Harvey loose. Their argument was interrupted when a small blustery man and young woman covered in grief, burst through the door followed by Goren and Captain Deakins. Deakins, one of their Chosen Ones, shrugged helplessly at the two Vampires as the little man yelled he was Sarah’s father, and cursing Jeremiah for taking her from him.
Jeremiah felt and understood the Prices’ pain, but in this room … At this time, he was Anton LeBron, not Jeremiah Parks. He pasted a smirk on his face. Goren stood between Jeremiah and the Congressman, so he released his frustration at parents too blind to see what was happening with their children.
“I don’t take them … You send them to me.” He snarled then sat back as Goren grabbed the little man when he lunged for him. The Congressman dragged his daughter out of the room. “They come … They’ll always come.” He taunted.
Alex glared at him when he was released from interrogation, Jeremiah bared his fangs and growled. Goren took a step forward to run interference, but both Vampires glared him back. This clusterfuck was not his fault.
Not wanting to subject himself to the noise and energy of the club, Jeremiah returned to the loft sanctuary. After everything was put to rights from the search by the CSI unit, he settled with a book hoping the quiet would settle his spirit.
He had nearly succeeded when sensitive hearing detected footsteps, as his sensitive nose detected Parrish’s scent. Steeling himself and settling back into Anton, he got ready for the final act of the play.
A fine trembling shook Jeremiah as he fought to control his anger at Virgil’s callous disregard for Sarah and her death. The desire to take his head and end this farce was strong, but Parrish was Human. Humans must deal with this psychopath, so he drank the blood Parrish offered him, tasting the young woman’s excitement/disbelief/fear/terror/ohgodsaveme!. He felt the gorge rise in his throat, but forced it down … Just as he forced himself to relax when Parrish pulled him against his chest.
The endgame had begun.
Walking into the loft sanctuary the next morning, Jeremiah saw Kyle’s body and video camera. With a heavy heart, he dialed 911, and settled in to wait for the inevitable.
Weary to the depth of his soul with his undercover persona, and the deaths of two so young, it wasn’t hard for Jeremiah to participate in the expected half-hearted defense of Parrish with Goren and Eames. He almost laughed out loud when Goren thought to school him on Parrish’s psychopathy. Why did cops think they were experts on psychosis? Retreating to the corner, Jeremiah let his exhaustion color his performance. He agreed to take the detectives to Parrish’s personal bolt hole, and bait him into a confession only because Parrish was finally on their radar. Had there been no investigation, Jeremiah would have personally taken down the predator with no one the wiser.
Parrish tried to hide his surprise when Anton interrupted his make-out session with one of the Coven members. The girl fled out the back when she heard the dissention between the Coven’s leaders. Jeremiah let Parrish spout his gibberish until seeing Goren and Eames caused him to turn on Anton as being too weak to protect his faith. Whiskey colored eyes flashed a golden amber as the Vampire started to emerge. He grabbed the reins of his tattered control, wrestled back the Vampire when Eames distracted Parrish by calling him on his poor treatment of someone he supposedly loved.
Jeremiah walked away as Goren placed the handcuffs on Parrish ignoring the snarls and insults from the psychopath. Once he’d hailed a cab, he called a locksmith and his cleaning company to take care of the loft. He refused to let this case taint the sanctuary. He vowed it would once again be a sanctuary of peace before he left the city.
At the brownstone, he locked the door to his personal rooms and stripped off his clothes on the way to the shower, where he remained until his skin was pink and he finally felt clean.
Dressed in soft linen shirt and pants, he sequestered himself in the observatory and began making arrangements to leave New York. Three hours later he was ready to call it a night as he continued to ignore calls from the Vampire population of New York City.
"Esposito must have been desperate to enlist an agent of the Vatican." Jeremiah answered the one caller he never ignored.
"He's been extremely worried since he lost control of the case." Monsignor Andrew Kiernan answered.
"I have spoken to those I wish to speak with. Javier is simply worried Blade was about to kick his ass." Jeremiah snarked.
"That, too." The priest chuckled. "He told me the case is finally closed."
"Yes, and Anton LeBron has disappeared from the annuals of the NYPD and is soon to disappear from memory.”
“What about your Coven?”
“In very capable hands as are the few clients I still counsel.”
“Where will you go?”
“Going to send out a warning to your Order?”
“You continue on this path, I may have to throw you into the mix with Nico, Timothy and Sparrow.”
“The only time I get in trouble is when I’m playing in a sandbox I did not build, and I always extract myself … No thanks to my fellows.” Jeremiah snapped.
“Pax, Jeremiah. I was not censoring you for your actions.” Andrew kept his tone even.
“Sorry, Padre.” Jeremiah ran a hand through his hair. “Chicago and Las Vegas, Washington, not necessarily in that order. Heather and Evy are most adamant I visit. After that … Wherever I’m supposed to be.”
“Ah, the infamous Parks intuition. If your journey happens to bring you through Italy, stop and visit.”
“I’ll call ahead.”
“Go with God, Brother.”
“Walk in balance, Padre.”
A feeling of peace settled as night covered the observatory, Jeremiah set his phone on silent and sought out his bed.
Jeremiah was reading over his notes from his final session with Michelle and Darren Linden when his desk phone buzzed. He was trying to get all his loose ends tied so he could leave at the end of the week.
“Jeremy, Warrick is on Line 2.”
“Thank you, Yon.”
He pushed the flashing button.
“Hey, Warrick? What's up?”
“Jeremy, I need your help.”
At present, Warrick Brown, was working as a CSI in Las Vegas, along with his Mate, Sylum Clan Leader, Nicolaus Meridius … Whose Sire, along with her Mate, trained him as a Switch. If Warrick needed a favor, Jeremiah would move whoever needed moved to fulfill his request.
Warrick explained the case he was working, and the weird circumstances. There was also a club and underground cult they had discovered.
“We might be looking for a Rogue. A dangerous one who thinks he got away with murder here." He paused as though another thought struck him. “Sure, you heard about the one who did Nigel Crane, right? I don't know for sure if this is connected, but maybe. Use some serious caution.”
“I'm not an official Hunter. But I'll see what my contacts say about the club you found, and if someone has taken things too far, I'll get you what you need to deal with it.”
“Thanks man. Appreciate it.”
Jeremiah knew his way of looking at the world was out of synch with most Vampires, but problems like Warrick was investigating needed to be handled sooner rather than later. There’s nothing like a string of Human bodies to have the police looking at you sideways. He pulled out his cell phone and started dialing.
The last call he made was to Ray K in Chicago. He not only wanted to pick his brain about Warrick’s case, but also to let him know his Chicago trip had been put on hold.
“Polish Acres … Only the bent need apply.” Ray Kowalski sang in time to the music in the background.
“Good afternoon, Ray.”
The music stopped.
“JERE! How’re you doin’?” The blond asked.
“Better … My friend ... Better.”
“What do you need?”
“Warrick Brown called about a problem he’s investigating in Las Vegas, and I was wondering if anything was running through the tumbleweed connection from Vegas to Chicago?”
“The last stories I heard were about Anton LeBron and some cat called Virgil out of the Big Apple … And don’t think we won’t be talkin’ about you workin’ undercover with no backup. I had a few choice words for your buddy, Esposito, too.”
Jeremiah smiled, but didn’t give Ray any encouragement. The ex-cop had developed into a fierce protector since he became his Chosen One.
“I’ll call you in the morning for any update. Also, I think I’m going to Vegas before I come to Chicago. There will probably be a new club joining the family.”
“Greatness. Call me about 10 local time. I’m having breakfast with Fraser. He’s always bringin’ me these people … It only takes a moment to be helpful, Ray, along with … You were an officer of the law, Ray … Anyway, I sent him to see my favorite LT. He’s workin’ at the 2-7. Fraser’s supposed to give me an update. I wish he would find some cop to laze around with, so I can sleep. He seems to forget I work nights.”
“Liaise with.” Jeremiah corrected.
“Yeah. Pitter patter, Jere. People to see and brains to pick.”
“I’ll talk to you in the morning.”
Jeremiah checked the web search he’d started on the Las Vegas community. The information wasn’t terrible, but a lot of things could be done better. The picture painted on the forums and blogs made it seem like the club was cobbled together by someone not in the community but saw a money-making opportunity.
Ray called him near closing time. Benton had changed their breakfast meeting to meeting for lunch. He was calling Jeremy early, so he could sleep until his lunch date with Fraser.
Jeremiah stayed up until his corporate office opened so he could call his Operations Manager, Troy Adams. He told Troy to get himself to Vegas prepared to buy the club and start whipping it in shape. Warrick Brown would give him the club’s details. Heather would be able to give him the name of someone to manage it for him.
He checked the time difference with Las Vegas, then pulled up Warrick’s number. Only 24 hours had passed, but he knew how fast some cases could move with just the right information. Warrick and Nick should be in the middle of their shift.
“It's Jeremy. I did some research. The club is decent … Run well but could do better. I sent one of my ‘kids’ to Vegas to buy it out and make sure it’s changed into a proper haven. I didn't find any Rogues in the area.”
“It was a human. A Phlebotomist, just for the irony." Warrick dropped his voice to Vampire quiet. ‘He thinks he's a Vampire and drinking a person's blood brings their soul into him, making him more powerful.”
He let out a frustrated sigh. “I've run into a few of those.”
Warrick didn't ask what he did with them, but it was well known Jeremy was protective of his ‘kids’, and had been since the early 1900's. The poor guy had found himself in a strange underground club one night, got fed upon a Rogue, and woke up Turned.
“No problem. Hope to see you at the grand opening of the Las Vegas branch of Lost Children of the Blood, hopefully around Halloween.”
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
Making notes on the newest batch of cloned blood, Jeremiah noted how the addition of the Duffy negative blood from Souleyman Camara vastly improved the restorative properties of the blood. He needed to call Lenny and see if the Elder Vampire could help the couple get legal status. Maybe he should stop by the precinct with an offer of lunch. He was jarred out of his thoughts by Ray K’s ringtone.
“Ray? Is something wrong?”
“Where’s the Psycho Bitch? It’s Mountie Mating Season, and I need to know where she is.”
“Ray … Ray … Ray! Slow down. What are you bleating about?”
“The Clan’s big red Freak goes to the 2-7 like I told him, after he gets away from some Mountie groupie at the front desk, he takes his newest stray, Mrs. Burns, through the bullpen to the LT’s office. Lt. Walsh listens to Fraser’s story, takes him to a desk next to his office. There’s this guy in an Arm and Hammer suit that Walsh introduces as Detective Raymond Vecchio. When Benton meets me for lunch he’s barely competent, and Diefenbaker looks like donuts and pizza are on the menu for the rest of his life.”
“Armani … Coherent ... Ray … Breathe. Are you trying to tell me this Raymond Vecchio is Benoit’s Mate?”
‘Thought that’s what I said.’
“Okay. I have people to notify. Can you take today and maybe tomorrow off?”
“Yeah. Cole’s been wantin’ some extra hours. Needs the cash for a ring. He can cover for me.”
“I need you to find Benoit and stay with him. Take your gun. Best case scenario would be if you and Benoit were with this Vecchio person. When Victoria gets wind that Fraser found his Mate, she’ll come gunning for him. Call Malone or Ness for backup. I’ll send the Calvary quick as I can get them on a plane.”
“I’m on it.”
He heard Ray shouting Fraser’s name, and then he heard Ray yell at Diefenbaker to take him down, as he ended the call. Diefenbaker must have been looking at Ray for the deaf wolf to understand the order. Jeremiah thanked all the Gods every day for Ray Kowalski coming into his life. His life and the Clan’s would be a poorer place if the blond wasn’t a part of it. Hitting speed dial #1 and waited for answer.
“Benoit found his Mate.”
“So … You finally decided to … WHAT!”
“Ray K just called. He had lunch with Benoit, who told him he found his Mate at the 27th precinct in Chicago.”
“Well, Hell. I’ll call Parker.”
Jeremiah ended the call, then contacted the airline to change his Chicago ticket to Las Vegas. He’d get an update from Kowalski after he was sure the Hunters were in Chicago.
~ September 2004 ~ Las Vegas, Nevada ~
Thoroughly relaxed and replete, Jeremy entered his suite at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. A heavy session and dinner with Heather and Evy loosened the knots he still carried from New York. Enjoying the remaining ache in his muscles, Jeremy had stretched out on the bed with his computer tablet to go through general manager applications when his phone sang out Wild Thing.
“Ray, have things calmed down?”
“Yeah. There’s so many Hunters here it makes me wonder who’s lookin’ out for everyone else. When you comin’ to visit? I get you didn’t need all the hubbub, but it’s all good now.”
“Troy’s doing a bang-up job on the new club, but I want do the interviews for the General Manager. So, what do you think of the Mate?” Jeremiah changed the subject.
“Vecchio? Dresses too fancy for a cop, but he’s okay. I let Benton figure out how to explain me. I was so good at undercover, Vecchio never heard of me when I was on the job. Fraser went with the retired cop friend -- meet new cop friend. Vecchio looks at me and says, Oh, so you’re the work ex-wife. Fraser nearly choked on his own spit. He sputtered around … Didn’t get the work wife thing. I almost lost it. Then Ray V asks me if Benny ever uses doors. I say … No. I ask if Fraser’s started licking things. You know you’re in the Clan when Benton licks stuff in front of you. Vecchio spit cappuccino on Fraser’s boots. So, Vecchio got to see Benton’s bitch face.”
“Sounds like everyone is playing well together.”
‘Parker’s got all his little spidey feelers out for Victoria. If he keeps pingin’ the wires, the bitch might show up just to see what all the fuss is about.’
“I’ll let you know if I hear anything.”
“Greatness. I didn’t say anything, but apparently, Vampires are a bunch of gossips.”
“If anyone understood, I knew it would be you.” Jeremy chuckled.
“Stay safe, Jere.”
With a sigh, he looked back at the tablet. He had notes on three viable candidates with six more to review. As much as he loved his clubs, his enthusiasm was running on empty. Forcing his attention back to the files, he was about to eliminate number five when his phone rang. When the conversation ended, he stared at his phone in shock.
Troy Adams, his Operations Manager, just asked to be considered for the General Manager’s position. He and his wife were originally from Nevada, and now that they had kids they wanted to move closer to the grandparents. Troy suggested promoting his Executive Assistant, Iva Roberts, to Operations Manager. Shaking himself out of his stupor, he made reservations for a flight to Chicago. He needed to get his new Operations Manager up to speed. It seemed no matter what he did, all roads were leading to Chicago. Time to stop fighting the Fates and make peace with the city of his birth.
Iva was perfect to succeed Troy as Operations Manager. Troy had trained her to handle his responsibilities when he was absent, so there were only a few aspects of the job where she needed advanced training and access. She was familiar with the clubs and was going to visit each after the re-opening of Las Vegas. She wanted to form her own opinions of their operations. Since the transition was so smooth, Jeremy decided to stay … Work out of his corporate office … Visit other clubs in the city … Simply BE Jeremy Parks … Maybe let Esposito buy him dinner and get closure on the Parrish case. He missed his oldest friend.
The problem with hiring highly competent people was there was little for the CEO to do but read the reports and sign his name. It gave him time to take care of his continuing education courses required to keep his license current and catch up on everything that had languished while he was Parrish’s boy toy.
His hair was back to its natural sun streaked ringlets instead of the Anton LeBron flat ironed straight. The sighs that followed him through the club as he shoved his overlong bangs out of his eyes caused Kowalski to tease him mercilessly. It was Halloween, and Jeremy had re-connected with Javier, and was comfortable in his own skin once more. They’d gotten the Vegas Lost Children of the Blood open … Troy and his wife were happy to be back in Nevada, and Iva was happy in her new position. Life was good, and Jeremy was looking forward to spending the holidays in Chicago with Ray and the Clan.
~ December 2004 ~ Chicago, Illinois ~
Yanked out of a nightmare by something dark and oily moving across his soul, Jeremiah sat up blinking the sweat from his eyes. Before he could think, he was reaching for his phone.
“This better be good.” Peter Parker growled.
“Jeremy? … Who’s here?”
“She who Turned me.”
Climbing out of bed, he headed for the shower. Might as well make use of being awake and make some calls. By mid-morning he had a name.
“I found a name.”
“That’s more than we’ve managed. Lay it on me.”
“Jolly Hughes is her public face.”
“Thanks. I’ll get Malone and Ness on putting a face to the name.”
His next call was to Ray Kowalski.
“Hey Jere, what’s up?”
“Bring a bag with you this evening … You’re having a sleep over.”
“Am I? Why?”
“Victoria’s come for Vecchio.”
“Did I miss something somewhere?”
“She tried to use you as leverage once before. You’re Benoit’s and my friend.”
“It’s all good, Buddy. I better pitter patter. The boss is going to be in the house tonight.”
“Not that you have to anything to worry about in that regard.” Jeremy chuckled.
“The boss and I are kinda tight.” Ray teased.
“Be careful, Ray. I don’t have a traditional Bond with Victoria, but I can feel she’s in the area.”
“You do remember I’m armed, and a trained professional.”
“Yes, but you’re also Human, and I’m not sure Victoria ever was, even before she was Turned.”
“She’s the only one of you I’ve met that has a bigger hole in her bag of marbles than Fraser.”
“I pray you never meet the Vampires that are worse than Victoria.” Jeremy shuddered.
“Worse?’ He paused a moment. ‘I don’t think I wanna know.”
“Sometimes innocence is bliss.”
“Isn’t that ignorance?”
“If you’re ignorant of information, then you’re still an innocent.”
“You tryin’ to make my hair hurt, Doc?”
Jeremy paused in surprise. Ray’s delighted laugh came out of the phone.
“The Internet is great when it comes to you old guys. I’ll be there in two shakes of a wolf’s tail.”
Ray Kowalski was a gift that gave him the blessing of his laughter every day.
Benton Fraser sighed tiredly as he ended the call with his Lead Hunter. He needed to get to the 27th precinct and collect his Mate, then get him to the Clan’s estate. Peter had the Clan’s Hunters combing through Chicago looking for any sign of Victoria. The only solid information came from Jeremiah, who had only the barest Parent/Childe Bond with Victoria and the name of a man who was succoring what the Rogue needed to complete her plans.
Crooking a finger at Diefenbaker, Fraser ran down the list of who he could get to drive him to the precinct as he headed for the entrance. Esposito had returned to New York for a court appearance, and Peter had not mentioned a replacement for the Spaniard. He stopped in surprise when he stepped into the Consulate’s foyer. Parker must have called Gerard because sitting patiently in the heavy antique chairs were Cameron Poe and his Mate, Vince Larkin.
Benoit could see the logic. Victoria was a fugitive and Larkin worked for Gerard as a U.S. Marshal. As the Hunters escorted him to the car, the Clan Leader tried to compose an argument to get his Mate somewhere safe without getting into the subject of Vampires and Mates. His Clan was becoming irritated at his renitence1 to Claim said Mate, but he was taking into consideration Vecchio’s traditional Italian Catholic upbringing. He wanted their relationship on solid footing before revealing the truth. Now that Victoria appeared to be entering the mix … He may have run out of time.
Standing in the backyard of the Vecchio family home, Benoit looked to see if he could spot his guards. Fraser had told Ray that a felon from an old case had come to Chicago. He intimated that said person might be seeking revenge. Next thing he knew, Ray shoved him and Diefenbaker in the Riviera. They drove to the Vecchio home where Benton Fraser was introduced to his Mate’s family. After a raucous family dinner, where he spent most of the meal fending off Ray’s sister’s amorous fawning, he escaped into the winter night. He heard Ray’s familiar step on porch.
“Hey, Benny.” He called softly.
“Ray. I do not mean to seem ungrateful for the warm welcome your family extended. I just needed a moment.”
“Yeah, they’re a bit much. Sorry about Frannie.”
“I appreciate you bringing me to your home, but I assure I will be fine in my own apartment. I do have security measures in place.”
“Who? The wolf? He’s deaf.” Ray scoffed.
“Not just Diefenbaker. There’s things I need access to in order help find the person after me.”
“Fine. Let me grab a few things, and I’ll go with you.”
“Really, Ray, that’s not necessary.”
“You’re not the only one that needs a little air, Benny.” Ray smirked as he headed back in the house.
Sensitive ears picked up snickers emanating from the shadows.
“Not helping.” He snarled as he followed Ray back into the house.
Benoit Franciscus knew what he was contemplating would piss off everyone from Ray Vecchio to Ray Kowalski and all his Clan members in between. He could hear Jim Ellison, his Second in Command growling from Cascade, Washington, and his Lead Hunter, Peter Parker yelling from the Clan estate. Yes, what he was going to do was stupid, but maybe … Just maybe he could reason with she who was once his wife. Victoria had a way of cutting through people like an F5 tornado … Leaving almost as much death and destruction. As Clan Leader, he felt it his duty to protect his Clan.
If he was going to make the attempt … It had to be now. If his protectors caught wind of his plans, they would never come to fruition. Luckily Diefenbaker was at the Clan House, so he didn’t have to worry about the wolf alerting anyone as he slipped out of the apartment he used as part of his Human life.
As he walked, Benoit thought about the contents of his cabinets, and headed toward the 24-hour market. Heading for the entrance, he saw movement in the shadows. He paused, and Victoria stepped into the light.
“Benoit.” Her voice was breathy as she pressed against him. “I desperately need your help.”
“Victoria.” He grabbed her wrists and pushed her to arms’ length. “What’s happened?”
She spun a tale of being deceived by a man who at the beginning was wonderful, thoughtful, and she had fallen in love. She’d Turned him, so they could be together forever. After he was Turned, he became a totally different man. Benoit was beginning to believe her until he asked the man’s name. Batting eyelashes damp with tears, Victoria looked at him and said, Jolly Hughes.
“You have to help me get away. I’m terrified. I know you have places we can go where he’ll never find us.”
He paused, considering if he could get her away from Chicago. Away from the Clan, and away from Ray. He looked down into green eyes misty with tears. He could feel her tremble. Benoit felt his determination waver.
“It would be best to travel by train. We’ll be harder to track if we pay cash. It will take me two days to make sure no one can follow us. I’ll get you some place safe, and you can begin to rebuild your life.”
“We’ll be so happy.” She twittered.
“Are you some place safe? Do you need anything?”
“No. I was able to give Hughes the slip. I’ll be fine for two days.”
“Good. I should get back to the apartment. If Ray wakes up he’ll ask questions, and I don’t want to lie, so I need to go.”
“Ray, your police officer friend?” Victoria’s tone was sly. She handed him a pre-paid cell phone. “My number is in the contacts. I’ll text you with the time to meet the train.”
“I’ll await your missive. Now, I must return. I’ll send Ray to Lost Children of the Blood on an imagined errand tomorrow, so I can prepare to meet you.” He saw the calculations in her eyes, but he thought he had accounted for everything.
He quickly purchased the items he needed and returned to the apartment.
Ray Kowalski enjoyed the kick of his chocolate sweetened coffee as he meandered down the stairs to the club. It was kind of nice to be able to sleep longer and sneak up on the day since he only had to walk to the bottom of the stairs to be at work.
There were signs that Jeremy was up and about, so he headed toward the office as the first place to look for his wayward friend. Jeremy had implicit trust in all his managers, but he loved his clubs too much to be totally hands off. With that in mind Ray headed toward the rooms dividing the two sides of the club.
A scream and a crash came from the employee entrance. Before Ray could react, a man with stringy blond hair stood in front of him holding a gun. The only way he could have traveled from where he entered to outside the office that fast was if he was a Vampire.
“You must be Ray.” The smile and look in the muddy brown eyes showed a mind leaning toward dangerously unstable.
“Did I arrest you? If I did, it must have been very forgettable.” Ray calmly sipped his coffee. He could feel Jeremy hovering out of the gunman’s line of sight.
“Victoria sent me to give you her regards, and to let you know she’ll be leaving with Benoit today.”
“Kinda leaves you out in the cold. Psycho bitch played you for a oszukać (fool).” It was amazing what you could learn when you didn’t spend your life as someone else, he thought as he slouched against the door frame. While Ray kept the gunman occupied, Jeremy slipped out of the office by a hidden entrance to check the member of the cleaning crew that had screamed. Once she was comfortable, he called one of the club’s nurses, and Peter Parker.
“Little busy here, Jeremy.” Parker growled.
“Well you better get busier.” He hissed quietly. “Sounds like Benton’s doing something stupid with Victoria. Hughes is here after Ray, the Mate.”
“Where are Fraser and Vecchio?”
“Vecchio got called in on a case. Poe and Larkin are on Benoit.”
“Call Lt. Walsh to keep an eye on Vecchio. Tell him the person after Fraser might target Vecchio.”
“Sounds good. Might need to read the man in on the Vampire thing. He’d be useful as a Chosen One.”
“When this is over. I need to get back to Ray and Hughes. Ray’s getting ready, as he would say, to jump Bogart on the guy.”
“Try to keep Benoit from being more of idiot than usual over Victoria. Maybe this is the day she goes too far.”
“One can hope.”
“See you on the other side.” Jeremy cut the call before Hughes could hear him.
Positioning himself to pull Ray out of the line of fire, he listened to the ex-cop continue to bait Victoria’s enforcer. His tirade was cut short when Hughes’ phone rang. After a conversation consisting of grunts of agreement, he made a grab for Kowalski … Who dodged the grab.
“Come here you scrawny Human.” Hughes grabbed his upper arm.
“Who you calling scrawny.” Ray moved into Hughes and delivered a hard, left hook.
The Rogue, angry and shaken by Kowalski fighting back, lost control of his Vampire nature and backhanded the Human using his Vampire strength. Spitting blood from where he bit his tongue, Ray gave Hughes a red tinged smile.
“I survived a beat down by Victoria. You don’t even come close to what that unhinged bitch did to me.” He taunted as he climbed to his feet.
“I don’t care what Victoria says about using some Leader’s Mate as a hostage, I’ve had enough of your mouth.” He aimed his gun at the Human.
Jeremy had grabbed a sword out of a hidden weapons locker on his way back from checking his injured employee. As he got ready to shove Ray out of the line of fire, he was surprised to hear his Sire thought Kowalski was the Ray that was Benton’s Mate.
“Oooo … Mommy’s going to be very angry if you try to think for yourself.”
Hearing the click of the safety being released, Jeremy stepped between Hughes and Ray … Pivoted in a backhand swing, leaving a cloud of dust in the air. Before he turned to dust, Hughes got off a shot, then the pistol dropped to the floor.
Pain exploded in his chest as the bullet met flesh. Dropping to one knee, he heard Ray cursing and scrabbling to get to his feet.
“JERE!” He shouted as rushed to his side.
“Fine … I’m fine.” Jeremy panted as he leaned on Ray to get to his feet. “We need to go through Hughes’ car for clues to where Benton and Victoria have gone.”
“Err … Stubborn. Wait ‘til I get you a shirt. You look like an extra in a slasher movie.”
“It’ll be gone in a few minutes.”
“Except for the big hole and powder burns.” Ray argued.
He raced for the stairs while Jeremy gathered up anything that survived Jolly Hughes’ dusting. The Vampire took advantage of Ray’s absence to head for the parking lot while scrolling through Hughes’ cell phone.
“Are you unhinged … Running around with a hole in your …” Kowlaski paused when he saw Jeremy leaning against the car … Face pale. “What’s wrong? Do you need to Feed? Parks if you don’t answer me I’m gonna kick you in the head.” Ray nagged.
“I’m fine. Pulled my chest when I reached for the door. I’ll feed as soon as we find Benton. I need you functional … Not fainting because you’re a pint low.”
“Change your shirt and go check on Emily. I’ll go through the car.”
“Bossy much?” Jeremy grinned at his friend as he headed inside.
R.N. Roger Wilburn, was treating Emily’s scratches, and checking out her bumps and bruises. He declared her fine, and offered to drive her home, but Emily insisted all she needed was a cup of coffee to settle her nerves. The rest of her crew would be arriving shortly so with a quiet word of appreciation for her and Roger, Jeremy made a mental note to put a little something extra in their pay envelopes.
He tossed his ruined shirt in the trash after easing his clean shirt and coat over his still healing chest. He scrolled through the text messages and Internet browsing history as he wandered back to the parking lot. Putting the information together, it looked like Victoria told Hughes they were going to Canada.
“Find anything?” He asked when Ray’s head popped up from the trunk.
“Yeah. Sick bastard like to feed on street kids. He kept their stuff. What’d you find?”
“According to his phone, they’re taking the train to Canada.” Jeremy looked down when the phone vibrated. He answered the text. “We need to get to Union Station. Victoria wants Hughes to meet her at the platform for the Texas Eagle.”
They ran for the garage and the club’s SUV, not wanting to submit the GTO to Chicago’s winter roads. Ray drove while Jeremy called Peter, leaving the phone on speaker.
“Have you found Benton or Victoria?”
“Ness and Malone got O’Hare … Poe and Larkin Union Station … I’m at the house trying to find GPS and cell phones signals.” Parker complained.
“Hughes is dust. Kowalski and I are on the way to Union Station. Where’s Vecchio?”
“I don’t have Vecchio’s number to ping. Why are you going to train station?”
Ray tossed his phone to Jeremy. He rattled off Vecchio’s number to Peter.
“Victoria texted Hughes to meet her at the Texas Eagle platform. I think she’s trying to get Benton to go to Mexico.”
“I’ll let everyone know.”
Jeremy pointed out to Ray where the Clan’s other vehicles were parked. Two Chicago Transit officers waited for them. One stayed with the cars while the other ran them through the station. Officers closed off the Texas Eagle platform to keep Human casualties to a minimum.
Swords clashed as Esposito and Poe engaged four of Victoria’s men. Jeremy suspected Larkin was the reason the train began to move away from the platform. Victoria noticed the train easing away, so she stuffed her shoes in the pockets of her fur coat and ran to hop the train. Benton broke away to follow.
Kowalski pulled his weapon and fired at Victoria. He knew it wouldn’t kill her, but it would give the Tallikut Hunters a chance to capture her. Javier and Poe finished off their Rogues and turned their attention to their Clan Leader running to jump on the train car with Victoria, who was exchanging shots with Ray.
Watching the entire scene from behind Kowalski, Jeremy caught movement from the front end of the same train car where Victoria hung out the back door. He also caught movement from the corner of his eye. Recognizing the man on the platform as Ray Vecchio, who was aiming his weapon at Fraser. The man at the front of the car aimed his weapon at Kowalski and the Hunters. Without a thought, he shouted.
Jeremy stepped between Ray Kowalski and the gunman, depending on the Hunters to take care of Victoria and the Rogue. Poe ran for the train while Javier exchanged fire with the Rogue. Feeling the bullet meant for Kowalski hit between his shoulder blades, Jeremy turned just enough to prevent the bullet from hitting Ray should it exit his chest. As he was falling, he saw Vecchio shoot at Benton, and his Clan Leader fall. Vecchio holstered his gun and ran toward to wounded Mountie. Poe took out the Rogue in the front of the train car. Parker ran onto the platform in time to see Vecchio shoot Benton. Jeremy’s eyes closed while Kowalski screamed his name as the Human lowered him carefully to the platform.
“Damn it, Jere.” He panted. “This is twice in one day.”
“I don’t have enough friends to lose even one.” Jeremy whispered. He hoped someone called Carter. He had a feeling he would be spending the next day or two in a hospital bed next to Benton. That was his last thought.
Ray Kowalski looked around wildly, cradling the injured Jeremy, while taking a head count, and shouting for an ambulance. Seeing Vecchio holding the injured Fraser, after having shot him, made Ray want to kick the guy in the head, but he knew better than to get between Vampires and their Mates.
He hated this part of the whole Vampire thing. Jeremy was unconscious from blood loss but had no pulse or respiration to check. Ray was terrified he was going to end up with a lap full of dust before they could get the injured Vampire somewhere safe.
As much as he wanted to ride in the ambulance with Jeremy, there were calls that needed made. Ray retrieved the SUV and followed the ambulance to the hospital, making calls re-arranging his and Jeremy’s schedules. He got to the hospital in time to see Jeremy disappearing into a treatment room. He zeroed in on his target, but just as he reached his goal, a body in a nurse’s uniform blocked access to his friend.
“Sir! You can’t …”
“Get out of my …”
“Stacy! Ray!” Dr. John Carter shouted over the combatants.
“It’s fine, Stacy. Ray is Jeremy’s …” Carter trailed off with a wink.
“Family … Right … Sorry … Mister …?”
“Ray … Ray Kowalski.” Before he stepped in the room, he turned back to the Clan Doctor.
“Fraser here yet?”
“They just pulled in the ambulance bay.”
With a nod Ray went to sit with his … Yeah … Family … Greatness.
Several times during the next two days Ray or Javier coaxed Jeremy awake long enough to Feed on cloned blood until he was out of his starvation level of need. Now that it was safe, they would let him Feed from Chosen Ones if they could keep him awake. The stresses of the past year had worn him down way past exhaustion, and his body demanded he rest.
When Jeremy was cognizant enough to examine his surroundings, the first thing he heard was the two Rays having an argument in hisses and whispers.
“Kept him away from Toxic Barbie.” Vecchio’s tone was heavy with guilt.
“That’s not buddies, Vecchio.”
Jeremy heard the angry Kowalski stomp from the hospital room. From the conversation, he gleaned that he was rooming with his Clan Leader, and Vecchio still did not know about Vampires. A few minutes later, Ray returned with an insulated cup, and the Clan Doctor, John Carter.
Making sure the privacy curtain was pulled, Kowalski handed him the warmed blood, which he drank while John checked his wounds.
“You’re pretty well healed on the outside.” John said. “This new formula you helped us perfect using the Duffy negative blood is great for healing, but you need to feed from a Chosen One. The wounds were in close proximity to each other and did a lot of internal damage.” Carter finished.
Nodding he cut his eyes toward Kowalski. Carter grinned.
“He was so mad at Benoit for trying to sneak off with ‘Psycho Bitch’, he said someone had to save themselves for the other injured Vampires and was glad Vecchio shot him to save Benoit from his own stupidity. Of course, he’s ranted at Detective Vecchio for shooting his partner, too.” Carter chuckled at the Clan drama. “When Vecchio said he was aiming at Victoria, Kowalski suggested glasses if his aim was that bad. Ness is playing bodyguard while Ellison and the Clan Council have alerted the other Clans, and Maximus. We’re moving Benoit to the estate tomorrow. I believe Detective Vecchio is going with him.”
“Good. He can work on the whole Vampires exist, and ‘oh by the way, you’re my Mate’. Victoria will probably search the world to unearth the worst of the worst, check their bank balance, and whether they can get her close to Benton. After that, she’ll decide who to get in bed with.” Jeremy stretched his senses. “I thought Javier was here.”
“He had to go back to New York. His boss … McKay … McCoy … Whatever … Kept callin’. Was a bigger nag than my ex-mother-in-law.” Ray injected. “Fraser had Vecchio wheel him to the sun room. His legs are still not working right.”
“Jack McCoy is the DA in New York City, and Legal Advisor for Sylum Clan. Javier said he was going to transfer to McCoy’s investigators after the Parrish debacle.” Jeremy reminded.
“Typical DA … Always naggin’ ‘bout somethin’.” Ray turned back to whatever he was watching on television.
“When can I go home, John?” Jeremy asked.
“If Ray will provide you with a supplement to your lunch, you can go home this afternoon. Just to bring you up to speed … Poe and Larkin are tracking Victoria in conjunction with the other Clans’ Hunters.”
“Greatness.” Ray grinned.
“I’ll have someone bring you both some lunch.”
“You might ease up on our esteemed leader.” John gave Kowalski a pointed look. “He thought if he left town with her, Victoria wouldn’t spread her usual swath of destruction through the Clan. He was trying to keep anyone from getting hurt including Victoria.”
“My head knows all that, but he’s old enough to know better. He’s solid except when it comes to her. She’s like his Kryptonite.” Ray lamented. “I’ve gotten beaten up more since I met Fraser than in all my years undercover.”
“After several conversations, we’ve concluded they must have been married in a life before he was Turned.” Jeremy added. “There are theories that hypothesize certain souls will always be drawn to one another even though they are not Mates.”
“Wow, Jere, no need to be gettin’ all meteorological on me.” Ray shook his head. “You don’t want me pleadin’ a headache. I may not be able to perform, and you’ll be stuck here another day.” He teased.
“That too.” He winked.
Dr. John Carter smiled as he left the room listening to the two men bickering good-naturedly. Kowalski was good for Jeremy. Kept the intelligent and solitary man from living too much in his own head. It was never a good idea for Vampires to lose contact with the real world.
No one would ever claim Ray Kowalski was not grounded in the real world.
~ January 1, 2005 ~ Chicago, Illinois ~
The sign on the door read: CLOSED FOR A PRIVATE PARTY. In this place created as a haven for those unseen to be seen and for someone to listen to the unheard … Vampires, Chosen Ones, and their families, ate, drank, played, and re-connected with friends and adopted family. Life events and an increasing number of Rogues joining forces had left deep wounds on several Clans in the past year, but they had emerged stronger, and more united.
Benton was back on his feet and would soon be returning to duty at the Consulate. He had to tell Ray Vecchio about Vampires when Vecchio realized the Eliot Ness was his bodyguard. Then the Tallikut Council had traveled to the estate during the Christmas holidays. Having dinner with the likes of Merriweather Lewis and his Mate, William Clark, along with several other historic names, had the Chicago detective asking a lot of questions.
Fraser still hadn’t told him they were Mates … Glaciers moved faster than Benton when he was in avoidance mode.
Jeremy looked across the room at his family. When he left New York, exhausted, angry, and with his psyche fragmented, he expected it would take more than a few months to regain all the parts of himself. He made peace with the place of his birth, and with that, healed the wounds from his Turning that had remained buried under the scars inflicted by the lifestyle he chose.
He was pulled from his thoughts by a blond whirlwind clothed in black and silver who dragged him onto the dance floor. Watching Ray move with the beat, Jeremy surrendered to his energy and the music.
When he laid down to sleep, he sent a wish out to the Universe for a peaceful and prosperous year for the Clans. He waited for a moment. When his intuition remained quiet, he smiled and surrendered to the night … Finally, at peace.
~ Fini ~