Vampire Daniel Valente struggles to live on his own, now that his master, Titus Antonius Calidus, has found eternal love with another. Carrying mental and emotional scars, he lives in loneliness and feels as though he's lost who he once was. Ryunosuke Kimura has known Daniel for hundreds of years, and loved him for many of them. Even though he believes Titus is the only one Daniel wants to give his heart to, when he hears Daniel needs his support, he rushes to be with him.With Ryu at his side, Daniel's confidence returns, and with it, he sees the enduring love Ryu has always had for him. As they grow closer, new threats from old enemies arise, and if Daniel and Ryunosuke are to spend eternity together, they must first defeat the past.
Daniel's breath frosted in the air before him. He folded his arms across his chest, as if to gain more warmth, but it was more than the winter night chilling him. It was the thought of walking through the door of the establishment and stepping inside the pub.
It was a ridiculous thing to be nervous around his own kind. He had even visited this pub many times in the past. But in truth, he'd never been the most comfortable around other vampires, except for Titus and Ryunosuke.
Daniel slowly lowered his gaze to the ice and snow sprinkled sidewalk. When had it happened, the first time he thought of Titus by his given name, not "Cal," the portion of his cherished cognomen, "Calidus"? Not long after the fight with Isaac's followers, most likely, as that was the final turning point in his and Titus's relationship.
So many years spent loving him. So many years wishing to have it returned. Only to have his dream swept away by another.
There were times he wondered if he'd done the right thing in saving Andreas that night. If he had let Andreas be killed, he could've comforted Titus in his arms, let him know he was still there for him; he always would be, and his love was just as strong as Andreas's.
For all the fantasies of doing and saying such thingsâ€”and in those fantasies having Titus melt into him, kiss him, make love to himâ€”he knew that's not how things would've turned out. If Andreas had been killed, it would've destroyed Titus. Titus would've avenged Andreas, and if he didn't die in the process, he would've soon after. There was quite possibly no vampire in the world more powerful than Titus, but to lose another soul-mate would bring him down faster than any horde of enemies.
A couple months ago when he was staying with Titus and Andreas in Chicago, he saw them together, making love. He knew as he watched them, Andreas on top of Titus, and Titus holding Andreas so close, so tight, surrendering all he was, that Titus loved Andreas in the way Daniel had always wished to have for himself. That was why he hadn't been able to let Andreas die. To save Andreas was to save Titus. Even if Titus didn't love him in the way he wanted, he still loved Titus.
Besides, despite himself, he did like Andreas. The damn man was terribly pleasant to be around.
If only he could say the same thing for his own kind.
Daniel glanced at the wooden door. This was the closest he'd gotten to other vampires since the battle at Decadence against Isaac and his followers. Though Andreas and Titus said he could live with them permanently, he felt out of place with them.
They were so in love and wrapped up in each other, he didn't think they even realized he was there most of the time. Andreas would at least make attempts to talk to him. Titus only struck up conversation when Andreas wasn't around. It hadn't been bad when Ryunosuke was staying with them, but Ryu returned to Japan a couple weeks after the fight. It left him feeling like a voyeur, peeping in on Titus and Andreas's life together, so he returned to England.
In the month since, he couldn't bring himself to do anything more than wander around the manor and grounds. He did go out hunting twice, though only one attempt was successful. He stayed as close to home as he could, which made hunting a difficult task as the manor was rather rural. It was also a very unsafe thing to hunt so close to his home and where the population was low. It increased his chances of discovery, but he didn't know what else to do.
Since returning, he felt...unsafe. Even walking the grounds, he was anxious, tense, as if threats loomed unseen in the shadows, just beyond the reach of his senses. While he couldn't see the danger, to him it seemed it was watching him everywhere he went.
It was completely mental, and he knew it was the after effects of the fight at Decadence. Fighting other vampires, being clawed by them, feeling the paralyzing pain of their fangs, resurrected old memories, and now that they'd found new life, they haunted him.
He thought the best way to silence them would be to mingle with other vampires, face his fears, not let them control his mind and heart. And so, here he was. It was also what Titus wanted of him, and really, part of him wanted it, too. He felt pathetic for what he'd become. His cowardice, because he could think of it in no other way, forced him to live alone and lonely.
He hated how the fight at the club replayed in his mind, and not only that, but of all his brutal encounters with other vampires. When he'd been young and attempted to make Titus jealous by seeking others to feed from him, he'd nearly gotten himself raped and killed in the process, and the first vampire he'd ever known, the beast who'd hurt him so badly...
Daniel shook the thoughts away, their residual presence lingering in the cold sweat he'd broken into. It was a strange thing, how he could fear his own kind and at the same time, yearn for their companionship. With the thought of companionship, an image floated to the front of his mind, Ryunosuke Kimura.
Ryu, beautiful with his silken black hair, his dark eyes, his soft, elegant features. He was strong, a warrior the same as Titus, but from a different era and culture as Ryu was a samurai. Other than Titus, no one had ever been there for him as much Ryu. Only, it seemed he'd also worn on Ryu since he returned to Japan so quickly after everything had happened.
Daniel closed his eyes in a long blink, seeing only Ryu's back as he remembered watching him walk away to board his flight. His throat tightened as it had that day, when he had wanted so badly to call out to Ryu and ask him to stay, but he hadn't been able to voice his desire. If Ryu wanted to go home, what right did he have to stop him? To ask for more from him after Ryu had already given him so much, even saved his life.
Perhaps it was his fate to be abandoned or pushed away by all those he cared about. In which case, it truly was time to do as Titus told him, make new friends and forge new relationships.
Armed with his final thought, Daniel pushed open the pub door and walked in. Heat washed over him. The laughter in the space quieted at his entrance. Daniel could almost sense the occupants coming to attention, a reaction he was used to. He knew even among vampires he was considered stunningly beautiful with his shoulder length black hair, styled in layers and angles to accentuate his delicate features. His attractiveness was something he was once proud to flaunt. Lately, he dreaded the attention it brought him.
Daniel managed a small smile of greeting and headed toward the aged bar. He moved to sit down and paused. Sitting at the bar would expose his back. A table may be better. Though, sitting alone at a table was an open invitation for company. He gave himself a mental kick. He was being ridiculous, and what's more, if he didn't sit his ass down, the other vampires would start to wonder what the hell was wrong with him.
Daniel climbed onto the stool. Having his back exposed wouldn't matter if he could get himself under control. He'd be able to sense anyone approaching. Really, he was causing more danger to himself by acting as skittish as he was. To appear nervous and uncertain among vampires was deadly. It made him seem weak, an easy target.
Daniel took a breath and forced a smile as the bartender walked up.
"Whatcha having, mate?" the bartender asked.
"Cognac, please. Your finest." As soon as he placed his order, Daniel regretted it. Alcohol would dull his senses. Even one drink could make him the one fraction too slow that could mean life or death. But what else could he do? Order water? That was just vile, and besides, other vampires would see it as either being unsophisticated or too weak to drink.
Daniel brushed his fingertips across his forehead, pushing his long bangs to the side. He should leave before something disastrous happened. After all, he'd taken a big step making it here and walking through the door.
Daniel's thoughts stopped as he felt a presence nearing him. Another vampire. Male. He didn't sense maliciousness from the other, but that didn't mean much. Some vampires, like Corina, head of the Tribunal, were masters at hiding their intent, and one didn't realize the danger they were in until too late.
The vampire slid onto the stool beside him. Daniel flicked a glanced at him, catching the other's chiseled, handsome face. He had brown hair brushed back, and his pale green eyes reflected the smile on his lips.
Daniel caught the other's accent, Scottish, he believed. "Hello." He looked away from him as the bartender set his cognac in front of him.
"I've never seen you in here before."
Daniel lifted his glass to take a sip. It would figure the guy would be a chatty vamp. "I visit infrequently, and it's been some time since I was here last."
"Well, even if you'd only been here once before, if I was here, I'd be certain to remember someone like you walking through the door."
Daniel managed a quick smile, though he kept his eyes focused on his glass, slowly turning it on the bar.
"I'm Niven." He extended his hand toward Daniel. "And you?"
Daniel took Niven's hand, gave it a firm shake, and attempted to pull away. Niven held on.
Niven laid his other hand over top Daniel's as if to warm it. "Your hand is so cold."
Daniel jerked his hand back, freeing it from Niven's grasp. "Yes, well, it is winter."
A single laugh left Niven, though it contained no humor. "Aye, so it is."
Daniel lifted his glass for another drink. He didn't need to look to know Niven was staring at him, assessing him, scrutinizing him. As for himself, he did the same without looking at him. He sensed the age in Niven, probably three hundred years or more.
"If you don't mind me asking," Niven said, "who's your master?"
A common introductory topic, but Daniel knew there was strategy behind it as well and guessed that's why Niven was asking. A vampire gained a measure of strength from their master when they were Turned. The stronger the vampire doing the Turning, then by default, the stronger their apprentice would be, sometimes making a newly Turned vampire more powerful than others who'd been established for longer.
Such was the case with him. Titus was an Ancient, one of the few to have reached the thousand year mark, and he was highly revered among vampires. Daniel couldn't deny he'd always taken great pride in admitting Titus was his master, and it might be what he needed to give him an edge on all the vampires present.
Daniel turned to meet Niven's gaze. "My master is Titus Antonius."
The bar quieted. Daniel had suspected many were eavesdropping on the conversation. Now he knew for certain.
Niven's eyes widened slightly. "Did you say Titus Antonius? As in the Ancient, Titus Antonius Calidus?"
"Yes, I did, and yes, that's exactly who I mean. But only those closest to him are allowed to call him Calidus, so I would advise should you meet him, don't say it without his permission."
Niven let out a shocked breath. "I can't believe it." He paused. "Wait. You said you're name was Daniel. You're Daniel Valente!"
Complete silence filled the bar.
Daniel shifted. Well, that plan had worked beautifully against him. He had hoped it would earn him respect. And it did, but it also drew more attention to him. To be a powerful vampire meant two things. The first, some vampires would show complete and absolute respect. The second, others would want his blood.
A vampire's way to power was through blood, and while most fed from humans, to feed from another vampire was to take their strength into themselves. That's why an apprentice could be so strong, because they took their master's blood when they were Turned and many also fed from their master for quite a while afterward until they felt ready to hunt on their own. And he'd fed from Titus many, many times over the years.
Now with all the vampires in the pub knowing who he was, he'd made himself a target. He needed to leave. Quickly, but without making it appear he was desperate to retreat.
Daniel cleared his throat. "Yes, I am."
Niven flashed him a smile. "Then it looks like I picked the right man to hit on tonight."
Daniel let out a rough laugh, more to cover his nerves than finding humor in Niven's statement. Now he really needed to leave. What had he been thinking in the first place coming out? Did he really believe something like this wouldn't happen? Even if he couldn't have expected others to perk up at dropping Titus's name, he sure as hell should've known someone would hit on him.
Daniel looked at Niven, forcing himself to hold eye contact with him. "I'm very flattered but also sorry to say I'm not looking for company tonight."
"Maybe if we spent some time alone, you'd change your mind."
Daniel glanced away from him. Quite the persistent shit, this one. It was clear now Niven wasn't going to be easily dissuaded. He could already feel the lust coming off Niven, and the dominance. Appearances didn't matter anymore. He had to leave. Now.
Daniel pulled out his wallet from the inner pocket of his wool trench coat and tossed a few bills onto the bar. He hopped off the stool, giving Niven a quick nod. "Thank you for the conversation, but I'm afraid I must be off now."
Without a backward glance, he hastened toward the door, rushing down the sidewalk with his head lowered to watch his step for ice. He sensed he was being followed before hearing the footsteps.
Daniel tugged his scarf tighter around his neck, a small means of protection, but still one more barricade to get through. He saw his car ahead, yet it seemed impossibly far. He debated making a dash for it but didn't want to risk slipping on the treacherous ground and falling. Then he'd be at Niven's mercy. Instead, he quickened his steps so his were slightly faster than his pursuer's.
He pulled out his car keys, unlocking his Mercedes SUV while still several strides away. Grabbing the door handle, he ripped it open and jumped inside, locking the doors and firing it up.
A loud knock sounded on the driver's window.
Daniel snapped his head to the side, seeing Niven smiling at him. Niven motioned for him to roll the window down, and at the same moment, Daniel heard him try the door. He threw the SUV in drive and slammed the throttle down. The tires spun on the slushy ground but gained traction and launched the SUV from the curb.
He glanced in his rearview mirror. Niven had jumped back onto the sidewalk and stood with his arms raised in a gesture of frustration. Daniel focused back on the road, concentrating on getting home.
He reached the country almost without realizing it. Rather than slow down, he sped up, flying down the rural roads. There was a time when he'd cruise these roads, enjoying the rolls and hills of Kent county, the small villages and quaint farmhouses. Now all he wanted was to be out of the darkness.
All of the homes gave away to open fields, and after several kilometers, he saw the drive to his house, or more to say, Titus's manor. Technically he didn't own the home, though since Titus had moved out more than two years prior, it was practically his.
Lights lit the end of the drive. Daniel hit the remote to open the ornate steel gates as he approached. Cranking the steering wheel hard to the right, he sent the back of the SUV fishtailing as he veered into the drive. He powered through the gates, watching them close behind him, and sped down the gravel road lined with ancient oaks.
Ahead, he saw the face of the gray stone manor house, still holding its regal elegance from when it was originally built in the early 1700s. He was glad he'd turned on all the outer lights but cursed that the manor didn't have an attached garage.
Daniel brought the SUV to a short stop before the front entrance. He sprang out, raced around the front end, and bounded up the stairs to the tall double walnut doors. His fingers worked frantically in unlocking them, and as soon as the lock clicked loose, he tore open one door, slammed it closed behind him, and whirled for the security system to arm it again.
The system beeped confirmation at being armed. Daniel took a step back, relief washing over him. He leaned back against the doors, sliding down them to sit on the floor. He realized for the first time how heavily he breathed, as if he'd run the entire way home.
Daniel tipped his head back, letting it bang softly on the door. A mocking laugh escaped him. He truly had become pathetic. Racing home, dashing inside as if a deadly enemy was on his heels. Niven probably hadn't wanted anything but sex. If he ran away from every man who hit on him, he'd never get laid again, and that was about as bleak a prospect as he'd ever thought of. Though, it wasn't entirely true. He could still have sex with human men. No matter how strong a human was, he could always overpower them if they tried to do something he didn't want.
He let out a heavy sigh. Still, is this what he'd become? He didn't want to live his immortal life in constant fear. All he wanted was to feel safe and to have someone who could make him feel that way. Titus always had. He could be in a room filled with vampires, but if Titus was at his side, fear never entered his mind or heart. If a vampire disrespected him, a backhand from Titus would put the vampire back in line and sputtering apologies.
But to take another vampire as a lover, how could he be certain they wouldn't take advantage of him in a moment of vulnerability?
In all his long life, there were only two men he could say had his complete trust, Titus and Ryunosuke. He could add Andreas to that now. A close fourth would be Titus's old friend, Egill. Yet even with Egill, he didn't completely trust him as the Viking was a member of the Tribunal. No Tribunal member could ever be given full trust. No, only Titus, Andreas, and Ryu. No one else.
Ryu. Daniel wondered what he could be doing. It was a funny thing, for as long as they'd known each other, there were still many things about Ryu that were still a mystery to him. He knew Ryu had been Turned by demons, but how it happened he had no clue. He'd asked him a few times, but Ryu would always give him a smile and say he'd tell him another time. He tried to get the story out of Titus, but Titus said it was something for Ryu to talk to him about.
Now thinking about it, he'd only been to Ryu's home in Japan a handful of times. Actually, Ryu had two homes there, a traditional mansion in the mountains near Kyoto and a penthouse in Tokyo. He'd only been to the mansion twice, but the memory of how beautiful it was still stayed with him. When they got together, Ryu always came to visit him and Titus, and a few times Titus had gone to stay with him alone in Japan.
A soft smile rose to his lips at thinking of Ryu. Ever since he was a boy when Titus first took him in, Ryu was always ready to give him a smile, a comforting hug, to scold Titus on his blunt ways with him. And when he needed him most, as his body was being drained of blood and he could feel life slipping away, it was Ryu who saved him.
An ache filled Daniel's heart at missing him. It was a feeling he was far too familiar with lately.
Daniel jumped as his cell phone rang. He shook his head at himself and reached inside his coat to pull it out, seeing Titus's name and number on the screen. He put the phone to his ear. "Hello, Cal, love."
He winced as he finished, realizing he'd slipped and used "Cal" again. He still hadn't reached the point where "Titus" flowed off his tongue. He would have to make a more conscious effort at it.
"Daniel, are you okay?"
Warmth washed through him at hearing Titus's husky baritone voice. "Why yes, I'm fine. Why would you think otherwise?"
"Because you're not. You're trying to sound way too cheery. What's going on?"
Daniel paused, his voice closed off for a moment by emotion. "How did you know?"
"Because nothing short of one of our deaths will fully break our bond. And, after a few hundred years, I can tell when you're lying."
A choked laugh escaped Daniel's throat. "So you can, and so you're right. I'm...I'm not doing well. I tried to go out tonight, to be with other vampires, but I couldn't do it." Daniel poured out his story of what happened at the pub, telling Titus of his anxiety, his feelings of being watched everywhere he went since returning to England. As he finished, Titus was quiet. Daniel waited a few moments before speaking again. "Are you angry with me?"
Titus cleared his throat. "No."
"But you are disappointed with me."
Titus drew in a long breath. "No, I'm not disappointed with you either. If anything, I'm angry and disappointed in myself. I knew I shouldn't have let you leave so soon, but you said you wanted to, so I let you go."
Daniel let out a soft snort. "And now you're the one who's lying. You never wanted me there to begin with."
"That's not true. All I wanted was for you to start standing on your own. But I'm not getting into that again right now. I know the real reason you left was because you felt like you were intruding on my and Andreas's life together, but that was never the case. Andreas and I enjoyed having you with us."
Daniel nodded as if Titus could see him.
"So, why don't you come back to us?"
Daniel's head snapped up. "What?"
"Come back to Chicago. Andreas is worried about you, and so am I."
Daniel sat silent, in disbelief Titus was inviting him back. When he stayed with him and Andreas the first time, the invitation came from Andreas, and he always felt Titus went along with it because it was what Andreas wanted.
"Are you still there?" Titus asked.
"Yes, I'm here. I'm just...surprised."
"I don't know why. I'll always take care of you, Daniel. Even my pushing you away has been a way of taking care of you. But for right now, I think it'd be best if you were with us. Do you feel like you can make it back on your own, or do you want me to come over and travel back with you?"
"No, I'll be able to manage."
"Good. Then get a plane ticket as soon as possible. And make sure you feed before you leave. It's a long trip. Now get some rest. You sound tired."
"I'll go to bed as soon as I hang up."
"Call me when you're getting ready to leave."
"I will. Goodnight."
Daniel hung up and rested the phone over his heart, a true and genuine smile on his lips. For the first time in weeks, his heart felt at ease. At this point, he would take being made to feel on the outside of Titus and Andreas's relationship. Being on the outside of those he cared about was so much better than being alone.