The Middle East War is finally over and army veteran, Cole Everett, is determined to build a new life in Los Angeles and reconnect with his cousin, Sean Martin, a private investigator. His hopes stall when in addition to finding it hard to get a job, he learns that Sean’s partner, Arturo Menendez, is a vampire. It might be 2034 and vampires are an accepted part of society, but Cole can’t accept that anyone would willingly mate with the undead. That is, until he meets Arturo and is then introduced to the incredibly handsome Rafael Barrantes. Attracted to Rafael, Cole has to rethink everything he thought he knew about vampires. Cole eventually gets a job as a security officer for a high-tech company, but he becomes suspicious when all is not what it seems with so-called ‘government contracts’. Should he call the cops or take a chance with his newfound vampire friends? Cole finds that either choice is dangerous, and one may just change his life forever.
A future Los Angeles
The sign on the door’s frosted glass read Sean Martin, Private Investigations. Cole raised his hand, then hesitated just before he knocked. He hadn’t seen his cousin in several years… and now to just drop in out of the blue might be a mistake. He should have called first. He’d seen Sean’s ad, seen the phone number along with the address. So why the hell didn’t I call instead of just showing up at his door? He might be busy… he might not be enthused at seeing Cole again after so long… he might be a lot of things, But I’m not going to find out unless I actually see the guy. For Chrissakes, knock!
A woman’s voice? Oh, right, shithead, he probably has a secretary to screen visitors, some forbidding dragon who only lets bona fide clients with appointments past her desk. Oh, for… He pushed the door open and stepped inside. A smiling face greeted him.
“Hello, how can I help you?”
“Uh… I’m Sean’s cousin. Wondered if he was here?”
“Oh, how nice.” More smiles. “He has a client with him at the moment.” She nodded at the closed door to Cole’s left. “But he shouldn’t be much longer. I’m sure he’ll be delighted to see you.”
“Take a seat, Mr…?”
“Everett, Cole Everett.”
“I’m Annie, Mr. Martin’s secretary. Would you like some coffee while you wait?”
“Actually, that would be real nice, thank you. Black, please.”
“You’re in luck. I just brewed a fresh pot a few minutes ago. Mr. Martin does love his coffee fresh.”
She brought him a mug of black coffee and another smile, but Cole could see the question behind the smile. She’s wondering why she’s never heard of me, I bet. Maybe Sean doesn’t talk about his family much… and he and I haven’t been close in years. He’d heard from his sister that Sean’s parents were killed in an auto accident some years back. He knew he should have gotten in touch with him to give him his condolences, but things weren’t so good then for him either.
“Do you live nearby, Mr. Everett?”
“Uh… no, but I’m thinking of moving to L.A. One of the reasons I’m here to see Sean… reconnect, that kind of thing.”
The phone rang at that moment and Cole was spared any further questioning as Annie took the call. He gazed around the office, tastefully decorated in muted shades of beige and white and hung with colorful Norman Rockwell prints. Sean must be doing all right, he mused. Nothin’ cheap about this place.
The door to Sean’s office was suddenly swung open and his cousin appeared, shepherding an older man through the waiting area. He spared Cole a glance as he passed, the only hint of recognition a raised eyebrow followed by a frown that marred his handsome face.
“Thanks for coming by, Mr. Hamilton. I’ll be sure to keep you up to date on my progress daily.” The two shook hands, then Sean closed the door and turned to stare at Cole. “Well, color me surprised, Cole.” His smile was a bit forced, but he walked over and held out his hand for Cole to shake. “How long has it been?”
“Too long… sorry for dropping in without warning.” Cole couldn’t help but notice Sean looked amazing. He’d always been a looker. His dark brown, curly hair, blue eyes, and wide generous mouth had made him a standout. When they were kids together, Cole had been somewhat envious of Sean’s looks, even though his cousin hadn’t seemed aware of them. He’d also been blind to the fact that Cole had the hots for him, idolized him almost. No arrogance in Sean, just a general acceptance of him being good at a lot of things, and popular with their other friends.
“No problem. Come on through. We have some catching up to do. Bring the coffee,” he added, noticing Cole was looking for somewhere to put the mug. He semaphored to Annie who was still on the phone, indicating he wanted coffee too.
“I’d pour it myself, but she’d have a fit, so it’s easier to let her take care of it. Didn’t want you to think I’m the demanding boss-type.”
“She’s very nice,” Cole said.
“She’s a gem.” Sean pointed to a chair opposite his desk. “Take a pew. Annie stuck by me when things got rough a year or so ago. But that’s another story. So, Cole, how are you? Last I heard, you joined the army, but that was years ago.”
Cole nodded. “Served ten years until my discharge, a couple of months ago.”
“Honorable, I hope.”
“Oh yeah. Commendations up the wazoo.” He chuckled. “I remember you never were one for subtlety.”
“Just like the air to be clear. Not that I’d faint if you told me different.” His gaze was steady as he added, “Imagine it was hell for you over there.”
“Hell’s one way to describe it.” Cole sighed. “But I didn’t come here to start a whiny story about being in the army. The War’s over now for the most part… just clean-up operations, which thankfully I don’t have to be a part of.” Sure as hell not getting into the nightmares and hallucinations with him… at least not right now. “I’m moving to L.A., and I just wanted to stop by and say hello. Let you know I’m here. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course I don’t mind. There’s not a lot of us, you, me, your sister Emily, some second cousin somewhere, so it’s good to know you’ll be around, closer. We can have a drink sometime… really catch up.”
“Yeah…” Was that a brush off, time to go hint? He tried to set the coffee mug down on Sean’s desk without spilling its contents. Damn it!
“What’s wrong?” Sean asked. “You’re shaking.”
“It’s nothing. It’ll pass in a few seconds.” He sat back in the chair and took a few deep breaths like the doctor had told him. At least he hadn’t had any of the flashbacks that usually accompanied the shakes. Visions so clear, the noise so crushingly loud. He jerked himself to his feet. “I gotta go, nice seeing you, Sean.”
“Wait!” Sean was on his feet and coming round from his desk. “What’s wrong, Cole? You look sick all of a sudden.” Realization seemed to dawn on him as he scanned Cole’s face. “You have PTSD.” He put his hands on Cole’s shoulders and squeezed gently as if to comfort him.
“Yeah, sorry ’bout that.” His gaze met Sean’s. “I’m way too sensitive sometimes. It sounded like you wanted me to go, and—”
“No.” Sean shook him slightly, then drew him in for a hug.
Cole gasped with surprise but let himself be wrapped in Sean’s arms, his own encircling Sean’s waist. God, but he had missed this close physical contact with another man. Even if the man was his cousin, it felt damned good.
“Wanna tell me what I can do?” Sean asked gently.
Cole pulled back but managed to smile. “Just be a friend.”
“That I can do.”
Cole nodded, and they fell silent for a moment or two, neither moving away, their hands gripping each other’s arms. Cole felt as if Sean was keeping him close to let him know he was welcome, and he felt a real rush of affection for his cousin.
Why in hell have I waited so long to get in touch with him?
“So…” Sean was the first to speak. “You have somewhere to stay now you’re here?”
“Yeah, I’m renting a room from a friend. Brody, he got discharged same time as me and offered me a room in his apartment when I made the move, so I’m staying with him until I get a place of my own.”
“You have a job lined up?” Sean stepped back and went to sit behind his desk. Cole felt relaxed enough to sit down opposite him again.
“Army admin set up a couple of interviews for me. I went to one yesterday, but I’m still waiting to hear from them. I worked with a lot of electronic equipment, such as it was. So much was lost, made useless by the radiation—but you probably know that.”
Sean nodded. “Mostly from the media, and you know how they can sensationalize a story. But sounds like they got it right this time. We felt it here with the slowdown in technology. For the longest time, there was little progress, not like when we were kids and there were new devices practically every month.”
“Right. Anyway, one of the companies I’m interviewing with has some decent ideas of how to bring us up to speed. From what I understand, most improvements have been mainly for the military, the government, and law enforcement.”
“While we poor schmucks have to deal with aging cell phones and laptops.” He grinned at Cole. “Well, I hope you get the job… show ’em how it’s done.”
Cole chuckled. “From your mouth to their ears.” He relaxed a little more into the comfortable chair. “So, how’re things going for you? From the looks of this place, I’d say pretty well.”
“Business is good. I had a little glitch or two a year or so back, but once things were straightened out, the phone started ringing again.”
“Anyone in your life? I mean relationship-wise.”
“Yeah…” Sean sounded a little wary in his response.
“Oh, no. Nothing but good stuff really. You’ll meet him… uh, eventually.”
“Oh, he’s out of town right now?”
“No… uh… No, he’s here in town. It’s just that… uh… Oh hell, you’re gonna find out at some point now you’re living here. He’s vampire, Cole.”
“What?” Cole almost fell out of his chair. “You have got to be kidding me!”
“No, no. I’m not kidding you. His name is Arturo, and contrary to what you might be thinking right now, he has not turned me, so you’re not about to be bitten by me, or him for that matter.”
“Jesus.” Cole stared at his cousin with continued shocked surprise. Of course he knew vampires were now accepted in society, but he’d never met one, never wanted to meet one. They were dead people, for Chrissakes. Inhuman. Dead men walking!
“Yeah, sorry to spring it on you like that.”
“How—how did you meet him? I didn’t peg you for hanging out in their bars and clubs.”
“Not like that. His, uh, his boss asked me to investigate the murder of a friend—a human friend. I took the case because at the time I was at an all-time low. I’d had to let Annie go, I was ready to close up shop, then Rafael walked in here and changed everything. Arturo was his secretary at the time. Still does some work for him, occasionally. That’s how we met.”
“His secretary…” Cole tried to make sense of what Sean was telling him. “This is probably the last thing I expected you to tell me about who you were dating.”
“Not dating, Cole. We live together.”
“You’ll like him, Cole. He’s a really nice guy.”
“A nice guy that drinks blood!”
“Yeah, there is that, but he doesn’t go around drinking from other people. It’s all regulated and—”
“Mr. Martin…” Annie poked her head around the door after knocking gently. “Arturo’s on the phone. He said your cell must be dead or something.”
Dead—like him, Cole thought nastily. What the hell has Sean gotten himself into?
“Thanks, Annie. Uh, tell him I’ll call him right back.”
“Does she know?” Cole asked, once Annie had closed the door.
“Yes, she does. Like you, she was horrified, and scared the first time she met him. Now they’re best buds.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“No, they really are.”
“Not that—or not just that. I mean you and a vampire. Sean, he’s not human, he’s dead, for Chrissakes!”
Sean’s eyes held an icy glint as he stared at Cole. “I know what he is, Cole. I also know that he saved my life.”
“You might think of him as a dead thing, but to me, he’s more alive than most people I know. He is vital, full of life, funny as hell. I can tell from your reaction that you think that’s impossible, but it’s the truth. And if it wasn’t for him, I’d have had my throat ripped out by a rogue vampire, instigated by a human cop, who in my book was a helluva lot more dangerous than any vampire I’ve ever met!”
Cole stared back, startled by Sean’s vehemence. “I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to make you mad. It’s just that… Well, it’s a shock is all. I mean, I just didn’t expect you to come out with this kind of story.”
Sean sighed. “It’s okay. You and a lot of people are shocked when they first find out what Arturo is. They used to say the same thing about gays, if you remember. Thankfully things are better for us nowadays, but all I ask of you is that you withhold judgment until you meet him.”
Cole shook his head. “Meet him? I don’t know…”
“What?” Sean snapped. “He’s not good enough for you to meet him? If so…”
“No, it’s not that. It’s just, uh…”
“Don’t tell me you’re scared—you who faced blood-thirsty terrorists in the Middle East War!”
“I had a gun in my hand then,” Cole snapped back.
“Well, a gun wouldn’t do you a lot of good this time, unless you have some silver bullets to go with it.”
“Forget it, Cole. I sure as hell wouldn’t force you into meeting Arturo or any of his friends. I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable in your presence.”
Cole stared at him wide-eyed. “I would make them uncomfortable? Was that supposed to be a joke?”
Sean narrowed his eyes, then stood abruptly. “I think we’re through here, Cole. I wish you the best of luck with your interviews. Call me sometime when you’ve had time to realize what a jerk you are, and want to apologize.”
Cole got up from the chair. Disappointment and a sense of loss stirred inside him. He hadn’t realized until that moment how much he’d wanted Sean’s friendship—to be a kind of anchor he could rely on now he’d moved to this huge, intimidating city. Someone other than his therapist he could talk to. Now it looked like he’d blown it—but vampires? Sean couldn’t have knocked him more sideways with any other kind of news.
He drew himself stiffly to attention and nodded. “Sorry you feel this way, Sean, but—”
“Cole, don’t dig yourself a hole deeper than the one you already have.” Sean cut him off. “There really isn’t any point in prolonging this conversation. You’ve made your position perfectly clear. Good-bye, and… and have a good life.” He flicked his head toward the door.
Yeah, well that’s final enough.
He turned and opened the door, closing it quietly behind him. Annie’s smile wasn’t quite as bright as before.
Shit, she must have heard some of what I said. Now she thinks I’m a jerk. Am I the only one who thinks this situation is totally fucked-up?
“Have a good day, Mr. Everett,” Annie said, politely dismissing him as she turned to face her computer screen.
“Yeah, you too,” Cole mumbled.
He stepped out into the hall, letting his shoulders slump now that there was no one to see what had become his less than military bearing.