When Sean Martin was shot in the hip he thought his days in law enforcement were over. Leaving the force he opened up his own private investigative business, and for a while enjoyed success until a homophobic ex-colleague spread a story about Sean assaulting an underage boy, the son of an influential congressman.
Overnight, Sean's business tanked, leaving him broke and with zero clients. Then Master Vampire, Rafael Barrantes, hires him to find the murderer of Julian Hunter, a young male escort. Sean isn't crazy about working for a vampire--but all that changes when he meets Arturo Menendez, Rafael's private secretary who immediately tries, and succeeds in seducing Sean. In between bouts of the most amazing sex Sean has ever had, he discovers that the facts surrounding Julian's murder have been swept under the carpet.
In the process of his investigation Sean is beaten, kidnapped by a bad cop, and bitten by a rogue vampire. With the odds stacked against him, can he possibly ever solve the mystery of Julian's murder, and can Arturo, even with his vampire powers, save Sean from a grisly death?
Los Angeles, in the not too distant future
Sean Martin stared at the spreadsheet on his laptop, the one he’d put together to keep track of his appointments, and laughed. A laugh that was decidedly bitter, and one that echoed in the close to empty office with its bare white walls. A year ago, he’d had a hard time dealing with the amount of clients clamoring for his expertise. He’d had to hire a secretary to deal with the phone calls and emails. A month ago, he’d had to let Annie go, even though she’d offered to stay on and endure a pay cut. He missed her, and the collection of Rockwell prints she’d used to decorate the office.
Jeez, but things had gone down the drain so damned fast, and all because of that ass, Jon Balfour. Sean clenched his fists and leaned back in his seat with a sigh that sounded more like a growl. Damn Balfour and his homophobia. The creep had spread a story among his fellow detectives and police officers that Sean had screwed the son of a local congressman. Congressman Adams’ underage son, Jamie.
The lying sack o’ shit… Sean hadn’t touched the kid, had never been alone with him, but for some reason, Jamie had confirmed that yes, the private detective, Sean Martin had got him drunk and fucked him during one of his father’s fundraising dinners. Sean had wanted to hear the kid’s statement face-to-face so that he could question him as to how and when this had actually happened. Just how he’d managed to get Jamie alone when he was employed as a bodyguard at the dinner and had been surrounded by Adams’ guests the entire night. Instead, Adams had a restraining order issued against Sean, making it impossible for him to get anywhere near the kid, plus any attempt he made to contact the congressman was denied.
Why was it so easy for scandal to attach itself to a person’s name? Why had everyone found it so easy to believe he’d do such a thing? He’d been a cop, a good cop, for ten years, until the night he’d taken a bullet in the hip from a punk terrorizing a 7-eleven on Sepulveda. Invalided out of the force with commendations up his ass, he’d opened his PI office as soon as he was able to get around. Sean Martin Investigations it said in white letters on the first-floor directory, and was painted on the glass part of the office door. Soon that door would carry a ‘Closed’ sign, and he’d be looking for janitorial work in the building… if there were any vacancies. All because Jon Balfour had hated the fact that, despite being gay, Sean had a better reputation than him, and was respected by his fellow detectives who all mostly knew he was gay. Whether they agreed with his sexual orientation or not, they had chosen to judge him by his character and not by whom he slept with.
The pedophile slur was another thing all together, though. Guys he’d remained friends with after he left the force stopped calling or coming by the office. Fair-weather friends, Annie, his secretary, had called them, but it had hurt—still did when he let himself dwell on it, too often, maybe. He couldn’t imagine how his mom and dad would have reacted to the accusations. He liked to think they would have been at least skeptical of Balfour’s story, but his dad always had such high expectations of him, never really satisfied with what Sean had achieved, always wanting him to do better. His mother would most likely have believed his denial of the whole thing, but she’d have been afraid of their friends and neighbors finding out. The scandal, you know… Anyway, the subject was moot as they’d both been killed in an auto accident two years before Sean’s promotion to detective. At the time, he’d wondered if his father would have at last been proud of him. Now, a part of him was glad they hadn’t had to deal with this kind of humiliation.
Another bitter laugh escaped his lips, and he switched screens on his laptop so he wouldn’t have to keep looking at the empty spreadsheet. There’s only so much self-inflicted torture a guy can stand…
He looked up as a shadow fell across the office door’s glass pane. He saw a hand being raised, followed by a sharp knock on the glass. “Come on in,” he yelled, not bothering to stand. Probably the building manager with the eviction notice… The door swung open, and a tall man stood framed in the doorway, the light from the hall behind him illuminating his height and the breadth of his shoulders.
“Have I come at a bad time, Mr. Martin?” the man asked, his accent vaguely foreign.
“There never was a better one,” Sean replied, waving at the empty chair in front of his desk. “Take a pew. What can I do for you?”
The man who was wearing a dark blue, tailored, and to Sean’s eyes, extremely expensive suit, strode in with an elegant grace and took the offered seat. Sean tugged self-consciously at the open collar of his white shirt and reminded himself he needed to pay a visit to his apartment’s shared laundry room.
“I have need of your services, Mr. Martin,” his visitor said smoothly. “I understand you have a reputation for being a tenacious investigator, and one who is not afraid to take certain risks.”
Sean stared at his prospective client and couldn’t help but be impressed, and although he was loath to admit it to himself, slightly aroused by the man’s good looks. “So, you know my name,” he said, trying to keep any awkwardness out of his tone. “How about introducing yourself?”
“Of course, my apologies. My name is Rafael Barrantes. I would offer to shake your hand, but I know that some humans dislike touching us.”
Holy shit! Rafael Barrantes—only one of the most powerful vampires in Los Angeles, maybe in the whole of the US, next to that other one—Marcus something. My God, but he could pass for human.
“Doesn’t bother me.” Sean reached across his desk and managed to suppress the shiver that tickled his spine when he met Barrantes’ firm grasp. The vampire’s dry, cool skin was both disturbing and provocative, and he could swear he’d felt a pulse of energy flow between their joined hands. They do that, he’d been told. “So,” he added, as with some reluctance he withdrew his hand and sat back in his chair, “how can I help you, Mr. Barrantes?”
“I want you to find the one responsible for the death of a young man—Julian Hunter—someone very close to me.”
Sean couldn’t help staring at the vampire with surprise. Ever since a mole in the CIA let it be known that vampires had been working covertly with the government for many years, the public had been made aware that vampires actually existed. Over the few years since then, they had proven against all the protests of the religious naysayers that they could live side by side with humans without a catastrophic rise in the number of drained bodies.
That Marcus guy… the one who’d been the first vampire ever interviewed on TV. Marcus Verano, that’s right, he had even made it to the cover of People magazine.
In the deluge of information on how to get along with the undead, one fact was repeated over and over again, ‘Don’t fuck with them, for they will know who you are.’ In other words, if you stole from a vampire or tried to pull a fast one in a card game or tried to get the better of them in a business transaction, you were asking for trouble with a capital T. For the most part, vampires had proven themselves to be pretty law-abiding citizens, keeping to themselves most of the time, not exactly forcing themselves on unwilling humans. There had been a few cases of trouble reported after wild parties when perhaps a woman, or man, who’d been anxious to experience the thrill of the ‘vampire kiss’, suddenly changed their minds only to find it was too late—blood had been drawn and charges of being violated by the vampire inevitably followed.
Why hadn’t the ‘Don’t fuck with them, for they will know who you are’ rule applied in this case? Barrantes’ boyfriend had been murdered, and he didn’t know who’d done the deed?
Barrantes smiled sadly. “You are wondering why I am asking you to investigate Julian’s death. Vampires know all, yes? Unfortunately in this instance, neither I nor any of my friends know the answer.”
Sean listened intently, pulled in to the conversation by the vampire’s melodic accent. “Julian was human,” Barrantes continued, “a trifle headstrong, prone to disregard my warnings that, being in vampire company, he might attract enemies. The government might have given us some latitude, but as I’m sure you are aware, there are many who would see us, and those who befriend us, destroyed, or at least confined behind iron bars.”
“Not that they would hold you,” Sean remarked. “How did he die?”
“A bullet to the head. Mercifully quick. It was made to look like suicide. There was a gun clutched in his hand, the only prints on it, his.”
“And you don’t think it was suicide.”
“I know it was not. He was in his own apartment at the time, but we were mind-linked until the last second of his life. He had no thoughts of suicide. I would have known if he had—and why would he? He was young, beautiful, a whole life ahead of him…” The vampire closed his eyes for a moment, his indecently long lashes brushing his cheekbones.
No doubt about it, the guy was ten times more gorgeous than any Sean had ever fucked. Too bad he’s a vampire.
When Barrantes opened his eyes to look again at Sean, they gleamed with anger.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Sean said, glad that anger wasn’t directed at him.
Barrantes nodded his acknowledgement and slid a photograph across the desk. Sean picked it up and studied the image of a young man with tousled blond hair and full lips parted in a sultry smile. There was no denying the underlying sensuality in that smile.
“Good-looking kid. Too bad.”
Barrantes cleared his throat. “I believe the murderers to be human, not vampire.”
“You said murderers. How do you know there was more than one?”
“I could sense them just before Julian died. His eyes reflected two men.”
“You could see them?”
“No, it was merely an impression of the number. Somehow they managed to make themselves invisible to my senses. The only witness to who they were, or what they looked like, would have been Julian himself.”
“So you think they have some way of screening themselves from your powers? This must be something new.”
Barrantes frowned and shifted slightly in his seat. “I have many enemies, Mr. Martin, both mortal and immortal. It would not surprise me to learn that some of them have been working very hard on a way to destroy me and my associates, or at least give them what they might consider an advantage in any confrontation.”
“But Julian was human,” Sean said, pointing out the obvious. “Not many young guys would have much of a defense against two armed men. If the murderers tackled one of your own, the outcome might have been very different. This sounds like it might have been a demonstration to show you what they can do.” Sean stared at the handsome vampire sitting across from him, taking in the smooth chiseled features, the thick, black as night hair and the almost unreal piercing amber gaze the man returned.
“I think you are right.” Barrantes stood and walked slowly over to the window where he looked out at the dark sky. “If only Julian hadn’t insisted on keeping his apartment. In my home, he would have been protected night and day.”
“You said you were close, more than friends?”
“We were close, yes. Not lovers, although there was a spark…”
“Maybe he liked his independence,” Sean said.
Barrantes turned to look at him. “Again, you are right. He said he wasn’t sure if the life I offered him was what he wanted. Julian was not my lover, but we had—we had sex on a few occasions. We had not consummated the act that is necessary for a vampire union. I wanted him to be completely sure before our blood was shared.”
Sean shuddered slightly. The thought of Rafael Barrantes’ lips on his throat, his teeth scraping at tender skin caused his cock to pulse inside his briefs. Inappropriate reaction, he told himself. The guy just lost his boyfriend. Keep your mind where it belongs, along with your dick. He looked up at Barrantes. The vampire was staring at him through narrowed eyes. Shit, he can sense what you’re thinking. Way to go, dickhead.
“Uh, Mr. Barrantes…”
“Call me Rafael.” He took his seat again in front of Sean. “May I call you Sean?”
“Uh, yeah. I guess.” Sean frowned. He wasn’t quite sure he liked this sudden shift from business conversation to a first name basis between them. How cozy did you want to get with a vampire? “So, did you report Julian Hunter’s murder to the police?”
Rafael growled low in the base of his throat, and his expression was one of wry contempt. “I did and they feigned interest and said all the right things, like they would investigate and attempt to track the killers down. So far, none of my associates have been contacted. Nor have they bothered to talk to Julian’s friends. In other words, they have done nothing.”
“How do you know that?” Sean asked.
“I have many ways of knowing. The combination of gay man and vampire is enough to make their efforts minimal at best. Civil and human rights be damned, Sean. Very little has changed over the years.”
Sean couldn’t argue that fact. Even though gays enjoyed the same equal rights as straights and had for over two decades, with all fifty states forced by the courts to recognize marriage equality—even in the year 2034, bigotry and discrimination for all minorities were still very much alive in the minds of many people. The wars in the Middle East and Central Africa against terrorist groups might have been won by the West after many years of horrific carnage on all sides, but even that hadn’t helped abate man’s hatred for anything or anyone he couldn’t understand. Sometimes Sean thought things might have been better twenty years ago, when he was just a kid. He wondered how old Rafael was. Vampires generally wore their ages very well, and someone as powerful as Rafael was probably really old. The way he spoke, forming his phrases so carefully, was reminiscent of a bygone age.
The vampire smiled at him. “You are a very handsome man, Sean. You obviously take good care of your body. Do you have a husband?”
Startled, Sean dropped the pen he’d been holding. He ran a hand through his dark brown hair. He’d been growing it longer since he’d left the force, and it tended to curl at the ends and around his ears. Annie had said it made him look like a movie star. He’d blushed then, and the memory of her remark made his face grow hot. Rafael looked amused at his discomfort.
“Uh, no…” Getting a grip, he forced a chuckle. He wasn’t about to get into a discussion of his past sex life, such as it was, and in the last few months, nonexistent. “I’m not the marrying kind.” He squinted at Rafael. “But you know these things without asking, don’t you? You can read my mind.”
“I choose not to do that unless it is vital that I know what you are thinking. I admit to probing a little when we first started our conversation. I wanted to be sure you were the man for the job.”
Sean quirked an eyebrow. “And?”
“You’ve had your share of problems. I see in you a need for vindication. Perhaps I can help you achieve that.”
“Great, but if I take the job, I’ll still need payment.”
Rafael smiled, showing the tips of his fangs. “Of course. I imagine you require a certain amount upfront. Will you help me find Julian’s murderers?”
“If I do find them, I have to turn them over to law enforcement,” Sean said. “I have a suspicion you’d want to exact your own kind of punishment. Can’t say I blame you, but I wouldn’t be able to stand by and see you do—whatever it is you guys do in cases like this.”
“The authorities can have them,” Rafael told him bluntly. “We are not barbarians, no matter what you may have heard, or think of us. As long as they are punished accordingly, I will be satisfied. Nothing can bring Julian back, but his assassins cannot be allowed to go free. Also, there is the matter of their ability to shield themselves from vampire senses. I would like to know from where this power is derived.”
“Okay, it’s a deal. I’ll need five grand upfront, and I charge fifteen hundred per day, plus expenses.” He would have taken the job for less, but fortunately it seemed Rafael wasn’t a bargain hunter. “I should inform you, just to be fair, that my license is in some jeopardy. I’m appealing its cancellation, but so far I haven’t heard one way or the other.”
Barrantes nodded. “Then you had better solve the case as quickly as you can. If you will come to my house, I will pay you in cash. I would also like you to come with me to Julian’s apartment. Perhaps visiting the scene of the crime will give you some insight?”
“The cops don’t have it cordoned off?”
“No, they tell me they have finished their investigation.”
“Oh, okay. Let’s go then.” Sean stood, wincing slightly as his hip reminded him of the bullet it had taken. He grabbed his car keys off the top of his desk. “I’ll follow your car.”
“I didn’t come by car,” Rafael said with a wry twist to his lips.
“Oh, right. You don’t need one.” Sean eyed the vampire warily. “I guess you’ll ride with me then.”
“Or you could ride with me.” There was a hint of laughter in Rafael’s amber eyes.
Sean shook his head. “I don’t think so. My car’s parked downstairs. Let’s go.”