”You openly challenged Blake Becker?” Robbie yelled. He stormed around the dorm room, trying to make sense of his friends’ announcement. “Blake Becker, as in the son of the chief of the Belanni Clan, challenged by you, the son of the chief of the Ambrogis. Do you realize the problems this’ll cause between the clans?”
“There already is a rift between the clans.”
“No,” Rob shot back. “Right now there’s a hair-line fracture between the clans. You challenging Blake could open up the Grand fucking Canyon between the clans! Oh my God, Aramis. Eliot’s a human, for Christ’s sake. His family’s not even vetted within the school. You have zero chance with the council.”
“Then I’ll leave the clan,” Aramis replied stubbornly.
Robbie dropped into a chair and sighed. “You’re tripping. You realize what that would mean, right? Your father would never tolerate that. He’d kick you out, man. The Clack’s not worth it. Don’t you see that? He’s nothing.”
Aramis shook his head. “You don’t understand, Rob. He’s everything to me. Look.” He turned his head and lifted the hair behind his ear. The other boy leaned in closely to look, and then staggered back in amazement. A thick lock of Aramis’ gold-blond hair was now dark brown.
“Oh my God,” Rob breathed. He sat next to Aramis on the bed and said, “Dude, you’re fucked.”
The first week of my Italian class flew by. The course-load was challenging, but not overwhelming, and every day Aramis met me for coffee and introduced me to students and faculty. I began to feel like a real part of Belsmeade… until I went back to high school after my coffee break with Aramis. That’s when reality set back in and I realized that I’d never truly be one of them. I’d never really fit in with Aramis’ friends.
On Friday afternoons, my friends and many other Clacks would congregate in the book store next to the high school. There was a great coffee bar nestled inside the shop, that served an amazing raspberry Danish, so I was a loyal patron. After my first week at Belsmeade, I ordered a latté and plopped down in a well-worn arm chair. My friend Kyla sat on a sofa opposite me with Travis next to her, shoving a scone into his mouth.
“So give us the scoop,” Kyla demanded. “What was it like? Are the guys all really hot?”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course not all of them,” I replied with a laugh. “Just because they’re rich beyond imagining doesn’t make them all supermodels.”
Travis swallowed hard and added, “But a hundred grand in the bank definitely makes an ugly-ass man a hell of a lot more attractive.”
I laughed, but was nervous inside. I hadn’t told them about Aramis yet. “Actually, guys, there’s one guy that—”
The bell over the front door rang and Kyla and Travis’ gazes fixed on something behind me. I turned around to see what they were staring at and I gulped. Aramis was standing there, smiling.
“Hey, Eliot,” he said in his deep, smooth voice. “Glad I found you.”
“Aramis,” I replied in a daze.
When I didn’t add anything else, Travis hopped up and beamed at the newcomer. “I’m Travis. And you are?”
“Aramis Ambrogi. A friend of Eliot’s from Belsmeade.”
Kyla and Travis both wilted like dry daisies and I scowled at them. “These are my friends Kyla and—”
“Travis,” Aramis offered. “Nice to meet you. I’m sorry to bother you, but could I have a private word, Eliot?”
I looked at him in astonishment. “Um… sure. I’ll be back guys.”
We walked outside and I followed Aramis around the corner. When we were out of view of everyone else, he turned to face me and stared. I stared back until he spoke. “How are you?”
He took a step closer. “How are you?”
Once again, that peculiar feeling of fuzziness clouded my head. Aramis reached up to carress my face and I leaned into his touch. His fingers smoothed over my cheek and around the curve of my ear. With gentle pressure, he turned my head and I felt his breath on my neck. All too quickly, however, he pulled away. My vision came back into focus and I saw Aramis gawking at something behind my ear.
“Aramis? What are you looking at?”
With trembling fingers, he gently tugged on a lock of my hair. A brief touch of his lips on my cheek made me shudder. I closed my eyes and reveled in the contact. Twisting the strands around his finger, he put his mouth to my ear and whispered, “This.”
“What is it?” I asked, but got no reply. I opened my eyes and Aramis was gone. I hurried around to the front of the building, but he was nowhere to be seen.
I rubbed the spot on my head that had fascinated him so much and went back into the book shop in a daze. Ignoring the questions from my friends, I headed to the restroom. After locking the door, I turned to the mirror and angled my head to look behind my ear. I gasped when I saw that the hair Aramis had touched—hair that had always been my usual dark brown—was now a bright, golden blond.
“What the hell?” I breathed.
A three-acre field separated the Ambrogi estate from the Becker’s. The vampires had named the empty lot Little Switzerland. It was completely neutral; it didn’t belong to either clan. Unlike its namesake, however, this plot of land had been the scene of many skirmishes.
This dark January night was no exception. A large crowd gathered on each side of the field. In the middle of the group, two boys stood, glaring at one another. Beside each boy was an older vampire—their fathers and Clan chiefs.
As their sons prepared to fight, Aristes Ambrogi locked eyes with Lukas Becker. The latter sneered and turned to leave the field. The elder Ambrogi fought the urge to grin in triumph. Everyone knew who would win the fight today. The larger issue was why Aramis had challenged Blake in the first place. The rumors that flew around the Clan were troubling indeed. The “why” would need to be dealt with, but for the present, it was time for Aristes to join his family on the sideline and make sure things didn’t get out of hand.
He needn’t have worried. In an instant, Blake bolted toward Aramis, intending to push him out of the battle circle, thus ending the challenge. The taller, stronger vampire had anticipated Blake’s clumsy surprise attack. Aramis spun around and kicked his attacker in the chest. Blake flew backwards thirty feet and landed well out of the battle circle.
Aramis brushed off his jacket. “I think I’m done here.”
Members of the Ambrogi Clan shouted and jeered at the humiliated vampire, until the Ambrogi chief ordered, “Silence!” Everyone immediately obeyed. Aristes turned to his son. “Go and shake hands with your opponent and then meet me in my office.”
Aramis scoffed. “Dad, that wasn’t even a real fight. It was one kick! Can’t I go out with Robbie and—”
“My office,” Mr. Ambrogi repeated. “Five minutes. I will not say it again.”
After the Ambrogis left the field, a small group of Belannis gathered around their friend. Carson Nilsson asked, “What the hell, dude! You didn’t even try against Ambrogi.”
Blake cuffed him on the arm. “Why get my ass kicked when I know of a much better, much more effective way to bring Ambrogi down? Look what happened to fall out of his pocket when he took his coat off.” He held up a smart phone and chuckled darkly. “Once I spied it on the ground, I figured I’d lose the challenge quick and snatch the phone.”
Carson had a very, very bad feeling about this.
Aristes Ambrogi sat back in his chair and studied his son’s face. It was one thing for Aramis to date a schoolmate from a vetted family outside the clans. It was a different matter entirely to date someone outside the school.
“Well?” Aramis asked nervously.
Mr. Ambrogi exhaled slowly. “I don’t know, Aramis. This is so… unheard of.”
The boy shook his head. “Un. Real. It’s not like Eliot is another species.” His father cocked his head to one side and raised an eyebrow. Aramis corrected himself. “Okay, technically he is another species, but Dad, he’s special. I’ve never reacted that way before. And he likes me. I can tell.”
“Senator Ishiro’s daughter Suki liked you too,” Mr. Ambrogi replied.
“And Suki is a girl. We’ve been through this. I don’t date girls. Please. Just let me introduce you to Eliot, and then you can decide if I can go to the council. How does that sound?”
Mr. Ambrogi nodded. “Very well. The winter fete is in six weeks. You may bring him then.
Aramis shot out of his chair. “To the fete?” he cried. “No! I meant just our family.”
The older vampire set his jaw and his eyes flashed silver-blue. Aramis got the warning and quickly sat down. Mr. Ambrogi said, “The Coven is your family, Aramis.”
“Yes, sir. I apologize. However, I checked the laws today and it states quite clearly that any human has to appear before the council prior to entering a clan assembly. The fete’s an assembly, right? So I’ll have to bring him home first, and then to the council and then to the fete.”
“It is a comfort to know that you follow the Laws of the Covens, Aramis,” his father said with a grin. “Especially when it suits your purpose. Go ahead and bring this… Eliot to the estate. If I deem him worthy, I will speak to the council on your behalf.”
“Really?” Aramis asked with an ecstatic grin. “You’d talk to them for me?”
Mr. Ambrogi walked around his desk and put a hand on his son’s shoulder. “I want you happy, Aramis. You’ve been alone for far too long. If you think this boy will make you happy, then so be it.”
Aramis had asked me to go out sometime, so we traded phone numbers. On the bus ride home, I assigned his number a separate tone for calls and texts. I couldn’t believe that he wanted to go out with me. Me! The king of all things ordinary—except for this new patch of blond hair behind my ear. Even my father, the doctor, couldn’t explain it. We chalked it up to hormones.
As I lay on my bed Saturday night, my phone chimed with the special tone reserved for Aramis. I excitedly opened the text, but was confused with the message.
11pm Tonight – INFO HERE.
I clicked on the link and it brought up a password box. I took a chance at ETERNUM and hit enter. The blog consisted of a single post. An invitation to someplace called Artery in Boston. The simplicity, yet sinister quality of the image chilled my bones… and made me insanely curious.
Quickly donning some subdued club attire, I grabbed my keys and said, “Hey dad? I’m going down to a club in Boston.”
“Boston?” he asked. “I don’t know…”
“Please? I have my pepper spray and I won’t talk to strange people.”
Little did I know that people would be the least of my worries that night.
Not until I reached the street where the club was located, did I realize I was underage. Hopefully, Aramis had arranged something with the bouncer, or maybe it was an 18+ club. I parked in a garage and walked down to a non-descript brick warehouse with a neon “A” hanging over the door. Other than that, there were no markings. A line of people waiting to get in stretched down the sidewalk, and I was relieved to see that many of them didn’t look much older than me.\
The bouncer checked my ID and asked me for the password. It took me a second to remember it. “Eternum,” I said.
He jerked his head back in surprise. “You sure?”
“Yes?” I replied nervously. It seemed at first like I’d picked the wrong word, but he shrugged and let me in.
My eyes adjusted to the dark interior and I gazed in wonder at the scene around me. Guys were all over each other. Everywhere I looked, I saw couples in various stages of fully-clothed foreplay. Someone pushed me out of the way of the others entering and toward the dance floor. I wandered through the gyrating crowd and came out the other side, facing several round tables against a wall covered with deep red, velvet curtain. At every table, two—and sometimes more than two—guys were kissing, groping and grinding. Staring unabashedly, I moved down the row, until I saw a man with his head thrown back in ecstasy, gripping the shoulders of his partner, who was working his mouth on the man’s neck and moaning. The one doing the kissing had his back to me, but I noticed a rather familiar head of stylishly-tousled blond hair.
I couldn’t help but call out over the music, “Aramis?”
When he turned around, I staggered back in horror. Blood dripped from long fangs in Aramis’ mouth. His eyes glowed an icy white that chilled me to the bone. A quick glance at his partner confirmed the nightmare: the man leaned against the wall with a dazed smile on his face. Blood still oozed from two puncture wounds in his neck.
“Oh fuck!” I screamed. Fighting the urge to vomit, I turned and ran towards the exit. The music died and everyone stopped to look at me, but I didn’t give a shit. I had to get out of this surreal hell. I made it through the stunned crowd on the dance floor and was on my way toward the door, but Aramis suddenly landed in front of me. I tried to run around him, but strong arms wrapped around me. I struggled, kicking and screaming.
Aramis called out in some language, which I took to be Italian, and someone handed him something. He whispered, “I’m sorry, Eliot,” and stuck a needle in my arm. The room spun and my mind went dark.
When I woke, my entire body felt sluggish. I opened my eyes and blinked under the harsh light. There were several other people in the room. Aramis was sitting in a chair with an older man leaning over him, yelling.
“What the hell happened?” the man boomed.
“Father, I told you, I have no idea. He doesn’t even know what we are.”
Mr. Ambrogi growled. “I gathered that much from his reaction. How could you do this?”
Aramis sounded desperate. “I swear I didn’t invite him!”
“Yes you did,” I croaked. Everyone turned to me. I clumsily dug for my phone and showed the text I had received.
Mr. Ambrogi grabbed my phone and shoved it in his son’s face. “What do you call this, then?”
Aramis padded his coat pockets and gasped. “My phone. It’s gone!”
“God damn it!” Mr. Ambrogi roared. He gave orders in Italian to the other men in the room. They disappeared through the door, leaving Aramis and his father alone with me. As the elder man knelt before me, I scuttled back toward the wall.
He raised a hand to calm me. “Don’t be afraid, Eliot. I know for certain that none of this is your fault. Do you feel comfortable speaking to my son?”
I nodded, and he smiled gently before leaving the room. Aramis slumped against the back of his chair. I cleared my throat, but couldn’t keep my voice from shaking. “I… I am so freaked out. Is this really happening?”
“Yes,” Aramis replied quietly.
“So you’re really a…”
“They really exist?”
“No!” I snapped. “There’s nothing fucking obvious about any of this! I mean—what is this place?”
“It’s a feeder club. Men with vampire fetishes come here and… donate. It’s a safe environment for younger vamps like me to get what we need.”
“A feeder club,” I repeated, matter-of-factly. “That’s completely twisted.”
Aramis shrugged. “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
I rubbed my temples to relieve the throbbing in my head. “So, you were… feeding from that guy? You weren’t making out with him?”
“Yes to the first question. Technically, no to the second question. The problem is this: when we feed from a human, that human becomes sexually aroused. Their passion triggers a similar response in a vampire. Most of the time I can fight it.”
The thought of Aramis with his—God help me—fangs sunk into some little twink’s neck made me red with rage. I hopped up and screamed, “Most of the time? So even though you were coming on to me and making me feel all… whatever, and seeming like you were interested in me, you still had no problem macking on that dude’s throat? Were you going to fuck him or maybe just take him in the back for a quick blow job?”
“Of course not,” he said with a sigh.
“Bullshit.” I went towards the door, but before my eyes caught his movement, Aramis blocked my path.
“Stop doing that!” I spat at him.
“Eliot, please listen to me. At least give me the chance to explain. I’m begging you.”
“You’ve done nothing but lie to me. Why should I give you anything?”
“Because you are my mate.” His mouth covered mine before I could respond.
Oh yes, Aramis thought. This is perfect. The sweet flavor of his mate burst onto his tongue and made his spine tingle. He fisted one hand in Eliot’s hair and wrapped the other around the slim waist, drawing him closer.
Thump. Swish. Thump. Swish.
Faster and faster, Eliot’s heart pushed the vital fluid through his veins. The scent of blood swirled in the vampire’s nose and triggered his thirst. Unable to control himself any longer, the predator took the human’s chin in his hand and pushed it gently up to expose the slender throat.
Fingers gripping Aramis’ shirt, Eliot moaned. “Oh God, Aramis. Yes.”
Aramis’ fangs descended as his cock hardened. Never before had the potential of drinking blood brought him to such a state of arousal. He opened his eyes and gasped at the sight of his mate at the edge of his sexual precipice. So stunning, so sexy, so… innocent.
Innocent. A virgin, too. As much as he wanted to sink his teeth into the warm flesh and draw Eliot’s very being into his body, Aramis just couldn’t do it. His fangs retracted and his erection softened. He stepped back from his mate and sighed.
Eliot still clutched at the air where Aramis’ shirt had been a few seconds before. When he realized he was grasping nothing, he opened his eyes and asked, “What’s wrong? Please don’t stop.” His breathy begging chipped away at Aramis’ defenses, but he did not give in.
“No, Eliot. I can’t do it.” He expected a disappointed pout or maybe some whining. What he did not expect was for Eliot to start yelling.
“No? What the fuck?” Eliot raged around the small room while the vampire stared. “No. God damn it! You get me so worked up that I’m practically coming in my pants and then leave me hanging? Is it possible to cock-block yourself?”
Aramis crossed his arms and looked severely at Eliot. “Sit down, please.”
“No,” Eliot shot back.
Silver-white eyes blazed into Eliot’s and a velvet voice commanded, “Sit down, Eliot.”
The human was powerless to resist. Those superhuman eyes penetrated his mind and took away all willpower. Eliot plopped down onto the small bed and blinked.
Aramis smiled and sat down next to him. “You have to understand what you’re getting into.”
Eliot rolled his eyes, “We’re getting into sex. I think I got a handle on that part.”
Aramis took his mate’s hand and explained. “No. It’s not just sex, Eliot. Not to me. If we made love and you somehow drank even the smallest drop from me, it would make you my mate.”
“Make me?” Eliot inquired. “How would it make me?”
The vampire cleared his throat and spoke carefully. “You would become as I am: immortal.”
Okay. That took care of my hard-on.
I looked at Aramis, desperately searching for some sign that he was joking. When I found no hint of levity on his face, I felt dizzy. Immortal. A vampire. I would be a vampire. How could I possibly wrap my head around that? Aramis turned away and ran his hands through his hair. The movement drew my attention to lock of dark brown hair behind his ear. Unconsciously, I touched the blonde patch on my own head.
“Our hair,” I said. “What happened?”
“I touched you,” Aramis replied softly. “All a vampire needs to do it touch their mate to know. When that contact happens, our bodies immediately begin to take on characteristics of the other.”
“Huh?” I croaked.
Aramis was disconcerted. “What’s wrong?”
“Wrong?” I repeated. “Aramis, what the fuck is right about this? I assume mates are kinda pre-ordained or something.”
“We’re not an organized religion. There is no pre-ordination going on. But we are paranormals. There is a certain power or magic contained within our bodies.”
“But not in mine,” I said with a huff. “Why would a vampire be attracted to a human? Has it happened before?”
“Of course,” Aramis said with a shrug. “My mother was a human when my father met her. If we didn’t have some new blood once in a while, we’d all be inbred crazies.”
“Did you have to use that word?” I asked.
He scowled. “Don’t tell me you’re bothered by blood.”
I raised an eyebrow. “By no means. I have no problem whatsoever with blood, unless it’s been sucked from my body by the undead! Blech!”
Aramis put his hands up in a defensive gesture. “Enough, Eliot. No more. I’ll have someone walk you to your car and you’ll never see me again.”
A hard knot of dread tightened in my chest. The thought of never seeing Aramis again was so painful that I whimpered. As he stood, I grabbed his hand and pulled him down. The momentum brought us backward so his body was blanketing mine. It only took a few seconds of contact for me to decide I couldn’t live without it.
Frantically, I pushed my hips up and hissed in pleasure when Aramis mirrored the action. His hard cock rubbed against mine and we both groaned. I gripped his hair and fixed my mouth to his. The heat between us intensified, and the now familiar euphoria clouded my mind. It was Aramis’ arousal, the very essence of him, pouring from his body in reaction to me. It made me feel powerful, sexy, uninhibited.
Wrapping my legs around his hips, I held his head firmly and bit down hard on his plump bottom lip. When he hissed and pulled away, I gasped. Aramis’ mouth was smeared with red. Without thinking, I stuck out my tongue to clean my own lips.
“No don’t!” Aramis cried.
It was too late. The salty tang of immortality hit my tongue. My head swam and I squeaked out a quiet, “Oh shit,” before falling into a sleep from which I would never awaken.