Monday, September 13, 2010

Excerpt: Alliances by Barbara Sheridan and Anne Cain

Alliances by Barbara Sheridan and Anne Cain
Genre:  GLBT
ISBN 978-1-59578-361-5
Book Length: Plus Novel
Cover Artist: Anne Cain

The Blurb: The sorceress Jaya works to revive an ancient evil. By joining forces with the centuries-old vampire Sakurai to obtain both their most sought after desires, they create a web of mistrust and seduction to ensnare four people crucial to their schemes: art professors Meg Silivasi and Leigh Gachelsing, along with Ken Ohara and his immortal lover, Dao Kan Shu. As malevolent forces and their own suspicions drive a wedge between the couples, loyalties are put to the ultimate test.

Contains graphic m/m sex, strong language, intense violence and situations some readers may find disturbing

***

Excerpt~

Prologue
San Francisco, 1883

The last crescent edge of the sun dipped below San Francisco Bay, and in the dank alleys of the Barbary Coast, black shadows crept along garbage-strewn cobblestones. In a storage house tucked behind an abandoned shoe factory, the darkness itself seemed to gather there the most. Candles and oil lamps burned in the windows, the light dulled by panes covered with soot and grime. The building’s tin roof slanted off at an angle, pocked by rust and decayed from the salt air.
But none of it deterred the crowd milling around the dilapidated structure.

A number of men pushed and shoved to make their way inside where cheers and shouts mixed with wails of defeat and spilled out on to the street in a cacophony. Within the storage house, the situation worsened. Dozens and dozens of people crammed into the tight space, leaving no room for anyone to even raise an arm. The heat of so many bodies so close would’ve been as intolerable as the noise or the smell--a nauseating mixture of sweat, alcohol and blood. Yet everyone bore it without a second thought. All attention was given to the center of the room where a circle had been drawn on the floor in chalk and filled with sand and straw.

In the center of that ring, two cocks slashed at each other in a flurry of feathers and shrieks of fury. While the spectators roared, the two birds scrambled on the straw, now slick with blood and entrails. The sharpened razors tied to the cocks’ talons flashed in the air as they lunged at each other. Flesh rended with a sickening shredding sound and the smaller of the two animals dropped to the floor in a gory, dismembered heap.

Again, the crowd roared. Money exchanged hands. A fight broke out near the front of the ring when the owner of the losing cock attacked the winner with a yard-long piece of rusted metal piping. Bets were called on this fight as well, and more crumpled paper bills passed hands as the men pummeled each other where the two birds had fought only a few moments before.

All but unnoticed, a woman stepped into the ring, the edges of her flowing white cotton skirt stained by the bloody floor. She picked up the surviving cock, the jangling from the silver charms around her cocoa-colored wrist almost lost in the noise around her. She held up the badly mutilated animal and smiled.
“You’re too stubborn to even die, aren’t you?” she looked into the cock’s eyes. “Yes...you’ll do well...”
“You fucking cheat!”
The woman turned around and stared coolly at the loser of tonight’s cockfight. What his bird hadn’t accomplished in the ring, he’d managed to do to the winner’s owner. That man lay on the floor, his skull a crushed and sopping mess.

“Haitian witch!” the man shouted again, blood spilling over his lips. “You cursed the match!”

Everyone in the room fell silent.

“You’re the witch called Jaya, aren’t you?” the man kept on, his words slurred from his injuries. “Some mystic shit from the Caribbean workin’ as a mid-wife--I know that accent. But you’re a witch and a whore besides!”

The woman’s gaze remained cold as she stepped forward. “You have one right,” she said with a smile as she cruised to a stop in front of him.

“I’m not afraid of you,” the man spat. “I want my money!”

Jaya reached out and traced a fingertip over the man’s cheek, leaving behind a trail of blood from the wounded rooster. The man jumped back and rubbed his cheek. “What the hell are you doing, crazy woman?”

“I’m showing you which one you got right.”

The skin on the man’s cheek started to bubble and burn away in smoldering layers. “What the fuck!” he screamed, clutching at his face. But the boils spread all along his face and down his neck, underneath his shirt collar. The skin on his hands sloughed off as he shrieked, the sound slicing the thick air. His cries suddenly died and he collapsed to the floor, his withered flesh blackened to the color of coal.

Jaya stepped over his body with a satisfied smile. The crowd melted away from her, leaving a clear path to the door. There wasn’t a single face in that storage room that didn’t bear a look of fear.

Outside, an unnaturally tall man waited for her. He leaned against the storage house walls, arms folded across the front of his black suit. “Nicely done, Jaya.”

She sucked in a breath upon seeing him. “What are you doing here?”

“I have a message from someone you know very well.” He smiled, two rows of perfectly white teeth flashed against his ebony skin.

“It’s not time yet,” Jaya shook her head, the loose ends of the wrap around her head brushing across her bare shoulders.

The man just shrugged and kept on smiling. “Time passes almost too quickly to notice, eh?”

“No!” she said sharply, panic gripping her. “I’m supposed to have twenty-five years left!”

“And maybe you would have...but...” he shrugged again. “You were too greedy last time, Jaya.”

“Legas, please,” her tone softened. “Talk to him again, tell him I...”

“That you what?” the demon shook his head. “That you’ll give up this quest of yours? That you’ll finally pay him your due?” He stepped to her, his glowing amber eyes full of pity. “Immortality doesn’t belong to mortals, not even to you.”

Jaya’s mouth went dry. “I just need more time,” she pleaded softly. “Please, Legas...you can reason with Carrejoux.”

He touched her cheek and sighed. “Reason with him? Hardly. But I can ask for a favor. As of now, you’ll have another 125 years. That’s the most I’ll be able to do for you, Jaya, and only if you offer us both the proper sacrifices.”

She nodded. “Of course.”

Legas raised an eyebrow. “And what is this I hear about you and the Chinese? They have their own deities to harass for favors.”

Jaya’s smile returned. “A side project.”

“And you expect me to believe that has nothing to do with what you’re after?” Legas snorted.

“I expect you to make Carrejoux believe that,” she said.

He laughed. “This is exactly why your prayers are my favorite to interpret.” He pulled away. “I’ve never dealt with such a sharp woman. But don’t get toosharp, Jaya, or you’ll cut yourself in the end.”

“Thank you,” she called after him.

“Don’t thank me yet,” his deep voice drifted back to her from the shadows he disappeared into. “Don’t waste this chance--it’s your last.”

“I won’t,” Jaya whispered. Looking down at the animal in her arms, she gripped its neck in one hand. She snapped it in one fierce tug and the bird died at last. While the blood in its veins still held potency, she moved through the darkened alleys towards her home.

One hundred and twenty-five years to secure her immortality. It could be done. It would be done. And in a way the gods themselves would never expect.

Chapter 1

April 18, 2006

Sakurai moved as one with the shadows, the flickering strobe lights above the stage casting his sharp profile and self-satisfied smile in shades of orange and black. So the insipid Elder's information was correct after all. Dao Kan Shu was very much alive and--Sakurai's brow arched. It wasn't possible was it? Could that be Shu's beloved Toshiro come back to life after all? Impossible. This new mortal was nothing more than yet another substitute.

The vampire laughed to himself. Enjoy it while you're able, Dao Kan. Enjoy it while you're able.

*
Shu lowered his glass of wine and stared over his shoulder into the pulsing shadows along the edge of the dance floor. Beyond the flashing lights, the darkness moved like a living being.

Finding nothing out of the ordinary, he turned back and settled into the leather seat. Ken Ohara slipped into the booth beside him and Shu draped an arm over his shoulders. “What is it?” Ken asked.

Shu lifted the drink to his mouth and smiled. “Nothing,” he said before taking a sip. He turned and drew his lover’s lips close. Ken boldly deepened the kiss, his inhibitions long faded over the course of the year they'd been together after leaving San Francisco. He teased Dao's tongue with his own, then swirled his tongue and let one of the vampire’s sharp canines draw blood.

A half-moan vibrated between them as Shu's tongue stroked over Ken’s, drawing the blood into his own mouth.
"You're a wicked boy, Kenichi," Shu teased, pulling away and licking the trace of red from his lower lip.

"I haven't been a boy for a long time," Ken teased back, pulling Dao's hand onto his lap to stroke the bulge in his pants.

“Perhaps I need a reminder of that,” Shu purred like it was his own rock-hard cock being stroked. He squeezed a little tighter, his hand cupping Ken’s aching balls through the tight, leave-nothing-to-the-imagination leather.
Ken hardened and Shu shivered with delight. He could feel his lover’s blood as it rushed through his body and pooled in his hardening length, could hear the pulse thundering in his ears. Shu leaned forward, a deep laugh rumbling in his chest.

“Don’t show me here,” he teased, but his touch demanded with each stroke that Ken’s cock burst straight out of those restraining pants.

Ken leaned in, his lips skimming Shu's ear. "Then I guess we need to go somewhere else." He punctuated the sentence with a lazy flick of his tongue, then slid out of the seat and led the way to the back exit.

*

Sakurai shuddered when the boy passed close enough for him to feel the molten passion searing its way through his vibrant blood. He'd never envied anyone anything, but he envied Dao Kan Shu this. How he could manage not to drink the mortal boy dry was a miracle...of course perhaps that was the plan...perhaps he wanted this young man because he resembled the sainted Toshiro.

The vampire's lips curled into a sneer. How Shu had treasured that bent and fading little photograph of his dead companion. Pathetic.

*

Again, that unnerving sense of being watched came over Shu. He paused at the exit and looked over his shoulder only to find nothing. Again.

“Come on,” Ken grabbed his wrist and pulled him towards the door, obviously mistaking his hesitation for another teasing gesture. “Or I’ll do it without you.”

Shu smirked and brushed off the strange feeling. He laughed throatily, sliding his free hand down Ken’s backside and squeezing his firm ass. “Wicked indeed, Kenichi.”

The two men left the nightclub and walked through the dark, near-empty streets of Carmel. Clustered near the affluent businesses of the small-yet-busy village was a community of wood and glass-faced houses lining the rocky beachfront. Shu and Ken reached the home they shared a few minutes after leaving the club.

Kicking the front door shut behind them, Shu pulled Ken into the step-down living room and shoved him onto the sofa. Shu leaned over him and slid his tongue along Ken’s lower lip. “You were going to do what alone?”

“I’m not sure. There are so many choices.” Ken reached between them, his hand a tingling buffer between their clothing-restrained erections. He grinned when Dao grunted and shifted atop him. Across the room an antique mantle clock chimed the midnight hour. “Get off,” Ken said.

“Oh, I plan to, Kenichi” Shu said with a chuckle.

“No, really. Move. Just for a minute. Please?”

The vampire gave him a half-questioning, half-pissed look but did as asked.

Ken stood. “Stay right there and close your eyes. I have a surprise.”

“A surprise?”

“Yes. Close your eyes.”

Once Shu complied, Ken hurried to the small art studio he’d set up at the rear of their property. It took him a little longer than expected, but he finally maneuvered the rolling cart containing the project he’d spent the better part of six months constructing. He couldn’t believe that he had finally finished it to his liking and only hours before the day he needed to present it.

“Don’t peek,” he called as he entered through the dining area. He stopped the cart and removed the cloth cover, then took one last appraising look at his creation. Satisfied it was the way he wanted it to be, he told Shu to look and held his breath, hoping the gift would be well received.

Shu smelled the fragrant, almost-pine like scent of balsam wood and fresh dirt before he opened his eyes. The earthy scents mingled with faint traces of more chemical-like odors...sealant and carpenter’s glue. His lips curled into an amused smile. He knew it was a miniature bonsai garden before he opened his eyes.

He looked first at Kenichi and laughed lightly, though there was nothing derisive about his manner. The expectant look on Ken’s face struck a nostalgic chord in Shu, and his smile faltered a moment. A twinge of nostalgia gripped his heart--Toshiro and Ken were truly one and the same.

Shu’s gaze dropped from Ken to the cart in front of him. His breath caught in his chest and his amused smile vanished completely.

An elaborate miniature panorama spread out over the entire three-square-foot surface of the cart, complete with wooden carvings of buildings and pebble-lined streets. The scene depicted a painfully replicated section of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Not the modern-day, tourist-friendly city, but one more than a hundred years older with gaslight lamps and dirt-paved avenues.

A sound almost like a sob escaped Shu’s throat. He rose from the sofa and approached the model cautiously, as if too sudden a movement would cause it to vanish.

“This is...beautiful...” he breathed, completely in awe. The word seemed so trite compared to the true craftsmanship and love contained within the miniature. Each structure had been crafted with painstaking detail, from the shingles on the slanted roofs of the market to the ornate carvings of good-luck dragons and Buddhas on the business fronts.

As Shu stared closer, he recognized each building. The Gingbo with its pair of gilded pillars poised at the front entrance, the Tien Hau temple with delicate lanterns hanging from the roof’s edge, and just at the border of the Chinatown, their house...with he and Toshiro walking to the entrance. Words failed Shu. If the rest of the miniature had been crafted with love and care, it was impossible to describe the tenderness behind each carefully made cut the two wooden figures had been etched from. Toshiro held Shu’s hand, their fingers interlocked in an intimate touch, every detail astoundingly life-like.
Shu touched the wooden Toshiro’s face--Ken’s face--and found his voice at last. “I never expected something like this,” he whispered. “Kenichi...” He stood up and reached over the model to caress his lover’s cheek. “Its beauty is more than I express.”

Ken touched Shu’s hand then made his way slowly around the cart. He pressed in close, his hands resting lightly on the vampire’s waist. “Today is April 18th. It’s been one hundred years since you lost Toshiro in the earthquake.” He paused and licked his dry lips. "I wish I could be more like him. I wish I was stronger. I..." Ken's words dissolved into a soft sigh and he shrugged.

Shu leaned in to steal the last of Ken’s sighing breath. He brushed his lips over Ken’s, more a caress than an actual kiss.
The date hadn’t escaped Shu’s notice. It never did. A century later, and the anniversary of Toshiro’s death brought with it the same aching memories and almost more grief than he could bear. He’d endured a near-empty existence on the belief he would be reunited with Toshiro within his immortal lifetime, and he had.

He brought both hands to each side of Ken’s face, his fingertips gently stroking the smooth, warm skin. “Those are wasted wishes,” he murmured against Ken’s soft lips. “You are strong...and so much more.” Shu dropped one hand to Ken’s waist, holding him close. “You’re my everything,” he whispered.

Ken melted into the deep kiss, still amazed at the way intimacy with Dao made him feel. He hadn’t been the most experienced twenty-year-old when they’d met, but he’d been with enough girls to know that this was incredible and it wasn’t only because Dao was another man or a vampire. It was simply that the chemistry between them was volatile.

They drifted to the bedroom, shedding clothing along the way. The room was dark, the glow of the low-hanging moon more than enough illumination for lovers so familiar with each other’s bodies. Dao lay back in the center of the wide bed and Ken studied the play of moonlight on his smooth skin as he reached for the small bottle of lubricant on the bureau. He shifted it to his other hand, clicked the play button on the CD player and closed his eyes as a sultry Japanese rock ballad began to fill the room. He opened his eyes when Dao spoke to him in Cantonese.

“Kenichi, come to me.”

Ken climbed onto the mattress, crawling forward on all fours until he leaned over Shu. The vampire smiled, his sharp teeth flashing in the moonlight. “Good,” his deep voice beckoned his lover closer still. Ken bent, his lips parted to meet Shu’s.
Shu lifted his head to meet Ken halfway, their open mouths joining. Their tongues stroked together in explorative gestures, their lips moving in hungry, demanding rhythms. Traces of Ken’s blood still lingered on the young man’s breath, and the alluring coppery taste sent a shiver down Shu’s spine. A deep moan rumbled in his chest and he cradled the back of Ken’s neck, their kiss heating.

Ken sucked in as much air as he could through his nostrils, but Shu devoured his breath as quickly as the other could draw it. His body burned with lust, for both flesh and blood, and another moan swelled in Shu’s throat. Panting wildly, he pulled back and leaned into the mattress, shuddering at the force of his desire.

Just as short of breath, Ken sat back and straddled Shu’s waist. His thighs tightened around Shu’s torso and the vampire inhaled sharply, no longer able to resist. Shu grasped Ken’s hips, brushing his fingernails over the hot flesh. Leaving one hand in place to hold his lover steady, Shu slid the other down Ken’s waist, brushing over the series of light marks traced into the skin. He ran one finger along Ken’s firm erection, eliciting a pleased moan, and then stroked the younger man’s burning upper thigh.

Hissing under his breath, Shu sank his nail into Ken’s leg and drew out a thick droplet of blood. He brought the fluid to his lips and licked, his tongue working under the nail to capture every trace of the blood. With a loud grunt, he pulled Ken forward . The younger man moved off him and to his side, Shu shifted beside him and raised his head to lap directly at the cut and the red trickle oozing out of it.

Ken threw his head back and rocked his hips forward, shivering at the feel of his engorged cock brushing against Dao’s silky black hair. He whimpered and let his fingers drift though the soft strands as much for the pleasure of it as to steady himself. The cut burned and tingled, but it was more pleasure than pain, and the lightheadedness that overcame him with the taking of his blood served only to draw him deeper into a happy haze.

He was panting and covered in a sheen of perspiration when Dao finished and took up the bottle of lubricant. Ken shuddered when the long slick fingers pressed up into his willing flesh and he moved back atop Dao to position himself. He bent forward and captured his immortal lover’s mouth in a searing kiss before impaling himself to the hilt in one fluid motion.
Dao’s cry of pleasure was swallowed in Ken’s kiss. His thick, engorged cock thrust into the opening in one hard push. His length drove into Ken as the other’s weight crashed into him. He bolted upright, his back arching as his swollen flesh pushed deeper into Ken’s tight ass, until his entire, oil-slicked cock was shoved as far as it could go.

Deep guttural sounds rumbling in his chest, Shu clutched at Ken’s back, demanding more contact. He pushed Ken down and the sounds turned into loud grunts as Ken rocked back and forth. Shu threw his head back and gripped his lover’s pounding hips as the rush in his cock reached a fevered pitch.

He erupted inside of Ken, his hot cum gushing out in violent spurts. He dropped one hand to the bed, shredding the silk sheets as his nails clawed at the fabric.

He’d barely caught his breath when Ken eased from him and nudged him onto his side. He groaned when slick fingers teased him, followed immediately by the thrust of Ken’s hard cock deep inside him. He pushed back, his hand snaking around to caress Ken’s firm hip. “Fuck me. Hard.”

He closed his eyes and let his mind drift back to the old San Francisco. Until Kenichi, Toshiro was the only one to be granted this privilege. He’d never even considered allowing anyone the chance to penetrate him but Toshiro had been different, the perfect protégé, the most willing, adventurous lover.

The “fuck music” as Ken called it, was soon drowned out by their labored breathing and drawn-out moans as his mortal lover took him fast and hard--just the way he liked it. “Don’t come yet,” he implored as Ken’s breathing quickened in that familiar way. “I want to watch your face when you come.”

Ken withdrew and Shu moved to lay on his back, drew up his knees and with a look, beckoned Ken to take him again. He viewed Kenichi in the pale light, his keen vampire’s eyes picking out every nuance of expression, every tiny bead of sweat that slid over his deep ivory skin. He kissed Ken’s mouth, slid his lips to Ken’s shoulder and teased the hot sweaty flesh with his tongue as Ken quickened the pace, pounded into him deeper and tensed, coming in a shuddering spasm.
Without warning he flipped Ken over, his still-oozing cock between them. He kissed Ken hard and deep then turned his attention once more to his lover’s neck and the vein throbbing just below the surface.

On the anniversary of his beloved’s death, he would ensure that such heartache could never happen again. Kenichi--Toshiro--was too precious to lose.

Shu slid his lips over Ken’s hot skin, flicking his tongue out to lap at the trickles of perspiration. His tongue found the pulsing vein and he stroked at the surface with the sensitive tip.

“Take this gift,” he whispered, gently kissing the spot on Ken’s neck. “It's time for you to be as I am.”

The blood pounding in Ken’s ears dulled the sound of Dao’s whisper, but when he felt the razor sharp canines extend to rest upon his flesh he jumped, crying out as the fangs pricked his skin. To his horror Dao took this as an invitation, bit down and began to drink.

“No. Don’t. Please.” He dug his fingers into the vampire’s shoulder. “Stop Dao! STOP!”

He cried out when Shu jerked back and glared down at him. Ken watched in morbid fascination as the blood--his blood--dripped from the vampire’s lips and splattered on his sweat-slicked chest. It sickened him to watch Dao lick his lips, not wanting to miss a drop. He couldn’t do that. He couldn’t be like that.

“You dare refuse me again, today of all days?”

“I--I can’t. I just can’t. I’m not ready...”

With a feral growl Shu pulled away. He stood and paced the spacious room like a caged animal, his muscles taut, his body ready to pounce like the skilled predator he was. Ken sat up, grabbed a pillow and hugged it to his chest. “I’m sorry. I...”
He gasped when Shu darted forward and seized his chin in a firm grip.

“Don’t you understand how fragile your mortal life is? You were shot last year. If not for me, you would be dead. Toshiro would have been taken from me twice.”

“I’m not Toshiro Itou. I’m Ken Ohara.”

Growling a Cantonese curse, Shu let him go and paced the room anew. He stopped and fixed that deadly gaze upon Ken once more. “How dare you dishonor him by denying that his soul is part of you? You know it is.” He pointed toward the door. “That sculpture out there is proof.”

“I know, but I can’t kill people and drink their blood.” Ken reared back when Shu pounced on the bed and grabbed his face in his strong hands.

His gaze was still fierce but his tone had softened. “I won’t lose you again to fucking mortal frailties. I can’t bear the thought, don’t you understand?”

“I--I don’t want to hurt you that way. But still...” Ken looked down at the pillow clutched to his waist. Two fat teardrops fell on to it and soaked into the cloth. This was what he fucking meant about wishing he were stronger.

Shu hissed and Ken tensed. “Such is life, Kenichi,” Shu held Ken tighter. “To survive, blood must be shed. It’s that way for everyone, not just for me. Accept it as something necessary, even if you don’t yet enjoy it.” His voice deepened. “Though in time you will.”

Releasing Ken’s face, he brushed away a few more tears streaking down Ken’s cheek. Shu ignored the ache in his own heart, covering the emotion with anger. It pained him to even think Kenichi would not desire to be at his side...forever.
The suddenness of the invitation must have shocked the younger man. Shu should have suspected this. To Kenichi, facing eternity must seem frightening and caused him to fall back on that quaint compassion for human life. Things would be different once he understood completely.

Sitting back on the mattress, Shu pushed the pillow from Ken’s lap and joined their hands, lowering their fingers to trace the familiar scars along the young man’s chest--reminders of near-fatal wounds. “Do you feel them?” he asked softly. Ken nodded. “That is mortality.”

Familiar rage arrowed through Shu as he outlined the remnants of the gunshot wounds the young man had suffered at the whim of a conniving bitch. “Mortality,” his voice trembled. “Your life is too fragile,” he whispered. He stared into Ken’s soft brown eyes, shimmering with unshed tears. “Now you must understand.”

He guided Ken’s hand down past his abdomen to his length, encouraging Ken to hold him, to stroke him. Meanwhile, Shu slid his other hand over the younger man’s bare, well-toned abdomen. His wandering touch moved to Ken’s hip, and he paused. When Ken danced, those hips moved and swayed, more than hinting at the sexual promise they possessed.
With one last caress, Shu brought his hand to his own chest, just above his left breast. Wincing only slightly from the sharp pain, he pressed his thumbnail deep into the flesh and dragged downwards.

Blood, thick and almost black in the pale moonlight, oozed down the three-inch incision. So close to his heart, the wound would not heal as quickly as most did. It remained open and inviting, the fluid dripping from it, full with power. Shu touched his bloodied finger to Ken’s mouth, leaving a dark, moist stain on the mortal's trembling lower lip.

“Don’t be frightened,” Shu command softly. He wrapped his hand around the back of Ken’s neck and drew his lover to his breast. “Drink.”

Ken licked his lip, swallowed hard and let his tongue snake out to touch the cut on Dao’s chest. He slid his tongue along the length of the wound to lap up the warm blood. He closed his eyes and gagged when it slid along his tongue and down his throat. He tried to pull back, but Dao held his head fast.

Drink.”

“I-I can’t.”

What?” Shu’s hand dropped away from the back of Ken’s neck.

In the past, Toshiro lapped at cuts like these, drinking the ordinary mortal blood out of sheer love of their intimacy. Toshiro relished the taste of their intimacy--he never shied away from it or--

Shu’s eyes widened in shock.

Kenichi gagged again, his face twisted with disgust. “God,” he pulled away, wiping at his mouth with both hands. He spat up Shu’s blood onto the sweat-drenched sheets like it was something to be expelled--like it was waste. That alone made the rejection far worse.

With a growl, Shu shoved Ken back on to the mattress. “How can you do this?” he choked out, horrified, furious...hurt. “How!” he demanded. “Do you think Toshiro would have squandered this gift?” He pressed into Ken’s belly hard enough to push the air from the young man’s body. He felt the raised marks on the smooth skin spelling out the words of love he and Toshiro had shared so many lifetimes ago.

“Don’t fuck with me!” Shu half-moaned, half-screamed. “You are Toshiro!”

Ken opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. He half nodded because there was no way to deny the dreams and memories that had been getting stronger the past six months and he certainly couldn’t deny the scars on his belly that appeared after the fire at the club in San Francisco last year. The echo of the same marks Toshiro had cut into himself a century ago after their mob boss Ren Yang had coerced him into killing Dao.

Ken touched the faint marks on his belly. Y?ng yu?n ai n?. I love you forever.

He looked at Dao more confused than ever. “Can I have more time? I’m just not ready.”

More time?” Shu ignored the ache in his heart, telling himself the pain came from the still-unhealed cut instead of Kenichi’s rejection.

“Spend thirty years buried alive, starving and in agony, and add to that a century of empty waiting. Then you’ll begin to understand what ‘more time’ means,” Shu spat. “I’ve given you more than enough of a chance to prepare yourself.”

“I know,” Ken said, looking down at the pillow he’d grabbed again. It had been well over a year, closer to two and he hadn’t been pressured at all. Heshould be ready. He wanted to be with Dao. He loved him, he did, it was just...

He’d seen him feed, he’d been right there a few times. Back in San Francisco he even helped him cover up a woman’s death. Murder, Ken. It was murder.

Ken clamped his eyes shut. “I need more time.”

A string of curses in Cantonese and English spilled out of Dao’s mouth. “You don’t know what you need anymore than you know what do with yourself,” he shot out viciously. He roughly brushed his fingers under Ken’s closed lids, drawing out the unshed tears. “You insist you’re not a child and yet you behave like a weak, crying infant deprived of common sense.” The words were cold and cruel, and intended to wound as deeply as Kenichi had with his.

Desperate to relieve the bitter anger gnawing away at his insides, Shu smashed a fist into the headboard above Ken’s head. The wood splintered with a loud crack from the violent blow. A drop of blood beaded on Shu’s knuckles, the only sign of injury. As he stared at his still-clenched fist, the small scrape underneath the droplet already healing, leaving behind the blood to dry on his skin.

“Be stronger, Kenichi,” he whispered harshly.

“Don’t you think I want to?” Ken shot back, swiping at his teary eyes with the back of his hand. He glared up at the vampire. “It’s fucking hard, that’s all. I may have been Toshiro in the past, but I’m me now. I wasn’t raised the way he was. I’m no son of a samurai. I never made my living beating and killing people for some fucking Chinese crime lord.”

“Son of a whore,” Shu growled, his hands shaking with fury. “How dare you mock him, and me?” He grabbed Ken by the shoulders and hoisted him roughly up into a kneeling position. Shu’s sharp nails dug into the young man’s flesh and Ken stifled a cry.

“What do you think pays for all the comforts you enjoy--the house, your studio, this giant bed I fuck you in each night!” Shu bellowed in Ken’s face. “Your own self-called friends have ties to the mob. I don’t hear you speak that way of Yang and his bastard son, Lok.”

Ken said nothing, but lowered his gaze in defeat. Shu dropped him and he bounced back onto the bed, grunting when a splinter of wood jabbed him in the back. Shu cursed at him in Cantonese again, then snatched up his pants and shirt from the floor and left the room slamming the door hard enough to rattle it in its frame. Ken hugged the pillow and shut his eyes as he heard the front door slam too and then the sound of Dao’s car squealing out of the driveway. “Shit.”
He lay there on the bed, cursing himself. It was stupid to be such a wuss about this. Shu was offering him immortality for crissakes! Was it so hard to accept that such a gift came with a high price?

But it’s murder.

Ken groaned and shoved the pillow over his face.

There had to be a way around it. There had to be! He’d read horror novels--some of those guys didn’t have to kill to live. They only drank a little blood from a lot of people. Maybe he could do the same.

Unable to hold is breath any longer, Ken threw off the pillow and sat up, running his hands through his long brown hair. Maybe a shower would help him sort it all out. He always thought better in the shower.

*

Sakurai watched the scene unfold before him from his perch on the railing just outside the sliding glass doors on the balcony. Hidden in shadows, he heard every lustful moan of pleasure as Dao Kan fucked his filthy, mortal lover. He blew angry mouthfuls of hot air on the glass, watching the steam from his breath spread out to blur the two men as they rocked and heaved against each other.

But the sounds of lovemaking quickly shifted to a bitter exchange of words. Such discord...Sakurai’s lips curled into a mirthful smile.

This was all so very typical of Dao Kan. He reaches a brick wall with his mortal whore and then throws a temper tantrum and flails his arms like a frustrated child. Love for the frail creature, still lying on the bed trying to contain his confused sobs, made Shu all the more a fool. Crushing him would be too easy.

With another laugh, Sakurai dropped backwards from the balcony ledge and landed on the ground below without a sound. He moved to the front door and rang the bell. A few moments later, he heard the muted sounds of bare feet moving on the carpeted floors inside and the door opened.

“What the fuck do you want?” Ken Ohara clutched a bathrobe around his body, his red-rimmed eyes glaring.
“I’m sorry,” Sakurai’s apology rolled off his practiced tongue with ease. “I thought an old friend of mine lived here, Shu Dao Kan. Maybe you know him?”

Ken brushed the tangled hair out of his eyes and gave him a wary look. With infinite skill, Sakurai slithered into the boy’s mind and eroded his suspicions, easily pushing aside the warnings Dao Kan had given him about potential tong enemies seeking him out.

“Yeah I know him, but he isn’t here. He just left and I don’t know when he’ll be back. Do you want me to give him a message?”

“No. I’m so sorry to intrude. I hope I didn’t get you out of the shower,” Sakurai made small gesture with his hand.
“You didn’t. You’re sure you don’t want to leave a message? I can grab a pen and paper...”

“No, I would rather it be a surprise.” Sakurai paused and took a step closer to the opened door. “I know it’s not my business, but are you all right? You don’t look well. Is there anything I can do? I feel I owe it to Dao Kan; he and I go so far back.”

Ken shook his head. “I’m okay, just had kind of a shitty evening, that’s all.”

“Ah, I see...” Sakurai shifted position and made a show of looking over the young mortal’s shoulder. “May I step in a moment and look at that?” he said indicating the bonsai sculpture scene in the living room.

“Um. Yeah why not? Come on in.”

Flashing his teeth in an appreciative grin, Sakurai stepped past Ken and moved through the entryway. His smile widened as the front door clicked shut behind him.

“This is quite lovely,” Sakurai adjusted the cart a bit so that the garden miniature came under the recessed lighting bordering the living room. “But, if you don’t mind my saying, it’s a little out of place in Dao’s house.” Like so many things... He glanced at Ken and licked his lips.

“I’ve never known him to truly appreciate the fine arts, you see,” Sakurai moved from the model and took a seat on the couch. The faint lingering scent of sex was everywhere and on everything, including the sofa, the coffee table, the floor. Sakurai’s expression soured. “He’s not the smartest man,” he sighed.

Okay, so he was a vampire too. It really shouldn’t be that much of a shock. “Well, with his line of work and all, I guess art appreciation was never high on his list of things to do.” Ken cleared his throat and sat in the leather chair opposite the sofa. He stared at the sculptured scene a moment then turned to look at the vampire. “So you and Dao have known each other a long time. Did you, um, happen to know Toshiro Itou by any chance, Mr...”

The hairs on the back of Sakurai’s neck bristled at the mention of Itou’s name. “Sakurai,” he slid his tongue along the edge of his sharp teeth. “And no, I never had the...pleasure...of making Toshiro’s acquaintance.”

Oh, but he nevertheless knew Toshiro Itou. The whispers surrounding Dao Kan’s dead lover had reached Hong Kong, along with rumors of the vampire himself, and the marks Itou had left on the immortal’s body. The mortal lived on in Shu’s sick, obsessive belief that they’d be reunited. And of course, there was that fucking photograph.

Sakurai clamped his teeth over his tongue until blood filled his mouth. Always that fucking photograph.

“You’re very sharp, Kenny,” Sakura swallowed and offered another smile full of false sincerity. “You recognized a vampire quite easily.” He sighed and gestured around him. “I imagine all this must be so hard for you to take...being what you are.”
Ken’s brow arched at that last comment but he said nothing. “How do you know my name?” he asked instead.

“I told you, Dao Kan and I are very old, very dear friends. We don’t talk frequently, but I know what he’s been up to since he left Hong Kong.” Sakurai laughed a deep, resonant laugh. He stretched his arms out along the sofa back and crossed one leg over the other. “Might I trouble you for a drink? Wine, if you have it?”

“Sure.” Ken stood. “I’m sorry for not offering you something sooner.”

“There’s no need to apologize. I can see you have other things weighing on your mind this evening.” He watched the young man move, noting how the robe rode along the smooth curve of that firm ass Dao had been buried in. He might just have to sample that little pleasure for himself before all was said and done.

Sakurai took the wine glass with a practiced warm smile and patted the sofa cushion. “Why don’t you sit here?”

Nodding, Ken sat down and sipped his own drink. Sakurai watched as the mortal cradled the glass in his hands and turned his attention to the model he’d no doubt crafted. “I don’t mean to pry, but knowing Dao as I do, I know he can be quite the selfish bastard at the worst possible time. Have you and he had a falling out?”

“It will be all right.” Ken shrugged.

Sakurai hid his smirk by sipping his drink. “So tell me, what’s it like for a mortal being involved with one of our kind? I think it would be difficult at best. You must be envious of us and what we have.”

Ken shrugged. “Not aging, living practically forever? Not getting sick and having injuries heal is pretty cool, but...I don’t know.”
“Ahhhh. I see...”

Ken looked over. “What do you see?”

The vampire offered a sympathetic smile and set his glass on the high table behind the sofa. “I know Dao Kan very well and I know how dark his tastes tend to run. He always relished the feeding so much more than I ever could.”

Ken stared at him. Was he hearing right or was he reading this guy totally wrong? There was only one way to be sure. He shifted on the sofa so he was facing Sakurai. “The...killing bothers you?” he asked softly. The vampire’s dark eyes reminded him of his art professor Miss Silivasi. They had that same depth of concern she always showed.

“Being immortal doesn’t mean we have to lose the morality of our mortal lives. Some of us find it easier to overlook right from wrong than others.”

“How did you get over it? How did you get used to having to kill? I know Dao doesn’t have to feed every night.”

“But he does because he enjoys it,” Sakurai added.

Ken looked down into his glass and felt his stomach churn as he imagined the deep burgundy was blood and not a Napa Valley merlot. Sakurai touched his hand and he looked up.

“What you feel is perfectly normal, but I have a feeling that Dao Kan has led you to believe otherwise.”

Ken simply nodded.

Sakurai touched his hand again. “We don’t have to kill. You don’t need to take a life to obtain enough to survive. I won’t lie to you, draining a human dry is far more intoxicating that mere alcohol could ever be, but it isn’t a necessity. Personally, I never slay an innocent. The old, the sick, those whom the world is safer without, those are types on occasion are fine for me. Normally I take only what I need and most often from those who are willing to share.”

Ken sipped his drink. “Thank you. That’s good to know.”

“I’m happy to have eased your mind.” He patted Ken’s hand and stood. “I really should be going then and let you take that shower. Please don’t tell Dao I was here. Remember, I want it to be a surprise.”

“Okay. I promise.”

The vampire extended his hand. Ken did likewise. Sakurai’s grip was firm and he could feel the power radiating from him. He might even be stronger than Dao.

Sakurai chuckled as he let go. He walked to the door. Ken followed, nearly running into the vampire’s back when he stopped short. Sakurai was a mere few inches away and his dark eyes held Ken spellbound. Ken shivered when Sakurai reached out and brushed his long, cool fingers across the bruised bite on his neck.

“I think I envy Dao. I imagine a taste of you is quite intoxicating.”

Ken felt his cheeks warm and he looked down when Sakurai laughed.

“I’m such a tease, I know. Goodnight Ken, it was a pleasure to meet you.”

“Same here.”

Ken watched the vampire stride down the walk and disappear into the night. He shut and locked the front door, then leaned back against it, his hand rising to rub Shu’s bite. Maybe it was time to let Dao turn him into a vampire too. Now that he had his answers it would be all right, wouldn’t it?




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