I’ve been working hard to get this first part ready for you guys, so excuse the lack of Nanny Tale the past few weeks. My FFF piece has been giving me a hard time; had some technical issues because we all know auto save is my enemy, and then I had the bright idea to throw in some serious content to shake things up, making my life a little bit harder. Lol Comes with the territory, I suppose.
Anyway, I have a few things to point out before you read, because I’m changing the series by putting Gage up to bat next, and I’m sure many of you will have questions. So here goes:1. It is now Gage, not Cage. Reason? Every time I wrote Cage, I tried to write Cade, and it was pissing me off. So from now on, past works included but not edited to reflect the change, he shall be known as Gage.
2. I have put Gage next in the series with the end of Knox and Isaac’s story ending differently. Well, not completely different, but the bit where Henri comes busting into Knox’s office to interrupt sexy time never happened in Gage’s story. And Ghost and his Carmen San Diego mate, Gabriel, are still off playing Cat and Mouse. SO PLEASE KEEP THIS IN MIND BEFORE READING.
3. For all of you asking me about when I will try to publish: The answer is I don’t know. I have no clue. I’m not sure I have the time in my life to take that on at the moment. I am trying, slowly, to get things together, but Cade is over 400 pages long and that’s a lot of editing, a lot of beta work, a lot of everything to be honest. Publishing is not off the table, it’s just not a big priority to me right now.
I hope that helped. I love you all lots. Let me know what you think in the comments section.
Gage: Part 1 Playlist
Words I Never Said (feat. Skylar Grey) – Lupe Fiasco
Drift – Emily Osment
Who You Are – Ed Sheeran
Gold Gun Girls – Metric
Pendulum – The Island
Start Shootin’ – Little People
Gage: Part One
Bold red letters emblazoned across a blue screen heralded Jerrica Reynolds seated at the nightly news desk. “This is a breaking news report from WKNY TV. We go live to Jerrica Reynolds at WKNY studios.”
Jerrica, notably exhausted and unkempt compared to her standard immaculate appearance on the nightly news, frowned before she locked eyes with the camera. “This is Jerrica Reynolds coming to you live from the WKNY studios in Times Square with breaking news. Not twenty minutes ago, we received confirmation that former New York Governor and retired Supreme Court Judge, Ronald Egan, has been pronounced dead. Egan was the guest of honor this evening at a patron’s gala held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the sixty-nine year old father of four was said to have delivered the most moving campaign speech of his life, promising as mayor to give our city deliverance from the war on drugs and to give the next generation hope during the rapid downfall of our public education system. He was said to be stepping down from the podium when he suddenly collapsed on stage and could not be roused. Police have established that EMTs at the scene tried several times to revive Mr. Egan, but we are told he was unresponsive.”
The veteran anchor’s eyes hardened, as if she harbored emotions that only years of practice could keep at bay. “In attendance at tonight’s gala was Police Commissioner Malachi Haynes, who will be issuing a statement to the press within the hour. As we wait for further updates, Marianne Dobbs is live at The Met now to talk with guests of the event, and see if any sense can be made in the wake of the city’s heartbreak now that one of New York City’s most beloved public figures is gone.”
His older brother sat across from him, fingering the hole-ridden arm of Blaze’s favorite thrift store chair. Gage wasn’t usually one to crack a smile, but he fought not to now. Rowe had come all the way to Queens to sit in his and Blaze’s two bedroom apartment and try to get him to come home. Unfortunately for the prince, Rowe suddenly found himself speechless over the disarray of the place, the mismatching furniture and the realization in his eyes that his little brother was slumming it on purpose.
Gage brought a cigarette to his lips, waiting for Rowe to come back to himself. His golden eyes, courtesy of his father, watched his brother’s violet irises slant at him. And Gage was very much amused. He exhaled a steady line of smoke and flicked ash into a glass tray. “As much as I want to stare into your eyes all night, I got shit to do.”
“Oh fuck off, you little punk.” Rowe fiddled with the knees of his slacks, to alleviate tension in his fingers and then leaned forward as if to get his point across with his body. “Mother is worried about you.”
“It’s mom, Rowe. When you say mother it freaks me out, like you command a band or rats and make voodoo dolls out of hair in your spare time.” Gage rested his elbows on his knees. His ciggy fingers twirled indifferently at his brother. “And I’m not going back to that house. This is home. Make sure you get her the message. Write it all curlicue on Chanel scented stationary with a coupon to Bloomies stapled in the corner and maybe she’ll read it. ”
“You fucking—you could tell her yourself, you know, sans the insolent jibes at our mother’s good name. You left, Gage, without a bloody word. You packed your shit on a whim and moved in with Blaze… in Queens, might I add. Have you any idea what you’ve done to your family?”
“I’m glad you can add, Rowe.” Gage crushed the end of his cigarette in the dish on the coffee table and got to his feet. He pushed his faded green bangs out of his eyes and cracked his neck, fronting like he didn’t have a care in the world, typical Royal style. “That’s not my home anymore. In fact, it never felt like home. It’s stuffy. It’s suffocating. It’s everything I’m not. I’m not a kid anymore. I’m not some child prodigy ass kisser like Axel. I’m not a lot of things and it’s better for everyone, myself included, that I’m here and not there. Besides, I’m getting more hands on training in the city than I’d probably ever see back at the compound. The Queen’s kid? Yeah fucking right they’d put me on the field, even when I turn. They barely let you out of the cage and you lead them.”
Rowe rested his head against the chair and sighed at the ceiling. A guttural groan charged up his throat before his eyes met his brother’s. “I don’t lead our warriors, Gage, Cadence does. I might fight with the best of them, but our people count on me to be much more than that these days.”
“Yeah, well, Cade doesn’t really like me all that much anymore. Now that I’m not hip to hip with Isaac he could give a shit about me or my Guardian training. Hell, we don’t even know if I’m going to be one, but I gotta do something. Cade turned Em and Hannah, and they’re nothing but wild cards. Isaac already bit the bullet and now he’s wasting his new existence being tied to things and spanked like a little girl, and fucking Nanette is off feeding the homeless with Jaska, yet another waste. Me and Axel are the only chance you guys got at a new generation of Guardians because I don’t count on Hannah and Em to take orders, and I’m pretty sure they’d rather be mated to each other than continue the bloodline like other females. And if Ax is gonna spend his life holed up in a library or frequenting tea shops, I gotta pick up the slack. So this is my life. Get the fuck over it, Rowe.”
“You want me to go home and tell our mother to get the fuck over it, in those exact words? Possibly before giving her Chanel stationed stationary like the blade that ends her life?” Gage noticed Rowe’s jaw tick. His older brother straightened in his chair and narrowed his eyes.
“I won’t be your little messenger, Gage. You can tell her yourself. You can ring her and tell her you’ve chosen to distance yourself from her during the most turbulent time of your life, so she might worry herself to death. You can also tell your father he’s done nothing wrong, because right now he thinks he’s the reason you left. He thinks you hate him because he reprimanded you, and so he should have. Had I not been busy that day, I would have possibly kicked your head square off your shoulders for laying hands on Isaac.”
“What the fuck does everyone see in him? Isaac this, Isaac that, while everyone ignores me!” Gage chucked the glass dish across the room, his temper reveling in the crash and explosion of glittering shards. “None of you give a shit about my problems. All you want to do is keep me under your goddamn thumb. Do you realize not once did you ask me why I did it? Why I left, Rowe? No one did. They just wrote me off. Oh well, he probably deserves what’s coming to him. Party boy with obedience issues flew the coop to play lost boy in the big city, oh well, we still have the good twin.” Gage threw his hands up. “Get out, Rowe. I pay half the rent. My name is on the lease now. So I’m pretty sure I have every right to tell you to get the fuck out if you want to argue about it.”
Rowe lifted himself out of the chair and shook his head. “Gage, I’m not blind. I never asked you what this was about because I already knew. I’ve watched over you since you were born. You might not think I care about you, but I’ll have you know, you and Axel are very special to me.” Rowe turned away. “And as the only one you talk to anymore, I figured you come to me when you wanted to share.”
“You have no idea what my problem is.” Gage rounded the coffee table, getting in Rowe’s face. He wanted to snap, wanted to throttle his brother, but somehow the bond between them stopped him from lifting a finger. “Not a fucking clue,” he hissed through clenched teeth instead.
“Really? Then you’re not upset over Isaac finding his mate? You’re not upset because the man you found yourself attracted to now belongs to another?” Rowe softened his posture, attempted to look as approachable as possible for a man of his towering stature. Gage didn’t want to fall for it, but he sort of kind of did every freaking time. Rower just had this way about him, like when he melted for you, you were supposed to return the favor.
Gage’s face fell. “It’s not like that, Rowe.”
“Isn’t it? This all started the first time Isaac made his intentions clear. He wanted Knox. You wanted Isaac. You pushed him away because in the back of your head you knew Knox loved him equally as much, however fucked he may have shown it. Now that everything is said and done, we all should have known and done something to help you.” Rowe reached out, sulked as Gage moved away. “No one can fault you for loving Isaac. The two of you were very close for a long time. You shared everything until Isaac decided to take a different path, and you’ve never been any good with change. Which is why I’m so worried about you, Gage. This,” he gestured around, “is a very big change.”
“I’m not in love with him.” Gage shook his head.
“You’re going to have to elaborate, Gage, because I know what love looks like and I’m sorry, little brother, but it’s written all over you.”
Backing away, Gage put his hand up. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me.” Rowe continued to corner him.
“Don’t do this to me, Rowe. I’m trying to forget all of it. I need to move on.”
“From us? Is that it, Gage? Do you want to forget your family and be the lone ranger?” Anger manifested in his Rowe’s eyes. The former playboy didn’t mess around these days when something threatened his family, whether the enemy was purely emotional, a demon inside, or physical like an assassin or dealer. “You would forget us and the life we all worked hard to provide for you?”
“No,” Gage murmured. “I want to forget how fucked up I am.”
Rowe grumbled, shoulders sagging. “You’re not fucked up. You’re young and confused, and pushing away any means of help you have. Why not get it out, Gage? Tell me what it is and I’ll guard your secret with my last breath. Please, talk to me.”
Gage was numb from head to toe, not really, but his feelings and words seemed locked in the stronghold he’d built in his head and he couldn’t make sense of what he felt. What Rowe was asking of him was nearly impossible, so much so, Gage was pretty sure he had no idea what the actual problem even was. He’d never told a soul his theory of why he was fucked up, except for Knox, and even then it had been in broken words and out of fear. Knox hadn’t appeared to understand what he was saying. He’d been in another zone, trying to protect his mate, scaring the literal piss out of Gage.
“I can’t.” Gage rubbed his hands together. Gun oil from his earlier cleaning session with Blaze still lingered on his fingertips as they pressed against his palm.
“Sure you can. One word at a time, Gage.”
Gage shook his head. “No.”
He flashed Rowe a glimpse of his pained face before hanging his head. “I don’t love him!”
“Then who do you love? What is this? What has my baby brother in such a bloody panic he would push me away? What happened to make you hate us?” Rowe smacked his fist onto the back of the chair. “What is it?!”
Gage purged himself of air. He trudged to the other side of the room and collapsed into Blaze’s chair. “I got off,” he breathed.
“Off of what?” Rowe queried, slipping into the opposite chair. “You got off of what? Is this about drugs? Please tell me this isn’t drugs.”
“No. I got off.”
The light went on in Rowe’s eyes. “You, er, came then?” He raised a brow, not truly following, clear when his eyes screwed up and he rested his head against his fist. “That’s normal I suppose, but what does that have to do with—”
“To him! I’d just fucked that chick from … I don’t remember where, came back to get Isaac for movie night and saw him playing with his lacey shit and got off! Right there in the damn hallway, I just came in my pants seconds after he did. I like women, Rowe,” Gage persisted. “I like them so much I now try to find ones that look like him, because…it’s the idea of him, not him that gets me off. He was so… He was just… I couldn’t stop.”
Rowe nodded carefully. “I see.”
“You see what? Tell me what’s wrong with me.”
“There’s nothing wrong with you except for you, Gage. Denial is a tortuous prison.”
“I’m not gay.” Gage slapped the arm of his chair. “I will have children with a woman. And I will carry on my father’s blood. I’m not some pansy-ass flame boy. I like women,” he decreed. “I’ll mate with a woman.”
Pity: It was written all over Rowe’s face. “Unless Fate is preparing you for a man, Gage—you can’t argue with Fate. And I’m going to refrain from taking the flame boy comment personally because it’s clear you’re someplace in your head I can’t reach.”
“Fuck Fate and fuck you. Get out. I’m not gay. I don’t love Isaac and I don’t want to go back to that place. Leave!”
Rowe exhaled through his nose. His eyes widened and he was half out of his chair before his brother could move away. “Gage, I love you so much.”
“I hate you.”
Rowe’s face paled. He gripped the armrests of his chair, mid standing to action. He closed his eyes, breathed it out, and then locked eyes with Gage once more as he stood. “I love you more than you could ever know. I hope this hatred you carry for yourself will fade. I hope you can see that your words affect me and my mate, and my brothers, and my friends. I hope you snap out of this. I hope you find the one that settles this upset in your heart. But don’t you ever say you hate me. I’ll kill before you utter the words again, because I love you that much.”
“You’d kill me because you love me?” Gage sneered, lighting up another cig with shaking fingers.
“Your death would be a far better end at my hand than the death you’ll bring down upon yourself if you continue this way. You’ll wither and turn into a speck of the man you once were, undistinguishable to anyone who cares for you. I refuse to watch you do so. I love you too much to let you go.”
“Whatever, go back to Princess Dan and baby Mercy. Maybe they’ll actually give a shit.” Gage was stunned to the spot in mere seconds. His cigarette burned a hole in the carpet. His hand was still outstretched, fingers clenched where the tobacco stick had been. His cheek burned from the slap of Rowe’s hand hard against his flesh.
“Wake the fuck up. When you do, ring me.” Rowe snatched up his coat and left, slamming the door so hard it cracked down the middle.
Gage crumpled in Blaze’s chair, admitting failure as a bad ass when he started to cry like a little girl. “This is bullshit,” he sobbed to no one. “I hate this,” he growled, curling his fists closer to his chest like he could rip his heart out.
No one understood Gage, least of all Rowe. His brother’s mating legend was the crap fairy tales were made of; a prince rides into danger, scoops up his wounded, needy mate and together they drive off into the urban sunset in the latest edition Jag. Gage’s story was a far cry from a fairy tale, more like one of those sad inserts in the local Sunday paper that offered the scariest collectible baby doll of the month that looked like she was sleeping. Or dead.
Gage was so bottled up and hadn’t a clue where to start unscrewing.
And that’s how Blaze found him, in the chair, talking to himself like a legit crazy person. Blaze scanned the broken door as it thudded to the floor on one remaining hinge. He raised a brow at Gage, and then pursed his lips. “He’s lucky I own the building. Try telling a super you need a new door in this neighborhood and you’d be on the street. Or worse, they’d try and throw you in jail.”
Gage stilled for a second. When he moved, he swiped the back of his hand over his eyes and slowly turned to Blaze. “Did you just say you own the building?”
“I said Rowe’s lucky I own it… Shit. Gage, chill out.” Blaze lifted his hands. Decked out in leather and chains, with his spiky red hair sweaty from a night of chasing bad guys, or attending a punk rock show, Blaze couldn’t appear innocent if he tried. He was the bespectacled poster boy for males not to let into your mama’s house.
Gage mulled over the last twenty minutes in silence. He rested his elbows on his knees and tried to breathe through the pain in his chest, but it kept flaring up when everything seemed to be crashing down around him. The latest news, Blaze’s big fat lie, hit him hard. Just when he thought he’d found a friend in one of the older vamps, someone to trust, someone to hide with, Blaze laid it on him: Blaze owned the building, which meant someone had given him the money to do so; someone like the queen and her fat sack of money, she who wanted tabs kept on her wayward child all hours of the day.
Which meant he was being watched by more than just Blaze, even though Gage thought he’d finally found freedom on his own. He’d signed an official looking lease. He’d dropped the packet in the super’s mail months ago with Blaze at his side. He’d bought resale furniture, they’d made a day of it, went to lunch and the shooting range right after. It was all a lie.
“You’re as bad as the rest of them, you know. For a minute I thought… Fuck what I thought, doesn’t matter anymore.” Gage pushed to his feet. He headed for his bedroom.
Blaze was hot on his heels. “I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not like that.”
“It is like that. It’s always like that.” Gage yanked his duffle bag out from under his bed. It smelled of gym sock funk from yesterday’s workout. Didn’t matter, he still stuffed it with everything of importance to him in that moment. Like two Desert Eagles, one a six inch barrel and the other a ten. He cocked his head and checked the clips. They were full. Awesome.
Blaze clinked his way over. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Gage stuffed a pile of underwear into the bag, the blended silk kind that hugged his junk when he actually wore the stuff. “Going to a slumber party, what does it look like?” Phone charger. Socks. Oh, the laptop. A box of snack cakes—were those expired?
“Gage, hold the fuck up. Let’s talk about this.” Blaze made the mistake of trying to take Gage’s knife away, the way lying on the mattress, before he tucked it away too.
Grasping the handle, Gage directed the sharp point at Blaze, a feral gleam in his eyes. “I’m done talking. I’m done being a part of this. You’ve just proved to me this is all a lie, something I’ve been trying to sort out on my own. But thanks for not wasting more of my time. I’ve got it from here.”
“You’re being a dick and you know it. You’re family—”
With a few black Henley shirts and some pants packed inside, Gage zipped his bag up and turned around. “My family? The only one who made the effort to come see me in three months was Rowe, and he just came to yell at me. No one gives a shit.”
Gage shouldered his bag and made for the door. “My mom this and my mom that. Where is she now, Blaze? Huh? Where the fuck is she if she is so goddamned worried about me?”
Blaze blocked the door. He bared his fangs. “She’s been sorting out that sex trafficking case with the Guards and you know it. We’ve got thousands of kids being shipped to the city with nowhere to go and the Guard Bureau is up to their necks in it. Don’t be selfish.”
“Selfish? I’m sorry asking to be important to my family makes me selfish. I’m sorry my mom can be the queen but not my mother. I’m sorry my dad is too busy fighting crime and saving everyone but me to be a part of my life. I’m sorry I’m not good enough to have a real friend.” Gage flicked the collar of Blaze’s leather trench. “But you were a good actor. You should think about a going into a different line of work.”
“Wherever you go, they’ll find you.” Blaze’s eyes glistened behind his glasses. “You may think I’m faking it, but you are a part of my family too.”
“No, you’re just doing a job with the added benefit of staying away from your old bestie. Watching him fuck Isaac is just as hard for you as it is for me. You’re good at hiding a lot of things, which is why I guess you’re perfect for this kind of covert work. Great job. Gold star, Red.”
Blaze’s eyes swirled. His jaw clenched. He grabbed the front of Gage’s shirt. “I’m not in love with Knox.”
“That’s it, Blaze. Keep lying to yourself. We all know how much you like it underneath him.” Gage continued to push. He wanted Blaze’s punch to hurt. He wanted to think about anything besides the pain in his chest.
“I like being used, doesn’t matter who it is. Everyone has their own thing, isn’t that right, Gage?” Blaze’s grip loosened just like the cool exterior Gage thought he’d mastered. He floundered for a superior response, but came up short.
“You like that? But… you’re a warrior… You—you’re not supposed to bottom when you’ve got a kill count bigger than the military!”
Blaze’s scowl lifted with a grin. He choked on his own laugh. “And you’re young and so sure of how everyone works. A bottom—what are you, like five? I enjoy submitting behind closed doors because most of the time I’m the predator, and sometimes it’s nice not to have to be the tough one for a change. I like playing with guns and building explosives as well. I also like to ravage a box of oatmeal cream pies and then jack off to the late night news, but that doesn’t make me weak. Not by a long shot.”
“The fuck are you talking about?” Gage slapped Blaze’s hand away and retreated a few steps.
“There is nothing wrong with men liking men. Our race embraces it, in fact, in case you’ve been living under a rock your entire existence. Some of the strongest men among us are gay, but we’re not quick to label our sexuality. It just is. So what if you get off to guys in panties and stockings and let them call you daddy when you’re barely twenty four. Who the fuck cares except for you and whoever is wearing them?” Blaze shrugged and leaned against the doorjamb. “What we care about is you going out there when shit is getting more dangerous by the day. You grew up with vampires, but you aren’t one yet. You’re strong and trained to kill, Gage, but you aren’t strong enough to take on the world by yourself.”
Gage pulled on his leather jacket, an act of defiance, but certainly a childish and rebellious point against him to Blaze. “I can make it on my own.”
“Physically, it’s a possibility, a slight one. But emotionally, Gage, you’re likely to lose your mind. You’re planning to abandon the family you think you’re a burden to. You’re giving up so many relationships and memories to prove a point that doesn’t exist. Give it up, Gage. This is fruitless.”
Blaze offered a smile and closed the door behind him, because they both knew Blaze was right and that Gage didn’t have the guts to just run off into the night. They also both knew that, well Blaze might have known and Gage was just coming around to it, that all the signs were there that Gage’s family hadn’t really abandoned him.
He’d left in a huff, made a statement when he moved in with Blaze, and oh wasn’t that just a convenient opportunity. The freedom he’d always wanted right there for the taking. He’d pounced like a kitten on a puddle of cream and turned his back on the watchful eyes all around him for the sake of glorious bachelorhood. When really his mother had no intention of letting him out of her sights, his father either, and all of this false security Gage thought was his own doing, was really due to them. They watched. They gave him space. And Gage had been given three months to think and play.
God, he really was young and stupid.
Gage sat down on the edge of his bed. He ended up on his back in no time, staring at the ceiling, something he’d done for countless hours the past few months. It was as though there was this great mystery inside his head just waiting to be solved, and if he stared at the popcorn drywall above him long enough he would get the answers he needed. He was a beacon calling every teenage moment of angst in the world.
After an hour of collecting his thoughts, because his ceiling wasn’t some kind of oracle, he pulled out his phone. Isaac’s number lingered under his finger. With one tap, Gage could very well get the answers he needed. Seemed easy enough, but it would be hard to hear Isaac’s voice after all this time, after the way they left things. Then again, maybe Blaze was right. Maybe he was being selfish. Not maybe. He was being selfish. They didn’t understand because he didn’t understand, and it wasn’t fair to any of them if he didn’t try.
He decided to text Isaac instead. Hearing his former best friend’s rejection on the phone wouldn’t help. He had to text and wait.
Meet me at White Plate in two hours? I really need to talk. Please. I’ll beg if I have to.
It wasn’t five minutes later that Isaac texted him back.
Make it three. I’m doing inventory with Frank.
See you soon.
Gage put the phone down and rolled over on the bed. He was going to see Isaac. In three hours. Face to face with Isaac. Holy shit.
Joseph held his mother’s head in his lap. Foam spilled over her chin. Her eyes widened. Her hands squeezed his. “Run,” she choked to the side. “Run.”
“No,” he whimpered. There was nowhere left for him to run. There was nothing he could do to save his mother either. She was overdosing on Rush and not a cure in the world would stop it. She was going to die and the only thing he could think to ask was, “Why, Mom? Why?”
“So you’d run…” Her body began to convulse.
“Mom!” Joseph rolled her over and clapped her on the back. Nothing helped. When she went limp, her lifeless eyes staring up into his after she collapsed onto her side, Joseph sat back on his heels. “Mom?”
He shook her several times, checked her pulse. No sign of life in her at all. He sat there in her room for a long time, staring at her dead body, and nothing came to mind. He went blank. After all he’d been through and all the damage she’d done to get them this far, this was how she repaid him.
At one time Margaret Sadler had been a loving mother, a doting wife, and a model of the American dream. She would make blueberry pancakes and baby her rose garden in the back while Joseph played catch with his dad. She’d been great until she found out her husband was cheating on her with several different women. And as their family was in the middle of a campaign, with her husband running for state senate in her father’s footsteps, she couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
Joseph remembered overhearing his grandfather talking her down from the legal ledge. Not to file for divorce until he’d secured his seat and then they could part on amicable terms with no blood shed. That he’d set her up financially for the rest of her life and she could devote her time to Joseph and whatever else made her happy.
Her ‘whatever else’ came in the form of prescription drugs, and not the kind the doctor gave her. She started on uppers, and took them once a day with her morning coffee. By the next year, she was taking them like candy with any liquid she could find. Tequila became her favorite chaser. House robes were her fashion of choice.
Joseph became less of a son and more of an innocent bystander, the one who was left to clean up when his dad bailed and chalked up his wife’s absence on the campaign to a failed pregnancy, and Joseph’s to needing to be with his mother during such a turbulent time. The media ate it up. Voters made serious sympathy donations to their ultra conservative candidate because of his stance on abortions. They gave Margaret the privacy she needed to deteriorate behind closed doors.
Only she wasn’t alone. She had Joseph, who was no longer a child, but a man with responsibilities in a child’s body. He mopped up the spilled alcohol. He held her hair when she rushed to the toilet to throw up her sins. He rolled her onto her side so she wouldn’t suffocate in her own vomit. Shook her to make sure she was still breathing. He took her tirades, her slaps when he tried to pour the pills and alcohol down the toilet. He took every bit of it, because to him this was his mother and he refused to see the monster inside of her when he’d seen the good in her for many years.
That was his life, until he grew up and it all got worse. She started coming to him for money to feed her addiction. After seeing her lifestyle firsthand, Joseph’s grandfather cut his daughter off financially and paid their household bills via his secretary for Joseph’s sake. That worked for a while, but then Margaret went through another phase: rage.
She flew off the handle at the drop of a hat, was paranoid and didn’t listen. That led to her packing up all of their things when Joseph was at school, because her father was getting too involved, trying to put his foot down and assert some dominance. He threatened rehab. Margaret lost her mind. She made Joseph driver her to the bank in the city that afternoon and forced him to tap into his available inheritance. With 300,000 dollars now in her possession, she dropped 50,000 on a shitty house in the ghetto the next day and found herself in heaven. With 250,000 dollars in disposable drug money, what addict wouldn’t be?
Joseph’s grandfather, Adam, begged him to come live at the Derenger estate or with his father, the ultimate prick, but Joseph was eighteen by then and who would look after Margaret if he left? At the time, Joseph had the naïve idea he could get his mother to come around to rehab. He could fix her by sticking around, by loving her.
But as the years ticked by and his mother showed no signs of change, Joseph began to seek affection elsewhere. He found it in a slummy dive bar right off the highway, a strip joint where the male dancers seemed sleek and polished to his young, eager eyes. But his perceptions were clouded by pretty lights and cheap, glittering thongs, because behind the scenes, a much darker operation worked the night.
Strangers, travelers and the like streamed through the place and expected more than just a dance. And who was the owner to argue when they offered at least a thousand cash to bang the pretty blond boy in the back alley. When Joseph turned twenty, he gave in and lost his virginity between two dumpsters to a guy without a name. Joseph gave up on his dreams and gave in to their touches; affection he’d never received elsewhere, and he started to feel accepted.
He knew it wasn’t ideal. Knew he wouldn’t make it like this forever when he lost his looks, so he started to save money in secret because what he really loved was to dance. It was what drew him to that bar in the first place. A glance through the window as a scrawny teenager had done something to him. The way the dancers channeled any song thrown at them, the way their bodies moved fluidly like water around the pole, the freedom to be someone else up on stage—that was what he fell in love with.
He signed a lease on a studio in Harris, a small town about twenty minutes from home, and started to teach what he loved. Sure it was mainly horny housewives and college girls looking to keep up with all the rage in pole dancing exercise, but it paid the bills after his mother squandered away every penny of his available inheritance.
That was until she got into a drug that Joseph had never heard of: Rush. She started hooking up with strange men, bringing them to the house, and when she began to come down after being sexually sated, she would nearly die if she didn’t get another fix of her precious Rush. It was more than dependency, it was necessary to keep her heart beating. Joseph had seen it for himself; this was nothing he’d ever encountered.
Strapped for money and scared for his mother’s life, Joseph started offering private lessons for a higher rate. The Rush dealers began to deliver to the house. They started offering more and asking strange questions about the Derenger family, the finances and their connections. Margaret was in debt to them. They started making threats
Joseph never saw the worst part coming.
One night, during a class with Joseph’s favorite pupil, Isaac, he received a terrifying call from his mother. He needed to deliver what she owed to the house by midnight or they’d kill her. He withdrew money from every ATM he could find to come up with the necessary sum that night. And when he returned…he found himself smack dab in a nightmare. Vampires were drug dealers and they’d just found themselves the best kind of prey.
Vampires. Were. Real.
They forced him to call his grandfather. They made him lie and say he wanted out of his mother’s life. He wanted to go to Europe, sell his studio, and live abroad. To do that, he’d need the rest of his inheritance. He’d need Adam’s full cooperation. That was exactly what he got from a man who didn’t like scandal; a man who loved him, but didn’t really know how to love unless he was signing the bottom of a check.
Every month, a check was mailed to a privately owned residence in France. And every month, the check was sent back to be signed and cashed by Joseph because he was required to do it in person through his bank. No one asked questions. Adam’s accountant never phoned about the checks being cashed in the states because it was likely he didn’t care about Joseph above what his employer required.
Joseph was trapped. He was wasting away. They held his mother hostage and pumped her full of Rush as collateral if he didn’t continue to do what the dealers told him.
And then the vampires paid his grandfather a visit once they found out about a trust in Joseph’s name, available to him upon Adam’s death. It was enough to see that ten generations of Derengers lived the good life. That was the night Adam Derenger had a heart attack and died. He died alone. It was all Joseph’s fault.
To make it all worse, the dealers thought it’d be a good show for Joseph to attend the funeral and put on a grieving face for his family, when really all they wanted was more money, more connections and more information about the Derenger brood. And now they had them.
Joseph wasn’t the only one in this situation. The dealers worked countless leads for debts and usable information for blackmail, dating back decades, and involving many politicians, people of status, and even business owners.
They were gathering money for something big, or supporting their operation as a whole, but Joseph knew something larger was at work. They didn’t seem to mind when their leaders were killed, like there were others who would come to the city and pick up the slack whenever need be. They never stopped creating their labs even though they were shut down on a regular basis. They were always careful to call their true leader ‘her’. And whenever they mentioned ‘her’ they became excited. As if she was coming to the city very soon.
Joseph knew he had to get out of here before whoever they worshipped arrived. Things could always get worse than worse.
The proof was his dead mother lying mere feet away from him. Her death finally sank in. His mother, the woman he had tried to protect for many years was now gone, and for what? She left him in danger. She left him penniless and scared. She had told him…to run.
Joseph finally gathered his situation. He looked around the lavish hotel room that had been their home for almost four months. There were thugs guarding the hallway and they would check in every three hours. There was no phone or computer in the room. But there was a window with a fire escape. Thank the heavens for city codes, because it was still a servicing hotel, and that was the only reason it hadn’t been nailed shut.
Up until now, Joseph had never tried to use it because his mother had been too drugged to gather the coordination required to climb down. And the only reason he stayed was so they wouldn’t kill her. But now she was gone. Rather than truly grieve, he had to get up and go. He had to give up on the only person that stood between him and freedom, and leave this life behind.
Joseph knew they would chase him down. All he had to do was find the bane of the dealers’ existence, the ones they called the Guardians. He’d heard talk from the dealers about a place called the Bureau and their agents called Guards, who policed the vampires. But what he really wanted was these Guardians, because from what he’d overheard, they were the top of the chain, the ones that would make these fuckers pay for his mother’s death.
Joseph took his mother’s prized necklace from the nightstand, one that had been passed down through the Derenger family for many years. He slipped it into the back pocket of his jeans and then tugged on his boots. Once he had his thin jacket zipped up, he turned around tearfully and looked down at his mother. “I’m sorry I couldn’t fix you. Get some rest now.”
It was all he could say. I love you was at the tip of his tongue, but if he dared to utter the words, he’d lose his strength because she would never repeat it back to him again. Even high, she’d always said it back.
Joseph carefully eased the window open and stared down five flights of narrow fire escape stairs. He took a deep breath and climbed outside. With the agility of a cat, he slipped and danced his way down the thin ladders without a sound. When his feet hit pavement, he ducked behind the first dumpster he could find. He searched the dark for any trace of movement.
A dealer he recognized kept walking past the alleyway and then the coast was clear. Joseph took off as fast as he could. He hit the main street in a rush of adrenaline and fear. No idea where he was, as he wasn’t all that familiar with New York City unless he had a cell phone to guide him, Joseph ran until he found a 24/7 bodega.
He knew it was risky, as a lot of the dealers tended to hang out around places like this, but he had to get information, and bodega workers knew everyone’s business. He kept his head down as he entered, shying away from the two guys sharing a smoke out front. The lights buzzed as he entered and a small bell at the door attracted the attention of the massive black guy behind the counter.
Joseph got a lift of the guy’s chin as he approached the counter. “Sup? Smokes?”
“Um, no, actually I wondered if you could tell me where the nearest all hours pawn is around here.”
The guy’s attitude changed. He crossed his dark skinned arms and pushed out his generous bottom lip as he scanned Joseph up and down. “You lookin’ to lighten your pockets, son?”
“I just…” Joseph turned around and searched the windows. “I just need the money.”
“Damn crackheads.” The man blew a huff of air between his lips and rolled his eyes. “Get outta here with that bullshit.”
Joseph fisted his hands in his jacket pockets. He gritted his teeth. “I don’t do drugs, but if I did, I wouldn’t be talking to you about it. I’d ask those two outside your place, now wouldn’t I?”
“Damn. Them fools out there again? Don’t do none of that, son.” The guy grabbed a bat from underneath the counter and started to come out from around his station. His sneakers squeaked and his eyes narrowed.
“Wait! Please don’t do that. I can’t…” Joseph put his hands up. “Please don’t draw attention.”
The man lowered the bat and frowned. Just like before, his attitude abruptly changed. He glanced over Joseph again, sniffed the air once. Then he went to the door and flipped the sign to ‘closed’. He locked the door. “You in trouble?”
“I don’t do drugs. I swear.” Joseph backed away.
“Not what I asked. You in some kind of trouble?”
Joseph had nothing left to lose except for his life, and at this point, he wasn’t sure what it was worth to anyone. He clung to the pockets of his jacket and nodded. “These people are after me.”
“I hear you. Something you can’t go to the cops about.” The man nodded as if he really did understand. “You steal something?”
“You kill somebody then?”
“Then what you do that has me closing my shop?” The man’s thick brows lifted.
“The vam—I mean these people killed my mom for money and now they’re after me.” Joseph took a deep breath to keep it all in.
“That’s some serious shit, son.” The man pointed his bat to a picture taped to the wall next to the Mega Millions marquee. A little black girl with pretty braids posed for her school picture. One of her front teeth was missing, but it didn’t stop her from smiling as wide as she could. “That’s Deidre, my baby sister. They shot her up on her way home from school to teach my older brother he couldn’t just walk away from their crew. I know what it’s like, son. I feel you and I’m sorry about your moms.”
“I’m sorry about your sister.” Joseph toed the tile floor and fought not to cry.
“You don’t have a place to be, do you?”
Joseph shook his head. “I don’t know the city well and I can’t have my extended family involved. They didn’t know how deep my mom was, so it’s safer to keep them out of it.”
“You ain’t got friends who could hook you up?”
“I don’t have friends. Not anymore.” Joseph lifted a shoulder.
“Aight. Baby Jesus be holding my brownie points, so I’m a be a nice guy and hook your scrawny butt up myself. Ain’t no one got the right to take a life like that, and in good conscience I can’t send your fool ass out there unprepared. On your life, Deidre.” The man kissed his fingers and patted the picture of his sister as he took up the counter again. “You know how to work a prepaid or what?”
“No, a candy bar. Yeah, a phone. You know, like the key to survival in this fucked up world?” The chubby man laughed and put a plastic case on the counter. “This here is like the boss of prepaid cellular devices, son. Got your text, your minutes, your data—all covered for thirty days. Comes with a case, too—supposed to be waterproof or some shit, but I ain’t dropped it no toilet to test it out, you feel me? Shit back there is nasty, son.”
“I can’t pay for that.”
“I said I was hookin’ you up, so shut your mouth and take it.” The man cut the case open and handed it to Joseph. “Number is on the back and it’s all loaded for the first time. All you gotta do is charge it when it dies and feed it another thirty dollars at the end of thirty days by SmartWallet, of course. But there you have it.” The man whipped out his own phone. “Now, about gettin’ your ass off the streets. I got a guy, owns a diner over in Gramercy. Always takes in strays.”
“This is too much. I can’t repay you.” Joseph clutched his phone to his chest like it was the most important thing he’d ever owned.
“Hush, son, and let me work.” He held up a finger while he waited for someone to pick up on the other end. “Hey, sweet thang, it’s Humpty, let me holla at Dwight. Yeah. I hear you. Packin’ in them Guards tonight? Yeah. Well tell his ass I’m sendin’ him a cat to feed.” Humpty grinned. “Yeah, I’m a big ol’ softy, girl, you know it. Send it round. I’ll holla at you later.” He hung up and did a little dance. “Damn that female is fine, son. You wait and see. Put in a good word for me as payment.”
“Did you say Guards?” Joseph was practically on top of the counter when Humpty turned around.
Humpty squinted and sniffed. “What you know about it?”
“What do you know?” Joseph squinted back. He leaned away from the big man when he realized he could be trapped, that the dealers could be on their way this very minute. “That was them, wasn’t it? That was dealer code and they’re coming for me. Fuck.”
“Slow your roll, white bread.” Humpty snorted. “Ain’t no code for a fine ass female—she just is. I smelled them fuckers on you before you walked in my door. Like you been rolling in their dirty, Rushy laundry or some shit.”
Joseph’s eyes widened. “You smelled them on me?”
“Yeah, smelled them because I’m a vampire. Duh. Fool, you gettin’ dumber by the minute. I mean, I’m real sorry about your moms, but fuck me with your lack of smarts. You think they the only fangers around here? Two sides to every story, son. Two sides.”
“You’re a… vampire?”
Humpty smiled and two fangs glistened on his top row of teeth. One was capped in gold. “We ain’t all supermodels. But I sure as hell can eat me some cheeseburgers without gaining another pound on this thick middle.” He patted his plentiful stomach. “They tell me it’s gonna keep getting smaller with my metabolism, and then no one will recognize me. I’ll be like one of them females on them commercials, holding my drawers up big enough to sail a ship. I’ll start lifting weights soon, look like one of them brothers all the females climb on.”
Joseph blinked at Humpty.
Humpty simply laughed. “Yeah, I know some Guards. Come in here for the breakfast burritos every few hours like clockwork. I should just call them egg burritos because they ain’t just breakfast anymore, you feel me?”
“Sure… And this guy at the diner?”
“Dwight’s diner, White Plate, is the happenin’ place for the Guards. I bring him informants. He gets more business because he helps the Bureau. And I get to chat it up with his beauties all day, son, with the occasional meal thrown my way. It’s a win win for everyone.”
“You’re gonna take me to the Guards? Really?”
“Sweet Thang just sent a car in the area to this address, so yes I am.”
Joseph gripped the counter. Tears flooded his eyes as he sagged against the cheap Formica. “Thank you,” he whispered. “Thank you so much.”
“Don’t wet the counter. Just doin’ some good, son.”
“More than you know.” Joseph closed his eyes and waited.
A fresh faced reporter in a sharp black pantsuit faced the camera with sparkling green eyes. “This is Marianne Dobbs reporting live from 5th Avenue at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Police Commissioner Malachi Haynes has just finished addressing the press. Commissioner Haynes has stated that Ronald Egan’s death appeared to be of natural causes, but while police continue their investigation, Egan is being taken to the Coroner’s at this very moment to shed some light on the actual cause of death. Egan was the frontrunner of the four strong candidates vying for the mayor’s seat, and although the race is still in the early stages, Egan’s death is sure to shake things up for both opposing parties. Citizens of New York City are left wondering who to side with now that Egan and his strong platform are gone.”
The camera did a close up of Marianne, cutting out the chaotic traffic of guests in the background. “On the coattails of Adam Derenger’s abrupt passing, who was Egan’s oldest friend, and two candidates pulling out of the race only a few weeks prior, Egan’s tragic death might have some calling this a curse on what was said to be the race of a lifetime for New York City’s mayor.”
Joseph caught the tail end of the news before a commercial for the latest smart car packed the screen and nearly blew his eardrums with crappy dubstep that was supposed to be appealing. The waitress snatched up the remote and cut the volume down, a scowl on her face. “I could have this on mute and the commercials would still sound like I’m at The Garden on opening night for the Knicks. Christ almighty.”
Joseph gulped when she leaned in with a fresh pot of coffee. She had eyes that drew out secrets and lips so red they were painted with the blood of her enemies. “You still doing good on that cup or what?”
“I-I’m okay, I guess.” Joseph put on a smile, one that twisted when she raised a brow. “On second thought, maybe a refill would be good.”
“That’s what I thought.” She poured and he held his breath. “Eat your fries. Dwayne’ll be over to get you in a few. Lot of traffic through here tonight, mouths to feed and all that, but when Humpty calls and says he’s got a stray, you take precedence—after the pancakes, of course.”
“Yeah. Pancakes.” Joseph stuck a fry in his mouth. He snuck a look at the tables full of Guards staring at him from the right of the bar. They had to be Guards. They just had this… this look about them. Joseph hurriedly turned away and leaned over the counter. “Are those…you know?”
His waitress, Mona, rolled her eyes. “The bloodsucking Five O? Oh yeah, honey, oh yeah”
“Order up!” Dwayne called from the line and pushed another stack of pancakes through the window.
“Duty calls,” Mona grabbed the plate, pocketed the ticket and sauntered over to another table with as much finesse as her little white sneakers would allow.
Joseph’s knee bounced under the counter. He stuffed fry after fry into his mouth, washed them down with thick, black coffee and tried not to think about the situation he was in. If these people couldn’t help him, and he couldn’t go to the human cops, then what the hell was he supposed to do?
It was like a dark cloud had taken up residence over his head, a sign of his ominous future. He couldn’t help but shake the feeling that none of this was that easy. That he couldn’t just be rescued and never hear from those people again. They’d gone to great lengths to secure the Derenger inheritance, the connections they gained with money and the gossip that Adam’s old staff was more than willing to supply.
They would come after him. It didn’t end here. He knew it deep in his bones.
Every time the bell on the door jingled, Joseph flinched, and he made sure to keep his face hidden with his long blond hair in case it was the wrong kind of customer looking for him. The next time someone walked through, he nearly put his hands over his face and screamed at the tension eating him up. Boots pounded the tile, squeaked as they turned and settled under a table behind Joseph. A light, sexy laugh came next and Joseph discerned the boots didn’t match the laugh. There were two of them. Two more people for him to worry about.
Curiosity got the better of him and he started to peek over his shoulder.
“Get in the back,” a voice commanded from the counter. Joseph gave up on seeing the mystery couple behind him and looked up into the face of a gruff man in his late thirties. The fact that he had on an adorable flame printed bandana only upped Joseph’s fear factor.
“The one and only, now get in the back before I change my mind.” Dwayne hitched a thumb at the swinging door off the kitchen.
“Okay.” Joseph slid down from the stool, took his time putting his feet on the ground, and pondered what awaited him on the other side.
It all happened in the blink of an eye, or maybe time slowed down in his newfound alternate universe. Joseph saw Isaac, his old dance student, sitting at a booth. Their eyes met and Isaac’s jaw dropped. A blue haired beast turned to look at Joseph and his eyes widened too. Joseph’s heart raced. He looked away because it was all too much to take in. His eyes fell on the front door.
A tall, muscular figure with a limp green Mohawk stared at him. A biker’s face mask, depicting the bottom of a skull, covered his mouth and chin, wrapping around to the back until only his piercing gold eyes and strong nose were visible. His hand was wrapped around the door bar. His knuckles were white as if he too sensed the danger Joseph knew was coming.
And then the diner windows shattered. Joseph dropped to his stomach as someone unloaded bullets on the place. The bell screamed for mercy, taking its last jingle before it clunked to the floor and a large body rolled through the broken glass to safely cover Joseph.
Dwayne crawled across the floor from behind the counter. He got to one knee, aimed a shotgun and let it rip. “Get him out of here!” Casings hit the tile. Dwayne reloaded with as much ease as flipping another pancake.
Skull man, who was currently squeezing the life out of Joseph, pushed him behind the stools and pulled two guns out of his leather jacket. He slurred a round of words not meant to be heard by mothers and small children, and then cocked his body to the side to get a better shot at the fucker running past the window outside. “Who’s the stray?”
Dwayne shot him a disgruntled look from the side. “I dunno, but they took out my motherfucking windows with a diner packed full of Guards to get him. Some mighty large balls they have and I’m looking to make me some eunuchs. Now I said, get him out of here, Gage!”
“Donohue,” Dwayne screamed in rage. “Talk to me, dammit.”
“Good over here.” A head peaked out from the other side of the bar—dark eyes, dark hair, the strange Guard looked somewhere between a hawk and a male model with his sharp nose and calculating eyes. “Called it in, Dwayne.”
“Call it in some more, dammit. This is my baby,” Dwayne cried.
“Looks like you’re gonna have to call it the Broken Plate now, huh, Dwayne?” Skull man took down a dealer from a good shot through the front door.
“Fuck off, you rich asshole.”
“Have some respect. I’m the—”
“You’re a shitty tipper, that’s what you are.”
Skull man flipped Dwayne off and got into a crouch. He leaned away from Joseph, just a little bit, to zero in on the couple under the table across the way. “Isaac, that you?” the man called out.
“Shut up, Gage!” The blue haired mammoth of a man called back. “I got him.”
“You always do, you ugly fuck.”
“You jealous, little boy?”
More gunfire. The screech of tires. Something was burning, Joseph smelled, and it was probably a shit ton of pancakes laced with bullets. But burnt pancakes were the least of his problems, he surmised as he took in the bullet holes not ten inches from his head, like a circular pattern shot into the counter.
“I prefer my jockstraps to panties, so nah, you can keep him,” Skull man replied with a hint of rage.
“Gage!” This time the voice was smaller, definitely not the blue beast with tattoos covering his skin. Joseph recognized Isaac’s voice in a heartbeat. “Cut it out.”
“Real mature, Gage. Thought you called to talk, not be your dickish self.”
“I have the right to be a dick when these fucktards are trying to kill us.”
Joseph’s focus was jumbled. His eyes flicked back and forth between the one to Isaac, and then to the guy covering Isaac like a shield, the one they called Gage, and back to the guy who was staring a hole into his head and baring his fangs. Joseph turned away quickly from Isaac’s man blanket, because it was too intense to keep looking at the blue haired sun, and he didn’t need to go blind on top of the assassination attempt at hand.
It was all piling up—this, running, the money, his mom. Bile rose to the back of his throat. He brought his knees up to his chest and put a hand over his mouth.
Dwayne struck Joseph with a look, an ‘oh shit’ look. “Gage, I swear to Aunt Jemima that if I have to clean up puke covered glass shards tonight, your ass is grass.”
“My ass is nothing but defined muscle—oh, fuck, he’s gonna be sick.” Gold eyes turned on Joseph. His stomach churned again, probably the coffee and fries—because who the fuck does that combination—and he panicked. “Don’t you fucking puke on me.”
Joseph whimpered. He pushed a stool down on its side and started crawling behind the rest of the stools to get to freedom. Dwayne had promised safety on the other side of that swinging door, and even if the chances of a happy life outside this diner were dwindling fast, Joseph was willing to risk whatever he had left to offer just to get fresh air and possibly a place to puke in silence.
“He’s running,” Gage blurted, like he wasn’t crouched in the middle of a diner with bullets and glass everywhere, like he was talking to himself during some shitty made-for-TV movie in the comfort of his living room.
Dwayne slapped him upside the head just as the first sirens could be heard coming at the diner. “Go, you dipshit. They wanted him for a reason. He’s a stray. They usually pack hard information, and I’d say this one is top of the list.”
“Stop him!” Donohue bellowed from the other side. “We need him for questioning.”
“Fuck all of you crazy people.” Joseph pushed through the swinging door and took off running.
“I am not crazy.” Gage squinted and gave chase.
“Others would say differently,” Blue Hair shot back. “And don’t think I’m not calling your dad in on this, you arrogant little punk.”
“Be my guest, Cookie Monster.”
Gage liked to run. He liked the burn in his chest, at the back of his thighs, liked the wind through his Mohawk. He had different playlists for different types of runs and favorite places he liked to run by. Night or day, he didn’t care, as long as he could run until his heart felt like it would explode.
What he didn’t like was running after someone he couldn’t shoot, because right now he felt like shooting things, lots of things, people in fact, dealers if he was getting specific. Not that he was some serial killer or anything, he just liked getting to the end, his end, knowing he was the one who could take credit for the kill count, the number of people he put in the vamp slammer, or those little whiners he got good info out of after he scared the piss out of them.
He liked feeling bigger and badder than the rest, because when he did, he forgot how low on the food chain he really was—royally speaking, of course. And he didn’t get to run the field much like the others, because he was neither a Guard nor a Guardian. He was, in fact, somewhere in the middle, and he was also the Queen’s precious baby boy, so his chances of being that all powerful warrior like his dad and the others were slim to none at the moment.
And that was why he was pissed. Sure, he could attribute his anger to many things—Knoxtian fucking Montesego covering Isaac like they were about to give a live fuck show to pay for pancakes, Dwayne calling him a rich asshole when he didn’t have a clue, Blaze being a fat sack of shit for a friend, his parents playing Big Brother with his life—but what stood out the most, what he chose as the target of his irritation, was the athletic blond giving him a run for his money in the thigh pumping department.
“Would you just slow the fuck down?” Gage chased the witness around a corner and headed towards the real Gramercy Park. He grunted at the blond guy’s ignorance as he saw him trying to scale the fence. “It’s locked for a reason, you dumb shit. Hello, private park and all?” The blond flicked his gaze to Gage before hopping over to the other side like it was nothing. “Who the fuck is this guy?”
His phone was going crazy against his hip. And what timing Isaac had as Gage was straddling the park fence. “This better be good because I will not risk my balls to this fence for anything less.”
“His name is Joseph Sadler,” Isaac rushed.
Something tugged at Gage’s memory, and continued to cause him a problem when he awkwardly landed inside the park. “I know that name.”
“Uh yeah, you do, he’s my cousin. He’s Micah’s legit nephew. And he was also… He was my dance instructor before I got into the club.”
“Before you became a gigolo?”
“I am a mated dancer, not a gigolo, Gage.”
Gage searched the darkened park for any sign of the elusive Joseph Sadler. “Whatever. They pay you to get people hard, same fucking thing.”
“No, it’s not the same thing, you jerk, and we’re done talking about me. We’re talking about Joseph.”
“I remember the name now. You guys saw him at the funeral and him and his mom took off with some baddies, am I right?”
“How you can make light of all things serious is beyond me. If I hadn’t already seen your dick, I’d think you were compensating your humor for inches.”
Gage stilled and looked at his phone. Isaac talking about his dick was… not cool. Not cool at all. “I’ll just bet you liked looking at my dick.”
“Oh here we go. Yeah, you would think everyone is out to molest you with their eyes, because oh my god, the gorgeous Gage Gerard-Hill is so fucking amazing, why wouldn’t we. Come off it, you prick, just because you have a thing for me and can’t admit it doesn’t mean you have to be a hellacious bastard to me every fucking time. I love Knox. I have loved him since forever and he loves me back. Why can’t you just be happy for me?” Issac nearly screamed into the phone.
Gage swallowed the thick clump of nothing down his throat and lowered his gun. “Isaac…”
“No, fuck you. Fuck you ten million times for being such a horrible person to me. You were my best friend. I trusted you. What the fuck happened to you?”
Gage didn’t realize he was on the move until he reached the giant tree in the middle of the park. He looked up into the dark foliage and immediately spotted the cause of his being here. Joseph Sadler was tucked between two thick branches, huddled in a ball, and staring back at him.
“I was going to ask you the very same thing,” Gage murmured. “Why I’m like this… I’m a mess.”
“You can say that again,” Issac came back hotly.
“And now I know it’s not us anymore. You and I, I never wanted it like that, like how you’re thinking, I wanted my friend back, but you weren’t the same person anymore. You’ll never be that person again. I’ll never be like I was either.”
“Gage?” Isaac’s voice came softer this time. “Gage, you’re scaring me.”
“You and everyone else. Goodbye, Isaac.” Gage’s stare dropped to the ground as he disconnected the call. He didn’t give Isaac a chance to say anything more, to make things better or worse, because truth was, he deserved every second of what Isaac had to give him. He had been a horrible person. He was still a horrible person. All he had left was to do something right, even if it pissed him off to pull a stray cat from a tree and return him to his proper place.
“Don’t make me get a ladder, Joseph. Because if I have to call that in, I am gonna be way more pissed than I already am.”
“How do you know my name?” came an anxious reply.
“I’m a psychic, you know, like the celebrity kind. They’re even talking about giving me my own reality show.” Gage laughed at his own joke, and then stopped when Joseph didn’t bust a smile or even blink. “Look, I don’t know what bug crawled up your ass or what those dealers want from you, but we, the uh…good guys?—we’ve been looking for you for a few months now.”
“Who are we? And who the hell are you?”
Gage tipped his head back to look Joseph in the eye. He mulled it over for about two seconds, in a true Gage don’t-think-before-speaking manner, and smiled. “I’m Gage, and I’m a Guardian.”
Joseph perked up. He pushed a stray lock of hair behind his ear and shimmied down the branch, closer to where Gage stood on the ground. The soles of his boots curved on top of the branch, and he balanced there like a monkey at the zoo. “You’re one of the Guardians?”
“Yeah.” Gage played it cool. He brought his chin up, hoped his eyes looked empowering, and crossed his arms to make his chest appear bigger, and okay, he wanted to show off the nice piece of lead in his hand. The ladies liked a badass. He was hoping this guy, monkey man, fence climbing fool was in to it as well. “I am.”
Joseph hit the sidewalk without a sound. Gage wondered how he moved like that, but was too insecure that his act wouldn’t hold up to ask such trivial questions. A Guardian would never ask such a thing, and as Gage was supposed to be one, well…
“Then take me to the rest of them.”
Gage bobbed his head, a smirk on his lips. “Take you to our leader, huh?”
“You have a leader?”
“I was making an alien joke…”
Joseph’s brows drew closer together, as if he could spot Gage for the poser he was. Gage thought Joseph’s expression was sort of funny, adorable like an angry cat, and he also wondered if Joseph did tricks, like run and jump into boxes he couldn’t fit in, but somehow managed to pull it off anyway. “You’re staring,” Joseph interrupted Gage’s daydream about YouTube videos of hilarious Japanese cats with funny names.
“Oh?” Joseph nixed the grin.
“Yeah. It’s rude.”
“So is shooting up a diner for one little Barbie boy, but I was nice enough to protect you, now wasn’t I?” Gage cleared his throat and tried to stand a bit taller.
Joseph rolled his eyes. “Are all Guardians like you?”
Gage scowled. “I am not—”
“You are.” Joseph pulled out a crappy throwaway phone. “You know, if you just give me a number to reach the others, I could wait here for them to come get me.”
“It doesn’t work like that. They sent me to collect you.”
Joseph cocked his head. “No, Dwayne, the diner cook, sent you to get me.” He narrowed his eyes. “Are you really a Guardian?”
Gage snarled. “What? Not what you pictured, sweetheart?” Gage immediately wanted to spit the endearment out of his vocabulary. It reminded him of Knox. He hated Knox. All things Knox, in fact, like whips and chains, and fucking Isaac, and pimping out innocent vampires to do his pole dance bidding. Fucking evil villain, and what the hell was up with his blue hair? Why not try red or pink, or fuck’s sake black with all that woe’s me brooding he did all the time.
“I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to piss you off.” Joseph backed up so he could lean on the tree, but Gage knew by the look on the guy’s face that his anger for Knox had overtaken his eyes, his body language, and turned it into Joseph’s source of fear.
He couldn’t very well scare away the only hard information they had on the diner shooting, a person of interest they’d been trying to find for months to boot. Everyone would be hella pissed at him if he let Joseph get away, or worse, scared him away. Gage huffed under his breath and let his arms fall to his sides, like, see I’m not a terrifying badass after all. Because he wasn’t, a badass that is, not by a long shot. “No, I’m sorry. I wasn’t mad at you. Tonight’s been a bit fucked all around.” Gage pushed his sweaty, green hair away from his forehead and tipped his head up to the night sky.
“Yeah,” Joseph all but whispered. “It has.”
Something in Joseph’s voice made Gage look at the guy hard. He’d been trained to notice details on a person’s face, a skill he used as a pre-turn because he wasn’t able to scent or feel a person’s thoughts. And he didn’t even have to be an expert or a vampire to notice how Joseph’s adrenaline high from the last half hour was beginning to come down, and leave other emotions to deal with the fallout; sadness, for instance, heartache if they were nailing things down.
Something bad had happened to Joseph, something really bad.
“You okay?” Joseph put his gun away, but not before scouting the area again to make sure they were alone. “I mean, you want to talk or something?”
“Why were the Guardians looking for me?”
Gage put his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. “I don’t think I’m the one who should tell you that.”
“Well, can you tell me how you know Isaac? I mean, you know him, right? He was there, I saw him.”
“He’s a… He’s a friend, I suppose.”
“Didn’t sound that way to me.”
“Yeah, well, I have a shitty way of talking to my friends. I’m a shitty kind of guy, or so they tell me.”
“But you’re a Guardian? I thought…” Joseph sighed. He sagged against the tree and turned his head. “Never mind. Can we just get out of here? I’m really tired.”
“Joseph?” Gage took another step closer. “What happened to you?”
Joseph looked up with glassy eyes. “Not right now, okay? I can’t…”
Tires screeched up to the park gate. Gage had his guns out and Joseph covered at his back before the first door to a black SUV popped open. He groaned when he saw Hannah step up the fence. “Yo nut sack, your carriage awaits.” She flipped him off and got back in the driver’s seat.
Gage growled. “Come on.”
“Yeah, I can see you have a lot of friends.” Joseph eyed him suspiciously as he slipped out from behind Gage and led the way to the SUV.
To be continued…