I know you have a lot of questions and some of you are mad and worried that I haven't said anything until now, but there is a reason for that.
Fall rolled around, which is basically preparation for our busiest season of the year at work (Thanksgiving and Christmas). At first I stepped back from the blog because work was picking up, and frankly, I was exhausted by the time I got home and didn't feel like writing. But come late October when my wrist popped, making a very audible sound, followed by immense pain that sent me to the hospital immediately, writing was like the absolute furthest thing from my mind.
Turns out Carpal Tunnel caught up with me. In the back of my mind I knew I had early symptoms and would eventually have to have the surgery. Some of my fingers would fall asleep while at work, which wasn't anything new because of nerve damage I have in my pinkie from a previous injury. But now an entire side of my hand would just go numb, and shaking it out to wake it up felt like pins and needles stabbing me repeatedly.
Yes, it was partly my fault for not alerting my doctor to this earlier (so take this as a warning if you're doing the same with your physician) and I should have been taking precautions other than doing exercises I found online and hoping for the best. So when I found out that not only would I need immediate surgery on one hand, but two, because of the stress I'd caused my right hand from relieving the left of it's duties over time, I was kind of upset to say the least.
My doctor told me writing was out of the question and that I'd be off work for about a week.
Okay. No big deal. Right?
Wrong. I have the surgeries back to back. I wear the ugly braces on my wrists. I get back to work for about three days, taking it easy with clients and giving myself more time, before a massive storm rolls through town, bringing with it snow demons and the icy breath of the devil himself. Everyone was told to stay inside. My boss shut down the salon. And all I wanted was orange juice. Because on top of everything else, I'd come down with the flu and orange juice was the only thing keeping me from spontaneously exploding.
So my stupid ass bundled up before the worst of the storm hit and ventured out to visit the grocery store LESS THAN TWO BLOCKS AWAY.
Needless to say I never made it out of the driveway. I slipped on ice and went down, using my hands to catch myself instead of my face. You want to talk about pain? I'd had the surgery less than two weeks prior. I was still healing, barely healed in fact because of the intensive damage I'd done to myself, and then...to conclude all of the drama by hurting all the work done to me for a stupid bottle of orange juice?
Yep. Just my luck.
And now I have to wear what my doctor is calling "The Chastity Braces of Doom" because he's evil like that. I can only take them off to shower and typing this out took like three hours because of how they get in my way, and because I'm down to plucking at keys like my grandmother without her glasses.
It's torture, but it's reality, and hence my absence from the blog or any social media. Pinterest is about all I can do because my phone has a stylus and I can tap with ease without the braces chaffing. So I'm sorry if I'm not around or if you were concerned. And no, I can't promise you any updates right now or promise you anything really. I have no idea how long it will take for me to get my stride back and type more than half a page before it hurts. And I'm sorry, because this all totally sucks, for you and for me.
But I thank you for your love and for being worried about me. Just know I care about you guys as much as you care about me. Thank you so much.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Hello all. So sorry it’s been forever. I was in a wedding that was put together in two weeks. Not joking. A storm came through and part of my attic caved in while we were in the middle of construction. And I’ve been working six days a week. Life is chaos, but I have been working on this for you guys.
Now about the story. I know some of you are confused by Gage’s fear of being gay or the very least bi. But in the real world there are people scared of their sexuality and I wanted to touch on that, especially in a setting where sexuality doesn’t matter. It was bound to happen, and Gage totally fit the bill.
There’s a lot going on in this chapter, which is why it took so long. I’m famous for rewriting pages upon pages until I stop questioning it and just post. So I hope you all like this and thanks for sticking around.
Part 2 Playlist:
Taking You There – Broods
And the World Was Gone – Snow Ghosts
Hounds – Valleys
Like A Lie (Daniel Farley Remix) [Ft. Helen Corry] – Jetski Safari
Cast a Shadow - Coves
Joseph wasn’t the biggest guy he knew of. However he wasn’t what anyone would call small either. Yet somehow he managed to cram his entirety in the small space next to the window. He wanted as much room between him and everyone else in the SUV that seemed to be shrinking by the minute. And if it wasn’t for Gage’s easygoing body language next to him, he’d have already poked out the woman’s eyes, the one staring at him from the front seat. And he meant staring at him like he was an extinct species kind of staring.
Gage must have sensed Joseph’s unease, because he snapped his fingers at the girl and she scowled back at him. “Em, cut it out. You’ll give him a heart attack.”
“I was trying to guess his age,” she said as if that was normal. Like Joseph was the victim of some serious carnival swindling, that whole let me guess your weight and birthday bullshit with the added bonus of, guess what, I’m a also vampire and you’re not. Isn’t that hilarious?
Gage shook his head. “Normal people would ask.” He turned to Joseph. “And as you can tell, she isn’t.”
Em, the one that gave Joseph the creeps, rolled her green eyes. Her eyebrows disappeared momentarily under her short, choppy bangs. She flicked one of her long dark pigtails over her shoulder, and then clunked her platform boots onto the dash and reared her seat back until it smashed into Gage’s knees. “What’s normal anyway?”
“Emma, fuck off.” Gage kneed the back of her seat. “You’re right, you’re anything but normal. You’re damn near suicidal, because do that again and I’ll unleash the fucking kraken back here.”
Emma howled with laughter. “Is that an ironic pseudonym for your tiny dick? No thanks.”
Gage pounded on the back of her seat with his fists.
“Children, don’t make mama pull this car over.” The other woman teased from the driver’s seat. She looked just like Emma, identical really, except her hair was short and messy as if she was some femme fatale who’d just come out of the rain, and she didn’t have the whole teenage girl act going on like her other half. “Don’t mind them, Joseph, they’ve always been like this with each other. Emma didn’t mean anything by it, and Gage is well, he’s nervous because everyone back at the compound is either pissed or worried about him, mostly both, and if there is one thing you need to know about Gage, it’s that he doesn’t like the unknown. Never been any good with change.”
“Gee thanks, Hannah. Want to pull up my Fangspace profile for him too?” Gage scrubbed a hand over his face. He rested his head against the window, but peeked at Joseph out of the corner of his eye and looked away just as quickly. “Like he needed to know that,” he muttered.
“It’ll be like one big family reunion,” Hannah continued in a syrupy, singsong voice. She was enjoying this way too much. “You’ll have the pleasure of Isaac and Knox under the same roof as you. Your brother too, you know the one you’ve been avoiding, the one who didn’t do a damn thing to you. And there’s Cade. Let’s not forget him. He’s pretty excited to see you again, and by excited I mean livid that you’ve missed out on three months of training so near ‘the year’.”
“What’s the year?” Joseph scooted over to see Hannah in the rearview mirror.
Hannah’s eyes slanted at him. “The year he’s supposed to turn? Didn’t they teach you anything in baddie vampire 101?”
Overlooking the jab, because he didn’t feel like talking about dealers until he absolutely had to, Joseph asked, “What do you mean turn?”
“Didn’t you know you’re seated next to a celebrity? Joseph here, or maybe his brother Axel, will be the first born vampire to carry Guardian blood since Cade was born in the late eighties. When Gage turns, he might very well be equal to the Original.”
“The who? I’m lost.”
Hannah was interrupted by her sister, who turned to stare at Joseph from the front seat. Apparently, he was going to have to get used to her staring, as it seemed to be her favorite pastime. “Cade, the Original is the one who carries the Guardian gene in his blood. He was the last of his line until he turned three other men into vampires with his blood. One of those ‘others’ had two boys with his mate the queen, and those twin boys are Axel and Gage. It’s a race to see which of them turns first and answer the decades long question as to whether or not they’ll be Guardians.”
“So Gage isn’t a Guardian?” Joseph had no idea why, but he didn’t oust his backseat companion just yet. He kept the question neutral like a curious little human. Although there was no denying the spark of betrayal that festered in his chest, but he’d save that bit of pent up betrayal for later. Something told him listening to Hannah and Emma cut Gage down would be worse than him slapping Gage on the wrist.
“Nope. Not yet.” Emma squinted at them both before turning back around. “But we are.”
Joseph spared Gage a look. They had a quick conversation with their eyes that left Gage red faced and staring at his knees. It wasn’t a minute later that Joseph felt Gage’s stare on him. He looked up to find Gage biting the inside of his lip, his eyes carrying this pitiful puppy dog expression, some quiet thank you for Joseph keeping his mouth shut.
But Gage changed his tune pretty quickly when they arrived at what amounted to a fortress gate. Joseph pressed his face against the window to peer up at the tall, stone wall, and then back down to the men trapping them in place on either side of the vehicle. He wondered if this was a military base or a secret government facility disguised as a sprawling, historical compound of sorts.
At least a dozen men, geared up and armed, let them through the gate after Hannah rolled down the window and stuck out her middle finger to the head gate attendant. Maybe it was a Guardian thing, the crass demeanor they aimed to achieve. By ‘they’ he meant everyone but Gage, because he was just a punk liar with a queen for a mother.
Terrible anxiety surfaced when Joseph thought of mothers. His was probably still lying on a hotel room floor, staring at the ceiling. Joseph rested his head on his knees and took slow, deep breaths. He knew he should have told Hannah or Emma about his mother over an hour ago, but Joseph still had to come to terms that his mom was dead before he would possibly share that information with anyone else.
He had to put to bed the memories of his past, the beautiful homemaker Margaret Sadler, along with the bad memories of drugs and a broken family. He had to deal with being a kidnapping victim, make sense of the situation he was now in from the one he was in hours ago. He had to understand that those dealers were still looking for him, had tried to kill him. And when he felt full to bursting with nerves and sadness, a warm body pressed against his side and a hand rested on his back.
“You don’t have to be scared. My parents will take good care of you. You’re safe here,” Gage whispered in his ear.
The girls up front choked on stifled laughs. Joseph didn’t care about them because they didn’t know, and neither did Gage, but he still sought to comfort Joseph for some unknown reason. Up until now, Gage’s behavior was borderline maddening. He was arrogant and cocky, yet he somehow retained a boyish charm. A spark of care that was probably buried under his snobbish, poor little rich boy exterior gave Joseph hope.
“Just stick by me. No more lies from here on out.”
Joseph lifted his head, putting them almost at eye level. “It was only a half truth, I suppose.”
Gage’s lips spread into a slow grin. “I think you’ll fit in just fine around here.”
Hannah did a break check in front of a gothic monstrosity. Joseph nearly lost his stomach as he slammed into the backseat, but Gage’s thick arm caught his head from breaking over the headrest. “Hannah, for fuck’s sake, was that necessary?”
Emma twisted in her seat. Her fingers curled around the back of her chair. “Beware of his tricks, Joseph Sadler, for he has many. That was your one and only warning.”
“You’re kind of twisted,” Joseph said while arching his back away from the seat.
Emma smirked at Joseph before she got out and disappeared up the stairs.
Gage helped him out of the vehicle; the feel of his hands quickly becoming familiar, and Joseph wasn’t sure if he liked it or if it made his skin crawl. Gage wasn’t scary in the traditional spook show sense. He frightened Joseph because there was something about him that made Joseph want to stick close, forced him to question everything Gage did or said with the utmost scrutiny.
It was hard to ignore his presence as they hit the staircase outside the main house. Gage was well built with thick thighs and long arms, hands that encompassed the whole of Joseph’s shoulder. He smelled good too, like his natural scent was a cloak he’d thrown over Joseph until he was nearly suffocating on it.
His golden eyes were unnerving but cast a warm, delicious look at Joseph. In all his years, Joseph could count on one hand the people, including celebrities he’d seen with eyes that peculiar in color. He’d seen a blue so bright they appeared lit from inside. A grey the color of gunmetal and brown eyes that bordered on burgundy with flecks of gold and yellow. But never had Joseph seen eyes the color of poured honey that penetrated him deep enough to leave scars.
Joseph shivered when Gage’s hand shifted up his spine; an unmotivated skim of his fingers that wrecked Joseph inside but meant nothing to Gage. The pretend Guardian kept his gaze straight ahead, his feet continued to climb the never ending stairs, and only when Joseph stopped did he seem to care that Joseph was there at all.
“I’ve got this,” Joseph said. He brushed Gage’s hands away as he climbed the stairs to the front door, desperate to get control back from his body.
Gage’s golden eyes slid away from him quickly. He stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Whatever.”
Whatever? Joseph couldn’t help the disappointment he felt, but just as quickly as it came, he let it go. He didn’t know what Gage was or what he meant. Besides, Joseph had much more pressing problems to figure out. Gage could wait. Or actually, he didn’t have to be anything at all.
So yeah, whatever. Joseph sighed and shrugged.
It would be the last thing Gage would say to him for a while because Gage took one look at Joseph’s arms wrapped around himself defensively and the calculating look in his eye. Then he turned on his heel and walked into the darkened hallway off the foyer, leaving Joseph all alone.
“Gage?” Joseph called, voice echoing down the stone corridor. Gage didn’t answer. He was already gone.
“Mr. Sadler, if you’ll follow me please.” A handsome older gentlemen with bright green eyes gestured for him to continue into the foyer. The man cast a look at the dark hallway and smiled. He took a step closer to Joseph. “He’ll be alright. Gage is just Gage.”
Joseph nodded because it seemed to be the proper response, when in fact he knew very little about Gage, certainly not enough to compare Gage against himself. “And who are you?”
“George. I tend to the house, to our guests, and make sure everything runs smoothly.”
“And if they don’t?” Because this wasn’t what Joseph would call smooth. This entire situation was rocky at best.
George chuckled. “Have no fear, Mr. Sadler, I suspect your fears will be put to bed rather quickly around here. As you’ll see, despite being vampires, the people who live here are rather normal. Like one big family. And as much I try to keep the children in line, they have a way of slipping up time and time again.”
“They have kids here?” Joseph looks past George, glimpsing a massive staircase.
“Well yes, but I was referring to the overgrown ones in leather.” George winks. “Come along. The Queen is taking tea downstairs.”
“With the Guardians?”
“The Guardians at tea?” George throws his head back and laughs. “You are quite the comedian, Mr. Sadler.”
Joseph failed to see the hilarity of it. Although, when he thought about it, he guessed if the other Guardians were anything like Hannah and Emma, he imagined they wouldn’t be at tea, unless it was steeped in gunpowder and involved a heavy game of Russian roulette.
“You know, I’ve been where you are, the newness of it all. Rather hard to wrap your mind around, isn’t it?”
Joseph nodded. “You could say that.”
“May I call you Joseph?”
“Well Joseph, I have to say you’re taking this all rather well.”
“I’m not really.”
“You are, because you’re in shock.” George put his hand on Joseph’s shoulder and Joseph shivered again. “And I want you to know that you’re safe here, safe to stay and safe to tell your secrets. For all of their charming ways, the Guardians really do keep your safety and well-being at priority number one. You are family after all.”
“What?” Joseph cocked his head. “Family?”
“I mean, you’re one of us now that you know.” George waved him off. “That’s all.”
“Oh.” Joseph followed George to an elevator past the theatrically large staircase. He got the chance to spin around, face lifted towards the ceiling to observe the stained glass dome with angels and demons. And back down to the swirling patterned tile that pivoted out from the stairs. “Where the hell am I?” he whispered to himself.
“Welcome to the compound, my boy. Your Queen thanks you for your stay.” George pulled Joseph into the elevator. Joseph yelped and the doors shut.
Gage stormed up to his old rooms. He took the hidden staircase off the foyer hallway and headed to the top floor. The Guard at the third floor rolled his eyes at Gage, but said nothing.
“Nice to see you too, fuckwad.” Gage sneered. His boots pounded against the stone floor until he stepped onto one of the many plush runners lining the hall. Even the smell of home made him angry. A little musty, old like a box of books that hadn’t been opened in centuries, and the faintest hint of vanilla that Gage suspected was Maggie’s doing.
There was a cleaning cart in the hallway when he arrived at his door. Gage looked from the pungent scented bottle of cleaner to the figure moving about in his rooms and growled. “The fuck are you doing?”
A trim male looked up in surprise and dropped the pillow he was fluffing. “Master Gage.”
The man wasn’t much older than Gage, skinny and clipped dark hair. His wide brown eyes feigned shock for only a second before they narrowed and his lips thinned as they pulled into a wicked smile. “Been a while.” He threw the pillow across the bed and waited. “Was wondering when you’d get homesick and come looking for me.”
“I don’t have time for this shit, Yardley. Get out. Now.”
“Or what?” Yardley stretched his arms above his head like he belonged in Gage’s bedroom. Like he was comfortable, but he shouldn’t be. In fact, the closest thing to Yardley being in Gage’s rooms was him living vicariously through his younger sister that Gage used to bang on occasion. It was well known the siblings had gotten around the compound ever since they were brought here about six years ago. A rave party gone wrong or something that ended with both of them turned and choosing servitude over city life.
Ever since then Yardley had made it his mission to get into Gage and his brother’s pants. While Axel was oblivious to anything with genitals, Gage was all too aware of Yardley’s offers. And right now he was angry and revved up enough to possibly accept.
“Or I’ll beat the ever-loving shit out of you.”
“Sounds like fun.” Yardley licked his lips.
Gage shook his head. “You are seriously the worst slut ever. You know that?”
Yardley shrugged. “It’s working isn’t it?” He pointed at Gage’s bulge, the one growing harder in his pants with every passing second. “Or are you being mean because you’re scared you might like it?”
Gage swallowed. He stood his ground as Yardley sauntered over, all saucy lips and slender hips. It was a well-known fact Gage didn’t get with guys because of his self-imposed mating rules. He wanted to be a father by blood, by planting his seed into one female that would be his forever. He would carry on his bloodline the natural way and no amount of feelings for a male, sexual or emotional would sway him.
But lately, his morals had been shaken. The thing with Isaac, coming in his pants at the mere sight of those stocking covered legs. The way Joseph looked at him, his smell and the shiver that had wracked his body as Joseph touched him. And now this—the male in front of him, running his hands up Gage’s hard chest as if he knew every inch by heart.
Gage was close to breaking.
“Come on now, Gage. You know you want it. I’ve missed you,” Yardley husked.
Something snapped in Gage. Too much. Everything falling apart. He didn’t even know who he was anymore, what world he lived in or anything else for that matter. He shoved Yardley off of him, hard enough to send the young vampire to the ground.
“I hate you,” Gage hissed. “I hate everything about you.”
Yardley sucked on his bottom lip as he debated his options. Instead of running, he got to his knees and pushed his hands up Gage’s firm, spread legs. “You can’t hate what you’ve never had.”
“Shut up!” Gage sank his fingers into Yardley’s hair and tugged. Even he winced at how hard he yanked.
“Fuck me, Gage,” Yardley pleaded, aware he was winning Gage over.
Sadist, Gage thought. Gage released Yardley’s hair and went to the door. He all but tossed the cleaning cart into bathroom near the front door and locked them both into his bedroom. Yardley was still on his knees, skin pale against the black rug taking up the middle of the room. He was taking off his shirt, dusky nipples at attention from the rush of cold against his skin.
And Gage’s warring arousal smashed his morally sound five year plan to pieces. “Fuck.”
Yardley was breathing hard, watching Gage come to him. It was in his eyes that he’d won, but there was also a bit of fear, a tinge of hesitance at what Gage was about to give him. This wasn’t about love or feelings. There was a wall breaking down inside of Gage, it was about the anger in his heart swelling to maximum capacity until he couldn’t think clearly.
“I hate you,” Gage repeated as grabbed Yardley by the back of the neck and roughly shoved his face into the rug. “And you’ll never be mine, you slut.”
Yardley tensed. Gage proceeded to unbuckle his belt with one hand, the other still firmly around the back of the servant’s neck, grinding Yardley’s nose into the fuzzy fibers. “But you wanted this, right. No take backs now, Yardley.”
“Why are you doing this?” Yardley did his best to look at Gage, tilting his head to the side.
“Don’t act all innocent now. This is what happens to people that push me.” It was a threat, a punishment, not pleasantly rough sex come to fruition and Yardley understood that in an instant.
Yardley squirmed. Not in a way that said he couldn’t stand a second longer without Gage inside him either. He whipped his head up with his vampire strength and threw Gage off of him. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Gage got to his feet and had his gun out in a split second. “What’s wrong with me?” He laughed coldly. “People like you. That’s what’s wrong with me. Tempting me to be something I’m not. Tilting my world on end just for your entertainment. That’s what you all want, to tear me into a thousand directions until there’s nothing left! Be this. Love that guy. Congratulations, you’re in the next line of warriors to save the world, but you’re not leaving this house. Don’t think for yourself, Gage, that’s dangerous.”
“Maybe it is. Put the gun down.” Yardley lifted his hands. “Please, Gage, you’re scaring me.”
“You’re a vampire. You could take it.”
“And if I couldn’t, you’d be a murderer and an attempted rapist.” Yardley inched closer to the door. “You couldn’t live with that.”
“Maybe I don’t want to live anymore. Maybe there isn’t a point to all this.” Gage followed Yardley with the gun still targeting his chest. “Maybe I’m done wondering why me.”
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting things, Gage. Different things.”
“I don’t want to be different!” Gage picked up a wrought iron candelabra from his dresser and sent it crashing into the mirror in the corner.
Yardley’s eyes flashed with terror. A vampire scared of a pre-turn. He took his escape before Gage could turn back to him and the door slammed loudly in his wake.
Gage sank to the floor with his gun in his lap. He was losing his mind, slowly but surely. He was probably going to turn out like his Uncle Thomas. The bad seed. The crazy one that no one really liked to talk about. A psychopath. A cold blooded killer. A freak.
In the basement kitchen, Joseph sat across the table from Nina. The Queen wasn’t wearing her crown or anything to punctuate her status, in fact she had on pajamas and an old Army sweatshirt that hung to her knees, but her power was felt by the heaviness in the air; a probing sensation Joseph tried not to brush off his arms.
“Go ahead and eat while it’s hot.” Maggie, a caretaker and George’s lady friend, put a bowl of soup in front of him, some bread and a glass of water. “There’s plenty more if you’re up for it.” She rubbed his back before brushing his hair away from his neck, twisting it around her finger until his long blond locks settled into a limp curl at his back.
Her fingers were warm against his neck until they moved away, and Joseph almost caved to her mothering touch. His eyes pricked with tears as he stared at his soup, eating it as fast as he could because it tasted so good and he couldn’t remember the last time someone had cooked for him like this. Before he could ask, another bowl was there and this time there was a cookie on a napkin next to it like he was a child. Jesus, did he look that bad to warrant homemade cookies and soup?
He glanced up to find Nina working on a knitting project in her lap and Maggie washing the dishes. It was normal, too normal, and why hadn’t they asked him anything yet. Why weren’t they saying anything, period?
“Just eat and relax, darling. If you have questions, go ahead. We’re not here to push you.” Nina smiled at him and lifted a little pink bootie for him to see. “A hobby I’m trying thanks to Maggie here. I’m going to be a grandmother in a few months. It’s a little girl.”
“Congratulations,” he murmured, then thought about who Nina was and who her children are. “So is… Axel excited?” Because the father to be couldn’t possibly be Gage. There was no way.
“Why wouldn’t he be? He’s been following Jessica around for months, recording her every move in the name of science. Yet he refuses to go into any medical field. Can you believe it? He wants to be an artist now. He changes his mind all the time. Last year it was a psychologist. Poor Daniel was over the moon to have a student too.” She chuckles. The needles in her hands click together. “Axel just likes information, likes to study things and share his findings so everyone else will be aware. What he does with it all is anyone’s guess, but at least we know he’s smart. We’re all very proud of him. He’s double majoring at NYU. Masters and all.” She beams.
Must be nice, Joseph thought. A mother who’s proud. “Right. So Jessica is Axel’s wife?”
Maggie glances over her shoulder at Nina. They both erupt in a fit of laughter. “Darling! You’re hilarious, oh heavens no.”
Joseph frowns at his soup. The only way Nina would be getting a grandchild was if Gage and Jessica… Joseph went back to his earlier assumption of no freaking way was Gage going to be a father. Although it would explain his attitude, the slight fear he carried with him, his rough and tough attitude. Shit.
“Jessica is my son-in-law’s sister. Have you met Daniel yet?”
Son-in-law? Okay. What?
“Gage’s boyfriend?” Joseph drops his spoon into the bowl and tries to breathe. He has no idea why Gage’s baby momma threesome with another dude troubles him this way.
Nina shakes her head. “No, Daniel is my eldest son Rowen’s mate. Jessica is their surrogate and she’s due in a few months. First surrogate we’ve ever had. Again, we’re very proud.”
“Oh.” Joseph should be relieved, but his stomach feels as if it’s bottoming out. He’s lightheaded and shaking like he’s a caffeine addict without coffee. He panics. It grips him so suddenly he knows he’s going to be sick if he doesn’t fix something...something he doesn’t understand.
“Joseph? Are you alright, darling?”
Joseph scoots his chair back and stands on wobbly legs. “I…” He gulps for air and sees a fearsome man with white blond hair and violet eyes studying him from the doorway. “Something’s wrong,” he tells the man as if he’ll somehow make sense of it all.
“This is him?” The man comes to his rescue, holding him up by his arms.
“Yes. Rowen, this is Joseph Sadler, Isaac’s friend.” In an instant Nina is taking one of his hands and rubbing his back. “Joseph, does it hurt anywhere?” Joseph pants for air. What is with these people and rubbing him? “He could have sustained internal injuries and the shock is wearing off. We should get him to Theo.”
“No. Something’s wrong,” Joseph repeats. “I have to go.”
He doesn’t know how or why, but he forces his feet to move, and by sheer instinct he presses on. Unfortunately he yanks Nina and Rowen with him. He has to get there. Has to make it better, whatever it is.
“Darling, you need to sit down.” Nina urges. She tries to coax him back to the table, but he flails.
“No! It’s wrong. It hurts.”
“Where?” She demands and proceeds to handle his body again, checking for injuries.
“Stop it. Don’t touch me.” He’s gasping for air now. His heart is running a marathon. The second she lets go and Rowen backs up, staring at him like a crazy person, Joseph bolts out of the kitchen.
“Maggie, call a lockdown. Alert the Guards he’s not a threat,” Nina yells behind her and then follows Joseph.
He knows she’s there, close on his heels, but he’s pretty fast for a human. The narrow hallways form an underground labyrinth. Joseph has no idea where he’s going until he sees the elevator opening. George nearly falls over as Joseph pushes past him. Joseph looks at the security keypad and nearly screams. “Take me upstairs!”
Rowen catches up to them and smirks. “Well if this isn’t déjà vu. You and my mate would get along like two peas in a pod. You could bond over your hatred for the lift keypads.”
“Rowen!” Nina glares at him. “Not the time.”
Rowe turns his palms up innocently. “What? He’s just realized where he is, what we are, and what he’s been through this evening and you’ve chosen to lock him up underground without an escape while you knit booties and feed him cookies. He’s not injured. He’s being realistic. And he looks quite terrified. There is that.”
“You are not helping, darling.”
George looks to Joseph and winks. “I’ll handle it from here, Your Grace.” He takes pity on Joseph and enters in the code while mother and son begin what looks to be a heated argument. Joseph smacks the third floor key because he needs to reach fresh air at the highest point. Being in the basement is complete torture.
Nina screeches. “Look what you’ve done. Joseph!”
“Come on. Come on dammit.” Joseph leans against the metal door, tapping his foot and shaking his hands. He has to get there. It’s the most compulsive, anxious, depressive pain he’s ever felt. So dark and scary that he accepts George’s hand and squeezes his fingers as the door shuts on Nina’s face.
“Please breathe, Joseph. We’re almost there.” George grips his hand back, brows furrowed in deep concern. “It’s almost—”
The elevator dings open and Joseph runs for it. That door. The one where three people are…
“Gage, open the fuck up!” Another man with white blond hair just like Rowen’s pounds on the door.
Hannah and Emma are behind him. Hannah whipped out her gun and pointed it at the door. “Gage, move away from the door. I’m coming in!”
“Are you out of your fucking mind?” The man pushes Hannah back with a monstrous sound. He throws his sunglasses to the floor. “Shoot that door and I’ll skin you alive, Hannah.”
“It was just a thought!” Hannah’s eyes swirl.
George is right next to Joseph as he ignores the three others and jiggles the knob.
“Who is this? What are you doing?” The unidentified man pulls Joseph’s shoulder back.
George growls. “This is Joseph. Isaac’s friend.”
“Why does everyone keep saying that! I’m more than Isaac’s friend!” Joseph starts kicking the door. “Gage!”
The name leaves his tongue and he seizes back from the door, astonished. His mouth hanging open, his body restarts without his consent and goes for the door again. “Oh my god,” he whispers, clawing at the door. “Gage,” he screams like demons are scratching through his stomach.
“What the hell…” The man next to him starts to help him. Whether he’s fascinated with Joseph’s banshee worthy pipes or if he’s really committed to the cause, Joseph doesn’t care. But he fights next to him until the door swings open.
Gage is there, eyes bloodshot and Mohawk sweaty over his face. He’s shirtless and while he looks good enough to eat, he also looks on the verge of never coming back. There’s a gun in his hand and Joseph meets Gage’s eyes.
“Put it away. Now.” Joseph backs him into the room. He gains anger when Gage doesn’t put the piece down. “Don’t make me repeat myself, Gage.”
“No seriously, who is this guy?”
“Axel!” Nina scolds her son and suddenly she’s in the room, Rowe with her.
And Joseph doesn’t care. He stalks Gage, moving him toward the weight bench in the corner. “I’ve been there,” Joseph says loud and clear. “I know what this is now and I’ve been there for years, Gage. What did you do wrong? Why? Why are you not worth it and you have no idea what you even want to be worthy of, but you want it.”
Gage nods slowly. “I want that.”
“What is going on? Did you two know each other before this?” Axel steps too close and his twin brother is there, warning him away from Joseph. “Gage, come on. This is over the line, even for you.”
“There is no line where he is.” Joseph turns Gage to him, his muscular arms sweat slicked and solid beneath Joseph’s hands. “My mom got addicted to Rush. She took every penny I’ve had since I was a teenager and spent it on drugs. My grandfather tried to help her after he got his head out of ass, but she was already done for. My dad stepped out on us. No one else but me was there to look out for her because she’s my mom. Like…my mom. And she died tonight. I watched her die before I ran and I left her there. I left her there alone and I promised I would never do that to her. I left her with those dealers who killed her…”
Joseph is met with silence and the only thing that keeps him going is Gage’s unwavering stare. He takes another step and Gage lets him. “I have to admit I’m scared right now because I don’t know any of you people, but I do know that I almost died tonight and I wouldn’t have had any place to go if you had never found me. I wanted to die until you saved my life.”
Gage absentmindedly put the gun on the bed. He walked back to Joseph and just snatched him to his chest. They stood amidst the group, pressed as tight as two people could be in a hug that rivaled all others. None of it made sense. One minute Joseph is eating soup and the next he feels this inconsolable drive to find this man and share in his pain.
“I’m fucked up. Like really fucked up,” Gage finally says. “And everyone knows it. And I don’t know what to do.”
Joseph nods into Gage’s shoulder. “Yeah.”
“I wasn’t going to hurt myself. I don’t know why you care, but I wasn’t.”
“Okay.” Gage pulls away to stare at Joseph. “Okay,” he says, softer this time.
“I just got your text. What’s going on?” A dark haired man with bright blue eyes joins them. Another man follows him inside the room. And that guy has a power about him that even Joseph takes note of. But it’s the dark haired man that boggles Joseph’s mind. He looks just like Joseph’s grandfather. Younger of course, but this guy could be his spitting image.
“Micah, this is Joseph Sadler. A friend of Gage’s. He’s also our witness.”
Everything clicks for Joseph; this man, Micah—he knows that name; the reason he looks like Adam Derenger. Micah seems to catch on too, or known, he’s obviously known judging by his expression that Joseph is his…
“You’re Micah Derenger.”
Micah lets out a slow breathe and nods.
“You’re my uncle.”
Micah nods again like he’s holding back, as if he wants some heartfelt reunion with his long lost nephew.
And the rage unfurls, stampeding out of him with the force of a thousand wild horses.
“And you knew this whole time and you did nothing to help your own sister. She’s dead!” Joseph lunges at Micah but Gage catches him around the middle and swings him back to his feet. “You fucking coward!”
“Enough!” Gage puts a hand over Joseph’s mouth. “Everyone out except for Rowe.”
Joseph struggles against Gage, mad as hell and there’s no stopping it. That was his uncle and he knew. He knew his sister was killing herself and he left them both to suffer. He had the strength, the resources to take her away and help her and he did nothing.
“He didn’t know,” Gage murmurs. “He had no idea.”
But he does now. Joseph glimpses Micah’s heartbroken face before the man he arrived with carts him into the hallway, Micah dragging his feet like he can barely stand. He had no idea what his sister was doing. And now he finds out she’s dead. What was happening? Where the hell was he?
Joseph slumped in Gage’s arms before he realized what he was doing. The adrenaline was wearing off. He was slowly regaining control of his thought process. And now he was being held by a guy he couldn’t stand a few hours ago, held like a lover would be.
As everyone smartly gave them space, leaving as Gage demanded, Nina stayed near the doorway and watched her sons. Joseph caught one last fleeting look from her before she closed the door.
“Are they gone?” Gage turned to Rowe.
Rowe squinted, listening for something Joseph couldn’t hear. “On the elevator, headed down… Yes. They’re all gone.”
“Are you lying to me?”
“Honestly, Gage, is that really of concern right now?” Rowe plopped into the only other seat apart from the bed and crossed his ankle over his knee. “This one rushes up here like the solution to the end of the world is in his pocket. You’re locking yourself in your room, holding a gun like a man with an endgame and you’re questioning my trust?”
“It just looked bad.”
“It looked exactly how it looked, Gage. And why does it reek of sex in here?” Rowe sniffs and then wriggles his nose.
Joseph gently detangles himself from Gage and sits on the bed. Sex? He keeps his hands on his knees to avoid whatever soils the blanket under him. Hadn’t been here for a few hours and already Gage was getting some action. Figures. He seemed the type. Joseph clenched his knees as the idea sat wrong with him. Someone else with Gage… Gage trying to hurt himself… Too much.
“Well that’s interesting,” Rowe commented.
Joseph looked up to find Rowe smirking at him. “What’s your problem?”
“It’s not my problem, Daniel Junior. It’s your problem. His problem.” He points at Gage. “You see, it’s all very strange to me how you ended up here. Some might say it was Fate.”
“Here you go again with the bullshit. Cut the crap, Rowe. I don’t even want to know what you mean by that and I don’t care.” Gage sat next to Joseph. He spread his knees and rested his elbows on top of them. “And don’t mess with him. God, you really are an asshole.”
“I’ll take that over hated any day of the week.” Rowe saluted him with a hand to his forehead. “Now you asked me to stay and I did, but for what purpose? Other than to make sure you don’t try to…” Rowe inhales deeply and shakes the idea of his brother hurting himself off.
“Stop that.” Gage scrubs a hand over his face. “Just tell him. I know you know everything, more than Micah does because you try to keep him out of it, but tell him. And don’t leave shit out. He deserves the truth.”
“Tell me what?” Joseph looks from Gage to Rowe.
“It started with a phone call from Cousin Felicia to your Uncle Micah when your grandfather passed away,” Rowe begins.
“How do you know Felicia?” Joseph is seriously close to crawling out of his skin. The things these people knew. The lies they’d kept. The nefarious plans the dealers had for all of them. It was becoming too much for even him, a bonafide survivor.
And to involve Felicia? She was in her sixties and had a Doxin named Chubs, nothing more than a sweet lady who sent him gas gift cards on his birthday. Why the hell would any of these people drag her into this mess?
“I can tell by the face you’re making you think we have Felicia’s body in the basement. I assure you she knows nothing about our world and is safely tucked away at her cottage with Chubs.” Rowe rolls his wrist as he talks. “Yes, know about Chubs too, and far as we’re aware he’s not involved in any political wars between vampires at the moment.”
“Real smooth, Rowe.” Gage shakes his head.
“The body part was a bit much?”
“It’s always a bit much where you’re concerned.”
“Shut up and tell me the rest.” Joseph stands to alleviate some of the nervous energy working its way through his body.
“So as I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, Cousin Felicia was the one who took your uncle in for a few months after your grandfather disowned him for his sexuality. Micah had kept in contact with her over the years, much to our shock, and she was the one who called him to notify him of your grandfather’s passing. And…I’m very sorry for your loss.”
Gage looked ready to beat the crap out of his brother until he heard the apology. His shoulders drooped and he nodded. “Yeah, sorry about your grandpa.”
“Thanks,” Joseph muttered. “You know he changed a lot after Micah left, or so I was told. I was born a few weeks after Micah was gone, so I didn’t really know my grandfather during that. I do know he was good to me and that he regretted what he’d done to Micah. And he never once hurt me when I told him I was gay. He did all he could to help my mom, and I know he would have done more if I’d let him…”
“It’s not your fault, Joseph. None of what has happened is in any way your fault.” Rowe sits next to him on the bed, trapping him between the two brothers. “Things happen for a reason. If Micah had never left his family, he would have never met Cadence. They would never be the team we need them to be to help our people fight those like the ones who hurt your mother. If you had never left her, thought about your needs for once out of all those long years you spent helping her, then you wouldn’t be here, alive and willing work this out. That is what she would have wanted for you. That is why you are supposed to be here.”
“But she’s dead,” Joseph whispered with all the anguish of a heartbroken little boy. “And I have nothing.”
“That is up to you whether you want this or not. Stay here and work with us to find those dealers who ruined your life. Or we can send you away where they will ever find you.”
Joseph’s eyes welled with tears. His hand was encompassed by strong fingers and he looked up to see Gage staring intently at him. Joseph swallowed. “I can’t leave.”
“Good choice.” Rowe ruffled his hair, a fond smile on his lips. “Do you wish to hear the rest?” Joseph nodded. “Very well. As I was saying, we had no idea of your involvement with dealers, and we had no idea you were Isaac’s teacher until Isaac recognized you at Adam’s funeral…”
Joseph sat back and listened as the tale unfolded. Isaac was his cousin. Micah was married to a man that led the Guardians. They had been searching for Joseph for months, searching tirelessly for his mother too. They loved him and they didn’t even know him. They had been looking. They had been trying to help.
But as Rowe said, Fate had other plans for Margaret Sadler. And as she was called home, apparently Joseph had been too, just in a different capacity. And now he sat with two princes, in a bed that cost more than his life, huddled with protective arms around him as they let him cry.
He told them everything between gasps for air and to wipe his eyes of salty tears. Told them about the kidnapping, the hotel, the names and faces he’d encountered. Told them about her; the mystery woman who headed the entire operation. He informed them of the systematic blackmailing of prominent men and women along the east coast for monetary and social gain.
Something big was coming and Joseph only had a few key pieces of information to help them find out what it was.
“I never played Isaac like that. I was just his teacher and sometimes the older brother type when he needed one. He was the closest thing I had to a friend. I didn’t really have time for anything else, and the night he auditioned at his boyfriend’s club, it was the first time I’d been out in years like someone my own age.” With every word Joseph realized how much he’d given up, how much had been taken from him. And through it all he never blamed his mom. He couldn’t bring himself to dig deeper into the wound her death had left him with. Because even on her worst days, she had always said she loved him back, and that was enough for him, until it wasn’t anymore.
Rowe kept a hand on Joseph’s shoulder as he pulled out his phone and dialed someone. “We’ve got a lead. Three or four blocks down from the informant bodega in the West Village. Boutique hotel from the sounds of it and it’s packed with dealers. A hunch tells me we’ll find other human hostages there. Call Oliver and tell him he’ll house any witnesses until we can place them.”
Rowe keeps nodding. Joseph keeps a tight grip on Gage’s hand. “I can… Are you bloody serious right now? Well this just keeps getting better and better.” He flashes his fangs at no one in particular and Joseph scoots into Gage until he’s practically sitting in the guy’s lap.
“I have a bad feeling about this, Valjana. Do what you can on your end and I’ll ask the boy.” Rowe hangs up and looks to Joseph. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. Temper gets the better of me sometimes. Used to be worse…”
“Until Dan fucked it out of you?” Gage snorts.
“Yes, in fact, he did. Erm… well I… did him, not that it’s any of your business. And I’ll have you know it’s called making love, something of which you’re unaccustomed to doing with all these no name bed vagrants you’ve got in and out of here at all hours of the night.”
“What the fuck? Dan told me you were a total man whore before you got mated. Don’t you judge me!”
“Was a man whore, Gage. And don’t say man whore. It’s disgusting. The point is because of my past party boy indiscretions, I am now able to bestow you my wisdom and lead you on a more righteous path due to the errors of my ways.” Rowe tries to hold back his laugh.
Gage has no idea that he’s practically squeezing the life out of Joseph. “That’s just bullshit.”
“It’s called being the oldest of the brood, I’m afraid. My responsibilities are many.” Rowe tugs on his suit jacket, brimming with evil pride.
“No, you’re deflecting. What did King say?”
Rowe rolls his eyes and huffs. “There’s been a death that could be linked to Joseph.”
“I didn’t murder anyone!”
“I mean linked, not that you did the actual killing. Calm down.” Rowe pats his knee. “By chance have you heard of a man named Ronald Egan?”
Joseph’s eyes widen and he pushes Gage’s arms down. “That was grandfather’s best friend. We called him Uncle Ronny.”
Rowe nods. “I thought as much. King just informed me that he passed away tonight and our guy down at the coroner’s office can’t find a natural cause of death. The official statement to the press will be that he had a heart attack, but we all know that’s not the case.”
“You think he was murdered?” Gage puts his arms back around Joseph and it feels so right, but extremely uncomfortable at the same time. Rowe watches their interaction with amusement. Joseph turns his head when his cheeks heat up.
“I’ve been doing this long enough to know that when my spidey senses begin to tingle, I’m usually right. Now you two have had enough excitement for one day. I’ll expect you both downstairs for breakfast in the morning, and Gage, don’t give me that look. You came here willingly, now it’s time to face the music.” Rowe looks over his shoulder at the door. “But I’ll give you a free pass for the night. So breakfast?”
Gage grumbles and puffs hot air down the back of Joseph’s neck.
Rowe grins. “Enjoy the rest of your evening.” He winks and heads for the door. When he opens it, Joseph sees hawkish gold eyes staring at them. The man is bigger than any of the other men he’s encountered tonight and he wonders what the hell they eat around here that turns men into Titans. But then he looks at those eyes again, back at Gage’s downcast eyes, and then to the door again. Two of a kind…
“Goodnight.” Rowe waves and shuts the door.
“That was my dad,” Gage offers. He is still hugging Joseph to him, unwilling to let go.
Joseph rubs his lips together. “I haven’t seen mine in years. I heard he got remarried and they have a baby.”
“Don’t be, he’s a jerk.”
“But he’s your dad.”
“You say that like you don’t have father issues yourself.” Joseph smiles softly, his fingers playing over Gage’s when he realizes Gage isn’t going anywhere.
“Mine are kind of the opposite, but yeah I guess you could say that.”
“Want to talk about it?”
Gage brushes the backs of his knuckles along Joseph’s legs. “Not really. Wouldn’t make sense if I tried anyway.”
Joseph laughs at that. “Wouldn’t make sense? You do realize who you’re talking to, right?”
“Thing is, Joseph Sadler, I don’t really know you, but I feel like I do. Why is that?”
Joseph crawled around until he kneeled in front of Gage. Gage’s mop of hair hung limply over one eye. His sharp gold eyes tracked Joseph’s every move. “I have no idea.”
Unsure of how long he’d been out, Gage’s eyes opened to darkness. A warm body was pressed along his side, face buried under his arm and huffing warm air against his skin. It was weird to wake up like this and not bolt for the door. The only person Gage had ever slept with through the night in the same bed, that wasn’t family, was Isaac, and even then it’d been platonic. At the time, anyway.
Joseph in his bed, cuddled up against him, holding onto him like an anchor was the first time a man had slept in his bed. Gage experimented by leaning down to sniff Joseph’s hair. Sure enough, he stilled smelled of Gage’s shampoo and the collective warmth of his sheets. Joseph smelled like him, and the scary part was Gage liked it.
He liked how relaxed Joseph was, long legs sprawled out, one hitched over Gage’s to keep him from leaving. He liked how his old basketball shorts twisted around Joseph’s hips and left little to the imagination as they stretched over Joseph’s groin before bunching up around his slender yet firm thighs. The best part was Joseph’s face; the serenity of blissful sleep and peace of mind knowing he was safe in Gage’s bed. Safe in this house. Safe with Gage. Safe from what he’d seen, even if only until he woke up.
After what felt like an eternity of watching Joseph sleep, Gage snapped out of his reverie, feeling like a total creep. He slowly extricated himself from Joseph’s arms and legs and stretched out next to the bed. Torn between staying and leaving Joseph to possibly wake up alone, Gage knew he couldn’t sit there awake for the next few hours, because try as he might there was no way he could go back to dreamland once he was awake. He was drawn away from Joseph, the thought that Joseph was now a thing for him motivation enough.
It put him on edge. He liked it and he didn’t.
Gage quietly left his bedroom, happy to see the Guard posted outside his room. They exchanged tired nods to each other before Gage took the elevator down to the ground floor. People were still up in the house, which was pretty standard for their kind, not to mention the amount of people in the house in general.
They threw him exhausted hellos or rolled their eyes, and he caught a couple of glares along the way, but no one really bothered him. And that’s why he hated to admit it, but he loved his older brother because Rowe got it. When the Royal family needed space, that is what they got, and Rowe and his threats to the others to leave his baby brother alone seemed to do the trick.
He thought about visiting Axel, but they’d already texted each other before bed and Gage would see him at breakfast anyway. And there was the fact that Axel wasn’t the first person he’d thought of when he’d woken up. Nope, subconscious guilt had flashed golden eyes at him and like a good little daddy’s boy Gage let his feet take him towards the old cathedral at the back of the estate.
What was once a place of worship had since been converted into a state-of-the-art gym. Gage remembered when he was little, looking up at Knox and asking, “Won’t God be mad?” And Knox had responded in kind, “Nah, guy said our body is a temple. Don’t sweat it.” As much as he hated Knox, Gage could appreciate his answer as an adult now.
Because if he ever needed anything, he knew at least one of the Guardians would be in the gym, worshipping their temples to the fullest extent. And that’s how he found his dad, Hill, eyes unforgiving in the mirror as he watched himself do pushup after pushup like a machine. His back muscles flexed, rippling the names of his fallen brothers in service across his shoulders and spine. The eagle tattoo on his arm bulged with every movement and his calves were full to bursting, trickling sweat down to his ankles and onto the carpeted area.
He kept on; fully aware Gage was there by now. Pushing up and down in time to a classic rock song Gage would call ancient, but after some time, he stopped arguing the fact with his dad. Because to insult the classics in his father’s presence was to start a fight he would never win. He’d name Axel after Axl Rose for crying out loud and look how opposite of the badass rocker he’d turned out. Gage was just glad he didn’t get named Dr. Feelgood or something stupid like that, and he was just Gage because his dad loved the name off of some baby name list for tough guys online.
But now they were far from the simpler days, when the twins were just two babies waiting to be named. Now they were all grown up with serious fucking issues that sometimes couldn’t be solved with Google.
Gage flinched as his father got up and went to the free standing chin up bar. Hill jumped and caught the bar in his hands, lifted his knees and pulled up. His entire body moved in one fluid motion, chin over the bar before he brought his body down, over and over, staring at Gage the entire time.
His dad wasn’t mad. He’d seen his dad mad. In fact, the last time they’d spoken, Gage thought his father was going to kill him over what he’d done to Isaac. And hell if it hadn’t worked Gage over something fierce since that day. He regretted all of it, but he was too stubborn to apologize. And that’s why his dad was waiting in silence, waiting for Gage to make this right because it was Gage who needed to, not his dad.
After several reps, Hill let go of the bar and landed on his feet with a resounding thud. He chugged some water, wiped his face with a towel, and said nothing.
He was going to leave.
Gage itched to hug him.
“I’m sorry,” Gage whispered and Hill stopped in his tracks.
“Got that, but for what?” Hill pierced him with an emotionless look.
Hill sighed. He sat at the end of the weight bench. “And what is everything?”
“Are you really going to make me do this?”
“Absolutely. Because I have waited for months, Gage. Months to hear what suddenly made you man enough to leave us, man enough to break us and worry over your safety when you weren’t fucking ready to leave. How man enough you should be to own up to what you’ve done to this family. Night after night I come in here and wonder why you hate me for being the best father I know how to be. I wonder, shit, Gage… I wonder if you’re eating enough, if you’ve got enough money, if you’re sleeping, if you’re dead somewhere…”
“Dad…” Gage takes a step but his father puts a hand up.
“I know you know about the tails we sent out, and if that made you angry I don’t give a shit. If you weren’t going to let me be a part of your life anymore, then it was within my rights as your father to make sure you were still okay. And you know what I saw, Gage?”
Gage shook his head.
“I saw myself. I saw a guy that didn’t know where he belonged so he tried to carve out a place to fit and it still didn’t work. Sucks being alone, doesn’t it?” Hill chuckles darkly. “It sucks more being the dad of a child you promised yourself you would give a better life to. A kid you said you wouldn’t let turn out like you, would give him the moon if you could just so he wouldn’t know how much your childhood hurt.”
Hill looks up and his eyes are glassy. Gage has never seen his dad cry, didn’t even think he was capable. “And here you are, my spitting image, trying to fight your way to something that doesn’t exist instead of being patient for that something good to find you. I signed up for this life thinking it was my last option and if it didn’t work, I was done. And then you two came along…” Hill grinds his teeth together and wipes his eyes on the back of his hand. “You two are the best,” he chokes up, “best thing that has ever happened to me and you hate me. Why, Gage? What did I ever do to you?”
“Nothing,” Gage whispers. He goes to his father and kneels at his feet. “I don’t hate you. Dad, please…”
Hill lifts Gage’s chin. “Talk to me, Gage. Tell me what the hell is going on. Am I so hard to talk to? You never…”
Gage shudders. He hangs his head, trying to find the words. “I… I failed you.”
“What?” Hill puts his hands on Gage’s shoulders.
“I’ve always wanted to be just like you. Make you proud of me. And no matter how much I want my problem to go away, to give you the big family you deserve, I can’t do it…”
“Gage, what are you talking about?” Hill shakes him until he lifts his face to see his dad. “Spit it out.”
Gage’s mouth opens wide as he coughs a shaky breath and stares in horror at his dad’s face. The words are like poison, something that will kill him, and he can’t bear the look of confusion on his father’s face. Others of their kind wouldn’t care about sexuality, but Gage always has.
He’s always wanted to be a warrior like his dad with a pack of children running around that look just like him. Wanted a soft yet powerful female mate that would be his equal, his anchor, just like his mother was to his father. And he failed because he wants… he wants hard where there should be soft. He wants a man where there should be a woman, and it has been such an affliction, he almost raped a vampire hours ago to get what he wanted, needed.
Until Joseph had come along and saved him from doing the unthinkable.
“You think I wouldn’t be proud to see you happy, Gage? You think just because I created you the natural way that you couldn’t carry on our line with alternative methods? You think that I would give you up because of who you are? Then you have every right to hate me, because I am not the father I thought I was.”
Gage keens and sobs against Hill’s leg. Even though they are near evenly matched in size, Hill surrounds him like he is a child again, rocking him in his arms, the love he carries breaching the pain in Gage’s heart. “It’s gonna be okay, kid. Everything is gonna be just fine.”
Gage doesn’t know if that’s true, but it must be if his dad says so. Because his dad is his hero, and he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be strong enough to tell him.
Her fair skin contrasted starkly against the night, as did her waist-length, shocking purple fur coat. She carefully stepped down the roll away stairs in studded platform ankle boots, the same snowy white as her mess of silken curls. The male vampire at her side had no name as far as she was concerned, but he was delectable to look at, so she allowed him to guide her down by the elbow.
Lights blinked down the runway, welcoming her to the states for the very first time. The journey from her hideaway in Tokyo had been a long one, but the New York City skyline in the distance was worth the long travel. She stopped on the last step of the stairs to take it all in.
The air wasn’t full of smog here. People weren’t bustling along every square inch of walking space with a population that rivaled NYC altogether. Although she would miss the colorful sea of lights from her penthouse near Tokyo Tower and the sparkle of the Rainbow Bridge, she saw NYC becoming her home far quicker than she’d expected.
A plum colored Rolls-Royce Wraith sat a few yards away with another larger utility vehicle parked behind it to collect her many trunks and treasures. She lifted her heavily jeweled fingers away from the male vampire’s arm. “Do they know we have arrived yet?”
Tall and thin, the Japanese male smirked. “They believe you to be dead, Atarah. They would not expect a ghost to travel the ocean and haunt them, much less make it home.”
“Home?” She licked her fangs, careful not to smudge her bright red lipstick.
“Is this not where you plan to call home?”
Atarah scented fear under his stoic appearance like a fine wine. She took the last step and put her hands on her leather clad hips. She smiled wickedly over her shoulder. “It isn’t home until we do a bit of cleaning.”
The male’s cheeks lifted to return her scandalous smile. “Then let us clean house.”
“Maybe I’ll keep you after all,” she purred, extending her jeweled hand. A golden tiger ring flashed against the blinking plane lights. “I do so love a good teacher’s pet.”
His eyes swirled. “Whatever you wish, my lady.” He took her hand and barked at the man idling next to the car. Keys were thrown in his direction. He caught them and opened the passenger door to the Wraith. “After you.”
“Goodie, a man who knows who comes first.” She winked and slid into the car. “I cannot wait to show you off to my sister. She’ll be stunned. Maybe we can pit our pets against each other, although I shall warn you, he’s a former Seal from what I hear.”
The male closed the driver door and started the car. “I have no doubt the queen will be more than stunned. And as for her mate, don’t you worry.” He kissed her hand.
Atarah swatted his chest. “You’re not that good looking. Don’t get a big head.”
Atarah’s new man servant eyed the men carrying the dead human bodies out of the plane. They were put into black bags and zipped up like leftovers to be disposed of later. “I meant—”
“Oh, you stupid man, I know what you meant. Just drive before I decide I don’t like you anymore. Onward!” She slapped the dash, and then synced her phone with the speakers. Thumping house music poured out of the sound system and Atarah buzzed the custom moon roof open. She lifted her hands with a giggle, and squealed in delight as the car sped over the tarmac and onto a private drive towards the main road.
“I’ve always wanted to be mayor,” she shouted into the night.
Joseph woke up alone, but there was a note on Gage’s empty pillow. Thoughtful. While Gage was out for a run before breakfast, Joseph wandered into the bathroom, thankfully sans cleaning cart this time. He found his new toothbrush from last night, scrubbing the early morning grime away until he felt human again. Throwing his hair up with the tie from his wrist, he set out barefoot to find his way to breakfast.
What he found instead was Isaac chatting up the Guard outside his door. The Guard was slim with coppery curls and the bluest eyes he’d seen around here yet. He had a patch that said Donohue over his bullet proof vest and by the expression on his face, Isaac was making him very uncomfortable. He spotted Joseph in the doorway and sighed with relief.
“Oh thank god you’re okay. They wouldn’t let me see you and no one is saying a damn thing about what happened. Knox has been in meetings all night and won’t answer his phone.” Isaac crushed Joseph in a hug until Joseph tugged on Isaac’s ponytail.
“Right. Sorry. I forget sometimes.” Isaac flashed a set of fangs. Joseph sniffed his shock but smiled anyway.
“Okay…” Joseph glanced at the Guard, who shook his head and shrugged. “I’m supposed to be at breakfast?”
“That’s all you’re going to say? You almost died last night and you end up sleeping with Gage and that’s all I get?”
Joseph frowned. He looked Isaac up and down to make sure he had the right person standing in front of him. “Isaac, did you ever think maybe I’m still processing this? Just…chill out, okay?”
Isaac blinked. “You’re really not going to tell me? Especially the part about Gage? Because come on, Joseph, what the hell?”
Maybe Joseph felt bad somewhere deep inside about what was going to fly out of his mouth, but he didn’t like the way Isaac was so…blunt. “You want the truth? My mom died last night. I almost got shot up and Gage saved my life. And then he tried to kill himself after that. We didn’t fuck if that’s what you want to know. We were just there for each other. There’s your headline. I have to go.”
Joseph sought out the Guard again and he hitched a thumb at the elevator. “First floor. Follow the scent of food.”
“Joseph? What do you mean he tried to kill himself? Joseph!”
Joseph put his hand up to stop Isaac from following him into the elevator. “I mean he’s going through something that I understand and it’s not my place to talk about it further than that. So if you want a scoop, talk to him. And thanks for your condolences, I appreciate it.”
Isaac’s eyes swirled. “I’m so sorry, Joseph. I’ve been worried sick all night and no one is telling me anything. I didn’t mean it to sound cruel or that I was fishing like some gossip. You guys are my friends, my family. I care.”
Joseph nodded. “I know. I just… I need time to get used to this. One thing at a time.”
Isaac stepped away from the elevator, taking a key off the ring in his hand. “Well, if you need to relieve some stress there’s a door off the sunroom you might be interested in.” He tossed Joseph the key with an unsure smile. “When you’re ready come find me. I’ll be around.”
“Thank you.” Joseph turns the key over in his hand.
“And I am sorry about your mom. So sorry. I know Pop is torn up about it. I can only imagine what it must be like for you.” Isaac laces his fingers together and looks at the ground.
“How is he?”
Isaac shakes his head. “Won’t come out of his room. My Da convinced him to video conference in on the meetings about the hotel, but that’s about it. He won’t let me in either. But I know it’s just because he doesn’t want me to see him like that. After our… well, your grandfather’s funeral, I think seeing him fall apart once was enough for me anyway.”
“I’m glad he was there. My grandfather would have wanted it that way.”
“We tried to find you, Joseph. I swear we did.” Isaac holds the door open when it starts to shut again.
“I know. It’s not your fault.”
“But I feel like you’re mad at me.”
“I’m confused. Not mad. We’re alright.” Joseph leaned in for a side hug. “I just need to cool off today. No meetings. No questions. I’ve never had time to myself before. I think I need that.”
“I understand. I do.” Isaac patted his arm and stepped back. “I’ll see you later, okay?”
“Yeah.” Joseph lifted a hand. “See you.”
Joseph watched Isaac vanish behind the elevator doors. He rode down to the first floor. The scent of food wasn’t that hard to follow, but before he reached his destination, he caught sight of Gage sitting on the stairs, bare chested and sweaty from his run. He was leaning back, staring at the ceiling and no one passing by bothered him.
Except for Joseph.
He couldn’t help himself as he sat next to Gage and mirrored his position, leaning back on the stairs to stare at the stained glass. “I saw this last night but I didn’t really get the chance to enjoy it.”
Gage didn’t answer at first. He tilted his head, scanning Joseph for a second before he looked back up. “It’s a replica of a painting one of the first vampires did. My mom had it commissioned in glass once they took over this place.” Gage took a deep breath.
So did Joseph. “It’s beautiful.”
“Same could be said for half the art the Middle Ages pumped out. At least here we don’t have demons spit roasting babies on swords or something equally disgusting.” Joseph grinned.
Gage laughed, deep and full and Joseph bit his lip. “That’s sick. Spit roasting babies? Where’d you see that?”
“Books, duh. What’s the matter, Gage, not as cultured as a prince should be?”
“Nah, I’m only a prince by title. And I’m plenty cultured. I live with a house full of people that are over a thousand years old.”
“That’s some moisturizer they’re using then.”
Gage laughed again. Joseph was going to start keeping count of how many times he could make Gage smile. It looked good on him. “It isn’t moisturizer. I can tell you that much.”
“Is the rest a secret?” Joseph knocked their knees together.
“First rule of Fight Club is there is no Fight Club.” Gage winks at him. “But for you, I might make an exception.”
“Then tell me, Gage, do they buy the moisturizer in bulk or is it a secret family recipe?” He batted his lashes dramatically and Gage rolled over with laughter.
“Dude, Dan is gonna love you.” Gage rubbed his shoulder fondly. He was still smiling. “Anyone who can quip like that can go up against Rowe any day of the week. Dan always needs more backup.”
“I guess I’m going to have to hang with Dan then. Rowe said the same thing.”
“He isn’t lying.” Gage was still rubbing his back. “You sleep okay? I didn’t mean to leave you for that long, but I left the note just in case.”
Joseph sighed into Gage’s touch. “I slept pretty hard. But I feel better this morning, not okay, but if this is it, I want it to work, you know?”
Gage pushed a stray hair behind Joseph’s ear. “I do.”
Joseph tracked Gage’s fingers with his eyes until Gage realized what he was doing. “Uh… I’m sorry. I’m a freak.”
Joseph took his hand and pulled them both up. “You’re not a freak. I happen to like different, and you, good sir, are anything but ordinary. Still trying to figure you out.”
“Nothing to see,” Gage mumbles. He lets Joseph lead him closer to the dining room, both of them nowhere near ready for breakfast but they’ll have to do because Joseph is starving.
“That’s where you’re wrong. Everyone has something special inside them—”
“That’s corny, Joseph. Come on.”
“No. It’s the truth. You’ve got something. I’ve got something. I want to know what it is. I’ll let you know when I find it.”
Gage stares at him, a weird smile tugging at his lips. “You do that.”
“But first, I want whatever is being served in there. Smells like orgasms with syrup on top.”
Gage choked. His cheeks reddened. “You’re crazy.”
“Crazy hungry.” Joseph tugged Gage along. He opened the door to find at least twenty vampires staring at them. “Or not.”
Gage leaned in close and whispered in his ear, “How about that syrup now, crackpot?”
“I can see why you avoid large groups of the pretty people,” Joseph hisses back. “Do they always have to stare at me?”
“They can hear you by the way, and don’t worry they’re trying to see if your bones will grind up for their moisturizer.” Gage flicks Joseph’s ear and walks to the empty end of the table. He smiles at Joseph and shakes out his napkin.
Joseph slumps into a seat next to Joseph. “Very funny.”
“Add to that my life journey traits when you find my inner self enlightenment. Gage is funny.” Gage takes a piece of French toast off the tray offered to him and puts it on Joseph’s plate. He doesn’t notice he’s doing it, but Joseph does, and so does every vampire seated at the table. Taking a special interest in Gage’s breakfast serving abilities is Nina, eyeing them from the end of the table. A smile passes over her face as if she’s witnessing a miracle.
It’s not until Joseph’s plate is stacked with more than he can eat does Gage start eating. He eyes Joseph’s plate and frowns. “Don’t make yourself sick. Ever hear that your eyes are bigger than your stomach?”
“But you put this…” Joseph sees Rowe shaking his head across from them. “Never mind?”
Rowe smirks into his fork. Gage is still oblivious to what he’s just done, like he stepped out of his head for the past few minutes. Joseph bites into his eggs, thinking what the fuck the entire time.
To be continued…