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Michael Fukuhara was hungry. It wasn't the kind of hunger that would be satisfied by food of dubious origin and minimal nutritional content, like the fast food and ten-cent packs of ramen noodles he once considered a feast. This was a deeper, dire hunger, one that was so intense that he thought he might go insane from it, and no amount of cheap fare would help. His days of eating food of any sort were gone. Had anyone told him a month ago that he would have a thirst for blood so strong that he was going to do something heinous to the stray dog that refused to leave him alone, he would have claimed that vampires didn't exist and to believe otherwise was pure nonsense brought on by one too many scary movies.
He was wrong.
After taking refuge behind a Quick Fill convenience store, he looked around to confirm that he hadn't been spotted. The rear of the building was secluded and dark, but thanks to Michael's new and improved eyesight, he was able to determine that he was in the clear. That was one of the advantages of being undead; his vision had never been better. But the books and movies never went into detail about the disadvantages of the vampire condition. None of the stories he knew of talked about how you pissed and shat yourself during the process of becoming immortal. There was a morbid beauty in most depictions that conveniently failed to mention those things. A little heads up would have been nice.
Falling back against the graffiti-covered brick wall, Michael closed his eyes and evaluated his situation. He had no money, no shelter, and he was technically dead. In about eight hours, the sun would rise. What would happen to him when the rays of morning light hit his unprotected skin? Would he burn? Would he blow up? Would he be reduced to a bloody and gelatinous splotch on the ground like days old roadkill? Whatever the case, it was sure to be nasty. He knew that he should have had a game plan before taking off the way he did, but the idea of being a maniac's plaything one more night was unbearable. Anything, even death, was better than that.
Michael slid down the wall until he was seated, then drew his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his legs. He could hear people entering and exiting the store, all of them going about their merry lives and unaware of his existence. The shaggy brown mongrel that had followed him faithfully for almost a mile nudged at his hand with a wet nose, seeking acknowledgment. Michael could smell the dog's blood beneath her dirty and matted fur, and he hated himself for wondering how it tasted. It wasn't like he wanted to rip out the poor thing's throat and drain her dry, but he was so hungry.
"You're a good girl, aren't you?" He scratched the pup between the ears. A wagging tail confirmed that she was most certainly a good girl. "Why are you out here all on your own? Are you a runaway like me?"
The dog sat down beside Michael and blinked at him with big brown eyes that made him ache with guilt. She had no collar or tags, and chances were strong that she wouldn't be missed if anything happened to her. Better to put her out of her misery now than leave her to wander the streets and get hit by a car or abused by some asshole kids. If she was impounded then the odds were high that she would be euthanized anyway. In a way, he would be doing her a favor by killing her now.
He wondered how many times he would have to tell himself that before he believed it.
Strong fingers seized the animal's soiled fur. Michael's upper cuspids extended in anticipation of feeding.
"I'm sorry, girl," he whispered sadly. "I really am."
While a new vampire was dealing with a most difficult decision, Xan swerved into the parking lot of the Rising Sun, narrowly avoiding a group of bloodsucking loiterers. After stopping in the space reserved just for him, he inspected his reflection in the rearview mirror and combed through his hair with ringed fingers. A quick breath check confirmed no traces of garlic from dinner, and the stake was safely concealed beneath the long sleeve of his black turtleneck. Everything was good to go.
He got out of the BMW and made his way toward the entrance, all too aware of the hungry stares of those he passed. It was nothing new and it didn't bother him in the least. Who wouldn't want their ego—and other things—stroked like that?
Xan sought out the voice and found his favorite cop sitting in a squad car a couple of rows over from where he had parked. Officer Brian Goodridge was one of the many public servants on vampire payroll, handsomely compensated to keep human stragglers from wandering onto the property. He was also kind enough to engage in some after-hours role-play whenever Xan was in the mood to be handcuffed and fucked over the hood of a government-issued vehicle. What a nice guy.
"Hey." Xan wisely kept his distance from the car. Dominic and Jacob had yet to arrive and the last thing they needed to see was their son getting plowed in the backseat. "How bad is it?" he asked, nodding at the building.
"Vampires as far as the eye can see. Your folks should really consider relocating to a bigger place." Noticing the intentional space between them, Brian smiled knowingly. "Another time?"
"Yeah," Xan answered. "Soon."
The officer was disappointed, but he was also smart enough to know that no good could come from getting caught with his dick in the bosses' son. "Deal. See you."
Xan forced himself to keep moving before he caved to the other man. With his hazel eyes and chestnut hair and athletic body, Brian was one of Xan's favorite ways to pass the time at work. If given enough opportunity, he would have opted to spend a chunk of his shift diverting the cop's attention from more important—though far less pleasurable—matters of security.
Two male vampires were guarding the main door. They weren't quite the size of Luca but still very intimidating. "Evening, boys," Xan said.
"Good evening, Mr. Dawson," they replied in unison.
Xan knew there was no point in telling them for the thousandth time not to call him that. It was better than the names that some vampires called him; not everyone took too kindly to treating a mere human as an equal because his parents said so. To those vampires, he would never be anything other than food. Or a privileged meatbag, as he once overheard.
He stepped inside and was greeted by a haunting and sensual darkwave tune—fuck-music, according to Jacob. The boarded windows of the main level were concealed by crimson velvet curtains, and there were matching chairs and loveseats strategically arranged around a large dance floor where dozens upon dozens of vampires writhed to the beat. Black walls and dim lighting added to the eerie and erotic atmosphere, giving the room all the ambiance of a macabre whorehouse. For a place that managed to stay under the radar from humans, the Rising Sun was one of the most popular gathering spots of its kind in the Northeast. It served as a haven for vampires to bare their fangs and their skin if the mood came upon them, safe from prying eyes.
Xan worked his way through the enormous crowd. He passed by the elevator that led to an underground level that was frequented by older vampires who had no urge to wallow in debauchery. The club office was also located there, where his fathers' trusted assistant, Elliot Ledford, was tucked away and overseeing things from below. The inexplicably bespectacled vampire was another one of Xan's favorite workplace distractions. He had yet to penetrate Elliot's somber exterior, or Elliot in general, but he always had fun trying.
As he approached the bar, he saw an exceptionally attractive vampire checking him out and reciprocated with a roguish smile.
"Don't even think about it." Xan's red-haired co-worker, aptly named Ginger, gave him a dirty look through her long bangs.
"You're right," Xan agreed solemnly. "I should get to work."
But instead of taking his place behind the bar, Xan made a beeline for his admirer. "Would you like a drink?"
"For fuck's sake," Ginger grumbled as she resumed mixing drinks.
The stranger was humored by Xan's blatant disregard for his fellow bartenders. "Keep that up and you're going to get in trouble."
"Offering you a drink is well within the limits of my job description." Xan took a moment to appreciate the vampire's ebony hair and eyes and his firm, muscular body. He decided that he wanted to offer him a lot more than a drink, but since spreading himself over the bar for the taking wasn't the wisest idea, a handshake would have to do for now. "Xan Dawson," he said, extending his hand.
"I know who you are. I'm Paul Marin."
"I don't know who you are, but I'd like to change that. What can I get for you, Paul Marin?"
Paul pulled him close and whispered something astoundingly lewd in his ear.
"That's not on the menu, but I'll see what I can do." Xan looked at Ginger, who was serving a blood-laced drink to a leather-clad lady vampire. "Hey, Red. I'm taking a break."
"Damn it, Xan. You just got here!"
"Don't give me any shit and I'll set you up with Becky."
That did the trick. Ginger loved women almost as much as Xan loved men, and she had been smitten with the chesty vampire since Xan introduced them months ago. Becky didn't visit the club often, but Ginger had hoped that they would meet again.
"Fine. Hurry up."
"You're an angel."
Xan turned back to Paul, anxious to get him naked. "Follow me."
Shortly after Demetrio and Becky left, Jacob effortlessly lifted an incoherent Luca over his right shoulder. The beer got the best of him as it usually did, and since there was no way that he would have made it back to his own place without causing a major traffic accident, he would sleep in Xan's old bed tonight.
"Come on, lightweight," Jacob said while carrying the big man up the stairs.
"Thangujagob," Luca slurred into his back.
While Luca drunkenly professed his love for Jacob and Xan and Dominic (hilariously mispronounced as Nominic), Dominic sat on the sofa and studied the slip of paper in his hand. On it was written a phone number he didn't want to call. Life was so much easier before the telephone came along. Dominic was once able to avoid his maker with ease, but now he was just a handful of digits away.
"Is he tucked in?" he asked when Jacob returned to the living room.
"Tucked in and passed out." Jacob plopped down beside him. "I'm kind of disappointed that there was no naked serenade this time. You really haven't lived until you've heard all of Frank Sinatra's hits with a monstrously proportionate penis dangling in your face."
Dominic smiled faintly, prompting Jacob to address the subject he knew his partner was not eager to discuss. "Vincenzo?"
"When is he coming?"
"I don't know." Dominic frowned and crumpled the paper in his fist. "I have to call him and arrange a meeting."
"Tell him 'the slave' says hello."
The vampire's frown deepened. While most of the issues he had with Vincenzo existed long before Jacob was born, the decision to take a mixed-race slave as a lover was the biggest offense of all to the one who turned him. And he never let Dominic forget it.
"Why is he demanding to see you now?" Jacob asked.
"Because he wants to, and he always gets what he wants."
"Not always," Jacob said, running his knuckles over Dominic's cheek.
Dominic kissed Jacob's fingers and let out a heavy sigh. "I'm sure he will explain at great length why I'm such a thoughtless son. He will also remind me that everything I am and ever will be is because of him."
"That's not true."
"But it is, though. No matter what name I choose or how much distance I put between us, I'm still Domenico Castigliane. And I always will be." Dominic sighed again. "I'm going to the club now. Stay here and keep an eye on Luca. See that he doesn't mistake Alexander's closet for a toilet like he did the last time he got drunk."
"Are you sure?" Jacob asked. "I don't mind going."
Dominic got up and pulled Jacob to his feet. "I have to go over the numbers with Elliot anyway thanks to our greedy medical friends."
"Oh yeah. Better you than me."
"Be nice or I won't do that thing you like when I get home," Dominic warned, wrapping his arms around Jacob's waist.
"The finger thing?"
"The tongue thing."
"I like that thing."
"I know." Dominic's kiss was brief but passionate. "I love you."
"I love you, too."
As soon as Dominic left, Luca started singing at the top of his lungs. This time it was Dean Martin.
"Luca!" Jacob yelled as he stormed up the stairs. "So help me God, you better not be naked!"
Michael Fukuhara was still hungry. But the dog was alive.
He regarded the mutt on his lap. The smell of her blood was still maddening, but as much as he had visualized biting his way through fur and drinking every drop from her body, he just couldn't do it.
"I suck at being a vampire."
Realizing his unintentional pun, Michael laughed wildly. When he couldn't stop, it occurred to him that he might be going crazy.
"Fuck me." He ran a shaky hand over his face. It smelled like dog.
So what was he going to do now? Sit there and wait to die? He had taken the first step toward freedom by getting away from his demented captor, but why had he even bothered if he wasn't willing to do whatever it took to survive on his own? He didn't want to hurt people (or dogs), but he was also partial to living. To live, he needed blood. But it wasn't like he could just walk into Quick Fill and buy some.
Michael sat up with a jolt. There was a place where he could buy some blood. Steven had told one of his equally deranged friends about it. Michael had been nearly unconscious from being repeatedly flayed and dosed with corpse blood, but he was fairly confident about what he had overheard.
"A vampire club," he said, trying to remember the details while forgetting the pain. "Just outside of the city. The Rising Sun."
That's right. A vampire club called the Rising Sun. The name had brought a hint of a smile to Michael's face at the time, even in his mutilated state.
With a goal in mind, he moved the dog aside and hopped to his feet. Even if he did find this magical place where blood flowed like water, there was a chance that he would see his tormentor there. Hopefully he would be safe in full view of others. If not, he would run.
Michael was still very much flat broke, but he would worry about that when he got there. He thought he could find at least one vampire with a taste for pretty Japanese guys who would be willing to buy him a drink. As for what he might be asked to do for it… never mind that right now.
He rounded the corner of the Quick Fill and took to the road beyond, keeping his eyes forward and ignoring the mouth-watering smell of blood from people who were gassing up their cars. When he heard the click of nails on concrete behind him, he turned around and discovered his new friend once again following him faithfully.
"Go on, girl. I can't take you with me."
The dog tilted her head.
"I almost killed you."
A wagging tail was her only reply.
Michael surrendered. "Whatever. Come on, then." He started walking again. The mongrel fell in line beside him.
They made their way through the streets of Harborview, just a couple of runaways in the night. For someone who had no clue what the next few hours would bring, Michael felt cautiously optimistic.
He quickened his pace, each step taking him closer to his destination and, unbeknownst to him, the human who would change his life.