Sequel to Electric CandleThe Sleepless City: Book Three
For as long as Lucas Coate can remember, werewolves have been taught to mistrust vampires. Lucas is an exception—he has close friends who are vampires. The werewolf pack in Flint—and their leader, Jacob Coate—have made it clear that Lucas’s association with vampires is barely tolerated, and another transgression will be his last. When Lucas finds out about the plague of werewolf deaths in the area, he wants to help even though his own life may already be in danger.
Declan has been away from Flint for ten years, but he isn’t surprised to learn that the internal politics of the Supernatural Council haven’t changed for the better. When a series of burglaries hit close to home soon after he arrives, Declan—a vampire and professional thief—is their prime suspect, although for once, he isn’t responsible. With the council keeping secrets, no one is safe. Time is running out, and for Lucas and Declan, everything is about to change.
LUCAS COATE was screwed. So very, very screwed.
But not in the way he wanted. Or at least the way he thought he wanted.
He smashed his fist into the wall. “Stupid padded walls,” he muttered. “Can’t even do any damage.”
The padded walls weren’t his idea. Hell, if any of the pack got wind of the expense put into the room, they’d laugh at him. His friends meant well and were doing what they could to keep him safe, but they really didn’t get it. How could they? They weren’t werewolves. They were vampires.
Lucas let out a yell that was half-frustration, half-anger. Or at least that was the plan. Instead, what escaped from his lips was closer to a howl.
Dammit. He didn’t have much time. Already he could feel the inner itch that accompanied the transformation during a full moon. It was the one thing he hated about being a werewolf. Well, that and the politics of the pack. As the son of the pack leader, he’d sure as hell had enough of his father’s expectations.
Lucas snorted. Dealing with those politics was bad enough, but adding in his father’s expectations—pain in the ass.
He paced, letting his thoughts run. While not large, the room was still big enough to pace in, and give the wolf enough space to stretch his legs. Lucas went for long runs on the nights close to a full moon. He’d gotten into the routine with Forge, and his dog, Moose. It helped work through the edginess that plagued him the days leading up to his transformation, and he figured tiring both himself and the wolf was an added bonus. Sleeping tonight wouldn’t be a problem, as he hadn’t gotten much lately. The wolf, however much he was fond of a certain someone, didn’t have that whole want-to-fuck-him stupid thing going on.
Weird, how after living with the wolf all his life, he still thought of him as someone else whenever it got close to the full moon. When Lucas was in wolf form, he was still Lucas, except for that one night a month. In order to fully transform, he had to give the animal some control.
Lucas glanced at the door, and the keypad lock next to it designed so he could only leave once he had returned to human form. Paws didn’t have the dexterity needed to enter the code, even if the impossible happened and the wolf knew the code. As much as Lucas wanted to change before he had to and let the wolf run, he wouldn’t leave the room this close to his transformation. He’d tried shifting before the moon took the decision from him a couple of times. It did make the pain of the full moon easier, but he was still totally wolf once the time came, so he didn’t see the point. He preferred to stay in human form for as long as he could.
Don’t change early to avoid the pain.
Of all the pack traditions he’d felt the need to hang on to, why did it have to be this one? He wasn’t some teenager taking the easy way out. That aside, he’d never been one for doing that anyway, at least not after making sure there was some truth to the stories that it made a difference.
He couldn’t let the wolf run wild, and he wouldn’t have enough time to get back before that happened. Most of the pack had a safe room arranged for the night, or at least somewhere they could undergo this change without being a threat to others. It was part of the agreement the Supernatural Council had made with the humans so they’d look the other way at all the weird shit that went down in Flint.
Before that, the wolves had run free once a month. No one with any sense left their homes, and mostly no harm was done. There were still some werewolves who didn’t honor the agreement, including the rogues who weren’t part of the pack, but it had been a while since there’d been a death on a full moon. Most humans knew enough not to take the chance.
He could say what he wanted in here, let off the steam he so badly needed to. No one would eavesdrop or disturb him. That was the agreement. No matter what happened. Keeping secrets while sharing a house with a ghost and three—no, four now that Declan was living here too—vampires was next to impossible.
Lucas dropped to his knees as the pain ripped through him. Transformation when he wanted it wasn’t like this. Why the hell did the full moon always hurt so much?
Embrace the wolf. Embrace the wolf.
He repeated the words in his mind. He loved his inner wolf and the freedom that came with the transformation. Being able to run, be one with the wind and the rain. Lucas loved running in the rain as his wolf. It was liberating, being able to leave all the complications of the pack behind, to be truly himself. Wolf or man? What did it matter? When he transformed because he wanted to, he was still both.
Under the full moon, he was wolf. The man, the thinking, reasoning part of himself, was lost. Lucas never remembered what happened on those nights, and he hated that. The more he fought it, the more it hurt.
“Fuck you, Declan.” Despite the pain, he could still think clearly. Well, as much as he was going to on this particular matter. “God, how I want to fuck you.” Yeah, that was more like it, the reason why he was this frustrated, and what he really wanted to do.
Why a vampire? All these years, wondering if he’d find someone he wanted to be with, Lucas had never thought it would be a vampire.
He had told his father over and over that Forge and Simon were good guys, and he owed them his life on more than one occasion, but this was different. Yet it shouldn’t be, and Lucas wasn’t about to let outdated prejudices stand in his way when he wanted something or someone. His relationship with the pack was on thin ice at best. They’d never forgive something like this.
Bigots, the whole lot of them.
Which brought him back to what he was totally sucking at trying to ignore. Not becoming the wolf, although the wolf wanted what he wanted too. It was worse tonight. Harder to hide his true feelings, to pretend it didn’t matter. That it wasn’t true.
He was falling for a vampire. Head over heels, like some teenager, for a vampire. And not just any vampire, but one who just happened to be the ex-lover of one of his best friends. Because that wasn’t complicated in the slightest. Was it?
Dammit. Lucas wasn’t some rebound guy. He was worth more than that. He’d seen the way Declan looked at Forge and Blair together when he thought no one was looking. The guy wasn’t happy, although he pretended he was. But then why would he be? He and Forge had been friends, fuck buddies, and more, for how many hundred years? He wasn’t about to just put that behind him in five minutes.
As much as Lucas wanted Declan, he wasn’t going to be some consolation prize.
He’s a decent guy. He doesn’t think of you that way.
Yeah right. Then why hasn’t he told you how he does think of you?
“Oh crap!” Lucas shook his head to clear it. This wasn’t him. He wasn’t like this. He wasn’t about the negative. Fucking full moon. Logic always went out the window on this night, and his overactive hormones weren’t helping.
Lucas doubled over. His vision blurred. Bones lengthened, changed. He held out one shaky hand, but he didn’t need to look at it to know what he’d see: gray fur, his fingers already beginning to morph into paws.
He shivered, wiping perspiration from his forehead. He felt more of it dripping down his bare back but ignored it. He’d discarded his clothes before he entered the room. There was no point keeping them on when he wouldn’t need them for long. The wolf liked to chew on them, and waking up in the morning with the taste of denim in his mouth was something Lucas had only done once.
Besides, getting drool and other stuff out of clothing was something he’d rather avoid.
Saliva dribbled from his mouth. He dropped down to all fours and glanced up at the ceiling. Not long now. He didn’t have to see the moon to know it was there. It pulled at him, twisting him inside, changing him.
The moon. Lucas licked his lips, panting. There was something… someone…. He leapt for the thought, tried to grab it, but it was gone.
The gray wolf lifted his head and howled.
DECLAN TURNED the page of his book, read the first paragraph, then shook his head. He wasn’t sure why he’d bothered, as he couldn’t for the life of him remember what had happened on the previous page, let alone in the last few chapters. He closed the book with a thump, got up from the table, went over to the fridge, and opened it.
He wasn’t hungry, but if he had been, the mold-covered plate on one of the shelves would have put him off whatever else had taken his fancy. Someone really needed to have a word with Lucas about leaving his science experiments to breed. Declan lifted the plate somewhat cautiously and sniffed it, then wished he hadn’t. City coroner or not, this wasn’t… normal. Normal people cleaned out their leftovers before they got the chance to become strange new life forms.
Even if, in this case, his definition of normal was a werewolf.
But, despite his reaction, Declan couldn’t bring himself to throw the—whatever it was—away. To him it was disgusting, but to Lucas it might be some new discovery crucial to whatever he was currently working on. And Declan didn’t want to upset Lucas. In the short time they’d known each other, he’d become quite fond of Lucas, and enjoyed the time they spent together.
Declan sighed. He returned the offending thing to its previous resting place, ignoring the visions of reanimated zombie leftovers creeping up the stairs to attack him in the middle of the night, and instead got a wineglass out of the cupboard. He poured himself a decent-sized portion of his favorite red beverage and settled back down on the chair he’d recently vacated. As much as he enjoyed a good vintage wine, there were times when one had to quench one’s other thirsts. He sniffed the glass and savored the aroma before swallowing.
Hmm, not bad. It was amazing the standard of blood available to purchase through the right sources. It made it so much easier to feed than it used to be, and less messy too.
He heard the light step on the stairs and human heartbeat long before Ben reached the kitchen and stood awkwardly in the doorway.
“Hello, Ben,” Declan said. “Don’t worry, you’re not disturbing me.”
“If you’re sure?” Ben Leyton ran one hand through his thick, dark hair. He looked tired. “I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d make a Milo and see if that helps.”
“I heard Simon having a nightmare earlier. He never did sleep well on anniversaries.” He’d known Simon Hawthorne a long time; Jonas Forge had introduced them shortly after Simon had been turned. Declan had also helped Simon through a dark part of his life, triggered by the events he suspected had prompted this particular nightmare, given the time of year. “I also don’t mind if you turn on the light.”
Although Declan didn’t need much light to see, especially with the full moon casting its glow into the room, Ben would appreciate more illumination.
“Yeah, well, they’re the worst times for most people, I guess.” Ben flicked on the light switch before walking across the kitchen. He filled the kettle and put it on to boil before reaching into the cupboard and bringing down a green can. “Do you want some? It’s a chocolate drink.”
“Thank you, but no.” Declan indicated the glass in front of him.
The loud howl almost made him jump, and only years of practiced self-control stopped him. Even so, Declan’s hair stood on end on the back of his neck, and the howl sent a shiver through him.
Lucas howled again. Frustration, anger, and loss all rolled into a sound that was pure wolf.
Declan knocked his glass over, spilling its contents. Without thinking, he moved at vampire speed, catching what was left of the blood in his palm and drinking deeply.
The glass fell to the floor, smashing into tiny pieces. He ignored it and finished the blood, then wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. A low growl escaped his lips. He knew his eyes were completely green. They tended to do that when his fangs extended.
When he looked up, Ben was staring at him, his eyes wide. “I’ll clean up the mess, shall I?” Ben said hurriedly, already heading for the broom.
“Don’t worry,” Declan said. “I’ll do it. Make your chocolate drink, mon ami. It’s my mess, so my responsibility, yes?”
Despite the couple of months Ben had been with Simon, it was obvious he was still getting used to living with vampires. It did take a while. Declan remembered his own reaction to the things he hadn’t expected, although some of those memories weren’t as clear as they used to be. Some he wanted to remember and was scared he’d forget; others he didn’t seem to be able to get rid of. Human nature, he supposed, although he’d been a vampire for nearly two hundred and sixty years.
Ben hesitated. “Okay,” he said finally, busying himself over at the counter. By the time he was finished, Declan had cleared up the broken glass and was pouring himself another drink.
“Do you want to sit and talk awhile? I’m here for a few more minutes before I head back down to the basement,” Declan said. He’d offered to sit outside Lucas’s room this full moon. They usually took it in turns each month so Lucas wasn’t left totally alone during his change. Ben didn’t seem to be in a hurry to leave, so Declan wasn’t about to push him away. Besides, he could do with some company to take his mind off his own edginess. “Or is Simon expecting you back?” he added, although he knew full well Simon was asleep. He could hear all the noises in the castle, and knew exactly what its occupants were doing.
“Simon’s asleep, or I wouldn’t be here,” Ben said, sitting down opposite Declan. He studied him for a moment. “But you knew that already. You guys hear everything that’s going on.” He wrapped his fingers around his cup and sniffed his hot drink appreciatively. It did smell somewhat like chocolate, but not quite. “If he wakes up and needs me…. If I take off in a hurry, it’s not the conversation, okay?”
Declan chuckled. “Don’t worry. I won’t take it personally.” He sipped at his drink. “We haven’t really had much of an opportunity to talk, have we?”
“No, we haven’t, despite having a bit of a break from evil stuff trying to kill us.” Ben looked up from his cup. “It’s always like that around here, isn’t it? Simon assures me it isn’t, but so far it’s feeling like it is.”
“Listen to Simon,” Declan suggested. “Sometimes we have at least a month without everything going to hell in a handbasket.” He shrugged. “But then I’ve been away for ten years, and things change. It might be different now.”
He heard whispers upstairs and a groan. Wonderful. Lucas had probably woken Jonas and Blair too, and they were going for round two. Or five. He’d been trying not to count. At least Simon was still asleep. Declan would give Jonas and Blair something; they weren’t as noisy as Ben was when he and Simon were having sex.
“It must be difficult seeing someone you used to be with, with someone else.”
Ben’s comment took Declan by surprise. He shouldn’t have been able to hear that.
“You glanced at the ceiling,” Ben explained. “I know how I’d be feeling if it was me.”
“I’m not you,” Declan pointed out, “and are you always this direct?” He kept his tone even and shoved his feelings down. Ben wasn’t only direct, but observant, maybe a little too much so. While Declan had always known he and Jonas Forge were not soul mates, they’d been together as friends and lovers for a long time. Knowing the day might come when Jonas found the person he was meant to soul bond with and having it happen were two completely different things. It didn’t change their deep friendship, but it was going to take a while for Declan to see Jonas and Blair together and not have to consciously push down the twinge of emotion he knew was jealousy. He still loved Jonas and always would, but now that Jonas was with Blair—the younger vampire he’d soul bonded with—it could never be the love one felt for a partner, but rather a friend. Blair Turner was good for Jonas and completed him in a way Declan never would.
If you truly love someone, you let them go.
But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t miss what they’d had.
Ben grinned. “Well, yeah. It saves time, getting straight to the point.” He sobered. “Hey, if you don’t like it, I’ll back off, okay? The last thing I want to do is upset one of Simon’s friends and….” He flushed bright red. “Sorry, that was really rude and insensitive. Can I blame lack of sleep and start again? I just thought you might like someone to talk to about all this, and Simon….”
“Yes?” Declan was fairly sure what Simon’s views on the subject were, but he wanted to hear Ben’s take on it.
“Simon’s too polite to ask directly, or so he says, but I think it’s only a matter of time before he does.” Ben pointed to the floor. “Lucas is a good guy, you know. He likes you.”
“Excuse me?” How had the subject suddenly changed to Lucas?
“Seriously?” Ben rolled his eyes. “You guys are good together. You hit it off as soon as you met.”
“We’re not together,” Declan said, unsure as to where Ben thought he was going with this. “We’ve been out a few times, yes, but it’s because we enjoy each other’s company. It’s called friendship.” He frowned, unsure why he felt the need to explain himself to someone he didn’t know that well. “If Simon—”
“Shit, no.” Ben shook his head. “There’s no way he put me up to this. He’s probably going to have a fit when I tell him I told you I thought you and Lucas were….” He waved one hand. “You know….”
“Then perhaps it’s better if we don’t talk about something that doesn’t need talking about, and then you won’t have to tell him,” Declan suggested. The more he talked, the more flustered Ben became. It was rather endearing, and he could see why Simon had fallen so hard and fast for him.
“Yeah.” Ben studied his cup. “Sorry.”
“Apology accepted.” Declan smiled. “Perhaps we should change the subject while you finish your Milo?”
“Yeah,” said Ben again. He sighed and grew quiet. “There were a couple of things I wanted to talk to you about, and that wasn’t one of them.”
“I’m honored that you feel you can talk to me about whatever they are,” Declan said. He wondered if Ben knew just how transparent he was. Simon was right about Ben not being afraid to say what he thought. Usually Declan would have appreciated the candor, but he wanted a distraction tonight, not a conversation about something he was trying really hard not to think about. “Simon’s my friend, Ben, and I’d like to think we could become good friends over time too. He loves you, and you’re good for him.”
“I love him too,” Ben said softly. “He said I could trust you and that you’re good to talk to about stuff.” He glanced up at Declan. “What you said before—mon ami—that means ‘my friend,’ doesn’t it? I’d like us to be friends too.”
“Yes, it does,” Declan confirmed. “Now… what did you want to talk about? For someone who is so direct, you’re being rather evasive. Should I worry about that?”
“You don’t miss much, do you?”
Declan chuckled. “I’m nearly three hundred years old, Ben. I’ve seen enough over the years to recognize something for what it is. Live dangerously. Whatever it is you want to talk about, it can’t be that bad. Part of living life is taking risks.” He grinned. “You don’t strike me as a man who worries too much about caution. And besides, I don’t bite. Simon wouldn’t be happy if I did.”
Ben colored again, a rather fetching shade of deep red this time. He put his cup down on the table. Upstairs, Simon groaned softly but didn’t wake. Ben shifted in his seat. “Simon says you can paint portraits that can pass as photographs. He showed me some. They’re really good.”
“Thank you.” Declan had an idea what was coming next but waited for Ben to say it anyway. He hadn’t touched his pencils or paints since he’d returned to Flint, although he’d promised Jonas a portrait of Moose to go with his gallery of the other dogs he’d had over the years.
“Yeah, well, my family is getting really insistent that I send them a photo of Simon so they can see what he looks like. The fact that I’ve sent them photos of pretty much everything but him isn’t helping.” Ben was an amateur photographer and had some talent. Declan had already come to the conclusion that one way of knowing when Ben was enthused about something was to count the number of photographs he’d taken of it. “Granddad’s tried his best to reassure them, but he can’t really say much without letting on he knows about Simon, and that’s probably not a good idea.”
“It’s really not a good idea.” Declan had met Ben’s grandfather when he’d visited Flint in the fifties, and remembered him well. He’d been direct like Ben too. “Would you like one of the two of you together?” he suggested. “Then you could keep a copy too.”
“That would be wonderful!” Ben smiled broadly. “Thank you. I owe you one.”
“It’s what friends do for each other, and Simon and I gave up keeping a tab on that kind of thing years ago. You’re a part of our family now, Ben, and we’re here for one another. It’s what we do.” Declan drained the rest of his glass. The castle was quiet again, too much so. Even Boggs was conspicuous by his absence tonight. Usually the ghost would have joined in the conversation, but he always had been rather good at knowing when any of them needed some privacy. “You said things, plural. What else is troubling you?”
“My friend, Ange, is visiting from New Zealand in a couple of weeks. What happens if she finds out about you guys?”
“She doesn’t know we’re gay?” Declan feigned mock horror. “Do you think she’ll notice? After all, it’s not like you and Simon are subtle about it.”
Ben laughed. “She already knows about that, and I’ve been out for years.” He sobered. “I meant about you guys being vampires and that Lucas is a werewolf.” He nodded toward the basement. “She’ll be here during the next full moon, and I can’t exactly go out for the night with her to keep her away from the castle. Any werewolf out there will smell Simon on me, and I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“It’s not. You’d probably get torn to shreds by any werewolf who picked up on your scent.” The full moon was the one night werewolves had no control. They were dangerous, which was why Lucas was locked up downstairs. While most of the Coate pack did the responsible thing on a full moon, there were still some rogue elements who didn’t. “Then Simon would kill them, and we’d be in the middle of a war.”
“Simon would have a fit if I went out on a full moon anyway. I’ve already promised him I wouldn’t.” Ben glanced at Declan. “You really think Simon would do that?”
Declan rolled his eyes. “Of course he would, and I wouldn’t want to get in his way.” He’d tried to stop Simon once before after someone he loved had been killed. It hadn’t been a good idea, and although Simon had more control now, Declan still wouldn’t want to get between his friend and anyone he set his sights on as prey. “No matter how much he likes to pretend he’s human and a gentleman to boot, he isn’t. Human, I mean. None of us are.”
“I am…,” Ben started to say, then stopped.
“Uh-huh,” Declan said. “You’re a human soul bonded to a vampire. That’s not exactly normal human either. Most humans can’t sense when their partner is in trouble. Your sense of it might not be as strong as Simon’s, but it’s still there.”
“So we all pretend to be something we’re not for the month she’s here and hope for the best?” Ben asked.
“Something like that.” Declan watched Ben for a good long moment. Ben was agitated, and growing more so. At this rate Simon would be down here before they could finish their conversation, and go overprotective on Declan’s ass. “Sometimes honesty isn’t the right choice, Ben. We’ve been hiding who we are from humans for a long time and for good reasons. I’ve seen what happens when they find out, and it’s not always a good thing.”
“I’m not going to tell her,” Ben said. “It’s not my secret to tell, and I promised Simon I wouldn’t, but she’s my best friend, and I hate lying to her. It’s going to be way harder when she’s here. At least on Skype I can sidestep a bit more easily. How do you do it? Pretend all the time?”
“Everyone hides something, mon ami.” Declan smiled sadly. Lying to friends and family was often the price of choosing to be with a vampire. “There’s also the fact that none of us know her. You do, and she’s earned your trust, but although we trust you, it’s not the same. Most of the humans who find out do so by accident, not because we’ve told them.” He shrugged. “If she finds out, so be it, but there’s still that issue of trust to work through. Everyone has to earn it.”
“Yeah, I know.” Ben sighed. “It’s more her finding out I’m worried about, and Lucas being so loud tonight kind of brings it home. I can’t ask her to stay somewhere else. It’s rude, and besides, it will make her suspicious just by itself.” He swallowed, hesitating before continuing. “I know you’re living on the guest floor. If her staying up there too is going to be a problem, she could stay with us.”
“Ben,” Declan said, wondering if there was a subtle way of putting this. There wasn’t. “You do realize that if she stays with you and Simon you’ll have no privacy.” He cleared his throat. “If I can hear you from two floors above, I’m sure she’ll be able to hear you if she’s in your living room or wherever you’re planning to set up this spare bed.”
“Hear us?” Ben looked at Declan blankly, and then a familiar blush started across his face. It was followed by an expression of absolute panic. “Oh hell. No. I couldn’t…. Simon would… maybe that’s not such a good idea after all.”
Declan bit back a grin. “I appreciate your concern about my living arrangements, but I assure you it won’t be a problem.” Jonas had offered him a spare bed in his and Blair’s apartment too, but Declan had politely declined. Jonas had meant well, but he and Blair needed some privacy to explore their new relationship. Hearing them doing so in detail wasn’t high on Declan’s immediate to do list either. “My floor does have several separate bedrooms, so sharing will be fine, and it’s only for a short time. I’m more concerned that your friend might feel uncomfortable sharing a house with men she doesn’t know.”
“She’s fine with it, but are you sure you are?” Ben still didn’t sound convinced.
“You can stop worrying. I’ve said it’s fine, and it will be.” Declan walked over to the counter and rinsed his glass before putting it in the dishwasher. They’d definitely have to shift the blood bags to the downstairs fridge, and the next full moon was going to be a problem, but he was sure they’d find a way around it. He heard someone behind him and smiled. There weren’t many who could sneak up on him, however quiet they tried to be. Years of honing his cat burglary skills had made sure of it.
“It’s time you came back to bed.” Simon stood behind Ben. He bent to kiss the top of Ben’s head and then put his arms around Ben in a loose embrace. There was an edge, and a need in his voice Declan hadn’t heard for a very long time. It was good to see that in Simon again.
“I thought you were still asleep,” Ben said. He leaned back against Simon.
“I’m working on those ninja vampire skills you like so much.” Simon let go of Ben, took a step back, and held out his hand. “Come back to bed, Ben. Please.” His eyes were completely brown.
Ben shivered. He took Simon’s hand and squeezed it. “See you in the morning, Declan,” he said, “and thanks for listening.”
“Anytime.” Declan gave Simon a nod, which he returned. “Good night to both of you.” He waited until they’d reached the kitchen door. “And keep the noise down, will you? Some of us would like some sleep tonight.”
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