Chapter One

 

 

JONAS FORGE stepped out of the Flint, Ohio, police department, glanced at his car, and decided to walk the few blocks to Miller’s Café for his morning cup of java. It was a lovely autumn day: the leaves were turning, there was an invigorating nip in the air, and it made Forge sneeze.

He stopped and pulled off his sunglasses. Unlike Simon, who wore his sunglasses whenever he was outside, Forge had spent much more of his early days in the wilderness, long before the invention of tinted lenses. That gave Forge a tolerance to sunlight many younger vampires didn’t possess.

He gripped them tightly and sneezed again. Forge was probably the only vampire in existence who bought antihistamines in bulk and on sale. Vampires might have spectacularly long lifespans and heal quickly, but they still suffered from minor ailments. Well, at least Forge did. Pollen was his particular cross to bear. He wiped his eyes and remembered to put his shades back on before glancing up at the sky. Forge owed his shopping prowess to Simon Hawthorne’s good financial advice. He had no idea who he could blame the allergies on.

Coffee was definitely in order. Forge put his long legs to use and lengthened his stride. Miller’s Café, and his caffeine fix, was just around the corner. Caffeine probably wasn’t the best idea since he’d been irritable and jumpy lately. Ben had officially moved in with Simon; they shared one floor of Boggs’s Castle, and that wasn’t helping. Not that he would admit it, but the fact that Simon and Ben were getting all the sex they wanted and Forge wasn’t getting any at all made him more than a bit jealous. He wasn’t normally so focused on his more primal needs, but living under the same roof with Simon and Ben was having its effect. Most of the years he and Declan had spent living together, they’d been off by themselves. Forge was starting to realize he missed those times, just having someone around who knew and understood him.

Even Simon, who he’d known for close to a hundred years, couldn’t understand a relationship that had lasted centuries. Forge suspected he kept Declan just as sane as Declan kept him. Declan was a few years shy of three hundred, and Forge was approaching his two hundred and fortieth birthday, having become a vampire in 1774 at the age of thirty-one. Declan had been thirty-three in 1754 when he’d been turned.

Forge pushed through the door of the café and shoved the thoughts of how much he missed Declan aside. He held the door open for two women and a giggly teenage girl with sparkles in her eye shadow who were leaving. He stuffed his sunglasses in the breast pocket of his suit jacket and spent a moment taking a look around the place.

Ben Leyton would have arrived at work about a half hour before Forge left the station. He was Simon’s recently discovered soul mate and the reason Forge was lacking in sleep lately. Simon was reserved, very much a gentleman who never kissed and told. Ben, however, was loud.

Forge’s new favorite sport was getting Ben to blush. Forget fifty shades of gray; with a few words and changing the pitch of his voice, Forge could get Ben to turn about a million shades of red. He liked Ben and was happy for Simon, who seriously needed to have someone to loosen him up once in a while. Except that Ben was loud.

There were several people in line, and Forge took his place and waited. Ben wandered in from somewhere in back, cash drawer in hand, and opened the second register. As he arranged his drawer and did something with the register tape, he glanced up and looked around. When his gaze landed on Forge, he smiled and gave him a nod, his dimples becoming more noticeable. Forge shifted his weight from one foot to the other and for distraction, and entertainment, licked his lips when he knew Ben could see him.

Yep, there it was; a slight blush worked its way across Ben’s cheeks. Simon might or might not feel Ben’s reaction, but Forge was feeling grouchy enough not to care. He and Simon were friends, and Forge had made it his mission to get Simon to relax. He wasn’t above using Ben’s presence to achieve that goal.

It was also taking Forge’s mind off his cock, at least for a few minutes. While he admired Simon’s style and Ben’s youth and dimples, neither invoked any feelings of lust in Forge, so he doubted his predicament of the last few days had much to do with them or their activities. Other than they were loud, and he was reminded of his… condition.

Forge’s gaze meandered to the television suspended behind the counter near the ceiling as the news came on and several all too familiar pictures flashed across the screen. They were the latest group of young people to vanish without a trace from Flint. Every couple of decades for the last fifty years or so the same thing happened, and Forge hoped it wasn’t about to begin again. Most people, police included, held the theory they’d been runaways. Forge wasn’t so sure, but he had the advantage of a bigger picture across a greater number of years.

Someone cleared their throat, sounding plenty annoyed.

“Are you going to order something or stand there and hold up the line?” Ben said and nodded to the people who had accumulated behind Forge.

“I’m sorry, I was too dazzled by your brilliant smile,” Forge said in a soft, low voice.

Ben blushed a deeper red and rolled his eyes. He made a big show of looking around Forge to the next person in line, waving him forward. “He’s lost his turn. You’re next.”

Forge recognized the man behind him as working at the university; he’d seen him whenever he visited Simon. He remembered the man seemed to think he was rather important.

Waving grandly, Forge stepped to the side. “Please, go ahead.” He dropped his voice and turned back to Ben. “Besides, he knows what I want.” Forge set his travel mug on the counter and waited.

Ben choked. The self-important man huffed, shuffled forward, and grumbled out an order, and Forge almost cheered up.

When grumpy guy had his low-fat, half-something latte and whole grain muffin, he turned to leave, looking Forge up and down. “Maybe the police should be out on the streets looking for missing people.”

“I’m a homicide detective. No body, no crime, no investigation. It’s a rule.” Forge slid to the counter and reached for the large coffee Ben had ready for him. He sneezed, and Ben pulled the coffee away.

Dropping his voice to a tenor only Ben and a few other vampires in the cafe would hear, Forge let his eyes turn so they changed over to completely blue for a second and said, “You realize I could level this place in about thirteen seconds.”

A woman strutted by. Ben worked most of his shifts with her and complained about her on pretty much a daily basis. “We have a lot of work to do, Ben.” She gave Forge a snotty look.

Ben held out the travel mug and whispered, “Start with her.”

The older lady in the corner chuckled, and someone in the back room barked a laugh. Ben smiled triumphantly. He’d been trying to learn to spot a vampire and had apparently at some point suspected those two.

“I know how cranky you elderly get without your coffee,” Ben said. “Regularity and all.”

“I might be old, but I’m not stuffy. I’m more like fine wine, aged and cool.” Forge turned to go, then glanced over his shoulder at Ben and mouthed, “Oil your bedsprings.”

Ben turned a delightful shade of crimson, looked around, and held up one finger so only Forge could see the gesture. As he got to the door, because he could, he pulled out his cell phone and sent Ben a text: and your floorboards squeak too. As he left the café, he saw Ben bite his lip as he looked at his phone.

The glare from the sun was more annoying than usual, and Forge pocketed his phone long enough to retrieve his sunglasses and put them on. Even his morning banter with Ben and seeing his dimples while he got coffee hadn’t relaxed Forge. He’d been half-hard for most of the last week, and nothing he did would relieve the feeling. It was beginning to wear on him: he wasn’t sleeping well, and his appetite for food was waning daily.

Declan had dimples, but not where the general public could see them. Maybe that was the problem. He and Declan hadn’t spent quality alone time in far too long. They might never be soul mates, but right from the start, they’d had a deep connection and were what was nowadays referred to as buddies with benefits. Each man had had other lovers over the years, but they’d always drifted back to each another.

Forge stopped and took a sip of coffee. It was hot and good, and Ben always made sure his was fresh with a shot of chocolate. Simon was lucky. He stepped off the sidewalk and onto the tree lawn of a building and leaned against a maple tree. The leaves were starting to change, and Forge loved the smell they gave off at this time of the year.

He pulled out his phone and started to thumb through the contacts. Someone moved in his periphery, making him pause and glance up. A few yards down, a young man exited a bookstore. Forge’s breath caught in his chest, and his heart gave an uncomfortable thump. He shifted his weight, trying to hide the fact his cock had also noticed the guy. Maybe it was just that the young man reminded him of Declan, though at this point the cream swirling in his coffee was doing that. Or maybe it was that, if Forge could have built his dream guy, this is what he would look like: dark hair, good build, smoldering eyes, and long, powerful legs. He looked away for a split second but had to turn and get another glimpse of the man.

The man who was nowhere to be seen.

“Okay, now you’re just going way over the top,” Forge grumbled. He started to look at his phone to see what time it was in France. “To hell with it.” He typed a message and sent it: Come home. Please.

He shouldn’t have been surprised when a response came back in seconds. I’m working, ma moitié. I do miss you.

Dandy. You miss me. Let work wait or quit what you’re doing. Need you. Forge was this honest and forthright with one person and one person only. The man he’d sent the text to.

LOL. Eff-you. It’s the middle of the night. I’m not Vincent Price, no wings to flap, came Declan’s reply.

Forge sent back: That’s sort of what I had in mind, a good, hard ride. In actuality, he and Declan spent more time arguing about whose turn it was to bottom, which generally led to blow jobs. Declan kept score, and Forge had a sticky note program on his phone with hash marks. They were too much alike for anyone’s good.

I should just punch you, Declan replied.

You can beat the fucking crap out of me as long as you get started by sundown, was Forge’s comeback. That had his phone announcing a call, not a text.

Ma moitié, what is wrong with you? You don’t sound good.” Declan’s voice—deep, rich, and with a European accent not heard in centuries—was in Forge’s ear, making his jangled nerves settle slightly. Hearing instead of reading the phrase ma moitié—my half—sent a wave of contentment and comfort washing over Forge. He’d never had a soul mate or felt he needed one, and had convinced himself long ago he didn’t miss having one either. Forge had the next best thing in Declan, a friend who’d loved him as long as they’d known each other. They accepted each other for whom and what they were.

Forge suddenly felt foolish. “Babiche, I… uh… shit.”

Babiche was one of many Algonquin words Declan had taught him when they’d first met. It loosely translated to “cord” or “thread” and represented the time in Forge’s life Declan had truly been his lifeline, his link to reality. Forge rubbed his forehead and blew out a long breath.

“What is the matter?” Declan was more insistent.

“It’s stupid.”

Declan’s laugh was full and as rich as his voice. “Probably. But if we can’t tell each other the stupid things by now, what is the point?”

“I…. Simon and Ben… it’s crazy….”

“Jonas! Just say what is on your mind,” Declan snapped.

“It shouldn’t do this to me. I can’t make it go away. So what? Simon has Ben living at the castle now, and neither one of them even appeal to me, and yet—” Forge cut his words off with a frustrated growl.

Declan took a few breaths, and when he spoke, Forge immediately picked up the change in his voice; there was sadness. “Ma moitié, I think there is someone close by, there in Flint, and you have to find him.”

“I don’t have a soul mate, if that’s what you’re implying. Lately, it’s been me and my right hand, and I don’t like my right hand that much. I know where it’s been.”

“I think maybe we both have to face the fact that your constant, and I’m guessing at times inappropriate, arousal is indeed caused by your soul mate. I’ll miss our trysts, but other than that, nothing will change between us,” Declan said, his voice somber and serious.

The tension left his shoulders. He didn’t want to admit it to himself, let alone Declan, but the thought of a soul mate had crossed his mind and made him worry about how his friendship with Declan would be affected.

“I promise,” Declan added. “But for now I have to stay on this side of the Atlantic for just a few weeks longer.”

“Just a few weeks?” Forge echoed. His voice was reduced to a rough, wet whisper.

“Yes, a few weeks. Never forever. I promise that as well. But in the meantime, I think you need to track down whoever is causing you to feel this way. A soul mate is the only reason vampires have these reactions. And the feelings and your… urges have to be dealt with.”

“Tell me again how you know so much about soul mates?” Forge knew the Algonquin Indian, Kitchi, who’d changed Declan so long ago, wasn’t his soul mate; they had been lovers. There were no signs Declan and Kitchi had bonded as soul mates, yet Declan had never clearly explained how he knew so much about that aspect of being a vampire. There were journals Declan had given him to pass on to Lucas for his research into vampire psychology. They’d been written in French, and only a small portion was translated. Forge suspected many answers might be within them.

Lucas Coate was not only Forge’s friend and housemate, he was the city coroner. Research was his passion and vampires were his favorite subject.

Declan laughed, and again, his voice was full of warmth and affection, the sadness gone. “It’s late, and I need my rest.”

“How do I find this guy? Flint isn’t a huge city, but there are still a fair number of people in it.” That’s when Forge had another, more disturbing thought. “What if it’s not a he?” he blurted into the phone.

“Relax. I’ve never heard of a vampire having to go against his or her sexual nature when their soul mate was involved. Of course, he’s a he. You’re a detective. Detect.”

Forge sighed when a text came through, this one from the station. “I’ve got to go. Apparently, there is a dead body, again. Soul mate or no, I have a job.”

Declan laughed. “Isn’t that what the Homicide Department deals with? The dead? Go be a master detective and bring the bad guys to justice. Talk to me when you can.” Declan disconnected.

Forge read the address and responded that he had to get his car and would arrive shortly. He jogged to where his vehicle was parked and was on his way in a few minutes. His destination was a good ten minutes’ drive to an area closer to the lakeshore. Forge knew the way without having to think about it, which was good since his mind was churning over other things.

Alucard—Blair—had been on Forge’s mind the last few days. He only knew the kid online but had been working with him for a few years. Forge had never thought about him so frequently, but then again, this was the first time since Blair started working for them he’d been out of contact for more than a day or two. Once, a couple years ago, a storm had knocked out his power and internet for several days. Even then, Blair had sent a text letting them know the situation. Forge had the impression he was a bit naïve, evidenced by his screen name—Dracula spelled backward—and the way Blair kept referring to it as his secret identity. He probably spent far too much time engrossed in comic books. Every time Forge thought about the irony, he had a nice internal snicker. If only Blair knew.

The problem was he, Simon, Ben and Lucas hadn’t heard from Blair since he’d told them where the medical waste warehouse was located and that he was coming to meet them. Forge had tried to contact Blair to tell him the case was solved and they were all safe. No reply had come. In the years they’d known Blair, he was always sending emails with jokes, pictures of cute animals, and since Ben had arrived, comic book details that apparently were quite intricate and needed extensive discussion.

Until a little over ten days ago, give or take. Since then, not word one had been heard from Blair.

At first, when Blair hadn’t shown up, Forge hadn’t thought much about it. Maybe Blair had gotten busy with other jobs or decided he didn’t want to meet them face to face. Now Forge was starting to think something had happened to the kid, and he should be a good cop, hunt him down and make sure Blair wasn’t hurt, sick, or something worse.

Another text came in, this one asking where he was and what was taking him so long. Tracking down Blair would have to take a number and get in line after the paying customers. He fished out his sunglasses and put them on.

Finding the address wasn’t difficult. The collection of squad cars, two unmarked police cars, and an ambulance clustered in front of a driveway with yellow caution tape draped across it was a dead giveaway. Forge chuckled at his little joke, parked the car, and turned off the engine.

He took a few deep breaths and adjusted his cock again. Maybe he could use his perpetual semi-hard-on as a tracking device and find his supposed soul mate. This whole day was turning out to be one gigantic headache, and he hadn’t started working yet.

Forge crossed the street and stepped over the tape, nodding at the uniform officers keeping the crime scene secure from onlookers. There were a lot of trees along the street and in the yards, but he left the sunglasses on for now. They made prolonged periods in the daylight more comfortable. At this point, anything that didn’t contribute to his headache was welcome. As he approached the body and the group gathered around, he took in the sight before him.

The victim hadn’t been dead long. The body was partially concealed under some large bushes. Forge could tell that by the minor odor of decay, probably less than eighteen hours. He wasn’t close enough to know for sure, but Forge thought it was likely this victim was male. He picked up the slight tang of cologne popular among the younger businessmen lately. Definitely a young man. Another scent overlaid the cologne. Forge would bet a month’s salary this young man had recently had sex, and possibly it was one of the last things he’d done. He pushed away the tacky thought that at least the guy had died happy.

There was another detective, Stewart Belle, and the Flint City coroner, Lucas Coate, as well as several of Lucas’s team, who were collecting evidence, and a photographer. Forge stopped between Stewart and Lucas.

“Is he going to show up in the photos?” Stewart asked without looking at Forge or Lucas.

“Yeah, I think so, Stewie.” Forge took a few steps forward and crouched down near the body.

“Good. It’s such a pain in the ass when they don’t,” Stewie said and waved the photographer over.

Lucas snorted, crossed his arms over his chest, and looked put out. “He never believes me. Why don’t you ever believe me?”

Stewie shrugged. “I believed you, but it never hurts to have a second opinion.”

Lucas wasn’t just Flint’s coroner. He was a genius to the point some people, like his father, felt he was wasting his time working this job. Lucas Coate was also a werewolf and quite capable of using his extraordinary sense of smell, which put Forge’s to shame, to determine if the victim was a vampire.

“You just like to give me a hard time,” Lucas complained.

Forge knew it was an act. Nothing ever seemed to insult Lucas or ruffle him—in particular, things Stewie said. They all knew Stewie valued Lucas’s opinion, but it was a hobby of his to try and get a rise out of Lucas. It was one of Lucas’s favorite pastimes to not give Stewie the satisfaction. Their job was tough, and tension relief took many forms. Lucas moved closer to the body.

Stewie had been a cop in Flint since he was a young man. Now he was a few years from retirement. Some residents of Flint accepted the fact there were members of the community who never seemed to age. Others knew the truth. Stewie knew the truth. He had accepted and worked with vampires and werewolves most of his life and did so with considerable grace.

Forge took off his sunglasses and carefully scrutinized the body. Wasn’t it his luck an alleged soul mate showed up in Flint to disrupt Forge’s life but, judging from how he felt right then, was also possibly hanging around a murder scene?

“I hope it’s not starting up again,” he grumbled. The thought that Forge’s soul mate could be a killer was shoved away with light speed.

“You know we’ve never tied any of the missing persons or unsolved murders together.” Stewie leaned over Forge’s shoulder.

“Uh-huh.” Forge stood and moved out of the way of Lucas’s team. “They must be tied. This isn’t the first victim found like this.” Stewie and Lucas nodded. “I’m betting Lucas will find no sign of a struggle and that he had sex not long before he died.”

Forge wasn’t sure why, or what caused it, but the hair along the back of his neck rose, and there was a slight tingle across his scalp. He stood and took a careful look around the area. Partway down the street, standing in the space between two homes, a man was watching them.

A man who reminded him of Declan and was everything Forge found alluring. The second he saw Forge watching him, the man ducked behind the farthest house.

“What?” Stewie asked. “See something?”

“Maybe. I’m going to check it out.” Forge jogged toward the spot where he’d seen the guy. The same young man showing up in front of the bookstore and now here in less than an hour and at a murder scene was too much of a coincidence. Forge had some questions to ask.

Forge glanced over his shoulder. No one was paying attention to him. Everyone was occupied with the body. He covered the distance to where the young man had been in less than half the time it would have taken a fast human runner. The backyards on this street overlooked Lake Erie. All of them had steps going down to the water’s edge.

The lush green carpet of grass was sprinkled with what remained of flower and vegetable gardens. There was an assortment of lawn furniture, and one nearby yard had a child’s play area. He kept to the yards without fencing around them and headed toward the closest set of steps.

“He must have gone down here,” Forge said and rubbed the back of his head. It was possible the guy had darted into a garage or house, but Forge’s gut was telling him no. Moving as quickly as possible without slipping on the stone steps and ending up going down on his ass, Forge worked his way to the beach.

Declan had been a fur trapper when he’d first come to the New World and later passed on his considerable tracking skills to Forge. In a way, it was Declan who’d given Forge many of the skills he used as a detective. This day, he was an irritated detective. He was already feeling he’d lost track of a possible suspect.

No one was there, yet Forge couldn’t shake the feeling he wasn’t alone. He wandered down the beach a few yards. Water splashing against the shore and spraying up made him go closer for a better look. The lake’s edge here wasn’t gently sloping sand but a sharp lip of concrete. Hunkering on the ledge, Forge leaned over for a look.

The wall ran a good half mile in either direction. He could see large spots that were darker than the surrounding area. Forge had read about the secret rooms constructed all along Lake Erie during Prohibition. Illegal booze and guns were stashed in them. One could only access the rooms by going under water. At high tide, many of the outer parts of the rooms were completely submerged. He’d never been in one.

More than likely he’d have to get wet to justify the expense of divers. Forge was still contemplating getting a dive team in when he heard shouting.

“Stop. Wait!”

The voice sounded familiar, but Forge couldn’t place it. That always made him nuts. Turning, he looked up at the top of the stairs. Then he squinted and shook his head. Who belonged to the voice made him stare in a type of horrified wonder, like one looked at a train wreck.

The fact his cock picked then to persistently remind him of its presence and give a few twitches and throbs didn’t help.

It was a man, though the horror Forge was feeling might have been less if it’d been a woman. He wore what appeared to be homemade steampunk goggles with dark lenses, a long sleeved black shirt, and black jeans.

“Sweet mother of God, is that a cape?” Forge muttered and took a few steps forward. “No, stop, don’t—”

It was too late. The oddly dressed man began to run down the steps—the slippery, wet steps, waving his arms. He’d gone about three steps when his feet slid out from under him and his rear hit the stone stairs. The man yelped, and Forge’s cock gave another twitch. He had the fleeting thought of how disturbing on several levels that was.

“What the hell?” Forge ran to the bottom of the stairs.

Bouncing head over heels down the steps, the guy finally flopped to one side and rolled the remainder of the way down, finishing his descent with a hearty splash in the chilly lake water.

Floundering and shouting, the man slapped the lake’s surface, went under, bobbed up, and spit water out of his mouth, and garbled, “Can’t… swim.”

Throwing his arms wide, Forge grumbled, “It’s not as if vampires drown.”

The guy went under, the water churned, but he didn’t come to the surface. Jerking his jacket off and dropping it to the ground, Forge made sure his phone was with the garment.

“This has got to be a joke. A really bad joke.” Forge ran to the edge and dove in. The only thing that prevented him from ejaculating the second his fingers touched the man was the cold water. He shuddered when he pulled the guy against his chest and wrapped one arm around him, using the other to help propel them to the surface.

When he got to the concrete edge, he hefted the guy over and onto the ground. Forge hoisted himself out of the water and hit the guy, who looked to be in his twenties, between the shoulder blades to expel lake water.

A shiver and spark of electricity ran from Forge’s palm and coursed down his spine to settle in his groin.

This couldn’t be his soul mate. Yet even as he finished that thought, he knew, and there was no denying what his body was telling him. The fool dressed as some superhero wannabe in a really bad outfit was Jonas Forge’s mate for eternity.

Forge wondered if other vampires would penalize him for killing his soul mate.