Chapter 1

THE FULL moon had always been a pain in the ass as far as Declan was concerned. A few nights remained yet before it peaked; nevertheless, it was already illuminating his dreams….

 

BORN ONE of France’s elite in the early 1700s, Declan had been expected to become a man at a young age. In the circles in which his family traveled, men hunted, gambled, dueled, and had mistresses.

Declan painted.

His build was too thin for his height and, without muscle and bulk, he was too effeminate in appearance. His father wanted him to be a man, so he arranged meetings with various “ladies” to teach Declan lessons of passion. Light from a full moon was shining through the window the night he learned a different lesson. Lying in bed with a lovely female stranger, gazing out the window at the full moon, he’d realized almost immediately he hated this life and wanted something else. So on nights when a full moon did not threaten to reveal him he pursued much different interests. That was when he’d sneak away from the family estate and slink the back alleys of Paris, spying on the men who roamed the streets.

Watching the rough and tumble men of the streets had enthralled him. They were exciting men, working men, uncouth and uneducated, with heavy muscles and bad manners. Declan always felt a thrill run through him when he saw their bodies, even mostly clothed. Nearly three hundred years later, the memories still made his blood run hot.

One of those excursions, on a night lit by a partial moon, had led to Declan leaving France and journeying to what was considered at the time an entirely different world. That night he’d been caught—seen and cornered by the men he spied upon. They touched him, let him touch them, and Declan realized how deeply he desired men. Nothing about that time was kind or gentle, but it wasn’t so bad as to frighten Declan away. He might have been too skinny for his height, with the look of a woman, but there was little that frightened Declan.

A week later his father arranged for Declan to marry a daughter of a prominent family. He was trapped, miserable, and desperate. He couldn’t go against his father’s wishes, but he couldn’t stand being in the same room with his betrothed. His honor prevented him from telling anyone the truth.

As soon as the full moon waned, Declan returned to the backstreets of Paris and offered himself to some men, hoping they would kill him. What one did instead was offer him an adventure of a lifetime. Sail the seas to the New World, an untamed place filled with savagery to be conquered. There he could earn his own riches.

Fourteen-year-old Declan went from the pampered son of a noble family to the private cabin boy of a ship’s captain in the blink of an eye. In the twenty-first century, pirates were idolized and romanticized, but Declan knew the truth. He’d lived it. They were brutal, violent men, but they’d needed to be. Crossing the Atlantic on a ship was dangerous. More men died than survived. Conditions were foul and fraught with fear. Declan spent more time in pain than not. The men of the streets of Paris were kind and gentle compared to the men on the ship.

The skinny boy with visions of grandeur and adventure who’d started the sea crossing left the ship at sixteen a resourceful and, when necessary, brutally ruthless man. Soft flesh had been replaced by lean muscle. He’d learned to use a blade in self-defense and had his initial taste of killing for survival.

The first time he saw a vampire was when the crew of his ship tried—and failed—to raid another vessel. Four of Declan’s shipmates fought to take the man down. His eyes changed to a solid, pale gray, and his teeth grew to pointed fangs. Cold, raw hate, terrifying and alluring at once, radiated from the preternatural creature masquerading as a man. Those four men died, and Declan survived by offering himself as a prize. Repulsed, the man screamed at Declan in a language he didn’t understand and threw Declan into the cargo hold. Later, when he was dragged out, he and the few others spared because they were needed to manage and sail their captive ship worked fifteen-hour days and lived on meager rations and little sleep.

Days melted together. He didn’t know how many drifted by before the ship sailed into a port. Declan had no idea where he was. It didn’t matter. When they hauled him ashore, Declan saw his chance. The man with the strange eyes wasn’t around, and the others were ordinary men. Declan slit the throat of one, broke the neck of another, and took off.

He had no way of knowing it at the time, but he’d come to North America. He would have died that first year in the snow and cold, the extent of which he’d never experienced in Europe, had he not been taken in by kind strangers.

These people, the Algonquin, had ruddy skin, black hair, and the darkest eyes Declan had ever seen. They were free-spirited, beautiful, sexy, and different from any other people he’d ever known. He learned their language and ways. From them he discovered the strange man on the ship was a vampire. Vampires and homosexuals were accepted by this society, revered and welcomed. Declan became one of them. They taught him to survive, to fight, skills he relied upon to this day. Most importantly, they showed him how to accept himself.

He made a home with a man in the tribe: a man who was very old, yet looked young, a man who was a vampire. Kitchi was kind and gentle, and he loved Declan. He made Declan feel safe, and that led to Declan returning Kitchi’s love. Declan owed the man he became to Kitchi.

Under Kitchi’s tutelage, Declan learned that vampires mated for life, bonded with a soul mate. Kitchi and Declan were never destined to be soul mates, but their love was deep and powerful. Eventually, when Declan reached his prime, he chose the path to becoming like Kitchi, the man he loved and idolized. He chose to become a vampire.

Among Kitchi’s people, ceremony and education were key. Declan, and others like him, were trained and prepared for their upcoming change. He’d have abilities that were strange and powerful. Learning self-control was paramount, particularly for those unique predatory individuals. A code of honor was strictly adhered to and enforced. The monster within had to be mentally leashed and contained deep inside Declan unless it was needed.

When the time came, he and Kitchi completed the ceremonial rite of passage leading Declan to another sort of existence. The ceremony that turned Declan and made him a vampire was sacred, and Kitchi performed it privately. When Declan awoke the next morning, everything was different: how he felt, his vision, even how his body reacted to Kitchi’s touch was enhanced and altered. It was exhilarating.

One of the few habits Declan retained from his old life was scholarly endeavors. From his very first days in the New World, Declan recorded what he saw, where he traveled, and the things he learned. Kitchi gave him thick journals, ink, and pens he’d been given in trade. Declan filled them with his thoughts and experiences, every bit of his life in those early days.

Kitchi bestowed upon Declan what the Algonquin considered one of the greatest gifts one could give another, becoming a vampire. Then they marched off to war with the newly arriving peoples who coveted the land of the natives, and like many others, their lives were forever transformed.

During an ambush Kitchi was killed, and a grief-stricken Declan set out on his own. He was a Frenchman, a fur trapper and hunter who had excellent relations with and understanding of the native people. It was time for Declan to make the fortune he’d come so far to pursue.

When the American Revolution was breaching the horizon, Declan met someone in whom he saw Kitchi’s honor and a predatory darkness that matched Declan’s like no one else’s ever did. In the heat of battle, he saved the stranger from dying. To Declan, turning someone into a vampire was a gift. Unfortunately, his gift had gone awry.

Once again, Declan was cast adrift alone. Half a century later, his path and Jonas Forge’s crossed, merged, and never separated. It did, however, twist and turn, throwing obstacles at them when least expected. They kept each other safe and sane, each a lifeline for the other, sharing everything, including their love. They’d never become soul mates. No amount of friendship and love would ever change something that was never destined to be.

To Jonas, Declan became babiche—my cord, lifeline. For Declan, Jonas was ma moitié—my half. Time moved on, and now there were others taking over those roles.

Declan eventually lost Jonas, not to death, but to another vampire. After nearly two centuries as a vampire, Jonas bonded with a soul mate. Declan reminded Jonas that often a vampire’s soul mate was the one he needed, not necessarily the one he wanted. Jonas needed Blair Turner in ways neither understood or were aware of yet.

Exactly as Declan discovered he needed Lucas Coate, though he was equally unclear about why. Kitchi’s people had instilled in Declan the ability to accept himself and to relish the gifts life offered. Kitchi had been his first gift. Jonas had been his second chance and another gift.

Then came Lucas, Declan’s soul mate, the ultimate gift. Third time’s the charm and all that, Declan reasoned.

He’d yet to come up with a clever saying about having a werewolf as a lover, partner, and soul mate.

 

DECLAN STARTLED awake. He stared at the ceiling for a few seconds—had he been dreaming? It wasn’t the normal type of dream. This had been vivid, more like snippets of memory he’d relived—feeling, smelling, hearing all the minute details as he had at the time.

Light from the approaching full moon shone through Declan’s window. Jonas’s dog was in the backyard barking. Moose hadn’t woken Declan; he’d already been awake. Sighing, he threw back the covers, grabbed a pair of sweatpants, and went down four flights of stairs to the backyard.

He stood on the steps leading from the back of the house and shook his head. Declan’s own recently discovered soul mate was playing with the large shepherd mix. Declan would never cease being amazed by Lucas Coate. He’d captured Declan’s heart. Taken away the pain of seeing Jonas with another man with such grace and kindness it took Declan’s breath away every time he thought about it. Lucas seemed to effortlessly read people, know what they needed, and adjust his actions and words perfectly. Jonas often swore Lucas could read minds, and Declan was apt to agree with him.

At the moment, though, Lucas looked a lot like Moose, only much bigger.

Declan looked up at the moon and swore in French under his breath. The damn thing would be completely full in less than a week and would force Lucas to change to his full werewolf form whether he wanted to or not. For now, however, Canis familiaris and Canis lupus shiftis chased each other around the yard. When Lucas howled, Declan bolted across the yard and clamped his hand around Lucas’s snout.

“It’s the middle of the night. We have neighbors,” Declan hissed. “Shut up.” He glared at Lucas, then Moose. “Both of you.”

In one fluid movement, Lucas pulled away from Declan and threw himself on the ground, rolled on his back and wiggled from side to side in the grass. When Declan put his hands on his hips, sighed, and shook his head, Lucas retaliated by bounding to his feet, covering twenty feet in two strides, then turning and play-bowing.

“You do know it’s this sort of behavior that’s the reason Boggs calls you a dog,” Declan said.

Lucas’s gold eyes twinkled, and he cocked his head, tilting it first one way, then the other. Declan was braced for impact because he knew Lucas was up to something. Snout in the air, Lucas let out a hearty, loud howl. Declan was faster, but Lucas was stronger, and when Declan silenced Lucas once again, his grip was broken in a few seconds.

Heat radiated off Lucas. Vampires had a much lower body temperature than humans, though they all originated from humans. Werewolves were born, not made, and were never human. Their bodies were hotter than humans’. Declan felt like he spent his nights sleeping with a blast furnace. It was a sharp contrast to the decades of nights sharing a bed with Jonas, whose body temperature was cool like Declan’s.

Lucas paced a slow circle around Declan, creating a vortex of heat. His tail brushed Declan’s legs, then the bare skin of his back. Declan shivered despite being surrounded by heat and emotion. No seduction could occur when Lucas was in wolf form, but plenty of emotions arose. Declan was literally drenched in love. Desire would come later, when Lucas retook his hominid form.

Gaze intense and never leaving Declan’s, Lucas backed up, shook his head, and threw himself onto the ground again, holding his forelegs bent over his chest.

“I am not….” Declan rolled his eyes and hunkered down beside Lucas. “Oh, what the hell.” He rubbed his hand over Lucas’s exposed torso. A cold nose nudging his other arm made him turn and look at Moose. “Come on, you want a tummy rub too?” When a soft noise rumbled from deep within Lucas’s chest, Declan stood up. “Unlike dog and werewolf, I need shoes. I’ll be right back, and both of you be quiet.”

Declan sprinted into the house and found Jonas sitting at the kitchen table.

“Want me to go? I’ve been doing this every month for about a decade, and I know your opinion of running,” Jonas said. He held Declan’s shoes in one hand and a T-shirt in the other.

“I’ll never understand running when something isn’t chasing after you. However, Lucas would be hurt if I didn’t go with him. You can have him the rest of the month with my blessing.” It was Lucas’s habit to be up in the middle of the night, and he and Jonas often ran together at that time. “Either I run with him when he’s changed or throw a stick for him.”

Jonas snorted. Like Declan, Jonas Forge had been born and raised when the Industrial Revolution was still a new fad. People had different sleep patterns at that time. It was common to sleep for a few hours, be up for an hour or two, and then sleep again. Jonas and Declan often used that time for activities other than running. The sting of Jonas with a soul mate was easing, but jealousy stabbed at Declan when he least expected it.

Declan was halfway down the steps when Moose’s harness and leash flew by and dropped at the bottom of the steps. He turned and looked at Jonas. “You are welcome to come with us. You’re the one who likes running for pleasure.”

Jonas grinned, yawned, and did an exaggerated stretch. “Nah… think I’ll go get Blair to entertain me.” He laughed when Declan flipped him off.

Like Declan, Jonas had a deeply buried dark side and an almost impenetrable sense of honor. Sometimes the two twisted together in dangerous ways. Simply by existing, Jonas’s soul mate kept that darkness at bay in ways Declan never could, though he doubted either of them knew it yet.

With Moose in his harness and Lucas at their side, Declan set out with them for a middle of the night run. New York City might be the city that never sleeps, but it was Jonas’s police partner, Stewie, who many years ago had coined the nickname Flint, Ohio, boasted: The Sleepless City.