FRANCISCO AGUILAR, known as Cisco to his friends and family, sat in the passenger seat of his best friend’s car, staring out at the city of Mecosta as it passed by in a blur of color. It shouldn’t have surprised him that he couldn’t figure out where he wanted to go or how he wanted to celebrate his sixteenth birthday. Cisco had been waiting for something to happen for as long as he could remember. He had no clue what he was waiting for, but whatever it was, it would change his world, that much he was sure of.
Growing up in the burbs just outside the city limits of Mecosta, the first ten years of his life had been the picture-perfect all-American childhood. He was an only child, raised by loving and doting parents. T-ball games at five, Cub Scouts, schoolwork, he and Benny finding the same trouble that many young kids found, but even then there was always something missing. He’d felt it before his dad died when he was eleven, and he’d felt it afterward when he spent more time with his nanny than he did with his mom. The feeling had been there long before any of it. Cisco couldn’t explain it; he only knew that deep inside, at his very core, he was waiting.
“Any idea where you want to go?” Benny asked as he turned down the radio.
They’d been driving around for the last hour and nothing had sparked even the slightest interest in Cisco. “I don’t know. Why don’t we head down to the strip and see if anything is going on?”
“Dude, nothing good ever goes down on the strip but trouble. I’m pretty sure that spending the night in jail or, worse, the hospital on your birthday isn’t what you had in mind.”
Cisco rolled his eyes at his best friend. Benny was the same age, but he always acted as if he was Cisco’s protector or something, probably due in part to their different personalities. Benny was outgoing and loud while Cisco tended to be a little more reserved, quiet. The other part, he was sure, stemmed from the fact that at sixteen, Benny was already pushing six foot and his frame was large and thick with muscles—good genes, as Benny’s dad was well over six foot, as were two of his uncles—while Cisco was celebrating reaching five foot four and a whopping one hundred and ten pounds.
You’re a fricking runt! Yeah, well, the birthday wish of a couple inches and twenty pounds had obviously been ignored right along with the wish for a Camaro convertible concept wrapped in Hugger Orange pearl tri-coat paint with twin gunmetal-gray sport stripes.
“C’mon, Benny, we’re not going to get into any trouble,” he promised. “I just like watching the people down there. We won’t even get out of the car.”
“Yeah, okay, just lock your door.”
Cisco rolled his eyes at his friend again, but he complied with the demand and hit the lock. “Happy?”
“Not really,” Benny huffed. But he turned the music back up, The Fray blasting through the speakers as he turned the car toward the downtown area.
They’d just pulled up at a light on the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Ninth Street and were trying to decide which direction to go, when Cisco turned to stare out the window and the strangest feeling overcame him. His heart started to hammer, sweat bloomed across his brow, and he began to shake uncontrollably. Then Cisco spotted him. Leaning against a doorframe, partially hidden in the shadows, was a tall, broad-shouldered man, dressed in tight black leather pants, thigh-high black boots, and a white, elegantly ruffled nobleman’s shirt. His face was lost in the shadows, but Cisco could feel the man staring at him, looking inside him. A chill ran down his spine and his skin tingled as he felt the man’s gaze like a soft touch against his skin.
What the hell is wrong with me? He shook his head to try to dispel the odd feeling, but it only intensified as the seconds clicked by.
Cisco’s breath hitched, the rush of blood in his ears blocking out all sound, and his focus narrowed till everything but the stranger faded away. Although Cisco knew he wasn’t sleeping, it still seemed dreamlike, some unknown force holding him rapt. Mine, a voice whispered inside his head like smoke swirling, touching every part of him, the meaning elusive, difficult to understand, and evading capture.
Before he had the chance to leave the car, still reaching for the door handle with a trembling hand, the light turned green and Benny stomped on the gas.
“No!” Cisco screamed, wrenching his head around, trying to keep contact with the mysterious man. “Turn around, Benny! We gotta go back.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Benny kept driving, and Cisco lost eye contact. No, no, no! “That was him! Turn around.”
Cisco grabbed at the door handle and yanked at it, but the door wouldn’t open. Panic made his fingers clumsy as he fumbled with the lock, but before he could get it undone, Benny grabbed on to his arm and yanked him away from the door.
“What the hell has gotten into you? Jesus, Cisco, give me a minute and I’ll turn around. Who did you see?”
He met Benny’s concerned gaze as panic continued to bubble just under the surface of his skin, causing goose bumps to bloom along his flesh and his hands to shake. Cisco shuddered. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I just know it was him.”
By the time Benny could make it through heavy traffic and back to the corner where Cisco had spotted him, the stranger was gone. Tears welled up in his eyes and spilled over at the loss. Sixteen years he’d been waiting. As crazy as it sounded, he now understood what he’d been waiting for, but as a red light changed to green, he’d lost it before he even knew what it was that he had found.
BACK INSIDE his club, Maximilian De Ferrari leaned heavily against the closed door and shut his eyes. Behind closed lids, he could still see the dark, wistful eyes of the beautiful boy. Max placed a trembling hand over his now still heart. He could have sworn he’d felt a faint beat in his chest as he watched the boy. His heart hadn’t beat since he’d been turned nearly a hundred years prior, and yet he could have sworn he’d felt it. As absurd as it was, the memory of it still lingered, leaving him dizzy.
Years before, he’d heard rumors about such a thing happening. Max had searched every text he could get his hands on, trying to find anything, a single reference to what was known as Iunctiō Cōpula, but in the end, he’d found nothing and concluded the rumors were false. A connecting bond between a vampire and his mate powerful enough to cause a dead heart to beat was ludicrous.
As his mind had screamed mine, as he got lost in such an innocent soul, Max could have sworn he’d experienced something he had given up hope of ever feeling again.
“Angelo,” Max bellowed as he pushed away from the door. He’d felt something, dammit, and he wouldn’t rest until he knew who the beautiful boy was and what he had sparked deep inside a cold, dead heart.
Five years later.
MAXIMILIAN DE FERRARI, vampire and owner of Wicked Ground, is my destiny. Cisco had been certain since that brief encounter all those nights ago, and tonight he was finally ready to go after what he wanted. He had tried in vain to get another glimpse of Maximilian. Though he hadn’t had any success, he had the uncanny feeling that Maximilian was watching him. Periodically through the years, the hair at the nape of his neck would stand on end and an eerie feeling would wash over him. He’d felt eyes upon him numerous times. When he would turn around, however, there was never anyone there. But the feeling lingered as a tingling sensation on his flesh. The feeling had begun the same night he’d spotted Maximilian and he’d held on to the hope that it was indeed his stranger. That thought was what had gotten him through each day, that and his dreams of what meeting his Master would be like. Cisco wouldn’t wait any longer, though. Tonight was his twenty-first birthday; Maximilian—Max—could no longer keep him out. Tonight, he would finally be able to step through the doors of Wicked Ground and enter Maximilian De Ferrari’s world.
“Do you really think this is a good idea, Cisco?”
Cisco paused in his struggle with a pair of leather pants, which were possibly a tad more than a size too small, and looked up at Benny, who was sitting on his bed, biting nervously at his lip. How could he explain to his best friend that this was the only thing in his life he was completely sure of? Benny knew everything about him—they’d been best friends since first meeting on the playground while in kindergarten—but Benny didn’t understand Cisco’s obsession with Max. A day hadn’t gone by that he didn’t think about the captivating man, looking at him with eyes that seemed to pierce through the gloom of that foggy November night. Though there was an instant attraction to the mysterious man, there was something beyond just the physical. In just one look, Cisco knew he belonged to Max. That conviction had never wavered, only grown stronger over the years.
“C’mon, we’ve already talked about this a hundred times. I’m going.”
“But… for Christ’s sake, he’s a vampire. Doesn’t that scare you? It sure as hell scares the crap out of me! What if he drains you? What the fuck am I supposed to tell your mom?” Benny’s voice rose with each word and his growing panic made his voice crack.
It was an idle threat and Benny knew it. He wouldn’t be able to find Cisco’s mom to tell her shit. After his dad died, Mom used the small fortune she inherited to constantly jet-set off to unknown ports with the new husband, her third, he believed, or maybe fourth, he couldn’t keep up. She hadn’t even bothered to send him a card for his birthday, but he did get a beautiful flower arrangement from his nanny.
Shrugging, then sighing in relief as the button on the leathers finally cooperated, he gave his friend a disbelieving look. “He’s not going to drain me. You watch too many bad B movies. Vampires have publicly coexisted alongside humans for over twenty years. Did you know that statistically, humans commit murder more often than vampires? You have a better chance of being killed at that nasty go-go club you visit than I do walking into Wicked Ground.”
Actually he had no clue as to the soundness of the statistics, but Benny got a little wigged-out about bloodsucking freaks so Cisco wasn’t about to say anything that would send him off on another rant. Benny had never even met a vampire as far as Cisco knew, and as much as he loved the guy, Benny really was an idiot sometimes. If it was on the Internet, Benny believed it was real.
Ah shit. Judging from the look in his eyes, his protective friend was already geared up for a hell of an outburst.
“Well, I’m sure I have a better chance of defending myself against a guy who wants to play with my assets than you will from some supernaturally strong vampire that can control your mind,” Benny argued.
“Listen,” Cisco said, grabbing the harness that he’d ordered earlier in the week from its box. “You know the whole mind-control thing is crap, right?”
“Do I?” Benny responded, arching a brow. “You’ve been obsessed with this guy since the first time you saw him—how do you explain that? I mean, really, Cisco, who the hell waits five years for a guy to notice him? If it’s not mind control, then the only other alternative is that you’re seriously whacked and in need of a padded cell.”
Studying the harness, Cisco ran it through his fingers, enjoying the feel of the soft leather. Unfastening the buckles and turning it over and over in his hands, he couldn’t even begin to figure out how the hell it went on. Ignoring Benny’s rant, he held out the harness. “Do you have any idea how this goes on?”
Benny threw his hands up, obviously a little more than frustrated if the heavy sigh coming out of him was any indication, but he still got up from the bed and took the harness.
He stared at it for a moment before declaring, “This is for a horse! Now, I know you think you’re a stallion but….”
Snatching the harness back from him, Cisco gripped it hard in his fist, his face heating as anger surged through him. This wasn’t a joke. “Go home, Benny. I’ll figure it out myself,” he said, turning away from his friend.
“Ah, c’mon,” Benny said softly as he moved up behind Cisco and wrapped his arms around his waist. “I’m sorry, Cisco. I know this is important to you, but I’m worried. Are you sure I can’t go with you?”
He shook his head. He knew Benny was worried about him and was only trying to protect him, but he also knew that he had to do this on his own. Besides, even though they were both gay, they were on opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to acting on their sexuality. His best friend seemed to be on a mission to bed every hot guy in Mecosta and the four surrounding cities, whereas Cisco was saving himself for Max. Benny was also a cocky son of a bitch, a total top, whose idea of a kink was what his back felt when he slept on the pull-out couch in Cisco’s basement. Completely vanilla. Cisco wanted to submit to his Master. Wanted to be bound and at the mercy of his will, to feel the kiss of his leather against his skin, and to know that he was what his Master needed for his pleasure.
The image of himself chained to a wall, naked, hard, and aching as his Master entered him for the first time flashed through his mind. Picturing the way his body would feel, stretched and full, caused him to shiver and his cock to harden. The sound of his own voice, screaming his pleasure to the rafters, whimpering, and pleading, filled his ears, making him dizzy with anticipation and need. God, he wanted to be owned and loved by his Master.
Cisco took a few deep calming breaths and pushed away the images igniting him, then turned in Benny’s arms and hugged him back. “I know you’d go with me if I asked, but I need to do this on my own. Besides,” he said lightly to alleviate some of Benny’s fears. “I’m not going to do anything but check it out. I’ll call you the minute I leave, okay?”
Benny kissed Cisco’s forehead, then took a step back. From the frown and furrowed brows, it was obvious he didn’t approve, but he was letting Cisco make his own choices. “No, you have two hours from the time you enter that club to call me, or I’m coming in after you, got it?”
“Okay, Dad,” Cisco teased. “Two hours, got it. Now will you either help me with this damn thing or get out of here so I can get ready?”
Benny took the harness, grabbed his hand, and led Cisco to stand in front of the full-length mirror. As Benny fiddled with the strips of leather and helped secure them over his shoulder and chest, Cisco studied his reflection in the mirror. He didn’t look any different than he had yesterday. Same dark brows and buzz-cut black hair. Same dark brown, nearly black eyes, though they did appear to be a little wider, wilder, no doubt due to the excitement and anticipation that was rushing through his body. At five feet eight inches and yet to hit one hundred and fifty pounds, the tight leather pants only accentuated his small frame. No, he didn’t look any different, but on the inside he was completely altered. The strength of his conviction that he would belong to Maximilian De Ferrari had changed him, completed him. After five years of waiting, his soul was ready to meet its owner.
The drive to the club was much the same: Cisco trying to convince Benny he would be fine and Benny, in turn, begging Cisco to let him come along. Stepping out of his friend’s car and shutting the door, Cisco sighed in relief when Benny drove away, albeit with a frown marring his brow, but at least he had left with nothing more than a tight nod and a small wave.
Cisco stood and stared at the nondescript building, not having a clue as to what lay beyond.