Wednesday, December 1, 2010

DeVante's Coven, Chapter 1


Chapter 1 – How to be enthralled

It was eleven thirty at night and Daniel stood near at the on-ramp to MacArthur Freeway in Oakland, holding a piece of cardboard lettered "SF." He felt a little silly, and a lot like bait.

He could run into unimaginably bad people doing this.

The thought sent a shiver of anticipation through him. Obviously DeVante felt Daniel could handle himself, because he was the one who suggested it. Go to the road and stick out your thumb. That can be exciting. You never know if you will get dinner or a date. The shiver changed to one of pride. He could do this—he could handle being on his own, and DeVante was going to let him. Space. Freedom. Room to run and room to grow. Daniel had asked for a car so he wouldn't be stuck out here in ever-nothing land when he'd rather be in the middle of San Francisco, but DeVante already had it all worked out. Why yes, how about we get you a shiny Corvette? I think not. Stay in town. You are young and beautiful, and this is the most famous city in the world for young beautiful men who love men. I imagine I can hire Trina to watch over that house as well as this one.

Trina was DeVante's housekeeper, as well as his "something else," although Daniel wasn't sure what the something else might be—if it was just that they liked to talk to each other, or if it was more than that.

He kind of thought DeVante would happily give him enough rope to hang himself if that's what it took to keep him out of his hair. Daniel was supposed to be Roderick's problem. Except Roderick had taken off for parts unknown, claiming to be wilting and dying in DeVante's shadow. So instead of Roderick teaching him how to survive—instead of Roderick entertaining him, loving him—it was no one at all. DeVante looked upon him with disdain, spoke to him with sarcasm.

He tried to engage DeVante over and over, to be winsome and flirtatious, and even tried asking for fatherly advice, in hopes of winning DeVante over. "What are we to be, exactly?"

But DeVante was not only a Master Vampire, he was also the master of cryptic answers. Blood-drinkers. Lovers of mortals. Measures of time. Artists. Be whatever you want to be, young Daniel, but be careful about it.

He was a silly blond pain in DeVante's ass, barely worth a moment of time and attention. Eternal boy and eternal vampire. It was clear that the rest he would have to figure out on his own.

The elder vampire provided the little things without much comment: a driver's license that turned Daniel's eighteen into twenty-one, a credit card that provided him access to whatever funds DeVante made available. And now a house. Yep, definitely enough rope for a normal teenager to hang himself.

He'd been losing his mind in DeVante's silent house earlier tonight, so he'd tracked down his keeper in the darkroom—the place where DeVante thought he kept his secrets.

It cracked him up that DeVante tried to keep secrets, because the blood exchange laid bare the souls of each, and what secret could be kept in the face of that? It was ridiculous to think any of it was secret anyway—that DeVante loved and missed Emily, that he loved Roderick no matter what Roderick had done. That he desired Daniel, but would never, ever take him as a man might take a beautiful young boy. Not secrets, just reality.

If DeVante wanted secrets, he shouldn't offer his blood to Daniel. But the scars on Daniel's face paid tribute to the betrayal of Katarina, DeVante's vampiress lover, and, as near as Daniel could guess, seeing them gave DeVante guilt. So the master vampire offered blood to speed their healing, and in the offering gave Daniel brief glimpses of old vampire soul. And infused him with old vampire strength. And while Daniel wasn't terribly wise in the art of relationships, he was smart enough to never turn down DeVante's blood. He needed all the strength he could get. Katarina had torn out Daniel's throat and ripped her talons across his face, and she was out there somewhere. She could literally scoop him up off the street at any moment.

Daniel shook her from his brain—he was on an adventure into the city.

Several cars honked at him as they passed, and one slowed while the occupants whistled and whooped at him, but none stopped. A scruffy, unwashed homeless guy joined him, and started talking, but when Daniel tried to make conversation, he realized the guy was either talking to himself or to an invisible friend. California was crazy. Daniel saw more homeless people in one night than he'd seen his whole life in Minnesota.

Anyway, back to finding DeVante in the darkroom. DeVante held himself so far above the rest of them that Daniel kind of enjoyed having something to tease him about. It was a no-no to make light of anything you learned from the Blood, but Daniel figured anything he observed with his own eyes was fair game. He reviewed the conversation in his head as he stood next to the crazy guy and hoped for a ride.

"What are you up to in here?" he'd asked DeVante, and DeVante almost looked embarrassed. Which Daniel thought was curious. They all needed more than killing and blood to survive, and bringing images to life in black and white was DeVante's measure of the world. It wasn't anything to be weird about. Unless he didn't want Daniel to see the images themselves.

He tried to peer past DeVante, to see the photographic images appearing in the pans of developer. Was it pornographic? He hoped it was—that would be the best. He reached to pull a print out of the fixer but DeVante blocked him. Daniel craned his neck to see. "What are you doing? Is that Emily?"

"I thought you were leaving."

"It is Emily. When did you see her? How long are you going to wait? And what about Trina? I thought you kind of had a thing going with Trina."

DeVante sighed the deep exasperated sigh of an old man who had no patience for youth. The sigh that made Daniel roll his eyes and walk backward toward the doorway. And then, surprise, surprise, DeVante answered. "I see Emily when I want to see her. And I will wait the course of her lifetime. And Trina? She is our housekeeper. And a friend. There is gentle love between us, not great love. Someday you will know the difference. Now, were you not leaving?"

Ha, not while he was getting his questions answered. "But how can Emily choose to be regular and not to be one of us? She knows what we are, she knows, and walked away. And you just let her go."

"She wants something different than to be what we are. I had to let her go. You know that. What, shall I change her against her will? She would never have the babies she wants, and would never forgive me. If I wait, I can have her one-day. If I take her now, I lose her forever."

Yeah, DeVante loved Emily, that's for sure. Still, it was unusual to catch the Eldest showing any weakness whatsoever, particularly pining over a mortal woman and comparing gentle love to great love. Not that Emily wasn't worth pining over—Daniel was sad himself that she went her own way, because she was amazing—sweet and funny—and he felt like they'd become good friends, so he missed her. He thought maybe the vampires were always human to some degree, but he knew it wasn't something DeVante would ever admit.

And then the smart-ass comment DeVante tossed over his shoulder as Daniel left the darkroom. Grrr. He seethed for a few minutes recalling the absolute condescension of it. Daniel. Be aware of what you are. Do not share blood. When you play among mortals, keep hunting and fucking separate.

As if Daniel didn't know it. As if he had to be told. The arrogance grated Daniel's nerves, the whole concept that he was nothing more than a tiresome aggravating brat, that Roderick leaving him here was somehow his own fault.

Daniel preferred Roderick over DeVante. He wracked his brain to figure out how to get Roderick to love him back, for real. Oh sure, Roderick was full of words, always saying that Daniel was "his boy, his heart," professing his love. But then he'd go and do asshole things, like practically rape him. Or just plain ignore him. Or leave.

It didn't feel like love. It felt like pain.

A couple more cars passed by, but then a new red mustang stopped for him, the paint finished to a high sheen that glowed red even in the darkness. "Get in," the driver said. And because the guy was utterly fucking hot, Daniel did.

For a mile or so they didn't speak. Daniel checked him out. Thirty-something, he decided, and yes, very hot, oozing sex appeal from his casually messy haircut to the easy way his hands rested on the steering wheel. His light brown eyes occasionally flicked over Daniel with the lazy deliberateness of a predator.

"So, kind of late to be out," the guy said, raising his eyebrows.

Daniel shrugged. "Not for me."

"Where are you going?"

"Castro. The clubs."

The man laughed. It was a short, disbelieving laugh. "Kind of young, aren't you? They won't let you in."

"I'm twenty-one,” Daniel said, feeling his face turn red. "I have ID."

"Yeah, fake ID. So here you are hitching a ride from a reasonably good neighborhood… a boy could get himself lost or in trouble… Daddy didn't buy you your own car yet?"

Daniel felt himself blush again. Thought about DeVante's sly reference to his dad's corvette smashed beyond recognition. "I never learned to drive. My guardian's not very interested in me."

"That's too bad. You're pretty interesting." The man's right hand left the steering wheel and mussed the hair at Daniel's neck.

He's coming on to me, Daniel realized, this beautiful man wants me. He hesitated for a split second, then rubbed his cheek against the man's hand.

The hand cupped his face for a long moment, then traced Daniel's jaw and rested again at the back of his neck. "So what are you looking for at the clubs?"

"Guys. Alcohol. Whatever."

"Nothing better than right here," the gorgeous man said, and his hand left the back of Daniel's neck, returned to the steering wheel as he powered his window open to pay a toll. Daniel twisted his neck around, trying to see the bridge better. It was a hop, skip, and jump in the air from Oakland to San Francisco in Roderick's arms. In a car it was different, but still pretty cool. They rode in silence on the upper deck of the bridge, until a line of bright red taillights slowed them to a stop.

"Looks like an accident ahead," the utterly fucking hot guy said, and his hand crept again to the nape of Daniel's neck. Then with one quick motion he unfastened his seat belt and pulled Daniel by the neck into a kiss. His lips were soft but insistent, tongue flicking between Daniel's lips to tease the sensitive inside of his mouth. Daniel moaned into it, leaned in closer to suck in wet heat that made his stomach twist and clench. He tasted like cigarettes and something else, something more primal, exotic, like danger. Or life.

The man's left hand went to Daniel's crotch, stroked him through his jeans. "You're hard. You like this?"

"Yes," Daniel breathed into his mouth, feeling helpless. Feeling mortal.

"Are you scared?" The man asked, his lips and breath tickling Daniel's face.

"A little bit," Daniel said. And he was, despite the fact that he knew he was safe, that a mortal could not physically harm him. This felt new. This man took immediate power over Daniel's senses. Sensual, sexual power. And Daniel was straining to get closer to him, right hand at the man's throat, stroking the artery out of habit but with no thought for blood, eyes on the man's lips, left hand balled into the man's shirt, pulling him forward, towards another kiss.

"Don't be. I won't hurt you."

Then he pulled away, jerking his shirt out of Daniel's clenched fist, and sat back behind the steering wheel. His eyes glared daggers, and his voice, when it came, was clipped and sharp. "But someone else might. It's stupid for a boy your age to be hitchhiking. What if I had wanted to hurt you?"

"I can take care of myself," Daniel said, flushed, slamming his body back into the seat, embarrassed that he was still turned-on, that it had been a joke.

The man gave a short bark of laughter. "You think so. Invincible youth. Stupid." He fastened his seat belt and they started moving again, slow start, but quickly getting up to speed. "I'm taking you into the city tonight, but don't let me find you on the side of the road again."

Daniel seethed in humiliated silence for most of the ride, realizing that the whole thing was planned. Well, probably not the accident, but for sure the kiss and the talk.

Fucking adults.

Daniel promised himself, right then, that he would find a way to make his youth an advantage. He would be eighteen forever, so he could let it be a roadblock and a constant source of frustration, or he could make it work. When the guy eased the car to a stop by the Castro Theater and said, "This is where you get off,” Daniel was ready with his sunshine smile, the one Roderick claimed lit up even the bleakest night, and said only, "Hey, thanks for the ride. What's your name, anyway?"

"Reed."

"Okay. See you around."

"Doubtful. And stop hitch-hiking."

Daniel got out of the car and grinned at Reed as he shut the door. "Yeah. Sure."

And here he was, in the heart of gay San Francisco, where damn near every building flew a rainbow flag. He'd been here with Roderick, of course, trolling for prey. But Daniel had been Roderick's follower, and now that he was on his own he wasn't sure exactly where to go. He checked his back pocket for his ID as he staked out rainbow flags. Smokers gathered outside every open business, and still the racially segregated groups and clumps of people made Daniel jumpy. He grew up in northern Minnesota, a small town, and never met a person who wasn't white until he was twelve years old. And he wasn't racist—no fucking way—but the sheer number of people of color here continued to startle him. And the way they sort of kept to their own was intimidating.

At the door of Tandy's Sport's Bar & Grill he was required to show the ID. It passed, and he went in. The lights were low. Three women were on a small stage murdering a Karaoke rendition of a Jimmy Buffet song. Ugh. Daniel wanted to plug his ears, but people were actually dancing to it.

Definitely not what Daniel was looking for.

He cleared out of there, walked down the street. A marquee over Smitty's Pub urged him to "Come for the Drag Show Saturday." That seemed promising. But when he went inside, he was again disappointed. There wasn't anyone at the door checking IDs, and the bartender gave him eyes and let out a low whistle, but the clientele was hardly desirable. Four old guys were at a poker table playing cards. Daniel wasn't very good at guessing ages, but he figured they had to be somewhere between forty-five and sixty. A bunch more old men sat at the bar staring morosely into their drinks. He stayed for all of a minute and a half.

Back on the sidewalk he wasn't sure what to do, so he walked, weaving around people outside smoking cigarettes, and watching for something familiar. Every block was a mix of old and new architecture, three and four story buildings with bay windows and decorative moldings flanking small, squat boutiques and restaurants. He was sure he'd recognize the club he'd gone to with Roderick, when Roderick had been Daniel's everything and Daniel had played along.

And then he saw the sign. Ck Teasers. Exactly the place he was looking for.

The bouncer hardly looked at his ID, just scanned his body from crotch to face, smiled, and let him in. Like he knew there was no way Daniel was twenty-one, but so long as he was cute…

The whole club pulsed with loud dance music. The beat felt like it was right inside his skin, and Daniel took a couple of minutes to get his bearings. He always needed a couple of minutes to get his bearings. It was like, a thing, with him. Couldn't jump in without gauging the scene.

There were neon lights, go-go dancers, and half-naked men gyrating on the dance floor. Yeah. This was the place. Above the dance floor was a cat-walk with more dancers, these in outrageous costumes, one a black skinned angel with fluffy white feathered wings, another a devil with red horns and a tail. Daniel didn't even want to know how the tail was attached.

He approached the bar for a drink. "On me," said a whip-thin guy leaning against the bar. Daniel nodded his thanks. As he took a sip, he realized he had forgotten to ask DeVante what would happen if he consumed alcohol. He and Roderick had come to this club a few times on the hunt, but not to dance or socialize. Well... he was about to find out about alcohol the same way he found out about food—by experimenting rather than pestering the vampires with questions. He'd found out right quick that he had no tolerance for solids, vomiting so forcefully that the back of his throat bled.

In the year he'd followed Roderick around the country while Daniel was still mortal, Roderick had enjoyed plying him with drinks. But these past two years Daniel had basically been a vampire in training—watching, learning, and listening to lectures—and Roderick had never offered alcohol. And since Roderick left, DeVante had never taken Daniel to clubs or bars. Certainly not! The club scene was much too human for a master vampire.

So now Daniel would test liquids specific to the tavern industry. The thought made him smile. He was starting to think like DeVante talked, and after only a month. He'd have to nix that.

He took another sip. Nothing seemed to happen.

He watched the swirl of males dancing close and sexy. Some of the guys were shirtless, bodies glistening with sweat and glitter, touching one another as they danced, making love with their eyes. Oh yeah, this was exactly what Daniel was looking for.

He downed the rest of the drink in one quick swallow. It tasted all right, not seductive or all-consuming like blood, but no big deal. It made him light-headed, but his stomach didn't reject it. He moved into the crowd, letting his body sway to the loud thumpa-thumpa dance mix, and found himself part of a small group of young guys dancing, grinning. One of the twenty-somethings—sexy, tan, and shirtless—came right up to Daniel, put his arms around his neck and nuzzled his throat. Daniel gave in to the music flowing around him and let himself move with the guy, who slipped his hands under Daniel's shirt and traced circles on his chest. A minute later, one smooth movement slipped Daniel's shirt over his head and off, tucking an end into his back pocket so it hung like a tail. Now their bodies touched as they danced, igniting a heat that thrummed through Daniel, skirted past the Hunger, and settled in his groin. His cock was hard in his jeans and he rubbed against the twenty-something, feeling an answering stir.

"Want to come home with me?" Twenty-something asked.

Daniel didn't want to leave yet. "Um. I just got here."

"Well, how about we go to Mary's Place, down the street?"

Daniel was perplexed. "Who's Mary?"

The guy laughed. "Mary's Place. It's a club. With a back room."

Daniel had never been there, he'd only been where Roderick wanted to go. "For gambling?"

"For fucking," the guy said.

Daniel tried to picture fucking this guy in some room somewhere with a bunch of people standing right there, watching… or even not watching. The visual he got was actually embarrassing. "I'm not into back rooms," he said. "And I'm not ready to leave yet. But maybe we can hook up later?"

Twenty-something gave him a cynical, angry look. "Are you blowing me off, or do you mean it?"

"No, I mean it. Just… I'm new to the city, and this is my first night out on my own. So how about we dance for a while, have a drink. You can tell me what's around here that's worth checking out. Or we can keep an eye out for each other later on."

"Well, I'm not a big talker, you know, so maybe I'll find you later." He stalked off.

Shit. Daniel must have said the wrong thing. The guy was cute. He kicked himself for half a second, which is exactly how long it took to make eye contact with another, even cuter, guy. Oh, well. Everybody's looking for something different.

He danced close and hot with the new guy, who didn't touch him, just raised his arms above Daniel's shoulders, letting them hover, their bodies separated by a hint of air. Daniel swore he could feel the guy's aura, shivering in the air between them. He smiled into the eyes of his sexy dance partner.

And suddenly realized his buzz was gone. He danced back to the bar for another drink, then back to the dance floor. He left his t-shirt tucked into his jeans. He wasn't gym-built, but he was young and lean, and guys were definitely checking him out. Just about everybody he danced with touched him, his shoulders, his back, his chest. One guy fell in love with his blond hair, which was short in the back and longer in the front, and kept running his fingers through it. Daniel liked the attention, liked being touched. He could feel the Hunger, but it was sitting back on its heels, no urgency, merely an observer in this place where light, sound, and touch already claimed all of his attention. And that was perfectly okay. He wanted to experience this as if he were still a mortal. Wanted to pretend, maybe, that he was still living at home with his fucked-up parents, but had somehow grown a set of balls and let everyone know he was queer, and fuck 'em all if they didn't like it.

He wanted to feel and enjoy the freedom to be who he was. And yes, fuck them all. Fuck his parents. Fuck Johnny J. and Eric, and the whole gang. And fuck Roderick.

He had to discover who he really was inside this boy/vampire shell, discover whatever was great in being himself. Find the power inherent in being Daniel. And he would. Oh yes, he knew he would.

Time passed like nothing, and all too soon the bartenders were yelling. "Last call for alcohol!" Then the lights came up, the music changed to a melody about closing time that made everybody in the place key phone numbers into their cell phones as they headed for the door. Daniel still had a pocketful of cash because he hadn't had to pay for a drink all night.

All of a sudden Twenty-something was standing in front of him. "So, what do you say, want to come home with me now?"

Daniel grinned at him, oh, to be young and mortal and have such confidence!

Before he could answer, a pair of arms dropped over his shoulders from behind, fingers laced together across his chest, and he was pulled back against a hard warm body. "Sorry, Twinkie, but he's coming with me."

It was Reed's voice. Reed, from the car... the bridge... the kiss.

Twenty-something scowled, then shrugged and went away.

Daniel tilted his head to look up at Reed. "Ah, it's you. I hadn't seen you here."

"Well, I saw you."

How interesting, Daniel thought, to be the prey. He couldn't believe he hadn't realized Reed was in the club. He wondered if it was the alcohol that distracted him, or the club itself.

"You look a little lost," Reed said.

"Well, I'm not,” Daniel said to him, annoyed. He supposed Reed wanted to drive him back to his 'good neighborhood.'

Reed confirmed Daniel's thought. "It's just that I'd hate for you to resort to hitching a ride back to where I got you from."

Daniel shrugged. "I've got somewhere to stay. I can take care of myself."

Reed turned Daniel within his embrace to face him. "And I said you're coming with me." He held Daniel's chin and leaned down to let his lips claim Daniel's mouth, one arm around his back, the other hand cradling the back of Daniel's head, stroking his hair, holding him captive. His fingers traced tiny circles on Daniel's skin and the sensation thrummed through him as he went pliant in Reed's hands. He let his arms drift around Reed's back and felt electricity flow down his spine. The moan came from deep within him, and, hearing it, Reed lifted his head, breaking the kiss, and looked right into Daniel's eyes. Daniel stared at him, maintaining eye contact with both of his prey's eyes at once. He wondered if Reed felt anything, if he were imparting the kind of bizarre sensations the vampires had stirred in him when he was mortal; Roderick's resonating buzz, DeVante’s zip-flash… they stared into one another until Daniel looked away. Then Reed seemed to collect himself, gave his head a little shake, and said, "Let's go."

"Where?" Daniel asked, as he pulled his shirt on.

"My place." Reed tucked Daniel in close under his arm. "And I can drive you to wherever you need to go, after."

After what? Daniel almost asked, but already Reed was drawing him out of the club and Daniel drifted into his surface thoughts almost by accident. An image of himself and Reed entwined on a huge bed brought his cock to attention. Ah, after that.

2 comments:

  1. I love this series and can't wait to read the book! Any ideas on when it will be re-released?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Anon,

    Hopefully by Fall 2016... if not sooner. I'm thinking this one will not require the sweeping rewrites that DeVante's Children needed, so once I finish grad school (yay for May!) I should be able to get on it pretty quickly. Thanks for commenting!

    ReplyDelete