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Excerpt for The Choice by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Choice

By Addison Albright


Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

Visit jms-books.com for more information.


Copyright 2019 Addison Albright

ISBN 9781634867863

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Cover Design: Written Ink Designs | written-ink.com

Image(s) used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.

All rights reserved.


WARNING: This book is not transferable. It is for your own personal use. If it is sold, shared, or given away, it is an infringement of the copyright of this work and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, with the exception of brief excerpts used for the purposes of review.

This book is for ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It may contain sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which might be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

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Huge thanks to Amy, Nell, Jena, Leslie, and W.S.

* * * *

The Choice

By Addison Albright

Chapter 1: A Decision

Albert

Albert Manlii tilted his head and closed his eyes in concentration, zeroing in on two particular voices among the many sounds flooding in from all directions. His heart tightened as the two humans spoke in low tones, hatching a scheme that had no hope of success, but nonetheless posed a grave danger to the vampires.

Albert stood in the stairwell, a level down from the apartment that two senior members of the vampire faction’s security team had been monitoring. By “senior,” he meant older in vampire years—which didn’t correlate with apparent years for any but the most recently turned. Point being, their hearing was far more acute than that of junior vamps, let alone humans, and walls as unsubstantial as those in typical apartment buildings such as this were no deterrent.

“What’s your impression, boss?” Ivan murmured.

Melody lifted a brow as she awaited Albert’s verdict.

“Have they mentioned their theory to anyone else?” Albert whispered.

“Not yet.” Melody shook her head.

She didn’t emphasize the word “yet,” but the importance was clearly implied, or they wouldn’t have summoned him for the added impact of listening for himself rather than simply informing him at the progress meeting scheduled for later that afternoon.

Months ago, Albert’s blood-mate, Neil, had run into his ex-boyfriend, Cameron—one of the two humans the vamps were listening to—on Neil’s very first day out on his own as a recently turned vampire. He’d faltered, which wasn’t entirely unexpected under the circumstances, and let down his guard long enough for Cameron to look past all the superficial changes that had been made to overhaul the façade of Neil’s identity—everything from his physical appearance and style choices, to a regional accent, and even a signature scent—so a casual observer would indeed see him as Neil, and not Phillip, as he’d been known as a human.

“Has anything shown up on text or email between them?” Albert asked. They had the means of wiping that kind of trail, but it would be better to put an end to the risk before it went that far.

“Not yet.” Ivan echoed Melody’s reply.

Albert closed his eyes and sighed. Yet. They both seemed to think it was important to underscore that point. Almost as if they questioned his judgment under the circumstances. They needn’t worry. He knew enough to pass the decision to the appropriate team leader—in this case, it would be the head of the security team—if he felt his own reasoning would be skewed by concern for Neil.

Albert glanced at Ivan. “Has Eunice listened to them and given an opinion?” Eunice was Ivan’s blood-mate, a trained psychologist, and excellent at reading people. Her thoughts on this were critical to the final ruling.

“Yes, she thinks that between them, Cameron and Dennis have convinced each other the existence of vampires is a very real possibility.” Which was what Albert had expected Ivan to say.

Dennis wouldn’t otherwise have given more than a passing thought to Cameron’s ex, but the man was obsessed with the topic of vampires. If there was a popular book, television show, or movie featuring them, he’d read or watched it, and quite a few of the more obscure ones, too.

Ever since Cameron had mentioned having seen an uncanny doppelganger of his deceased former boyfriend, Dennis had latched onto the supposition that Neil was a vampire, as if he wanted it to be true. Like he wanted to be the one to prove the legends really were based in truth.

While initially reluctant, Cameron had been drawn in by Dennis’s fervor and lines of reasoning. The fact the targets hadn’t mentioned their belief to anyone else wasn’t so much a sign that they didn’t take it seriously, but that they understood how crazy it would sound and weren’t prepared to air it.

Yet.

Maybe they never would, but could the faction take that risk?

Albert continued to breathe steadily, despite the fact vampires didn’t need to do so to survive. There were a number of reasons for it that were critical to their need to walk undetected among humans, but the calming effect it had on him was a welcomed collateral benefit. Neil wasn’t going to be happy with Albert’s decision, and Albert’s heart sank at the thought of telling him about it.

Typically, just like most junior or mid-level vamps, Neil wouldn’t be privy to details of faction business such as this. His status as Albert’s blood-mate didn’t change that. That was for their own safety and for the security of the entire vampire population.

However, like all vamps, Neil had access to news articles, and one way or another, the outcome of this decision would make the news. But unlike most other vamps, Neil would recognize the names—or at least the name of his ex-boyfriend, Cameron Ferguson—and he would know, and blame himself. So yes, Albert needed to explain the situation to Neil in advance.

The three vamps in the stairwell stiffened as Dennis asserted that they needed evidence. He wanted pictures of Neil that could be compared in detail to Cameron’s old candid shots of Phillip. Speculating based on Cameron’s eyewitness memory of particular features that seemed to go exceptionally beyond a mere “Gee, this guy really, really reminds me of my dead ex” wasn’t enough. Dennis wanted to run photos through professional face-recognition software. He wanted to make a point-by-point study of the moles Cameron was “pretty sure” were exactly the same.

And what about Neil’s employer, Cameron wanted to know. They’d backed up Neil’s assertion that he’d recently transferred from another branch. Were they in on it, too? They had to be if Neil really was Phillip, and good God, how widespread was this coven of vampires?

Albert shuddered. He’d always hated that word: “coven.” It brought up too many negative associations from the old days when many had believed in and vilified vampires. Of course, back then, when many’d had no good way to get the blood they needed outside of live feedings, their horrible reputation had often been deserved.

“Okay.” Albert’s shoulders slumped. The decision was reluctant, but it shouldn’t have been this difficult, not with Cameron and Dennis talking about seeking evidence and implicating the vampire-run delivery service. It should have been a slam-dunk. “The threat has escalated to the point where it’s serious enough to take pre-emptive action. We’ll work out the details at the meeting this afternoon.”

* * * *

“Do you have calla lilies?” Albert kept his breathing shallow in the overwhelmingly scented floral shop. “Or maybe anemones or poppies?”

If the florist thought anything unusual about the request, she didn’t show it. “We have all three.” Her cheerful-saleswoman smile remained intact as she ushered him to the other side of the shop.

Perhaps it wasn’t all that rare for a customer to rattle off a list of flowers whose commonality was their lack of scent. They were essentially unscented to most humans, anyway. Relatively tolerable for vampires in a closed apartment space. At least the vamps’ self-healing properties prevented the strong scent associated with many varieties of cut flowers from causing a painful headache.

She pointed out the flowers he’d asked about among containers full of colorful blooms along the display wall. The anemones were pretty and available in a variety of colors. They would make an attractive short-stemmed bouquet. The poppies were brilliantly colored and perfectly lovely. But the calla lilies were elegant with their graceful long stems and simple, unpretentious blooms. They symbolized “magnificent beauty,” but to Albert, they seemed to say “I love you” more clearly than the other two.

“I’d like to get a dozen of the calla lilies. Could I get those arranged in a vase, please?”

“Of course.” She busied herself gathering the stems while Albert browsed the corner full of potted plants.

In all his two thousand years on earth, this was his very first purchase of cut flowers. He’d never felt moved to gift that symbol of love, desire, and devotion to anyone before.

Looking at the potted plants, he was drawn to the idea of making his and Neil’s apartment homier with the addition of some living greenery. The vast majority of his life had been spent surviving, satisfied with any small space he could scratch out and call “home.”

But even in the more or less safe existence he’d found in recent centuries, his apartments had basically been places to house his accumulation of favorite books, miscellaneous keepsakes, media devices, and a few basic decorations. He had felt as “at home” visiting friends as he had in his own apartment.

Until now.

Now, home was where Neil was. And now, for the first time, giving that space a cozier and more tranquil feel seemed important.

An entire corner of the shop was devoted to “detoxifying” indoor plants. Not that vampires needed to be concerned about toxins in the air affecting their health, but supposedly these would freshen the indoor air rather than intensify the reek.

He added a peace lily plant and some cut-flower preservative to his order, and the saleswoman provided a perfectly sized box to help him carry his purchase the short distance to their apartment building.

* * * *

Neil met him at the door when Albert finally arrived. A wide smile spanned Neil’s face, and Albert couldn’t have prevented his reflexive grin if he’d tried. Although it had been less than a year so far, no matter how long they lived together, the sight of Neil’s joy at Albert’s homecoming would never get old.

Sure, part of Neil’s enthusiasm was because he was still riding high on the joy of simply being alive. Albert had “recruited” him that past spring when Neil had been known as Phillip, and had been mere weeks from dying. But the bounce in Neil’s step, and his obvious delight when in Albert’s presence was also due to that mysterious attraction the vampires had come to call “blood-mates.”

By all accounts, their bond would be for life. All vampires who’d found blood-mates were likewise affected—drawn to each other with an intensity unequaled in the human sphere.

While there were no stories of vamps with more than one blood-mate at a time, Albert had heard of several who’d found a second after their first had been killed. One particular account concerned a blood-mate couple who’d befriended a third vamp, and only after one of the original pair had been killed, had a fresh blood-mate connection developed between the remaining vamp and the friend.

“What’s all this?” Neil took the box from Albert and placed it on the counter dividing their kitchen and living room spaces. “Are the flowers for me?”

Albert pulled Neil to him, and Neil responded as he always did, wrapping his arms around Albert and drawing a deep breath with his nose buried in Albert’s neck. “Of course, amor meus.” Albert trembled while his hands gently rubbed Neil’s back. “Who else would I buy flowers for?”

Neil snickered and leaned back to peer into Albert’s eyes. “True. Did you know, no one has ever brought me flowers?”

“No? And did you know that I’ve never purchased flowers for anyone?”

“Seriously? Never? But y’all are so…” One side of Neil’s mouth curved into a sweet half-grin. “…so ancient.”

“That I am.” Albert reluctantly trailed his fingers the length of Neil’s outstretched arm as they pulled apart. “Although, if I’m going to be completely honest, I have picked wildflowers in a field in years gone by for a woman playing the part of my wife. We both knew it was for appearances’ sake, so it hardly counts.”

“Anyone I know?”

“No.” Albert added more water and a preservative packet to the vase while Neil found a home for the plant. “We eventually parted ways, and I never learned what happened to her. She might still be alive.” It was a big planet, and even long-lived faction leaders and council members couldn’t claim to have personally met all living vampires worldwide. He could put out an inquiry if he really wanted to know. But while he’d liked her well enough, they’d been partners out of practicality rather than out of any kind of genuine attachment, so he felt no burning need to discover her fate.

Neil rejoined Albert in the kitchen. “I was afraid we’d miss the movie date, but we’ve still got time to meet everyone.”

Ah, yes. Albert hadn’t forgotten, of course. Vampires didn’t “forget.” But he had pushed their evening plans to the back of his mind as he’d focused on more pressing concerns.

A fun outing was just what he needed after a rough afternoon of brainstorming with key security personnel who’d been part of the surveillance rotation for this case, and with his department heads. They had a plan now. It would take a little time to get everything in place, but it would work. Cameron and Dennis would be given a choice: become vampires and have just as much to lose if vampires were exposed…or die. Either way, their existing identities would have to die.

Vampires worldwide were accustomed to causing both new recruits and their own retiring identities to “die” and/or vanish seamlessly from society—they’d infiltrated enough key services and industries to facilitate that. Those situations were always ones where few, if any, questions would be asked about the deceased. Their recruit choices were carefully selected, and they each lived out their vampire identities deliberately making themselves unmemorable to the humans with whom they were forced to interact.

On rare occasions, trickier cases popped up unexpectedly. But it was uncommon to have to make a couple disappear. Especially a pair who had friends and family that would ask questions.

“Plenty of time.” Albert ran his fingers through Neil’s highlighted blond hair. “Tell me, how were your classes today?”

“Wonderful.” Neil pulled Albert toward the refrigerator and retrieved their daily ration of blood, then attached the adapter and handed the bag to Albert.

“Thank you, dilectus meus.” Albert’s fangs snapped out, and he quickly drained half and passed it back to Neil, who did the same.

“Biology is my favorite,” Neil added. He was just over a month into university classes toward getting his pre-med degree. “Although it still feels weird that most of it no longer applies to me. I could live without the calculus class, but it’s not as hard as it would’ve been before gettin’ this super-memory.”

“I’m happy to help if you have difficulty grasping any concepts.”

“I know. It’s okay, though. I get everything so far. It’s just not my thing.” Neil drew his phone out of a pocket and checked the time. “We fixin’ to leave? You ready?”

“Yes.” Tomorrow was Saturday. Albert would have all day to bring up the dreaded subject of Cameron and Dennis. The last thing he wanted to do was to tell Neil in a rush without time to fully explain. Albert took Neil’s hand, pressed a kiss to the inside of his wrist, and reveled in Neil’s gentle shudder.

* * * *

Chapter 2: A Change of Plans

Albert

They separated as they walked the few blocks to the nearest subway station, appearing to be no more than buddies heading out together. Much as they’d both love to put their devotion to one another on full display, it was too chancy. Homophobia still existed, and the added risk they’d be taking encompassed more than their own personal safety.

They could recover fairly quickly from any injury that didn’t instantly kill them—Albert faster than Neil, due to his years—but that fact, and their black blood, would raise questions they didn’t want asked, and didn’t want to have to take steps to cover up. If an exposure became uncontainable, the entire worldwide vampire population could be in jeopardy.

Albert took care to enter a subway car located near the middle of the train, far from the conductor. Should the need arise to activate one of their safety nets to send nearby humans into a mild catatonic state via the technology built into the device every vampire had implanted under their scalp, then having the driver within range would create bigger problems than the one that had prompted the action. He also positioned them near the middle of the car, so everyone within the compartment would be within range, depending upon the setting.

The ride passed without incident. Nothing requiring the assistance of their technological gadgetry to help them out, anyway. The drunk puking at one end of the car wasn’t a threat to their safety, only to their acute sense of smell. Nonetheless, they lost no time hustling out at their stop.

Daisy, Natalie, and Juan were waiting in front of the theater when Albert and Neil approached. “Great,” Juan said. “We’re just waiting on one more now.”

“This movie looks fantastic,” Neil said. They were seeing First Man, about Neil Armstrong. “When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut.”

“Me, too,” Natalie said. “It must have been exciting to have witnessed such an epic moment as man’s first steps on the moon.” She glanced at Daisy as she said this, and with long practice, managed to say it with a straight face. Her words reflected their apparent ages in case anyone nearby overheard them.

Natalie looked to be in her low twenties and might well have dreamed of becoming an astronaut when she was a human child, but it would have been a fertile imagining fueled by reading Jules Verne rather than as a viable and hoped-for career path. Like everyone else in their group, other than Neil, who hadn’t even been born, Natalie had sat riveted in front of an RCA color television set, watching the spectacle unfold.

Albert and Daisy had watched it together. In their 1969 identities, she’d been playing the part of Albert’s mother. Daisy was the only one in their group whose current outward appearance could justify public acknowledgement of having seen that monumental event as it happened.

“Even though I was barely twelve,” Daisy said. “I’ll never forget it. Walter Cronkite summed up the landing perfectly with a single word.”

Neil wasn’t quite as good at maintaining a poker face at the age references. He understood it, though. “What was it?”

“He said, ‘Boy!’ You should have seen Cronkite’s face. He looked like an excited child. It was just how I felt, too. Of course, part of my thrill for that first step, hours later, was from getting to stay up so late. It was July, so no school, but my parents were usually so strict about my nine o’clock bedtime.”

Neil choked in his attempt to cut off a laugh, which knowing Daisy, had been her goal with that exaggerated statement. Albert patted Neil’s back and forced himself to keep from turning the action into a more sensual PDA.

April, what time is it?” Both Albert and Juan turned their heads slightly to maximize their ability to hear what would come next. Lester had spoken the words. April’s name had been said first with a slight sharpness in the tone to grab their attention over the general noise of the crowded streets, and “what time is it?” had been to further alert them that they needed to pay attention to what was going to follow.

The faction had security personnel spread throughout the city, and Lester and April were a pair of security operatives stationed in this sector. From the sound of it, they were about a block away. Their proximity was no surprise. Security HQ continually monitored where vamps were via their implants and repositioned their personnel accordingly.

Neither Daisy, Natalie, nor Neil’s hearing was acute enough to have heard any of that, but the senior two of that trio were experienced enough to pick up on the subtle signs that Albert and Juan had gone into “focused listening mode.” Over the course of years, the improvement in all their senses was progressive and steady, allowing them to gradually get used to controlling and bearing the enhancements. That which would drive insane those who suddenly found themselves bombarded with noises and conversations from all directions was just a Tuesday for senior vamps.

“Eight-ten,” April replied, simply an accurate stating of the time for the benefit of humans nearby. “Gary and Troy should be here soon.”

Albert stiffened. Those were the code names they’d given to Cameron Ferguson and his boyfriend, Dennis Mills. The two were under constant surveillance now, and while Albert didn’t need to be alerted to their every move until the plan to deal with them was executed, it was crucial that any run-ins between them and Neil be avoided.

Daisy silently steered them all to look at the movie posters hanging outside the building, so their lack of conversation wouldn’t appear unreasonable. Neil had proven to be a quick learner, and though he raised a brow, he knew enough to follow their lead.

In such a vast metropolis, the odds of chance encounters were slim, but a faint likelihood wasn’t the same as zero odds. People were creatures of habit and tended to patronize the same businesses over and over. Still, tendencies were not absolutes, thus the elaborate aesthetic efforts they took when they assumed new identities on top of relocating to a different part of the city. But that wouldn’t do any good in this situation.

“Christ,” Lester grumbled. “Why is it such a challenge for them to be on time?” The only word in that sentence that meant anything in their communication to Albert was “challenge.” It was the code word for the subway exit just north of where they stood. Which meant Albert and Neil needed to clear out and head south, pronto.

It was unfortunate that Ivan and Melody, who’d been on surveillance duty at the men’s apartment building, hadn’t been able to give any advanced warning. Apparently Cameron and Dennis hadn’t said enough to clue them in prior to arriving at their subway stop.

Besides the tracking devices implanted in all vamps, the security personnel wore inconspicuous communication devices whenever on the job. Ivan and Melody’s movement was, of course, monitored, and would have been enough to alert HQ of their exit without their needing to verbalize it, and HQ would have promptly alerted April and Lester.

Albert pulled his phone out of his pocket and tapped it to life as if he was checking a new text message alert. “Holy shit, Neil.” Albert cocked his head in the direction they needed to head and pulled a random name out of thin air. “Gloria is in labor. Let’s go!”

Neil blinked a few times and gave a slight shake of his head as if trying to clear a path through his confusion.

“Congrats,” Juan said. “Give her our best wishes.”

Daisy and Natalie echoed his sentiment.

Albert gave Neil’s arm a tug as he strode south while staying alert to anything further from April or Lester. Neil kept pace without questioning any of it but repeatedly cast not-so-furtive glances in Albert’s direction. Peeks that held no fear—or if there was any, it was overshadowed by his wide-eyed open reverence and complete trust.

Hopefully that admiration wouldn’t dim before the end of the night.

Of course, Neil knew Albert wore many hats. At home, Albert was Neil’s partner. His lover. His friend. Even when Albert had first approached and turned Neil, he’d presented himself as a regular everyday guy so as not to frighten the man.

But Albert was also a faction leader. That was the highest rank at city level—highest rank overall, equal to council members who coordinated issues at a global scale. Faction leaders and council members’ responsibilities differed, but their status and the weight of their votes on heavier issues were the same. Neil knew that, too, but had only a general idea of what that entailed and had never witnessed any kind of operation underway.

“They’re close,” April said.

“Damn,” Albert muttered. Cameron and Dennis were closing in. “Following?” Albert looked to the side like he was asking the question of Neil, but it was meant for April and Lester.

Neil opened his mouth but must have realized what was going on because he closed it and nodded. Now his brows angled a bit to advertise concern. He might even be figuring it out.

Oddly enough, the targets hadn’t spoken to each other, otherwise Albert would have heard it. Perhaps not so odd, considering their suspicions. Not many, but a few bits of vampire lore had a ring of truth to them, and elevated hearing was one that did. It made sense that they would have used only body language if they’d spotted Neil.

“Yeah? That’s great,” Lester replied. That affirmative was meant for Albert. So Cameron and Dennis weren’t simply behind Albert and Neil. Whatever their plans had been—possibly seeing a movie at the same theater—they’d spotted Neil and were now actively following.

Albert sighed and glanced again at Neil. He would much prefer that his blood-mate not be along for this, but there wasn’t anything he could do about that now. “Hey, let’s go see Colin and Patty.” They were well clear of anybody who might have overheard their excuse for leaving the movie, so it sounded perfectly benign.

“Sounds good.” Neil wouldn’t know the names, but he played along. “Colin and Patty” was the code name for a safehouse within walking distance rather than for two particular individuals. Like all their safehouses, there were a couple paths to it free of security cameras.

April and Lester continued to talk, but it wasn’t meant for Albert. They were giving coded messages to security HQ to put a new plan in motion. By following Albert and Neil, Cameron and Dennis had brought their situation to a head. The vamp’s original plan would be set aside, and a new one would be put into play. Tonight.

Albert made a fist to suppress an overwhelming desire to grasp his blood-mate’s hand. Whatever happened with Cameron and Dennis, Neil would be there to witness it.

The lack of commentary directed at Albert meant nothing had changed. Cameron and Dennis were still “close,” a word that specifically meant fifteen to twenty yards back, and still following.

A few more blocks and Albert made a turn that put the breeze at their backs. When the targets also made the turn, Albert picked up their scent…loud and clear. It was tinged with caution and a hint of fear.

Neil stiffened beside him. That distance was usually beyond Neil’s fledgling abilities, but the odor was strong enough with the direction of the breeze that he might have caught a whiff. Neil turned to Albert with widened eyes but remained silent. Clearly he’d recognized his ex-boyfriend’s scent.

Another turn and the smell faded, the breeze carrying it in another direction. They zigzagged for a few more blocks before turning onto the street that would lead them to the safehouse.

Still silence from April and Lester. The safehouse came into view. The front porch light was off, so the occupants had been alerted. No need to put a spotlight on the targets’ arrival since they didn’t yet know how the humans would be leaving.

Albert continued past the building because he wanted the targets stopped right in front of it rather than fifteen or twenty yards back when Albert and Neil turned in. He trusted that April and Lester, who would have closed their gap and would be the ones with a visual, would take care of the stop.

When he and Neil were about twenty yards past the entrance, April said, “Gary, Troy, you made it. Come on in.” Her tone and volume were meant to sound…normal. Nothing to see here. Nothing suspicious going down. Nobody would take a second look. Nobody would remember much if asked, but the names and the fact that Cameron and Dennis followed like willing puppies to the mildest of friendly nudges from April and Lester would rule them out should anything be remembered, and if inquiries into the men’s disappearance made it this far.

The targets had stopped, then followed, because one of the operatives had activated that bit of technology the vampires had developed that sent nearby humans into a mild and temporary catatonic state. Unprompted, they’d simply stop. But they’d be calmly open to suggestion.

Albert knew without looking that one of the building’s residents had met the quartet on the street, swiftly and inconspicuously using gloved hands to relieve the targets of their cell phones, keeping that technology smoothly moving in the same direction they’d been heading. The phones would be passed off several times on that journey so no random security camera footage the authorities might study would show any one person making the entire trek. They wouldn’t show Cameron or Dennis, either, but that would be negative evidence, and it was unlikely the exact path the phone took would be identifiable in an after-the-fact investigation anyway. The phones would be left somewhere far from any vampire operations.

The only people Albert had seen on this street had been moving, either on foot or in the light traffic. He’d paid attention to windows, too. Nobody was looking. He steered Neil around the block so they could circle back. That wouldn’t be noticed in the same way an about-face might have been.

Clearly Albert hadn’t underestimated Neil’s intelligence back when he was being considered for recruitment. He’d known to keep his mouth shut until the door to the safehouse closed behind them.

“That was Cam, wasn’t it? I smelled him.” Neil’s voice warbled. “I thought he believed it when the delivery service reassured him my name was really Neil…that I’d just transferred from the Tulsa branch. You told me that.”

Albert ran a finger down the side of Neil’s face. He hated the expression in those beautiful green eyes that hinted at betrayal. It had hurt so much the last time he’d sensed a lack of trust from Neil. He’d been appalled and had closed himself off before he could say anything regrettable that would never, ever be forgotten. In the end, he’d been upset with himself rather than disappointed in Neil, feeling like he’d let down his blood-mate by overprotecting him. “And that was the truth…at that time.”

“When…when did that change?”

Albert gestured for Neil to follow him up the stairs. “A few weeks ago.” Like all vampire-owned apartment buildings, this one housed only vamps, so they could safely speak in the corridor. “We’d kept him on light surveillance.”

“I understand that. But what happened? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“A decision was made this afternoon. I was planning to tell you about it this weekend.”

Decision? Oh, no.” Neil stopped. “You’re not going to…no…he’ll get a choice, right? You’ve mentioned that before.”

“Right. And I sincerely hope they make the right one.”

“They?”

Ah. Neil’s sense of smell hadn’t been that good. He’d picked up on Cam’s scent because it was familiar, but hadn’t differentiated it from the other. “Cameron’s boyfriend, Dennis, is just as deeply involved. Really, he’s the instigator in the escalation of this dilemma. And yes, he’s here with Cameron now.”

“Crap. It’s all my fault, and two lives are on the line.”

“Come on.” Albert hitched his head. “As a familiar face, you might have a calming effect on them. Or at least on Cameron.”

“Maybe.” Neil’s expression didn’t match the word. He was usually a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, but clearly this situation was stretching his ability to remain optimistic.

* * * *

Chapter 3: A Confrontation

Neil

Neil closed his eyes and bit back a whimper. He’d been so happy these past months loving Albert, a man—vampire—that in many ways he barely knew, yet somehow he could see and truly understand the man’s fundamental essence. Albert’s core…what made him tick.


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