Title: Waiting For Me To Catch Up
Fandoms: Due South, Untouchables
Characters/Pairings: Jeremiah Parks/Ray Kowalski, Benton Fraser/Ray Vecchio, Bob Fraser/Carolyn Fraser, Eliot Ness/James Malone, Peter Parker, Original Characters
Word Count: 24,503
Summary: When Jeremiah Parks returned to the city of his birth, his life was in such turmoil that he failed to realize the most important thing in the middle of all the chaos. Now he has to learn to open his life to someone new while helping his Clan Leader keep history from repeating itself.
Author’s Note: A huge THANK YOU to BJ Jones for allowing me to play in her ‘verse over at Sylum Clan. THANK YOU to Taibhrigh for the terrific banner art for my Sylum stories.
Disclaimer: Except for the work noted as being originally mine, all works of fiction and characters thereof belong to their original creators/studios/producers/publishers. No money is being earned, and they are used without permission. I apologize for any typos I missed.
~ Christmas 2004, Chicago, Illinois ~
One week after his release from the hospital, Jeremy was admiring the work Ray and crew had done in preparing the club for Christmas. Anyone looking at Jeremy would have smiled at the soft look on the Vampire’s face as he watched Ray dancing across the floor as he oversaw preparations for the evening’s crowds.
Away from the noise of his clubs, the worry of undercover operations, and demands of his practice, Jeremy Parks had an epiphany. Lying in a hospital bed listening to Benton turn the pages of his book, he realized what had been niggling at the back of his mind. He had found his Mate. Six years ago, he had found his Mate. He had allowed the memories of life before his Turning, and his experiences with Victoria build such an aversion to Chicago, he would battle panic and anxiety whenever business brought him to the city. Then he met Ray Kowalski.
Ray Kowalski had become such a bright light in his life, he couldn’t help but be attracted to the man. He had a sharp mind, a tender heart, and the spirit of a lion. When Ray began to hate the direction his life was headed, he quit his job with the Chicago Police Department and became Jeremy’s general manager. If not for his own fear, and the pressure of events in New York City, he probably would have realized Ray was his Mate sooner. After his last NYPD undercover job for Esposito that ended with the senseless death of two young humans, Jeremy moved back to Chicago suffering from exhaustion and emotional burnout. Becoming more of an overseer and less hands-on with his clubs gave him a chance to recover from both conditions. Jeremy had begun counseling the young people and a few of the adults who frequented Lost Children of the Blood. He also began to explore the attraction he felt for Ray. It was only when he’d woke up in the hospital, he was forced to stop running from himself. An idea began to take root as Jeremy continued to watch Ray. Always one to listen to his intuition, the Vampire left his seat and began to dance with his Mate.
Nothing was said until the song ended. Gray eyes full of questions looked at him over the top of the tinted glasses Ray had begun to wear when he didn’t want to wear his contacts.
Jeremy silenced Ray with a kiss. When the kiss ended, he placed his lips against Ray’s ear. “You are my Mate.”
It was Ray’s turn to stop. “If you’re messing with me, I’ll kick you in the head.”
“I am sorry I have been so blind.”
“How’s your eyesight now?”
“Thank God. I was beginning to think you were totally obvious.”
“There was so much noise in my head, I was oblivious until I woke up in the hospital, and you were by my side.”
“Tell you what …” The blond grabbed Jeremy by the lapels of his leather coat. “I think six years is enough waiting around, and I’m not usually that patient, you can ask anyone, so let’s bypass the whole darting around thing and go straight for the Mate thing.”
“Dancing not darting.” Jeremy corrected, his lips scant inches from Ray’s.
“I don’t know, I think we been pretty much darting around each other like a couple fish in a bowl these past six years.” Ray closed the distance between them. When they pulled away from each other, they were met with applause and wolf whistles from the employees. “How fast can you set it up.”
“Give me two days.”
“I’ve been waiting for you to catch up, now that you have, I ain’t sleeping alone like some virgin bride for two more days.”
“No argument here.” Jeremy chuckled as he grabbed another kiss. “We better get back to work. It’s almost time to unlock the doors, and I have calls to make.” Jeremy headed for his office while Ray returned to work.
Bob Fraser was glad he’d been sitting at his desk when he answered the estate’s phone. Jeremiah Parks was a well-known member of the Clan, though he was fiercely independent when it came to asking his Clan for help. Bob was still trying to get over the shock of Jeremy asking him to have a blood delivery made to his apartment over the club. He also asked the Caretaker to be present at the Turning of his Mate.
Not able to think of anyone new in Jeremy’s life, Bob asked Jeremy his Mate’s name. Bob rested his forehead on the desk when he was told it was Ray Kowalski. He had heard of Mates not Bonding for many reasons, but he’d never heard of two that got along as well as Ray and Jeremy not completing their Bond. When questioned, Jeremy had blamed his entanglement with Javier Esposito in New York working undercover with the police gathering information coming through the underground club scene. It was only when Jeremy made a permanent return to Chicago that he realized his general manager and Chosen One was his Mate.
Getting over his shock, Bob began to smile thinking of Ray Kowalski being Turned. None of the Clans would be the same once he introduced his special kind of irreverence. Between him and Ray Vecchio, Benton would no longer be able to drift through his life waiting for the bouts of chaos Victoria stirred up every few years. With a smile on his face, he put in a call to the Clan doctor to have blood delivered to Lost Children of the Blood.
Ray Kowalski watched Jeremy closely throughout the evening. He had mingled with the crowds in both the teen and adult club, greeting people, spending time with several that had seemed to be carrying a heavier burden than most. The time Jeremy spent talking with them seemed to have brought them back from where the point where they were attempting to escape their lives.
Now, it was Jeremy that seemed to be hovering on a cloud of uncertainty. It was time for Ray to pull him down from the ceiling.
“Dance with me?” Ray crooned in the ear decorated with silver.
His request was met with a soft smile as he held out his hand and let Ray pull him onto the floor. Knowing what an excellent dancer his Mate was, Jeremy relinquished control and allowed Ray to lead him around the dance floor. By the time the dance was finished, his shoulders had lowered from around his ears, and the tension headache had disappeared. He still had several things he needed to discuss with Ray before their Bonding, but as usual, Ray seemed to know what he needed. Jeremy’s smile at the end of their dance had the ladies, and quite a few men fanning themselves as the Vampire kissed the back of his Mate’s hand before he disappeared into the crowd. Jeremy had a feeling his life with Ray would never be boring.
Jeremy left Ray to his closing routine while he retired to their apartment to prepare them a late supper before they retired for the night. The only thing different about this night … Ray would be joining him in his bed instead of retiring to the room he’d lived in since Jeremy had hired him as his General Manager.
A few days after John declared him healed from his wounds gained during the Clan’s latest skirmish with Victoria, Jeremy moved his personal belongings out of his childhood home and turned it over to the Clan for use as a guest/safe house. That it was a short distance from the Clan’s estate made it convenient for Bob and Carolyn. During the two weeks he’d co-habitated with the former police officer, Jeremy learned Ray barely functioned before coffee, but afterward was a ball of restless energy as he literally battled Morpheus each night before he surrendered to sleep.
The fledgling bond that had developed from the times he’d fed off Ray in the past six years, warned him the blond was moving closer. Jeremy shook off the bit of unresolved anger he carried at Javier Esposito for what he saw as his interference in Jeremy’s realizing there even was a bond. As a practicing psychiatrist, he knew he needed to resolve his resentment at his oldest friend and mentor after being Turned Without Consent, but he didn’t have enough of a relationship with the Clan’s psychologist, Jason Gideon, to trust him with something this personal. Knowing he needed to deal with his mental turmoil before revealing to Ray they were Mates, he called Evy. Conversations with Evy and Lady Heather, along with his own intense introspection, enabled Jeremy to resolve most of his anger at Javier. A trip to Las Vegas for a lengthy session with Lady Heather … He finally resolved his anger at himself.
Ray stopped inside the door long enough to pull off his boots and socks before he stepped onto the plush area rug and flexed his toes with a look of bliss on his face. Watching the blond across the counter dividing the kitchen from the dining and living room, Jeremy grinned at the enjoyment Ray took in the little things in life. Twisting a cap off Ray’s favorite beer, he set the bottle on the granite counter top as Ray peeled down to his black t-shirt and jeans before grabbing the front of Jeremy’s shirt and dragging him far enough across the bar to take his mouth in a very thorough kiss.
“I could get used to doing that whenever I want.” He let go of Jeremy’s shirt and picked up his beer. “Had a good night for a Sunday.” He shimmied around the counter to see what Jeremy had prepared for their supper. “Did you get your calls made?”
“I did. Bob and Carolyn will be here Tuesday to assist with your Turning. Once you’re settled, they’ll go home and leave us to our Bonding.”
“Emily’s handling the club Tuesday.”
Jeremy plated up their supper and poured himself a glass of wine before he continued their conversation. “What do you think about promoting Emily to General Manager?”
At first, Ray looked panicked before his expression changed to curiosity. Emily had started at the club as part of the cleaning crew and had learned about Vampires when she’d been attacked by one of Victoria’s flunkies and seen Jeremy shot. “She’d be a good one. It helps that she’s a Chosen One, but what will I be doing?”
“Traveling … Helping your Mate scout out a location for a new club … Helping me with a project I’ve recently started … Whatever you want.”
“I can get down with that.” Ray grinned widely.
The men cleaned up after their meal then settled on the couch facing each other. “Before we retire for the night, I wanted to go over what’s going to happen when you’re Turned and some other things.” Jeremy reached out to take the long-fingered hand in his. “It will be like when I have fed from you in the past except I won’t stop until you are a step or two from death. I will cut my wrist and encourage you to drink my blood. That will trigger your transformation.”
“Will it hurt?”
“You are healthy and in the prime of life so there will be pain as your body dies and transforms into a Vampire. You will wake up cold and starved. You’ll be supplied with enough cloned blood to take the edge off your Hunger. At that time, a Chosen One or two will be on hand for you to Feed. Cloned blood is good, but fresh is better. After that, we begin our hopefully very long life together.” He kissed the knuckles he’d been rubbing while he talked.
“Does this mean I get a sword?”
Jeremy laughed. Ray had been fascinated by the Vampires fighting with swords and knives as well as carrying guns. Jeremy had started working out with Malone and Ness after Blade and Peter returned to New York. Ray had pestered Benton shortly after he’d become a Chosen One until the Clan Leader had given him lessons.
“You already have a sword, Ray.”
“Yeah, but now I can get a whole bunch more like you and stash them everywhere.” Ray threw his arms out wide.
“I am not that bad.” Jeremy pouted.
“You’re like a hooker.”
“One of them people that saves everything.”
“That’s a hoarder, Ray.”
“I just want to be prepared.”
“You’re too old to be a Boy Scout, Jere.” Ray settled with his back against Jeremy’s front. “What do you really want to talk about?”
Jeremy smiled as he placed a kiss on the back of Ray’s head, away from the gelled spikes. So perceptive was his Mate. “You know I’m a Switch, Ray.”
“Yeah … And … I know you don’t have sex with your Clients.”
“You have say about what goes on in my life, Ray.”
“What about when we travel?” He chewed his bottom lip.
“I’ll recommend someone who’s style is similar to mine.” Most of his clients were beginners in the lifestyle. The ones that had continued were starting to ask about other Doms. “What do you want to really ask me, Ray?” Jeremy nipped the top of Ray’s ear.
“You know those pictures Peter took?”
“Sometimes I want to be the one on my knees, leaning against your leg. I don’t want anyone whaling on me like some people want, but … I want … You know … To let someone else worry things once in a while.”
“When things get too loud … To closed in?” Jeremy spoke low and slow.
“Yeah. I have to warn you, I’m a bit bossy in bed.”
“Surprise.” Jeremy chuckled. “Are you a talker, Ray?”
“All the time.” Ray chuckled.
“One more question and we’ll go to bed.” Jeremy felt Ray getting heavier against him.
“My mom knows I bat for both teams. My dad doesn’t.”
“I see. So, if we visit them, I’ll be your boss and friend?”
Jeremy knew Ray was upset by the use of his full name. “It’s fine, Ray. I would not want to ruin your relationship with your parents at this late stage of their lives. In the life of a Vampire, the years they have left are a blink.”
“I was a cop, Jere. I know there are no guarantees. I don’t want to miss a blink.”
“We won’t, Ray … We won’t.” Jeremy wrapped both arms around his Mate.
Tuesday was a postcard-perfect winter day. Sun shone on fresh snow, but the streets were clear, so nobody would have to fight the weather. Jeremy had expected Ray to be flitting around the apartment like a hummingbird, but the blond calmly worked on the club’s accounts after breakfast. It reminded Jeremy the man had been a police officer before coming to work for him. Ray pulled his glasses off to check the lenses for smudges, shoved his coffee cup toward Jeremy before returning to his inventory in preparation for making his weekly liquor order.
Jeremy returned the filled cup with a kiss on the cheek before returning to answering emails and looking over the papers Thomas had sent adding Ray’s name to all the holdings of Prism Enterprises, Inc., making him co-owner with Jeremy. He slipped them in his case to present Ray after they were Mated.
Once Bob and Carolyn arrived, things began to progress at a rapid clip. Before either man could blink, Jeremy was taking a shirtless Ray into his arms and sinking his fangs into his throat. As the lithe body went lax in his arms, Jeremy ran the sharp blade over his wrist and urged Ray to drink. Groggy and confused, Ray finally gave over control and did as he was told. Jeremy was so relieved when Ray began to drink, he pulled the blond tight to his chest and settled down to wait for his transformation to begin.
Arching his body in an attempt to escape the cramping of his muscles, Ray fought to regain consciousness.
“Easy, Love. Your body’s dying. Try and relax. We’ll get you warmed up in a minute, but you need to drink this first.”
“Nag, nag, nag, drink this, drink that.” Ray mumbled. “That’s not buddies, Jere.” Jeremy helped him hold the mug as he drank. “Still hungry.”
“We’ll take care of that as soon as we get you in the tub.”
Jeremy got them both stripped down and in the hot water just as Bob came through the door with two more mugs of blood.
“Carolyn’s cleaning up and fetching the twins.”
“Always wanted to try a set of twins.” Ray murmured as he curled against Jeremy in the big tub. “Kind of kinky to start out with twins when we’re not even Mated yet.”
“They’re Chosen Ones, Ray. They’re not here to have sex.” Jeremy chuckled at Ray’s antics.
“They can’t see me naked then.” He slurred.
Jeremy heard Bob and Carolyn snickering in the bedroom “Here. You’ll feel better after you drink.” Jeremy urged him to empty the two mugs. He washed the blond down and then urged him to stand so he could rinse him off. “Feeling better?” Ray hummed as Jeremy dried them both. He placed a kiss on Ray’s forehead. “Get dressed.”
Watching the calm, relaxed expression on Ray’s face, Jeremy realized his feisty blond had dropped into subspace. Leading Ray by the hand to the living room, he introduced Ray to fraternal twins, Trevor and Octavia James. Octavia ran a youth center sponsored by Prism, while Trevor took over his mother’s cleaning service. They had been Chosen Ones of Jeremy’s, just as their mother, Celia had been.
“How’s your mother?” Jeremy asked after he’d introduced them to Ray.
“Sassy as ever. Still trying to tell me how to run things.” Trevor laughed.
“The center need anything, Octavia?” Jeremy asked.
“We’re fine, Jeremy. The counselor you sent has been a big help to the kids. You ready, Ray?”
“I’m here, Ray. You know the drill from being a Chosen One yourself. I’ll keep watch since I know how hungry you feel.”
He watched Ray gently sink his fangs into the dark skin of Octavia’s throat. He was about to remind Ray to pull back when the newly Turned Vampire licked over the puncture marks, and with a kiss on her cheek stepped back.
“Thank you, Octavia.” Ray said as Carolyn lead the young woman over to the table for a bowl of stew and fresh bread she and Bob had brought with them.
Trevor stepped up to allow Ray to Feed. Ray didn’t take as much from him as from his sister, so they all gathered around the table to enjoy Carolyn’s excellent lunch.
Jeremy showed their Chosen Ones to the door after lunch. Ray continued to be quiet and relaxed. They sat together on the couch until Bob and Carolyn had gathered their things to leave. Jeremy walked them to the door where he hugged them both.
“Thank you so much for your help. Is Benton coming to Sunday dinner? I want to bring Ray by to swear loyalty.”
“We’ll make sure of it.” Carolyn assured him.
Ray hugged the couple again and thanked them for their help. They finally had the apartment to themselves.
Once the two men were alone, silence reigned. Neither felt the need to fill the silence as Jeremy wrapped around Ray as they stretched out on their king-sized bed. Feeling protected, Ray fell asleep, allowing his mind and body to catch up with the changes of the past few days. Eventually, Jeremy dozed off as the silence in the apartment soothed nerves strung tight over preparations for Ray’s Turning.
The mid-afternoon sun was creeping around the room’s window when lips on his throat pulled Jeremy out of his slumber. Jeremy came fully await to feather kisses up his neck and across his jaw. As Ray opened his mouth to speak, Jeremy placed his fingers over his lips and held a finger up to his own lips indicating Ray was to remain silent.
Gray eyes widened as Jeremy rolled them, so he was covering Ray with his bulkier body. He slid down the slim body and starting at the top of his sweatpants ran his hands under Ray’s t-shirt as his mouth followed his hands up to the wiry torso. Taking one nipple between his teeth and the other between the nails of his thumb and finger, Ray’s body arched when Jeremy pinched and lightly bit down. Sliding his t-shirt over his head, Jeremy threw it over the side of the bed, immediately followed by his own.
He continued to worry Ray’s nipples as he captured a gasp when he covered his mouth for a long, slow kiss. Distracting Ray his with hands and mouth, Jeremy soon had them both naked. He continued to feast on the slim body until Ray silently begged with his body for Jeremy to give him relief.
Curls damp with sweat fell over Jeremy’s forehead as one … two … three fingers stretched Ray’s tight pucker to accommodate his cock that was so hard it ached. Just when he thought Ray would break his silence, Jeremy slipped inside his Mate’s willing body.
Fingers slid over sweat-slicked skin as Jeremy slipped his hands under Ray’s shoulder and lifted the lean body until he rested on his lap. The move settled him deeper, the sensation causing Ray’s back to bow as they both moved closer to their climaxes. When the tingle at the base of his spine began to spread, Jeremy gripped a handful of the silver-tinged blond hair and sank his fangs into his favorite spot on Ray’s throat.
Sights and sounds flashed through his mind as the Ray barreled his way past any shields or roadblocks Jeremy kept erected in his mind as protection against the influence of his Sire. As both men came down from the rush of their orgasms and their Bonding, Jeremy lowered Ray to the mattress and carefully slid from his body.
A whine at the loss of his Mate was the only sound from Ray as Jeremy moved to the bathroom for a warm washcloth and towel. After he cleaned up Ray, Jeremy went to the kitchen and returned with two mugs of warmed blood. The boneless lump in the middle of the bed finally sat and grabbed the mug and drained it so fast, Jeremy was surprised he didn’t lick the sides of the mug. He offered his to the blond.
“I’m good. What the fuck was that? Nobody told me my brain was going to catch fire, and you were going to move in.” Ray grumbled.
Jeremy balanced his own mug as he settled cross-legged on the bed. “That’s the bond. It’s not yet complete. You still need to Feed from me for it to be complete.” Ray propped himself against the headboard. “I have never heard of the Bonds being telepathic, though I suppose it’s possible. They are mostly emotions and moods. I would know if you were angry, content, and so forth. You would know the same of me. If you wanted privacy, it is also possible to close off the bond, so we could not feel the other.”
“Why the hell would you want to do that?” Ray growled. “This is a feeling like I thought I had with Stella, but it was my delusion. She made sure she busted that when I started talking about having kids.”
“There’s always adoption if you want children, Ray.”
“You’d do that?”
“Of course. You know how I feel about kids.” Jeremy gave him a soft smile.
It was a good thing he’d set his mug on the nightstand as he was bowled over by his energetic Mate. The next thing he felt was Ray’s fangs sinking into his neck, and then he knew very little as he was overwhelmed by the heat, light, and emotions of their Bond being completed.
They closed the club on Christmas Eve to allow everyone time with their families. Jeremy had slept his usual six hours but going to bed early meant getting up early. He’d placed a kiss on Ray’s forehead but left his Mate to sleep. Ray swore he was catching up on all the years he didn’t sleep before he started sleeping with Jeremy. After a shower, he made coffee and checked his messages. There was one from Carolyn inviting them to the estate for Christmas supper. Benton would be spending the early part of the day at the Vecchios’. He wondered how many bruises Benton would carry from Mama Vecchio pinching his cheeks and Francesca pinching his butt. Jeremy had talked to Benton about taking Ray’s oath of loyalty during the evening since it would be a quiet celebration this year due to everyone returning to their homes after Victoria’s latest foray through Chicago.
He’d made it through all his messages and was starting on his second cup of coffee when his sharp hearing picked up the sounds of Ray stirring. Jeremy tossed the designated number of M & M’s in Ray’s mug before filling it with coffee. Jeremy had offered to buy an excellent coffee blend that tasted better than M & M’s, but Ray refused, saying he always had the candies around anyway.
Sporting a case of Grade A bedhead, Ray placed a kiss on the corner of Jeremy’s mouth before oozing onto the couch and snatching his cup off the table to commune with his coffee. Shaking his head in exasperation, Jeremy began assembling his ingredients for breakfast. By the time he set food on the table, Ray was coherent enough for Jeremy to tell him about their invitation to the estate.
Breakfast finished, and dishes done, Ray grabbed a shower and threw on faded jeans and a t-shirt that was almost as worn. He settled into the loveseat with the footstool up, so he could balance his laptop. Jeremy set a fresh cup of coffee on the end table before coming around to sit next to his Mate.
“Jere?” Ray set his laptop on the coffee table when he noticed Jeremy acting anxious. “What’s going on?”
“I know we agreed not to get each other anything for Christmas this year, but there was some business I needed to take care of after we were Mated, but I didn’t get it in the mail until yesterday.” Jeremy handed him a large envelope.
Confused, Ray opened the envelope and pulled out several documents in blue legal manuscript covers. Jeremy chewed his bottom lip while Ray read. Gray eyes were wide by the time he laid the papers down and pulled off his glasses.
“Jeremy … This is … I … You … I don’t … Are you unhinged?” Ray scrubbed his hands through his hair.
“You’re my Mate, Ray. I love you, and if we keep our heads we’ll have many years together, and like most relationship what’s mine is yours. I got incredibly lucky in that I only waited a hundred years for my Mate as opposed to thousands.”
“I love you, too, but I seriously don’t know what to do with all this.” Ray waved his hands at the pile of blue.
“Take your time. Read everything. I’ll answer any questions you have, or we can visit Thomas, the Clan’s Legal Advisor, and he can answer your questions. Everyone knows you at the corporate office, so feel free to talk to anyone. I plan on making an announcement after New Year’s. Because there’s one more question I need to ask …” Jeremy slid off the loveseat down onto one knee. “Stanley Raymond Kowalski, marry me?”
“Marry … But … We’re men … Where … YES!” Ray threw himself at Jeremy and they both landed in a heap on the floor. Ray scattering kisses over his Mate’s face.
It was much later when they gathered their clothes off the living room floor and showered that Ray repeated his questions.
“I can’t remember anyone that’s passed a law.”
“It became legal in Massachusetts in May.”
“Looks like we’re taking a trip to Massachusetts.” He pulled Jeremy in for another kiss. “We should probably stop this and head for the Big House. Don’t want to piss off Carolyn by missing one of her dinners.”
Jeremy chuckled as they grabbed their coats and headed down the stairs.
~ December 31, 2004 ~ Lost Children of the Blood, Chicago, Illinois ~
The sign on the door read: CLOSED FOR A PRIVATE PARTY. In this place created as a haven for those unseen to be seen and for someone to listen to the unheard … Vampires, Chosen Ones, and their families ate, drank, played, and re-connected with friends and adopted family. Life events and an increasing number of Rogues joining forces had left deep wounds on several Clans in the past year, but they had emerged stronger, and more united.
Jeremy watched the party from his position in the doorway between the normally separated clubs. The day after Christmas, Jeremy asked Ray what day he wanted to get married. With a shrug Ray suggested they throw a dart at the calendar, so he did, and they came up with February 4th. They were taking Benton and Ray V as their witnesses … Jeremy had called Javier and invited his best friend to meet them in Boston for the ceremony. The Mates were going to take a week in New York to check on the club, then head back to Chicago to meet with Thomas, and relax for a few days before their wedding reception at the Clan estate. Snail mail and email invitations had been sent, which garnered the couple congratulations and well wishes from the Clan members.
He caught sight of his Mate standing with Ray and Benton. They were really going to have to figure out a way to tell them apart, other than calling his Ray Stanley. Benton was back on his feet and would soon be returning to duty at the Consulate. The memory of Ray swearing loyalty to Benton and Tallikut came to the forefront of his mind. The Clan Leader had been so moved he asked him and Vecchio to help him stand so he could hug his unlikely friend and welcome him to the Clan. Everyone’s eyes had welled when Ray told them it was the first time he felt like he had a family since Stella told him she wanted a divorce.
Someone bumping into his shoulder pulled Jeremy from his thoughts. He turned and met the smiling brown eyes of James Malone.
“Tonight’s not a night for deep thoughts.” He teased.
“Just hitting the highlights for the past year.”
“Like pulling your head out of your ass and claiming your Mate?”
“There is that.” Jeremy chuckled.
“Quit hiding out here in the dark, Man. Go dance with your pretty Mate.”
“I think you’ve mixed your blonds. Mine’s the ruggedly handsome one … Yours is the pretty one.”
“I do believe you’re right and it’s almost midnight.” James waved over his shoulder as he headed across the room.
Jeremy walked up behind Vecchio listening to the Italian cop quizzing Ray about his Turning while Benton looked like he wanted to be anywhere else.
“Jere.” Ray brightened when he saw his Mate.
“It’s almost time, Ray. Dance with me?” Jeremy held out his hand.
“Later.” Ray took his hand and pulled him toward the dance floor.
“Ray … Benton.” Jeremy’s arched eyebrow at his Clan Leader that garnered him a scowl.
Benton had to tell his Ray about Vampires when Vecchio realized THE Eliot Ness was his bodyguard. Then the Tallikut Council arrived at the estate for Christmas dinner, and suddenly Vecchio is having dinner with the likes of Merriweather Lewis and his Mate, William Clark, along with several other historic names. Ray had cornered the Vampires from Chicago interrogating them like they were in the ‘box’ at the 2-7 instead of a Christmas party. Fraser still hadn’t told him they were Mates … Glaciers were known to move faster than Benton when he was in avoidance mode.
For now, Jeremy concentrated on the man in his arms as Ray spun them across the dance floor until someone started the countdown to midnight. They grabbed a couple glasses of Champagne off the bar as they watched Chicago’s countdown on the bar television. Pulling Ray against his chest, Jeremy claimed smiling lips in a kiss that took the men away from the crowd in their bar.
“Enough already with the kissing.” Vecchio complained. “Let’s do the toast so we can get back to the real party.”
“Ray, it only takes a moment to be polite. After all, Jeremy and Ray are basically in their honeymoon period.” Benton chastised.
“They can be newlyweds after we leave.” He snarked. “Hey, Benny, does being a Vampire mean that certain things never die … You can keep going and going?”
“Ray!” A blushing Benton pulled the cop toward the buffet table.
“Hey, easy on the threads, Benny. That’s not Men’s Warehouse you’re yanking on there.”
“I beg your pardon, Ray.” Benton let go the sleeve of his suit.
“Hey Vecchio, how’s a cop afford Armani?” Ray asked.
“Live at home and drive a classic Riviera.”
“Cool. I prefer classic GTO’s myself. Does Canada pay for the suits being Fraser’s partner ruins?” When he looked confused, Ray chuckled. “I ended up in Lake Michigan twice while I was partnered with Big Red … And some of the warehouses … Sheesh.” Kowalski rolled his eyes as Benton continued to look sheepish.
“It was all in the pursuit of justice, Ray.”
“Of course it was Ben.”
Laughing, Ray and Jeremy followed along behind. Once Benton got Vecchio Turned and Claimed, his life was never going to be the same.
~ Chicago, Illinois, February 2005 ~
Sitting with his chin resting on his fist, Jeremiah Parks watched the snow beginning to accumulate on the branches outside his office window. An email from his Operations Manager containing the year-end numbers on his clubs had put him in a contemplative mood. The numbers were remarkable considering he’d bought and remodeled one property and sold his childhood home to the Clan. If the next six months continued the same way, it might be time to think about a new club. Maybe somewhere in the south. He was sure something would drop him a clue.
Reaching for his coffee cup, the light flashed off the diamonds and sapphires embedded in the wide platinum band on his left hand. A soft smile lightened his mood as he thought about all that happened since December, including a trip to Massachusetts the first week of February where he married his Mate. He’d have to talk with Ray about where he wanted to take a vacation, or maybe they should load up the GTO and go. Ray had been training Emily, so they could promote her to take over the General Manager position. That would leave Ray free to travel with him, and maybe take over a few of his side projects. The blond had settled so well into Vampire life, it was hard to tell he was months old instead of years, though he had been a bit of a fanboy around the more famous members of the Clan when they visited at Christmas.
Speaking of his Mate … Taking a look at his watch, Jeremy transferred his files to his tablet and put everything else he needed in his case. Stopping by his PA’s desk, he told Rory he’d be working from home after he finished his appointments. First stop was the Clan’s estate where he sat down with Peter picking up their wedding and reception pictures, to relay some information he’d picked up at the club, and to inform the Lead Hunter his next stop was the FBI to meet with the Clan’s Head of Security, James Malone.
Leaving Peter to his work, Jeremy was headed to the front door when Benton stepped out of his office. The Clan Leader was still dealing with the aftermath of Victoria Metcalf’s latest foray into their lives. Jeremy wondered how long Benton would hold off Turning Vecchio. If the detective had his way it would be sooner rather than later. He also knew what a drag it would be physically and mentally on Benton if he turned Vecchio without telling him they Mates.
“Jeremiah, how are things going?”
Benton and Diefenbaker came out of the office. Jeremy bent down to greet the half-wolf.
“Good. I just dropped off some information to Peter from my contacts and picked up our wedding pictures. I am now on my way to see James and Eliot, then headed home. I want to take Ray on a trip sometime in March … Sort of honeymoon/scouting trip for a new haven location.”
“Let Bob or Carolyn know when, and if the jet is available, you are welcome to its use.” Benton offered.
“I appreciate that. The thought of Ray in an airplane full of people for an extended period of time is a scary thought, and that’s if we’re in first class, but I’m thinking a long drive might be the ticket. Neither of us has had a real vacation for years.”
That drew a laugh from Benton remembering Ray constantly moving, even when they were engaged in a stakeout. “I have a few hours, I believe I will go see Peter about your information.”
“How’re things going with your Ray?”
Said Ray popped out from behind Benton. “I’m going to be Turned, or someone’s going to get a smack.” Vecchio growled.
“Congratulations?” Jeremy gave Benton a questioning look.
A small negative shake of the head indicated the Clan Leader had not told Ray about being Mates. “Our duties to the Consulate and Lieutenant Walsh have been quite heavy of late, and Inspector Thatcher has several dignitaries on the calendar until May.” Benton prevaricated.
“Ray will be pleased to have a new Clan brother.”
“Stanley will be … Oh crap, I’m the baby of the Clan. How is it I go from being the oldest in one family to being the youngest in another?” Grumbling to himself, Ray headed for the kitchen.
“He’s going to realize after he is Turned, especially if you are his Sire.” Benton ducked his head. “Oh, Benton.” Jeremy lamented.
“There’s his family and background to consider.”
“He is not the first Italian Catholic to be Turned, or to have a male Mate.”
“I know that.” Benton hissed. “What if he says, ‘No’?”
“What if he says, ‘Yes’? I missed out on six years with my Mate because of willful blindness. Do not give up this gift because of your insecurities. Do not let Victoria win. Besides, Tony and Speed finally found their Mates. There’s a rumor going around Speed waited six months for his Mate. You don’t need to go through that.”
“Once he is settled …”
Shaking his head, Jeremy turned to leave. “You’re definitely going to get that smack. Carolyn will probably lend him her rolling pin.”
“Give my regards to Ray.”
“Might want to use the penthouse … More privacy.” Jeremy chuckled as he waved over his shoulder.
“More privacy for what?” Ray asked as he came from the kitchen with a sandwich and cup of coffee.
Diefenbaker added his thoughts on the matter. “Not you, too.” Benton huffed in exasperation before turning his attention to his partner.
As he drove away from the diner near the FBI offices, Jeremy thoughts turned back to his Mate, and how he’d almost let something so precious slip through his fingers.
When his Sire, Victoria Metcalf, had kidnapped Detective Stanley Raymond Kowalski and showed up in Jeremy’s living room trying to find Benton, he’d felt drawn to the blond man. Suppressing his emotions in order to deal with Victoria’s insanity, and to keep anyone from dying, he didn’t realize what Ray was to him.
After Victoria was once again on the run, Kowalski had come to him for the job as General Manager of the Chicago club because he was tired of living undercover in his own life. Though they had become close friends in a short period of time, Jeremy was still dealing with his own traumas related to Chicago, so he’d returned to his home in New York City.
For the next six years, he’d only seen Ray once or twice a year, though they talked often on the phone. Because Ray was such a great manager, Jeremy only stayed in Chicago long enough to pat him on the back for a job well done because Javier was calling about the case that needed his expertise.
Jeremy turned his thoughts back to his driving when traffic finally started to move. The snow was beginning to accumulate on the roads, trying the patience of Chicago rush hour drivers. Finally pulling into the garage next to the GTO, he shook the snow off his coat and boots before heading up the back stairs to their apartment that covered the third floor of the historic firehouse. Halfway up the steps, his sensitive nose picked up the smells of fresh bread and a mouthwatering blend of his favorite stew that meant his Mate had been busy this afternoon. In the time it took him to divest himself of his boots and heavy coat, his beloved had danced over the rugs and slid across the wooden floor in sock feet to catch Jeremy around the neck for a kiss that thoroughly explored the inside of his mouth.
“I gave our information to Peter, Malone, and Ness. Now, I am going to put on something warm and comfy, until we need to go down to the club.”
“I could keep you warm and comfy.”
Pulling Ray in for another kiss that momentarily distracted the cook, Jeremy left the distracted blond standing in the kitchen as he darted around the corner to the master suite.
“Not buddies!” Was shouted down the hall after him.
Jeremy spent most of his hours at the club moving between the teen side of the club, and the adult side. Each side had an area set aside where he or one of the other counselors could talk privately with anyone who sought them out. It also gave him an opportunity to observe the employees for problems, or perhaps someone needed recognition for outstanding work. No one paid a lot of attention to a watcher in the shadows. The anonymity of the club gave Jeremy an opportunity to watch for predators that might need to be dealt with. None of Jeremy’s people had tolerance for anyone who preyed on the patrons of Lost Children of the Blood.
Ray was his usual high energy self … Talking to the patrons, dancing to the jukebox, taking over the bar when their bartender got a call from his babysitter. Jeremy smiled when his Mate brought him a perfect Irish coffee, delivered with a kiss. Emily shook her head at her bosses’ antics.
Seeing Ray’s wedding band flash in the bar lights, Jeremy’s thoughts were drawn to the near past when he had fled New York after a particularly nasty undercover job. At the same time, Kowalski called to say Benton had found his Mate in Ray Vecchio. The Tallikut Clan had converged on Chicago for fear history would repeat itself. Thoughts focused on his Sire, Jeremy knew he needed to protect Ray, but had not yet had time to concentrate on why he felt that way.
The inclement weather kept a lot of people home or caused them to cut their evening short. No one was using the playrooms, so he had Emily and Ray spread the word they were closing at eleven. By midnight, they had everything cleaned and locked up.
Standing at the door watching the snow covering the tracks in the parking lot, Jeremy felt arms wrap around his waist. Leaning back into the warmth of his Mate, Jeremy only had one question … “I think Emily’s ready. Where would you like to go for our honeymoon?”
~ Chicago, Illinois, March 2005 ~
The receptionist at Thomas McLaughlin’s law office smiled at the two men that came through the antique glass door. She was not only his receptionist, but his paralegal, and manager of all three of his offices.
“Jeremiah … And this must be Ray. Nice to finally meet you in person. Thomas will be back shortly. Have a seat in his office and I’ll bring you a cup of coffee.”
“Ray, this is Amanda Pena. She keeps Thomas organized.”
They had gotten their coffee sorted when Thomas came through the door.
“Thomas, this my Mate and spouse, Ray Kowalski.”
The men shook hands.
“Thomas?” Ray looked confused. “You and Big Red trying to pull a fast one on me?” He frowned at this Mate.
“Big Red?” Thomas looked at Jeremy.
“Ah. No. I’m a descendant from his human years.”
“After all these years they still come out with perfect hair?” Ray gave Thomas a hard look before it softened from hearing Amanda laughing from her office.
“He’s a keeper, Jeremiah.”
“For a long time.” He grinned at Ray.
“Honeymooners …” Thomas shook his head as he poured himself a cup of coffee before he sat behind his desk.
“I thought it would be a great time to meet everyone.” Ray cut in.
“We wanted to make sure everything’s up-to-date, and you didn’t have anything that needed discussing or signing before we head to New York.” Jeremy shook his head at Ray. “We’re going to check out the club and do some visiting while we’re there.”
“Then it’s on to D.C., then Phoenix to see my folks, Los Angeles and Vegas before home again.” Ray practically bounced in his seat.
“Quite the itinerary.” Thomas leaned back in his chair.
“Benton is lending us the Clan’s plane.”
He raised his eyebrows at Amanda. “Do we have anything?”
Amanda pulled several sets of blue backs from a folder. “We got the rest of the deeds back from being recorded. That should be the last of the stuff that needed Ray’s name added.”
“But I thought I got everything at Christmas.”
“You live long enough, you occasionally forget something.” Jeremy shrugged.
Thomas and Amanda laughed while Ray looked aghast. “That just ain’t right.” He shook his head.
Thomas stood and clapped his hands. “Since everything seems in order, You two need to get back to your honeymoon.” He waved at hand at Ray and Jeremy.
“Don’t pay him any mind.” Amanda escorted them to the door. “Things have been a little tense around here. Thomas just got back from Ottawa.
“If there’s any way we can be of help to Thomas … Call.” Jeremy and Ray both gave the pretty brunette a hug and kiss.
“You’re on my list.” She waved as they walked to the elevators … Next stop … New York.
~ Washington, D.C. March 2005 ~
Jeremy sighed as Ray unbuckled his seat belt and headed toward the galley in search of coffee. The only available flight time out of Reagan International was insanely early after an evening checking out the club. Yon Rhee and Curtis Sayers, the General Managers of New York and Washington, D.C., respectively, had taken to Ray’s outgoing personality. In no time at all, Ray was walking through the club asking questions, talking about some of the things he did in Chicago like nights for Steampunk, Cyberpunk, or Victorian Ladies night. He’d noticed both clubs were beginning to show their popularity in the wear and tear on the furniture, so he’d sent out emails to his Operations Manager to work on projections for updating all the clubs with the exceptions of Chicago and Las Vegas.
Iva had sent back an email reminding him he was supposed to be relaxing on his honeymoon, and that she had already started on projections for the remodels and would have it available when they got home. Jeremy loved working with people that didn’t need to be lead by the hand to do their jobs.
He was about to go in search of his Mate when the blond head appeared out from behind the curtains separating the galley carrying two coffee cups. The attendant was following close behind with breakfast trays.
“Bless you, Linda.” He accepted his breakfast with a smile of thanks. After breakfast, Ray shoved his Mate into the bedroom and took advantage of the five more hours until they reached Los Angeles.
Sated and content to doze with Ray in his arms, Jeremy’s eyes flew open when Ray asked him a question about his past. “Who was your favorite person to have sex with besides me?”
“I know you got perfect Vampire hearing, so I shouldn’t have to repeat myself.” Ray laughed. “You’re over a hundred years old, into all that Fred and Jung, BDSM stuff, and I’ve seen pictures of Lady Heather. She’s one red-head I wouldn’t kick out of bed for eating crackers.”
“Freud not Fred, and I’ve studied his works, but never been a big fan.” Jeremy huffed. “Just as I don’t have sex with my clients, neither do I have sex with my Dominatrix. Though I chose to run with the Libertine crowd, I was not one for having indiscriminate sex. I require a certain amount of emotional connection to a person.”
“You seem to have a pretty strong connection to Esposito and Blade.” He continued to tease his Mate.
“Javier has always been more of a brother, and Eric is … Well, Eric is Blade.” Jeremy blushed. “Do you really want to talk about my relationships with other people?” Using his strength and speed, he flipped Ray under him. “But then I seem to remember you’re very talkative during sex, a bit bossy even. I think now is a good time for you to practice being quiet.” Jeremy growled.
Blinking in surprise, Ray did as he was ordered. The effort it took to remain silent while Jeremy did what he wanted to his body had Ray nearly out of his mind when his Mate’s fangs sank into his throat pushing his body and mind over the edge. When he came back to himself, he’d been cleaned up and tucked under the covers. Jeremy entered the bedroom, showered, dressed and offering Ray a mug of warm blood.
“We’re an hour from Los Angeles, so you might want to get showered and dressed.” Jeremy commented as Ray emptied the mug.
Jeremy chuckled as Ray scrambled from the bed and bolted for the bathroom.
By the time they boarded the plane for Phoenix, even Ray’s excitement over Los Angeles had waned. Never one of his favorite cities, Jeremy always thought the best thing about Los Angeles was his General Manager, Jordan Warren. Jordan would soon be celebrating fifteen years working for Jeremy and he was working on something special for his Chosen One and friend.
They’d had a brief affair when they were getting the club ready for its grand opening. Jordan had been so vivacious and open, and Jeremy had been stuck in a bout of loneliness and dark moods as he neared the century mark. The flamboyant transvestite had gone from employee to friend to lover and back to friend in the length of time it took to remodel, furnish and open Lost Children of the Blood in the historic Art Deco building in West Hollywood. It wasn’t until Jeremy had seen Jordan without makeup that he realized Jordan was practically a twin for Blade.
When Ray had met Jordan, he couldn’t decide whether to hug her or kick her in the head when she laid a lip lock on his Mate that made Ray’s dick stand up and take notice. When Jordan finally let Jeremy up for air, Ray snatched his Mate back to his side.
“That’s not buddies, Man.”
“Oh, you can have him back, Sugar. I just wanted to borrow him for a few minutes. Now that we got everyone’s blood flowing, this place ought to start jumping.” She gave them a wide smile.
“Jordan Warren, my Mate, and spouse, Ray Kowalski … Ray this is Jordan Warren, Chosen One, and General Manager.”
“Pleasure, now that you’re not mackin’ on my Mate.” Ray growled.
Jordan’s laugh carried across the club and made everyone that heard it smile. “Honey, you’re definitely a keeper. If Jeremy hadn’t already put a ring on it, I’d be tempted to keep you my own self.” Ray blushed as Jordan wrapped her arm through his and escorted him through the club. “Now come this way and tell Miss Jordan all about how you met our Jeremy.”
Jeremy grabbed a stool at the end of the bar and ordered a drink. “Don’t worry she’ll bring him back when she’s done interrogating him.” The bartender teased.
“It’ll be interesting to see who interrogates who. Ray is a retired police detective. He was very good at his job.”
“She may have met her match.” She moved off to handle her other customers.
When they got back to their suite at the Roosevelt Hotel, Ray waited until Jeremy had removed his coat and boots before tackling him on the king-sized bed. His pants were a lost cause to Ray’s possessiveness as he pulled them down exposing his Mate for his pleasure. Before Jeremy could utter a complaint, Ray shoved two fingers barely covered with lube into his Mate’s tight hole.
“Don’t want to hear it. I don’t know what it is with all these Eric, Blade, Wesley Snipes, look alikes, but you’re mine. Always mine ‘til we’re both dust.”
His hard cock pushed into the barely stretched hole causing them both to howl as Ray Claimed his Mate. As he continued to rut, Ray continued to chant, ‘Mine, mine, mine’ until he felt his orgasm rushing up his spine. Fangs sank into Jeremy’s throat as the Bond between the men flashed like lightning through their minds knitting two souls into one.
When they came back to themselves, Ray’s softened cock had slipped from Jeremy’s roughly used ass. Ruined pants lay in tatters around his exhausted Mate.
“I’m good. Nothing Feeding won’t fix.” Jeremy waved a hand from where he lay across the bed.
Ray gave them a quick wipe down, helped Jeremy out of the rest of his clothes and got them both under the covers where they wrapped around each other and drifted off to sleep.
The pilot announcing take-off pulled Jeremy out his thoughts. Jordan was still the best thing in Los Angeles, and he really was not looking forward to the next stop on their trip.
~ Phoenix, Arizona, March 2005 ~
They took advantage of the mild Arizona winter to rent a soft top jeep for the drive to Casa Grande. The closer they got to the RV resort where Barbara and Damien Kowalski parked their RV, the quieter the two Vampires became. Both men had slipped off their wedding rings, grateful for winter pale skin that didn’t show a tan line. Jeremy switched his to his right hand while Ray slipped his on the chain with the St. Michael’s medal his mother gave him when he entered the police academy.
“It’s fine, Ray. You love your parents regardless of you and your father having your differences of opinion. Not to hurt you, but compared to a Vampire’s lifespan, the disapproval of your parents is a small pebble in the road of our lives. I would have you enjoy the few years of their lives that remain.”
“If it was just Ma … I know she’d love you, but my dad … He worked in a Chicago slaughterhouse until he retired. He was so mad after I dropped out of college, we didn’t talk for five years. We’re no Chatty Cathies now ‘cause he was upset when Stella and me got divorced … Then I retired from the cops and went to work in a bar. He let up a little when he found out she didn’t want to have kids. As soon as we’re headed back to Phoenix we’ll put the rings back on …”
Jeremy listened to his Mate chatter nervously until he employed Benton’s method to get his attention. “Ray … Ray … Ray!” The blond finally stopped talking and looked at Jeremy. “It’s fine. As much as I love my ring on your finger, I don’t need a hunk of metal and stone to tell me you belong to me.” He pointed to his temple. “You’re right here 24/7.”
“Yeah. You’re right. Sorry I got all unhinged. Being around my folks always makes me a little nuts.” He kissed Jeremy’s knuckles.
“It’s only a few days. I’ll drop you off and entertain myself until you’re ready to return to Phoenix.”
“I may call before you get to the city limits.” Ray looked at the travel trailer with a jaundiced eye.
They climbed out of the Jeep and Jeremy opened the back to grab Ray’s duffel bag. His mother came tripping down the steps when she saw her son.
“Hey, Ma.” Ray held his mother close and laid his cheek against her hair.
“Why didn’t you call and let us know you were coming?” Ray’s father came to the door to see what was causing all the commotion. “We would have picked you up.” She stared openly at Jeremy.
“Ma, this is my friend and boss, Jeremy Parks … Jere, my mother, Barbara Kowalski. The guy hanging out the door is my dad, Damien.”
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance. Ray, you have our schedule, give me a call when you are prepared to return to Phoenix.”
Ray gave his Mate a wide-eyed look. Jeremy only pulled out his Jeremiah old-world manners when he talked to Lady Heather or when he was uncomfortable. The Bond was quiet and bland like Jeremy was blending into the background. Ray didn’t need Jeremy’s intuition to guess it was Jeremy’s way of keeping them both calm.
Ray came around the Jeep and pulled his Mate into a hug, placing a hidden kiss on the delectable neck. “Seeing the expression on my ‘ol man’s face, it might be sooner than you think.” He whispered.
“They are your parents, Ray. Be kind. They don’t have forever.” Jeremy reminded him before pulling back. “Be mindful of those around you. You never know who may appear where we least expect.” He reminded Ray.
“Pitter-patter, Jere.” Ray winked as he picked up his bag.
Ray’s father had returned to his daytime television program while Barbara puttered around the kitchen fixing a pot of coffee.
“Your boss seems like a good man. Do you like working for him.” She finally sat down at the small table across from Ray.
“He treats me right. He’s scoping out a couple cities for a new club and invited me along ‘cause he knew you lived out here.”
“He opening one of them fairy boy clubs in Phoenix?”
“No, Dad. It’s just a nightclub where people dress like me or fancy like Jeremy or however they want. It’s a place you can go have fun without worrying about what you look like.”
“I’m sure it’ll be a very nice place.” His mother jumped in to distract the two strong-willed men.
“Jeremy’s a good guy. Does a lot for the communities where he has clubs. Takes care of the kids that got no place.”
“Figured he’d be a bleeding heart with the way he dresses.” His father grumbled.
Ray tried to remember Jeremy’s words about his parents not having forever. He tried to remember the generational differences. He tried to remember he really loved his parents, but it was hard when he knew all the good works the Vampire Clans did throughout their communities with little regard to things like race or background.
“There’s nothing wrong with doing good works, Damien, and showing compassion.”
“Nobody ever showed me compassion. I earned everything I got with my own sweat and blood.” He grumbled into his coffee cup.
“Look. I came to visit ‘cause my boss is a good guy and wanted me to have a chance to see you. He knows we don’t see much of each other. I didn’t come all this way to argue.”
“Don’t mind your father. He’s cranky because we’re waiting on test results from the doctor. Just routine stuff. We go through this every year.” Barbara soothed. “Since you’re here, you can drive me to the market and I’ll fix your favorite for supper.”
“Sure, Ma.” Ray sighed into his cup. Better to follow his mother around the supermarket than stay and have a conversation of silence with his father. He wondered if Jeremy had left Casa Grande yet.
The longest 48 hours of his life, other than the time he was a chew toy between Victoria and Fraser, finally ended when Jeremy pulled up in front of his parents’ trailer. Ray made his smiling goodbyes as he threw his bag in the back of the Jeep. He saw the extra thermal cup sitting in the console.
“Thought you could use a pick me up until we can get out and about.”
Ray emptied the travel mug then fished his chain from under his shirt to put his ring back on his finger. Jeremy had already switched his back to his left hand.
“How was your visit?”
“Twelve hours too long. I tried remembering all the things you said, but unless we’ve got a car engine between us, my dad and me just don’t have a lot to talk about that won’t end in an argument. That’s not fair to Ma ‘cause she spends all her time trying to keep the peace. She caught me up on my ex-wife. The way her and Stella get on you’d think Ma gave birth to her instead of me.”
“Do you want to tell Stella?”
“God no. She’d burn up the phone lines to Ma. I just want to get to Vegas, so we can head home.”
~ Las Vegas, Nevada, March 2005 ~
Caesar’s, per usual was perfect. They were having supper with Heather and Evy, and Jeremy was building up his nerve to pass the next milestone in his life with Ray. He sat at the desk in their suite running his fingers over the golden ankh that had become such an important symbol in his life.
“You don’t have to give it back.” Ray wrapped his arms around his neck from behind.
“Yes, I do. In the past few years, it’s been more of a safety net or crutch, depending on your point of view.”
“You head shrinkers always got to be overthinking things.”
“There are few absolutes in life, Ray.”
“You think I don’t know that … Retired cop here.”
“It’s past time my relationship with Heather changes. I think it has to for our relationship to go wherever we want it to go … Just the two of us.”
Wanting to draw Jeremy out of his maudlin mood, Ray nipped him on the ear. “You’re not about to break out in song, are you?”
“I am an adequate singer.” Jeremy huffed as he stood so he could take Ray in his arms.
“You ain’t no Bill Withers.” He pulled his Mate in for a kiss. “Hmm. It’s a shame we can’t be fashionably late.”
“Evy would laugh, but it’s a bit of a pet peeve of Heather’s.” Jeremy grabbed one more kiss before laying the necklace back in its silk-lined box. Pulling his black frock coat on over his burgundy brocade vest, Jeremy slipped the black velvet box in his inside pocket.
Jeremy had made the arrangements for an elegant supper. He wanted this evening to be a private affair. The hotel had outdone itself, and the two couples enjoyed each other’s company catching up on business and the Clan gossip. As the evening was winding down, Jeremy got down on one knee in front of Heather as though to propose.
“One of the scariest days of my life was the day I found you in my kitchen with Lenny. It was also the first step on an interesting journey. Because of what I learned at your knee, literally and figuratively.” Jeremy reached out for Evy’s hand, too. “I’ve now come to a crossroads.” He stood, dropping their hands. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out the velvet jewelry box. “For a hundred years you have been what I needed when I needed it, but now that I have my Mate I need to start a new journey. Somewhere along that road our paths may once again intertwine beyond friendship, but until then I need to return this to your keeping.”
As Jeremy handed Heather the box, tears welled in both women’s eyes. With the regal bearing of a priestess of Ra, Heather stood tall as she pulled Jeremy into a hug, placing a kiss of benediction on his forehead. Taking the offered handkerchief from Ray, she dried her eyes before passing it over to Evy, who’d just finished her own hug. Escorting the women to the lobby, both men received another hug and kiss as their car pulled under the portico.
“Take care of each other, and call … Often.” Heather gave them a stern look.
“Yes, Ma’am.” They chorused.
As the car pulled away from the curb, Evy looked back to see Jeremy place a hand on the small of Ray’s back as they entered the hotel.
“They grow up so fast.” She sighed.
Heather squeezed her hand. “They’re good boys. We’ll be in touch, especially now that I’m pursuing my psychology degree. The papers Jeremy has published will be a great help in writing my thesis.”
“Ray would probably have some interesting perceptions moving from law enforcement to goth/bondage club management.” Evy brightened.
“We may have to arrange a visit to Chicago.”
Even using the Clan’s plane, the couple were exhausted when the finally sprawled on their large leather couch. Deciding there was nothing that couldn’t wait until tomorrow, the men showered and fell into bed.
Jeremy came awake the next morning with Ray’s mouth wrapped around his cock. His body had gotten with the program long before his mind cleared away the fog of sleep. Running his fingers through the short hair to lightly hold Ray’s head in place as he arched into the pleasure of his spouse’s ministrations. Relaxing into the pleasurable haze as Ray’s enjoyment rolled through their Bond, Jeremy gave a shout of surprise when Ray opened his throat, swallowed his dick until his nose was buried in russet curls. Barely dropping his fangs, he scraped them along the sides of Jeremy’s dick. Beginning a slow retreat, the scrape of fangs and the tightening of throat muscles drove Jeremy into orgasm. The feedback through the Bond triggered Ray’s own orgasm and for several minutes they rode out the physical and mental release.
“Great jumping Jehoshaphat, Ray!” Jeremy growled as he pulled his Mate up along his body to capture his mouth in a deep, wet kiss.
“It’s good to be home.” Ray rolled over and splayed out across the bed.
“It’s good to know the honeymoon is still going strong even though we need to head to the office.” Jeremy placed a kiss on Ray’s bellybutton before he climbed out of bed and headed for the shower. He turned back and winked at his Mate causing him to scramble out of bed to follow.
At the office, Jeremy sent Ray off to meet with their Operations Manager to get started on the renovations on the older clubs. Iva and Ray had worked like a hand in glove since the first of the year to plan the expansion of their Chicago club. The club’s popularity had continued to grow in the past six years, so after the New Year’s party, they’d decided to move the adult bar to the basement, make the ground floor all underage club half with sitting areas, game and pool tables in the front and the dance club in the back. Ray, after canvasing their regulars decided the teen club would have a steampunk theme while keeping the darker gothic theme for the adult club.
The club would be closed the month of April with a grand re-opening date of May first. Instead of laying off the employees for a month, they would be involved with packing everything from liquor to candles, cleaning, and moving fixtures and furniture. They would store the furniture in the back half of the first floor while they started on the sitting/game table area. Once the packing was done, they would get started giving the basement a thorough cleaning then install the electrical, ventilation and fire suppression systems. There would be intimate alcoves with couches and the low Moroccan tables along with several pool tables. The back half of the club would contain the dance club. Thankfully there was a double door into the lower level to make it easier to move the bars and furniture downstairs. They were also putting in a wall along one side of the building, to make a hallway, that would allow the employees to move through the club without trying to get through the crush of people.
Iva would be traveling to Los Angeles to get the ball rolling on the renovations while Ray wrangled the contractors and architect in Chicago. Jeremy would be dealing with ordering furniture, fixtures, and décor. With the furniture moved out it was also a good time to deep clean and refinished the antique wood floors. There was plenty of work for everyone.
They were halfway through the renovations. Jeremy and Ray had taken their morning coffee to the basement for a look around before the contractors showed up for work. Noticing a couple things to go over with the job boss, they headed to the first floor. Jeremy stopped halfway up the stairs reminding Ray of an animal checking for signs of danger. He was starting to get worried enough about his Mate to pull out his phone to call Dr. Carter or Fraser. Nearly every night for the past two weeks, he’d been startled awake with Jeremy in the throes of a nightmare. He would prowl through the apartment and club with his sword and gun checking the doors and windows before settling. Twice after his round of the property, Jeremy had Claimed Ray, leaving marks and bruises that had Jeremy smirking with satisfaction until they healed after Feeding.
“Someone’s upstairs.” Jeremy whispered close to Ray’s ear.
“No one’s supposed to be here for two hours.” Ray was equally quiet.
They stopped at the door to the first floor. Setting their cups on the step, Jeremy tapped a code into the keypad on the wall. A panel opened. They each pulled a pistol and an extra clip out of the mini-armory. Moving quietly through the employee passageway, they peeked through the glass in the swinging doors. They didn’t see anyone, but there was a body on the newly sanded floor. Ray shivered when he saw it was the exact spot where Jeremy had stepped between him and Victoria, saving Ray’s life.
“Any life signs?” Jeremy asked.
“Not exactly a teaching moment, Jere.” Ray grumbled but did as he was told. “Nope. Let’s clear the building before we all Vecchio.”
“Why would we call Ray. This is out of his jurisdiction.”
“We were talking shop at Sunday dinner. He was telling me about these two murders that were body dumps.”
After clearing the building, they returned their weapons to the wall safe and retrieved their coffee. They returned to their apartment to call Vecchio and get dressed. While waiting for Ray and Benton, the couple went out to the food trailer set-up in the back corner of the club’s parking lot to grab a quick breakfast.
Jeremy had been thinking of adding a kitchen when the partner of one of the bartenders had approached him about investing in a food trailer for the club. Lacy Myers was working as a sous chef downtown but had reached the end of her patience with the antics of the executive chef. She and her partner, Desiree Davis had drawn up a business plan, and after many conversations about menus and suppliers, they had Thomas draw up a contract. It cost the club a bartender, but The Gothic Diner was so successful, Lacy and Desiree had hired a breakfast and lunch shift, so they could cover the rest of the neighborhood. The contractors working on the club kept them busy all day.
While they ate, Ray and Jeremy called the contractors and employees to tell them to not come to work today. They were finishing their post breakfast coffee when the Riviera pulled into the parking lot followed by the Crime Scene Unit. They walked over to the car as Diefenbaker jumped out of the car and nearly tackled Ray.
“Easy, Furface. It hasn’t been that long since you saw me.” He roughhoused with the wolf hybrid while everyone was collecting their gear.
Jeremy let his Mate take the lead with Ray and Benton while he and Diefenbaker entered through the back door. The new wall that made it easier for the employees’ comings and goings, also closed off the stairs to their apartment, which had once been firemen’s barracks. Jeremy pulled a package out of the refrigerator before making a fresh pot of coffee.
“I was going to bring this to supper on Sunday, but since you’re here … And there is no telling how many things Benton will want to lick even though it was a body dump, you can have this now.”
He handed Diefenbaker half a cow’s leg bone. With a happy yip, he carried the bone to the bed they kept for him. While Diefenbaker happily gnawed his bone, Jeremy opened his laptop and began searching for additional light fixtures. He was thankful some of the fixtures they had could be re-purposed in the steampunk theme. He’d plowed through the emails that needed immediate attention and made several appointments to lighting and fixtures showrooms when Ray came through the door followed by Benton and Vecchio. The Clan Leader gave Diefenbaker an exasperated look.
“You take shameful advantage of our Clan members.” Diefenbaker gave him a toothy smile and returned to his bone. “You do not have to cater to his whims, Jeremy.”
“It kept him entertained while you were handling the tedious details.”
“What the Mountie is taking the long way around to say is … We need to get your statement and you’ll probably get your first floor back in a couple days.” The detective prompted.
“That is fine.” Jeremy handed Ray his statement he’d typed up and printed before he started his other work.
“Greatness.” Ray dropped a kiss on his head as he headed for the coffee pot. He poured a cup for Ray and made Benton a cup of tea. “Are we done with official part of this poor guy’s murder?” Kowalski set their mugs on the counter.
“Sure. Is this something I shouldn’t hear?” Ray unbuttoned his suit jacket as he settled on the loveseat.
Ray and Jeremy exchanged glares while Benton doctored his tea before Jeremy threw up his hands and went into the office, returning with a sketch pad.
“He’s been having nightmares for a couple weeks …” Jeremy heard when he came around the corner.
“I’ve been keeping track of the nightmares because they’ve been so vivid.”
“Anal retentive head shrinker.” His Mate grumbled.
“While I have nowhere near the talent of Antonio Crisafi, I’m a passable artist. The odd thing about these is … They’re not from the viewpoint of the victim or the perpetrator but from the point of view of an observer … Or perhaps a dominant personality directing someone who is their submissive. Detective.” He handed the book to Ray. “It would perhaps be a good idea to bring in Eliot and James … From the Clan standpoint, not the FBI.” Jeremy rubbed his temples.
“You believe your Sire is somehow involved?” Fraser asked as though saying her name would conjure the woman to their presence.
“While we don’t have a proper Sire/Childe Bond, there is a connection. A dark, twisted connection, which I keep closed off as best I can. She may have found someone who is what she thought she found in me. We were not together long enough for her to understand I am not a true submissive, so could never be what she wanted.” He reached out to lightly run his fingers over the back of his Mate’s neck.
“So, you’re telling us you think someone, maybe Victoria found some poor sap and went all Bourne Identity on him? Come on, guys.” Vecchio sounded incredulous.
“No. I believe someone has found a person of weak personality, who would do anything for the person who pays attention to him. It won’t matter the type of attention so long as he sees himself as relevant to them. We don’t have any proof indicating my Sire is involved.”
“Come on, Vecchio. We see it all the time. Whether it’s a cop partnership or a criminal. One partner always comes out as the big dog.”
Ray gave Ray an irritated look. “Stanley …”
“Ray.” A hard note in Benton’s voice stopped whatever the detective was about to say. “Victoria was dear friends with Lucrezia Borgia and learned much of intrigue and manipulation in the House of Borgia and at the knee of Pope Alexander VI. She was a very apt pupil.”
“Popes are holy men, Benny. They don’t do bad things.” Ray gave the Mountie an eye roll. “Can I have these?” Ray handed the sketchbook back to Jeremy.
“It was a much different world in the 15th century, Ray.”
“The nuns didn’t teach the bad part of church history, but it was lucky I was a mouthy altar boy with a big nose.”
Jeremy tore the sheets out and handed them to the detective. “I will let you know if there are any more.”
“Thanks. Didn’t mean to get all jacked. This is the third one …” He looked through the pages. “This one kind of looks like you, Benny.”
“One looks like my Ray, and this last one bears a resemblance to you, Ray.”
“We should be vigilant with the safety of our Ma … Partners.” Benton flushed at his slip. “I shall put the Hunters on alert for Victoria.”
“I can call Javier and Blade.” Jeremy offered.
“I would like to keep this within the Clan.” Benton rubbed his thumb over his eyebrow.
“You can tell him, but he is to keep it quiet.”
“Blade has several new Vampires under his care in New York. We should make him aware.”
“No. It is our Clan’s business.”
Jeremy bowed his head in acquiescence. “It shall be as you say, Benoit.” His tone was clipped.
“We got dinner with Ma tonight.” Ray reminded Fraser trying to break the tension between the two Vampires.
“I am aware, Ray.” The thought made him weary.
“I promise to muzzle Frannie.”
“PetSmart couldn’t muzzle your sister, Vecchio.” Ray and Jeremy had met the woman at their New Year’s party.
“Now look, Stanley …”
“She tried to climb Ben like a tree and when that didn’t work, she started grappling Jere.” He was still irritated about her hands on his Mate.
“I’m sorry she groped your Mate, Kowalski. Ma leans on her pretty hard about getting married.” Ray rubbed his hands over his thinning hair.
“It will be fine, Ray.” Benton tried to sooth his partner.
“We’re all a bit on edge.” Jeremy’s look urged Ray to control his temper.
He huffed out a breath. “Sorry.” He smoothed his hand over his goatee. “Let us know when we can get back to work in that part of the club.” He offered an olive branch.
“Sure thing. We’re going to have to completely change our profile.” He gave Jeremy a considering look. “Think you could come in and give us a profile”
They walked Ray and Benton out to the parking lot. “We’ll catch up Sunday night. I’ll make sure Peter’s aware of our suspicions.”
With a wave, the Riviera rumbled out of the parking lot.
Walking back in the building, Jeremy stopped at the bottom of the steps. “Do you miss it?”
“Miss what? Being a cop?” He took hold of his Mate’s hands. “No. The politics, the pressure from the bosses and the media, especially on the nastier cases. Nope, don’t miss it. Maybe one day when it’s time to do something else, or maybe I’ll go to college and get that degree dad thought was so important, but not for a while.” He pulled Jeremy in for a kiss. “The pool tables are being delivered in an hour. Let me buy you lunch from our goth chefs before they get here.”
“What’s the punchline?” Ray glanced at Benton before returning his attention to the road.
“Punchline? I’m afraid I don’t understand your question.”
He sang the theme to the Twilight Zone. “Jeremy has a bad dream and he suddenly draws pictures of our vics then lays some Grimm’s fairy tale about your psychotic girlfriend on us.”
“I’ll have you know the Brothers Grimm are well-respected Clan Members and fine Hunters.”
“You were talking about the Brothers Grimm … Jacob and Wilhelm are members of the Ehre/Weisheit Clan.”
“Never mind that. I want to know how Jeremy is involved in these murders.”
“He’s not. Jeremy is well known throughout the North American Clans for his empathy and intuition. He was the one who warned us the last time Victoria came to town. You remember. It was when you shot me.” He glared at his partner. “If you did not believe Jeremy why did you ask him to come to the station and prepare a profile?”
“He’s a shrink and he’s into all that whips and chains stuff. If anyone would know about dominant and submissive personality it’d be someone like him.” Diefenbaker barked in Ray’s ear from the back seat. “What’s with the wolf?” Ray rubbed his ear.
“He’s quite distressed that you are defaming Jeremy’s character.”
“What am I supposed to think? If it was anyone else, I’d be hauling them to the station.”
“Things become a bit more convoluted when Vampires are involved. You have to keep an open mind and take advantage of the resources available.”
“A Canadian is going to tell a native born son how to run a murder investigation?” Vecchio sputtered.
“No, Ray. I am telling you as the Tallikut Clan Leader. I have known Jeremy since shortly after he was Turned. He has always been a protector of those on the fringes of normal.”
“Fine, but not everything bad that happens in Chicago is Victoria.” Ray huffed as he nearly slammed the door on his beloved Riviera.
“Of course not, Ray. Remember you’ll have two famous FBI agents helping you with the case along with resources you can only imagine.”
“Psychic, huh? Like that broad in The Enquirer … Ma used to bring them home from the grocery store. What’s her name, Dixon … Yeah, Jeanne Dixon.”
“You read The Enquirer, Ray?” Benton arched an eyebrow at him over the roof the green classic.
“Only for the pictures of Pamela Anderson and Marisa Tomei …” Ray winked at the Mountie. “Michael Paré.” He headed toward the precinct door without looking back.
Benton wondered if Ray was serious, or if he was teasing.
“Vecchio! My office.” Lt. Walsh yelled across the bullpen. He rolled his eyes when the Mountie and the wolf trailed in behind his senior detective. “You want to tell me why I’ve got a civilian and a retired cop in my conference room going through my files?”
Casting a glare at Fraser, Ray smiled at his lieutenant. “Dr. Jeremy Parks is a psychiatrist who specializes in abnormal behavior. Retired Detective Kowalski was an undercover specialist and Dr. Parks’ partner. Our third victim was found at a club owned by Parks and Kowalski. I know it’s unusual to have someone involved with the case go through the files, but I asked him to provide a profile on someone who would commit these types of murders. He was happy to offer his services to the department at no charge.”
Walsh studied the red-suited man standing at attention. “Volunteered, you say?”
“You know, Constable Fraser, ever since you escorted Mrs. Burns into this office last year there’s been some odd goings-on, like shrinks offering their opinions for free, and one of these days we’re going to sit down so you can explain it to me. Today is not that day. Make sure I sign off on any profile before it’s released to the precincts.”
“Of course, Lieutenant.”
“Get out of my office.”
Breathing a sigh of relief all three rushed out of the office while trying to not look like they were running. Heading to the conference room, they noticed Ray had returned with lunch for him and Jeremy.
“I left yours on your desk. I wasn’t sure where Walsh was going to send you. Better get it before Dief starts wrestling Huey and Dewey for it.” Kowalski chuckled as Vecchio hurried back to his desk while Fraser sat down across from Jeremy.
“You seem troubled.” Benton ignored his sandwich as he watched the psychiatrist scratch notes in his notebook.
“A very troubling picture is forming with this case. I don’t want to see any more victims but that may be what is required to form a full picture.” He ran his hand through his curls. “Someone has taken what can be a beautiful and powerful relationship and turned it into something twisted and ugly.”
“Can you break that down for those of us that like things simple, Doc?” Ray bit into his sandwich.
Jeremy pulled a photo out of each file. “This is one perpetrator, and this is one perpetrator. The third murder is back to the first perpetrator. You can tell by looking at the wounds. I believe the second is probably left-handed judging by the wounds.”
“So we got two perps?”
“No. You have two people doing the actual murder and one person directing. There may be trouble in the triad. If you look at the third body, the cuts show signs of great anger. It could be they’re jealous of the other person with whom they share their dominant’s attention.”
“Three’s odd for that type of relationship, isn’t it?” The tips of the detective’s ears turn pink.
“There’s nothing deviant about a Dominant/submissive relationship, Detective.”
“Maybe not to you.” Vecchio mumbled.
“Now look …”
“Ray … Ray … Ray …” Fraser interrupted the two Ray’s before they got started.
“Ears like a bat.” Ray glared at the three Vampires.
Jeremy turned to a fresh page and drew three circles. “For the sake of argument, let’s say you have a dominant personality. This person has an obsession and they have time to play the long game. Careful planning, few mistakes, never quite tipping their hand. Now this person will not want to get their hands dirty, so they find someone they can control, but also put in charge of others. We’ll label them the Alpha and Beta. At the bottom of the food chain, we’ll have our absolute submissive, or for the sake of this model, an Omega. They have an absolute devotion to the Alpha, will reluctantly submit to the Beta because it’s the Alpha’s wish they do so.” Jeremy paused to take a drink. “Our Alpha likes knives, so that’s the weapon of choice. The Beta and Omega have both murdered to show their commitment to their Alpha’s orders. The third murder was directed by the Beta, to set in the Omega’s mind the Beta is in charge when the Alpha is not available. That’s why there’s anger expressed in the wounds of the third victim.”
“They’re being trained?” Fraser asked.
“Well, Hell.” Ray laid his forehead against Jeremy’s shoulder.
Vecchio brought Lt. Walsh to the conference room to have Jeremy explain his conclusions. The man looked around the table like he was waiting for the punchline of an elaborate joke. When everyone remained silent, he threw his hands in the air.
“How do I give out this profile?”
“I can probably strip it down to a simpler form.” Jeremy offered.
“My ulcer would appreciate that, Dr. Parks.”
“I will have it for you tomorrow.” Jeremy stood to offer his hand to the Lieutenant.
“Give it Vecchio. He’ll be the primary until the FBI sticks their nose in the mix.”
“We do have a relationship with the local FBI office, Lieutenant. It may not be so bad as you imagine.” Fraser offered.
“I can imagine quite a bit, Constable.” With that, he headed back to his office.
“Did Walsh just quote Hans Solo?” Ray pulled his glasses off to wipe his eyes from his attempt not to laugh until the Lieutenant shut the door.
On that note, Jeremy gathered his notebook and Ray and headed back to the club.
~ May 2005 ~
Spring was sliding into summer and since Ray’s quip about hot male actors, Benton encouraged the detective to spend more time at the estate and the downtown penthouse. It gave Ray places to escape the demands of his family and Fraser didn’t have to deal with Francesca’s shenanigans. It had been sixty-five days since their serial killer had left them a body, and Peter had reported Danny Messer, of the New York Crime Lab, had been Turned Without Consent by Sonny Sassone. Parker was visiting Eric when a woman had dropped off Blade’s newest tenant and student. Tallikut’s Lead Hunter had nearly tripped over his feet when he got a look at Detective First Grade Stella Bonasera. The woman could be a twin to Victoria Metcalf. Vecchio had heard the Clan Leader and Lead Hunter arguing when Benton told him to keep that information quiet. They had been loud enough Ray didn’t think Peter needed a phone to be heard from New York.
“Maybe we should tell them.” Ray commented after the call ended and Fraser had stopped growling. “Victoria finds out about this Stella person it’s hard to tell what kind of trouble she’ll cause.”
“Ray.” Benton’s tone held a note of warning.
“Benny. The psycho could steal her identity. Do you really want Metcalf running around New York City pretending to be a cop?”
“Victoria only comes after me and people who are close to me, or who she thinks might be my Mate like she did with Ray. There is no need to air the Clan’s business to other Clans.”
“Like that decision never bit anyone in the ass.” Ray muttered. “I’m heading home, Benny. Am I picking you up at the Consulate in the morning?”
“I will be required at the Consulate all day, but we could meet for supper.” Benton was thankful Ray’s bouts of temper were quick, and he rarely held a grudge.
“Ma wants me at the dinner table tomorrow, but I’ll still stop and get you. Ma enjoys it when you come to dinner. She lives in the hope your good manners will rub off on the rest of us.”
“I would enjoy spending the evening with you, Ray.”
“It will be if I can get Tony, Maria, and Frannie out of the house.” Ray sighed. “We’re going to have a serious talk soon about setting a date for me to be Turned.”
“I don’t want you to have any regrets about missed opportunities to have children to carry on the family name.”
“Ma’s got Maria and Francesca to give her grandbabies. Besides all my girlfriends are ex-girlfriends for a reason. No one wanted to live with a cop’s hours on a cop’s salary.”
“Yeah, yeah. See you tomorrow, Benny.”
Dinner at the Vecchio’s was a disaster. The food was excellent as always. Mama Vecchio was a superb cook. It was Francesca’s behavior that made for a miserable evening. She stuck herself to Benton’s side and went as far as to shove her sister out of her chair at the dinner table to sit next to him. Mama Vecchio finally had enough and sent her youngest, pouting, to her room. The rest of the evening had passed amiably.
When he dropped Benton at the estate, Ray tried to apologize for his sister’s behavior.
“Think nothing of it, Ray, but you might want to think about sending Francesca to visit someplace that would calm her demeanor.”
“Where might that be.”
“Back in the day, they sent recalcitrant daughters to a nunnery to contemplate on their sins.”
Ray started to laugh so hard tears rolled down his cheeks. “Oh, Benny, who knew you had a sense of humor. That was a hoot.” Ray continued to chuckle.
“I was not being humorous, Ray.” Fraser pouted. “I have few duties tomorrow if you wish to pick me up at noon.” He watched as Diefenbaker squeezed out of the backseat of the Riviera. “Perhaps we should walk. Diefenbaker is becoming woefully out of shape since some people refuse to ignore his begging.” Ray and the wolf hybrid made a noise of disagreement with that plan.
“Good night, Ray.”
Benton enjoyed the memory of Ray’s laugh until the green Riviera pulled up in front of the Canadian Consulate the next morning.
“Get the wolf, Benny, we got body number four.”
Ray noticed Fraser and Dief staring at something across the room from the body. Their victim was a handsome man with wavy brown hair and eyes. Sort of reminded Ray of Jeremy, but he wasn’t going to be the one to give voice to that thought.
“What’s so interesting, Benny?”
“It would appear to be souvenirs from our other victims. I think we need to see Jeremy after we get the crime scene photos.”
“Why’s that?” Ray was getting a little irritated with the Clan always at the edges of his investigations. He was a good cop before he fell down the rabbit hole and met Benny … His investigations moved slower because he didn’t have a partner to split the work, but he had a decent closure rate.
“For one, our victim resembles Jeremy, and secondly, there appears to have been a drastic change in our serial killers’ relationship.” He pointed to a box containing a fancy chain, a college ring, and chain with a St. Jude’s metal.
“St. Jude turned out to be on the money.” Ray snarked.
“Ray, no need to be morbid.” Fraser chided.
Benton and Diefenbaker moved through the rest of the warehouse that was in the process of being turned into apartments. He caught the Crime Scene technician’s attention and pointed to the box.
“Whoever dumped the body here knew the debris from the construction would make evidence difficult to obtain.” Ray wrinkled his nose when Fraser licked something puddled on the floor.
Brushing the sawdust off the sleeves of his Armani jacket, Ray’s complaint came out as a whine. “Yeah, well, when we catch them, I’m taking my dry cleaning bill out of their hide.” He grumbled.
Their search of the upper floors was interrupted by Diefenbaker’s barking. “It’s coming from the basement.” Benton used Vampire speed to reach his companion. The wolf hybrid led the Mountie to a janitor’s closet hidden behind the furnace unit.
“Where’s the fire?” Ray panted when he caught up.
“You really must get yourself in better shape, Ray. I believe you should start running with me when I exercise Diefenbaker.”
“I don’t run. That’s what I have you for.” Ray snarked. They entered the room where Diefenbaker waited. “I think we found our primary crime scene.” Ray made a call on the radio for more technicians.
“There’s too much blood for just one victim. I believe the technicians will find all our victims were killed here.”
The men searched the rest of the basement looking for further clues about their killers. There were signs of things having been moved around, but there was no way to know if it was the perpetrators or the construction crews working on the building’s systems. Walking around the outside of the building they found several locked doors that provided entrance to the basement. Vecchio had stopped when his phone rang and while he was giving an update to Lt. Walsh, Benton and Diefenbaker continued around the building. When Ray finished his call, he walked around the corner of the building to find Fraser on his hands and knees with Diefenbaker examining the grass. The view of the Mountie’s ass in his uniform jodhpurs caused the detective’s mouth to go dry … And boy did he really need to get Benny moving faster on this whole Turning thing. There was just something about Benton that made Ray want to see the red serge coat on the floor along with the rest of the Mountie’s uniform.
“Benny, what in the name of all that’s holy are you doing?”
“Diefenbaker pointed out a wear pattern in the grass indicating someone traveling in and out on a regular basis. I was attempting to discern footprints, but with the lack of rain, the grass-covered ground is too hard to show anything but a crush pattern in the grass.”
“Ooookay. I’ll take your word for it.”
“Ray, were you staring at my ass?”
“You said ass.”
“I am perfectly aware of what I said, Ray.”
“But … You don’t swear … Ever.”
“I’m eighteen hundred years old, Ray. I assure I can and have cursed in several languages. I simply choose not too … Most of the time.”
“Huh. Yes, I was staring. I was also picturing that uniform wrinkled on the bedroom floor.”
“Ray! We’re working a very serious case, but I guarantee there will be Armani on the floor next to the uniform.” Benton growled, his eyes flashing a crystalline blue as he took a step towards the man meant to be his Mate. He stopped and reined in his Vampire nature as he remembered they were at a crime scene.
“I think we need to stake this place out tonight.”
They left the technicians to their work and returned to the precinct to prepare for a night of watching the warehouse. Diefenbaker grumbled all the way back to the station house.
“If that’s going to be your attitude, I’ll have Ness and Malone come by the precinct after their shift to take you home. No one wants to spend the night with a grumpy wolf.” Benton chastised.
With a huff, Diefenbaker flopped down on the back seat.
“I think you hurt his feelings.”
“I think we need to make a trip to The Farm. Living in the city has made him entirely too soft.”
“It was nice for a place out in the sticks.”
“Thank you, Ray. I prefer it to the city, but this is my duty station for now, so I get there when I can.”
“Think we could go there when I’m Turned? That way nobody can call screaming for me to solve their problems.”
Ray rubbed his face as he drove back to the station. Francesca constantly harping at him to set her up with Benton was wearing on his last nerve. He didn’t know if his mother was encouraging her, but she was certainly not doing anything to rein in her youngest. Being the baby of the family, indulging her had left them with a spoiled entitled young woman that Ray wanted to put over his knee and warm her ass … And not in the way some of Jeremy’s clients liked.
There was more than one day he wished his father was still among the living. The burden Ray’s mother had forced him to carry as the eldest child nearly bent him double some days. Since settling into a partnership with Benton, making friends with Stan and Jeremy, his burden had become considerably lighter. Stan understood the pressures of being a cop and Ray found himself talking to Jeremy about things he’d never dream of discussing with the department shrinks.
“We can go to The Farm whenever you wish, Ray. My homes are your homes.”
“Thanks, Benny.” Ray managed around the lump that suddenly appeared in his throat. Being a macho Italian cop, he cleared his throat and ask Benton where he wanted to grab lunch before bearding Lt. Walsh in his den about staking out the warehouse.
Diefenbaker ended up staying with Ray and Jeremy when they dropped by to show their psychiatrist photos of the crime scene. They were enjoying the food the two Rays had picked up at the food trailer. Benton had been asking about their remodeling project on the older clubs while they finished their meals.
“Your Crime Scene people were great about releasing the crime scene just a few days after we found the body.” Jeremy went to start a pot of coffee.
“Only set us back a couple days. The kids love the whole Steampunk thing, and everyone loves more room. Numbers are already up.” Ray sipped his beer.
“How’s your training progressing?” Benton questioned his former partner.
“Progressing.” I don’t get my ass handed to me near as much as I did. We’re going to get the New York club done then turn D.C. over to Iva and head to the wilderness to get out of the heat.”
“Benny and me were just talking about going to The Farm soon as we get this case closed. I’m surprised the Feds haven’t been making noises about taking … Oh, you’ve been talking to the Feds.” Ray rubbed his head.
“Eliot and James have meetings at Quantico this week. They’re going to check our progress when they return.”
“No pressure then.” Ray took a drink from the cup Jeremy set in front of him.
“Let’s see what happened with our fourth victim.” Jeremy picked up the file.
The two Rays were telling stories about their run-ins with State’s Attorney, Stella Kowalski, Ray’s ex-wife.
“She can be a real ball buster.” Vecchio complained.
“Try being married to her. Real Gold Coast girl. Sometimes I think the only reason she married me was to rebel against her parents.”
“She knows about your new spouse?” Ray chuckled.
“Haven’t seen her since I signed the divorce papers. None of my cases made it across her desk before I retired.”
Conversation stopped when Jeremy closed the folder. “This is the proverbial good news, bad news scenario.”
“Which is …” Benton prodded.
“Your body is most probably your Dominant’s Switch. He either tried to usurp the Dominant’s position, or the submissive allowed his jealousy and anger to overcome his control. Since you only have one body, I would say it’s the former. By allowing the submissive the freedom to eliminate the obstacle to his Dominant’s complete attention, the Dominant has cemented their alliance.”
“What about you?” Benton arched an eyebrow at the younger Vampire.
Jeremy reached into his notebook and pulled out a drawing. “I caught up on a lot of paperwork last night.” Ray and Fraser both studied the drawing. “It’s still from the watcher’s point of view. While I was doing the drawing, I concentrated on the emotions left over from the dream.” He looked directly at Benton. “I think Victoria is our Dominant. We both know she’s capable.”
“I’ll put out an APB and tell Walsh.” Ray was subdued as he dug out his phone.
“Maybe you should take Ray with you on your stakeout.” Jeremy suggested. “It’s almost like she knew our Hunters were thin on the ground.” Jeremy speculated. “I’ll make the other phone calls since you need to be on your way.”
Ray opened the seat of the foyer bench. He pulled out his sword and shoulder holster. Opening a safe built into the bench the blond pulled out his pistol and extra clips.
“Glasses?” Benton asked.
“Contacts.” Ray gave him a wide smile as he grabbed his jacket.
Jeremy handed him a backpack. His Mate started to protest, so he tightened the grip he had on Ray’s wrist. “For my peace of mind. A Human Mate and the possibility of a Rogue.” He whispered Vampire soft.
“You’re almost as big a Boy Scout as Fraser.” Ray whispered back as he grabbed his Mate’s mouth in a kiss.
Jeremy and Diefenbaker watched the trio head down the steps. He looked down at the wolf when he whined.
“I agree. Let me finish my task then we will find somewhere close by should we be needed. If the night passes peaceably, no one shall be the wiser.” Diefenbaker answered him with a bark. “We shall keep each other awake and I shall keep my Bond with Ray completely open.”
After calling Malone and Ness to convey their suspicions, Jeremy called Peter. The Lead Hunter cursed.
“I can’t leave New York right now. Turns out Messer has the soul of a Quinn, and Tim on the warpath because something happened to his brother would not be a pretty thing. As long as there is a whisper of Sassone in the city … That could lead to his boss, Paul Messer, doing something stupid, or even Victoria taking out Detective Bonasera … There’s a lot of balls in the air that affects us and Sylum. I’ll call Malone soon as I hang up.”
“Understood. If things remain quiet, we should be in New York in a week or two.”
“I’ll cross my fingers.”
Dawn was beginning to color the sky. Diefenbaker huffed as Jeremy scratched his ears. Several cars had passed through the neighborhood, but none had stopped at the warehouse.
“The night’s not over yet. Many nasty things have happened in the last throes of the dark.” Vocalizations expressed the wolf’s thoughts. “I fear I slip into the speech patterns of childhood under stress. You should be used to it living with Benoit.”
Jeremy chuckled at the huff he got in response.
Settled in the roomy back seat of the Riviera, Ray dug through the backpack Jeremy had handed him. First aid kit … Couple t-shirts … A lightweight hoody … Two insulated bottles, Ray’s favorite snacks, pens and paper, and a thermos of coffee. He opened one of the insulated bottles just enough to catch the scent of blood. He was confused until he remembered Jeremy saying, “A Human Mate”.
Jeremy had told him the stories about Ben and Sylum’s Leader, Nico losing their Mates before they could be Turned. The thought of it made him shiver.
“Hey, Stan …”
Ray ground his teeth. He hated the name Stanley, but for his friendship with Fraser, he would tolerate Stan to keep down the confusion. “Vecchio.”
“Next weekend we don’t have a serial killer or any other kind of case that keeps us at work, we’re headed to Montana. We’d like you and Jeremy to come.”
“Sure. I’ve never been to The Farm. It was something we were thinking about for Christmas, but summer would be cool, too. Jeremy wants me to meet more of the Clan.”
“The Clan was only 85 years old when Jeremy was Turned, so he is acquainted with the entire Clan. Ray wants to be Turned at The Farm, so he’ll be deciding who he wants to be his Sire.”
“What do you mean decide?!” Ray sputtered. “You’re my choice.” He poked Benton in the chest. Why would I want anyone else?”
Benton exchanged a helpless look over the back seat. If he Turned Ray, it would start a Bond with his Mate. “I did not want to presume.”
Ray choked off a laugh. He and Jeremy had both argued with the Clan Leader about his not telling Vecchio they were Mates.
“Congrats, Vecchio. We’ll be happy to be there. One thing about being married to the boss, you don’t get in trouble for taking time off.”
Ray’s expression turned thoughtful as they went back to watching the street and warehouse. There were a lot of Mates that were the same sex, Hell, there were even some that were siblings. It couldn’t be a sin if they were Soulmates … Right. It wasn’t like he could ask his parish priest. He thought about the paper in his wallet. When he’d talked to Jeremy about his less than brotherly feelings for Benny, he’d been surprised when the Vampire handed him a phone number.
“I’ve already called and cleared the path for you. Father Kiernan has been a Vampire and Priest for a very long time.”
“This is an overseas number.”
“Kiernan works at the Vatican.”
“The Vatican …” Ray had nearly choked.
“Just wait until you meet all the Presidents that are Vampires.”
“There are more than Teddy Roosevelt!?”
Jeremy had winked and taken their cups to the kitchen for a refill.
Ray was pulled out of his thoughts when Kowalski offered him a cup of coffee from the thermos Jeremy had pushed in his hands as they went out the door.
“What was Chicago like when you moved here?”
He handed Benton a cup of water and a teabag that brought a smile to his face. “I see Jeremy was busy while we chatted.”
“He takes good care of us.” Ray’s smile was shy.
“When we came to this area, it was inhabited by Native tribes and fur trappers. We established a compound where the estate stands today. During Little Turtle’s War, we established the estate as neutral territory. I remember we were using part of the barn for a hospital for both sides when Mihšihkinaahkwa or Little Turtle, the war chief of the Atchatchakangouen division of the Miami tribe was brought from the battlefield. His wounds were not life-threatening, but while he was healing we had many conversations. After the war, the government established a presence by building Fort Dearborn.” He took a drink of his tea. “It was at the Battle of Fort Dearborn during the War of 1812 that …”
Other than interruptions for questions, they passed the night listening to Benton’s stories and watching the neighborhood cats’ nighttime antics. The first light of day touched the sky when headlights came toward them. Everyone slid down in their seats.
The cab stopped in front of the warehouse. A young man with stringy, dirty blond hair dressed in a cheap suit climbed out then turned back to offer his hand to someone in the cab. The driver had gone to the trunk to set out their luggage. The first thing the three men saw was brunette curls and when she turned to hand money to the driver, they saw the beautiful face of Victoria Metcalf.
They waited until the cab pulled away and the man had picked up their luggage to follow Victoria across the grass to the basement door. Guns pulled, they quietly exited the car and approached the pair.
“Victoria Metcalf, you’re under arrest. Set the bags down and keep your hands where we can see them.” Vecchio demanded.
Both people spun around. The man started to reach for something under his suit jacket.
“Ah … Ah … Ah. Hands up.”
“Benoit.” Victoria started toward the Clan Leader until she heard the click of guns being cocked. “Detectives. So nice see you again. Now, be good boys and let me get reacquainted with Benoit.”
“Lady, you’ve got a hole in your bag of marbles if you think you’re getting anywhere near Fraser.” Kowalski sneered.
“So you’ve Mated?” She glared at wedding ring.
“Step away from the building.” Vecchio ordered.
“I don’t think I’ve been introduced to your new friend, Benoit.” Victoria calmly moved into the open.
“Chicago PD is all you need to know. Now, put your hands behind your head and lace your fingers.”
Ray heard car doors slamming. He sensed his Mate and heard Ness and Malone coming from the other direction. Benton continued his silence as Ray cuffed Victoria’s hands behind her back.
“Benoit, you know we’re meant to be together. You knew that back when I got rid of that boy … What was his name … Frederico. You know Detective you look exactly like …”
“Victoria! Enough. We are not Mates. Not meant to be together. We can’t keep going over the same ground.” Benton sounded tired.
“Benoit, I understand you’re angry about these boys I surround myself with, but I’ll leave them all behind if you’ll come away with me. Just the two of us. It’ll be like it was in Italy.”
Ness, Malone, Jeremy, and Diefenbaker arrived on the scene at the same time. Vecchio had moved from Victoria to handcuff the young man while Ray kept him covered. He had been quiet and submissive until Victoria mentioned leaving him behind then he burst into action. Only one hand had been cuffed when he grabbed the loose handcuff and hit the detective across the face.
Stunned, Ray shook his head trying to clear the cobwebs while Ray yelled for the man to freeze. Straightening as though he was going to obey, his hands were a blur of motion as he stabbed Vecchio several times in the chest before Ray tackled him and snapped the other cuff.
“Lay still before I kick you in the head. You’re only alive because we need a blood donor.” Being with Victoria, the kid had to know about Vampires. He dragged the man to sit under a nearby tree with Diefenbaker standing guard. “He moves, you take him down.” Diefenbaker barked before curling his lips back in the captive’s direction.
“RAY!!!” Benton screamed as he ran toward the heavily bleeding man as he crumbled. “Ray.” He lowered him carefully to the ground. “Ray.”
“Benny. We were supposed to go to Montana.” His voice trailed off.
“Ray. Let me Turn you. It’s not Montana, but we can do it here. You’ll move to the estate and we’ll live our lives.”
“Yes. I want to do that. I was going to call the priest when we got home.”
“We’ll call the priest after you’re Turned. Please, Ray.”
Jeremy moved forward to move Benton’s shaking hands to cut open the blood-soaked shirt and bare his throat. “Do you want someone else to do this?” He asked quietly.
“No. He’s mine. I will take care of him.” He pulled his Mate to his chest and sank his fangs into his throat.
Jeremy ran to the Riviera and grabbed the backpack he’d given Ray then ran to his car and grabbed a blanket. The new Vampire would be chilled when he regained consciousness. By the time he returned, Ness had called two of their Chosen that worked in their office to transport Victoria’s accomplice, Tyler Little. James and Eliot would handle Victoria.
She fumed as she watched them Turn the detective. Seeing Benoit’s reaction, she realized all this time she’d been trying to kill the wrong man. Seeing the ring on her Childe’s left hand, she cursed her faulty information with regards to those close to Benoit. Now that he’d found his true Mate, she could not kill him without killing her once upon a time husband. Well, there were other ways Mates could be split apart. She thought as she watched Benoit cradle the unconscious man. Every so often she would try to jerk away from the man holding her, testing for wandering attention. She needed to get someplace to regroup.
“You jerk one more time and I’ll knock you unconscious.” Ness growled.
Taken aback at his callous attitude, Victoria settled down to consider her options.
Benton felt the delicate Bond that started when he Turned Ray come to life as his Mate began to regain consciousness. He never in his long life been so terrified as when he saw Ray fall under the knife of Victoria’s latest puppet. He took the blanket Jeremy offered him with a stray thought wondering how he appeared at their stakeout prepared for a Turning. He spared a glance at Victoria. Seeing Ness had her under control, Benton noticed Ray and Diefenbaker standing guard over the man that tried to kill his Mate. A growl rose in his throat until Jeremy called him out of his rage by handing him a thermos.
His attention immediately went to Ray. “Ray.” His acknowledgment was a sigh.
“I know, Ray. Be still. We’ll take care of you.” He tilted the thermos to allow Ray to drink the warmed blood.
Benton smiled at his friend when Jeremy handed him another thermos.
“He can feed off Victoria’s boytoy when he finishes this one.” Benton gave his Clan member a look of surprise. “Needs must be met. Two of Ness’ Chosen Ones are coming to pick him up, but we need Ray on his feet. It’s going to be a long day. I imagine you, Ray, and the Crime Scene Unit will be quite busy once you open that door.”
“I fear you are right, Jeremy. You don’t happen to have a clean shirt in your magical backpack?”
“I do. We’ll get him cleaned up after he Feeds off Mr. Little. It should also make him easier to transport.”
With a nod, Benton’s attention went back to Ray. “Better?”
“Still hungry, but not as bad.” He looked down at his shirt. “Ugh. I’m glad I wasn’t wearing my Armani. I’d be really pissed right now.” He looked up at Benton. “Thanks, Benny.” He patted the Mountie on the cheek.
“Anything for you, Ray.”
“Let’s get him on his feet and changed before you call back-up and Crime Scene.” Malone reminded them.
“Of course, James, you’re right.” Benton rubbed his thumbnail over his eyebrow.
Ray stripped off his jacket and shirt. Jeremy handed him a t-shirt from his bag. “Not a big t-shirt guy.” He mumbled from inside the shirt as he pulled it over his head.
“Do I look like your stylist, Vecchio?” Jeremy snarked.
“Sorry. I guess things could have turned out a lot worse if you weren’t the second biggest Boy Scout in the Clan. At least he didn’t get blood on my jacket. It’s one of my favorites.”
Jeremy gave him a smirk as his Ray pulled their handcuffed suspect into the group.
“I brought breakfast.” He shoved Tyler Little toward Vecchio.
“What do you mean breakfast. Victoria is the only one …”
“Shut up and stand still. Psycho Barbie made you her fall guy, so you’re never seeing the outside world again once they throw your ass in jail.” Ray advised.
Fraser grabbed him by the upper arm. “You’ve watched us Feed, Ray. You need to do the same thing. We’ll make sure you don’t take too much.”
Nodding, the new Vampire dropped his fangs as he tilted Little’s head to the side. When he started to drink, he tasted the man’s fear and anxiety at being Fed on by the man he’d tried to kill. He was beginning to squirm when Ray withdrew his fangs and licked the wounds closed.
“Now if someone had a cup of coffee, I could wash the taste of murderer out of my mouth.”
Jeremy pulled out one more thermos. “I believe Ray left just enough.” He handed Vecchio the last of the coffee.
“I swear to never make fun of you being over prepared ever again.” He savored the caffeine hitting his system. “You’re a lucky man, Stan.”
“That’s why there’s a ring on it.”
He smirked as he was getting ready to put Diefenbaker back to watching Little when a patrol car pulled up. After introductions, they gathered up Little to transport him to the 2-7. Ray was on the phone with Walsh, so the Lieutenant would be prepared, and would send a Crime Scene Unit. It was hard to believe it was only 8 o’clock in the morning.
Malone and Ness loaded Victoria in their car to take her to the estate until they could contact the Council. Ray gathered anything of his out of Vecchio’s car, letting Diefenbaker into the backseat, before he settled in the passenger seat of their SUV. He reached across the console to pull Jeremy to him for a deep tongue wrestling kiss.
“I think we need to head home before we’re arrested for incomplete exposure.”
“I promise to completely expose you when we get home.” Jeremy chuckled at his Mate’s mangling of the English language.
After his call, he picked up the keys Little had dropped and unlocked the door. Inside was decorated like the poshest hotel suite on one side of a wall. The other side looked like servants’ quarters, which was how Victoria appeared to have treated Little. Of the third man, there was no sign. They finally found the door that led into the building’s basement. They also found Little’s tool and trophy boxes. Benton stuck close to Ray knowing this burst of energy would soon run out and he wanted to be nearby when it happened.
By the time they got to the estate, Ray was dragging. Benton saw to it he got to Feed, shower and was tucked in before he went in search of James and Eliot, and to check on Victoria. When he couldn’t find any of them, he went looking for Bob or Carolyn. He finally found a note on the refrigerator.
Victoria caused the car to run off the road and over an embankment.
At the hospital with James and Eliot. Carter’s releasing them this evening.
For the first time in many years, Benton was nearly blinded by the rage welling up inside. Hearing the handle on the refrigerator beginning to creak under his grip. He had just gotten himself under control when he heard a car pull up in front of the house. Before anyone made it inside, he armed himself before heading back to his rooms. He had to protect his Mate until he knew Victoria was recaptured or had left town.
He was stretched out on top of the covers dozing when his phone vibrated across his nightstand. He didn’t know the number, but he answered anyway.
“Benoit, my love.”
“Victoria.” He hissed.
“Still angry, I see. Wanted to let you know, you don’t have to worry about your precious detective. Since I don’t want to kill you … He gets to live. Apologize to Malone and Ness. They’ve gotten civilized since their days chasing Capone. I’ve already left Chicago, so don’t go tearing up the city trying to find me.”
The line went dead.
~ August 2005 ~
Ray Vecchio slouched down in his chair, legs stretched out, a cup of coffee resting on his stomach. Once they arrested Tyler Little for four murders, he’d been buried in paperwork. Thankfully, his partner’s specialty, next to licking disgusting things, was paperwork. Lt. Walsh had insisted any time off he wanted had to wait until Little was sentenced. So, their planned getaway to Montana had been postponed until … Now. Sitting on the wide porch of The Farm, Ray was tempted to stay longer than his two-week vacation. Realistically he knew he was a city boy, and all this quiet and fresh air would drive him stir crazy in a month, but for now, it was nice that the biggest demand his time was to appear at mealtimes.
As bad as it sounded in his own head, he was glad to be away from his sister. Ever since she’d gotten a job as the administrative assistant at the station, Francesca had done everything except sprawl naked across her desk in an attempt to snare Fraser.
Benny had been a perfect gentleman in the wake of her shenanigans, though he was constantly embarrassed by her actions. Ray had noticed a drawn exhausted look to the Vampire lately and wondered what was going on with the Clan that seemed to be dragging him down. Ray had sworn his loyalty to Benny and the Clan, and Fraser often shared the inner workings of the Clan with him … Bouncing ideas off him like he was his co-Leader or something. He was pulled out of his thoughts by something that sounded like two tomcats hissing at each other. He crept to the corner of the porch in order to hear what was being said.
“You have to take care of this. It’s affecting your health.” A voice Ray recognized as Jessica Fletcher. Benton had introduced her as his Clan Advisor.
“It is my choice when I tell him. I don’t want him to feel any pressure.”
“A half-formed Bond will continue to pull you down until you are of no use to anyone, and unable to protect your Mate.” She scolded.
“You made me your Advisor, so I’m advising you … TELL HIM.”
“What if he rejects me because I’m male?”
“What if he doesn’t? You said he called the priest.”
Ray didn’t hear the rest of the conversation because he had slid down the wall of the house. Benny was his Mate!!??s He looked exhausted because of him. He’d never done or said anything to indicate he was averse to same sex relationships. It had to be him … He’d talked to Father Kiernan a few days after he’d been Turned. When Benny explained the Clan’s hierarchy, he’d explained his Mate would be the co-Leader of the Clan. His mind went back to his earlier thought about his after hours conversations with Fraser. Holy shit! He’s Benny’s Mate!
It was a good thing he didn’t need to breathe, or he would have hyperventilated. When he got his thoughts back in order and back in his chair, it hit him that he was reason Ben looked exhausted. ‘Half-formed Bond’ Jessica had said. Apparently, he was going to have to take the bull by the horns because Fraser would never make a move while he thought he was some blushing Catholic virgin. Fine. He needed a plan. With a smile on his face, he went in search of Jeremy and Stan.
Benton was beginning to feel like one of the mice the cats regularly carried out of the grain bins. Every time he turned around Ray was there. Ray would flash a smile, bump their shoulders together or run his hand across Benton body before disappearing again. The Clan Leader finally snapped one afternoon when Ray brushed against him in the hallway.
“That’s it.” Benton pushed the detective against the wall. “Do you know what you’re doing?” His lips a breath from Ray’s ear.
“I do.” Ray panted though he didn’t need the breath.
“You have poked the wolf one too many times, so you better be very, very sure.” He growled as he ran his fangs down his Mate’s throat.
“Show me what you got, Benny.”
Ray shoved Benton away from him. God, he loved the strength he got as a Vampire and ran toward the master suite. He heard a growl before he heard his Mate coming after him. Ray was only a few steps from the king sized bed when Benton’s tackle carried them to the center of the bed.
In a move he hadn’t used since he was in uniform, Ray flipped them, so he straddled the trim hips with his hands planted on the broad chest. He teased full lips before allowing his passion to deepen the kiss. They broke apart. Ray sat back and pulled off his shirt then started working his way through Benny’s multiple layers while trading kisses. When Ray went for his belt buckle, Fraser’s hands stopped him.
“Ray, you’re sure?”
“Oh yeah. Jeremy helped, and Stan is VERY limber.” He blushed.
With the picture of his Mate watching Jeremy and his Ray, Benton flipped Ray under him, then finished stripping them both to their skin. When Ray sank into his body, and as they neared their second climax, Ray sank his fangs into his Mate’s throat, causing fireworks to go off like New Year’s over Lake Michigan. His brain felt like Benny was everywhere. He could feel what his Mate felt and the loop of emotions bouncing back and forth drove both men over the edge. Fangs pulled back he licked the wounds before collapsing on top of Fraser, exhausted.
“Jeremiah, whatever in the world has got you grinning like a mule eatin’ thistle?” William Clark swung down from his horse.
Jeremy waited until Clark’s Mate, Meriwether Lewis also stepped down and dropped his reins, ground tying his horse until they took them to the stable.
“Now, Will, Jeremiah has never been a particularly dour person.”
“I know, but I have not seen such a smile since his wedding reception.”
“I believe our Clan Leader has finally settled his Bond.”
“Good. Half a Bond was sapping his strength.” Spurs jangled as Lewis came up on the porch for a glass of iced tea.
“How do we know all this?” Clark gathered the reins of both horses to take them to the barn.
“A change in the air.” Jeremy winked at the blond.
“I don’t believe in your hocus pocus.” He started to walk away.
“You obviously need to spend more time with Blair.” Jeremy teased.
“You need to bring your Mate out of the wilderness more often.”
Lewis snorted. “Like that’s going to happen.” He finished his tea before following Clark to take care of his horse.
The pall that had hung over The Farm was gone when the Clan sat down to dinner. Benton looked rested and relaxed while Vecchio wore a perpetual smirk.
On the flight back to Chicago the new Mates were making plans to move Ray from the house he shared with his family to the estate. They talked about the situation with Francesca and what or if they should tell Ray’s family.
Jeremy shook his head. “From what you’ve said, I would never tell your family about the Vampire thing. Your mother would probably be fine with the lovers thing, but Francesca has built such an illusion or delusion about Benton she may never accept anything that doesn’t fit that delusion. I hate to say it, but you might be safer at the estate when she finds out the object of her fantasies is in love with her brother.”
“Sounds like she’s got a big ‘ol hole in her bag of marbles.” Kowalski chuckled from where he was propped against Jeremy reading a book.
It was a humorous but sad truth. Ray had tried to support his sister against their mother’s campaign for grandchildren, but he couldn’t be home all the time. While she was under pressure, she was also spoiled, making for many loud arguments among the Vecchio’s. Ray didn’t realize how much pressure he was under to conform to his mother’s ideals until he started spending time at the estate. He would be walking a tightrope between his old life and new.
~ Autumn 2005 ~
With careful time management and doing Saturday night dinners with his mother, Ray and Benton had been able to dodge Francesca. Being at the estate full-time kept her from riding with him to and from work, which meant she was usually in a bad mood when she came in the door. Francesca always assumed whatever she wanted her mother would provide, or more specifically, his mother would order him to do whatever it was his sister wanted. Now that he actually had a life of his own, the rest of his family was having to take care of themselves. He still took care of the upkeep on the house, but he’d turned the monthly bills over to his sister, Maria.
Thanksgiving was in a couple weeks, and they would be having dinner with the Vecchio’s, so they could spend the evening with the Clan. Just yesterday, Frannie had rubbed up against Benny, and in what she thought was a sexy voice asked if he was coming to dinner with Ray. Before Fraser could answer, Lt. Walsh had walked up behind his sister and asked if she was pushing to attend another sexual harassment seminar. Red with embarrassment, she retreated behind her desk with a glare at the three men.
For the first time in his long life, Benton was content. Though he’d been happy when he and John were together, it wasn’t the same as being with your Mate. He was enjoying introducing Ray to all the ways two men could have sex, and Ray was a quick study and fun in bed. He was just as adept when it came to learning the workings of the Clan and how he could be the most help to his Mate. His sword training was an entirely different matter. He finally had to turn his training over the Jeremy. He was sure training the two Rays together would be a disaster, but it seemed having someone to compete with settled his Ray down to seriously train.
His last phone call with Victoria was also a contributing factor to his becoming more settled. Knowing she wouldn’t kill Ray because it would also turn him to ash didn’t mean the woman still wouldn’t cause mischief in his life, but it was a relief to know he and Ray would survive. If he could just get Francesca to leave him alone, his life would be damn near perfect. He was considering telling her he was in a committed relationship. Though she was Ray’s sister, he was afraid she might become obsessive and attempt to learn the identity of his partner.
~ Thanksgiving Dinner 2005 ~
It was almost over. A half hour, forty-five minutes at the most and they could go home. It surprised Ray how quickly the Clan’s houses had become home. Getting away from the pressures of his family had changed his personality. He was still snarky, but there was less of a cutting edge to his attitude. Having sex on regular basis could be also contributing to his better mood, but he didn’t want Benny’s smirk to get any bigger.
Dinner had been enjoyable. He’d actually had adult conversations with his mother and sister, Maria, plus, Frannie was on her best behavior. Maria and Tony were loading the dishwasher while Ma was dishing up dessert. Benny had stepped out on the porch with Diefenbaker to allow the wolf to take care of business. His Mate had been in the background all day, it was time to remind him he wasn’t being ignored.
“Hey.” He bumped shoulders with Benny.
“Ray.” Benton gave him a soft smile.
“It hasn’t been terrible.”
“No it has not, but I fear you may have tempted Fate.”
“I didn’t think you were superstitious.”
“Fate and I are very old friends, Ray. I try to never tempt her while she’s weaving.”
They leaned against each other as they watched Diefenbaker stalking the fat squirrels living in the old trees in the Vecchio’s backyard. Relaxed and enjoying the contented hum of their Bond, they didn’t hear the door open until they heard a gasp from Francesca.
“So that’s why you were never interested in me! You’re fucking my brother!” She squawked.
Diefenbaker came running when he saw the commotion as Francesca slapped her brother with all her strength. As she wound up for another swing, Benton and Diefenbaker stepped between them. Benton grabbed her wrist before she could connect.
“Let go of me. I’ll yell rape if you don’t get your filthy faggot hands off me!”
“Frannie! Shut the hell up. You want the whole neighborhood to hear?” Ray stepped around to stand shoulder to shoulder with his Mate, gray eyes flashing the color of ice.
“I don’t care who hears. Just wait ‘til I get to the station tomorrow. Everyone will know about my brother the queer and his faggot boyfriend!” She screeched.
“So, you’d rather see me dead than be bisexual or gay? You better be careful what you wish for little girl. Who do you think pays for the roof over your head and the food you put in your mouth?”
“Yes, I’d rather see you dead. You took everything. You took away my chance at Fraser. I’d rather see you dead than disgrace this family.”
Francesca was suddenly grabbed from behind and given a solid smack across the mouth by her mother. The woman was so incensed with her daughter’s behavior she began to deride her in Italian. Fraser’s Italian was a little rusty, but he was able to get the gist of the tirade. Mama Vecchio was not happy with her youngest daughter’s behavior and told her if she said one word against Ray and Benton outside of the household she would find herself on the street. For if she hated her brother for loving Benton than she also had to hate her favorite cousins, Gino and Frankie, who were both in same sex relationships.
“You cost me my job at the 2-7 … Benny or me get hurt because we didn’t get backup and I will see you fired. I’ll make sure no one in Chicago will hire you. Are we clear?”
“I’m serious as a heart attack, Francesca. Something happens to Benny and I’ll go straight to Inspector Thatcher and make sure the full weight of Canada comes down on your ass. I can’t believe my own flesh and blood is such a bigoted bitch.”
Ray looked up to see his sister, Maria and her husband, Tony, staring wide-eyed at the scene on the back porch. “You got something to add, Maria … Tony?” Ray growled.
“Nope. Glad you found someone. Knowing Benton, he was committed before he invited you to move in with him.”
“Yeah, we are. We’re thinking about doing the whole wedding thing like some friends of ours.”
With that announcement, Francesca burst into tears and fled to her room.
Mama Vecchio stood with her hands on her hips giving both men a glare that scared many a misbehaving child. She finally got her temper under control enough to speak English by the time she was done sizing them up. Patting both men on the cheek her voice was quiet when she spoke.
“You will keep your mother informed of these wedding plans. I would see my children happy before I join your father, and I can see this one makes you happy, Raymundo. I have not seen you this content since your father died and you became head of the family.”
“Yes, Mama. What about Francesca?”
“You let me worry about your sister. Part of that tirade is my fault for pressuring her to settle down. You listen to your Amante. He is a good influence and will help you remember the good manners your mother taught you.”
Ray engulfed his mother in a hug. “Thank you, Mama. I love you.”
“Yes, thank you, Mrs. Vecchio.” Benton added.
“What Mrs. Vecchio. I am your Mama, too, capisci?”
“Sì, grazie gentilmente.” Benton gave her a slight bow.
“Even better, Raymundo, that he speaks Italian.” She gave them a broad smile before heading back into the house.
After taking a few minutes to settle themselves, they gathered their coats and headed home.
After talking with Jeremy at the Clan’s Sunday dinner, the next time Ray saw his mother, he gave her the psychiatrist’s card and suggested she encourage Frannie to talk to someone. When his mother gave him a dirty look, Ray pressed on.
“I know you think we should go to the priest with everything and believe me the priest I talked to about my relationship with Benny was very helpful, but Frannie is not going to talk to the priest that baptized her about her problems with mine and Fraser’s relationship.”
Of course, the part she commented on was that he talked to a priest. “How did I not know this?”
“See, this is the reason we don’t talk to the priest in your parish. The whole neighborhood knows what’s going on before we get out of the church.” He saw her frown but pushed on. “Jeremy, the man on the card, introduced me to a Monsignor he knows.”
Straightening her shoulders and giving a sniff like she smelled something bad … “And what parish does this Monsignor serve?” She sounded as haughty as any Gold Coast matron.
“The Vatican.” Ray let that just lay between them.
“Raymundo, how is that you have come to know such people? Surely a man that lives as simply as Benton would not know these powerful people.”
Ray thought carefully before answering his mother. “Mama, I am going to tell you a story, but you have to swear on the life of your children not to tell anyone.”
Seeing the serious look on her son’s face, she agreed.
“I almost died this summer.” Gasping with her hand over her heart, she started to ask questions until Ray stopped her. “Let me finish. I almost died, but I didn’t because Benny saved my life. He asked me if I wanted to live and when I said yes, I was Turned. He Turned me into a Vampire just like him.”
She started to smile thinking he was having a joke at her expense, but when his expression remained serious, she reconsidered. “You are telling me your Benton is a Vampire?”
“He became a Vampire in 186 AD and he is my soulmate. The Monsignor was Turned by King Arthur, and now that you know, you are one of my Chosen Ones. Chosen Ones help hide our existence and in return, we protect them and their families.”
She stared at her son for several minutes before getting up and going to the study. When she returned, she had two snifters of brandy.
“I don’t know about you, Raymundo, but I need a bit of fortification.”
Taking several sips of the liquor, she seemed to be gathering her thoughts to ask questions. Ray counted it as a win that she wasn’t running down the street yelling for the priest.
“Since you are sitting here in the daylight, I’m guessing some of the tales are not true … Especially the one about crosses.” He nodded, so she continued. “Is the one about drinking blood true?”
‘Yeah, but we don’t kill people. I mean, we can, but the good Vampires try not to. A few years ago, some of our doctors and scientists developed a way to clone blood.”
Suddenly she took a big swig of brandy. “King Arthur! He’s alive?”
“Yes, he’s a Vampire. I’ll invite you to supper sometime and meet some other members of my Clan.”
She paused a few more minutes then tears welled in her eyes. She came over and hugged him to her bosom. “You almost died.”
‘Yeah, Ma. I was stabbed by a man we were arresting.”
“Then I am thankful Benton saved your life and to know you will be here to watch over future Vecchios. I will add you and your … What did you call it … Clan, to my prayers.”
“Thank you, Ma. You don’t know how afraid I was you would be like Francesca and turn me away.”
“We are Italian. We are a passionate people. We will be loud and emotional, but there will always be love in this home, Raymundo. I will talk to Francesca about seeing your friend. Is he like you?”
“Yeah, Ma. Jeremy’s a bit over 100 years old. He’s a good guy … Married to a retired cop.”
“One of your friends?”
“Naw. He was an undercover cop.”
“I may go with your sister, so I can get out of the house and see more of the city.”
“You’re taking this awful well.”
“I’m an old woman and not much excites me anymore, but when I was a young girl in the old country I would sometimes see things my elders assured me was my fanciful imagination.”
“I need to go. I’m supposed to pick Benny up at the Consulate. Love you, Ma.” He bent over to place a kiss on her cheek.
“Tell him I will come to supper on Sunday. Maria can cook for her family for a change.”
“I’ll pick you up at the church.” Feeling lighter than he had in months, Ray turned up the radio and headed for downtown.
~ September 2006 ~
The two Rays were sitting at a picnic table by The Gothic Diner outside Lost Children of the Blood. Jeremy and Benton were at the food trailer picking up dinner for the two couples. The year had been kind to Tallikut Clan. Ray had worked hard and stood proudly by his Mate’s side when it came to the business of the Clan.
He had been amazed at the multitude of things where the Clan had an interest, but soon came to understand how being long lived affected your outlook on business. You could play the long game and live to see the results. He and Benny had become regulars at the club, and not just when they needed to Feed. Life with Fraser was a new adventure nearly every day. Who knew the stick up his ass Mountie could be so adventurous.
Jeremy and Stan had become good friends. Sometimes when Benny had to travel on Clan Leader business and he couldn’t get away from work, he’d stay in their guest room with Diefenbaker. Stan could still kick his ass in sword training, but he was getting better.
Francesca had been seeing Jeremy once a week for the past six months, and though they would never be as close as they once were, they were repairing their relationship. They even spent a civil Christmas together, though Benny had refused to go with him. At the station, Fraser was polite but cold with his sister. Benny loved his mother, and his mother loved the members of the Clan. She was like a fangirl when Ness and Malone would tell her stories about the Prohibition days in Chicago. Ray made them all swear to never tell his mother Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Lisa were Vampires living in Rome.
They had gone upstairs for coffee and desert when Jeremy’s phone rang. After “Hello”, he quietly listened until he said he would pass on the information. Face pale he grabbed his Ray’s hand and looked across the coffee table at his Clan Leaders.
“That was Peter. Danny Messer has gone missing.”
~ Finis ~