Change Is Hell

Sylum Advent 2020

Title: Change Is Hell
Fandom: Sylum Universe: Due South; Historical Figures
Characters/Pairings: Jeremiah Parks/Ray Kowalski; Benton Fraser/Ray Vecchio; Trudeau, Whiskey, Fand, Russell Ryan, Daniel Ocean, Original Characters, Members of Sylum Clan Members of Tallikut Clan
Rating: PG-15
Summary: There comes a time in every Vampire’s life when they must leave one life behind and re-invent themselves. Mostly the changes are seamless. Occasionally, the dream of a new life can become a nightmare.

When silence took over the apartment, Jeremiah went in search of his Mate. Between Ray and their two young dogs, the only time their home was silent was when they were all asleep. He stopped when he heard Ray’s voice coming from the living room. Looking around the corner to get the lay of the land, Jeremiah paused before rushing into the midst of the chaos that usually accompanied Ray and their dogs. What he saw when he peeked around the corner caused Jeremiah to dig his phone out of his pocket to film what was happening.

Whiskey and Fand were sitting on the couch giving their undivided attention to Ray, who was sitting on the coffee table talking quietly to the dogs.

“Now, I know you have not been with us very long, and I know you love this place as much as Jere and I do, but we need to live somewhere else for a while. Hopefully, you’ll still be with us when we’re able to move back …” He paused when his voice broke. “And I promise we’ll pick a house we know you’ll like. We will make sure the yard’s not full of sticker bushes and stuff that will hurt your noses and feet. That just wouldn’t be buddies.” The two pups sat with their heads cocked and ears perked in reaction to Ray’s serious tone. “We have to fly to Las Vegas to pick out a new house for us, but Uncle Peter has to be in Chicago for a couple of weeks, so he’s going to stay here and take care of you while we’re gone.” At the mention of ‘Uncle’ Peter, tails began to wag. “Enough serious stuff.” Ray stood, moving to grab his jacket from the closet. “Pitter-patter, let’s get at ‘er.” He grabbed a tote full of dog toys and led the two dogs out the door.

Jeremiah stopped the video before allowing himself to move. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry over the conversation. He knew it made the love he had for his Mate swell to the point where he could feel it overflow into their Bond. He knew Ray was having a hard time coming to terms with leaving the place he’d lived his entire life, but they did need to leave for a few years. Jeremy Parks was too well known in New York, and he wanted to take a step back from the clubs and concentrate more on his counseling practice. After a lot of meetings with his managers and Ray, he turned the day to day operation of Prism Enterprise, Inc. over to Ray. He discussed the reports and any changes with him, but his Mate had proven to have a good eye for what people wanted.

The Las Vegas club was doing okay, but Jeremiah felt they needed to be more hands-on to see if they couldn’t boost the club to the level of the other cities. There had been discussions with their Operations Manager about moving the club. It might be time to investigate Reno or Tahoe to see if the cities had grown enough to support a club. If not, maybe Phoenix would be more viable than Las Vegas.

His phone ringing startled Jeremiah from his thoughts. Hanging up, Jeremiah made a note to tell Ray they needed to visit one of the recreational centers they sponsored to check on a couple of the kids that were putting themselves at risk. He hoped they could help before the teens escalated their behavior to a point where all that was left to do was hire an attorney. Shoving his phone in his pocket, he headed outside to enjoy time in the sun with his Mate and their fur babies.

Everything else could wait.

~*~*~*~

Trudeau followed Benton and Vecchio into the Chicago Clan house. The two men had been speaking in sharp voices trying to contain the anger attempting to escape their control. The former police dog showed his exasperation with his Alpha and his Mate by curling up in his bed with his back to the room.

“What’s with the mutt?” Vecchio huffed as he hung up his overcoat.

“He’s as done with this topic as I am.”

Ray looked at Benton then at Trudeau. He threw his hands in the air before stomping off to the bedroom. Man and beast both released a deep sigh. A low rumble escaped from the black German Shepherd’s throat.

“Ray is NOT a drama queen.” Benton scolded. Trudeau snorted. “Okay, so perhaps he is being a bit dramatic about this.” The Clan Leader conceded. When another snort came from the direction of the dog bed, his head dropped in defeat. “I happen to enjoy the passionate part of his Italian heritage.” A smile broke over the handsome face. Trudeau let out a sharp bark. “I do beg your pardon.” Benton blushed. “That was too much personal information. I am aware your senses are superior.”

Trudeau was relieved when the Alpha finally followed his Mate into their bedroom. He knew far more about their mating habits since he came to live with his two-legged packmates than he ever wanted to know.

Two days later, Trudeau danced around Benton’s legs as they walked across the parking lot to the Riviera. Benton and Ray were taking him to stay with RayK and Jeremiah so they could fly to the Clan’s house, Igliut, at Fort McKay, Alberta. He liked staying with them. RayK made a great packmate. He was always ready to run and play.

~*~*~*~

Trudeau had been in training to be a police dog. He learned all the verbal commands and hand signals. He chased after people wearing nasty tasting suits, jumped over fences, got used to loud noises, and crawled through small spaces. Trudeau repeated the same things over and over in front of many Humans all dressed the same. Then came the day, his trainer call ‘Graduation Day’. He was once again asked to perform the same actions for another group of Humans. Respond to verbal commands, hand signals, and chase the same person he had chased forever. The running man was never angry and never yelled even when he was repeatedly knocked down and attacked, so when the time came to attack the running man, again … Trudeau sat down and looked at his trainer as if to ask, ‘Why am I attacking this man, again?’.

Exasperated at the snarky attitude of his dog, his trainer, Steve, made a phone call after the class had been released. He looked down at Trudeau while he waited for someone to answer the phone. “You should thank all the Gods and Goddesses that look out for dogs. I just happen to know the perfect place for you.” The trainer sighed with relief when someone answered. “Bob … Steve Phillips … I’m great. Are you still looking for a dog for Benton? … Great, is he in town? … I’ve got someone for him to meet. He’s even named after a Prime Minister … He flunked his graduation when he was asked to chase Brady one too many times … Yeah. He refused. He sat and looked at me like I was stupid for asking … We’ll be at the house in an hour.”

When the door opened, Trudeau inhaled the scent of the man in front of him. The scent said Alpha when the man greeted Trainer Steve, Trudeau knew he had found a new home. When they entered the house, Trudeau pulled away from Trainer Steve to sit at the heel position next to Benton.

“Good evening, Steve. Did Bob call for someone to Feed?” He asked the Tallikut Chosen One.

“No. I called Bob earlier about Trudeau. It seems to have been the right call.” He grinned at the German Shepherd leaning against Benton’s leg.

“Umm, thank you kindly for bringing my dog home.” Benton rubbed his thumbnail across his eyebrow as he looked between the trainer and the dog. “Come in. You can introduce me to my dog and stay for dinner.”

“Steve handed Benton Trudeau’s leash. Benton Fraser … Trudeau … Trudeau … Benton Fraser. Thanks for the dinner invite.” He handed Benton a file. “Let me tell you about the black German Shepherd named Trudeau.”

It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship between man and dog.

~*~*~*~

Pulling into the parking lot of Lost Children of the Blood, the German Shepherd’s sensitive nose picked up the scent of two strange dogs. He was so busy trying to figure out what his nose was telling him, he wasn’t paying attention to his Human until something tugged on his tail. He turned to glare at Benton.

“If you had been paying attention, I would not have to resort to such childish tactics.” Benton scolded. Trudeau gave a sharp bark. “I know you are excited to see Ray, but there is something I need to tell you before we get out of the car.”

“Benny, do you seriously expect the dog to understand what you’re saying?”

“I am quite disappointed in you, Ray. You have lived with first Diefenbaker, and now Trudeau long enough to know he understands.” Benton lectured.

“Yeah, yeah. You get my point.”

With a huff, Benton turned his attention back to Trudeau. “As I started to say … A short time ago, Ray and Jeremiah adopted two puppies from the shelter, so I expect you to be on your best behavior. You are coming into their territory, so I want you to mind your manners.” Trudeau huffed. He always minded his manners when he stayed with Ray and Jeremiah.

Jumping out of the car, he trotted to the gate, giving a bark to let the people he could see and smell on the other side know he wanted to come in. When the gate opened, Ray kneeled to greet him.

“Hey, Furface. Come in and meet the new members of the Clan.” He reached out and ruffled the black fur. Whiskey and Fand are going to love you, Buddy.” Ray stood and allowed Trudeau in the gate. “Oh hey, Ben … Vecchio. You can come in, too.” Ray grinned as he closed the gate behind the two men.

Trudeau was running out to greet Jeremiah when he noticed the pups at Jeremiah’s feet. Bold as brass, Fand walked up to the strange dog that dared enter her yard. Once it was understood by Trudeau who was in charge, she allowed Whiskey to greet him. Glad to make a new friend, Whiskey was all over Trudeau, encouraging him to come and play. Knowing how excitable Whiskey could be, Fand moved to Jeremiah, asking to be picked up. There was no way she was taking the chance of getting run over by the larger animals.

“Smart girl.” Jeremiah whispered as he carried his little girl over to where his Mate was talking to Benton and Ray.

When they turned around to watch Whiskey and Trudeau, the German Shepherd finally capitulated to the antics of the Mountain Cur pup and was racing around the yard in a game of keep away involving a stuffed penguin.

“I have not told him you are moving.” Benton watched his four-legged friend acting like a pup.

“Should we draw up a joint custody agreement?” Jeremiah chuckled at his Clan Leader’s distress.

“What?” Vecchio looked between the other three. “What am I missing?”

“Trudeau will be in a terrible strop when he finds out Jeremiah and Ray are moving.”

“Are you going to be stuck in the wilds of Montana, too?”

“No, we thought we’d pick someplace warmer to live for a few years.”

“Where are you going?”

“We’re still working on that.” Ray gave Jeremiah a glare that made the other Vampire shrug his shoulders.

“We’re flying to Las Vegas a few days after your return from Igluit.”

“House hunting?” Benton smiled watching Trudeau playing with Whiskey.

“Among other things. Neither of us has spent a lot of time west of Chicago except to visit the clubs in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, so we’ll be dealing with culture shock.”

“Have you considered Canada?”

“Are you unhinged? It’s like a dessert when it comes to sports.” Ray growled.

“Desert.”

“What I said.” He jogged off to where the dogs were playing.

“It’s been hard for him. He’s been here his whole life.” Jeremiah watched Ray wrestle with Trudeau and Whiskey. “He’s going to miss Trudeau. After Diefenbaker died, I did not think he’d be interested in another dog for a few years, but he constantly surprises me.”

“No more than the mutt will miss him.” Vecchio looked at Benton. “He’s going to make us miserable.”

“I fear you are correct, Ray. We shall have to arrange for him to visit once you are settled.”

“He could just move with us.” Jeremiah teased as he set Fand down when she started to squirm. The wrestling match was getting rough … It was time for her to settle her boys down.

“No dog hair on my suits.” Vecchio chuckled when Benton glared at his Mate. “Just kidding, Benny.”

“It’s only been a few years since we retired, but we will soon be in the same position as Ray and Jeremiah.” Benton reminded him.

“I know, but we can’t move until Ma passes.” Mama Vecchio’s health had been deteriorating steadily, but Ray hoped he would have a little more time before he and Benny had to leave for more than short trips to Montana and Canada. He had even rebuilt his relationship with his sister, Francesca. She had contacted him when she got engaged. Ma refused to consider anyone but ‘the head of the family’ walking her down the aisle. “You better not be planning on spending all our time in Montana. I’d go nuts with nothing to do but look at Bambi.”

“They are elk, Ray. Bambi was a whitetail deer.” Benton corrected.

“Whatever, they’re still boring.” Ray loved winding up his Mountie.

Jeremiah interrupted before Vecchio got Benton so agitated he practically hovered. “Wherever we move to, we’ll make sure you have the address so you can attend couples counseling before Benton goes medieval knight on your ass.”

A sharp bark from Trudeau drew their attention.

“Oh, dear. I am afraid he heard you say you were moving.” Benton hung his head. “I am afraid he will be a bit sulky after I explain. I apologize for not telling him sooner.”

“Now’s as good as time as any.” Ray grabbed his water bottle off the table as he and Whiskey came up behind Trudeau.

“You’ve got ten minutes, Benny. We need to get to the airport.” Vecchio headed for the car.

“I’ll wait by the door to let him in when you’re finished talking.” Jeremiah herded Ray and the pups inside.

“You know their moving was inevitable. It is part of our lives as Vampires.” Benton knelt so he was at eye level with the black dog. Trudeau grumbled low in his chest. “Of course you can visit. When you are not able to travel with us, I promise to make the extra effort so you can stay with them.” Giving a huff, Trudeau finally gave the beloved face a lick before he turned and headed inside. Jeremiah waved from the door as he let Trudeau in.

“That was not as bad as I thought it would be.” Benton frowned when Trudeau turned and let out a series of barks.

“Come on, Benny. We’ve got to go, now.” Vecchio slid behind the wheel.

Benton removed his hat as he ducked into the Riviera. He heard another bark before Ray started the car.

“You pay and you pay.” He grumbled as they pulled away from the club knowing Trudeau was planning his revenge for not telling him about Ray and Jeremiah was moving.

~ Six Months Later ~

Ray stood in the middle of the newly remodeled reception area of Jeremiah’s office. Fand and Whiskey roamed from room to room acquainting themselves with the area.

When Jeremiah had shown Ray the house and two lots the blond had nearly turned around and headed back to the Suburban. Though the buildings were solid there was a lot of work that needed to be done to make a suitable office. The sound of Jere’s voice waxing poetic over the house calmed his anxiety.

“This is a superb example of vernacular architecture and craftsmanship. The agent said the house was built by Frank Wait, Under-Sheriff to Sam Gay. Frank used to patrol the streets of Downtown Las Vegas on an old black mare named Nancy Hanks. He started construction in 1930 and he and his wife decorated the exterior with colorful stones, semi-precious gems, petroglyphs, and petrified wood.”

Jeremiah rattled on as he led Ray through the old building. Going out the back of the rock house, down the stairs, and into another small house on the property, Jeremiah went on to explain his vision for the houses.

“The rock house will be set up with a reception area, file room, and my office. We’ll have everything updated and painted. Keep the kitchen, and bedrooms intact in case someone needs a haven. Take the converted stable for an office for Prism Enterprises and me, so people come in one door and out the other. The second house can be remodeled as a haven or converted into offices if needed.”

“It’s not as big a dump as the buildings we bought to expand the club, but it still needs a lot of work.” Ray poked around cabinets and closets as they wandered through the rooms.

“This is as close to Las Vegas history as we’re going to get.” Jeremiah tugged on a piece of crumbling drywall. “Plus this area of Vegas is starting to come back to life with the Fremont Street Experience drawing the crowds away from the Strip, more people will come back to the area to live and work.”

“Gene’s in the home stretch of remodeling the new club and playrooms. Lady Heather was a huge help with getting those set up. All the stuff she had left after she closed down her dungeon saved us a huge chunk of the budget.” Ray chuckled as he remembered the embarrassed laughs and blushes realized they were remodeling the historic Lincoln Hotel into BDSM playrooms. The old theater next door to the hotel was going to be the bigger and better Children of the Lost Blood.

“It wasn’t a dungeon.” Jeremiah corrected.

“Whips, chains, paddles … Equals dungeon.” Ray grabbed a quick kiss before dancing across the hardwood floors of the dilapidated living room.

Jeremiah shook his head in exasperation at his Mate as he pulled out his phone to call their general contractor. Ray was great at knowing what would work in the clubs but was blasé when it came to their home and his office. As he waited for Gene to answer, Jeremiah continued to wander through the two buildings formulating plans.

Gene Collins pulled out his phone, confused when he saw Jeremiah Parks’ name on the caller ID. His company had a constant supply of work from the Chicago transplants since they’d moved to Las Vegas six months before. Gene’s crew had enjoyed renovating the historical buildings for Ray Kowalski and his partner, Jeremiah Parks. A native of Las Vegas, Gene was glad to see the old landmarks given a new lease on life instead of being torn down and a glass and concrete monstrosity built in its place.

“Collins.”

“Gene. I hate to disturb your work on the club, but I’ve found a great place on east Ogden for my office and would like you to come by while we’re here for a renovation guesstimate.”

“Sure, Ogden’s not far from here. I’ll talk to my foreman and be there in 15.”

“Thanks. You’ve been a blessing in getting our plans completed.”

Uncomfortable with the praise, Gene started walking toward where his foreman, Frank was working. “See you shortly, Jeremiah.”

Pulling next to Ray’s GTO, Gene looked around the neighborhood. A block from Fremont Street, and only a few blocks from the Fremont Street Experience, the neighborhood was slowly coming back to life after most of Las Vegas had moved toward the infamous Strip.

Gene shook his head at the forlorn feeling around the unique property. The rocks that had been collected locally to build the house showed the diverse nature of the desert around Las Vegas. His contractor’s eye was picking out the things that would need to be repaired or replaced as he came face to face with the slab of petroglyphs next to the front door. If the doc was going to use this as an office, some of his clients might not make it through the door. He wrinkled his nose at the rusty mid-century wrought iron on the door. That and the iron around the entry to the house would be the first thing to go. Staying with the age of the house, Gene could imagine a beautiful but practical art deco design for the new wrought iron over the door and the electric gate he’d driven by before turning onto the street with the parking lot.

Inside, Gene found Ray twirling across the hardwood floors that were in bad need of refinishing while Jeremiah was poking through cabinets and closets.

“Gene! Welcome to your newest nightmare.” Ray twirled one more time before stopping to shake hands with their contractor.

“It doesn’t look too bad. Most of the work looks cosmetic.”

“Hey, Jere! Gene says most of the work looks cosmetic.”

“Sounds good, but what about the wiring and plumbing?” Jeremiah’s soft baritone came from the bathroom. “Plus …” He led them out of the original house into what had probably been used as a Family/Great room. “I want this to be the reception area. Put a door with a code lock, put my receptionist desk between the room and the door.” He took them out the back door and around to the side of the house. “Re-open these two arched windows and this door then put iron fence from the door to the outer gate.” Walking back inside, they headed for the renovated garage.

As they inspected the rest of the house with Jeremiah explaining what he wanted, they came across the electrical panel in the converted garage. “You’re in luck.” Gene informed them as he inspected the box. “This wiring is relatively new, so that’s one less thing we have to worry about.”

What had been a bedroom in the top of the house and over the former garage just needed the drywall refreshed. Jeremiah’s office would be on the lower floor of the stable turned garage with Ray and Prism Enterprises office on the upper level. With the HVAC system only a few years old, the guest house on the backside of the lot needed the interior updated. Getting this space ready to become the Doc’s office wouldn’t be too bad. The most time consuming part would be getting the concrete out of the old windows without damaging the historic rock work on the outside of the house.

“I’ll have an estimate ready the day after tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Gene.” Ray and Jeremiah shook hands with the contractor as Gene headed back to the job site on Main Street.

“That didn’t sound too bad.” Ray ran a finger over the petroglyphs by the door.

“It’s a very old house. It’ll be interesting to see what’s hidden behind this drywall.” Jeremiah locked the door before steering Ray to the parking lot with a hand to the small of his back. Closing the door of the GTO after Ray was settled, Jeremiah handed him a remote control. “To the gate for the carport so you don’t have to park this beauty in the public lot.” He leaned in the window to kiss his Mate before heading to the Suburban.

The best thing about his new office … It was only a mile to the club’s new location and three miles to home.

~*~*~*~

Troy Adams eased his way through the crowd at the grand opening of the newest Lost Children of the Blood. He had been concerned when Ray and Jeremiah told him about plans to open a new club downtown. He had breathed a sigh of relief when they told him they were going to keep the old club open as a place for the teen population.

Troy had been with Prism Enterprises for 20 years and had never regretted leaving the corporate office in Chicago to manage the Las Vegas club. His assistant manager would be promoted to manager of the teen club while Troy took over the new adult club. Mistress Shar had been ecstatic to have her playrooms completely separate from the club. She and Garth could now spend their time making sure none of the scenes got out of hand instead of chasing off curious teenagers. Having the teens relegated to the other side of town was even better as far as the managing couple was concerned.

From the size of the crowd, it was obvious their social media advertising had paid off and the petite blonde decked out in steampunk chic at the end of the bar with her laptop had been keeping the club at the top of the social media feeds all evening. A wide smile crossed his dark face. He had forgotten how well Jeremiah worked the crowd. Dressed as if he had stepped off the set of Black Sails with Ray hovering like a leather-clad specter, men and women alike were drooling over the Mates. Troy was happier, now, with their new location than the day he’d met with Jeremiah and Ray in front of their newest piece of real estate. The historic Lincoln Hotel’s last live had been as a no-tell hotel, and it was looking its age. Now, it was historically correct with neon highlights.

Ray directed Jeremiah toward the door after they said their goodnights to Troy. There was no way they could stay until closing like they did when they were in Chicago. Jeremiah had clients all day tomorrow, and Ray had several interviews for support staff for the youth hostel along with a pile of paperwork.

All of Prism Enterprises clubs had the hostels attached to them. Jeremiah would occasionally let slip tidbits about his Human life, and the underground clubs in 19th century Chicago for Ray to put together the puzzle that made the whole picture of his Mate. It seemed rich parents in the late 1800s weren’t so different from rich parents in the 21st century. He had accompanied Jeremiah as he met with named and unnamed leaders of the disenfranchised communities to let them know they could come to any of the clubs for help if they needed to move people for their safety such as the children and teens from abusive home, or needed to be escorted to Journey’s End School for the Gifted in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana or to Xavier’s School for the Gifted in Salem, New York. Thinking about the hostels reminded Ray that he needed to check on Gene’s progress in converting the playrooms at the original club into another hostel.

Ray was sure he’d have trouble adjusting to a daytime schedule and found himself pleasantly surprised as he and Jere settled into their new life in Las Vegas. He worked from home most days unless he had meetings. He spent a few hours in the evenings between the two clubs. Most of the time was spent at the teen club and hostel making sure their newly promoted manager was settling into her new job.

Troy had hired Jetta Tom straight out of the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Her parents had expected her to return home to the Moapa Paiute Reservation, but she had goals that had nothing to do with working at the truck stop casino on the Reservation. Troy’s evaluations had been glowing as Jetta became the best assistant manager he’d had since he moved his family back to Las Vegas. Most of them had only stayed at Lost Children of the Blood long enough to gain the experience they needed to move on to one of the big casinos, but Jetta had been with them for five years.

Ray had clicked with the young woman the first time they met. Never one to micro-manage his people, he did his best to stay in the background unless Jetta came to him. Jeremiah visited the hostel three nights a week unless a problem developed that the hostel managers felt they couldn’t handle. He had been very rigid in the requirements, and when they’d asked Basher to recommend someone to do in-depth background checks, the Head of Security at Caesar’s had taken Prism Enterprises on as a client. He had been in the background watching the activity around the hostels, putting out the word of a safe place for street kids, and keeping Ray and Jeremiah closer to the happenings while they still lived in Chicago. What had started as a business relationship had grown over the years into a friendship that was one of the reasons Jeremiah and Ray chose Las Vegas when it came time to leave Chicago.

Basher had been their first friend in Las Vegas. He had met them at the airport with a car, driver, and a folder full of names and pictures of Vampires and Chosen Ones living in Las Vegas. Their move wouldn’t have been near as smooth without their new friend’s help.

Ray was pulled out of his thoughts when he found he had stopped in front of the garage door. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he hit the button on the garage door opener glad he’d only had a three-mile drive. Sensitive Vampire hearing caught the sound of claws scrabbling across hardwood floors toward the garage door. Since the dogs weren’t in their kennel, the Evans’s must be around the house.

When the Bob and Caroline Fraser, the Tallikut Caretakers, heard he and Jeremiah were moving and had bought a 6,300 square foot house on nearly an acre of land with a pool and tennis court, along with their nearly 3500 square foot office/ haven, they called a few friends until they found someone to take care of their boys.

George and Mary Crawford had been Tallikut Chosen Ones since the 70’s when Bob had saved their son Keith from a hit and run driver in front of the Tallikut Chicago Clan House. This was before the days of readily available cloned blood, and Bob’s injuries had been bad enough that Caroline had asked for the Crawfords’ help to heal her Mate.

Now the Crawfords’ were retired and living in Boulder City, Nevada, their son, Keith, and his wife Stephanie, call me Stevie, owned a property management company. Jeremiah had been on the phone with Caroline when the couple had shown up at the new house as their house and groundskeepers. The dogs had taken to the couple instantly, which sealed the deal for Ray.

Stepping through the door, Ray smelled his favorite coffee and saw the jar of Smarties sitting on the island. Taking one look at Ray, Stevie had pulled a packet out of the small refrigerator hidden behind a panel in the huge island and set a large mug of blood in the microwave.

“You look like you need this before you start in on the coffee.”

“Thanks. I meant to grab some this morning, but there was a constipation against me to get out the door on time.” Ray gratefully downed the blood in three swallows.

“There was a conspiracy?” Steve grinned wide.

“Yeah. Dogs, phone, Jere. I was almost late for my meeting with the contractor.”

“Keith’s outback checking the fence for holes where your terrors have been digging.”

“I should go help since most of them are Whiskey’s.” He glared at the Mountain Cur for his antics. “Fand’s too much of a lady to dig holes.”

Watching the blond head for the master bedroom to change with his four-legged shadows, Stevie went back to putting away the groceries she’d picked up before coming to work. She wished all their customers were like Ray and Jeremiah.

~*~*~*~

Other than the days and nights being a little cooler, there wasn’t a lot of difference between summer and autumn in Las Vegas. As business owners, they’d become acquainted with a few of the other Vampires in the city. The Vegas Chamber meetings were a good place to meet then retire to one of their respective businesses to exchange news and information.

Ray and Jeremiah were sitting in the conference room with Rusty Ryan, Ed Deline, and Danny McCoy. They were waiting on Danny Ocean, who was stopped by several people that needed his attention.

“Terry not joining us today?” Jeremiah asked Rusty as he shoved a piece of shrimp in his mouth.

“He had an appointment after the Chamber meeting.” He answered around his shrimp.

“Sorry, I had to put out a couple fires.” Danny smiled sheepishly at the men that had become good friends during his time in Las Vegas.

“You made it sound like we all needed to be here, so what’s on your mind.” Ed checked his phone before laying it down.

“If you give the man a minute, he’ll tell us. You know how it is when the boss walks in the door.” Danny scolded with a smile.

Rusty sat back at the table after making a trip to the buffet the staff had laid out. Giving his Mate an indulgent smile, Danny pulled several files from his briefcase and passed them around the table.

“Sara Sidle, night shift supervisor for the crime lab stopped by one afternoon with this information.” He pointed to the files. “They’ve had two unsolved deaths in the past two months, a man and a woman, by exsanguination.”

“Rogue?” Ray spoke up for the first time.

“I checked with all the North American Clans’ Lead Hunters, there have been no reports of Rogues in the city.”

“The marks on the necks are too ragged. This wasn’t a Vampire … Not even one that hasn’t been taught how to Feed.” Jeremiah continued to read through the file. Suddenly all eyes were on Jeremiah. “I helped Javier with a case when we were both in New York. A Human emulating a Vampire. He believed himself to be the ‘real’ thing and only those he anointed into his inner circle were considered ‘real’ Vampires. He was charged with three murders and given life without parole. One of his victims was a Congressman’s daughter.” He exchanged a look with Ray. “I need to call Javier.” He stood and moved to the back of the room after pulling out his phone. All eyes turned to Ray.

“Undercover can be Hell.” I was a UC when I worked as a cop. You get worn down. The lines start to blur. The line never blurred for Jere, but he worked a lot of cases too close together. He on his way out of town when Javier asked him to go to the well one more time. Jere had this Virgil guy drooling for him, but Jere kept him on target until he was arrested. He moved back to Chicago after the trial.”

Before Ray could continue, Jeremiah returned to his seat looking ready to chew iron rails and spit 10 penny nails. The men in the room winched as the phone slammed on the solid wood table. “They didn’t parole Parrish, but he had a cellmate that completed his sentence. This cellmate and Parrish were close as brothers. The prison officials credit Parrish’s calm demeanor for helping …” Jeremiah checked his notes. “Carl Newman keep a clean record while he was incarcerated.”

“Woah … Slow down a minute, Jeremiah.” Ed leaned his elbows on the table. “How do you make the jump from looking at a couple of crime scene photos to this Parrish guy?”

Jeremiah ran his hand through his curls in frustration. “I was in this guy’s hip pocket for almost a year. I have seen the results of his handiwork up close and personal. I saw how he pulled people in and then sucked them dry. Literally and figuratively.”

“So, what do you want to do, Jere?” Ray’s voice was quiet, trying to soothe his Mate.

“I need to make some calls, gather what information there is about Carl Newman while he was in prison, and since his release and pass that on to Ms. Sidle if Danny can get me a meeting. Parrish was only 21 when he went to prison. He is a highly intelligent narcissist … Among other things.”

“Since prison didn’t kill him, I imagine he garnered himself quite the education.” Rusty added around bites of shrimp.

“Let’s hope some idiot didn’t tell them about real Vampires.” Ray growled. He could see more sparring practice on the tennis court in the future. There might be a need for kicking people in the head.

“I’ll talk to Sara, but she won’t be put off long when it comes to a case like this.” Danny warned.

“I need 48 hours. I could be wrong. But the coincidences are just too much to ignore.”

“I’ll beef up security at the clubs. We can get Basher to do his computer voodoo to find this Newman guy.” Ray pulled out a pad and started making notes while mumbling to himself.

“Ray.”  Jeremiah tried to get his Mate’s attention. “Ray.”

“Can’t you see I’m busy here? Parrish had a hard-on for you 15 years ago … He’s had 15 years to think about this. I bet his little disciple went to the New York club then made a beeline to Chicago trying to find you.” Ray growled.

Jeremiah wrapped his hand around the back of Ray’s neck causing the blond to go still. “I think it is time for us to get our day started.”

“Sounds like a good idea. Things tend to go wonky at the Montecito when we’re both gone too long.” Ed headed for the door with McCoy hot on his heels.

“Did you just use the word wonky?” McCoy teased Deline as they headed out the door.

“That certainly brought the party to a screeching halt.” Rusty smirked at his Mate.

“Things have been pretty quiet since Nico went back to New Orleans.” Danny chuckled.

“I like it when things are quiet. I can slip around, find out what’s going on in all the dark corners, go to Lost Children of the Blood, after hanging out in old Las Vegas for a while.”

“Should Terry and I be jealous?” Danny was only partially joking as he turned away from Rusty.

“Jeremiah serves the best listening beer.” Rusty grabbed one last shrimp from the bowl of ice as he slinked out the door.

Damn, but Danny loved watching Rusty move.

Jeremiah and Ray stopped at the security office to talk with Basher, but the Head of Security had several irons in the fire, so they left Caesar’s with a promise to get together later. Ready to do whatever it took to protect his Mate Ray didn’t even give Basher his usual teasing over his hacking. While Ray drove toward the office, Jeremiah was on the phone with Peter and Javier starting to track Carl Newman’s movements since he left prison, and maybe find out what kind of head games Parrish had played with his cellmate.

Since retiring from the NYPD, Javier and Kevin spent time traveling to Spain, then to England so Kevin could spend time with Noah, Connor, and Murphy McManus. They were presently in Miami with Sam Axe and Michael Westen but were planning to head to Montana next spring. If anyone could get information, it should be a couple of former spies.

Feeling better about the plans he put in motion, Jeremiah laid his head back against the headrest and worked on getting his head together for his clients while Ray worried as he watched his Mate.

~*~*~*~

By the end of the day, Jeremiah was exhausted with the tension of waiting to hear back from Peter and Javier. The thought of having a stalker didn’t help with the tension. In the 15 years since he’d done undercover for Javier, he’d forgotten how it wore on the nerves.

Danny had called while they were driving home. They were scheduled to spend a few hours at the club on South Main, so Sara was going to meet them after she came on shift. It gave them time to enjoy the dogs and the great dinner Stevie left in the oven. By the time Jeremiah was dressed he’d been interrupted twice by Peter calling from New York, and Javier calling from Miami. For the short amount of time they’d had to find information, everyone had dug up an amazing amount of information.

Carl Newman had spent his first three weeks of freedom at his parents’ house in Bushwick and Lost Children of the Blood on East 34th Street. Wondering where Carl got the money to maintain a nightclub lifestyle, Peter’s contacts had been able to trace trips to an indoor storage unit that was being paid out of an account Parrish had set up before he’d gone to prison. Since Parrish had been arrested after his third kill, all the things he’d gathered to live his ‘Vampire’ lifestyle remained to gather dust until a proper disciple had been found. Newman was using the resources that Jonathan hustled and stole during the years he was establishing his Virgil persona.

It was a huge amount of information to gather in a short period of time. Javier with Sam’s help had tracked Newman after he left New York City. He’d spent less than a week in Chicago. It seemed Jonathan had set Carl certain tasks, and the young man was not deviating from those tasks.

Not wanting to subject the GTO to the after-dark crowd around downtown, Ray was driving the Suburban to the Main Street club when his caller ID showed the manager of their Chicago club.

“Jarod, is everything alright?” Jeremiah felt a knot of anxiety form in his chest. If there was something wrong at the club, Jarod would have called Iris, their Operations Manager.

“I meant to call a couple of days ago, but things have been busy, and it slipped my mind. Anyway, this dude came to the club for a few days. Said he was visiting from out of town and was looking for an old friend. He honestly didn’t look old enough to have any old friends. When I asked about his old friend, he said his name was Virgil and he was looking for Anton LeBron. Told him I didn’t know anyone named LeBron. He comes back with the name Jeremy Parks. Told him I hadn’t seen you in more than six months.”

Which was true. He and Ray had made a trip to the East Coast clubs shortly before they moved. “Thanks, Jarod. He’s a hanger-on wannabe from the New York club.”

“Bad news is while I didn’t tell him anything, he was tying up the wait staff asking questions until he sees me heading his way. They all know where you are. You never made like it was a secret you were going to Vegas.”

Groaning inwardly, Jeremiah tried to ease Jarod’s mind. “Not your fault. Can you pull a picture off the security cameras to send me? I want to know who I’m dealing with if he turns out to be a stalker.”

“You got it. I’ll have it for you before I go home.”

“Thanks, Jarod.”

“Well, pitter-patter, Jere. What did Jarod say?” Ray asked as he pulled into the employee parking lot.

“Newman was at the club asking questions. He’s either here or on the way here, so we should be on our guard.”

“Easy to say. The way some people are into cosplay it might be tough to find him.”

“We should have pictures later, so we can keep an eye out for his preferred style.” Jeremiah rubbed his temples.

“We’ll figure it out and have Carl back in jail before you can say Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”

“No. We’re not calling Benton or Vecchio, though Peter or Javier probably already have. Cross your fingers they’re in the wilds of Canada visiting Dudley and Nell.”

They’d just settled in the club’s security office when Jeremiah’s phone rang. He laid his head on the desk before he answered. “Isn’t it a bit late for you to be making phone calls?”

“I received a very interesting phone call a short while ago, Jeremiah.”

“A simple matter of a stalker. We’re taking care of it as we speak.” Which was true. Ray was going through the security cameras wearing a self-satisfied smirk.

“You should ask Nicolaus about such simple matters.” Benton growled.

“Crane was a Vampire. Newman is Human.” Jeremiah almost bit his tongue. He knew better than to argue with his stubborn Clan Leader.

“Do you want me to send Hunters? Javier could be there in a few days. I can call Reacher to see if he’s close by. You have not yet had a chance to get to know him.”

“NO! I mean we are fine. We have plenty of back-ups. I have seen pictures of Reacher’s handiwork. I am positive Las Vegas would not thank you for turning Jack loose in the city. Remember what happened the last time Poe was here.”

“Perhaps you’re right. I will wait, but if things escalate …”

“Understood. Right now we are in the fact-finding stage. We have yet to ascertain Newman’s exact location.”

Silence met his declaration. “I expect to be kept in the loop. Ray has been complaining about the colder weather. Perhaps we should vacation someplace warmer.”

“Give our regards to Ray and Trudeau. Hopefully, Ray will acclimate quickly.” Jeremiah muttered as he ended the call.

Hearing his Mate’s cackle from across the room, Jeremiah raised his head. “I know where you sleep, Kowalski.” He growled, which only set Ray into another round of laughter.

“That’s not buddies, Jere.”

~*~*~*~

Ten days had passed since he had met with Sara Sidle from the Las Vegas crime lab and given her the information they had collected on Carl Newman. She had sighed at the size of the file on the thumb drive he gave her.

“I appreciate the help, but you’ve condemned me to being stuck in the office making this admissible.”

“I thought you had minions for that.” Jeremiah smiled at her dry sense of humor.

“You realize I’ll have to come by with the detective on the case?”

“Yes, but if Newman is busy preparing whatever he has in store for me, he will not be preying on the citizens of the city. If he has a timetable he is on for his master, he will not have time to woo another victim.”

Sara shook her head. “Nick used to say the same thing. If you weren’t a psychiatrist, I’d recommend you see someone about this self-sacrificing thing you have going on.”

Ray had returned to the table with three cups of coffee. “Ain’t nobody sacrificing anything. If they do, they’ll be getting a kick in the head.” He growled at Jeremiah.

“At least one of you is showing some sense.” She grinned at Ray.

“Damn straight.” Ray muttered into his coffee cup.

The desk in his home office was hidden under piles of files, so Jeremiah had dedicated the afternoon to clearing out the backlog. The sound of nails clicking across tile floor from the patio entrance pulled his attention back to the present as Fand launched herself into his lap. Cuddling his dog was one of his favorite things next to cuddling Ray. Deciding he needed a break, he carried Fand to one of the sitting areas where he could enjoy time with his girl and enjoy the view out the windows. His thoughts turned back to Parrish’s disciple.

Newman had tried to gain entrance to the teen club only to be turned away by security. He had not tried again. He had appeared on the security tapes of the adult club twice, but they had yet to figure out where he was staying.

Leaving the office, he went in search of Ray but found someone else sitting at the bar munching his way through a plate of nachos.

“Take a wrong turn on the way to Caesar’s?”

“Nope. I’m exactly where I want to be.” Rusty Ryan gave him a flirty grin.

“I remind you I am a married man.” Jeremiah bumped his shoulder against the blond. “Though I do seem to have a thing for blonds.”

“It’s a good thing we’re all friends. I’d hate to have Ray introduce my head to his steel-toed boots.”

“You, Danny, and Terence, if he’s so inclined, should come by the house. Our housekeeper is a wonderful chef along with a pool and a very private yard.”

“I’ll pass it along, but we’re still working out the whole Triad thing.”

“Are you?” The counselor and friend who wanted to see his friends happy taking over.

“You trying to head shrink me, Doc?”

“No, just a friend asking after a friend.”

A grin quirked across the full lips. “If you say so. Great guac. Better than the Bellagio.”

“I won’t tell Terry.”

“He’d try to steal your chef.”

“Won’t happen. She has very definite ideas about the big casinos and their clientele.”

The two men sat in companionable silence as Rusty enjoyed his appetizer and beer. Jeremiah spotted Ray near the stage talking to the DJ. Setting his glass on the bar. He laid a hand on Rusty’s shoulder.

“Stop by anytime. You are always welcome.”

“Thanks, Doc. Means a lot.”

With a final pat, Jeremiah headed toward his Mate.

~*~*~*~

Ray woke slowly and took his time stretching until his fingers and toes were tingling. Blinking the sleep from his eyes, he smiled seeing two excited faces glad that he was finally awake. Finding a pair of shorts, he slipped them on then headed to the kitchen for a cup of coffee and the paper to enjoy on the patio while the dogs dashed around the yard.

He thought about last night while he watched Whiskey trying to outsmart Fand in their game of tag. Seeing Rusty flirt with Jeremiah had set off his possessive streak and once they got home and got the dogs settled, Ray made sure Jeremiah knew exactly what he thought of his Mate flirting with another Vampire.

A sharp bark brought his attention out of the memory of Jeremiah spread out across their bed, warning him that Stevie had arrived. Finishing his coffee and the paper, he headed for the shower, turning up his hearing to locate Stevie in the basement putting their frozen foods in the big freezer. Jeremiah had clients scheduled while it was Ray’s day off, so the blond was planning on dragging his Mate to Fremont Street for lunch.

He was getting ready to pull out of the driveway when his phone rang. Seeing it was Jeremiah’s office, he put the GTO in park to answer.

“Kowalski.”

“Ray, is Jeremiah with you?”

“No. I was heading your way to kidnap him for lunch.”

“He left a half-hour ago to go to the deli and hasn’t returned. It’s just down the street. I went outside the fence to see if I could see him, but there’s no one on the street. I tried his phone, but he doesn’t answer.”

“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” Ray shut off the car and ran back into the house to get his pistol out of the safe.

On the drive to the office, a dozen names ran through his mind to call, but he didn’t want to panic anyone if it turned out Jeremiah got delayed because someone wanted to talk. Ever since they opened the office, he never turned away anyone who needed a little conversation unless he had an appointment.

Pulling into his parking spot at the office, he burst through the door startling their assistant, Julia.

“Ray, thank God. Has he called you?”

“No. Have you heard anything?” When she shook her head, he turned back for the door. “I’m going to look for him. Call Caesar’s and asked to speak to Basher Tarr. Ask him if he can ping Jeremiah’s phone.”

“I will.” She was dialing as he started down the street.

Heading toward the small grocery store and deli that had become a favorite place for a quick lunch, Ray opened all his senses looking for his Mate. He had tried repeatedly to reach Jeremiah through their Bond, but all he got from the other end was silence. Since he hadn’t turned to dust, Ray figured Jeremiah was unconscious. Passing the alley the delivery trucks used to access the store’s loading dock, Ray caught Jeremiah’s scent along with the strong smell of coffee. Walking into the alley, there was another scent he didn’t know. Seeing the puddle of coffee, he fell back on his police training and began to methodically search the alley. The scrape of a shoe had Ray spinning around and pulling his gun at the same time. He re-holstered the pistol when he saw Rusty walking into the alley.

“What are you doing here?” He took a picture of a tranquilizer dart lying next to the broken coffee cups.

“I was in the office when your assistant called Basher. Figured you might need another pair of hands, but you seem to be okay on your own.”

“Once a cop … If this was Newman, I’ll rip off his head and spit down his neck.” He growled as he tested the Bond again, still nothing. He pulled out his phone and called the number Sara Sidle had given him.

“Sidle.”

“Someone tranqed Jeremiah and took him.”

“Where are you?”

“Down the street from Jeremiah’s office, the alley before the grocery store.”

“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

Ray called Julia to update her and began to pace while waiting for Sara. A cup of coffee appeared under his nose pulling him up short. Taking the cup, he saw Rusty was holding a carton with two foot-long hot dogs.

“Do you have a peg leg? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you that you weren’t eating.”

“A hollow leg. Let’s say I learned to eat when I can because you never know when you can’t.”

“Good lesson.” He had started to calm down when an SUV pulled up to the curb followed by two Sheriff’s deputies who taped off the alley.

After processing the alley, Sara sent the deputies on their way after she packed the evidence in the back of her SUV.

“There’s not much in the alley other than the dart. The good news is whoever did this tranquilized Jeremiah instead of shooting him. The bad news … There’s not a lot of evidence. I found a receipt from a hardware store in Summerlin. Instead of a hotel maybe he’s staying in an Airbnb or VRBO.”

“It’s a start.” Rusty walked Sara to her vehicle while Ray pulled out his phone.

“Basher, it’s Ray. I’m looking for an Airbnb or VRBO in Summerlin with a basement or large garage.”

“What’s VRBO?” Basher started typing.

“Vacation Rental By Owner. Sara just processed the alley where Jere was taken. Said she found a receipt from a Home Depot on Tropical Parkway.”

“That’ll help me narrow what part of Summerlin to focus on.”

“Great, let me know if you find anything, I’m heading for Summerlin. If Ocean is looking for his missing Mate, he’s with me.” He ended the call to a sputtering Basher. “You going with me, Ryan, pitter-patter, let’s get at ‘er.” He headed back to the office. He’d leave the GTO and take the Suburban. He didn’t want to take the chance of his baby getting hurt by some psycho.

~*~*~*~

Consciousness returned slowly. Opening his senses before he opened his eyes, Jeremiah’s brain slowly cataloged what he heard and smelled. The smell of gasoline, oil, rubber, and anti-freeze told him he was in a garage. The slight chill he could feel through his coat told him the garage was shaded or it was after sundown. The traffic sounds reminded him of a subdivision. Closer around him he heard a refrigerator, an HVAC unit, and one Human heartbeat.

Damn, Ray was going to be pissed that Carl Newman was able to snatch him off the street. Though in his defense being hit with enough tranquilizer to drop a draft horse was not something he could defend against. He finally cracked open his eyes and took in the room through the screen of his eyelashes. Knowing he could not fake being unconscious forever, Jeremiah opened his eyes and sat up as straight as he could while being tied to a chair. He hoped Carl did not have cameras watching him, but he took a chance to flex his arms and legs testing his bonds.

There was a bit of play, but Jeremiah was not sure that even with Vampire strength he could get free. Hearing footsteps coming toward the garage, he relaxed and settled his mind. If Parrish had trained Newman it would be a game of psychological cat and mouse. His one advantage was he studied Parrish’s Virgil persona for nearly a year, but Parrish had only known Anton LeBron. He never met Dr. Jeremiah Parks. He was determined to make it back to Ray and their fur babies.

Carl Newman tried to saunter into the room the way Virgil used to, but he just did not have Virgil’s natural grace. He set up a camera in front of Jeremiah then stood with his arms crossed over his chest. Jeremiah waited for his first move.

Virgil said you had the face of an angel. That you could draw people to you because your aura vibrated at a higher level. It broke his heart when you betrayed him to the police for sending people to the higher plane.”

“It is very hard to build a group of true believers if you kill them. How long were you cellmates with Jonathan?”

“Six years … Why?”

“I just wondered how long you were going to continue to be his submissive?”

Red crept into Carl’s face. Jeremiah wondered if he was angry or embarrassed until his scent turned acrid. Angry it is.

“I am his right hand out in the world while he lingers in his dungeon.”

“You know he replaced you five minutes after you were gone. Loyalty is not one of Jonathan’s strongest traits. Soon you will be back in prison with no chance of returning to the world for the two murders you committed.”

“No! It’s not time yet.”

“Then you should not have been so sloppy.” Jeremiah could hear Ray’s voice in his head yelling at him not to piss off the crazy person. He had not cowered before Jonathan Parrish, so there was no way he was cowering before this third rate stand-in.

Virgil says the power is in your blood, and I will have that power when I drink of your essence.”

Jeremiah rolled his eyes. “You do realize this is going to end badly for you.”

“No. We have a plan.”

“No. Jonathan Parrish had a plan. You are simply the village idiot that lapped up his drivel.”

“You’re wrong. I’m going to be transformed!” He pulled a knife and slashed down the front of Jeremiah’s shirt leaving a line of red following the knife’s path.

“This was one of my favorite shirts.” Jeremiah growled.

“He promised me the blood would be transformative.” Carl sounded pleading like he wanted Parrish’s lies to be true.

“That is not how it works.” Jeremiah insisted.

The knife flashed again, a deeper slash going across his pectoral muscle causing the blood to run faster. Newman ran his fingers through the blood, but when he went to lick his fingers … The blood had turned to dust. With a sound of frustration, Newman made another cut placing his mouth on the flowing blood, but that cut also began to close rapidly and the blood turned to dust. Jeremiah looked down at the dark head, his stalker’s mouth latched onto his chest like a calf on the teat. His Vampire rose in his mind incensed at this mongrel trying to take what belonged to his Mate. The scent of blood and the stranger taking what was not his to take caused the adrenaline to aid the Vampire’s strength. The ropes snapped … Fangs sank into flesh.

~*~*~*~

Ray pulled into the parking lot of the Home Deport address on the receipt Newman dropped. He was reaching for his phone to call Basher when he felt Jeremiah through their Bond.

“Jere’s awake.” He told Rusty.

“Can you find someone through the Bond?”

“Not something we ever needed to try. I could call Ben … With all the licking and sniffing he should know.”

Not wanting a pissed-off Clan Leader in Las Vegas Rusty tried to get Ray going in a different direction. “Call Basher first. Then I’ll drive and you tell me which way to go.”

Basher got them into the right subdivision, but couldn’t get an exact location, so they went with Rusty’s idea to follow Ray’s intuition and the feelings through the Bond.

“Something’s happening. Jere was calm until a minute ago. He’s getting angry. I don’t think I’ve felt him this angry. Left … Go left!” They kept going until Ray grabbed Rusty’s arm. “He’s in pain. Right … Turn right.”

He opened his mind as much as possible. He had to find Jere. He tried to tell his Mate he was on the way, but the Vampire was in a rage. Rusty pulled up to a four-way stop.

“Ray, which way?”

“Straight. He’s straight ahead. I don’t feel Jere. I only feel the Vampire.”

They pulled up to the last house on the street. Both men bailed out of the SUV, Ray with his pistol in hand. Rusty called Basher to tell him where they were as he followed Ray around the house checking doors until he found one that was unlocked.

Stepping inside both Vampires were nearly overwhelmed by the smell of blood. Ray headed to the garage. He opened the door quickly then moved to clear the room. He stopped so quickly that Rusty bumped him from behind. Carl Newman lay in the middle of the garage. He was alive … Barely. Jeremiah was sitting with his back to the wall. They could see the torn shirt and the wounds that had been reduced to pink scars on his chest.

“Jere?” Ray holstered his gun as he moved to check his Mate.

“Ray?”

“I’m here.”

“I did not kill him.” He allowed Ray to pull him close.

“He’s still alive, but we need to call an ambulance.” Rusty rolled Newman expecting to see his throat ripped open, but there were no marks to be found. He paused for a minute to run the situation through the part of his brain that helped rob two of the biggest casinos on the Strip. He wiped down the chair, noticed there was dust on the floor, so no trace of Jeremiah.

“Let’s get out of here. I’ll have Basher call an ambulance.” He dialed while he led them out of the house.

The Suburban was heading to Ray and Jeremiah’s before Rusty dialed Basher.

“Basher, we got Jeremiah, but we need an ambulance for Newman. Someone could pick me up at Jeremiah and Ray’s house. Thanks, Basher.”

The only sound in the car was Ray giving directions to Rusty. Once parked in the garage Jeremiah headed to the shower while Rusty and Ray headed to the kitchen. Pulling two packets of blood out of the island refrigerator. He also set up a couple of glasses from the bar. He poured Rusty a double shot of whiskey then pulled a bottle of vodka out of the freezer and poured himself a shot.

“At first, I wasn’t crazy about leaving everything I’d ever known behind to start a new life in another city, but everything went slick as a whistle. Found a great house, office, and got the clubs situated the way we wanted then somehow the crazy found us. Now I think change is Hell.”

“At least you have your Mate with you. You don’t have to do all the changing alone.”

“I’d hate that.”

They headed back to the kitchen when they heard the shower shut off. He emptied the packets into mugs and shoved them in the microwave.

“Why’d you tag along with me today?” Ray gave Rusty a hard look.

“I was bored.”

“Are you unhinged? If Ocean tries to kick my ass, I’m taking it out on you.”

“We’re a non-violent group.”

“I guess you don’t box then.”

“I’ve been known to put the gloves on for a round or two.”

Ray handed him a card. “I work with a bunch of kids on Tuesdays. Stop by and we’ll go a couple of rounds.”

Jeremiah came around the island, grabbed a mug of warm blood as he leaned against Ray.

“Thank you, Rusty, for backing up Ray today.” He finished off the second mug.

“I was just hanging out.” Rusty finished off his whiskey.

Suddenly two four-legged streaks headed for the front door. “I think your ride’s here.” Ray shooed the dogs back before he opened the door. Danny practically flew by Ray looking for Rusty. “How are you doing, Ocean?” Ray asks in an exaggerated Chicago accent. “Come in, make yourself at home.”

He shut and locked the door, grinning at Danny’s antics as he grabbed Rusty’s upper arms stopping him from taking a bite of one of the brownies Stevie had left on the island.

“What were you thinking? You didn’t have any backup!”

“Basher knew where I was. Besides, the guy was a total loser. Jeremiah had already rescued himself when we got there. I just drove the car.” He smirked at Danny’s exasperated expression. When Danny drew a breath like he was going to start haranguing him again, Rusty stuffed a piece of browning in his mouth. “It’s not like I was doing anything else.” His tone sounded bitter.

“Right. We can talk about this at home.” Danny tried to tug Rusty by his sleeve, but he pulled back long enough to grab three more brownies.

“Don’t be a stranger.” Ray slapped Rusty on the back.

“Thank you, Rusty.” Jeremiah gave Danny a look when he started to protest the delay. “Come see me anytime.”

Rusty gave him a wink as he followed Danny out the front door still munching on the brownie.

Ray headed to the shower while Jeremiah heated the oven for the casserole Stevie had prepared. Making sure Whiskey and Fand had food and water, he poured a glass of wine and headed out onto the patio, the dogs racing out the door ahead of him. Stretching out on a chaise lounge, watching the carefree play of the dogs, Jeremiah finally began to relax. He’d never been in a position where he’d lost control of the Vampire, not even when Ray had been in danger, so he was still a little rattled. He knew this evening was an extenuating circumstance, but he thought he’d learn all about his shadow self during his sessions with Lady Heather and Evy. Tonight showed him a whole different side of the Vampire.

His thoughts were interrupted when Ray settled next to him with a beer. “There’s a half-hour left on the timer.” He pressed a kiss into the sun-streaked curls. “Never do that to me again.” He murmured.

“Was not my intention, Love.” Jeremiah settled against the muscled chest watching Fand and Whiskey hunting for birds hiding in the hedges.

“Here’s to no more fanboy stalkers.” They clicked their drinks together.

“Here, here.” Jeremiah twisted around for a kiss. “My other moves to the next life all went smoothly, but this change recently turned into hell.”

“Only better from now on.” The timer for their dinner dinged. Ray stood up and almost dumped Jeremiah off the chaise. “Pitter-patter.” He grinned boyishly as he headed for the kitchen with Jeremiah and the dogs close behind.

~ finis ~

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