I think this is one of those books that I liked more than my readers. LOL!
Grab your copy here!
Augustus Griffin, known as Gus to his friends, sat on his bed and strummed his guitar. Arthritis inflamed his joints, making the song more difficult to play than it used to be. Despite the pain, he still enjoyed the feel of the strings moving beneath his fingers. Their reassuring vibrations reminded him of younger days when he used to draw small crowds in the park with his music.
At seventy-five, he would never be the great musician he once dreamed about, but those same hands had played lullabies for his children and later his grandchildren. Good times, sad memories. He’d outlived his family. Now he only had his bittersweet memories to bring them back to life.
This particular song reminded him of his happy childhood in Louisiana and playing with his best friend Basilio Downs. His fingers stumbled across the chord as his past heartbreak threatened to tear away his moment of calm. With his dark hair and warm bedroom eyes, Bas had captured Gus’s heart at their first meeting. They attended high school together, became roommates in college, and were each other’s first sexual experience with men.
Except back then, men didn’t stay together.
One night, using the excuse of a beer run, Bas left and never returned. Even fifty years later, that one event remained the single most painful moment in Gus’s life. The death of his wife and the plane crash that killed his children and grandchildren were tough times, but Bas leaving had broken something inside Gus and he’d never recovered from.
A man’s scream, high and panicked, reached him through his open window and chilled him to the bone. Setting down his guitar, Gus walked over to check out the noise. Peering through the glass, he spotted three big guys ganging up on a smaller man in the narrow alley between Gus’s building and its neighbor.
Gus gritted his teeth, and his hands shook with anger. He marched over to his door and snatched the baseball bat from where he had it propped by the entrance.
Over the past year, crime had increased on the streets near Gus’s apartment. Thugs had moved into the area, terrorizing the locals. He was sick of it all.
Anger fueled Gus as he left his apartment and shuffled down two flights as quickly as he could, hoping to reach the screaming man before it was too late. If he’d had any sense, he’d have called the police, but he was tired of punks roughing up people in his neighborhood. This time, he would do something about it. Fury kept him going to the ground floor. He stopped, winded, at the base of the stairwell to catch his breath before he could continue.
Straightening his shoulders as much as he still could, Gus pushed open the heavy door that exited out to the alley. The punks had already left, and a man lay still as death on the ground.
“Poor kid,” Gus muttered. The victim didn’t so much as twitch when Gus approached. Damn, Gus hoped he wasn’t dead! The young man couldn’t have been much older than his mid-twenties.
Using his bat to balance himself, Gus kneeled beside the battered male, his arthritic knees screaming with pain as they hit the rough asphalt and bits of stone dug into his skin through his thin cotton pants.
Damn, he wished he’d grabbed his phone. In his hurry to rescue the guy, he had foolishly left his cell phone on his coffee table. Gus brushed the victim’s hair back from his face. To his surprise, the young man’s eyelids snapped open, and dark, liquid, pain-filled eyes stared back at him.
“Hey, buddy, you all right? Do you think you can stand?” Gus asked in his gentlest tone. He didn’t know if the man should be moved or not, but he couldn’t abandon an injured person in the middle of a filthy alley. What if the assailants returned? Unfortunately, he also wasn’t strong enough to lift the guy up the stairs either. Being old sucked.
“Help me,” the man whispered.
“I’m trying to, but I need to get you upstairs. I don’t have my phone,” Gus explained.
When the young man didn’t speak again, Gus crouched down to slide his right arm beneath the stranger’s shoulders while using his left hand to balance himself with the bat.
The man struck like a viper. Sharp teeth pierced Gus’s skin and sank into his jugular. With a cry, Gus dropped the bat. It hit the ground with a hollow thud, then rolled away.
Why did it never pay to be a Good Samaritan these days?
As he futilely tried to pull the man off him, Gus’s heart stuttered in his chest and the world went black.
The world had become a brighter place while he slept. Gus blinked against the blinding sunlight blazing through his living room. His head pounded like a street full of marching bands, and he suspected someone had dumped the Sahara down his throat while he slept. Crap! He usually handled his alcohol better.
“What the hell?” he groaned. His head pulsed with each word.
Gus sat up, his body moving easily, as if someone had lifted an oppressive weight off his bones and joints.
Rubbing his eyes, Gus tried to focus his vision against the glaring light. Everything still seemed too bright, but at least his sight had become clearer—much clearer. Touching his face, he jerked in surprise.
Where are my glasses?
Why was the world in focus without his lenses? He’d worn them since his twenties and had needed progressively stronger prescriptions. His current ones were almost the thickness of glass bottles.
“Oh, you woke up. I was starting to think I’d done the conversion wrong. You’re my first, you know. Well, I guess you don’t know, but I couldn’t let you die, not after you came to my rescue. That was really brave. I mean, considering how old you were. Kind of stupid, but mostly brave.” The stranger kept babbling as if Gus would regain his equilibrium if his visitor talked enough.
Gus never had guests. After the death of his family, it had become easier to keep to himself. It hurt less when you didn’t know anyone who might die. He’d already lost everyone important to him.
“You’re a bit of a magpie, aren’t you?” Gus asked. He froze at the unfamiliar sound of his voice. Instead of rough and raspy with age, it held the smooth, stronger tones he’d had as a young man. Touching his throat, he encountered smooth skin instead of the loose folds he’d had before. Maybe he was still dreaming?
The pretty stranger blinked at him with wide dark eyes. He must’ve been in his early twenties. He had a smooth Asian look to his features, possibly Japanese. Gus had never been good at figuring out ethnicity, and it would probably be rude to ask.
Recognition hit him. “Y-you’re the guy from the alley.” Upon lifting his hand to point, Gus gasped. His age spots and wrinkles had vanished. Instead, his fingers were smooth and flawless. His arthritic hands no longer had swollen knobs for joints, but flowed into elegant tapered lines.
They were the hands he’d had as a young man. Gus hoped this dream didn’t end soon. He couldn’t remember a time in the past twenty years when his hands hadn’t ached.
“What happened to me?” Fear made his beautifully smooth hands shake. Stupid, because this was no doubt a dream.
“Um, I sort of made you into a vampire like me.” The kid sounded nervous, as if Gus could get mad over such a ridiculous statement.
Gus laughed. He swung his legs to the side of the couch so he could sit up properly and face the nutcase who’d wandered into his apartment. The lack of aches and pains distracted him for a moment. Nice. He tilted his head back and forth, but the usual cartilage cracking didn’t occur.
“A vampire, huh?” Might as well humor his dream companion.
“Yep. I’m really sorry if you didn’t want to be converted, but if I didn’t act, you could’ve died.” His apologetic expression tugged at Gus’s sympathy.
“I’m sure you did what you had to,” Gus reassured him.
The vampire wannabe nodded. “I did. I’m sorry I lost control, but for an old guy, you have amazing blood, like a great Shiraz. I had an amazing bottle the other night.”
Gus wondered if the kid had fake identification. He had judged the youth to be about eighteen or nineteen, but he’d never been that great at figuring out ages.
“Thanks…I think.” Gus interrupted the kid’s babbling. He didn’t know what else to say to the obviously insane young man sitting on his coffee table and comparing his blood to wine. It took him a minute to realize the problem niggling at his subconscious. “You aren’t hurt anymore.”
He received a wry smile. “Yes. Thanks for that, man. I mean, thanks for saving me. Even a vampire can only do so much against three other vampires, especially when they’re stronger than me. The prince will be furious with them when I give my report. I’ll need you to come with me as a witness. Besides, now that you’re a vampire, you’ll have to report to the prince so he knows you’re in his territory. He’s going to be pissed I transformed you.”
Gus sighed. As fun as this dream had been, he needed to return to reality. Hopefully he hadn’t fallen in that damn alley and would wake up in a hospital bed. Morphine could explain this dream quite well.
“I think it’s time for you to go.”
The ease with which Gus got to his feet startled him for a moment. His joints didn’t creak or groan, and no pain accompanied his movement. He paused for a moment, enjoying the pain-free sensation. Too bad he knew it wouldn’t last.
The self-proclaimed vampire stood along with Gus, but made no motion toward the door. “No, I need to take you to the prince and let him know what happened. I can’t abandon you to fend for yourself. It’s against our laws. By the way, my name is Akeno, and I’m a member of the northwest coven. The three who attacked me are older members. They’re going to be in tons of trouble when I report them to the prince. I just moved here a few months ago, and the prince had assigned them to be my mentors.”
“They were vampires, too?” Gus asked. He glanced around for his cell phone, hoping he didn’t need to call the police. Maybe he was dreaming? Of course he was. Gus relaxed at his conclusion. People didn’t just make other people vampires except in horror movies and badly written novels.
“The prince will be angry when I return with the news.” Akeno licked his lips nervously as his eyes flitted over Gus. “He might also be angry with me for changing someone without his permission. Hopefully he’ll consider the circumstances.”
Gus frowned. “What do you mean, changing?” Akeno’s anxious expression worried him. He could almost guarantee he wasn’t going to like what the man had to say.
Akeno laughed. “I told you I had to change you into a vampire. Weren’t you listening?”
“I figured I’m having a dream.” Gus shrugged. “Anything can happen in a dream.”
A weird-ass dream, but a dream nevertheless.
Akeno reached over and lightly pinched Gus’s cheek. “I’m sorry, but you’re not dreaming, my hero.” He opened his mouth and a pair of honest-to-god fangs slid down from his gums. They returned to their hiding spot before Akeno spoke again. “I really am a vampire, and now you are, too.”
Gus stepped back from the strange young man.
He had a crazy man in his house. How Akeno pulled off the fang bit, he didn’t know, but they couldn’t be real.
“Relax, Gus. I already bit you. In fact, I bit you too much, which is why I had to convert you.”
Gus pinched his arm. “Ouch.”
Akeno smirked. “Now do you believe me?”
Panicked, Gus ran down the hall, purposely ignoring the fact that his limbs moved with an ease he hadn’t experienced in decades.
He needed a mirror. He ran into the bathroom and slid to a stop in front of the medicine cabinet.
Gus caught his first glimpse of his reflection. The world stilled as he stared at the person looking back at him. The old Gus with rheumy eyes, white hair and spotted skin had vanished, and in his place was twenty-five-year-old Gus, or at least how he’d looked back then.
Bas had always claimed Gus’s eyes were the color of the Mediterranean Sea. Gus called them turquoise. Whatever the color, they had faded with age, but were now back to their original vibrancy. He watched as mirror-Gus touched his face. He couldn’t believe what his reflection and fingers revealed.
Firm, smooth skin had replaced the wrinkled tapestry of age, and he’d regained the natural golden tint his complexion had lost over time. He opened his mouth and his bright white teeth gleamed back at him while a quick smile exposed a set of dimples he’d lost with age. Everything had changed back, but it was his hair Gus touched with wonder. Thinning white strands had transformed into a thick head of platinum hair, glossier and richer than he remembered.
He had no words.
“You’re a beautiful man,” Akeno said behind him.
“I was once,” Gus agreed. With age came the experience to know inner beauty lasted far longer than lush hair and a winning smile. He cared a lot less for his appearance now than he had at twenty-five. Time had taken everything of value away from him—his looks had been a minor casualty.
Akeno admired Gus’s reflection. “And you are gorgeous again. Come, let’s go talk to the prince so I can tell him my side of the story before the others poison his mind against me. They probably think I’m dead. They should’ve stuck around to finish the job properly.” The look in Akeno’s dark eyes told Gus that if the situation were reversed, Akeno would’ve made sure his victim was dead.
“All right.” Gus still didn’t quite believe in vampires, but he couldn’t deny something had happened to him. The dream idea wasn’t holding up, not when he could feel the cold marble sink beneath his hands. “Let’s go see this prince of yours.”
Maybe then he could get some answers or wake up from his dream.
“And yours.” Akeno’s face fell into serious lines. “I made you, so by default he’s your prince, too.”
Gus shrugged. “Sure, okay.” He could agree to any ridiculous thing. After all, he woke young again.
“No, really. You have to do what he says.”
“I’m over seventy-five years old, Akeno. I don’t do what anybody says.” It helped that he had no one to be responsible to. With all of his loved ones dead, no one cared what Guy did anymore.
“I’m a hundred and fifty,” Akeno confessed. “I do what my prince tells me. Come on. We need to find you some blood anyway.”
That sounded awful. Gus wrinkled his nose. He decided to wait and see how the reality of it all went. He didn’t think drinking blood would be his new favorite thing.
Gus examined the mansion warily. “How did I not know this was here?”
The building consisted of several stories and sat surrounded by an iron gate not two blocks from Gus’s apartment. It must’ve taken up almost a city block of land in an area he’d passed many times. Not once had he seen this.
“Magic,” Akeno said, his tone practical, as if Gus were a not-to-bright child. “You never noticed it because the spell keeps all humans from seeing it.”
“Oh.” Gus gave a nervous laugh. “That makes sense.”
He didn’t know which was worse, that he’d never seen it before or that now he could.
“When we get inside, don’t talk to anyone. We need to see the prince first,” Akeno warned. “The others might try to pull you aside to figure out where you come from. Stick close to me. I need you to be a witness.”
“Okay.” He doubted he’d feel a sudden urge to chatter to a bunch of fanged fiends, but he never knew. Nothing had gone how he’d expected since he’d woken up.
Gus’s cane tapped lightly against the sidewalk with his every step. After carrying a walking stick for twenty years, Gus refused to go without it. Walking without his cane would be like going outside naked. Not to mention it had a sword hidden inside. His twenty-five-year-old grandson had given it to him for Gus’s birthday after reading a spy novel where the hero had a swordstick.
Gus could still remember Nicholas’s mischievous smile as he’d handed it over to him. Little did Gus know he wouldn’t see his grandson again. The plane had gone down two days after Gus’s birthday, killing Gus’s son, daughter and both of their families. They’d been on their way home after flying to visit Gus for his birthday.
Swallowing back the tears, Gus followed Akeno toward the mansion.
A doorman leapt forward to open the front door for them. “Good evening, sirs,” he said, bowing.
“Good evening,” Gus replied.
The doorman shot him a startled look, then smiled. “It is a good evening, sir,” he agreed.
“Shhh, you don’t talk to him,” Akeno hissed.
“Why not?” Gus thought it rude to ignore a guy who opened your door. If he’d been at a hotel, he’d have tipped him.
“It isn’t done. He’s considered beneath notice,” Akeno growled at him.
“So I should cancel the flowers and chocolates?” Gus rolled his eyes. “You know manners are free. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.”
Akeno sighed as if his patience had worn out a while ago. “This way.”
Gus grinned at Akeno’s frustration. Poor vamp. He had no idea what he was getting into when he transformed Gus.
His amusement faded when Akeno led him through a long corridor and into large room with a huge throne set in the middle. Dozens of people milled about, but it was the man on the throne that caught Gus’s attention.
His Bas sat on the elaborate chair, looking as if time hadn’t touched him. “You bastard!” Gus shouted.
Years of grief and anger surged through him as Gus marched up to the throne. Bas jumped to his feet in time to meet Gus’s fist as he punched his ex-lover in the face. Bas stumbled back, holding his cheek and barely avoided falling back against the throne.
“All these years, I’ve mourned for you, and you’ve been living here!” Gus lifted his fist and reached back to hit Bas again only to have his arms grabbed on either side. Fingers bit into his arms as they held him back from attacking his ex-lover.
“Release him,” Bas thundered, his handsome face contorted in rage. “Never touch him again!”
The hands on his body were snatched away as if Gus had caught fire.
Bas stood again and approached Gus. “I figure I had that one coming,” he said. A tender smile flirted around Bas’s lips. “I missed you, Gussy Boy.”
“You’ve been a vampire this entire time? What? You couldn’t tell me?” Hurt knifed through Gus’s chest. He took a long, deep breath to hold back a sob.
“When I went out to get beer, a vampire attacked me,” Bas confessed.
Gus gritted his teeth. “So you thought it would be better to leave me? You just abandoned me, Bas.” Damn his voice for cracking at the end.
Bas cupped Gus’s face, looking so much like the boy Gus had given his heart to that he had to resist the urge to kiss him.
“I couldn’t let you become a vampire, my love.” Bas’s expression, so fucking brokenhearted, punched a hole in Gus’s chest.
“Well, I guess it’s too late now. I am one,” Gus argued.
“Yes, you are.” Bas gave him a twisted smile. “I need to talk to Akeno about that. He never should’ve turned you.”
Anger at his ex-lover had Gus clenching his teeth. “Akeno insisted I come here to learn the vampy ways. I’m just as happy to take my ass elsewhere if I’m not good enough to belong to your little vampire collective.”
He stepped away from bass then snatched up his cane from where he’d dropped it on the floor and started back toward the door.
“Where are you going?”
Gus recognized that tone. Bas only used it when he was getting ready to demand his way.
“Back home. Maybe if I’m lucky, I can grab a wino to snack on during my walk.”
“Get your ass back here!”
“Screw you, Bas. I’ve spent the past fifty years mourning you, and now I kind of wish you were dead,” Gus growled.
He only took a few steps before someone tackled him from behind. He grunted out his last breath of air as he crashed to the floor, a body lying on top of him. Bas’s scent stopped him from fighting back. No matter how much he wished to punch his ex-lover, the need for retaliation had dulled to a constant pain.
“Don’t be like that, mi Amado, you know I worship every gorgeous inch of you.” Soft kisses rained down his neck. Bas got to his feet, pulling Gus along with him as he stood. “Fetch my Gus someone to snack on. He’s newly born and probably famished,” he snapped to one of the men standing around.
Gus rubbed his stomach. “I’m actually quite well.”
Bas wrapped an arm around Gus’s shoulders. “Trust me.”
“I did that once, and you dumped me to come and be king vamp.” Years of abandonment didn’t get erased with one tackle and some kisses.
Bas kissed Gus’s cheek. “I’m only a prince, and I’ll never abandon you again.”
His heart pattered at those words. Could he trust Bas to keep him this time, or would Bas completely destroy him?
“Trust will have to be earned,” Gus warned. A sound surprisingly like laughter came from the soldier to Bas’s right.
“You have something to say, Fredrick?” Bas growled.
“No, Your Highness.” The soldier stared straight ahead.
“Good. Now go clear my rooms. I want them ready for Gus to get a proper meal.”
“But what about Nathan?” Fredrick asked.
“What about him?” Bas’s expression didn’t leave room for discussion. Gus felt a flash of pity for the displaced Nathan. He knew the pain of being abandoned by Bas.