I’m not giving them away (although there is a free read related to the series on my blog:
http://rhymeswithforeplay.blogspot.com/p/free-reads.html) but two of the books in my Children of Night series are heavily NYE-centric. Now Comes the Night (book three in the series) opens with a flashback to NYE 1969 and also contains a flashback to NYE 1981. Ashes of the Day (book four) both opens and closes with NYE celebrations. I’m going to be posting excerpts from both books today, starting with this one from Now Comes the Night…
New Year’s Eve, 1969
According to the clock on the living room mantel, it was almost midnight. Conrad Quintano glared at the offending timepiece. Its measured ticking grated on his nerves, mocking his attempts to ignore the relentless passage of time. He was tempted to pick up the clock and hurl it across the room. In fact, the only thing preventing him from doing so was the lack of a spare hand. As he paced the floors of the small suburban tract home he’d recently purchased, his arms were filled to overflowing with squirming infant vampire—two vampires, twins to be exact—both of whom appeared to be every bit as frustrated and wide-awake as he.
Conrad gazed at the babies with a grudging sense of wonderment. So small and yet still so strong. How was it they were still awake?
He should be able to subdue them, damn it. It was almost inconceivable that he could not. He was both their sire and their creator, albeit at one small remove, not to mention the undisputed head of a large and powerful household. He was also a Lamia Invitus, one of the last and strongest of his kind, with over a millennium of skill, experience and strength to draw upon. The idea that one such as he should be bested by two such tiny creatures was laughable. Yet the pair still resisted all his efforts to compel them back to sleep.
Oh, yes, they may have deigned to yawn a time or two, no doubt in deference to his pride. They might even have allowed their eyes to momentarily fall shut, but it was all just part of a cunning ruse, a transparent attempt to lull him into a false sense of complacency. Conrad wasn’t fool enough to fall for such obvious tricks—at least not after the first five or six times.
He could see right through their tactics. Were he to make the attempt to lay them down ever so gently in their crib, their eyes would pop open the instant their backs touched the mattress. Then their little limbs would start to flail and they’d begin once more to cry—those tearful, heart-rending, nerve-wracking sobs that always seemed disproportionately loud for the size of the bodies from which the sounds issued.
He supposed it was not really their fault they refused to be soothed. The baby books Damian had purchased, and insisted they both study, had had a lot to say about the terrifying maladies to which newborns were prone—things like growth spurts, teething pain, food allergies and colic. And even though the books had not been written with baby vampires in mind, Conrad was confident that what he was witnessing now was a reasonable approximation of what he’d read about within their pages. If only that wasn’t the only thing about which he felt confident!
The babies were hungry, that fact was indisputable. They needed blood—apparently more frequently now, and in much larger quantities than they’d been used to receiving. That too was a given. But how much did they need? And how soon did they need it? How long did he have before these newest of his children were irreparably damaged by malnutrition? Before starvation set in? Before they expired? Or before even worse things occurred? Only two months old and already their lives were in peril.
If vampire blood would have sufficed, Conrad would have happily opened every one of his veins in order to gain even a half hour’s respite. But, alas, only human blood could supply the twins with the nourishment their bodies craved. Unfortunately, their suddenly ravenous and increased appetites, while understandable, had caught him off guard. There was no blood left for them in the house.
Damian had gone out several hours earlier on what should have been a simple enough mission—a quick trip to the local hospital to purchase the needed sustenance from the connection he’d been cultivating, and then straight back home. He should have returned by now. He hadn’t.
If he doesn’t come back soon… No. He will. He has to…
He’d just begun another anxious circuit around the living room when noise erupted in the street outside the house and the stillness of the night was torn apart. Raised voices began shouting up and down the block. Conrad stiffened, his body shifting instantly into battle mode as his mind was hurled back in time several hundred years. When the clock on the mantel began to chime the hour, it barely registered in Conrad’s consciousness. The noise filtering in from outside completely captured his attention.
He could not make out the words being shouted over and over again, but the noise continued, growing louder as even more voices took up the cry, accompanied now by the blaring of horns and whistles, the barking of dogs, the unmistakable ring of metal striking metal. Was that a mob he was hearing? Was the local populace assembling and arming themselves, preparing to attack and kill the monster in their midst? He’d experienced such things before, on more than one occasion, and it certainly sounded like the same thing was happening again now. All his protective instincts were aroused. Fear for the children in his arms overrode his common sense. Venom streamed from his exposed fangs and he growled fiercely in response.
What had given him away this time? How had he been found out? How much time did he have to escape? When the twins, aroused by the clamoring noise, began to wail, it took all of Conrad’s self-restraint to keep from smothering them in an effort to keep them quiet.
“Not another sound!” he cautioned as he deposited the still-fussing babies on the nearer of the room’s two armchairs. He threw a blanket over the chair in a futile attempt to hide the infants as quickly as possible, and was surprised and relieved when they quieted instantly. Was it the security of the blanket to which they were responding, or to his authority? He had no idea and no time to even consider the matter.
He was headed for the windows at the front of the house for a quick glance outside, when a new, barely detectable sound caught his ear. A key turned quietly in the lock on the back door. In what could only be a sneak attack, someone was attempting to gain entrance to the house from the rear. Someone who would not live through this night—not if Conrad had anything to say about it!
Hurriedly regrouping, Conrad turned away from the window. He moved swiftly to counter this newest threat, stationing himself between his children and the doorway, wishing fervently that he’d thought to have a weapon handy. He hadn’t, however, so his own brute force would have to suffice.
Fortunately, his own brute strength had always been more than a match for most of his opponents. He could only hope it would prove so this time.
Footsteps approached—measured, steady, without even a pretense of stealth. Conrad readied himself. When a lone figure appeared in the doorway, Conrad was seconds away from pouncing on the intruder and ripping out his throat. His subconscious intervened at the last instant, saving him from himself. Senses he was barely aware of possessing sounded an alarm, warning him of the mistake he was about to make. He stopped himself just in time.
Damian froze, his motions arrested in the act of removing his overcoat. His brows rose, his gaze appraised Conrad, who was still struggling to regain some measure of control. “Conrad? Is everything all right? Did something happen while I was gone? You look…strange.”
Conrad, still shaking from his close call, brushed aside Damian’s questions. He had questions of his own. “Never mind how I look. That noise outside—what is it? And what are you doing, sneaking in through the back? Why did you not use the front door like always?”
“The noise?” Damian shrugged out of his coat. “Is that what’s troubling you? It’s just the New Year being rung in. I’m glad to see the children aren’t bothered by it. Where are they, by the way? How did you finally get them to sleep?”
“New Year’s. Of course.” Conrad heaved a sigh of relief and ordered his muscles to stand down from alert. How could he have overlooked something so obvious? “I wasn’t…thinking. The date must have slipped my mind.”
Damian nodded. “Sleep deprivation, I expect. I’ve been reading about it. It’s apparently quite normal for new parents. And I came in through the back simply because I thought it might be better to avoid being seen coming in at this hour by our somewhat too-inquisitive neighbors. I’m sorry if you weren’t expecting it. I certainly didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Startle me? Don’t be ridiculous,” Conrad snapped, embarrassed by the overwrought condition of his nerves. He had no excuse other than worry and guilt and, yes, fine, lack of sleep as well—that was all he was willing to admit to anyway. “You didn’t startle me. I was merely growing impatient on the children’s behalf. What took you so long? I expected you back hours ago!”
A small smile glimmered suddenly on Damian’s lips. “Yes. Again, I’m sorry. I’m afraid it could not be helped. The orderly with whom I’m used to dealing had been given the night off. Inconsiderate of him, I know, but it is a holiday, so what can you do? It took a little bit of persuading before I was finally able to convince his replacement to give me everything I wanted. He had some…reservations that had to be overcome. I gather he generally prefers women, otherwise I’m sure I’d have been quicker.”
Conrad winced. He knew Damian hadn’t meant it, but his words carried an unintended sting. It was all Conrad could do to suppress a furious growl when graphic visions began to play in his head, images of everything Damian had likely been doing in order to bring his new orderly around to his way of thinking. Things he’d once been in the habit of doing only with Conrad.
Conrad stamped violently on his burgeoning emotions. He was not jealous, damn it. He had neither the right any longer nor any rational reason to be so. He and Damian had not been lovers for many years. What they’d had was over long ago. They’d both moved on. It was better that way, safer for them both. It would be beyond foolish for them to even think about taking up with each other again—especially now, with so much else at stake. He cleared his throat. “I see. Well, that is unfortunate. I’m sorry to hear it.”
“Oh, no, on the contrary.” Damian’s smile grew wider. “I quite enjoyed myself. It was such a novelty. I do believe I’ve given him a whole new perspective on life. In fact, I may have to make a habit of stopping by, from time to time, just to see him.”
Conrad’s jaw clenched. “Splendid.”
“It is, isn’t it? One of life’s little silver linings.”
* * * *
Twins Julie and Marc Fischer have always been taught one fact: You can’t choose your family. After six months of living in San Francisco, the challenges each face are an intricate web of complications neither was prepared for.
Marc is torn between staying with Conrad and Damian or embracing his destiny — and the feral vampires that come with it. Julie is torn between the man she loves, and the life she is supposed to live.