“You cut your hair.”
“Yes I did.” I didn’t touch it like a self-conscious teenager either, go me.
“It looks nice.”
“You can thank Marcel Grateau.”
“You can thank Marcel Grateau.”
“Was he in the bathroom with you?”
I sighed, but it wasn’t as though most men were up on their famous hairdressers. “No, he taught me.”
“Oh. I ordered food, it should be here in fifteen minutes or so.” Raimes checked his watch.
There were two full trash bags next to the door, the kitchen table was a bit damp and I could smell cleaning solution, bleach and smugness. “But…”
“The things in your fridge had started a reality TV show, the mail was ready to collapse and suffocate someone and your sheets maintained the shape of the mattress after I pulled them off. Yes, I cleaned.”
“Accept the change, Caspian. New haircut, clean apartment, new partner. You might even try buying a bed frame for your mattress.”
I wrinkled my nose and sat down at the table. “You are strange.”
“You are strange,” he replied. “I have this feeling partnering with you will be half parenting and half investigation.”
“I have a parent. He is enough.” I ran a hand through my hair. I’d gone for the same look I’d had in nineteen forty-three, longer on the top and shorter on the sides and slicked back from my face with some pomade I found under my sink. That stuff really lasted.
“About that. Your father, master vampire, is he the sort to go around killing?”
“No. He likes…repeat customers.” There was awkward silence until someone knocked on the door. I could smell food. “You ordered from Nico’s.”
I shrugged and went to the door and took the food bags from the delivery guy, tipped him and went back to the table. “Which is yours?”
“The spaghetti. I ordered your usual. Though I admit I don’t know what that is.”
I grabbed the box that smelled of iron and char. Inside were two steaks Florentine and vegetables. Green ones. I unwrapped the plastic dinnerware and dug in.
“You should chew your food.”
I looked up at him and shrugged.
Raimes rolled his eyes. “So. How are we proceeding?”
I considered that for a moment, looked at the table, and immediately realized the book my father had given me was not there. “Uh, little red book?”
“I put it on your desk.”
“I have a desk?”I got up from the table and went into my bedroom/living room and discovered that yes, I did have a desk. It was one of those glass and metal creations you built yourself, I think it came with the apartment actually. I picked up the book and my notes and went back to the kitchen table. “First, I become master.”
“Master? Like a master vampire?”
“Master dhampir.” I tapped the book. “Details are here. I must translate.”
“All right.” Raimes looked me in the eyes. “Why do you talk that way? Do you just not like talking? Or is it because of the accent? You know, it’s barely noticeable.”
I shrugged. “Used to it.”
“Uh huh. Well, try to speak a full sentence and explain to me what exactly you are planning to do.”
I wrinkled my nose. I had been doing so much talking these past few days. Uh. “Fine. From what I can tell there’s something about blood and death. Typical.”
“How hard was that?” He quirked an eyebrow which made me consider the earlier ogling and the incident in the car. His lips were very attractive. Well, most of him was attractive, but I was always fond of lips. And necks. And…other things.
I wondered for a moment how he got with a couple drinks in him. It might have been longer than I thought since I’d had sex. It might have been affecting my judgment. I finished my food before deigning to respond. “My throat hurts.”
He rolled his eyes. “Really?”
“You’re impossible. Now. Details. What exactly do you need to do?”
I opened up the book. “If I’m translating correctly, I need to dig up the grave of a virgin, crush the bones and make bread, which will then be used to make a sandwich with the grilled heart of a vampire no less than four hundred years old.”
Raimes blinked twice, took a breath, and then smacked me upside the head.
“Ow. What was that for?”
“The first really complicated thing you’ve ever said and you spout total bullshit?”
“You don’t know that.”
“Oh yes, I do. Now, tell me what we need to do, and try to remember that you’re hundreds of years old and by this point should be matured to at least the age in which you look.”
I wanted to refute that theory, but I couldn’t find fault. “All right. That’s probably true.”
Raimes was getting bossier, I think. Not that I had any real problem with that. I had never been a real take charge kind of guy. I just sort of fell into things. It was my style. I got this apartment because the previous tenant died and no one else wanted it. Died may have been a misnomer, brutally murdered was more precise.
It didn’t even smell like bleach and fear anymore, so I don’t know what they were all so hung up about.
I blinked. Right, sidetracked. “It’s not something I can explain.”
“I’ve only gotten through part of it. The handwriting is cramped. And it’s in Hungarian.”
“Which you speak?”
The look he gave me reminded me disturbingly of the time I drained my father’s newest female conquest dry when I was still living under his auspices and he found the body in his bed because I left it there and he gave me a look just like the one Raimes was giving me and then beat the living hell out of me.
That was not a good day for me.
I headed off the beating Raimes likely wanted to give me. “It’s not simple. There are components mentioned I don’t know how to get. The most important thing, however, is the blood of a master vampire, which by virtue of being his scion, my father has provided.”
“Make a list, we’ll put it through the acquisitions department.”
I considered that. There was a more expedient method, though I was loathe to use it. “Take too long.”
“We back to that?”
“Fine. It would take too long.” I grabbed a pen and my notepad and made the list. “We have to see someone.” I stood up and grabbed my leather jacket from the hook Raimes had put it on. I know I’d left it on my bed.
“Who are we seeing?” He got up.
“Have you ever been to a club called Hide?”
“That’s all right, you’ll fit right in.” No one would mistake Raimes for anything but a Dom, even in that damn polo shirt. I imagined him for a moment not in the polo shirt, found it distracting, and gave myself a mental slap.
Hide is a leather club. Straight, gay, bi, vampire, werewolf, fairy, didn’t matter much. The proprietor was a fey blooded hulk with dreadlocks everyone called Joker, he’d had a twin brother, but he was killed when an equally enormous Norse Viking under the influence of a nasty bitch of a necromancer attacked The Red Room, the other club for the paranormally inclined. A club humans were much less welcome in.
I went there when I was feeling the urge for bloodletting.
I came to Hide when I wanted a drink, a fuck or just to spend some time out of my own head. The music was decent and there was always a good pick of blood donors.
The dimly lit bar was located under a warehouse, back in the days of Prohibition it had been a speakeasy, The Domino Room, I’d come here in those days for gin and dancing.
Today though, I was here to see Joker, because if he couldn’t find something, it wasn’t findable. Raimes kept close to me. It had gotten dark, and the crowd was starting to gather in the club. Mostly the more obvious leather and bondage crowd, but the beasties would come out to play before too long. I sidled up to the bar, Raimes in tow, and knocked twice on the countertop.
Joker turned toward me and raised his eyebrows.
“I have a list.” I pulled out the paper and slid it over to him. “I need it ASAP.”
He snorted and drew the paper to him, peering down. “Could be difficult.”
I gave him a look. “Calcutta was difficult, Joker.”
He made a face. “Yes, yes. Come back tomorrow. Afternoon.”
“Thanks.” I turned back to Raimes. “There we go then.”
“This is a leather bar,” Raimes said.
“Come here often?” The look he was giving me made my spine tingle a bit. I wasn’t sure how I should respond. I wasn’t sure how he wanted me to respond. There was something feral in his eyes.
“Then you don’t like to be tied up and spanked?” He quirked an eyebrow.
“I don’t think…what?” I was honestly stunned. For one thing, no one had ever asked me that before, and for another, the only sexual action between the two of us had been that kiss and he didn’t remember that.
Raimes grinned. “You’re actually cute with your hair cut and that look on your face. Like a cat that just saw something on the ceiling.”
“You are terrible.” But that grin. It made me want to swear in Bulgarian, and if one has ever tried swearing in Bulgarian then one would know how long it takes just to say fuck off. The desire to swear notwithstanding, I shook myself out of the feeling and focused. “We should go.”
“You don’t want to stick around? Get a drink?”
“Getting drunk takes…a lot.”
“Getting drunk takes…a lot.”
“Then it will be an interesting challenge.” He pulled me back up to the bar. “What’s your poison?”
I sighed. “Rakia.”
He gave me a look. “Really?”
“I’m from Bulgaria.”
“That’s not a good reason to drink rakia. I’m getting you vodka.”
I blinked. “I find your bias strange.”
He shrugged and ordered our drinks, leaning against the bar with an easy swagger. He looked so damn confident, right in his own element. I had the urge to run my hand through the soft crest of his hair. I sort of wondered if it was as feathery as it looked. Mine never looked like that. Fluffy and feathery and soft…
With his posture, his shirt stretched over his shoulders and abdomen and the sleeve over his tattoo rode up enough for me to read it. Emet. Truth. Well, that’s interesting. It also led me to a couple of possible conclusions.
Our drinks arrived and I downed mine quickly. If he was what I thought he was, either of the options, then I was going to get myself in trouble. I was going to get myself into trouble no matter what, but there was certain to be some taboo about Jews having relations with someone like me.
I ordered another drink and downed it as soon as it arrived.
“All right, so this won’t be as challenging as I thought,” Raimes said. “Are you all right?”
“I don’t know.” I looked at him. “What are you?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“You dodged last time. So. What are you?” I looked him in the eyes. “You know my secret.”
He made a face in acknowledgement. “That’s a fair point.” He looked down at his arm. “I suppose you have some ideas.”
“A couple. I’m hoping you aren’t a homunculus though.”
He smiled. “I’m not a homunculus. Though the appropriate term for what you are thinking of is golem. And no, I’m not one of those either.”
“Oh good. I dislike dealing with magical beings crafted from clay.”
“Is that because magical beings crafted from clay possess no feelings?” He took a sip of his drink. “Or because golems have no sex drive?”
I think I’m getting mixed signals. Or had him seeing my shirtless body been compounded by my fresh hair cut and general honesty to make him attracted to me. You are being hit on, you fucking idiot. “Uh…maybe.”
Raimes grinned again.
“I need another drink,” I said. “Or six.”
“What’s wrong?” He put a hand on my shoulder.
“I’m trying to discern if you’re hitting on me and running into the wall of my subconscious which is calling me an idiot.”
“You should listen to your subconscious,” Raimes said.
“All right. Why are you hitting on me? I’m grumpy, obnoxious and generally unpleasant.”
“That’s fair.” He finished his drink. “Let me put it this way. I haven’t had a relationship in six months, you’re attractive and I happen to like taciturn grumpy brats.”
I blinked and tried to process that in a way that didn’t make me think of him in leather pants. Given my age and relative disdain for authority figures, there weren’t many sexual activities I hadn’t participated in. During my younger years that had been an attempt to piss off my father. He was always a more conventional sort. He only slept with women for one thing, sometimes multiple women, but women.
Aramis was the same way, but I wasn’t sure if that was just him seeking approval or his actual preference. I chose not to ask.
“Sorry, I was thinking.” I shook my head. “You really have a way of sending my brain off on dangerous tangents.”
Raimes took hold of my shirt front and pulled me toward him with an ease I found disturbing. He wasn’t all that much bigger than me, and I could have stopped him but chose not to. He kissed me. It was the kind of kiss you gave someone as a precursor to the kind of sex you felt ashamed of the next morning.
We pulled apart. I felt dizzy, my heart was racing and my palms were a bit clammy. Damn. I swallowed. “You. Good.”
“Normally I would consider reducing a man to single word sentences a victory, but seeing how it’s your usual state of speech I’m not sure how to take it.”
“Victory.” I nodded slowly. “Victory.”
“Oh good.” He put his hand on the back of my neck and pulled me in for a second kiss.
This sort of behavior wasn’t out of line at Hide, in fact, we probably could have gone to third base without any objection and if we moved away from the bar we could get to home without issue.
We broke for air again. “Just so you know,” I said. “I’m very confused by your sudden turn.”
Raimes sighed. “Clearly I will have to be more aggressive.” He kissed my neck and ran a hand under my shirt. The sensation was incredible.
“Does this place have private rooms?” he asked.
“Yes…but, aren’t we moving a bit fast, Raimes?”
“Call me Tobias.” He tugged me away from the bar. “Come on.”
“Were you drugged, or something?” I asked.
“You just haven’t known me long enough, Caspian.” He gripped my hand tightly and pulled me along through the dance floor. I don’t know why he bothered to ask about private rooms when he seemed to find them with unerring precision.
I couldn’t only attribute my lack of protest to my hope that this whole thing wasn’t a fever dream. My polo shirted partner was the last person I’d expect this sort of aggressive sexual advance from, but then, I didn’t know him very well.
I suppose this was a fine opportunity to get to know him better.
God I hope he’s not a golem.