His Touch of Ice

His Touch of Ice

Hi, he said. How r u?

Normally, butchering English would’ve turned me off, but since he was on a phone, I could excuse it.

Fine, I replied. You?

I didn’t expect an immediate response—or one at all, if I wanted to be honest with myself. It wasn’t often guys sent me messages on apps like this, especially guys like him.

His username was IceFire. His profile described him as a tall, Caucasian male with short blonde hair and blue eyes. His physique, listed as ‘athletic,’ was confirmed in a profile picture which displayed little more than a black-and-white torso, hands covering his junk and a fade shrouding his eyes from view—typical fare of the guy who wanted to be ‘down-low.’ He was a sight to behold, all broad-shouldered and slim-wasted, heavily-muscled and the slightest smattering of hair across his stomach and his chin, but that didn’t matter. The picture could’ve been a fake, which wouldn’t have been unlikely considering it was his only one.

Either way, it didn’t matter.

His opening come-on was proof enough of where this was going.

He wanted to get laid.

But with me? Couldn’t he have found someone better?

“Last pickings,” I muttered, easing my dinosaur of a laptop up onto my lap.

I decided to ignore the fact that I was most likely his pity hookup and watched the scrolling RSS feed on the side of my browser until the incoming message notification lit up the inside of one tab.


This story is a work of fiction. All characters are older than 18. They have fun having gay sex. If gay sex is not allowed in your country, you should consider moving to another one. The characters are not having safe sex, please use condoms while exploring your sexuality. As always, I look forward to your comments and suggestions. Thank you for choosing to read my story and I hope you enjoy! You may contact me at gaynerdy2014@gmail.com , also if you have your own story. Please send to this email gaynerdy2014@gmail.com , or click SUBMIT YOUR OWN STORIES! at the top right corner of HOME SCREEN. Also, If you include your name. I will give credit as due, otherwise, it will read as – Read By: Bobby Newberry. THANK YOU for helping to build Gay and Nerdy Archives Library of Erotic Stories and more. Note: We do not own these stories, only share. If you believe this story should not be here. Email gaynerdy2014@gmail.com and explain. If so, we will fix this mistake. 


I clicked.

Sure enough, it was Mr. IceFire. He sure was persistent.

I opened the message and waited for the apartment’s shitty connection to load the message before leaning forward.

Want 2 hang out?

I could’ve laughed at the response.

Downtown, a second message came in. 6th street.

I looked out the window and surveyed the surroundings of east Austin. While it was getting late, I could probably still catch the bus if I hurried. It wasn’t as if there would be cops waiting to catch me jaywalking or anything.

Was it worth it though?

I turned my attention back to his username and waited for his profile to load before skimming through it. The first thing that caught my eye was how well put together it was. The second was that it actually used proper spelling and punctuation, unlike his messages, which meant that either he was trying to impress someone by being smart, or he actually was smart.

I lifted my eyes to the top of the profile.

Looking for: Friendship.

Friendship? With a picture like that?

Sighing, I leaned back against the wall and lifted my glasses to rub my eyes, contemplating when the last time I’d gone out had been or whether or not I’d even enjoyed myself, much less with another, possibly-attractive guy.

Despite the usual persistence found in the guys on these sites, IceFire didn’t send another message.

I considered my options before me.

After a little less than three minutes, I opened my mouth and said, “Fuck it.”

What club? I typed.

Thunder, he replied.

A long and unfortunate half-an-hour later, I stepped off the bus near the end of Sixth Street and made my way toward the club where Mr. IceFire was hopefully still patiently waiting for me.

Austin, Texas—live musical capitol of the world. Flanked on both sides by varying restaurants, bars and clubs, the street resembled something like a cross between an exotic carnival ride and a brick-and-concrete wasteland meant to tailor to various bikers and cowboy culture. The gay district—comprised of three clubs, one of which had recently closed—loomed near and strong: one, the less flashy of the two, the other, the Thunder club, which IceFire had invited me to. I managed to slide past the cover fee on the chance that it was Funky Friday and entered the club after being ID’d with few expectations.

A quick scan across the club showed no sign of IceFire.

I couldn’t blame him for that though. He was but one body in a sea of glistening, shirtless torsos—lost in every gay man’s utopia on Sixth Street. He’d find me. It wasn’t like it would be hard, being one of the few guys with glasses or hair that hadn’t been covered in enough mousse to burn the ozone layer.

Rather than wait, I stepped up to the bar and settled down on one of the stools.

I was immediately greeted by a bartender.

“Hey,” the attractive Asian guy said, leaning forward to offer a smile below an impressively-defined nose and near-mouth-dropping cheekbones. “Anything I can get for you?”

“I don’t drink,” I replied almost instantly, then realized my behavior. “Uh… sorry. Cola.”

“No problem.” He filled a glass and passed it over to me before offering a slight frown. “You look a bit down on your luck.”

“I’m cool,” I replied. “Just waiting for someone to find me.”

“Ah, I see.” The bartender paused. “Anything I can get for you, sir?”

I nearly started to speak, but stopped when I realized someone had settled onto the stool beside me.

“No thanks,” the guy said, his deep voice somehow cutting through the jarring madness of techno and pop music.

After giving the newcomer a brief smile, the bartender scurried off to the end of the bar, leaving me to my cola.

“So,” the newcomer said. “You must be TheConqueringWorm.”

I nearly spit my drink. I had to lift my hand to contain my laughter before swallowing and said, “Yeah. That’s me.”

I turned.

Though not shirtless, he was easily the man I’d been speaking to online.

“IceFire?” I asked.

The man nodded and offered a smile.

His square chin was the first thing I settled on before my face traversed the fine cleft leading to thin but fine lips. His jawline was the same as the one pictured in his profile, as were the definition of his cheeks and the proud yet proportioned nose, but I hadn’t expected his features to be so strong. What completed them was the military-style buzz cut that perfectly framed his brow with its fine blonde stubble.

His eyes, though—they completely took me aback.

He’d listed them as blue, but not like I’d expected.

They had what looked like aqua rings surrounding already-breathtaking meridian-blue eyes.

I blinked in an attempt to appear as if I’d just spaced out, but the smirk on the man’s face proved he knew otherwise.

“Your eyes,” I said after a moment.

“Yeah,” he laughed. “I get that a lot.”

“Do you wear contacts?”

“Nope. Not a day in my life.”

“Sorry,” I chuckled. “And here I was trying to play it cool.”

“Hey—don’t sweat it. It’s cool.” The man extended his hand. “I’m Guy, by the way.”

“Guy?” I asked.

“Yeah. Just Guy.”

“Jason,” I said, taking hold of the man’s hand.

His strong, reassuring grip wasn’t the fleeting greeting I’d expect.

Guy’s eyes crossed my features before falling to the glass in my hand. “You drinking?”

“Just soda,” I said.

“You wanna dance?”

I didn’t need convincing.

A minute later, we were one with the sea of bodies, moving to the sound of remastered 80s electronica and mashups of all the Top 30 on the Billboard Charts.

Our proximity was intoxicating. I wasn’t sure if it was because it’d been so long since I’d been with a guy or if it was because I was just having a good time, but over the next short while, I found myself getting closer to him—whether I was being drawn, quickly, to his musky cologne, or the scent of his sweat that seemed to pull us closer like two opposing magnets. I was so embarrassed and was about to apologize for my behavior when Guy set his hands on my hips and pulled us together.

“This ok?” he asked, lips so close I could almost feel them on my ear.

I nodded.

The only natural thing to do was to put my hands on him.

Bracing my hands along his ribcage, I tilted my head up to look into his eyes and smiled.

“Having a good time?” he asked, inching his hands up my chest when our height difference proved to be troublesome.

“I haven’t been out to the clubs in forever,” I replied, laughing as he snaked one arm out from under mine and draped it across my shoulders. “I wasn’t sure if you were being serious.”

“I read your profile,” Guy said. “You seemed cool. And now that I’ve met you in person, I can definitely say that you are.”

Unsure how to respond, I merely smiled.

Leaning forward, Guy closed the distance between our faces before asking, “Is it all right if I kiss you?”

I didn’t respond.

Instead, I pressed my lips against his.

At that point, I didn’t care.

I just wanted to have a good time.

His lips were all over me the moment we entered his Sixth Street apartment. Hands braced along my hips, mouth pressed against the sharp line of my jaw and body pressed against mine—he snared one hand around my back and pulled me close to him before sliding his tongue into my mouth and taking a hold of the back of his head.

“God,” I gasped, tilting my head back as his lips fell to my neck.

I shivered as his flesh pressed against my jugular and his tongue grazed along the curve of my collarbone.

“You’re so fucking hot,” Guy said, sliding a hand under my shirt, his palm flat against the middle of my back.

I leaned, took hold of his face, and traced the stubbly contours of his cheeks before pressing my mouth against his.

“You’re sure you want to do this?” Guy asked when he released me.

“Don’t you?”

“Yeah, but only if you’re comfortable.”

I reached down and cupped the lengthening bulge along his thigh. “This comfortable enough for you?”

With a growl, Guy pulled me to him and lifted me into his arms, hands groping the firm globes of my ass as he carried me across the apartment.

Once we were in the bedroom, he pressed me down on the bed and ravished my body with his lips. Trailing them across my jaw, kissing the fine underside of my chin, giving gentle bites to my upper lip—he ran his hands along my side until they came to the tail of my shirt, then lifted it, revealing a flat but otherwise-undefined stomach. Guy’s intents were quickly made clear when he bowed his head and ran his tongue along my abdomen, all the way up to my chest.

When his teeth sank into my nipple, I groaned and cast my head back.

“Like that?” Guy asked, sliding his tongue across my chest to my other nipple, then giving it the same treatment.

“Fuck yeah,” I managed.

His hands snared my belt into his grasp as he begun to do my buckle.

“Wait,” I said.

He pulled back and regarded me with a curious expression.

Sliding off the mattress, I rounded the bed until I stood at the end, then gently pushed him atop it.

Once on my knees, I undid his belt with depth precision I’d swore I lost until I pulled down his pants to reveal a very large, very obvious strain against his briefs.

I reached out to take hold of it.

Guy groaned.

I leaned forward and slid my lips along the outline of his cock through his briefs before I pulled his waistband under his balls.

I only had one thought when his cock came into view and slapped against his abdomen: fuck.

It wasn’t anything I’d never dealt with before—maybe seven-and-a-half, possibly on the higher scale near eight inches—but its girth was impressive: throbbing, cockhead flaring. Guy’s breathing stopped when I took it between my hands then eclipsed into a slight gasp as I began to run my hand up and down his length, spooling his precum beneath my thumb and using it to slick his shaft.

“Fuck,” Guy gasped. “Ugh.”

“You like that?” I asked, edging forward to give the head a tentative lick.

He groaned and bucked against my hand.

I wouldn’t make the poor man wait any longer.

I took him in my mouth.

Guy’s cry of shock proved I’d struck a nerve.

It’d been a while since I’d been with anyone, let alone sucked someone off as big as Guy, so I took my time in getting used to his length and girth by alternating between sliding my mouth along the upper portion and jerking off the bottom half. His patience was impressive. He didn’t even reach out and tangle his fingers through my hair until I started going further down on him.

“Don’t… ugh… take it if you can’t,” he managed.

That was enough of a challenge.

I braced myself to bottom out and swallowed the rest of him whole.

“Fuuuuuckkk,” Guy moaned. “Yeah baby. Suck it.”

I ran my hands along the fine hairs on his upper thighs until I cupped the beginnings of his ass and allowed him to thrust into me at his own leisure. Bobbing my head, swallowing for extra effect, occasionally reaching down to play with his balls—I was near bursting with the need to jack myself off, but kept my focus on Guy as he rolled his head back and let out a long stream of moans that instantly made my dick jump.

“God,” he said. “Shit. Can I fuck you?”

I pulled my mouth off his cock and leaned over to plant a long, hard kiss on his mouth before shucking my shirt and undoing the clasp on my jeans.

“Is that a tattoo?” Guy asked, glancing at my arm as the faded, fractal-shaped mark came into view.

“Yeah,” I lied, glancing down at the scar blossoming from my shoulder and down my arm before shucking my pants. I’d been so caught up in the moment that I’d completely forgotten about it.

Ignore it, I thought. He’s only got one thing on his mind.

Once naked, I crawled up onto the bed, all fours, and watched Guy reach into a bedside cabinet for the lube.

“Take it slow,” I said, gasping as two fingers probed my entrance. “It’s been a while.

He switched to his thumb and circled my hole before sliding in.

I grunted and lowered my head.

Guy waited a moment before he continued.

When I felt I’d grown used to his thumb, I told him to slide a finger in.

I cried out.

I hadn’t expected his fingers to be so big.

“You ok?” Guy asked, running a hand under my arm to stimulate a nipple.

“Yeah,” I replied. “Just… big.”

He laughed and edged it in slower.

I closed my eyes and flexed around his finger to get used to the girth before he slid a second in, causing me to let out another gasp of pleasure. His in-and-out motions were one thing, but what really got to me was when he curled his fingers and hit my prostate.

I cried out and bucked against his fingers, forcing myself back on him.

“Looks like I hit a good spot,” he chuckled.

“Fuck me,” I gasped.

The sound of the condom ripping open, then of lube being squeezed out entered my ears before I felt his fingers against my ass one last time, freshly coating me.

A moment passed without anything happening.

I braced myself for his entry.

Crawling onto the bed, he braced his knees on either side of my legs, then pressed against me.

“You ready?” he asked.

I nodded.

He pushed.

I grimaced.

He slipped inside with a resounding groan that made me gasp for breath.

Taking hold of my hips, he began to ease himself in.

He went slow, like I’d told him to, pushing himself in when he felt I could take it and allowing me to adjust when he saw I was having trouble. Given his size, bottoming out would be a feat unto itself, but I was determined, especially since he’d made me so damn horny I thought I could blow at any moment.

“Doin’ ok down there?” he asked, sliding a hand along my abdomen, then taking hold of my cock.

“Fuck yeah,” I said, taking in a sharp breath when he started to stroke me off. “Go deeper.”

He sank in another inch, grunting as he pulled out and then repeated the motion.

“Ok,” I said, grimacing, reeling from the fact that the initial discomfort was now fading. “Start going. Just take it slow.”

He did as he was asked.

His thrusts were short and slow, rhythmic to the tune of a rocking ship idly adrift at sea, and each grazed along my prostate like a feather across the most sensitive of nerve endings. The first few times I’d gasped, Guy had slowed or stopped completely to ask if I was fine, but when he realized I was merely getting into it, he started increasing his pace.

Soon, he was thrusting into me faster.

“You’re so fucking tight,” he growled, leaning forward to adjust his weight on his knees.

“Feels fuckin’ good, doesn’t it?” I asked in turn.

Guy growled and leaned forward.

He sank in.

He bottomed out.

I cried out in pleasure and pushed back on my knees so I could tilt my head to kiss him.

His mouth was ravenous.

He took hold of my hips and started to thrust into me as our tongues danced inside one another’s mouths. Our grunts were symphonic within the small room, the smell of sex and sweat pervading the space. He took hold of me and guided me back to my hands and knees until my ass was in the air and vulnerable to his ministrations. At this point, he was starting to go hard—not that I cared. I loved it so much that I was practically begging him to go harder every time he started to up the ante.

“Roll me over,” I managed.

He flipped me over like nothing and reentered me.

I howled.

“Boy,” Guy grunted, wrapping his arms around my thighs before mounting them on his shoulders. “You’re a loud one, aren’t you?”

“Only when I’m getting fucked like this,” I managed.

I jerked my cock with increasing speed as Guy began to really pound home. The spirals of pleasure rolling through my body were leaving my lungs breathless, my brain in a fog. I could do little more than cry out every so often and moan the rest of the time as he started long-dicking me to where his cockhead hit my prostate continuously. The mounting pressure was beginning to make my head spin.

“Fuck,” I managed. “God… fuck.”

“Like that dick?” Guy asked, slapping my ass as he took his legs off my shoulders and spread my legs as far as they could go. “Like that big dick inside you, Jason?”

“Fuck yeah,” I managed.

“Tell me how much you like it.”

“I love it.”

“Fuck yeah baby,” Guy managed, tossing his head back.

“Ugh… ugh… Guh-Guy. I’m cuh-come—”

I exploded before I could finish.

I arched my back to meet his hard thrusts as come splattered across my stomach and all over my chest.

“Fuck fuck fuck,” Guy managed.

He pulled out, ripped the condom off, and jerked his dick three times before he sprayed all over my body.

“Ugggghhhhhhhhhh,” he groaned, firing shot after shot, chest heaving and sweat running in rivulets down his chest.

It took him nearly a minute to stop coming. By that time, he was so worn out that he simply collapsed atop me, his muscled body monstrous in comparison to my skinny frame.

In the aftermath of our fuck, we lay there—listening to the sound of the fading Sixth Street traffic and the desperation of our slow, labored breathing. I reached up to set a hand at the small of Guy’s back and was greeted with him sliding a hand beneath my ribcage, his eyes soon seeking me out after the post-sex haze of hormones had begun to dissipate.

“You’re fuckin’ hot,” Guy said, pressing a long, sloppy kiss to my mouth.

“You are too,” I managed, laughing as he bowed his face into my neck and kissed my collarbone. “God… I haven’t been fucked like that in a long time.”

“How long’s that?”

“Six months.”

“Damn,” the bigger man said. “I was practically breaking you in.”

“Oh, trust me,” I chuckled, setting my head on one of his fine red pillows. “You broke something in, and I liked it—a lot.”

Guy chuckled. He pried our sticky bodies apart before climbing off the bed, his ass offered up in glorious detail as he bent to retrieve the condom.

“You wanna stay here tonight?” he asked, bending around the corner to toss the condom in the wastebasket.

“The guy part of me says I’d be stupid not to,” I replied. “I just don’t want to impose.”

“You? Imposing? After that?” Guy laughed. He extended a hand and wagged his fingers in my direction. “Come on. Let’s shower. Otherwise we’ll end up sticking to the bed.”

Me and him, in the shower—

The water running warm—

His hands on my hips, his body against mine—

His lips pressed against the curve of my neck as an icy shiver ran down my spine—

I could’ve sworn it was all a dream.

When I opened my eyes, I expected to find myself in my dingy little apartment—twin bed, shitty laptop, 90s-chic TV, window facing out toward a long barren street of East Austin nothing. Slowly, though, it dawned on me what had happened last night.

I was in Mr. IceFire’s bed. And we’d fucked our brains out last night.

I allowed my eyes to adjust to the pale gloom offered by the blood-red curtains and ran a hand through my messy hair, taking a moment to let my surroundings sink in. For its size, it was lavishly decorated, arranged in a mishmash of sleek ebony furniture and bearing various glass trinkets atop the bookshelves in the room. It was obvious his favorite color was red. From the carpet, to the curtains—even the wallpaper matched in contrasting hues, as did the separating trim done in a fine off-white hue.

I wondered what he did to have all this.

I turned my head, expecting to see Guy still sleeping soundly beside me, but found he was nowhere to be seen.

I frowned.

Where could he have gone?

“Guy?” I asked, standing. I nearly lost my balance over how wobbly my legs still were and smiled. “Guy? Are you home?”

Crouching, I went about gathering my clothes in preparation for what was likely to be a soon and untimely departure, cursing myself for my stupidity but rejoicing over the fact that I’d had a good time. I couldn’t deny that what I’d experienced last night was nothing short of bliss, but I had to keep reminding myself of the true and sad fact—men like Guy didn’t bring guys like me home. The fact that he’d let me sleep over was a miracle comparable to Moses parting water.

Sighing, I pulled my boxer shorts up my legs and was just about to reach for my pants before I caught sight of a sticky note attached to the lamp on his side of the bed.

Frowning, I navigated around the bed.

Jason, it said.

I plucked the note from the lampshade and lifted it to my eyes.

Don’t leave yet. I went to get us breakfast. Be back in 30.

—Guy

I couldn’t have worn a stupider grin if I tried.

Tossing the pants on the floor, I reached down, grabbed my shirt, and pulled it over my head before I went to search his apartment.

“Hey,” Guy said.

I looked up from my place at the bar. The gorgeous man with the hypnotic blue eyes stood in the doorway, a series of paper bags and a tray of plastic Styrofoam cups in the other.

“Hey,” I replied.

Guy kicked the door shut from behind him and made room for the food on the opposite side of the counter.

“Sorry I helped myself,” I said.

Guy took note of the glass of water seated before me and smiled. “You’re saying sorry for water?” he laughed. “We’re not in that bad a drought.”

“I meant for wandering your apartment. Seems pretty skeevy if you ask me.”

“To each their own,” Guy shrugged. “Besides—I wouldn’t have left you here alone if I didn’t trust you.”

I narrowed my eyes in wayward confusion before lifting my glass and taking another sip of my water.

“But enough of that,” Guy said. He grabbed the paper bags and began to unload their contents. “I really wasn’t sure what you’d be in the mood for, so I just grabbed sausage biscuits and hashbrowns. There’s coffee and soft drinks over there.”

“Uh… thanks?” I asked.

Guy’s deep, raucous laugh echoed throughout the apartment. “Yeah—sorry about that. Not very often a guy buys you breakfast after he sleeps with you, huh?”

“It wasn’t that,” I replied. “I was just surprised that you’d bought for both of us.”

“Why not? You’re here, I’ve got a car, and there’s practically food around every corner. I’ll even drive you home when you decide you’re tired of hanging around here, though you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”

While my immediate response was to question his motives, I didn’t push it. He seemed genuine—at least, in the sense that he wasn’t a complete asshole who was a fuck-and-dump. And he had listed ‘friendship’ on his profile, so maybe he really did want to be friends—or at least friends with benefits.

Reaching forward, I took one of the sausage biscuits in hand and took a bite out of it, nodding as Guy passed over one of the two Styrofoam cups marked clearly with cola.

“Thanks,” I managed through a mouthful.

Guy nodded and dug into his own breakfast, alternating between bites of the biscuit and sips of coffee. My peculiar interest continued to lay in his eyes—which, now revealed in full color, were far more striking than they’d been last night.

Was it a birth defect, maybe? Genetic? An injury?

Then again, if he’d ever been injured, he sure hadn’t shown it last night.

I blinked when I realized how caught up I’d been in his appearance and blushed when I caught his gaze on me.

“Eyes?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I smiled. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s cool.”

“It’s hard not to look at them. They’re beautiful.”

“All the boys say they’re a sucker for pretty eyes,” Guy smiled, revealing perfectly-straight and white teeth. “Yours aren’t so bad yourself.”

I laughed. “They’re gray. Not much to them.”

“Maybe not, but how many people do you see with gray eyes?”

I didn’t reply—not because I didn’t want to, but because I wasn’t sure how. He did have a point. It wasn’t often you saw people with a blue eye color pale enough to pass for gray.

“Guess you’ve got a point there,” I replied.

We finished eating breakfast and lounged about his sunroom for a while—he in a tight-fitting T and jeans, me in my T-shirt and boxers. Gentleman as he was, Guy hadn’t bothered to mention my attire, which made the situation all the more comfortable considering how awkward I already felt.

Guy tilted his head back and let the sun strike the curve of his stubbly neck. “Nice day today,” he said. “Isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Hey… I’m not keeping you from anything, am I?”

“No. Why?”

“Just thought I’d ask. Most guys have their Saturdays planned out.”

“I’m more of a homebody than anything,” Guy shrugged, making the trademark stretch of the arms over the head before setting one across my shoulders. “Seriously—if I didn’t want you here, I’d’ve taken you home already.”

“I’m just making sure.”

“What about you? You have anything to do?”

“Not really,” I said.

Guy’s eyes flickered with question. I shook him off with a smile and wave of my hand.

“Trust me—I lead a pretty boring life.”

“What do you do?”

“Nothing much at the moment. I’m kinda… wandering.”

“Ah. I see.” Guy tightened his hold around my shoulders and looked toward one of the windows. “Hey—probably a stupid question, considering the circumstance, but… you wanna go out with me?”

“Huh?” I asked.

“For drinks, dinner—just that. So we can get to know each other a little more. Yannow… beyond last night.”

“I’m not objecting to last night,” I laughed. “Dinner would be nice, though. Anything in mind?”

“The Texas boy in me’s thinking Tex-Mex. I know this place that has killer margaritas. And their food—God, the food. But seriously—the margaritas are where it’s at.”

“I can get down with that,” I smiled. “Sounds good.”

“Cool. How about, uh… tomorrow night? Eight-ish?”

“I’d like that.”

“Ok. It’s a date.” Guy stood and offered a hand. “Also—I hate to kick you out all of a sudden, but I’m sure you have other things to do. Besides—the longer you stay here, the more I want to fuck you again.”

I laughed and took his hand. “In due time,” I smiled. “In due time.”

After dressing, we walked out the door and made our way toward the parking garage.

The minute we got in the car, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d fucked up by saying that.

He kissed me goodbye at the door to my apartment before he made his way down the stairs and to his car.

I watched him the whole way there.

Once the door was opened, the brutal truth of the situation was once again revealed.

In stark contrast, my apartment was a dump. While Guy’s resembled something of an upper-class bachelor whose entirety of his high school and college existence had been spent deep in academia, mine resembled a slum house. The wallpaper was peeling, the carpet was stained and yellowed, the air conditioning busted and never repaired. The walls were so thin I could hear everything from fighting to fucking to fists going in and out of walls—in a word, Hell. I’d never imagined that such a place could exist before I got kicked out of the co-op. Given it was all I could afford since those disastrous happenings, I couldn’t really complain.

Sighing, I walked over to the mail console.

If anything, at least I had a home.

I opened the box.

The first thing to pop out at me was Past Notice Due.

Or not.

I fought back the urge to rip the mail out of the box and toss it over the railing before shoving it under my arm and dragging it into the house.

Upon slamming the door, I heard the all-too-familiar sound of a screw coming loose.

“Fuck,” I groaned.

I turned just in time to see the door bow off one hinge and then completely tear another apart.

I could’ve screamed.

While human services was quick to respond to my complaint about the hinge breaking for the third time in a month, they were also more than eager to charge me for the repair bill they swore was not covered under their terms of service.

Great, I’d been so eager to think. Another bill.

I sat in my room with the collection of bills strewn about the floor and tried to keep from looking at the things that had become the bane of my existence. Most were months old—receipts from deferments which were quickly going to have to be renewed—but others were fresh, like last month’s rent payment I’d missed due to a check bouncing and then the new one for the door.

One-hundred, two-hundred, three-hundred, four…

Five-thousand, fifteen-thousand, sixty-thousand, more.

I cupped my face to my hands and rocked myself to the inevitable tune of my destruction, somehow managing not to cry but knowing that it would soon come anyway.

All those years, all that time—all for one lazy little leech to steal it all away from me.

Plagiarism, the head of the English department had declared, results in mandatory expulsion.

And the whole while, Michael Kriemer had just stood by, grinning like a fool when he knew no one was looking.

I rolled out of the bed which was in near disrepair and wandered to the window to look out at the dark side of Austin, trembling at the possibility of having to face life homeless in a state where the weather could be the death of you. Summers were bad enough—heatstroke could kill. But the winters? When it would suddenly drop from thirty to below zero without warning? Now that was a far cry from mercy. I’d much rather go to jail and be someone’s ass monkey than have to live through that.

My phone chimed.

I frowned.

I crossed the distance to the bed and lifted my phone to find a message from none other than IceFire, this time in perfect English.

Hey, it said. It’s Guy. How’re you?

The temptation to avoid the truth and just ignore the message was immense. There was no reason for me to spill my guts to a man I’d met just last night, much less slept with almost immediately thereafter.

But something… something was there.

I couldn’t explain it. Magnetism might’ve been the best word, but even then, that seemed stupid, considering I’d compared our attraction on the dance floor much like the same thing, or even our irresistible draw and passion when we’d fucked last night. Regardless, I felt a little coil of hope spring out in my chest—something that, though I wasn’t sure really existed, compelled me to be honest.

Horrible, I replied. Not having the best day.

You want to talk?

I couldn’t tell him no.

Guy drove up from downtown and picked me up on the corner of what I deemed was a far more feasible street before we made our way north. The whole way there, I struggled to say something—anything—to help break the ice on this embarrassing and all-too-humiliating situation, but not once did Guy press me. Instead, he pulled into the parking lot, opened the passenger seat door for me, then took my hand before walking in and taking our seats.

The minute the waitress arrived with our drinks, Guy slid the margarita over to my side of the table and jutted his chin in my direction. “Take it.”aid.

“I can’t drink that,” I laughed.

“Sip it then. You look like you need it.”

I sipped the margarita while Guy scanned the menu and sampled the offerings of chips and salsa set between us. The knots in my stomach increasing by the moment, the temptation to hyperventilate becoming more tempting by the second, I took a long, hard sip of the margarita and slid it to Guy’s side of the table before taking care of my soda.

“Better?” Guy asked.

“No,” I managed, reaching up to stop a tear before it could fall.

“Are you all right, Jason?”

“I—”

The waitress returned soon after.

“The steak,” Guy said. “And queso, for an appetizer.”

“The burger and fries for me,” I added. I didn’t think I could eat too much.

I was able to maintain control of myself until the waitress left. After that, however, a few more tears slipped down my face.

“You are crying,” Guy finally said, reaching out to brush a tear from a cheek.

“Sorry. Not the best way to start a date.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Just… everything, it seems.”

The man’s eyes faltered to the margarita at his side. He lifted, sipped, then replaced it before snaring his fingers within mine.

“Not you,” I said shortly thereafter, reaching up to wipe more tears away. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”

“I wasn’t sure.”

“No, no. You didn’t do anything to me, Guy. It’s…” I sighed, then paused to take another breath.

“It’s… what?”

In any other situation, Guy’s unfaltering gaze probably would’ve reduced me to nothing. The strength in its matter was something that no one could’ve faced in the midst of a moment like mine, because looking at him was like looking at a creature whose depths were far greater than anything imaginable. But here, though… now… they brought comfort—a sole warmth in the gust of wind that threatened to whisk me away.

I swallowed a lump in my throat. “My college,” I said.

His unsure gaze was what prompted my story.

I told him everything—of my ambitions to be an English Literature teacher someday, of my quirks and fascinations for the oddest or more obscure of the well-known writers and poets’ work. I even laughed when I mentioned that I’d stolen my username from one of Poe’s stories, which instantly prompted a smile and easy bearings come time the waitress arrived with the food.

“But what happened?” Guy asked. “Why are you so upset?”

The question was the perfect segue for the only person I felt was my one true enemy: Michael Kriemer.

I explained the ambitions that the two of us had—that, until sometime last year, I’d known nothing about him or what he wanted: just that he was a snobby little rich kid whose daddy had bought his way into school. Then I detailed what I felt was the cutting moment.

“I corrected him on one of Shakesphere’s sonnets,” I explained, chicken-pecking at my fries as Guy cut into his steak. “Something about how cultural and social standpoint would’ve prevented him from writing about his historically-scandalous love interests.”

“The male lover,” Guy agreed.

I nodded. “Right,” I said. “But Michael said that I had to be wrong, because works such as the Dark Lady sonnets were obvious proof of his sexuality due to their amount. I then countered by asking that if he’d been a gay writer in that time, would he’d be so willing to broadcast those feelings in such a climate? Not to mention how many of his poems or works might have been lost.”

“Understandable.”

“But… that’s where it went downhill. I made an enemy then, though I wouldn’t know until later, and… well… he got a hold of my dissertation.”

“How?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it was because he had ins with the English department. Maybe it was because his dad was rich. I don’t think he could’ve hacked into my storage cloud, because that would’ve been traceable, but a printed piece of paper… which was requested… bound, no less… that could’ve easily been ‘misplaced.'”

“It was lost then.”

“Stolen, more likely. Either way, come time I turned my dissertation in after I was told it’d gone missing, I was called down to the dean’s office and told that I was being put on academic suspension due to allegations of plagiarism. I started putting two and two together—my dissertation being misplaced or uncatalogued and Michael’s ins with the department—and… well…”

I couldn’t finish. I’d no need to. The outcome was clear. There was no happy or righteous ending in this story.

“You were expelled,” Guy said.

“Yeah,” I replied. “And now I have sixty-thousand dollars worth of debt that I can’t pay off.”

“Won’t they let you in another school?”

“Who knows? Maybe. Maybe they’ll take pity on me. Or maybe they’ll just think I’m a plagiarist once they look at my records and see why I was expelled. Either way, it doesn’t matter. I’m about to lose my apartment anyway.”

Guy’s face paled instantly. “What?”

“Yeah. I missed rent last month. No tolerance. They’ll kick me out within the next two weeks if I don’t pay up.”

“Fuck, Jason.”

I picked up the hamburger and began to eat in slow and careful bites, knowing that any further rush would make me sick and send me puking into the bathroom. Meanwhile, Guy’s expression had changed little. His unease had quickly eclipsed from shock to outright horror in the moments that passed, most likely because of how resigned I was to my fate.

“Do you have any family?” Guy asked.

“Up north,” I replied. “Nowhere I want to be. Or where they’d care for me to be.”

“Friends?”

I shook my head. “A few, but… not the kind I could go to for help.”

“But you…”

Guy’s loss of thought was so initially disconcerting that I stopped eating to wait for him to continue, my attention rapt and set directly on him. When he didn’t continue, I fell to the belief that he was merely thinking and continued eating, unsure what to say.

Minutes passed without Guy speaking—the waitress stopping, refilling drinks.

Just when I was about finished with my meal, Guy cleared his throat, took a mighty gulp of his margarita, then set it down, using the point of one knuckle to wipe salt from his lips.

“I’ll help you,” he said.

“What?” I asked.

“I’ll pay whatever you need to get out of the lease. You can stay with me.”

“I don’t think that’s—”

Guy pressed a finger to my lips.

His eyes said it all. Don’t speak. Listen. Wait.

He pulled his finger away set his hand atop the table, watching intently and waiting for an answer.

Truthfully, I don’t think he blamed me for my unsurety. I mean, who could? I barely even knew this man and yet he was willing to invest everything in me—his money, his confidence, his life. To some, his offer could’ve been seen as a gift of compassion, but to others? The double-edged sword was sharp. Did he really want to help, like he said he did, or was he just trying to make me into his own little sex bunny—to use and abuse whenever he liked? What, exactly, did he want with me?

“You don’t have to decide tonight,” Guy said after a moment, accepting the check from the waitress and signing it off. “I don’t want to pressure you into anything.”

“I know,” I said. “I’ll think about it. Thank you.”

What he didn’t realize was that, while he’d opened one door, all the others had remained closed.

He was my only opportunity.

How else could I escape a life of homelessness?

I meandered about my apartment at nearly three o’clock in the morning trying to figure out what would be the smartest and less stupid thing to do. I weighed up the Past Due notice on my kitchen counter on one side against my meager amount of pride and self-worth on the other. I collapsed on the living room floor and stared at the ceiling with the jagged crack that occasionally dripped water come time for rainier months.

There in my head rang the great question: To do or not to do?

Realistically, there wasn’t much I could lose if I caved to Guy’s offer. My dignity had already taken a turn for the worst, and I wasn’t exactly opposed to living with one of the hottest men on the face of the planet. Of course, the whole thing could backfire—he could demand sex constantly or force me to do things I didn’t want to, but if so, it wasn’t as if I couldn’t leave. A sex slave was by choice. Anything else and it became a hostage situation.

I closed my eyes and allowed my turmoil to engulf me.

The college, the tuition, the backstabbing bastard who’d taken nearly half a year’s work and passed entire passages off as his own without so much as batting an eye—all reigned supreme over my life, a black hole engulfing entire galaxies in space.

Only one person seemed to make all that despair go away.

Guy.

The next time I opened my eyes, it was nearly six in the morning.

I blinked, clearing the haze from my eyes.

I hadn’t realized I’d fallen asleep.

Lying forward, I stretched my arms down toward my toes and stopped when I noticed the envelope lying on the carpet.

Past Due.

I blinked.

Was this supposed to be some sort of sign?

I didn’t believe much in miracles, and I definitely didn’t have any sway toward the supernatural, but after placing it on the counter in such a way that I was sure it wouldn’t fall off, this couldn’t be anything else but fate.

Standing, I picked both the envelope and myself up before heading toward my bedroom.

I’d made a decision.

Later today, I’d call Guy’s cell and ask if he was still willing to take me in.

The flex of his strong arms captivated my attention as he carried one of the heavier boxes from my second-floor apartment and loaded it into the trunk of his car. Brow beaded with sweat, tank top stretched to the limit and riding up his lower back, he lifted his eyes as I struggled to carry another box downstairs and took it before I could trip.

“Sorry,” I said, noting his particular care of the box of breakables I’d just handed off.

“Don’t be. You’ll end up hurting yourself if you’re not careful.”

“Guess I’m still a bit humble over this whole situation.”

“Hey,” Guy said, patting my cheek with the cut-off gloves he wore. “Don’t be. I wanna help. Ok?”

“Ok.”

He smiled and bumped his forehead against mine before starting back up the stairs. “How many more boxes we got?” he asked, casting a glance over his shoulder as he stepped off the final stair.

“Uh… three, I think.”

“Three boxes?” he asked.

“Yeah. Why?”

“I asked because we’ve only brought two down.”

I apparently wasn’t quick to disguise my embarrassment, as Guy’s lips pulled down into a frown. “Ah,” was all he could say.

I chose not to offer a comment and instead followed him into the apartment. As usual, I had to warn him about the slight rise from the platform into the doorway, otherwise he’d end up tripping and landing face-first on the woodwork flooring.

“You really got to put up with a lot of shit from these people to live in a place like this,” Guy commented, crossing the short distance to the living room, where he crouched and tested each of the boxs’ weights. “This place reeks of courthouses and easy settlements.”

“I didn’t want to bother filing a complaint after all the shit I’d been through.”

“How long have you been here?”

“This’ll be my third month.”

Guy frowned. “You told the landlord about all the damage though. Right? Pictures and everything?”

“Yeah. Don’t worry—I covered my ass on this one.”

“I don’t doubt you did.”

Guy’s pale expression brightened into a smile when I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around him. “Thanks for everything,” I whispered, no longer caring what kind of impression I put off.

“Don’t thank me,” Guy replied, patting my back. “Let’s get the rest of these boxes in the car and get you home.”

“This’ll be your room,” Guy said.

He deposited the largest and heaviest box labeled ‘clothes’ at the threshold into a white-carpeted room with an expansive queen bed and a dresser set beneath a flat-screen TV mounted upon the wall.

“It used to be the guest room,” Guy explained as he followed me in, clicking on a series of switches that activated the lights and the overhead fan. “You’ve got your own adjoining bathroom to the side and extra storage under the sides of the bed if the dressers aren’t enough for you. Shelves by the windows have a few books in ’em, but those can be moved. And there’s a desk here around the corner for your computer, though you can’t tell because it folds off the wall.”

I spun around the room, taking in my surroundings while at the same time awing over the events that had taken place in such a short amount of time. In less than a week, I’d met a man over the internet, then in person at a bar, slept with him soon after, and was now moving in with him after his generous and near-incredulous offer to help me get a fresh start. I’d yet to determine whether there was a catch, especially with the revelation that we would be sleeping in separate rooms, but it didn’t matter. I was happy. That’s all I cared about.

“So,” Guy said, breaking me from my train of thought. “You like it?”

I turned to face him. “I love it,” I replied. “Thank you, Guy. So much.”

“You’re welcome, Jason. Why don’t you get settled in? I’ll unpack the rest of your stuff and we can order in.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

Guy’s only response was a smile before he disappeared out the door.

With that said and done, I spread my arms and fell back on the bed.

I hadn’t been on something so soft since that first night with Guy.

We ate pizza over six ‘o clock news on the coffee table in the living room. Outside, the beginnings of a Texas thunderstorm broiled in the sky, scattering miniscule droplets of rain shadowed only by the prediction that more would come.

“You usually eat on the floor like this?” I asked after taking a bite.

“Honestly? Yeah. Closer to the TV.”

“You’ve got a point there,” I laughed.

Guy lifted a fist and bumped my hand when I raised mine in turn.

A clap of thunder made me jump and bang my knee against the coffee table.

“You all right?” Guy asked.

“Sorry,” I managed, glad I hadn’t choked over my mouthful. “Don’t like thunderstorms much.”

“How come?”

“Notice my arm?” I asked. Not that it wouldn’t be hard to—the mark spread all the way from my shoulder down to the middle of my arm, ornate in composition but absolutely horrifying in backstory. “I got struck by lightning.”

“No shit?” Guy asked. “Fuck. I thought you said it was a tattoo, but I didn’t want to make it awkward by asking.”.”

“It’s called a Lichtenburg figure. Most people only get them for a few days or weeks after getting struck, but others—like me—get scarred. They’re supposedly caused when the capillaries are ruptured from the lightning strike.”

“Damn.”

“I’ve always been a bit self-conscious about it,” I shrugged. “That’s why I brushed it off when you asked that first night.”

“Well, we only had one thing on our minds.”

“Yeah.”

“When’d it happen?”

“When I was eight. Stupid me. Playing in a field, boasting all proudly that I wouldn’t get hit by lightning because I wasn’t the tallest thing around.” I snorted. “Look how far that got me.”

“Least you’re not dead,” Guy offered.

“Still don’t like thunderstorms,” I countered.

Another clap sounded, this one thankfully more distant. I was able to keep from jumping and pulled my legs out from under the table. Yawning, I stretched my arms over my head and cast a glance toward the kitchen. “What time is it?” I asked.

Guy, far closer to the kitchen and at a better vantage point, leaned over and said, “Eight.”

“I think I’m gonna go to bed,” I said. “Thank you for dinner. And helping me bring all my shit over.”

“It’s no problem.”

“You want me to help clean up?”

“Nah.” Guy shook his head. “Go to bed.”

I pushed myself up and started for my bedroom. Guy, too, stood, but rather than reach down to put the pizza away, he brushed his hand along my arm. “Jason?” he asked.

“Yeah?”

He pulled me into a one-armed hug. “Glad you’re here,” he said.

I smiled before departing to my room.

I kept expecting Guy to come in sometime during the night, after I’d fallen asleep or when he suspected I had. However—not once did I wake up to the sound of the door creaking open or the mattress shifting beneath a second person’s weight. By the time I woke up the next morning, I realized he hadn’t come in at all.

The door hadn’t opened an inch.

Maybe he really was genuine.

I sat upright and ran the balls of my fists across my eyes in an attempt to help adjust to the light streaming into the room. The lone window open, the white curtain billowing in the breeze of a cool new day, I turned my head to the bedside clock and gawked at the fact that it was nearly ten in the morning.

Shit.

I sprung from bed, pulled the window shut and the curtains in place, and dragged a plain white tee over my head before darting out into the hall to locate Guy.

No TV. No appliances. No footsteps.

Just as I’d expected, he was gone.

Had he already left for work?

I looked down at my scant attire of lounging pants and tee before venturing out into the hall, peering up and down the hallway to see if maybe I’d missed something. The guest bathroom door was open, as was his bedroom door directly down the hall, which meant that he was either gone or left it open in case I needed something.

As I expected the former, I stepped into the living room to see if his coat or keys were missing.

Both were gone.

“Guess I’m roughing it on my own,” I mumbled, starting toward the kitchen.

I slid into the miniscule space and was just about to open the fridge before I saw another sticky note affixed to its surface.

Frozen stuff in the freezer, it said. Sandwich in the fridge, bread and condiments in the pantry.

At least he was thorough.

I prepared a slight breakfast of ham and cheese stacked between toasted bread and heated up a pair of hashbrowns before seating myself at the bar and reaching for the kitchen remote.

I regretted hitting the ON button almost immediately.

“Initial reports are saying that the body of a young man was discovered on the shores of Lady Bird Lake early this morning in the hours just before dawn. Though authorities are not releasing many details, the jogger who discovered the young man described him as appearing ‘frozen,’ giving rise to the question as to whether or not this young man was the latest victim in what police are calling The Lady Bird Killer, who’s suspected of storing their victims in extreme temperatures before dumping the bodies. I’m Taylor Armson, and this has been your morning news.”

“Shit,” I whispered, clicking the TV off with a resounding sigh.

I’d thought this was over—that the man, or woman, who did this had simply packed house and moved on to some other unfortunate end of Texas—but it appeared that was anything but the case. That trail had been abandoned for a reason. It’d been stalking grounds. But when the last victim was found six months ago in a city where crime was as scattered as it was varied, it didn’t take much to forget the idea of a killer being on the loose.

I glanced out of the living room window at the upper end of Sixth Street.

Thank God I’d gotten out of my jogging habit, otherwise I’d be dead.

My appetite soured but unwilling to waste perfectly good food, I forced myself through the sandwich even though each bite felt like a tender knife within the corpse of an attractive young man until I was finished. One hash brown I ate half of. The remaining bits I ground up in the garbage disposal without much thought.

I stood there for a few minutes, glaring down at the sink as if it would answer the questions to all of life’s problems.

Soda in the fridge, a post-it said near the counter.

While I could’ve sworn Guy had leaned in sometime that morning to tell me such a thing, I opened the fridge to discover that there was, in a fact, a twelve-pack waiting for me—resting perfectly where a soda rack would’ve normally been placed.

After retrieving one from the pack, I walked to the sofa and cracked it open.

Bliss.

I spent most of the morning on the phone, arranging forbearance details with the government and straightening out my living situation with my former landlord. His thick accent and his frothy foam-at-the-mouth attitude made it almost impossible to discern what he was saying.

“You left?” he asked, nearly barking the words into the phone.

“Everything I own is gone,” I replied. “The furniture was left on the curb. The apartment’s as spotless as I could make it.”

“You wish to terminate your lease?”

“Yes sir. I do.”

The man on the other end paused. What sounded like a series of shifting papers, followed by a low string of curses in Spanish echoed into the receiver before the resounding shift of his mouth entered my ear.

“Look,” he said. “You’re past due on last month’s rent. I can cut you a deal, seeing as how you haven’t given me any problems. But I’ll still ask for last month and what you’ve stayed for this month’s.”

“That’s fine.”

“Total comes out to $952. Pay by Thursday or I retract my offer.”

“I will, sir. I’ll drop the check off in your box soon.”

The call ended without a goodbye.

“Well,” I mumbled, looking down at my phone. “At least I have two days to worry about that.”

The doorknob clicked once, then twice to release the deadbolt before it opened to reveal Guy, dressed immaculately in a finely-tailored gray suit and a pair of black dress pants. “Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” I replied.

“Didn’t expect you to be up.”

“Lunch break?”

Guy nodded. He slipped into the kitchen and began scrounging through the fridge before he pulled out a carton of what looked like hummus and pita bread, as well as a soda. “Care if I have one of these?”

“You bought ’em.”

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Guy laughed. He dipped the bread into the mixture and sluiced it about. “You ate?”

“Yeah.”

“Cool.” He tore a chunk out of the bread. “So,” he continued, “what’ve you been up to?”

“Student loans. Landlord.”

“You get the total we need to pay him?”

“About a thousand dollars.” I grimaced even though Guy made no visible reaction. “Sorry.”

“For what? I said I’d help you out.”

“I didn’t think it would be that much.”

“Compared to this place?” he laughed. “Trust me—I pay about that and more a month for this place.”

“You mind if I ask where you work?”

“Advertising—business, mostly, but I do independent work on the side. Guess I have a way with people.”

No kidding, I thought.

I smiled nonetheless and made my way to the window. Parting the curtain, I looked out at the street and surveyed the steady but not overly-coagulated stream of traffic below.

“Hope the sound doesn’t bother you,” Guy said, catching me off-guard. “I got the place for the view, but… well… it’s still downtown.”

“The sound’s fine,” I said. “I used to live near all the city services—police departments, ambulance depots, fire departments.”

“So you’re used to it.”

“Yeah.”

The sound of a trash bin flipping open, then closing radiated throughout the apartment before a set of jingling keys entered my ears.

“What time do you normally get home?” I asked, turning to face him.

“Uh… four, usually. Unless there’s meetings. Then six, seven at the latest.”

“Ok.”

“If you need anything, I keep spare change in the urn there.” He nodded toward the black-and-gold fixture seated at the edge of the bar. “You know your way around.” Guy opened the door. “See ya,” he said.

“See ya,” I replied.

He closed the door and locked it without another word.

The jittering doorknob stirred me from sleep.

Splayed out along the couch with my head on a pillow and a thick wool blanket over me, I opened my eyes to find it was almost dark and the rain had once again started up. My first inclination was that Guy was having trouble with his keys and had mistaken one for the other in the pale and somber light. Because of that, I rose and started crossing the distance between the door, head still fogged by sleep and legs struggling to maintain their balance.

“Guy?” I asked.

The doorknob stopped jittering.

I froze.

Something was wrong—very, very wrong.

The lock clicked out of place.

I lifted my head just in time to realize the bolt wasn’t done.

I slammed into the doorway the minute the door open, but I was instantaneously tossed away by the intruder’s brute strength. My back collided with the corner of the bar and I let out a stifled cry of pain as the shadowed figure entered the apartment.

His gun was drawn, pointed right at me.

“Not much you can do about a burglar when he’s got a master set,” the man said, clicking his tongue to the sound of the keys swaying in his hand. “Is there?”

I didn’t say anything. I was still struggling to take hold of my senses and block out the spiraling pain in the middle of my spine as he closed the door behind him, blocking out the sound of the traffic and rain.

“Now, listen here, rich boy,” the man said. “I want you to tell me where you keep your money—your cards, your cash, anything. And I want you to do it quickly, now, because I’m not stupid. I shoot, I don’t have time to look. So let’s make this easy… take me to the cash, or I’ll blow your fucking head off.”

“I…” I managed. “I…”

The man flung himself toward me and shoved the gun under my chin. “I said—”

“Can’t… walk.”

“Well, then. Guess that sucks to be you.”

He yanked me to my feet and spun me around until the gun was pressed against the back of my neck, a cold hard cylinder through which one pull of the trigger could end my life. He didn’t need to repeat himself to let me know what he wanted. The problem was, I had no idea where Guy kept his money, if he kept it anywhere at all. His cards would be on him, his wallet and personal identification in his pocket, every internet account accessed through his phone and the keys to any safe on his keyring. Truth of the matter was: I was fucked. I just had to figure out how to bide my time to get the hell out of the situation.

“Well?” the man asked.

“Give me a minute,” I said.

He clocked me upside the head with the butt of his pistol and nearly sent me to my knees again. “You had a minute. Go. Now.”

I started toward the hallway that would lead to Guy’s room.

I closed my eyes, counting the seconds until he’d realize it was all just a big fucking joke.

Behind us, the door opened.

“Jason?” Guy asked.

“Look out!” I cried.

I hit the floor as the man spun to fire at Guy and rolled onto my back just in time to see Guy lunge. One arm flying up to deflect the gun, the other to smash the fat ring on his index finger into the burglar’s face, he slapped the weapon from the man’s hand before he could raise it to shoot again and lashed out with his one free hand.

His fingers snared around his throat.

The man’s eyes widened. “Wuh-wait,” he gasped. “I’m just getting paid to—”

A chill washed over the air.

The tiny globules of water dripping from the man’s raincoat crystalized before my eyes and shattered the moment they hit the carpet. His frantic legs kicking, his arms struggling to reach out and take hold of Guy, I watched in near-awe and horror as the skin upon his hands paled to a sheer gray, then as the tips of his fingers began to turn blue. Our breaths were but white shadows in the air and the man’s gurgling gasps were reduced to slight chortles as his body convulsed, then twice, before going still entirely.

In but a minute, it was over.

Guy dropped the assailant.

His head lolled about to face me.

His neck was a mass of swollen black tissue and his lips and skin the color of ice.

Trembling, the air about us returning to normal, Guy panted and took a deep breath before turning to look at me. “Are you all right?” he asked.

“You… you’re—”

“I don’t have time to explain,” Guy said, looking from me, to the corpse, then back again. “Oh God. Gawwdddddd.”

“You… you’re the one who—”

“We have to leave. Now.”

“Wha-Why—”

Guy hoisted me to my feet and began dragging me down the hall to his room. When he realized I’d been injured, he set me on the bed and began cycling through drawers, pulling from hidden compartments bundles of cash that numbered in the hundreds, possibly-thousands of bills, not to mention coins which appeared to have been smelted from real gold.

“We have to leave,” Guy said as he turned to face me, “because once they come in and find the body, they’re gonna think I’m the one who killed all those people.”

“What… what are you?” I managed.

“There’s no time, Jason. Please.”

I kept silent.

“Do you trust me?” he asked, falling to his knees before me. “Do you trust me, Jason?”

I looked out the open doorway, at the body of the man who no more than ten minutes ago had been completely intent on killing me.

I tilted my head down to stare at Guy’s face.

The rings around his eyes glowed with an illumination told only in legend.

“Yes,” I said, after a moment of startling realization. “I do.”

Truth was, I had no other option.

Without him, I was fucked.

We drove away from the scene of the crime just in time to avoid the onslaught of police cruisers responding to reports of gunfire. Tucked safely away in Guy’s sprawling blue Lexus, we made our way through the streets of Austin in silence, save for only the sound that of our breathing. I’d been quick to try and stem the bleeding from my head wound, if only to keep from ruining the interior of Guy’s car, but found it was almost impossible to do so.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said after I fussed with yet another series of napkins. “They’re covers. Besides—the car’s the least of my concerns right now.”

“Where are we going?”

“Hill country, even if it’s the last place I want to go.”

I cradled the back of my head with one hand and fought to control a rolling wave of nausea that threatened to send the contents of my stomach onto the floor of Guy’s nice car. Breathing, carefully, as to not overstimulate myself, I rolled the window down just a crack and leaned my head against it—immediately prompting a look from Guy, but not the question I’d expected.

The silence was bliss after all I’d went through.

I kept hearing the same sound in my head.

Bam, the gun went. Bam bam bam.

During the chaos of it all, there’d been little time to think of anything. We’d packed two bags, carried them out to the car, Guy said we’d pick up food once we got out of Austin and we were free of the burden of the police department—I’d noted, upon our departure, a tear in his suit where the bullet had grazed and cut straight through, but he’d been quick to rebut my offers of help.

You’re hurt worse than I am, he’d finally said.

He was right. I’d been slammed into the corner of a counter and been cold-clocked with a pistol. How I was even awake, much less lucid, was beyond me, but so far I was faring well. The sharp pain in my back had since dulled to a low throb—which, I hoped, meant it wasn’t too serious.

So early in the evening, the traffic through west Austin was a nightmare. He immediately bypassed I-35 and instead took Congress all the way down to William Cannon—which, eventually, would lead us out of Austin and into Hill Country.

Sometime during our merge onto William Cannon, I nodded off and fell into a deep sleep.

When I woke later to a throbbing head and a back with what felt like a needle lodged into my spine, I lifted my head away from the window to look out at the world before us.

Hill country.

Even so late at night, it was stunning in its beauty. Flanked by blue bonnets on both sides, bordered by tall grasses in various colors further out, and sprinkled with wildflower in every shade and hue imaginable. With the headlights striking their surfaces, they resembled the mystical Wonderland Alice had so unfortunately fallen into, albeit with a sinister shade that reminded me of the Cheshire Cat and all its creepy riddles.

“Guy?” I asked, turning to face him. “Are you all right?”

The sweat beading down his forehead gave no indication that he was. The heater was cranked full blast and both windows were rolled up to trap the near-suffocating air that permeated the inside of the vehicle. I almost told him to turn the air down and roll down the windows, but when I reached out and found his skin to be cold as ice, I jerked my hand away, trembling at the shock in temperature difference.

“Guy?” I asked. “What—”

“Good,” he said, not taking his eyes off the road. “You’re awake.”

“What’s going on? Why are you sweating?”

“I’m cold, Jason. I’m really, really fucking cold.”

“But you’re sweating—”

“I’m not like most normal guys, babe, but I think you already figured that out already.”

I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t sure what to say.

Guy returned his attention to the road and focused on a slight dirt runoff that likely led to an old farm trail. “I’m pulling over,” he said.

“Guy, what’re you—”

“Just trust me! Ok?”

I flinched at the bark in his tone, but nodded as he pulled over and killed the ignition.

One moment, the lights were on, illuminating the rolling fields of flowers before us. The next, it was dark and I could only see by the light of the moon.

Guy took my hand. “You said you trusted me,” he said, stroking my knuckles, a faint echo of discomfort pulsing from his glacial fingertips. “Right?”

“Yeah,” I nodded. “I trust you.”

“I can’t explain right now. I’m… starting to fade. I need you to do something for me. It won’t hurt, but… it’s not going to be pleasant either.”

“Guy,” I said, quickly losing my cool as he began to shiver violently. “What’s—”

“Please, Jason. Help me.”

The rings around his eyes glowed brighter than ever.

I swallowed a lump in my throat. “What do you need me to do?” I asked.

“Kiss me,” he said.

Leaning over, he took both sides of my face in his hands, tilted my head to the side, then captured my upper lip between his.

A spark ignited between us.

The immediate sensation of standing in the middle of the freezing-cold rain consumed my body like a voracious predator. Shocked, initially, by the contrast in our persons, I almost recoiled, but I held myself steady as he grounded me with his hands. His fingertips slid down my face, tracing one cheek, then my jawline—his tongue slid into my mouth and a spark of pleasure unlike anything I’d felt before shocked my senses and nearly made me blow in my pants. It was then and there I submitted to his needs, harder and hornier than ever, and reached up to take hold of the back of his neck and skull.

His tongue slid across my lips.

I groaned as he pressed his mouth against mine.

The pressure of his hand against the swollen spot of my spine instantly imparted comfort that no medication could’ve offered.

Just as quickly as it begun, it was over. Guy pulled his hands away from my face, then withdrew mine from the back of his head. “We’re done,” he said.

“I,” I gasped, “nearly… came.”

“That happens sometimes,” Guy smiled.

I looked around at the interior of the vehicle. Unlike before—when it had been sheathed in the tight, oppressing grip of heat—it was colder than hell. Ice particles lit the frame of Guy’s brow and the windows were completely fogged and frozen over.

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“Guy,” I said, turning my eyes back on him to find that his irises had since lost their vibrant, aqua glow. “What just happened?”

“I’ve got some explaining to do,” he said. He put the car into drive and flicked the defrosters on. “There’s a rest stop up ahead. We’ll talk there.”

“Long before I was born,” Guy said as we paced along the edge of an informational marker, gesturing for me to sit on one of the stone platforms that looked out into the distant hill country, “my father was supposed to lead a series of his disciples from the various parts of Scandinavian Europe and bring them to the Americas in an attempt to preserve our culture. At the time, we were still a blossoming people intent on carving out a purpose in our small part of Norway. Our country was great, then—at the beginnings of its power, when we couldn’t go nowhere but up. We’d established nearly thirty kingdoms by the turn of the eighth century. Then… the Vikings showed up.”

Guy sighed. He settled down beside me and idly reached into his pocket, as if hoping to pull out a pack of cigarettes, but quickly retrieved his hand when he was unable to find what he was looking for.

“Most had left the coast due to the lack of land that was available. Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, the Faroe Islands—it’d make sense, if you think about it, because what use was there in staying in a land where there was nothing available?

“Anyway, the long story short was that my people were barely nonexistent to begin with. We lived on a small series of islands to the east of Bergen and basically lived off the land—keeping to ourselves, not making ourselves well known, that sort of thing.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” I continued, reaching up to finger the sore spot along my skull. “You said this happened in the eighth century.”

“Yeah.”

“But you started by talking about your father.”

Guy’s eyes settled on me in the moments following my question. “Do you remember me telling you to trust me?” he said. “And when I said I wasn’t like most normal guys?”

The rings around his eyes, though hidden, were clear and stark in my head—both glowing, both alien in their own and unusual way.

Guy didn’t wait for me to answer. Instead, he reached down, set his hand over mine, and said, “I’m what my father calls the Svell Kaldr—the ice-cold, or the true people of Norway. He usually just refers to us as the Kaldr.”

“So… you’re vampires then?” I asked, hesitant to allow my hand to stay beneath his after such a declaration.

“God no,” Guy laughed. “We’re anything but.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, I don’t suck blood, for one. And for two, I can go out in the daylight. Crosses don’t bother me either.” He reached beneath his shirt and withdrew the fixture I’d seen but a few times around his neck and fingered the bridge in the center.

“You’re not damned then?”

“You mean under Him?” Guy asked, rolling his eyes up to the sky. “I don’t know. I’ve never really given much thought to it. I wear it as a sign of my mortality, despite my inability to age. Let me tell you—I’d be dead if he’d’ve shot me in the head.”

“Do you… uh… believe?”

“I have hope. One should when they see such horrible things in life.”

“I guess I’m just having a hard time believing in all this… stuff.”

“What’s hard to believe?”

“You say you’re not a vampire—”

“I’m not.”

“And you’re saying they don’t exist—”

“I never said any such thing.”

“So… I guess what I’m asking is—”

“Yes, Jason,” Guy said. “There are more of my kind out there, just like there are more of the Sanguine or Howlers. The world’s a scary place. There’s monsters around every corner.”

“Why me, though? Why bring me into all of this?”

“If I had a choice, we’d still be in Austin, sleeping in my apartment or talking on the sofa. I never meant for this to happen to you. I merely wanted to help.”

I didn’t say anything. Guy spun around and pushed himself off the brickwork fence before starting back toward the Lexus.

“I brought you with me because I knew there’d be questions,” he continued. “And because you’d be seen as an accomplice to multiple murders.”

“You mean someone else like you was in Austin? The Ladybird Lake Killer?”

“There’s a rat in our system, and it was looking to set me up. I just wish I knew who.” The crunch of Guy’s shoes across the dirt continued until he stopped in place. “Come on. We need to keep moving. I don’t want anyone to follow us.”

That was as good a reason as ever.

Standing, I brushed the dirt off my pants and slid into the car.

Just before Guy flipped the ignition, he gave me a look I knew showed trust.

We slept at a rest stop on the outskirts of Horseshoe Bay in the back seat of Guy’s Lexus. Draped beneath a single blanket to stave off the cold, huddled close to conserve warmth, we woke when the sun was just peeking over the horizon and stabbing light into the vehicle.

“We’ll stop at a gas station to get something to eat and use the restrooms while we’re there,” Guy said, shrugging out of his torn, bloody dress shirt, revealing the tanktop beneath it.

“Where are we headed?” I asked.

“Fredericksburg. It’s far enough away from the city to not draw immediate suspicion and enough of a tourist attraction to where if they do manage to catch wind of where we are, it’ll be difficult for them to find us.”

“What about the car? It’s not like you’ve mentioned anything about fake plates.”

“We’ll be gone by the time anyone ever finds it.”

I remained silent as I watched him start the ignition and fumble with a few dials on the dash. I noted his immediate reaction was to keep the inside temperature somewhere between hot and cold—likely, now that I realized, due to his condition and just who he was—but watched as he gave pause when he caught sight of me in the backseat. His fingers instantaneously flipped the dial to the far right side—offering comfortable, cool air that would combat the worst of the Texas heats.

I fumbled over the console and landed in the passenger seat with a resounding grunt.

“You ok?” Guy asked.

“Yeah,” I said, clipping my seatbelt into place.

Over the course of the next several hours, during which time the hill country became progressively grassier and the flowers were seen only in spurts along the scenic routes, I looked out the window and dwelled on the intricacies that ultimately led to my sure position within all this.

Guy had been right when he said I’d be seen as an accomplice. Between the murder committed in self-defense and my presence within the apartment, it was only natural that they’d tie us together, especially after they looked up my records and my landlord confessed to me having unexpectedly moved out.

I was fucked. No matter what way I looked at it, I was utterly, truly fucked.

It wasn’t all bad though. A quick glance at Guy was enough to show he cared about me, at least in part. I mean, he’d taken me in, and was now leading me on a desperate run to safety. He could’ve left me in that apartment to take the blame for everything, including the murders of the people along the Lake Lady Bird trail. The fact that he’d brought me along was merit enough of his worth as a man. Or whatever he was.

I rolled my head along my shoulders to look at him.

“Guy,” I said. “You never mentioned what would happen after we hit Fredericksburg.”

The man’s brow furrowed and his lips narrowed into a frown.

“Guy?” I asked.

“My father has a ranch outside town,” he said, drumming his fingers along the wheel in tune to the sound of something on the radio.

“You don’t think anyone will recognize you while we’re there, do you?”

“I doubt it. I may be European, but that isn’t going to be a red flag in a state like this. Besides—it’s you I’m more worried about, what with that scar and all.”

I shrugged my oversized T-shirt to the side. “There’s a reason I wear baggy clothes.”

“There shouldn’t have to be one. That’s what I’m saying, J. You’re gorgeous as hell, and the scar only adds to that.”

I lowered my head to hide my blush. “Thanks,” I said.

He reached over and pushed my glasses up my nose. “Gonna lose these if you’re not careful,” he smiled, patting my cheek. “I ever tell you I have a thing for guys with glasses?”

“No.” I paused. He looked out the corner of his eye at me. “We haven’t told much of anything about ourselves to each other.”

“Guess we’ll just have to remedy that then, huh?”

I smiled.

We pulled into Fredericksburg early in the afternoon and immediately began to peruse the various shops for clothes and other basic necessities. Given our situation, we kept our heads down—always speaking low, not bothering to give a cashier or even a drive-thru clerk much of a direct gaze. We barely even addressed each other by name, such was the need for discretion. The whole thing made for a very, very dark situation.

By the time we pulled up to the bed and breakfast, the worst of my fears had begun to manifest.

“Guy,” I said, grimacing as he popped the driver’s-side door open. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

“What?”

“Getting a room, staying here for the night.”

“We have to sleep somewhere,” he said. “Besides—I have a way with people.”

The slight wag of his eyebrows, followed by that devilishly-sexy yet dangerous grin, gave way for nothing but sarcasm.

With a sigh, I crawled out of the car, gathered the few bags filled with our necessities, and followed Guy up to the inn.

Immediately upon entering, the hairs on my neck rose on end.

I wasn’t one for paranoia—at least, not normally. Maybe it was because I was usually so laid-back about anything and really didn’t have anything to be nervous about, but standing here, in the bed and breakfast lobby, I felt like I had a target trained on the back of my head.

Pop goes the weasel, I thought rather grimly.

The young man behind the counter—who couldn’t have been much younger than I was—raised his head as Guy and I approached and smiled. “Ah, gentlemen,” he said. “What can I do for you?”

“We’re looking to get a room for the night,” Guy responded, inclining his head toward me and giving me a reassuring look.

“Just one bed, or…”

“One is fine.”

The clerk turned to a computer system and began to click keys at a breakneck speed. “All right, mister…”

“Gordon,” Guy said. “Gordon Johnson.”

“Johnson. I’ll just need a form of identification and a credit card and then I’ll be able to…”

Guy jerked his elbow and upended a plastic cup of pens at the side as he reached into his pocket to pull his wallet out.

The young man leaned forward.

“Here, let me get that,” Guy said, pressing his hand atop the clerk’s. The man’s eyes softened and appeared to take on a brief, translucent hue before returning to normal. “Sorry about the mess. I’d just remembered that I don’t have my credit card on me right now.”

“Oh,” the man said.

Guy’s hand didn’t stray.

“Is there any way you could accept cash?” Guy asked. “Just for me. Just this once?”

“I… my manager…”

Guy slid his thumb along the underside of the man’s wrist.

“I guess I could do it, just this once,” he said, pulling his hand back. “A one-bedroom for a Mr. Johnson? For how many nights?”

“Three days and four nights,” Guy said.

“That’ll be three-hundred even.”

A number of bills were passed between Guy and the man behind the counter before a room pass was exchanged. “Third door on your right,” he said. “Overlooking the courtyard.”

Guy smiled and offered the man his thanks before taking some of our belongings in hand and leading me up the stairs.

“So… a way with people,” I said as I settled atop the bed, a fresh undershirt stretched comfortably across my chest.

“Yeah,” Guy smiled, spreading out widthwise beside me.

“What’d you do down there?”

“Let’s just say I worked a little magic.”

“A little?” I asked. “Dude couldn’t run to the bathroom fast enough to get his dick out of his pants.”

“So you noticed that too?”

“Seriously,” I said, rolling over onto my stomach. His gaze, set toward the beams cris-crossing the heights of the comfortably-decorated room, strayed toward me upon my questioning.

“You ever heard of something called ‘Glamoring?'”

“Yeah. It’s what vampires do when they’re trying to sway their influence on you.”

“The Kaldr can do the same,” Guy explained. “But unlike vampires, our influence tends to lie in seduction. Not that they don’t use it—because really, they do—but we don’t have the sheer willpower to force someone to do something for us by thought.”

“Have you ever used it on me?”

Guy frowned. “Why do you ask that?”

“Because if all it takes is a simple touch…”

“Jason,” Guy said, rolling onto his side. He made a move to touch my arm, but stopped and instead allowed his hand to fall slack between us. “I’ve never had a reason to push my influence on you.”

“Why?”

“Because I wanted to do it the right way—unlike others of my kind.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. I could admit that, up until this point, I’d played the role of the Mary Sue just because I felt it necessary. Here I was—Jason DePella, nearly twenty-six years old and living in a ramshackle shithole of an apartment after being kicked out of school for something I didn’t do—getting hit up by some gorgeous hunk of man whom my nerdy ass would’ve never landed in a million years. Yet here we were, lying side by side—him looking at me, me at him—and there was absolutely nothing awkward about it.

Was I being complicated just for the sake of being complicated?

I’d been trying to figure that out—had been since I first set foot in Guy’s apartment and then in the short amount of time spanning our flight from Austin—yet the answer escaped me. Who knew when I’d figure that out.

All I knew was: I liked this guy. We may have met under unusual circumstances—and yeah, we may have had sex on the first date and then moved in together a few days later—but that didn’t diminish everything he’d done for me up until this point.

As I’d so horribly thought before, he could’ve left me behind.

He could’ve let me take the blame.

He could’ve let me rot in prison.

And perhaps worst of all, he could’ve let me rot on the streets, if somehow I managed to escape the cruel fates previously imagined.

“Jason?” Guy asked. “You ok?”

“Yeah,” I said, blinking, smiling as I took in his odd eyes and the ruggedly-handsome features of his face. “I’m fine.”

“Good. I was worried you might think less of me.”

“I don’t.”

I stretched my hand out over his and laced the three of our largest fingers together.

“I’m not asking you to do anything,” Guy whispered, laying down and settling his head atop his arm.

“I know,” I said. “Don’t worry.”

I laid down beside him.

His fingers flexed beneath mine.

I found mine within his.

There was a long conversation about who would sleep in the bed. Guy proposed that he sleep on the couch in favor of my recent injuries. I said that I was fine—that my back was feeling better and that it didn’t matter if we were both on the bed. Several tense moments of silence passed thereafter, until we finally agreed to sleep in the same bed.

Now almost ready for bed—he in his briefs, I in my boxers—we spread out along the bed and prepared to tuck ourselves in. He was just about to pull the covers over us before I rolled over and he took notice of my back.

“Jason,” he said, pressing a hand to where I’d brutally been rammed against the kitchen counter.

“I told you,” I said, adjusting my place beneath his touch. “I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine. You’re all swollen up.”

I’d never paused to consider my injury. I’d been popping pain pills so much that I’d automatically assumed that my back was feeling better and thought nothing more of it. But now, feeling the slight pressure of Guy’s hand atop my swollen back, the dull pain slithered into my brain like a reminder wishing to be noticed.

“I can do something for this,” Guy said. “That is, if you’d be willing. And you’d let me.”

“What’s that?”

Guy shifted the blankets across his waist and pushed himself up with one elbow. “You know how I drew the heat out of your body when we were in the car,” he asked, gently running his hand along the upper portion of my back.

“Yeah.”

“I can do the same for your back.”

“But my back’s not burned. I don’t see how that would help.”

“The muscle is enflamed though. And what do they tell you to do to take swelling down?”

“Put a cold compress on it,” I said, without much in the way of thought. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath to clear my head. “Is this going to hurt?”

“No. If anything, it’ll make you feel better.”

“If you say so,” I said, spreading my arms out over my head.

Edging the blanket up over my hips, Guy straddled me and braced his knees along my thighs. “You might feel cold,” he said. “Tell me when you want me to stop.”

Nodding, I closed my eyes and waited for him to begin.

His touch was like fire.

It was unlike anything I’d ever felt. A pinprick upon my flesh, a never-ending pressure within my spine, a supernova inside my body who in its rage consumed everything within its path—the urge to scream was so great that I nearly cried out at the top of my lungs, but Guy’s lips at the curve of my shoulders brought calm to the wildfire brewing within my mind, as if his body were the temple through which the fires could not burn.

“Shh,” he whispered, lips close to my ear. “It’s all right. I told you it might hurt.”

“No you… didn’t,” I gasped.Biting my lip, I stuck through the pain and kept my silence.

There was no need to speak.

I trusted him.

He knew what he was doing.

The radiating sensation of pain dissipated and was replaced by luxury. Spiraling outward, seeping into the fabric of my person, weaving through my muscles to sew an undeniable euphoria of space—from the tips of Guy’s fingers came an unbridled passion that brought peace upon my damaged body through its undeniable chill.

The sharp bursts of breath that passed into my lungs threatened to make me pass out.

Breathe, a voice said. Breathe.

I wasn’t sure if it was Guy’s voice. So lost to utopia, I could barely make sense of where I was. My head was filled with pleasure, my lungs the tang of air. My body shivered as from the base of my neck to the curve of the collarbone ran a chill that subdued any action and quelled every thought.

My cock lengthened within my boxers.

My nipples hardened to diamond points.

My eyes, already closed but occasionally opening to view the threshold of the physical world, rolled up into my head as something in my lower back gave way.

I moaned.

Guy’s lips touched my neck.

Unlike his hand, I felt breathtaking chill upon his lips.

In a moment, it was over.

When Guy’s hand came free of my back, I lay there only long enough to recover from the overwhelming numbing sensation before pushing myself upright and planting myself on him.

“God,” I gasped, pressing my lips to his face, my hand running through the thin sheen of blonde hair on his chest. “I can’t believe what you just did.”

“You need to rest,” Guy said, turning his head the other way.

“Fuck,” I moaned. “I’m so turned on.”

“All the reason to lie down and go to sleep. Screwing around isn’t going to help your back again.”

“Come on.”

Guy shook his head and pressed his hand to my face. “Lay down,” he said.

I looked him straight in the eyes, the desire to fight him overcome by the urge to do as he said. It felt no different than breathing—watching him, waiting for a further response. Only when he took hold of my shoulder and eased me onto the bed did I cave to his requests.

Once firmly settled on the bed, he turned the lamp off and drew up alongside me.

His hand fell across my ribcage.

“There,” he whispered, pressing his lips to the back of my neck.

My eyes fluttered shut.

It wasn’t long after that I nodded off.

I slept deeper than I had in the past few months. Lying completely prone on my stomach, the knots of tension free from my shoulders, my neck devoid of the familiar ache that had come from years of looking over textbooks—I opened my eyes to find the room lit in a fine gray twilight and Guy’s eyes watching me from between finely-veiled slits.

“Hey,” Guy said. “Feeling any better?”

“Better than ever,” I yawned, arching my back to release the kinks from a night’s worth of sleep. “Why?”

“Do you remember anything that happened?”

Flashes of the previous night entered my head. “Yeah,” I said, playfully batting his hand away as he reached for me. “You owe me a handjob.”

“You have my word,” Guy said, leaning over to kiss my brow. He sat up and ran his hands along the side of his head, shivering in the breeze imparted by an untended air conditioning unit. I pressed a hand to his back and marveled at the muscles beneath my touch.

“Can I ask you something?” I said, haphazardly pushing myself into an upright position.

“Shoot.”

“How old were you when you… uh… became a Kaldr?”

“I’ve always been one. Supposedly that’s special.”

“What do you mean?”

Guy shook his head. “It’s nothing important,” he said. “At least, not to me.”

I didn’t bother to push it. It didn’t seem like he had much to hide. His biggest secret was already revealed. What more could he be keeping from me?

Though I was most likely jinxing myself by questioning that, I shook the idea of unnecessary secrets from my head and scooted up beside him, my arm instinctively wrapping around the free space between his ribcage.

“Thank you for last night,” I said.

“It hurt to see you in pain.”

“You’re sweet.” I kissed his stubbly cheek. “We should probably shower. We might still be able to catch breakfast.”

“Lead the way?” Guy asked.

He took hold of my hand after we crawled out of bed and headed toward the bathroom.

“Earlier this morning, police reported breaking news in regards to the possible identity of the Lady Bird Lake Killer,” an anchorwoman said as Guy and I ate strawberry waffles with a side of eggs.

A picture of Guy, likely pulled from the public records and taken at the DMV, appeared onscreen.

“That sure didn’t take ’em long,” Guy said.

“What the hell are we going to do?” I asked.

“Hang low, sneak out after dark, and get the hell out of here. Which reminds me… how do you feel about being my hostage?”

I slugged his arm and cast a glance over my shoulder at the clerk—who, as usual, was completely enraptured in his cell phone and whatever happened to be on it. “What about him?” I asked, jutting my chin out to the side.

“What about him?”

“How much of your love juice did you shoot into him?”

“Love juice?” Guy smirked.

“You know what I mean!”

“Only one I’m going to be shooting in is you, if I have it my way.”

“Guy,” I growled.

He chuckled. “Relax, babe. I hit him hard yesterday. I’m surprised if he even remembers who ‘Gordon Johnson’ is.”

Sighing, I pushed the remains of my half-eaten waffle across the table and raised an eyebrow. “You want that?”

Guy dug in without question.

We knew we would have to leave sooner rather than later. With the knowledge that cops could come busting down our door at any moment, Guy decreed that it would be best if someone went out and got us a day’s worth of supplies in preparation for our likely hike to the park—particularly me, since my picture had yet to hit the news stream.

You’ll be fine, Guy said as I walked out the door to our room, quick to console my ever-worrisome conscience. Besides—what’s the worst that could happen?

I didn’t bother to elaborate.

Instead, I bid him goodbye, said I’d bring back something for lunch, and headed downstairs, all the while hoping, praying and swearing to God up and down that nothing would go wrong.

My search landed me at the nearest convenience store, located no more than one or two blocks at the corner down the road. Inside, I ignored the speculation and stares of people taking notice of my arm. I’d decided to forego a T-shirt in lieu of the weather and instead wore a tank that fully exposed the ornate, tattoo-like scar running down from my left shoulder. Most were quick to compliment it and say nothing else, while fewer were interested in even approaching me. It was the dichotomy of interest—like asking a larger woman how far along she was when she didn’t happen to be pregnant at all.

I thought I was out of the clear until I was approached by a young woman who couldn’t have been out of her teens.

“Woah,” she said, instantly startling me but simultaneously getting my attention. “That’s wicked cool, dude. Who’s your artist?”

“Sorry?” I frowned.

“Your henna. Who did it?”

“Oh. That.” I bowed my head by reflex, but also to avoid making direct eye contact with her. “No one. It’s a scar. I got struck by lightning when I was a kid.”

“Shit,” she said, fingers flushing, eyes wide and filled with either awe or overwhelming effects of marijuana. “And you’re cool? Nothing more than a scar?”

“Nothing more,” I smiled, biting the inside of my cheek when she reached forward, as if to touch me. I shrugged away from her advance and took a step back, adjusting the basket in my hand. “Sorry—I gotta get going.”

“No worries,” she said. “Nice meeting you.”

“You too,” I said.

I turned and watched her leave through the reflection in the sunglass rack mirror before I stepped into the store to peruse their wares.

That had been close—really close. Any further contact might’ve resulted in a lasting impression, something neither Guy nor myself needed.

With the knowledge that my lack of foresight might draw attention, I quickened my pace throughout the aisles and tried to pick out the nonperishables I thought would be most useful. Bags of potato chips, pretzels, satchels of nuts and chocolates that likely contained less nutrients than advertised but would still offer the necessary sugars, peanut butter for protein, homemade tortillas that appeared to have gone through Hell and back—I even bought a backpack, and while I initially thought buying a first-aid kit at a different location might have been the safest, I realized they would find me wherever I went.

Security cameras were everywhere. There was no escaping that.

I kept my head down right up until I hit the front of the checkout line.

“Going camping?” the clerk asked, showing little interest as she scanned the items in my cart, her head bobbing to the music playing in her one ear bud.

“Something like that,” I replied.

“Better be careful. People’ve been getting spooked off the sites because of something that’s been up there.”

“Pardon?”

She finished bagging my items and snatched the receipt off the roller. “Have a nice day,” she said.

The burning question on the tip of my tongue was extinguished as another customer came forward.

After taking my bag and walking out the door, I turned and was just about to start down the road when I caught sight of the woman who’d been so interested in my scar directly across the road.

“Lemme go!” she said, kicking up as a female officer attempted to wrestle her into cuffs. “I didn’t do nothing!”

“Now now, Missy Sue,” the officer said, as if she’d dealt with this woman before. “Let’s not do this the hard way.”

“But I was just talkin’ to him!” she moaned. “Come on, Officer Maria. Cut me some slack!”

The lull in traffic that had provided such a natural scapegoat ended when the light turned green and the cars began to roll down the road.

The girl’s head shot across the street, eyes centering on me. “Hey!” she cried. “Hey!”

“Missy Sue,” the Hispanic officer said. “I thought I said we had to be quiet or else—”

“That’s him! That’s the guy with the funny tattoo!”

The policewoman’s eyes centered directly on me.

I swallowed, her hawkish gaze freezing me in place.

She merely shook her head, finished securing the young girl into the cuffs, and dragged her toward the cruiser where another man was speaking into a radio and looking directly at me.

I turned and started back toward the bed and breakfast.

There was no denying it.

I’d just been noticed—and by someone who would remember me.

“A bit greasy,” Guy said, licking sauce off his fingers as the barbecue dripped out of the sandwich and onto his hand. “Where’d you say you get these again?”

“Someplace down the road,” I replied. “Sorry if you don’t like it. I was in a hurry.”

“They’re fine.” He finished chewing what was in his mouth. “Wait. Why were you in a hurry? Did something happen?”

“Some girl took an interest in my arm and wouldn’t leave me alone,” I said, tucking my fingers into my armpits. “And when I came out of the store after she left, I saw her being arrested.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. Really, it’s no big deal. I got spooked. That’s all.”

“Did either of the cops see you?”

I had no means to reply.

“Shit,” Guy said, shoving a fry into his mouth.

“I’m sorry. It was stupid to go out like that. I thought we’d be safe here.”

“I’m not mad at you. Really. It’s cool.”

I sighed and settled into the seat across from him. “Besides,” I said, lifting my eyes from my food. “I was more concerned with what the checkout clerk in the convenience store told me than anything Missy Sue said.”

Guy froze. “What’d you just say?” he asked.

“I said I was more concerned—”

“No. Her name. What was it?”

“Missy Sue.”

“What’d she look like?”

I described her: short, scraggly blonde hair, pretty in a very natural way and very much a flower child of the seventies. I then repeated what the clerk had said about something spooking the campers off at the nearby sites, only to turn my head and find Guy’s hands cupping the sides of his head.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “There’s something more you’re not telling me.”

“Missy Sue,” Guy said, “is a regular escapee from the Fredericksburg Home for Girls. She’s known for having a knack of getting out of the tightest situations… especially during the full moon.” He lifted his head. “She’s a Wolf, Jason—a werewolf.”

“How do you know?”

“How wouldn’t I know?” he laughed. “She’s practically been terrorizing the countryside since that bitch Pierre turned her a few months back.”

“How has she been getting away with it for so long?”

“She hasn’t really killed anyone… that they know of… and her simple-mindedness tends to grant her immunity in situations where otherwise there’d be a lot of speculation. She can walk the streets naked and just be taken home. It’s that simple.”

“Does she pose a threat to us?”

“I don’t know. Maybe she caught my scent on you and got distracted by your scar. Maybe she doesn’t even run with Mardulf anymore. All I know is: if people have still been avoiding campsites because of some big animal, it means she’s still running wild. And if she’s running where I think she’s been, she’s in his territory.”

I swallowed a lump in my throat. “Guy,” I said. “If what I know about Werewolves is true… they turn on the full moon, right?”

“Yeah. Why?”

I pointed to the nearby calendar.

Nestled directly beneath today’s date were the words Beginning of Full Moon Phase.

Guy and I looked at each other. “It’s nothing to worry about,” he said. “We’ll be fine.”

Somehow, I had reason to think otherwise.

That night, a knock came at the door just as we were about to get ready for bed.

There was no immediate sound that followed—no declaration of intent, no mistaken request for room service, no drunk man or woman trying to find their disgruntled partner behind a door number which they couldn’t remember. The complete and utter silence struck within me a primordial sense of fear I imagined hadn’t been experienced since the Stone Age.

I glanced at Guy, masked by the shadow near the far side of the room.

The knock came again. “Excuse me,” a voice which was not that of the clerk manager whom we’d frequently heard over the past few days. “Mr. Johnson? May we have a word with you?”

The shuffle of Guy’s footsteps whispered across the carpet as he disappeared from view. I didn’t bother to keep track. I merely stared at the door.

A third time. “Mr. Johnson?” the voice asked. “We’re sorry to disturb you, but my name is Detective Daniel Morgan. I’m with the Fredericksburg Police Department. I’d like to ask you a few questions about your whereabouts over the past few days.”

“Shit,” I whispered.

Guy’s hand slid around my mouth from behind, making me jump back into him.

“Quiet,” he whispered. “Start backing around the bed.”

“Mr. Johnson,” the detective said, his voice pure authority as I snatched the backpack from the foot of the bed. “I won’t ask you again. Open the door and I won’t be forced to break entry.”

The sound of footsteps coming up the stairs signaled a second presence.

Guy pulled his hand away from my mouth before reaching back and cracking the sliding-glass door.

Outside, a cold gust tore around the building and into the room.

My foot landed on cold stone the moment the door clicked into place.

“Break it down,” the detective said.

The crunch of thick wood splintering beneath a battering ram entered my ears.

I turned to look over my shoulder.

Two stories below stood a courtyard looking out into beautiful west Texas, a tiered water foundation its main centerpiece.

“Jason,” Guy said, locking both arms around my waist. “You’re going to have to trust me on this.”

“What’re you—”

I couldn’t finish.

He flung us over the railing.

We fell.

Even though it wasn’t an incredible distance from the second-floor balcony, it felt like we were falling forever. Lost, together in embrace, where death would do us part as by the laws of physics we would collide—the poetry of such a situation couldn’t have been done better by Shakespeare himself, even if he were still alive. The world around us moved into a blur. Distant headlights stopped moving. Water drops whispered by our heads like fairies making their way back to the Fairyworld. And the fountain—oh, how it wished to greet us, with its stone façade and its striking, two-tiered semblance. It didn’t matter if it was filled with water—it was shallow. We’d die before we even struck.

Trust me, Guy had said, when he had taken hold of my head and pressed his lips to mine.

Trust me, he’d said, when he pressed his hand into the small of my back and sent me to a completely different place.

Trust me, he’d said, the moment before he flung us over the railing.

Trust me.

Trust me.

“Trust me,” I whispered.

The world took on a sudden chill.

I opened my eyes.

The crystallization taking place around us was like something you would only see in a chemistry lab. Spiderwebbing across the globules of water within the air, cocooning us in a fine thread of hot-white thread, expanding, then contracting as what looked like crystals bloomed and then began to thicken—the giant peaks of mountains and the great gorges of rivers formed within the crystalline surface and continued to build upon itself until they stopped no more than a few sheer inches away.

I turned to look at Guy’s face.

His eyes glowed like an aurora borealis on the coldest night of the year.

The crystals closest to our bodies chipped away, fell just above Guy’s head to collect upon the bottom of the structure, then swirled around us, smoothing the ice like snow.

The whole sight was almost too much to behold.

Sadly, I had not the time to revel in such great magic.

We hit.

The jarring impact was nothing compared to what we would’ve experience had we not been encapsulated inside the crystal. Contoured around our bodies and angled just perfectly, we hit the second level of the fountain and then slammed into the bottom before the crystal flipped and finally struck the ground below, the sound of streaming water and rolling concrete deafening in the enclosed space.

“Keep your head down,” Guy said.

I bowed my face to his chest just in time for the crystal to explode, depositing Guy on the dirt ground with a grunt and me with a near-senseless breath of relief.

“Come on. We can’t stay here.”

Upstairs, the door cracked open.

I took Guy’s hand as he dragged me to my feet and kept a tight hold on the backpack filled with our lifesaving supplies that thrashed behind me.

The trees on the opposite side of the fence seemed too far away.

We’d never make it.

Never—

Guy slammed the brunt of his weight into the flimsy wooden gate and snapped it free of its hinges. I jumped over it and ducked just in time to avoid a lingering branch before we darted into the copse of trees before us.

Gasping, I took a deep breath.

Where the hell were we?

“We can’t stop,” Guy said, dragging me by the wrist. “We have to keep going.”

“How far?”

He lifted his eyes, which had still not lost their shimmering translucent hue. “A mile or two,” he said. “Then more hill country.”

“Can we avoid them?”

“We better hope.”

The roads were easy enough to navigate. Filled with empty spaces and shadowed by the darkness which had not been held back by the streetlights, we ran through the far end of Fredericksburg without pause and broke out onto the opposite end of town just in time to hear police sirens rev up.

Talking was too much of a waste of energy.

Instead, we ran.

Scattered treelines and fenced-off sections of farmland made for tricky maneuvering. The obvious inclination was to continue forward and bounce from copse to copse, hoping that in the meantime the cops wouldn’t catch up or a police helicopter wouldn’t swoop in and spot us in its headlights, but Guy’s face told otherwise. His eyes scanned the distance for what I hoped would be a possible escape—searching, constantly, the woods to our right, the distant north. His mouth curled into a frown and his hand balled into a fist just in time for another series of sirens to go up.

“Guy,” I said. “What’re you doing?”

“Looking,” he said.

“For what?”

He didn’t respond. Now that his eyes had returned to their usual, albeit-strange color, he resembled more of a human than he did one of the Kaldr, but nonetheless appeared just as troubled.

Standing there, clutching the backpack in my hand to the point where I thought my fingers would go numb, I was just about ready to take off on my own. Let him deal with it if he was just going to stand there like an idiot.

I expelled a breath, bull-like in my unease. “Guy,” I said. “What’re you waiting for?”

“I don’t want to lure them north.”

I frowned. “Why?”

“My father—”

“We don’t have time for that!” I grabbed him arm—monolithic in structure and stone-solid in weight. “Come on! Even if we don’t end up going to your father, we have to go. Now.”

“Jason—”

I tore my grasp from his arm and slung the backpack over my shoulders, grimacing from the dull but still-familiar pain in my back. I glanced once, then twice out the treeline, both ways, before taking off.

Away from him, my heart hammered in my chest.

What the hell was I thinking? I was a goner without him.

The crunch of earth beneath my heels was a horrible reminder of how fragile this entire situation was. The heat painstaking in its intent, globs of sweat ran down my face and fogged the lenses of my glasses. Twice I had to reach up to wipe them clean with my thumb, and even then that did little to prevent them from fogging up again.

Something shot into sight.

I backpedaled and attempted to screech to a halt just as something entered sight.

The backpack, bloated with supplies, sent me forward.

Its glimmer, its teeth, materializing from the darkness—

A hand snared around the back of my shirt and caught me just before I could land face-first into a barbed-wire fence.

“I got you,” Guy said.

I took in a deep breath of lost air as Guy pulled me back and thanked whatever merciful God was out there that he’d shown up.

“Shit,” I breathed. “I didn’t think there’d be fences out here.”

“City boy, I take it?”

I nodded—even managed to smirk, given the slight drawl that his voice had taken on.

“There’s people all the way through here,” Guy said, pointing to the distance beyond the fence. “We’ve been lucky in that we’ve missed the pastures and peach farms so far, but this is it from here on out. We’ll have to climb these fences and make sure we don’t spook any of the cows while we’re here.”

“You have anything to weigh this down?”

Guy’s method was meticulously straightforward and worked based only on the fact that certain sections were graced with the unfortunate ingenuity for practical stupidity. After snaring his belt through several loops of wire, he passed the leather strap to me before pulling his shirt free of his body and draping it over the wire.

“You first,” he said, taking hold of the belt.

I pulled my eyes away from his well-muscled chest before stepping forward.

With the nerve any man could hope to muster, I maneuvered my foot over the wire, then straddled it before swinging my leg over. I repeated the same with Guy before he removed his shirt and freed his belt, pleased with the makeshift results.

“Guess this is the way we’ll do it,” he said.

I nodded before we continued on.

Guy determined that our path would be less likely detected if we’d followed an irregular pattern. Heading straight north would configure the idiot fool’s approach—that getting as far away from a location as possible was what would ultimately prevent them from being captured. But heading east, Guy said, and then cutting north, would provide the advantage of the less-populated areas and the bare dirt roads that the elements would be swift to wipe clean. The only problem was, they also presented the danger of being discovered discovery.

If they put our pictures on the news, he said, we’re fucked.

I took him for his word and decided to trust his opinion.

We passed a power plant and an array of lighting fixtures that initially unsettled me. While still hidden behind the thick cluster of trees, its light pierced through the darkness and offered clear sight of the surrounding area. Guy’d been right. Going that way would’ve surely gotten us caught.

“Don’t look,” he whispered. “Keep going.”

I did as he asked and continued to follow him east.

I wasn’t sure how long we were walking. Between alternating through farmland and beneath trees, it was hard to tell whether or not we’d been going for minutes or hours. We crossed a huge cattle farm, which nearly sent me into hysterics when I bumped into a stray cow in the middle of the night, then had to head northeast when we caught sight of buildings in the foreseeable distance, but eventually we returned to the trees and my nerves once more died down.

When I felt as if I could go no more, I leaned against a tree and slid to the ground.

“Hey,” Guy said, crouching beside me. “You all right?”

“Tired,” I said, rolling my head and taking my deep breath.

He pressed a hand against my cheek and cupped the left half of my face, his touch comforting despite the irregular chill that permeated its surface.

“You’re weak,” I managed.

“Just as you are,” he replied, “but only in a different way.”

“I can’t keep going.”

“Neither can I, but it wouldn’t be smart to just stay out here in the open, now would it?”

I didn’t reply.

He turned his head and pointed east. “A ways beyond those trees,” he said, “there’s a community with I don’t know how many people. It’s too far away from a major highway for them to go there first, but that doesn’t mean any of the locals won’t be wandering the woods.”

“You really think any of them would bother us?”

“No, but it’s going to look awfully suspicious when they see two guys out in the middle of the woods without any camping gear, especially when my picture and the video of you going in and out of the convenience store comes out.”

“Shit,” I said.

“Shit is right.” Guy took my hand. “Besides—we’ve been lucky so far. I don’t want to risk it.”

“I know.”

“I’ll make it up to, Jason. I promise. We just need to go a little further so we’re a little ways from civilization.”

Who knew when that would be.

Someone had seen us.

He’d caught sight of us after we tried to sneak across a break in the trees on the outskirts of his property. Illuminated by the pale moonlight and deathly close to his place of residence, it’d been a longshot to even think we could make it—but there we tried, like the desperate idiots we were.

The farmer—whom I supposed had to have been sitting on his back porch—stepped from the darkness with his rifle in his hand.

“I saw you out there,” he said, the crunch of gravel beneath his boots painfully obvious in the near-silence of the night. “Told you boys you can’t be on my property.”

“I told you this was a bad idea,” I whispered.

“Shh,” Guy said, clamping a hand over my mouth.

The man stepped into the moonlight and lifted his rifle. Unaware of our location, he trained it in the direction where he’d initially detected the sound—further southeast than where we currently stood.

“Dunno what you be doing out here,” the man continued on, “but this is private property, and I expect to be respected.”

Guy took hold of my hand. Tugging my wrist, he gestured to the flatter parts of the underbrush and started to pull me along.

“I’ll give you one last warning,” he said. “Get off my property now and I won’t—”

My foot snapped a twig.

Even the sound of my heart throbbing in my head wasn’t loud enough to compare to what came next.

A shot was fired.

Though I expected it to strike me, it didn’t, though I wasn’t sure where it went. Guy had already taken off into a full-out run and was tugging me directly behind him, our footfalls soft upon the fertile ground.

“Get out of here!” the man yelled. “Get out—”

Guy jerked me to the side just in time to avoid running directly into a very sour, very angry-looking bull.

I was always told not to look a bull in the eyes.

I did anyway. It wouldn’t try and give chase, would it?

It did.

The metal fence that lined the property would be the only thing that would keep it in place if we were lucky enough to get past it.

The barbwire only lined the top, the links of the bottom in need of replacement.

“Go,” Guy said.

I needed no encouragement.

He threw the backpack over the fence.

I dove under the fence and rolled as though on fire just in time to see the bull collide with the fence, its gargantuan weight sending ripples along the barbwire coils

“Guy?” I asked. “Guy? Where are—”

A pair of hands ripped me to my feet and pushed me forward.

“Go,” Guy said.

I ran.

We found the safest place possible after fleeing the property and crossing a dirt road.

From our place in a secluded thicket, we could see the beginnings of a rocky scar of land that extended into the foreseeable distance until its geography became too indistinguishable. Before that lay the bare-boned skeleton of a building whose time had come and gone. Masonry littered the ground alongside a road that might once have been used for construction purposes before the project had been abandoned. What remained of the early-morning moonlight flickered across a pool of water that had accumulated amidst it all.

“You think we’ll have to worry about that?” I asked.

Guy’s tired eyes inclined in the direction I was inquiring over. “No,” he said. “It looks dead. I doubt there’ll be people there.”

“I’m not just asking about people.”

His eyes fell on me. They looked tired—which wasn’t surprising, considering what we’d been through—but in their depths existed an unease I’d never seen from him.

“Guy?” I asked, unsure if he heard my question or if he’d even processed it.

“Nothing’s going to bother us,” he said. “Don’t worry about it.”

“How can I—”

A third gaze silenced me.

Something about the way he looked—from his eyes, to his pale expression, down to the purse in his lips—made me realize that arguing would get me nowhere.

“I’m a light sleeper,” he said, as if to remedy his action. “If that makes you feel any better.”

“You think the farmer will call the cops?”

“‘Course he will. We ran his bull into the fence and most likely stirred up the whole herd. But don’t worry—we’ll be fine. We’re far enough away to where I doubt they’ll come looking, let alone find us.”

“You’re sure?”

Guy nodded.

I shook my head and patted the space beside me. “Come on.”

After crawling over, he settled down beside me, stretched out with one arm under his head and the other across my side, and spooned me against his body.

“We’ll leave in a few hours,” he whispered. “I’m tired of acting like vagrants. I’d much rather act like hitchhikers instead.”

I nodded.

The morning’s light had just begun.

The morning came and went. No cops, no sirens, no men in the bushes yelling at us to come out with our hands up, guns drawn, the trigger-happy quick to mow us down in a rain of bullets as one small action was interpreted to be something else—it appeared that our dog days were over, though I knew better than to jump to unlikely conclusions.

Disgruntled from a night of sleeping on the hard dirt ground, I rolled over in an attempt to adjust my posture and rammed my elbow into the exposed root of a tree.

“Ow,” I said.

“You ok?” Guy asked.

“Just the usual. Rough morning on this side of the law, you know?”

Guy lifted his head from his place near the high ground and frowned. The lines etched throughout his eyes told of a night spent with misery, a battle fought well but not valiant enough to avoid the discoloration that swamped his upper cheeks. My immediate response was to ask if he was ok, but he merely turned his head to survey the west before I could.

“Road’s been clear all morning,” Guy said, as if knowing I would listen even though we were off to a rough stop. “No cops at all.”

“Were there any helicopters?”

“Some passed over us last night. Thank God their spotlights were trained on another direction, otherwise we’d be screwed.”

My mouth parted in question. Guy lifted his hand and extended a finger to the far side of the canopy—where, no more than a few feet from where we’d slept, appeared a break in the trees, undetectable by the shadow of night.

“Shit,” I said. “We could’ve been fucked.”

“Which is why I think it’s important that we move as fast as possible.” Guy jumped down from his perch and crouched, offering a hand. “You ready to move on in a few minutes?”

“You sure it’s safe to walk along the roads?”

“At this point, I think anything is safer than dealing with farmers and their homicidal cows.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” I mumbled.

Guy pulled a bag of potato chips out and tossed them at my chest. “Hey Jason,” he said. “How do you like your beef?”

“Ha ha,” I replied. “Very funny.”

The agony wrought by the overhead sun was excruciating. Nearing at least one-hundred degrees and aided by the humidity, it almost reduced me to tears I felt would’ve dried anyway. We’d yet to see a truck pass and we’d been going for almost an hour. I wasn’t sure how much more I could take.

“Just keep going,” Guy said, pressing another bottle of water into my hand. “We’ll see someone soon.”

I doubted that.

The water was warm, the road was barren, the sun had no other wish than to slowly bake us to death—I mean, if I thought about it, the only thing that could have made this worse was the cops rolling up to offer us a ride to prison.

“Or the sun falling down,” I mumbled.

What could be worse than that?

The slight rumble at our feet should’ve given me indication that I was wrong—that I’d merely hastened the inevitable and instead summoned upon us worse luck. When I turned to find a truck barreling down the road, however, I sighed and cast my head back, nearly blinding myself when the sunlight stabbed into my eyes.

“Thank you,” I said. “God—whoever. Thank you!”

Guy merely chuckled and patted my back before lifting a hand to wave.

The truck slowed as it approached and came to a full halt beside the road. Its occupant—a lone black man with a pair of thick shades braced upon his nose—leaned across the length of the cab and knocked the door open before simply saying, “Get in.”

Guy and I were quick to oblige.

“What brings you fellas all the way out here?” the man asked as I closed the door and he pulled the truck into drive, cranking up and directing the air conditioning at the two of us. “Kinda hot to be going on a walk, ain’t it?”

“Kinda?” I laughed, leaning back in my seat. “You don’t know the half of it.”

“We’re heading to the Winters’ farmland,” Guy said. “We were on my way to see my father.”

“No shit? You the reverend’s kid?”

Reverend? I frowned. I hadn’t heard this part.

“Yes sir,” Guy said, clapping an arm across his back. “You know my father?”

“Well, no. Never met the man myself, but I’m… not one to judge.”

The act was terrifying in its subtlety. A clap across the back, a touch of the hand, the grace of a thumb upon one’s cheek—even casual contact could be used to the utmost advantage, which was why I’d initially been thrown off by the overly-friendly gesture. Now, however, I could see what he was going.

Guy didn’t want this guy to know where we were going.

How he was going to impose such an impression when we’d yet to reach our destination was beyond me.

The touch was so brief it was hardly even noticed. The man just smiled and reached out to take Guy’s hand. “Alan,” he said. “Nice to meet you.”

“You too,” Guy replied, nudging my ribs with his elbow.

I didn’t bother to reply.

The rolling hillscapes that came into view further north were breathtaking as much as they were terrifying. With the knowledge that we could’ve easily been climbing them in this hundred-and-five-degree heat, it was hard not to consider Alan an angel of mercy. His kind demeanor and vibrant smile spoke wonders of his personality. I was used to Texans helping their fellow man out, but Alan was something else. He even offered us cold water from his refrigerator unit in the back and declined our offer for trade.

“I got more than enough back there,” he said as Guy returned to the front seat. “As your friend here has seen.”

Guy smirked. Alan’s bellowing, raucous laugh filled the cab and completely drowned out the sound of the radio.

It was a good time, for sure. The only thing that dampened my mood was that it made me realize how relieved I was to finally feel safe.

Guy appeared to take notice of my mood, but said nothing—likely to prevent suspicion and also to distract Alan when prompted. I couldn’t blame him. He was, after all, only concerned for our safety, but I wondered if he’d even taken into consideration how much of a shellshocker all this was for me.

I hated feeling like a spineless creature incapable of moving even an inch of its body.

Raising my head, I looked out at the open road.

What I saw was stupendous.

It summoned memories of a time and place far removed from our past. Immaculately-crafted, stretched out along a finely-settled dirt road, broached on one side by sugar maples and flushed accordingly across the road where from the pristine heights of a white, two-storied home one could look out at a field divided into multiple acres—the amount of people was staggering. They worked everything from the fields, to animal pens, to what looked like aviaries in the distance.

In a word, it was impressive.

“Woah,” I said.

“Woah is right,” Alan said. “You want me to pull up here, or—”

“Here’s fine,” Guy said.

The abrupt stop, coupled with what I’m sure was heat exhaustion and stupid awe, sent me rolling into the dash, smacking but not painfully clunking my head across its curved surface.

“Thanks for the ride,” Guy said, leaning over to push me toward the door while reaching back to shake the driver’s hand. “It’s much appreciated.”

“No need to thank me,” the man replied. “All in a day’s work.”

“And that’s all it was,” Guy continued when I popped the truck door open and hopped out. “Just a day’s work—nothing odd, nothing unusual.”

“Sure thing,” the man said.

No sooner had Guy slammed the door did the truck barrel up the road, leaving dust and bits of rock in its wake.

“You ok?” Guy asked as he took note of me rubbing my head.

“Fine,” I replied. “So what was all that about?”

“A bit of ‘Glamoring.'”

“Are we still calling it that?”

The taller man shrugged and slung the pack over his shoulder. “Well,” he said. “Shall we?”

We walked the short distance from where the truck driver had left us to a nondescript security fence that resembled something like the metal cattle enclosures we’d spent much of the last night jumping over. At the gate, Guy fingered the lock and ran his thumb over the latch that held it in place, but didn’t immediately open it, his eyes lost in thought.

“Guy?” I asked. “Are you sure everything’s—”

“I ran away from here, Jason.”

“What?”

Guy sighed, the shrug in his upper body enough to where it appeared his torso had been momentarily engaged in a tug-of-war. “It’s not like what you’re probably thinking,” he continued, turning his head to look at me. “I just… neglected my duties, I guess you could say.”

“Duties?”

“We’ll talk about it later. We’re still out on the road. Someone sees us here, they’ll be able to point the cops in a definite direction.”

He clipped the lock out of place and swung the gate open, not bothering for possible formalities, and simply walked in.

I was quick to follow, more than pleased to be at the back of it all.

Little attention was given to us from the workers beyond the precursory glance. Eyes set firmly on their work, they shucked corn and stooped to gather rooting vegetables from their beds just beneath the ground. It was like something out of the Twilight Zone—us walking along the road, they ignoring us as if we were phantoms spectral in the night. We probably would’ve made it all the way to the house without so much as a second glance until a woman tending horses at a stall nearby turned and stared.

Even though we were nowhere near her, her eyes were unnerving.

I felt her presence from the two-hundred feet between us.

She was what Guy was.

Kaldr.

Though her eyes didn’t remain for long after she homed in on Guy, her attention did fall to a companion that approached shortly thereafter.

While I didn’t care to focus on their interaction, the knowledge of Guy’s presence spread like wildfire.

Soon, every person we passed on the property was watching us—some discretely, others blatantly.

“You care to explain why they’re looking at us like that?” I asked.

“In a minute,” Guy said, turning up the path that led to the house. “Not while we have so much attention on—”

The creak of footsteps on the wooden porch brought Guy to a solid stop.

A man—the near-spitting image of Guy, right down to his build and facial structure—approached the railing. “Well now,” he said, looking down at the two of us. “Look who decided to show up.”

“Father,” Guy said, swallowing.

The man’s eyes strayed from his son and settled on me. “And this is?” he asked.

“Father—sir. This is Jason. My… uh… my—”

“Nevermind. You never could answer a straight question anyway.” The man stepped back and gestured us forward with a wave of his hand. “Come now. You both look like you could use some rest.”

The low growl from Guy that followed his father’s response did little to remedy my worries.

Stepping forward, I climbed the steps of what had to be a hundred-year-old home until I stood beneath the awning.

“Please, pardon me for my lackluster introduction,” Guy’s father said, closing our distance as Guy stalked past us into the house. “My son and I have a bit of a… tumultuous relationship.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I merely remained silent.

“My name is Elliot Winters,” he said, taking hold of and gently squeezing my hand. “And welcome to my home.”

“I expect you’re exhausted after being out in the elements so long?” a beautiful Latino man with a pair of harshly-accented brows and a gorgeous set of eyes and lips said, stirring a cold glass of lemonade with a spoon before passing it over the counter to me.

“I’m fine,” I replied, sipping the drink. “Thank you.”

The kind-eyed man nodded and settled his gaze on me, watching me drink with near-alien fascination, before he turned and began to scour the interior of a fridge.

Until a moment ago, I’d thought he was human. Then I saw the rims around his brown eyes—nearly translucent but still obviously there—and realized he was just the same as everyone else.

Did Elliot’s property house a clan of the Kaldr?

Guy had yet to return. From the depths of the house I could hear heated arguing—sometimes harsh, accented with barking exchanges, though mostly cordial despite the friction that appeared to exist between the two. I’d guessed something was up when Guy hadn’t cared to elaborate last night or earlier this morning. I just hadn’t been aware of how serious the situation was.

“Don’t mind them,” the Latino man said. “Their relationship is… complicated.”

“You never did tell me your name,” I said, eager to stray in another direction rather than get caught in familial drama.

“Amadeo,” he said. “Amadeo Castallano.”

“That’s a beautiful name.”

“Thank you, friend. And you are?”

“Jason,” I said.

“The younger Winters’ lover?”

I blinked. “Was it really that obvious?”

Amadeo smiled. “Really,” he said. “It’s fine. I’m sorry I embarrassed you.”

“How did you know?” I asked.

“I merely suspected. Nothing more.”

I swished the lemonade around in my glass and took another sip. Amadeo, as if sensing my unease, let the situation be and returned to his various activities about the kitchen.

Nearby, a door opened, then shut. Guy strode into view and set his eyes on the pair of us. “Papa,” he said, nodding to Amadeo.

“Son.” The Spanish man nodded before disappearing out a side door.

Now alone, Guy settled into the stool beside me and ran a hand across his skull.

“Everything cool?” I asked.

“My father’s merely taken it upon himself to lecture me for my stupidity. That’s all.”

“Did you tell him about what I—”

“Oh, he knows, Jason. He doesn’t blame you. He blames me for not handling the situation properly.” Guy sighed and shook his head. “Can I have a drink?” I passed him the glass and watched him nearly down half of it before returning it to me. “He wants to meet with you later—if you’d be comfortable. He’d like to get to know you.”

“I don’t mind speaking with him,” I said.

Besides—truthfully, it was he who held the outcome of my fate, not Guy or anything he wished to impart. I was ready to know whether I had a place here or if I was to be cast to the wind and let the fates decide my course.

We sat there in silence for a long time. Occasionally, he’d glance at me from the corner of his eye, but for the most part kept to himself.

This rift—

Whatever had happened, it surely wasn’t good.

I set a hand on his shoulder, the sudden urge to comfort him completely overwhelming.

He sighed. Muscles tensing, he stood and rolled his neck about his shoulders before he said, “Come on,” and reached to take my hand. “No point in sitting around here.”

“Where are we going?”

“I’ll take you to my room. We can get cleaned up. Then…” Guy faltered. “Then I can explain what the hell’s going on here.”

Guy’s quarters were located on the far northwestern side of the house. Fine in their simplicity but immaculate in their novelties, they were sequestered away from the rest of the home by means of double doors that opened into a separate wing, which began with a living room offering a panoramic view of the Texas Hill Country and eventually expanded into an apartment-like flat.

This is it, Guy had said upon our arrival. Home.

I didn’t bother to question the obvious. The divide was real, made present as Guy turned and secured us behind lock and key. For father and son to have been so adamantly at war in their own home was something akin to the tragedies—Shakespeare, even the mythology of the Greek Gods. Was Zeus not as forgiving as Elliot, and was Guy not the son who wished only to be within his favor?

Guy didn’t bother with formalities. He led me through the living room and down a short hallway until we stepped into a room—undeniably long-abandoned, but upkept to the point where dust shined only on particular objects.

“Guy,” I said, turning to face him, “can’t we just—”

“Relax,” he said, taking hold of my arms. “You’ve been through a lot. I don’t want to make it any worse.”

I swallowed, afraid to say it even though it was burning on the tip of my tongue.

His hands on my body, his eyes on my face; the closeness, the anticipation; the heat that didn’t physically exist but did in a way that only those impassioned could realize—he watched me consider him briefly before he turned and began to dig through his drawers, coming up with clothes that were still a few sizes too big but not to the point where I would drown in them. “Shower,” he said, leaning past me and sliding open a wooden panel. “Take your time.”

In the shower, I let cold water run down my skin, forever cursing my mortal body.

It felt far too convenient for safety to only be a few short hours from Austin.

From my place behind the clear glass pane, I watched Guy seat himself atop his bed. Perched on a corner like some thoughtful bird, he stared at the floor with his hands intertwined, his knuckles only occasionally parting to offer relief from an unsure or hard grip. Before, I’d considered such looks contemplative and nothing more. Now, I could see the tension there—thick in his neck, strangled about his shoulders, harsh within his eyes.

I looked away and bowed my head.

What had I gotten myself into?

The press of a hand against my hip pulled me from thought.

“Can I come in?” Guy asked.

Naked in all his glory, he leaned half-in, half-out of the rain of water, watching me with undecided yet completely hurt eyes.

“Yeah,” I said. “You can.”

He slid the shower door shut and waited for me to move, his actions indicative of indecision even though he was trying his best to be coy. When at first my stone-cold resolve would not register, I leaned back and took hold of his hand, drawing him forward.

It’s ok, I wanted my hand to say.

I knew it worked when he pressed his body against mine and draped an arm over one hip.

We stood there like that for a long time—he with his arm around my abdomen, I with my head bowed. Not a word transpired between us as the cold water splashed along our heads, warring across our shoulder blades and fleeing in haste down our backs. His touch was still something remarkable—not arousing, in a way that turned me on, but sensual in that I felt completely confident in him as a person.

“I’m sorry,” Guy said out of nowhere.

I lifted my head and frowned. “For what?” I asked.

“Bringing you into this, making you a felon… messaging you that night.”

“Guy,” I said, turning. “You don’t have to be sorry about anything.”

“Yes I do, Jason. I was sloppy. I fucked up.”

“Everyone does.”

“Not me. Not us. Not the Kaldr.”

“But doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance?”

He blinked free drops of water, his outer irises no longer alien to me. “I—”

I reached up and cupped my hand along the back of his neck.

“Jason,” he whispered as I guided him down.

“Shh,” I whispered.

I pressed my lips against his.

I took it slow, adjusting my hold along his neck, guiding my hand along his skull. His beauty was in his patience—in the way he didn’t touch me, or try to push further than we already were. His hands only fell on my ribcage when I teased his lower lip between my teeth and parted my mouth to allow his tongue inside.

“Jason,” he sighed, tilting his head to guide his lips along my neck, hands sliding down my ribcage to rest upon my hips. “Jason…”

I pulled away, using only his torso as leverage to bring myself to my knees.

His length was hardened—thick and engorged with blood.

I took hold of its base and swallowed the first few inches.

Guy pressed his hands to the wall and sighed as I bobbed my head along his length, tracing the soft hairs on the curves of his thighs and running my hands along his hips to take hold of his ass. The muscles tensed beneath my touch and he groaned as I took him deeper into my throat, his hold faltering as he removed his hands from the wall to tangle his fingers in my hair.

“God,” he said, rolling his head back to stare at the ceiling. “Fuck.”

I cupped his balls in one hand and stroked the hardening nub beneath them before taking him all the way.

Guy grunted.

I swallowed, forcing my head into his groin.

His fingers briefly tightened within my hair, then released, his hips rolling with the motions of my head.

“God Jason. Where’d you get so good at giving head?” He cast his head back as I picked up the pace. “Nevermind. Don’t answer. Keep going.”

My fist worked my dick in alternating bursts between his body, tightening my hold on my shaft and letting up when I felt I was starting to go too far. I took him all the way down and took hold of his thighs as I increased my pace.

Guy caught on quick.

Taking hold of my head, he began to fuck my face.

I played with his balls and slapped his ass as his grunts started to match his thrusts. His balls slapping across my face, my eyes blurred likely from the deep-throating and the water raining down from the showerhead—I wrapped my arms around his waist and pulled him in as deep as I could before pulling back, spit thick along my chin as I turned and presented myself to him.

“Jason,” he said, his cock slick along my backside.

He prepped me accordingly before spinning me around and kissing me—hard, his restraints broken as he ravaged my mouth and nipped at my neck.

“Where,” I started to ask.

He lifted me into his arms. I braced one arm across his shoulders and used my other to guide him into place.

Once inside, he pressed me against the wall and made love to my upper body.

“You’re so amazing,” he said, brushing thumbs along my nipples as I coaxed myself down his length. “God, Jason—”

I slid my tongue into his mouth and wrapped my arms around him as I slid the last few inches down his length.

He grunted.

I groaned.

He eased me into it with slow, gentle thrusts.

“First time I’ve ever been fucked in a shower,” I said between sharp grunts and sighs of pleasure.

“Enjoying it?” Guy asked, nipping my lip.

“For sure.”

He thrust his hips against mine and steadily increased his pace to a firm rhythm, the slap of flesh pitched by the spray of water hitting our bodies. I tightened my grip around him and bowed my head into his shoulder as he started going faster, fucking me at a pace where I was quickly losing control of my senses.

“Guy,” I asked.

“I gotta put you on the floor,” he gasped. “Otherwise I’m gonna slip. Is that ok?”

I nodded only long enough for him to circle and then set me upon the massive shower floor.

Here, he went all out.

His fevered thrusts slowed only when he slid back onto his knees and started to thrust into me.

“Shit, Jason,” he gasped, kissing my torso. “Fuck. I dunno if I can last much longer.”

“Fuck me,” I said. “Just fuck me.”

He flipped me onto my back and slung my legs over his shoulders before driving into me as hard as he could.

“Shit, shit, shit,” he said, bucking, his head rolling about his shoulders. “Shit, Jason. I’m gonna—”

I exploded.

He grabbed my hips and let out a shout that matched the tune of my cry as we came simultaneously.

He thrust into me only a few more times, allowing his body the last of its carnal pleasures before he slid free. He settled down beside me with a breathy sigh and opened his eyes when he caught sight of my stupid grin.

“You rock my world,” Guy said, running a hand along my chest. “That was the best sex I ever had.”

I laughed, taking into consideration the time and how loud we must have been. “You think anyone heard?” I asked.

“Doesn’t matter if they did,” Guy smiled. “It’s happened in the past.”

I closed my eyes and breathed in the damp air.

The heat, the sex, the smell—if Guy was immortal, for how long, and what number was I?

Rather than dwell on it, I rolled over and spread out atop his body.

His hands on me were magic.

He paced the room in a pair of loose-fitting sweats while I lay on the bed. Tired from running and worn out from the morning’s activities, I curled onto my side and drew a sheet about my naked body, only vaguely aware of Guy’s spectral presence by the occasional expletive when he bumped into something.

“Why don’t you lay down?” I asked. “You could use some rest.”

“You need something to drink?” Guy asked.

“No, I—”

Guy disappeared out the door and into the deeper parts of the flat.

Frowning, I chose not to fight it and set my attention on the wall.

Like in Guy’s apartment in Austin, there were a number of artifacts which presented themselves in a nondescript manner that the casual visitor wouldn’t think twice. Globes beneath which were trapped snowy, eastern European continents; barbarian and Viking figures engaged in war; men and women dressed in historical regalia—of times and places described only in history and preserved scarcely in museums. Those that took particular precedence over the others were far stranger than the rest.

I stared at their shapes, trying to discern the quality of their make.

These things—whatever they were—were nothing like I’d ever seen.

Easing my legs over the bed, I tentatively approached the dresser upon and above which they were assembled, cursing my overambitious ideas after the morning’s worth of fun.

The objects, which I could now see in detail, appeared to be pieces of jewelry—hewn jaggedly by hand. From what stone they’d been made I couldn’t be sure. The blue was similar to sapphire, yet the highlights resembled beryl, and they obviously were not made of different stones, as there was no unnatural split that indicated a binding. They also appeared to swim beneath the light in a way that was not indicative of such jewelry.

I frowned.

The pieces, so strange in their formation, eventually drew my eyes to the ensemble above.

It looked primitive in most respects—resembling Native American craftsmanship in that the clothing had been made from the skin of animals and stitched upon certain sufaces were the stones I’d just marveled over. Long threading hung from the tunic and its sleeves, beaded with yet more stones. And the pants—

My eyes centered on one item that I had only just discovered.

A glove—fingerless, extending only to the top of the second knuckle.

Upon its surface lay a symbol—which, when compared in its most primitive form, resembled a ribbon.

“What in the,” I started.

“Back,” Guy said.

Startled, I jumped, spinning to face him only to run into his chest.

“Sorry about that,” he said, holding me steady as I regained my bearings. “You ok?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I was just… looking.”

Guy’s eyes trailed past me. “Oh,” he said. “That.”

He passed the bottle of water into my hand and stood before the display of objects. Arms crossed, his gaze took much of the same path I did before they came to rest on a particular fixture over the bathroom door—the same symbol displayed on the glove.

“This is,” Guy said, without bothering to turn and mind my attention, “my legacy.”

“Legacy?” I asked.

He inclined his head toward the bed and then gestured me out of the room when I indicated that I was fine. He led me into the living room with the panoramic windows and settled down on a loveseat, his sigh giving no indication of where he wanted me.

“My father,” he said as I settled down beside him, “was one of the original descendants of the Kaldr people who fled Norway after Vikings took control of their settlements.” He turned his head when I snapped the lock off the bottled water and watched me drink until bowing his head. “There is… hierarchy, here, in a way. As you may have noticed.”

“Your father’s king?” I asked.

“Hell no,” Guy laughed. “What makes you think that?”

My unwavering stare was reply enough.

He frowned. “It’s… confusing, to say the least. My father, he… was merely a steward for much of his time in the Americas. It wasn’t until the Kelda arrived that the positions split.”

“The Kelda?” I frowned.

“The Fountain. Our leader. Our Mother.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” I said. “If your father isn’t king, and if this was his operation until the Mother—I mean Kelda—arrived, then who is—”

“She is one of the original Kaldr.”

I frowned. “What?”

“My father, myself, the people here on this ranch—none of us are firstborn. We bear the name because it is our heritage—ancestry in the sense that we have continued the legacy. But we are not pure. No. We are merely byproducts of human copulation.”

“She isn’t human then.”

“No one knows what she is. Most consider her a goddess. I think of her more as… the bitch that lives beneath the ranch.”

“That doesn’t explain how you fall into all this.”

“My father is one of the few Kaldr spawned by humans in the first generation. Therefore, his blood ties are stronger—more defined, concrete. Therefore, when my forefathers fled their homeland, they considered him their better—closer to the Kelda that arrived thousands of years later.”

“Which explains his status over the property,” I said.

“And which makes me his legacy.”

“His prince.”

Guy shrugged. “It doesn’t matter what I am,” he said. “All that matters is that I’ll be forced to copulate to continue the pureblooded generation.”

“But you’re gay.”

“My point exactly.”

I snorted. I couldn’t help it. The absurdity of it was almost too much to bear. “I understand why they would care about continuing your father’s line,” I frowned. “If your father is first generation and you’re second, that means any child you have would be the third.”

“Which was my argument exactly. The Kaldr of today are not the Kaldr of Norway. We’re descendants—bastards.”

“But if you’re able to have children, then that means—”

I trailed off.

“Yes,” Guy said, as if amused at the prospect of a biology listen. “That means my come has sperm.”

“I kinda figured that,” I said. “But if you can’t catch or give anything, why’d you wear a condom that first time?”

“Because I was under the guise of a human, remember? The point is to appear as unobtrusive as possible. Someone finds out I had sex with a positive partner and, well… there you have it. You’ve got someone who’s immune to AIDs.”

I nodded. “That’s why you left,” I said.

“Because even though I was trapped out there,” Guy said, “in a world full of humans, governments, laboratories and the innate need to make a buck, I was still far more free than I ever was here.”

“What’re you going to do now that you’re here?”

“Become prince. That’s all I can do, right?”

Though the expected response was to nod, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Something had yet to be answered.

If there would never again be a true Kaldr, then why was the Kelda so intent on continuing a diluted legacy?

A knock came at the door in the later hours of the night. Freshly filled from dinner and spread out along the couch, Guy lifted his head from its place on the armrest and sighed as he withdrew his arm from my shoulders.

“Sorry,” he said.

I shook my head to show indifference and watched him walk to the door. When he opened it, I caught sight of Amadeo standing in the doorway, speaking in hushed tones to Guy.

Guy turned and gestured me up.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

“My father wants to see you,” he said. “If that’s all right?”

“It’s fine.” I looked up at Amadeo. “Hello.”

“Good evening,” Amadeo said, his kind eyes dull with remorse of a sour situation.

With nothing else to do or say, I turned to face Guy. “Guess I’ll be back later,” I said, stepping out through an open door. “Keep an ear out for me?”

“I won’t lock you out,” he said.

We exchanged awkward waves before the door closed behind me.

“This way,” Amadeo said.

He led me through the series of hallways that still remained confusing and directed us toward the far wing on the east side. Our footsteps sounded monstrous in the silence of the beautiful home, which only further added to my unease, but I managed to maintain myself and kept my gaze straight ahead.

“I was not aware that you and he had such an… awkward relationship,” Amadeo offered.

I stopped in the middle of the hall, near where the banister overlooked the expansive living room, and frowned. “Sorry?” I asked.

“When he brought you here, I assumed that you might have been a longtime lover. But judging by your actions…”

“It’s ok,” I said, in the silence after he faded off. “You can continue.”

Amadeo scanned my face before nodding, the unease wiped clean of his face. “Mr. Winters and I were concerned when we learned about the alleged murder allegations. When you walked through the door, I expected the pair of you to act in a more intimate manner. But now that I see that you haven’t… well… it makes me concerned for your wellbeing. Both of you.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. “Guy called you ‘Papa,'” I said a short moment later, when the memory flickered across my conscience like a lonesome butterfly. “Does that mean you’re one of his parents?”

“Yes. I’ve been in Guy’s life since he was quite young. I practically watched him grow up.”

“I asked because he seems more relaxed around you.”

“Ah… the good parent, bad parent thing,” Amadeo said. He gestured me along and I followed him deeper into the house. “Elliot has always been hard on him, but with good intentions. He merely wants Guy to fulfill his legacy. I could care less what he does so long as he’s happy.”

“But Guy’s gay. Why is his father so concerned about continuing their bloodline?”

“Because he himself did it, despite his persuasion. He believes personal sacrifice is necessary if it is for the good of the people, regardless of whether the individual believes so or not.”

“So Mr. Winters thinks Guy’s being stubborn?”

“In a way, yes. But he fails to acknowledge the fact that Guy’s mother died during childbirth.”

I wasn’t sure what I’d expected. I’d thought that maybe the Kelda might have had something to do with Guy’s conception, or maybe his human mother had simply faded into the back of Guy’s life without question—lost to the tune of the everyday grind through the sway of persuasion wrought by one simple touch. I never expected this.

“How’d it happen?” I asked.

“That isn’t something I should be discussing with you,” Amadeo said. He stopped near another set of double doors and knocked. “Elliot.”

“Yes?” the senior Winters asked.

“I’ve brought the boy. Jason. Our son’s admiration.”

The door opened to reveal Elliot Winters in full, his clothes casual but not inappropriate for the evening. “Come in. I’ve been expecting you.”

“You wanted to see me?” I asked.

Elliot Winters took note of my request and returned with bottled water. Settling down across from me, he balanced a steaming cup of coffee atop a small China plate and watched me from over the rim as he drank. “Yes,” he said as he lowered the cup. “I did.”

The Kaldr set his drink on the table and crossed his arms over his chest, examining my presence. I’d experienced such scrutiny only once with Guy, and even then I’d adapted to the myriad of gazes that had fallen upon me on the property, when the other Kaldr had turned to look at us. But this—this was something completely different. This was like looking up at the stars and wondering if we were alone.

When the moments began to drag uncomfortably long, I settled back into my seat. “Sir?”

“Jason, please be honest with me when I ask you this question.”

“Of course,” I said.

“Are you the victim of a hostage situation?”

“No,” I laughed, almost out of reflex. His narrowed gaze clearly displayed his emotions. “No, sir. Not at all.”

“And you’re being perfectly honest?”

“Yes. I am.”

Elliot leaned forward. “You’re aware of our powers,” he said.

“Yes,” I replied, unnerved by how bright the outer rims of his eyes were.

“So you know that he could make you do things against your will?”

“I know, sir.”

Elliot stared—scouring my face, objecting my reasoning, examining possible motives. The radiance in his outer irises were too complex for me to tell just what was happening in them, but they appeared to be moving—shifting, slightly, like the gems within Guy’s room. While I could feel no present affect, I was sure he was doing something to me. “You’ve been Glamoured only once,” he said. “Days ago, even, but not for personal gain.”

“He was healing me, sir.”

“Beg pardon?”

I stood and lifted the tail of my shirt, tilting my body to display the fading remnants of a bruise. “I was attacked by an armed robber while I was in your son’s apartment,” I said, settling back down on the couch. “He slammed me into the counter, held me at gunpoint. If Guy hadn’t have done anything, I’d be dead.”

“And you believe this excuse enough?” Elliot shook his head. “You are but an unfortunate casualty in all this. My son, however, has risked the safety of our entire people. What do you have to say to that?”

“There’s another one out there.”

“So he says.”

“It’s true! What reason would Guy have to kill all those people?”

“To feed,” Elliot said.

“Sir,” I said, unable to hide my smile as I leaned forward. “Trust me when I say this: Guy wouldn’t have any trouble feeding in a city like Austin. I mean, come on—he’s gay. The men practically couldn’t keep their hands off him.”

Elliot was not amused. That much was for certain. “Now,” he said, as if disregarding everything that had just transpired. “There’s the matter of what to do with you.”

I shrunk at the man’s words. This was what I’d been waiting for. Now I was going to hear my fate.

“Normally,” Elliot said, but this time did not lean forward, instead taking note of me as if I were some ancient curiosity by placing a thumb to his chin, “we would not even consider letting humans in, let alone someone who’s been so intimate with the knowledge of our kind. However…” This he stressed by removing his hand from his chin, then settling his hand on his knee. “Under the current circumstances, there’s no reasonable way we could allow you out into the world. The mind is mighty, but the things they give you can be worse.”

“Sir?” I frowned.

“Drugs, Jason—I’m talking about drugs. Drugs that affect your mind and will make you answer any question truthfully if it’s injected into your bloodstream. You wouldn’t be able to lie if such a thing were to happen.”

Which meant… what? That I was in the left field, about to hit a home run?

“You will remain here for the time being, until it is determined whether or not anything can be done for you.”

“Sir,” I said. “What about…”

“What about… what?” Elliot frowned.

He seemed to know the answer before I’d even said it—because his eyes darkened and his lip curled into a disapproving smile—so when I said, “Guy,” short and simple, Elliot Winters merely sighed.

“What about him, Jason?”

“I know what you’re asking him to do. It isn’t right.”

“My son will do what is right for his people, whether he wants to or not.”

“It’s not fair!”

“To what? Keep our bloodline from dying out?”

“It’s not even your bloodline anymore! It’s a deviation. It’ll be gone in a hundred years.”

“Silence!” Elliot barked.

“Elliot,” Adameo said from the other side of the room.

“It figures my son would bring home a man as stubborn as he is,” Elliot said, the smirk on his face twisted in its amusement. “Do you know my son’s past, Jason? How promiscuous he was? How many men he’s slept with?”

“I don’t care.”

“Why? Because he’s not human, because you’re open-minded… because you have feelings for him?”

A knot tightened in my stomach. He waited me to respond with that same leering gaze and sinister grin, as if tempting an answer beneath the weight of his judgment. I imagine he expected me not to respond, otherwise he wouldn’t have been trying to goad feelings out of me. I wouldn’t fall for that game. I wasn’t going to let some manipulative asshole tell me what to think or feel.

“Yeah,” I said, the defiance in my voice far more than I’d intended. “I have feelings for him.”

Elliot chuffed. “Good luck,” he said. “Amadeo—show our guest the door, please. And take him back to my son’s room. I don’t want the poor boy getting lost on my account.”

Guy answered the door in his sweats. Hair askew from sleep, eyes still cloudy, he exchanged only a brief conversation with Amadeo before he closed the door and followed me into the living room.

“I guess that didn’t go well,” Guy said, setting down beside me.

I related what I could without revealing the personal details Amadeo had given me, unsure whether I should keep my big mouth shut. Throughout, Guy said nothing, but did offer a hand when I found myself shaking from rage.

When it came down to the final part of the story, I paused before finishing and looked him in the eyes.

“What’d you tell him?” Guy asked, his grip reassuring, but false in its strength against mine.

“I told him I had feelings for you,” I said. “Because I do. A lot.”

Guy didn’t immediately respond. “I… don’t know what to say.”

I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and pressed my body against his, cradling my head within the curve of his neck and listening to the sound of his breathing. His hands instinctively found their place on my back and held me in turn.

“You mean a lot to me,” I said, drawing away so that I could look at him. “You know that, right?”

“You mean a lot to me too,” Guy said.

I pressed my lips to his and sighed as my hands fell to his ribcage.

The contact was brief—short seconds, probably no more than a minute, but the whole time I felt an enormous weight lifting from my shoulders.

“Come on,” Guy said, lifting me into his arms and starting toward the bedroom. “It’s been a long day.”

He didn’t need to say any more.

My position within the household was made apparent the following morning, when I was not tasked to work with the other Kaldr. Guy’s opinion on the matter muted, his eyes set on things other than me, he sipped his coffee while I tentatively poked at my sausage and eggs, his gaze occasionally straying to Amadeo when he would make an appearance within the room.

“Is there anything else I can get for you?” he asked, looking from me, then to Guy.

I shook my head. Guy stood and rounded the counter as he finished off his coffee to set it in the sink. “I’ll be back,” he said.

I didn’t bother to ask where he was going. After disappearing out the threshold that led into the living room, and which would eventually take him to his parents’ quarters, I felt no need to pressure him for an answer, especially after what happened last night.

“Is everything well?” Amadeo asked.

I nodded. “Yeah,” I sighed. “Everything’s fine. I’m just worried. That’s all.”

“About what?”

“Me tying him here.”

“If he didn’t wish to be here, Jason, he wouldn’t have brought you here.”

“I know.”

“So don’t lay blame on yourself. Things will come to fruition, whichever they may be.”

I considered the plate of half-eaten food before me and pushed it forward. “You want this?” I asked.

“No thank you,” Amadeo said.

“I haven’t seen you eat anything.”

“That’s because the Kaldr do not have to eat.” His lips perked into a smile. “We are creatures of the flesh. There’s no need for us to consume solids when we feed on the heat of others.”

It made sense. Guy’s aversion to eating had only became apparent once we’d entered the Elliot household. Before, he’d eaten just as I had. Now, I’d yet to see him touch anything.

“But you can eat,” I said.

“Oh, of course. It is more a novelty than anything, though.”

I sipped my soda and watched Amadeo carefully. He’d chosen to dress casual this morning, as he had when I’d met him the previous day—in long cargo shorts and an undershirt whose armholes stretched down to reveal his defined ribcage. I’d tried to gauge his age since we arrived, but as of yet couldn’t. Guy’s father looked only slightly older than his son—Amadeo I couldn’t place at all.

While his age didn’t necessarily matter, given his immortality, it only served to remind me of Guy’s aversion to the subject.

“Sir,” I said, peaking his interest when he blinked and focused his eyes on me. “Can I ask something? About Guy?”

“Feel free.”

“He’s never told me how old he really was. He… claimed to be thirty, but… well… with you being immortal and all—”

“My son was freshly turned, if that’s what you’re asking. He is as old as he claims in both human and Kaldr terms.”

“So he wasn’t lying,” I said.

Amadeo shook his head. “Guy’s reputation may lie within his past actions, but he cannot be blamed for them. He was young—raised by Kaldr the moment he was born. He was educated here, cared for here, taught everything he knows here—including how to drive. His passions for men were only bridled when he began sleeping with the other Kaldr, which drove his father completely crazy.”

“Because of his legacy?”

“Because of his antics. Age and stubbornness has quelled much of his behavior, but he still exhibits the frustration from being trapped here for so long.”

“Do you blame him?”

“No. I don’t. Which is why I pushed Elliot to allow him broader freedom.”

“Are you the one who let him leave?”

The man didn’t reply. Normally, his silence would’ve spoken for itself, but in a case like this, it could have meant all manner of things.

“To answer your question,” Amadeo said. “It is no secret that I supplied Guy with the necessary tools to live on his own. I gave him the money, the resources, the falsified degree in business marketing he would’ve received at a standardized institution—I even drove him to Austin on the pretense that we were going in for supplies.”

“So you left him there.”

Amadeo nodded. “Yes, Jason. I did.”

I was tempted to ask how Guy’s father had felt about that—to the point where the question lurked on my lips like some great swarm of moths to be breathed from the devil’s mouth—but I stopped when I realized I already knew. The disparaging comments made even upon our arrival were enough to ensure that notion.

Idly, I sipped my drink while trying to think of what to say next. Amadeo had not proven to be much of a talker, only going so far as to initiate conversation when he felt necessary.

My eyes strayed past him—to the expanse of windows looking out at the work being done on the ranch.

“What all is done here?” I asked.

“We’re completely self-sufficient,” Amadeo said, turning to view the outside world. “We plant our own food, raise our own meat, work water from the surrounding wells—the only thing we don’t harvest is power, and our clothing comes from occasional runs to the larger towns and cities.”

“How many people are there?”

“Of the Kaldr clan?” Amadeo asked. “Only fifty. Our numbers have diminished over time.”

Thus the need for procreation.

“That isn’t to say we aren’t strong,” the man continued. “We are masters of disguise. We hide in plain sight, fake appearances, sway those who question with charm or lust. The only real problem we’ve had has been with people leaving, and even then that hasn’t resulted in any—”

“Who’s the person killing people in Austin?”

Amadeo paused. His eyes—cast to the other Kaldr in the field—turned to examine me with a sense of confusion and distress. “I beg your pardon?” he asked.

“The Kaldr. Who’s doing it?”

“I’m not sure I—”

“It’s not Guy, Amadeo. I’m not sure what Mr. Winters has been telling you, but… there was no reason for him to hurt anyone. Not when he was so beautiful and happy with his freedom.”

“You’re suggesting someone else killed those people?”

I narrowed my eyes. “Do you honestly believe it was Guy?”

He said nothing. A disturbance from the room above quelled any voice that may have come next, but after the floorboards stopped creaking and there came no sound of footsteps down the stairs, he centered his dark, steely gaze on me—boring into my soul with an intensity not made from anger, but belief. “No. I don’t.”

I didn’t push the subject. I finished the drink and rose to locate a waste disposal, but was stopped by Amadeo when he rounded the counter and wrapped his hand around the can.

“Don’t speak of this to anyone,” he said.

“I—”

He pried the can from my hand with force previously unknown to me. His smile, as charming as it happened to be, spelled wicked in its intention. “It’s a nice day today,” he said. “Why don’t you go find Guy? He’ll be working in the fields. Just don’t stay out too long—you wouldn’t want to get burnt.”

What necessity clothing held for the Kaldr during great bouts of heat I couldn’t be sure. Given their distinct need to consume the heat of others in order to sustain themselves, it seemed unusual to limit one’s exposure to the sun when it was out clean and clear, unmarred by clouds that so rarely drifted over the Texas horizon. But there they were—tending the fields, working the animals, all with clothes covering their bodies. The only one without his shirt was Guy—who, in comparison to the shorter, stockier men, appeared like a god among all Kaldr.

As one, their attention was drawn as I descended the stairs. Guy’s, too, had risen, but his was the only gaze that remained in the moments thereafter.

Without much thought, I made my way along the path toward the rows of gardens.

“Hey,” I said as I approached, taking note of his blistered palms and the dirt etched across his chest and face.

“Hey,” he replied. “Everything all right?”

“Can I talk to you for a minute?”

Guy shrugged and slung his hoe over his shoulder before following me along my undetermined route.

“Amadeo wasn’t aware of what was going on in Austin,” I said, sliding my hands into my pockets.

“What do you mean?” Guy asked.

“He… well… he made it seem like he thought you were the one who’d done it.”

“That’s just my father’s reasoning’s getting to him,” he said. “Papa’s the peacekeeper. He doesn’t like conflict, and whenever it happens, he tries to settle it without trouble. My father… he’s not like that. At all.”

“I could tell,” I chuckled.

Guy came to a halt, pursed his lips, then closed his eyes, his nostrils flaring in a great exhale that lowered his broad chest.

“Something’s going on here, isn’t there?”

“I don’t know. Even if there was, I’d have no idea. I’ve been gone for five years.”

“And you didn’t have any contact during that time?”

“No. We didn’t.” Guy turned, adjusting the hoe against his shoulder. The fleshy hue of his skin was unusual, considering I’d seen him as fair up until this point, but I didn’t dwell on it. Getting shellshocked now, after everything I’d been through, would’ve been stupid and pointless. “Don’t worry about it right now, Jason. Seriously. There’s nothing either of us can do. What happens happens.”

“I know.”

“Go inside. It’s too hot for you out here. I’m worried that you haven’t recovered.”

“Have you fed?”

“What?”

“I said—”

Guy shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. Go. Inside.”

He started to walk off, his attention set toward the section of the field he’d been working on, but I stopped him before he could leave my grasp.

Leaning forward, I arched myself up on the tips of my toes and kissed his cheek.

His smile gave me some semblance of assurance, despite the mystery surrounding it all.

The day passed slowly—largely from the outstanding grief exhibited in my restless actions. Still overwhelmed from the events of the past few days and feeling under the weather from the heatstroke, I kept to Guy’s quarters and entertained himself with what few necessities he had, which weren’t many considering his position here. Television stations were nonexistent and what few movies he owned had to be played on an outdated player. His collection of books, however, was impressive—to the point where I spent much of the time revisiting old habits of browsing encyclopedias for random and oftentimes useless information.

Given my bookworm tendencies, I was surprised I was able to put everything back in the order I had pulled it out.

Before I knew it, darkness swamped the outside world—startling in its ability to extinguish a fire and turn it into little more than smoke.

For a while, I simply remained inside—sipping water, occasionally munching on chips, and waiting to see if anything would happen.

When Guy didn’t come in an hour after dark, my worries got the best of me and I left the room.

The porch was dark. Save for a pair of sconces posed by the double doors, little could be seen of anything beyond the stairs except the trodden dirt path, thus casting the far distance into absolute blackness. My eyes instantly centered on the area where normally the fields would have been, but even they were invisible.

I took consideration of my surroundings.

From the fields, to the steps, to the areas illuminated by the lights—even the porch.

There was no one here.

The sensation that I was being watched lingered like a gun on the back of my head.

I never used to be uneasy when I was alone at night. Truth of the matter was, most of those ‘bad feelings’ I’d heard my friends talk about had usually been the result of overt paranoia or drug-induced jitters. But that night the man broke into the house—that had changed everything.

I reached back, still focused on the darkness, and grabbed the doorknob.

The door was locked.

I hadn’t bothered to check before I’d left the house.

“Shit,” I whispered.

The feral growl that answered coincided with a pair of yellow eyes appearing and then reflecting the light of the wall sconces back at me.

I didn’t move. I didn’t even breathe, which probably didn’t help my thinking much, but I could only concentrate on the thing’s eyes as I remembered what I’d always been taught as a child. The natural inclination to run was strong. Dogs were predators though, and when prey took flight, they gave chase.

I looked around for something I could use to defend myself.

It was just a dog. How bad could it hurt?

I had just located a stone centerpiece atop a nearby table when I heard the stairs creak behind me.

I froze.

The huff of air from its mouth sent the smell of raw meat through my nose.

I turned my head to the side just in time to catch a massive, five-fingered claw scraping across the bottom stair and slinking out of sight.

Trembling, I felt my way back along the door.

There had to be a doorbell, had to be a doorbell, had to be a—

My elbow hit the button.

The creature vaulted onto the porch and roared.

I didn’t bother to try and see what it was. I just turned and ran.

The creature pursued me across the porch at a pace I knew I couldn’t match. Paws slapping on the woodwork, mouth twisted into an open snarl, I cast what little furniture there happened to be in its way before vaulting over the railing.

My high school track training should’ve prepared me for this.

Instead, my foot caught in one of the rungs and I whipped forward, cracking my head along the railing before falling onto my shoulders, then flipping onto my back.

Stars danced across my vision.

I only just barely managed to sluggishly roll to the side before the creature could jump on me.

It lunged.

I smashed the centerpiece into its face.

The creature’s head slammed into the side of the house before realigning and centering directly on me.

Lupine—

Its eyes—

I slammed the stone object down between its eyes with all I could muster before taking it in both hands and crushing its snout.

Blood and bone matter spattered my face.

I stumbled back, breathless, and dropped my weapon, landing flat on my ass with enough force to send a stab of pain through my spine.

The thing was dead—twitching, but dead.

Nearby, I heard a door open and then the slap of feet across the porch.

“Jason?” Guy asked. “Is something going—”

He failed to finish as he took in the scene.

“I got it,” I smiled, my laugh fractured by the nausea that spun about my head. “I got that fucker.”

“Jason! Jason!”

I fell back on the soft, warm grass and closed my eyes.

Sleep was bliss.

“Did he get bit?” someone asked.

“Move over,” another replied.

“He didn’t get bitten!” Guy cried out. “I told you already! Get the fuck away from him before I—”

My eyes cracked open, then immediately shut as a blinding light slashed into my vision.

I groaned.

“Jason?” Guy asked.

The hand was familiar once wrapped within mine. I squeezed with all I could muster and forced myself to adjust to the lighting, only satisfied with my progress when I could see Guy’s face above me. “Hey,” I said.

“God, Jason. What the hell were you thinking?”

“What do you—”

A door burst open. I was suddenly aware of my nudity as Elliot Winters approached.

“What’s going on here?” he asked.

“He was attacked,” Guy said, turning his eyes on his father, “by a Howler.”

The man narrowed his eyes. “Is he bitten?”

“What?”

“I said—”

“I heard what you said!” Guy snapped. “What the fuck is wrong with you? I thought you said you’d tell him to stay inside!”

“I was leaving that up to you.”

“You asshole!” Guy screamed. “You told me you would do it! I was the one who wanted to bring him with us!”

“And I was the one who told you that our family’s secrets are not to be openly displayed.” Elliot’s eyes fell on me. “Now someone tell me: has he been bitten?”

“No sir,” a short, African-American woman said beside me. “He wasn’t.”

“And you’re sure?”

“He would’ve displayed characteristics already. Look.” She pried one eye open for the world to see and waited until Elliot examined me before releasing her hold. “He’s without the lined iris. He wasn’t bit.”

“Then what’re all these then?” He gestured to the side. “Blood? Bone? On his clothes?”

“He had to fight it off.”

“Because you didn’t warn him,” Guy growled. “What’re you trying to do, turn him into a Howler?”

It looked like the senior Winters would strike. He seemed to take note of the scene it would cause and held himself at bay as Amadeo approached with a robe, gesturing me upright as he wrapped it around my naked body.

“We’re not going to fight about this now,” the woman who’d tended to me said. “The young man needs rest, and neither of you are doing anything to help.”

Elliot said nothing. She jabbed a finger in Guy’s direction with accusatory eyes. “You—take him to your room. Make sure he’s cared for.”

“Yes, Faith,” Guy said. He shrugged up beside me and laced an arm across my back. “Can you walk?”

“Just… give me a minute.”

He helped me to my feet and let me gain my bearings. The hard, linoleum floor was cold, but helped ground me as we made our way out of the room.

Immediately upon our departure, the room broke out into argument.

“Ignore them,” Guy said.

I couldn’t do much else. I simply allowed him to lead me through a part of the house I’d never seen before, then up the stairwell to his flat.

Once in his room, he settled me down on his bed and ran a hand across my temple, careful to avoid the spot where I cracked it on the railing. He wouldn’t meet my eyes even when I took hold on his hand.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“My father was supposed to tell you to remain indoors after it got dark,” he said, the muscles in his forearm tense—rigid with anger. “He told me that I couldn’t bring you with me to meet her because it would be seen as improper and disrespectful.”

“To see who?”

“The Kelda.”

I shuddered. Whether the result of a concussion, I couldn’t be sure, but I drew my legs closer to my body and forced my eyes shut as a wave of nausea hit.

“Do you—”

“Why didn’t he tell me?”

“I don’t know,” Guy said, his voice still strained with grief. “Fuck, Jason. I’m so mad. I just wanna go down there and rip his fucking—”

“Don’t.” I sniffled. The tears streaming down my eyes burned worse than the pain in my head. “Please. Just… don’t. No more fighting. It’s done. Over. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

“Nothing I can do? I’m his son, his prince. If he wants me to do anything, he’s going to treat me and the man I love with respect.”

“What?”

Love?

I opened my eyes.

Gone was the rage on his face. Instead, it was replaced with something I’d yet to experience—sadness.

I realized this was the first time I’d seen Guy cry.

“When I saw you out there by that… thing… I thought…” He stuttered. He gasped and bowed his face into his hands. “God, Jason. I thought it got you.”

“I’m ok,” I said. “Really. It’s ok.”

“No it’s not. All my parents ever wanted was for me to settle down and find someone I cared about—to put my whoring days around and act like the man I was supposed to be. And when I finally do bring that man home… when I finally am settling down… you get treated like a sack of shit.”

He managed a stuttering exhale and then a fragmented inhale before he took the deep breath I knew he needed. He palmed the tears from his eyes and looked over at me, his peace destroyed by the night’s events.

He spread out alongside me and took me into his arms.

Outside, the world continued on.

I laid in bed almost the whole day. Several times, Guy came in to check on me—pressing a palm to my forehead, offering me water, coercing me into eating. Otherwise, I was completely alone.

What little sleep I had was shattered by nightmares—of a thing with steel-sharp teeth and yellow eyes bearing down upon me.

Eventually, I just gave up and simply laid there, staring at the wall, resting my eyes.

The door opened later that afternoon. Two pairs of footsteps echoed across the flat and into the bedroom just in time for me to cover myself and hide my modesty.

“Jason?” a voice asked.

I opened my eyes. The same woman who’d treated me last night stood at the end of the bed, Guy at her side. “Yuh-Yes?” I managed.

“How are you feeling?”

“Fine. Better, really.”

“You care if I take a look?”

I responded with a nod and rolled onto my back to give her easy access to my head. Her fingers—long, gentle, flecked with the hint of ice I once related to Guy—probed the site of my injury with careful attention to detail, nodding when she found something notable in her pursuit.

“How is it, Faith?” Guy asked.

“It’s a concussion,” the female Kaldr, Faith, said. “But he’s doing exactly what he should be—resting.”

“Thank you for coming up here, Faith. It means a lot to me.”

“You don’t have to thank me. This whole thing was a big misunderstanding and I—”

“Who was the werewolf?” I asked.

Faith and Guy turned their eyes on me.

“The werewolf who attacked me,” I continued, struggling to push myself up. “Who was it?”

“Now’s not the time,” Guy said, starting toward me.

“I wanna know who almost killed me. Now.”

The two Kaldr looked at one another, Faith’s expression completely indicative of her position.

Finally, Guy said, “It was Missy Sue.”

“Missy Sue?” I frowned.

“The one you talked to. In Fredericksburg.”

She’d been so interested in my arm. Did that mean that she—

“She must’ve caught your scent,” Guy said when I opened my mouth to speak, “and followed you back here.”

“Does she know who you are?” Faith asked. “Or that the two of you were even together?”

“I’m not sure. Jason said she showed interest in him and that she’d been hauled off by the police after he managed to slip away.”

“It’s true,” I said when the healer’s eyes fell on me. “I swear, I would never intentionally lead anyone here.”

“It’d be pretty stupid to put yourself in the line of danger if you were really intending to go after someone else,” Faith agreed. She pursed her lips and scanned the immediate area, taking in the display of princely objects around us, then settled her eyes back on me. “I’ll let Elliot know what we think happened. You get some rest, Jason. Don’t get out of bed. You took a pretty bad blow to your head and you wouldn’t want to strain yourself.”

“I won’t,” I said. “Thank you.”

Faith bade the two of us goodbye, then made her way through Guy’s flat until she left out the front doors.

“I fucked up,” I said. “Didn’t I?”

“A long time ago, there was an agreement made that the ‘Big Three’ wouldn’t interfere with each other’s dealings in the mortal realm. That meant no contact, no organized crimes, and definitely not any attacks on each other. Of course, there’s never really been anyone to enforce that rule, but none of us really gave much thought to it. We just obliged. Maybe it’s a Texas thing. Who knows? We’re all dying species. Doesn’t take an idiot to realize just how damaging a little human contact could be.”

“So what about Missy Sue then? Now that I killed her?”

“Missy Sue was a rogue agent whose alpha couldn’t control her. It was bad to even flirt with the idea of taking in a human who hadn’t been indoctrinated into their pack, but to turn someone known for tall tales? I mean, yeah—fat chance of anyone believing that she’s a Howler, but get suspicious about where she’s been and how’s she’s going there? That’s just flat-out stupid.”

“You never answered my question.”

“Which was?”

“What’ll they think now that a member of their pack’s dead?”

“Collateral. Nothing more.”

I crossed my arms over his chest and considered Guy’s face. Harshened by the severity of the confrontation, it’d lost much of its boyish youth and instead replaced it with fine lines. I could always tell when Guy was angry, or at least unsettled by something. He looked like a completely different person.

“You’re not lying to me,” I said, unsure if I was treading on solid ground, “are you?”

“No. Why would I be?”

“To protect me, I mean. From… this.” I spread my arm about the room.

“Come on—you’ve seen me freeze a guy to death and form a crystal of ice out of thin air.”

“Not out of thin air,” I corrected. “I saw the water droplets crystalizing as we were falling toward the fountain.”

“Either way, you’ve seen shit that’d blow most people’s minds—and get ninety-five-percent of them thrown into the loony bin.”

I chuckled. “I guess human ignorance is an easy cover for your kind, huh?”

“Trust me,” Guy smirked. “You have no idea.”

“You’re… alive,” I said, running my fingers down the trail of blonde hair along his abdomen. “Right?”

“Yeah,” Guy said. “Don’t you hear my heart beating?”

It was a low staccato beneath the fine expanse of his chest. Thump thump, thump thump, thump thump, thump thump. The life there was palpable—comparable to the rise and fall of our chests—but for some reason there was always that lingering question in the back of my head, the one that caused common logic to falter in favor of the supernatural aspect of Guy’s existence.

Guy was freezing cold. He fed off the body heat of humans to sustain himself. He could bleed, yet never die from age. The mixed contrast there was baffling. Before, I’d never even heard anything about the Kaldr, let alone a race of Norwegian ice-people who could possibly resemble them.

I rolled over and straddled Guy’s chest with elbows to look him in the eyes.

“Why’d you ask that?” he said, voice faint with strength, but attention fixed and centered on me.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Maybe it’s the concussion. I just wanted to know.”

“You can ask anything you want, Jason.”

“I know.”

Guy smiled and slid an arm out under me, cupping one hand along my hip and curve of my ass. “It’s kinda surprised me how relaxed you’ve been about the whole thing.”

“I didn’t want to bother you.”

“Well… ask me now, then?”

I settled back down beside him and took hold of his hand, feeling the rough, fresh callouses on his palms as I laced our fingers together, then proceeded tentatively—unsure if his level of alertness would allow for such a detailed conversation. Eventually, I fell into full swing, and asked everything I could think of.

They fed off the warmth of human beings—only human beings. The sun offered some comfort, as did heat, but was nothing in comparison to the primal energy drawn from the flesh of a victim. Arteries and major sources of blood flow were particular candidates during feeding—the neck, the wrist, and, he so humorously added, the man’s penis. He made a snide remark about that being the reason why he was able to give such great head before saying that his manipulation of water depended entirely on the amount thereof and if he could manipulate the air around it. Humidity was good for that, he said—snow even better, which they could control complete and outright.

“But you can kill people,” I said.

Guy nodded.

He described it like feeding—monstrous, uninhibited, an adrenaline rush even the greatest sex on the most illegal drugs couldn’t give you. Though he could kill that way, he said, the person would only resemble a pale version of themselves—not like the frost-bitten, near-gangrene appearance my assailant had developed.

“That was from giving,” Guy said.

“But if you can kill the same way by taking, why not take?”

“Because that requires oral contact.”

I nodded and bundled against his side, content with his warmth and the peace of the situation.

“But if you need people to feed off of,” I said, “and there’s only Kaldr here… how do you—”

“Sex.”

I tilted my head up.

“Given that we’re still partially human, we have the innate need to fuck around. The friction between two people—even two Kaldr—is the second best source of energy compared to feeding.”

“Is that why you were so eager to jump me in the shower?” I chuckled.

“Nah. I just wanted to fuck you,” Guy grinned. “Besides, Mr. Saintly—I recall you being the one who went down on me.”

“It’s ’cause you’ve got a big cock.”

“That I do,” Guy laughed.

He settled his arm around my shoulders and tilted my head so his brow was buried in the tufts of my hair.

He didn’t say anything afterward.

His breathing indicated sleep.

I closed my eyes and breathed.

“The Kelda wants to see you,” Guy said.

I raised my head from buttoning my shirt and stared at him. “What?” I asked.

“Tonight. After dark.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. That’s all my father told me.”

I faltered in my attempts to continue buttoning my shirt and eventually decided to just leave it halfway undone. Seating myself on the bed, I started to reach for my shoes, but remembered I’d developed the habit of taking them off by the door and shook my head, dreading the fact that my nerves were getting the best of me.

“It’ll be ok,” Guy said, settling down beside me.

“Where?”

“Below the house. There’s a hidden entrance into what my father calls the ‘Security Compound’ directly beneath the rug in the front living room, though if you ask me I call it the ice box.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s where she lives. Underground.”

I sighed and bowed my head.

“You won’t be going alone,” Guy continued. “I specifically told my father that I refused to let you see her without another Kaldr present.”

“Do people normally attend her summons alone?”

“She is our goddess. Normally, it would be improper and completely disrespectful to bring another person with us, yet she understands that you are a human and might suffer the shock of seeing her.”

“She’s not—”

“Human? No. She isn’t.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat but kept my thoughts to myself, though physically it was hard to maintain any form of integral diplomacy. Thoughts flashed through my head—fire, lightning, ice raining down the sky. They said she was one of the first. Was she a god? If not human, what?

The skittering sensation of chills crossing up and down my spine weren’t the result of Guy pressing his hand against my back. I imagined it could have been her, all the way down there—watching, waiting for me to come. I instinctually shied toward Guy’s body and was thankful for the arm he set around me.

“She isn’t a judging god, Jason. Her benevolence is what sustains us.”

“What does she want with me? What reason does she have to talk to me?”

“I don’t know, Jason. I wish I could tell you more.”

Had there been a rift—a shift, disturbance, the complete upheaval of what it was to be ‘normal’ due to my presence? Would I be cast to the sea, forced to swim without the help of a lifeboat, devoid of a companion, unfortunate in the fact that he could not argue my case? If I was being kicked out of here—if I couldn’t stay on the ranch—then what would I—

I focused my attention just well enough to where the tears ready to spring from my eyes did not come forth.

Guy’s hand, flat along my ribcage, flexed, then settled back against my chest.

“It’ll be ok,” he said, his lips against my ear. “It’ll just be a visit. That’s all.”

That’s all?

Could such an important summons be just a visit?

I wouldn’t know until later.

Tonight.

Tonight.

It couldn’t come soon enough.

My arrival with Guy to the home’s first floor was met with the acknowledging glances of both Elliot and Amadeo from their places in the living room. Dressed suavely in robes made from the fur of long-dead animals, Amadeo stood upon our entrance and watched Guy and me with eyes that appeared far too knowing for his own good.

“Jason,” Amadeo said. “Guy.”

We both nodded.

“Are you ready?” Elliot asked, setting his attention on me.

“Yes sir,” I replied. “I am.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect when Elliot stood. Maybe it was because I’d seen so many science fiction or military movies in which secret compounds were hidden beneath parts of the floor with dials or security codes, or maybe it was because I was still adjusting to this whole ‘secret life’ thing. Either way, when Elliot crouched down and pulled the rug aside to reveal nothing more than the simple, nondescript wooden floorboards, I couldn’t help but frown.

Was this it—Guy’s whole secret entrance declaration?

Before I could open my mouth to speak, Mr. Winters trailed, then locked his fingers along a floorboard before sliding a section aside.

Beneath was a handle—which, when grasped and then pulled, extended, a metal cord spooling from its prison, until it was fully within standing length.

Guy and I needed no instruction when Elliot pulled the trapdoor open.

Bared to the world, it revealed a flight of stairs which disappeared down a dark, narrow corridor, lit only by emergency lights that glowed a dull red.

“Before we make our way down there,” Elliot said, taking note of Amadeo for only a moment as he checked to ensure that his partner was securing the front side of the house, “there’s a few things you need to know.”

I remained silent—subservient to his demands.

“One,” he began. “You do not address the Kelda unless she addresses you first. Two: You do not interrupt or speak out of line. Three: Give respect and authority, for she is the reason why you are here. And last, but most importantly: you are to never divulge the location of her sanctuary, the concepts of her home or the makeup of her person. Are we clear?”

“Yes sir,” I said. “I’m clear.”

“Come, then. I will escort you the furthest I can.”

Elliot took helm of our small party as he descended the stairs and disappeared from sight. Heart throbbing in my chest, sweat breaking out under my arms and along the back of my neck, I forced myself to match Elliot’s steps one-by-one and instantly panicked the moment my foot pressed down on a stair. Stone-cold, its impact reverberated through my feet, and a sick wash of chill swept up from the base of the stairs as if testing me—wrapping around me and prying at every visible aspect of my modern body.

“It’s ok,” Guy whispered. “Keep going.”

I only glanced back long enough to see the trapdoor closing behind Guy before continuing forward.

I’d forgotten I was claustrophobic.

The temptation to panic was immense.

The short flight of stairs ended before I could become too overwhelmed.

We continued through a metal door which met Elliot’s presence by wrapping ice around his hand the moment he touched the metal bar. Twisting about the handle, pressing against the flat of his palm, darkening his knuckles until they turned a taut blue upon his skin—he waited for a moment before opening the door and ushering us in as quickly as possible, the reason instantly marked when the opposite side was encased in ice.

“Come,” Elliot said.

At first, I didn’t bother to question where the source of the near-unbearable chill was coming from. Such was my belief that it was because we were underground and in an ice-people’s territory that when I finally did begin to scan the room—first by tracing the frozen patches that lined the bottoms of the walls, then by following them to the ceiling—that I realized why it was.

Directly above, a miasma of ice crystals hung like a spread of honeycombs across the largest bee colony in the world. Like Guy’s eyes on that fateful night, they glowed aurora, offering light that otherwise would not have existed.

My awe over the sight was extinguished when Guy’s hand latched around my shoulder, stopping me before I could run directly into his father’s back.

“Father?” Guy asked.

“We’re here,” Elliot said.

The door beyond was nondescript and ordinary, carved simply out of wood and bearing upon its surface a lowercased r-shaped insignia that began at the bottom of the door and hooked down diagonally before disappearing into the doorframe. It, too, glowed like the ice crystal formations over our heads.

“Remember what I told you,” Elliot said, stepping aside to allow us free passage. “And son—do not speak for him. She will understand his position and act accordingly.”

“Yes Father,” Guy said. Stepping forward, Guy set a hand along my upper back, then trailed it across until it came off my shoulder. “Come on, Jason. Let’s go.”

I waited for Elliot Winters to offer further instruction—for him to say not to speak of ill wills or laugh or cry or do anything that most human men did—but when he did nothing and offered only a slight nod, I returned it in kind and stepped forward.

At the threshold to the Kelda’s domain, Guy reached forward and pressed his hand against the door.

“Kelda,” he whispered. “Our Well. Our Spring.”

His eyes burst into brilliant aurora light and tendrils of ice siphoned up and beneath the surface of his arm before disappearing under his shirt.

Once they hit his neck, it didn’t take long for a constellation to strike their mark on his face and guide two significant arcs from his left eye and lips.

Breathless, Guy bowed his head. He trembled as his breath whitened.

Despite myself, I managed to keep from asking if he was all right.

No sooner had he pressed his hand to the door, he pulled it away, the vein-like fading from his body.

Something clicked, and then the door cracked open.

Guy pressed his hand against the wood and directed me inside.

I couldn’t know what to expect.

Light, dark, hot, cold—I stepped into the room knowing that whatever I could face could easily change my life.

It took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the room.

At first, I wasn’t aware it was the lighting. When I finally was, I allowed my conscience to bathe in the sight before me.

Darkness pooled the room in a way I’d only imagined it doing in a place where light held the concept of liquids and wreathed about like waves. Drifting along the stone floor, it swallowed our feet in a ghastly mist and rose only briefly to reach out for us—begging, senselessly, like children hungry and without regret. I tried to detect any similar abnormalities, but such formations were only apparent around clusters of black ice that seethed with smoke. I couldn’t gauge the relation. Was it heat? It couldn’t be, since ice was never hot, but if it was black ice, then couldn’t that mean—

A flicker of movement at the far corner of the room caught my eye.

“Kelda folkhagi,” Guy said, his voice nearly-godlike in such an enclosed space. “Great leader, our fountain, spring and mother—I am Guy Winters, Svell Kaldr of Folkhagi Elliot. You requested audience with the one I brought into our presence. I have brought him here.”

A whisper of acknowledgement flickered along my skull.

I shivered.

Had that been her speaking?

All around, the crystals began to take on life.

Ascending from darkness, they birthed light from the core of their beings and dispersed it like webs woven from the quickest of spiders.

It took little time for the room to be thrust into such luminescence.

It wasn’t until she revealed herself that I realized the integrity of the situation.

Her person was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. She came from the shadows of the room like a wraith whose purpose was to submit oneself to the darkness of another’s situation. Tall, bone-white, with a face whose angular features were defined by the sharpness of her cheekbones and the cleft V-shape of her jawline—upon her face where her eyes should have been existed two great onyx stones fromwhich I felt a presence despite a pair of pupils, upon her head a crown of crystals molded in the natural shapes defined by earth. Without a nose, she appeared alien, and almost devoid of lips she appeared somewhat comical—a fish who surfaced only once every great moon and never again.

Her body was not adorned with clothing. Frost guarded the finer parts of her sex—slight breasts upon her chest and a cleft where her legs would have been, had she not floated above ground. She appeared to be adorned in a gown of falling snow.

Her gaze was immense—penetrating into me.

At first, I couldn’t help but think that no Kaldr could compare to her.

But then I realized.

She wasn’t Kaldr. She was Kelda.

Once more, the whisper echoed around my skull.

Jason, it said. DePella.

The surname she said as if she were pronouncing a word that defied the laws of her existence—tentatively, with a slight ambition, as if she wanted to discover it. Though my father claimed French heritage, I could never find anyone else with the name DePella, but it wasn’t like it was something completely foreign. But to her? Maybe. I didn’t know. I just nodded and watched as she drifted forward.

She lifted a long, gangly arm and extended a three-fingered hand toward me, gently stroking the curve of my cheek. Her thin mouth parted into a smile and revealed a distinct measure of thick molars descending from dark blue gums.

“Hello,” I managed.

Hello child.

She withdrew her hand and floated a few steps back, her dress of falling snow shifting about nonexistent legs and her head inclining toward me. The three largest crystals upon her head pulsed and then began to swim like Guy’s eyes had in the past, then dimmed until they darkened again.

I swallowed a lump in my throat.

What did she wish of me, if not simply my presence?

“You… wanted to see me,” I said, careful to express my words as a statement rather than a question.

Yes. I did.

She tilted her head to the side, then flushed it about her bony shoulders, as if it was weighed down by the ornate formation upon her head, before hovering forward.

Beside me, Guy tensed.

The Kelda’s distance was cleared in but an instant. Soon, she hovered no more than an inch in front of me, her face so close that I could feel the cold pouring off her porcelain skin.

There is a mission within one’s life, she thought, her hand once more rising, tracing my face before snaring her fingers through my hair. One normally chosen by the individual, but often defined by others. Do you not agree?

I nodded. The true nature of my person would’ve been quick to counter such a sentiment. I was as great a pessimist as any—I believed that, yes, life usually sucked, but it was the little things that got us through the day; that the government was crooked, and that no matter how charming a person or attractive a smile they had, every politician was out for their own good; and that if Santa Claus really did exist, the banking industry would be fucked. In that regard, I was like every other person. But unlike most people, I’d come to believe in faith—purpose, if you would, in what your life meant after one or a series of events changed who you were forever.

The Kelda reared her head back to examine me in full.

Then you understand that your position has changed, she said. And that who you thought you would one day be will no longer exist.

She drifted another pace back.

Svell Kaldr Guy Winters, she said, directing her attention on the man I’d spent the last few weeks of my life with. Child of the Firstborn, Declared Prince of the Second-Kin: for thirty years, you have lived beneath a shadow, wishing well the intentions of one whose wishes you’d only seek to prefer. But there are always times when the tides will shift. This you know, for you have left and then returned on a construct of your own salvation.

Guy nodded. His sheer admiration for the creature could be seen in the loyalty within his eyes.

Reign will one day be yours. But your father—the First-Born, the Kelda Svell—sees you as impudent: childish, irresponsible, and incapable of duty. But that is not the case. You, as well as any who look upon you, know that.

She shifted around me and then came face-to-face with Guy, whose energy immediately bonded with one another like symbiotic organisms beneath the seas. Their eyes glowed bright, the crystals upon her head pulsed—even the marks beneath Guy’s body, which I thought were no more than an illusion, appeared, then darkened into tight blue knots, throbbing as if filled with blood.

The time is almost upon us, she said, her hands lifting along, but not touching Guy’s skull. Will perhaps there be another when the Moon does pass, or will Luna be lonely and rule alone? It is as we know, and fear, and loathe, and love: that it is the age of the Wendigo, and if trifled, will rise to stake its claim.

The Kelda withdrew and floated toward the back of the room.

The warm flesh will remain, she said. As is decreed by the Kelda Svell.

“Thank you,” Guy said, and then bowed his head.

He stepped forward, took hold of my arm, then began to pull me toward the exit.

I watched the ice queen fade into the darkness.

Her eyes glowing the entire way.

“What did she mean by that?” I asked when we returned to Guy’s flat.

He lifted his head. “You heard that?” he asked, a frown crossing his face.

“Well, yeah. It was pretty clear what she was saying.”

“No, Jason. It wasn’t.”

“What do you—”

“No human should be able to hear when the Kelda speaks to another,” Guy said. “Especially not one of her Kaldr.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t know,” Guy sighed. “I don’t know.”

He turned toward the living room and braced his hand on the back of his skull, the muscles in his upper back taut with tension. His actions were indicative of the secrecy that I had grown so used to over our short relationship, and while at first I’d been more keen on ignoring them, I was tired of having things withheld from me.

Grunting, I started forward, only to have him spin to face me shortly after.

“Guy,” I said. “What’s going on?”

“I said—”

“Don’t bullshit me. Please. Tell it to me straight.”

The hurt in his eyes was plain and obvious. “Jason,” he sighed.

I crossed my arms over my chest and waited for him to continue—holding my ground, keeping my eyes level with him. There were few times when I had enough fortitude to hold the upper ground. Usually that came with unease, or panic. Here, it grew from defiance—to the point where I felt that, if I’d the will, I could easy cut glass into fine, solid points with my gaze alone.

Under my scrutiny, Guy’s will faltered. With a sigh, he lowered his hands and said, “My father doesn’t want you here anymore.”

The blow was harsh—blunt, sharp, barbed like a stinger that exploded when enough pressure was applied. It took the breath out of me and left me reeling in the declaration, but I held my ground and waited for him to continue.

“Why?” I asked.

“Missy Sue’s death on our property was a very, very big deal. Pierre Le Blanc made it very clear to my father that our ‘agreement,’ as he so put it, was dangling on very thin wires.”

“And your father’s pissed.”

“Yeah.”

“But the Kelda doesn’t want me to leave.” Guy didn’t respond. “Why?”

“Because she believes me to be of stronger will and declaration than my father,” Guy replied. “And because of your presence here, I have a reason to remain and protect my ancestral homeland.”

I waited for him to say more. I knew it was coming—he just didn’t seem to want to voice it.

Stepping forward, I braced myself directly before him and said, “What are you saying? If your father doesn’t want me here and he’s the leader—”

“Then there’s no way I can openly defy him.”

“Unless—”

The flicker in Guy’s eyes cut me off.

Though nothing had struck me, I felt as though I’d just had the wind knocked from my lungs.

“She wants me to take you as my partner,” Guy said. “To turn you into one of the Kaldr.”

My existence was narrowed down in but a moment. Ripped, forcibly, from my place in the world, strung along on a journey that would redefine who I was both as a person and a human, placed in a situation where, trapped within four walls, I could do nothing but stay or leave—this was what my life had become, yet in but a second I had been offered a question: humanity or immortality, peace or destruction, human notion or carnal lust.

Having gone slack, my fingers dangled freely at my sides. I was vaguely aware of their existence until my fists tightened and all the knuckles in both hands popped.

“Guy—”

“I’m not asking you to do anything,” Guy said, placing his hands on my shoulder. “I would never force you to make a decision about something like that. Ever. I had no options. My choice was ripped from me.”

“Then how—”

“There’s only one other thing I could do to ensure that you remain in this house,” he said, withdrawing his hands and settling them at his sides. “And while the status of partner would benefit you far more, this alternative would at least allow you to keep your humanity.”

“What is it?”

“You could become my mate.” Guy waited for a response. When I had none to offer, he crossed his arms over his chest and continued. “Your purpose in my life would be as my warm flesh. You would provide me with pleasure, with companionship, but most importantly, with life. Traditionally, this would be seen as slavery—where the warm flesh had no option but to obey what his Svell Kaldr told him—but I hold you in far too great regard to ever treat you that way.”

“I don’t get it. If I’m just… your partner… then why is your father making such a big deal out of this?”

“Because you haven’t been marked—claimed, as we call it, by another. Hierarchy is important here. In the past, Svell Kaldr kept humans only for sustenance, as it was believed that it was the only way to be ‘truly’ Kaldr. But since that’s since been disproven… having warm flesh at one’s side is a sign of power, and a declaration of ownership.” Guy’s face paled and he stepped forward, hesitant to take hold of my arms, but doing so regardless. “It’s so fucked up. I know. I’m sorry.”

“I can see why you left,” I said, even managing a laugh.

Guy smiled despite the situation. “Yeah,” he said, setting a hand on my face. “If you decide you don’t want to do this, I’ll leave. I’d rather die than make you endure an endless hell.”

“And your father couldn’t do anything?”

“My father’s on the brink of self-destruction. The Kelda seeks reason to usurp his throne. There’s a Kaldr killing innocent humans in Austin. It seems as if the dark age is upon us. So if he even so much as threatened to expel either of us if this happened… she’d banish him from the estate.”

“What is the Wendigo?” I asked, remembering the phrase she’d mentioned earlier.

His hands remained on my arms. Trembling, cold against my skin I knew from nerves rather than who he was, he kept his gaze set firmly on me—never faltering, never swaying.

“The Wendigo,” Guy said, “is the nightmare of the Kaldr people… and the one thing that could destroy us all.”

“Why is your father so afraid of it?” I asked.

“Because a Wendigo can only be made after a human has been bitten by a Howler… and then mated with a Kaldr.”

I closed my eyes.

Is he bitten? Is he bitten? Is he bitten? Eliot’s frantic voice echoed in my ear.

“Our worlds don’t bridge,” Guy said. “Attachments aren’t made, especially not among humans. It’s to keep the lines pure, our people safe. My father fears that if I don’t send you away… and that if you get bit by a Howler… I won’t be able to keep myself from saving you.”

“And turning me into a Wendigo,” I finished.

Guy nodded. “We don’t know what happens,” he said. “Whether it’s love or hate or something else that fuels its anger. All we’ve known is that it was a blight—that whenever it came, everything around it was killed. That’s why my father’s afraid, Jason. He wants you either away from me or mated to me. There’s no other options.”

To stay and remain safe forever, or to leave and risk a death unimaginable?

In the end, would it really be such a bad thing if, in the eyes of the others, I willingly submitted myself to him? I did love him, after all, and he’d done so much for me. There wasn’t much to argue.

I bowed my head into his neck and wrapped my arms around his waist.

“Jason?” Guy asked, his voice rough and filled with unease.

“It’ll keep me here,” I said. “And you safe. Right?”

“Right.”

“Then I’ve made my decision. Tell your father I submit to you,” I said. “Make me your mate.”

There was radio silence over the next few days. I mostly stayed in the flat. I rarely heard from Guy, I barely saw him except when I woke to find him sleeping next to me, and the few choice conversations we had were brief—over him brushing his teeth or hopping into pants as he darted out the door. Considering we’d spent the majority of our time together since leaving Austin, it was disconcerting to be without him, but I kept myself busy by preparing for the change that was about to come.

Would it be painful? Was there a ceremony involved? He’d said there was no transformation—that I would remain human regardless of whatever was entailed—yet he’d never specified just what would happen come time this supposed ‘bond’ would occur.

I was to be made his mate.

Would we, before the other Kaldr, be forced to fuck?

I didn’t want to think about it. While not particularly embarrassing, given the Kaldr’s sexual nature, I wasn’t necessarily an exhibitionist. My greatest feat had been on top of a roof during one of Austin’s cooler months and then in a one-stall restroom in a park. I hadn’t even been in a three-way, so even the thought of fucking around in front of other people was a bit unnerving.

“If that’ll even happen,” I murmured, chewing on my nails. I caught myself before I could gnaw them down to stumps and shoved my hands into my pockets, my attention turning to the window.

It didn’t matter. If I had to endure a slight amount of discomfort to ensure my place here, that was fine. Besides—once I got going, I’m sure Guy could keep me focused. He hadn’t failed before, and I sure as hell doubt he would fail then.

The door opened.

I turned.

Guy stepped into the flat, careful to close the door behind him with the flat of his palm before stepping in. “Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” I replied. “Everything ok?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“I just haven’t seen you that much over the last few days. That’s all.”

Guy frowned, but his eyes didn’t stray as he fumbled with the lock. Once set in place, he crossed the room and stood before me with a sense of doubt I’d never felt from him before—like an atmosphere, bloated with precipitation, getting ready to spool from its surfaces the storm-giving chemicals of rain.

I cocked my head to one side.

He smirked, despite my curious action.

“You’re not telling me something,” I said, rolling my shoulders to loosen the tension in my upper back. “Come on. What’s going on?”

“It’s happening on the night of the supermoon.”

“Supermoon?” I frowned. “Guy, what do you—”

I didn’t finish my question. An abrupt silence created by my own revelation.

The Moon, larger than any other day on Earth—

Watch your calendars—it’s coming up soon!

Five times larger than its usual size—

Guy’s expression indicated that he’d taken note of my epiphany. While his demeanor lightened somewhat, his jaw still held the firm, unnerved set it usually took during uneasy conversations. This one was no exception.

“That’s in—”

“Three days,” he said. “I know.”

“Are you ready?”

“I should be asking you that.”

The supernatural chill that possessed my body reared its head in full force. The subtle sensation of spiders crawling along my arms and marching across my collarbone was almost enough to make me react. I wasn’t much for bugs, but I definitely wasn’t afraid of them. Spiders, though—there was something about them. The way they moved, how fast they were, those giant, piercing fangs—

I shook my head.

Guy sighed. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s the only night it can happen. Otherwise we’ll have to wait another year.”

“I wasn’t shaking my head over that,” I said. “It’s just…” I grunted. “Nevermind. I was just thinking.”

He settled himself atop an armrest and perched his elbows atop his knees, resting his chin on his knuckles and watching me with eyes that, at that moment, appeared more human than ever. The stark omen of a passing cloud upon a grand Texas sky had shifted the lighting on this side of the house just enough to where it cast darkness on particular features, Guy’s eyes included. I couldn’t see the light blue rings. Instead, all I saw was blue—dark, like the ocean, but blue nonetheless.

“I know you’re worried,” he said when I didn’t speak further. “I am too.”

“Why are you worried?” I laughed. “You’re not the one getting indoctrinated.”

His frown said it all.

“Tell me what’s going to happen,” I said. “You’ve left me in the dark for the past three days. You can’t just spring it on me the night before and expect me to be ready.”

“No, I can’t. You’re absolutely right.” He sat upright and tilted his head up. Now that the cloud had passed, his person was revealed in full—the Kaldr spirit ancient and strong around the pupils of his eyes. “We’re to engage in a mating ritual on the night of the supermoon.”

“I figured that much,” I laughed.

“In front of my father’s clan.”

I laughed. Guess irony had gotten the best of me.

“What?” Guy asked.

“I just expected it,” I said, then shrugged when he raised an eyebrow. “Not sure why. I just did.”

“The point of the ritual is to establish a link between the two. Normally, the act of a Kaldr taking a mate would be seen as aggressive and therefor imply dominance, like I’ve said before. However—” Guy paused. He looked down at his hand, where the fading remnants of his contact with the Kelda could be seen. “I want this to be seen as a sign of respect.”

I waited.

Lifting his head, he looked me straight in the eyes, then said, matter-of-factly, “I want you to fuck me.”

“What?” I asked.

His eyes didn’t stray. The pureblooded confidence that could make kings and set ablaze the mightiest of ships burned in the gaze of one whose ancestry lay in beings unlike anything the modern world had ever seen. They didn’t glow, they didn’t blink, nor did they falter in any way. Rather, they merely stared—watching me with the intensity of a great predator whose mournful mercy was to let escape the prey it had spent so long tracking.

I wasn’t sure what to say. I cleared my throat with a cough and reclaimed the breath I had lost due to shock.

“Well?” Guy asked.

“Well… what?” I asked.

“Will you fuck me or not?”

“This isn’t about whether or not I’ll fuck you, Guy.”

“I never did take you just for a bottom anyway.”

“Guy!”

He chuckled and winked. “I’m joking, Jason.”

“I know. And hell—who wouldn’t want to fuck you? You’re fucking gorgeous. But this isn’t about gender roles—it’s about screwing around in front of dozens of people.”

“If it helps, most of them won’t care. They’re just required to watch, not give opinion.”

I lowered my face into my hands and groaned. “This isn’t helping!”

Guy stood and wrapped his arms around me, his hard body welcoming as I leaned against him. “I’m not forcing you to do anything.”

“I know.”

“So you don’t have to, if you don’t want to.”

“I’m just not much of an exhibitionist,” I said, then started laughing as the absurdity of it came to mind. “God. Why the fuck do you have to have sex in front of other people to claim a ‘mate?’ That’s not what animals do.”

“But animals are driven by evolutionary nature. They have to breed to survive. Humans, though… or anything like humans… sex is optional. It’s merely a pleasure of the flesh.”

“So you’re saying the sex is a decision,” I said. “A declared mark.”

“Exactly.”

I looped my arms around his neck and leaned away just enough to where I could look at his face. “But you want me to fuck you because you want to show we have equal ground.”

“That I see you as my equal and not someone whose service I am just obliged to use.” Guy nodded. “That’s right.”

“I guess it makes sense now that you’ve explained it.”

“Not really,” Guy smiled. “It’s an old tradition set in old ways. I love my father with all my heart, but God… if I were to do one thing after he died, I would recreate the entire social structure of this house so ceremonies like this wouldn’t have to exist.”

“It’s amazing you don’t hold a bigger grudge after everything he’s done to you.”

“He means well, in his own way. The only problem is that his way isn’t the way I want it to be.”

I nodded.

Leaning forward, he bowed our heads together—brow to brow, nose to nose—and said, “Everything’ll be fine. I promise.”

Three days.

That was all I had before I was officially, and permanently, a part of the Kaldr.

Venturing beyond Guy’s flat was completely unnerving. With word having spread of the impending exalting ceremony in which Elliot Winters’ son would become prince and take a mate, I was under near-constant scrutiny everywhere I went. Walks outside were met with looks, glares, sometimes spiteful deceit. Those who worked inside the home would do anything to avoid me and flat-out ignored any questions posed. The only one who appeared to give me even the slightest consideration was Amadeo—who, upon our rare encounters, would give pause to speak to me.

The night before the ceremony—during which time Guy had departed to alternate corridors to abstain from physical contact—I wandered into the downstairs kitchen and found Amadeo drinking what appeared to be a glass of wine, his eyes lost in the thunderstorm taking place outside.

I cleared my throat, wincing at a bark of thunder, and tapped my fist on the doorjamb. “Sir?” I said.

He turned his head to look at me. “Jason,” he said.

“Can I come in?”

He gestured at me with a wave of the hand. “Would you like something to drink?”

“You don’t know the half of it,” I said.

He pulled the stopped bottle from the opposite counter and lifted, awaiting my approval before pouring me a glass. “How have you been?” he asked as he slid the glass toward me.

“Better,” I said. Amadeo watched me lift the glass to my lips and drink—probably more than I should have at once, considering my low tolerance, but I didn’t care. I slicked the back of my hand over my lips and forced a smile. “Sorry.”

“No need,” he said. His chest rose and fell, as if struck with the loss of air. The glass of wine returned to his lips shortly after. “You appear troubled.”

“Not very often you’re put in a situation like this.”

“But you agreed.”

“Yes,” I said. “I have.”

There wasn’t anything to say in regards to my decision. Freedom of choice expressed many latitudes—to do good things, to do bad things, to do things that walked along the neutral boundary erected only in the minds of those individuals who wished to seek fit the notion of right or wrong. For most people, my decision would’ve been seen as a complete denial of self. I saw it as a liberation.

“Amadeo,” I said.

“Yes?” he asked.

“Did you feel this way when you were made into a Kaldr?”

The man’s lips pursed, lifting the fan-shaped spread of facial hair along his chin. Contempt wasn’t an emotion I often saw on the Spanish man’s face. Rather, his confidence came in his subtlety. The way his lips were held, the way his jaw was set, the way his eyes were always direct and unfaltering—now, though, he appeared just as I imagined I did: lost, confused, and completely alone in the world.

Since I didn’t expect him to respond, I lifted my wine to my lips and let my eyes stray to the window, in an attempt to see just what it was he’d been looking at before I’d entered the room.

I saw it clearly—almost plain as day: the moon, not yet full, but nearing its total completion.

“Of course I was scared,” Amadeo finally said.

My eyes returned to the man’s face. Upon it rested relief, spelled clearly in his softened eyes and his lightened expression.

“I wasn’t nearly as fortunate as Guy’s father when it comes to past history,” he said, refilling his glass of wine and leaning forward to face me head-on. “Whereas Elliot fled to eventually find the Americas due to invasion, I arrived due to conquest.”

He took a grand sip from his glass, as if to placate himself of any guilt that might’ve come from opening the closet and bringing out the old skeletons. “I won’t go into details,” he said. “All I’ll say is that, during the height of the Aztec empire, I arrived with a number of other Spaniards and set into motion the events that history now knows as the Spanish conquest.”

“You were with—”

“Cortez himself,” Amadeo nodded. He finished the wine and then started for another, but stopped when he couldn’t keep his hand from shaking. “Long story short: I participated in one of the most horrible events in human history, was so wracked with guilt that I could barely stand it, and fled through Central America until I eventually found the Norwegian Kaldr settled along the east coast.”

“But pilgrims didn’t arrive until—”

“One-hundred years later. Yes. I understand.”

“But if there’d been Europeans in the New World before the Pilgrims, wouldn’t it have been—” I paused when it hit me. Amadeo’s somber smile only further solidified my notion. “It wouldn’t’ve even mattered,” I said.

“Because the Kaldr would not have wanted anyone to find them,” he said. He stopped the bottle and set it to the side. “I don’t feel it necessary to discuss my transformation, if that is all right. It’s personal to everyone.”

“I know. Don’t worry.”

“But yes—I was afraid. Deathly so, in fact. But my condition wouldn’t have allowed me any other choice. I fell ill, was on the verge of death, and was saved by Elliot Winters on the night of the great moon. That is that.”

I nodded. Setting my feet on the floor, I pushed myself off the stool and backed away from the counter. “Thank you for your time,” I said.

“You need not be worried, Jason. Guy is a good man. I’m sure you already know that.”

“Yes sir. I do.”

“Don’t hesitate to ask if you need anything. I want this to be as comfortable as possible.”

“Thank you.”

Amadeo bowed his head and spun to return the wine to its shelf.

While I made my way out of the kitchen and back toward the stairs, thoughts of Amadeo’s past continued to haunt me.

I’d been given a choice.

Though love—or, at least, what I assumed was love—had bound Elliot and Amadeo, it had been death that had forced upon them the necessary choice.

I closed my eyes.

The stairs creaked beneath my weight.

Outside, the light rain pattered on.

I sighed.

Nothing was holding me here.

I had a choice.

When I stopped to consider how many people hadn’t, it only solidified that I was staying for the right reasons.

I couldn’t be afraid now.

This was my future.

I lay awake that night. Cold, alone, and uneasy at how empty the bed felt—I listened to the rain as over the course of several hours it transformed from a light shower to a roaring thunderstorm in which the sky turned gray and barks of lightning shattered the sky. It was enormous. Its intensity was almost enough to drown the thoughts from my head, but not enough to keep me from thinking about everything that would occur tomorrow night.

Where? I kept on wondering. When?

Grief drove me from bed and to the far side of the flat. Past the kitchen, and down a hall to the left, lay an office in which the majority of Guy’s more material belongings were held. Flushed against one wall was a desk, atop which was a rectangular lamp that cast a vibrant array of light across the room. I flicked this on with a simple click of a switch and settled into a chair I’d not sat in before with a sigh—hands instantly reaching for my hair, elbows automatically planting themselves on the wooden desktop. The fact that I was in here was somewhat outrageous, considering I’d kept away from his personal affairs even after his proclamations that he had nothing to hide, but at that moment, I could care less.

My real reasons for being here were selfish.

I wanted to be close to him.

Here, in this place—in this office—where all his books, old study materials, and even a typewriter were kept, lay an essence I could not deny.

Guy was just as alive here as he was in the flesh, standing right next to me with his hand around my shoulders.

It was funny. I’d always told myself I wouldn’t let myself get wrapped up in a guy while I had my own dreams going on. Now here I was sitting in Guy’s office, in the middle of hill country, living a life I’d never intended.

And now I was planning to dedicate myself to him forever.

“‘Til death do us part,” I mumbled.

Was that why the priests said it at the weddings? To imply the severity of the bond?

I leaned back and cast my eyes to the ceiling, the office chair adjusting with my posture at a diagonal. I kept trying to convince myself of any worth I had in my new and strange existence, yet couldn’t find anything to grasp onto.

In the real world, had I not been expelled, I would’ve been an English major—a teacher, maybe middle or high school, teaching students the importance of literature and the necessary skills of writing. I’d get a paycheck, live in my own apartment or, God willing, a house. I’d eventually find a boyfriend and we’d move in together, maybe move elsewhere if we wanted to adopt a kid. I’d live, eat, breathe and die a normal man. Here, though… everything was up for question.

Kaldr, werewolves, vampires—nothing made sense anymore.

But was it supposed to?

I lay my head atop the desk and stared at the Newton’s Cradle that swung before me.

Transfixed by its rhythm, I eventually lost sight of the outside world.

It wasn’t long before I passed out.

I awoke the next morning to the sound of clicking.

Tick tick tick.

Tick tick tick.

I opened my eyes to find I had awoken in a completely different place. Confused, disoriented, and wondering why I was anywhere else but Guy’s room, I lifted my head to discover that I had fallen asleep at Guy’s desk and that it had been the Cradle that pulled me from sleep.

Though I was quick to question why I was here, it didn’t take me long to find out.

Last night—here, alone, without Guy—

The rain—

The weight of the situation came barreling down, dropping on top of me before bouncing back up like a comical piano in a children’s cartoon.

The mating ceremony—

It was tonight.

My expected reaction had been to freak out and immediately be filled with anxiety. Instead, I was surprisingly calm—a fact absolutely-mystifying considering my usual behavior.

I was good though.

I wasn’t freaking out.

I pushed myself out of the desk and wandered from the office with a sense of relief I wish I’d had the previous night. Though nearly blinded by the sun that streamed in through the living room windows, I stalked into the kitchen and pulled out a jug of orange juice, relishing the tang that slid down my throat as my body slowly began to wake up.

The day was to be relished.

The night would bring change.

I hadn’t been given any specifics as to when the ceremony would occur. I’d only been told that I would be escorted to the chamber in the early hours of the evening and to prepare myself as I would for any intimate situation. Beyond that, I was as ignorant as could be.

Dressing, though—that hadn’t been addressed.

The only clothes I’d brought with me were what Guy had bought in Fredericksburg. While I didn’t slight their quality, I highly doubted they’d be appropriate.

Oh well. Then again, it didn’t really matter. I couldn’t do much about it. And besides—they’d all be off by the end of the night.

I chuckled.

It was astounding how fast I had gone from being perpetually-terrified to only slightly-nervous.

While the hour had yet to come, I had more than enough time to reminisce on just how it might go.

An hour before dusk, I readied myself for the ceremony as best I could. Shaving my face, filing down my nails, cleansing myself of worries with water and several shots of vodka from the bottle I’d found in Guy’s cabinet—I looked at myself in the mirror and examined every facet of myself. From my clean-shaven face, to the simple, button-down shirt, to a pair of jeans lifted from Guy’s teenage days, I looked completely the part.

Human.

It seemed odd to be presenting myself in front of the tribe without actually initiating myself into their midst. Yet here I was—dressed casually and without regret, preparing to submit to a life of obedience, and I had absolutely no qualms.

I’d made up my mind.

This was my future—here, on this ranch, with Guy, amidst the Kaldr, and away from the rest of humanity.

I lowered my head and took a deep breath.

While not one for faith, I took a moment to send my thoughts to any willing god that would listen and prayed that everything would be all right.

A knock came at the door.

I lifted my head from the bedroom mirror and cast my eyes across the flat.

It was time.

I swigged the last swallow of my water and strode across the flat with confidence, pausing only to slide my shoes onto my feet and brace myself for the evening before I opened the door. Amadeo stood in the threshold, dressed finely in robes much like the one I’d seen in Guy’s bedroom.

“Amadeo,” I said, shocked.

“I will be your envoy,” he said. “Are you ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

I secured the door behind me and followed Amadeo through the house.

He led me into the living room and then through an interweaving series of halls I’d only recalled being in after being attacked by Missy Sue. Branched off at the far side of the house, directly beneath where Elliot and Amadeo’s quarters were situated, I was directed down a long, blank hall painted mutely in shades of hospital-reminiscent white and turned beyond a pair of metal doors locked into place with iron bars.

From there, we descended into a basement.

Darkness quickly overwhelmed us.

“Keep hold of the railing,” Amadeo said, “and you’ll be fine.”

I didn’t question the motive behind the secrecy. I merely took hold of the metal and wrapped my fingers around it to secure my grip.

After a short while, there came a pause in Amadeo’s footsteps where, I assumed, our entrance had to be. The electronic click of what sounded like a keypad echoed through the tight space before a door unsnapped and was then pushed open.

Inside was a room made to resemble a spherical chamber.

At the far end, a fixture hung from the ceiling, from which dangled a series of curtains.

“This is it,” Amadeo said. “We’re here.”

I stepped into the room and allowed my eyes to adjust to the pale lighting emanating from sconces on the walls. Cast in blue, the room appeared ancient—only bolstered by the skypane that formed a perfect circle over the curtain fixture.

The door closed behind me.

A bar slid into place.

The unexpected chill of many Kaldr whispered about my body.

It only took a moment to realize what was behind the curtain.

Stepping forward, I bridged the distance between me and a threshold defined only by a circle inlaid within the stone floor and watched the curtains fall open.

He lay on a circular stone bed, upon which a slight mattress and only a few amenities lay. His torso laid plain, his hips shrouded by a sheet, Guy watched as I stepped forward with eyes that glowed like distant stars in a place I could never hope to see.

“Jason,” he said.

In such a small space, his voice echoed off the walls and rebounded through my head, startling my conscience and jarring my person from the ethereal sight before me. I took notice of several other eyes standing all around—watching, waiting, beneath hoods that should have hidden their gazes but didn’t because of the glow illuminating them.

My eyes instinctively fell to Guy.

He lifted his arm and extended his hand. “Come,” he said.

There was no gravity in the situation. I merely obeyed.

The bed was cold beneath my hands as I guided myself onto the mattress and hovered over Guy’s prone body, staring into his eyes and reveling in the energy pooling from him. Here, the chill had become immense—to the point where had I not been clothed I imagined every hair on me would’ve stood on end—but it was so dwarfed by my longing for him that I felt nothing. I pressed my palm to his cheek, cupped my fingers along his neck, then leaned forward.

So close, I could feel the winter upon his breath.

“Jason,” he whispered.

I kissed him.

The response was immediate.

My body lit on fire.

I took hold of his face and guided him upright as I probed his mouth with my tongue and lavished in every aspect of his person. His hands set at my ribcage, his chest pressed and level with mine—I could feel his hardness pressing against the confines of my jeans and I slid back to allow his fingers to part my shirt.

Almost immediately, his mouth found my nipple.

I could’ve screamed.

Cold fire laced his lips.

I let out a gasp and ripped my arms free of my shirt.

His hands found my waist and he guided me onto the mattress.

His lips fell on my neck, my arms, my wrist, my abdomen. When he slid my jeans off and I came free of my boxers, his teeth grazed my inner thighs and my eyes instantly rolled into the back of my head, my cock throbbing for mercy as he teased his way toward my groin.

His lips caught the underside of my balls and his tongue rolled around my shaft.

I couldn’t help but cry out as he took me into his mouth.

What I thought would have been a completely awkward experience was shadowed by his passions upon me. His fingers applying pressure behind my balls, his mouth taking me in, then out of his throat—his free hand found my hole and he applied pressure, but did not penetrate me with his thumb.

I thrust into his mouth and nearly screamed when he pulled out.

“Jason,” he managed, gasping.

My only response was to fall to my knees and swallow him whole.

He held me there for several moments, reveling in the pulsating muscles of my throat, before pulling out, turning, and planting himself on the bed—hands flat, legs spread.

“Fuck me,” he said.

I was so far gone I didn’t even care about the whispers in the room as I hocked a glob of spit across his opening, taking care to slick myself with lubricant before I prepared him with my finger.

My initial entry was unexpected.

I couldn’t believe how tight he was.

“Fuck,” Guy groaned.

“You like that?” I asked, easing myself in and out and applying extra fingers when I felt him ready. “You ready for that cock in your ass?”

“God yes, Jason. Fuck. Oh God. FUCK!”

I added a third finger and fucked him leisurely, allowing time for him to adjust before pulling out and mounting him as he lowered his chest and raised his ass.

Bracing one hand on his back and the other around my cock, I guided myself forward, then entered.

I swore louder than I should have.

He was so fucking tight.

I waited. Consumed by the need to push further, I braced my hands along his hips and coaxed the animalistic nature Guy’s Kaldr spirit had inspired within me down by running my hands along his hips, pushing in more when directed and waiting when not. Given our position, Guy was completely at my mercy, though whether or not that’d been planned I couldn’t tell.

When I was finally in all the way—and right down to the balls—I held myself there and waited for his instruction.

His push indicated it all.

I started thrusting.

The chill in the room had increased substantially since we’d started having sex. Warmed only by the clash of our bodies and the sweat rolling down my shoulders, I kept a steady rhythm and guided him up onto his hands and knees when I felt I needed leverage. Hands locked around his shoulders, I thrusted—harder, first by his instruction, then by my own need—before he had us roll over and fuck on our sides.

“Doin’ ok?” I whispered in his ear as I thrust into him.

He grunted and jacked himself harder.

I took that as a sign and heightened my pace.

The slap of flesh spurred me to fuck him harder as I became aware of the pace we were taking. His grunts and slight cries rolling about the room, his hips responding to mine, I pulled out and rolled him onto his back only to enter him as quickly as I’d left.

In this position, I leaned down and pressed a hard kiss to his mouth.

“I’m gonna come,” I said, slamming my hips against his.

“God yeah Jason. Give it to me! Ugh! Fuck! My God—”

Guy’s ass locked around me and streams of come fired from his cock.

The resulting pressure drove me to orgasm.

I continued to fuck him as the orgasm started to subside and wrapped my arms about his body as he sat up and wrapped his legs around my hips. Our lips intertwined, the piston in my hips fading by the second, I pulled away from his mouth and bowed my head into his neck.

Spent, I sat there, softening inside him and reveling in the aftermath.

“Is it over?” I asked.

“It’s done,” Guy said.

I pulled away and looked into his eyes.

The same marks I had seen during our encounter with the Kelda decorated his body—stark against his skin, trailing from his eye and lips.

Around us, the Kaldr began to file out.

“It is done,” Amadeo said. “Jason DePella. From this day forth, you will be known as the bóndi of the Svell Kaldr Guy Winters, otherwise known as husband. May your bond be forever and strong.”

I looked up just in time to see Amadeo give us a somber nod before directing a very-irate Elliot Winters from the room.

Pulling out, I drew up alongside Guy and wrapped an arm around him.

“They didn’t expect that,” I said. “Did they?”

“No,” Guy whispered. “They didn’t.”

We returned to the room in the later hours of the night and showered before departing for bed. Nestled against Guy’s body, one arm braced under my pillow and the other draped across his side, I listened to his pale sighs and stroked the fine hairs on his abdomen as I tried to imagine what might happen come the following day.

We’d done something unprecedented.

If what Guy had said was true, no one had ever shown such defiance.

What would the Kaldr think?

The possible ramifications of the night were endless. Poised beneath the high windows, cast perfectly in the light of the closest moon of the year, we had slept in a manner that defied every expectation of the people within this settlement. Guy’s father, Elliot’s partner, every man and woman who’d laid eyes on us the moment we’d entered the settlement—even the Kelda seemed without reservations, for she’d spoken to Guy as if he were an enigma set to change the world. Yet, for some reason, I felt like we’d made a terrible mistake.

I closed my eyes and held my breath.

No.

I couldn’t think that.

If I allowed myself to doubt, even for a moment, then I risked collapsing the foundation we’d been so desperate to build.

Opening my eyes, I stared at the wall across from us and waited for some kind of realization to hit—for some false promise of security to come barreling through and strike me head-on.

It didn’t.

Then again, I wasn’t sure I expected it to.

Looked upon as if I was almost godlike and regarded in a hushed reverence from mouths that seemed desperate to whisper but never opened, I assimilated my role as if I were no different than a butterfly recently sprung from its cocoon. From the Kaldr I passed in the house, I received complete respect, no longer the wretched stain upon their holy society, and the few I encountered about the grounds were quick to nod their approval—accepting, it seemed, of the position I’d now assumed.

To someone who’d become so used to being glossed over, the attention was unnerving.

All those eyes—all those fine, double-iris eyes…

It was still hard to look at them without feeling somewhat afraid.

On the third morning after my indoctrination, I woke to an empty bed and a sky whose brilliance was marked by the purity of the rising sun. Curled comfortably about the covers, I burrowed my face into my pillow and reveled in the warm, sun-dappled rays falling across my back.

Leaving bed at such an hour seemed uncalled for. Why Guy wasn’t here, I couldn’t be sure.

Unless…

I opened my eyes to find the living room devoid of his presence. Unless he was in his office and out of sight, he was nowhere within the flat.

A sigh passed from my lips.

It wasn’t hard to imagine him and his father engaged in a familial battle of wits.

My sense of peace ruined by the night’s events, I nudged an elbow beneath my side and pushed myself upright, allowing myself a moment to acclimate to the lighting before running a hand across my face. My first inclination was to shower—I smelled of sweat and the awkward tang of lying in a prone position—but my stomach was what drove me into a pair of shorts and then the kitchen.

Over a glass of orange juice and a measly piece of peanut butter toast, I listened to the sounds of the house and tried to pinpoint Guy’s location.

The walls were thin. Most anything could be heard if you listened hard enough. Every floorboard had its secrets. All you had to do was wait and—

The low pang of voices echoed up the stairs and into the room—soft, urgent, pitched with worry over something I could not understand.

I froze.

My hand trembled.

The glass of orange juice slipped from my grasp and slammed into the countertop, shattering upon impact.

Standing there, staring at the broken remnants of what had just been whole, I realized only one thing could be wrong.

I threw myself from the flat as fast as possible, the slap of my bare feet upon the wooden floorboards an ominous drum.

At the base of the stairs—directly near where the threshold parted for the house’s twin wings—something came around the corner and pushed me against the wall.

The weight was immeasurable, the hand against my mouth hot and clammy.

So caught off guard, I couldn’t fight.

Stunned, my eyes centered on the figure before me.

Guy.

His blue-lined eyes stared directly into mine.

I tried to mouth something beneath his grasp, but he shook his head and held me steady.

Shh, his eyes said.

I nodded and melted against the wall.

Though they had grown louder, I still could not hear the voices clearly. The friction that filled the air was prevalent in barking replies and snarled interjections from at least three or four men. Movement down the hall indicated others beyond the scope of the living room—pressed within the doorway, maybe, or possibly even pacing the front porch. Throughout, Guy’s gaze remained trained on the opposite wall—scanning, constantly, for something I could not see.

Finally, a sigh broke through the chaos, silencing everyone. “I’ll have a word,” Elliot Winters said.

A sharp curse sliced through the home’s atmosphere. “This isn’t over, Winters,” a man’s voice said, his French accent thick.

What followed was an exodus of footsteps from at least six or seven people, if not more who had to have been waiting outside. Soon after, the rev of vehicles and motorcycles started up before they drifted away.

Guy pulled himself away from me. “Shit,” he breathed.

A second hand on my arm startled me. I jumped back into the wall and gasped just in time to see Amadeo. “Amadeo,” I said.

“It’s all right,” the man said. “They’re gone.”

“Who’s gone?” I asked.

“What’s going on,” Elliot Winters said as he stormed up the hallway, “is you.” He stabbed a finger at me with such force I thought he would strike me and refrained from further action by exuding a long, throaty growl.

“Elliot,” Amadeo said, placing himself between me and the man.

“This isn’t his fault,” Guy said.

“This isn’t his fault?” Elliot barked. “By God, son—how daft are you? Has Austin made you stupid?”

“He was defending himself from someone who attacked him.”

“When he was wandering the grounds alone after dark.”

“Because you didn’t tell him that he was supposed to stay inside!” Guy barked, slamming his fist down on the railing.

Elliot’s eyes narrowed. While all tension had faded from his features, what remained in his eyes was terrifying—to the point where I felt the need to shrink back. “Guy,” he said, his voice eerily calm. “A word, please.”

Guy glanced at me, fear laced through his eyes and a tremor set upon his lips. I somehow managed to keep the tears from coming as he nodded, stalked after his father, and disappeared up the opposite wing.

Amadeo set a hand on my shoulder. “Go to your room,” he said.

“What’s going to happen?” I asked.

Amadeo said nothing. He merely pushed me toward the stairs.

An ungodly amount of time passed after I returned to the flat to wait for Guy. At first convinced it would only be a simple reprimand and nothing more, I settled down on the couch in preparation for Guy’s return in but a few minutes—ten, fifteen, probably no more than twenty. When the half-hour mark passed and it became obvious that he wasn’t coming back, I started pacing the living room in the hopes that the exertion would calm my nerves, though that was hardly the case.

An hour later, I began to wonder if he was ever coming back.

After two, I gave up all hope.

I was laying out the couch, consoling myself with the fact that I’d avoided whatever circumstance had taken place, when I heard the door open and Guy walk in. His footsteps heavy, his sigh defeated, he closed the door just as I sat up to look at him.

“Guy,” I said, “what’s—”

His eyes silenced me.

The sadness was excruciating, the pain all too obvious.

Instantly, I was struck with a fear unlike anything I’d ever felt.

“Jason,” he said, his deep voice harsh and filled with emotion. “I have to leave.”

“What?” I asked. “Why—”

“And you need to stay here. You can’t come with me.”

There couldn’t have been a greater blow than. Fists were one thing, the butt of a gun another. Even slamming into the railing only to flip onto the earth couldn’t compare to hearing a declaration whose power came not from the makeup of its words, but the sincerity in its speaker’s voice.

Conviction rang through Guy’s words.

Elliot Winters, founder and ruler of this central Texas Kaldr clan, had just excommunicated his one and only son.

Anything I could’ve said was lost on the breathlessness of the matter. Not one prone to fainting, I stumbled back and reached out to catch myself on the couch as I struggled to gain my composure, head spinning and chest heaving.

No breaths were going into my lungs.

I was hyperventilating.

Guy quickly came to my side and took hold of my face. Bowing his head forward, he closed his eyes and whispered softly under his breath.

Deep breaths, his lips said, though from his mouth I could hear no words.

I reached out and tangled my hand in his shirt, following his instructions to the best of my abilities. Eventually, the fog came clear of my head and with it the miasma returned in force. I managed to fight it back and took in a deep breath just in time for Guy to step away.

“What?” I gasped, white fog drifting from my lips.

“You need to calm down,” Guy said.

Crossing his arms, he centered his attention on me and waited for what I imagined he felt would be the best moment to explain what had just happened. While the bullheaded inclination to fight was there, I kept it restrained, knowing full and well that a man like Guy wouldn’t crack.

After several minutes, I lifted my hands and asked, “What’s going on?”

“My father says I’ve brought danger upon our clan by bringing you into our midst,” he said. “And because he would’ve exiled us both, I appealed to Amadeo’s better nature and begged him to let you stay.”

“That’s why you’re leaving?” I asked. “To protect me?”

Guy nodded. “You wouldn’t last out there, Jason,” he said, shaking his head. “All those people, all those cameras… the world would eat you alive, and there wouldn’t be any fucking thing I could do to stop it. So I did what any good man would do to protect the person he loves.”

“By what? Making yourself a martyr?” He didn’t answer. He simply stared. “You can’t leave me here. I won’t let you.”

“There’s no point in you living your life in misery. You’re better off at the ranch—here, with the Kaldr, where you’ll be safe from anything that can hurt you.”

“I’d be better off with you!” I cried.

The tears I’d managed to hold back emerged. Blinding in their intensity, they slashed down my cheeks and onto the floor with such force that I could barely see Guy, but maybe that was for the better. The urge to run and smack the hell out of him for being so stupid was almost too much. At least like this I couldn’t see.

Guy’s silhouette remained in place before me—unmoving, not faltering.

I huffed out a restrained breath of air just in time for it to turn into a sob.

Guy stepped forward and took me into his arms. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, bowing his face into my neck.

“What’re you,” I started.

His lips pressed to my jugular.

My limbs seized up instantaneously.

I never meant to hurt you, his voice said inside my head. Don’t follow me, Jason. Please. Whatever you do, just stay the fuck here.

The constellation of crystals before my eyes weren’t the result of ice, I realized.

He wasn’t freezing me.

He was putting me to sleep.

I had begun to come to in the later hours of the night. Suspended in animation by the cruel beauty of sleep paralysis, I took note of my surroundings, enough to realize that I’d been placed in bed. Stripped of my clothing, save the boxers about my waist, I’d been bundled as if expecting a storm—which, I idealized, could not have been more perfect.

Eventually, exhaustion took hold and I was thrust deep into sleep.

The second time I woke, I was not chained by my own inhibitions.

Barreling out of bed with the effort of the recently-awoken, I tore through the flat with just enough caution to ensure that I wouldn’t run into things before unlocking the door and storming into the hall. By this time, the clarity was beginning to come back—the visitors, the wait, Guy’s reappearance, our conversation—and with it raged the fire that quickly consumed my being. I could care less whether or not I was in my boxers. At that moment, I only had one thing on my mind.

“Elliot!” I called, the rough timbre of my voice echoing throughout the house. “Elliot! Elliot! Where the fuck are you?”

My heavy footfalls upon the stairs summoned the presence of one of the help, who blankly stared at me with wide eyes before I pushed him out of the way.

“ELLIOT!” I screamed, tearing through the living quarters and toward the opposite wing. “You better get out here right now before I—”

“What the hell is going on?” a familiar voice barked.

I spun, enraged, toward the living room—where, atop the spread of couches, sat none other than Elliot Winters, a book poised in his robed lap and a pair of glasses perched atop his nose.

“You know what’s going on, you bastard,” I growled.

“There’s no need for such language,” he said, placing the book aside. “I imagine he already explained it to you, though knowing my son it might not have been the most perfect terms. He sacrificed himself in order to offer you asylum. I don’t understand why you’re so angry. What better gift could he have given?”

“Why didn’t you throw me out? I’m the one who killed her!”

“Because you would’ve been eaten by the wolves.”

The tone in his voice couldn’t have been influenced by what he was. That was absolutely impossible. Not once throughout my time with Guy or any of these Kaldr had there been mention of such abilities. At that moment, though, it seemed to be just the case—that his eyes, so rigid and painfully-blue, could draw beads along my neck, his lips the frozen maw that could snare me whole. Any anger I’d had at that moment was diminished in but a second—snuffed like a candle whose flame had been bright and strong.

“Do you honestly believe I didn’t think the whole thing through?” Elliot asked, snapping me free of my trance. “Do you truly believe that I am so stupid, Jason, that I didn’t think every option through? I’m more than aware of the predicament you suffer. Your faces have been on every single major news station since you left. You’re wanted murderers—serial killers if you consider the number dead. The fact that you’re still here is still a blessing, but I am well aware that you pose a far greater threat in the real world than you do here.”

“What’re you talking about?”

“Don’t you get it? You take one step off this property and the Howlers will have you faster than you could possibly imagine. But they won’t keep you for themselves. Oh, no. They plan on doing something much worse.” Elliot stood. He crossed the living room to stand before me, his impressive height even more intimidating up close. “Do you have any idea why I let Guy go and not you?”

“Why?”

“Because if he gets caught, he at least has options. His lineage provides him that. You, on the other hand…” Elliot smiled and shook his head. “You’d be the death of the Kaldr.”

“You’re lying.”

“No. I’m not. The Howlers’ primary objective has always been to eliminate us. With a human scapegoat, they’d be able to turn you into the authorities without question. And you—with nothing more than the fantasy of werewolves and mountain men you’d be forced to present—would bring the entire state of Texas down on us. It doesn’t matter whether or not they believe it’s real. They’ll come, regardless.”

“You could move,” I said. “You’ve done it before.”

“But in the presence of the public? I’m not an idiot, and I am most definitely not a fool. Announcing our presence with such an act would only expose ourselves to the entire world. The Howlers have already been stacking the odds against us, trying to drive us from enacted safe zones and into the wild. All those livestock killings, so close to this ranch… on private and state property? If it isn’t them, it’s the others. One hint of what we are and we are either the next medical marvel or the greatest biological weapon. We’d be done—finished, kaput, especially if your stupidity and my son’s passions resulted in the Wendigo uprising. Do you hear me?”

I didn’t say a word.

Elliot leaned forward until our faces were no more than an inch apart. “Now do you realize why it was perfectly reasonable to keep you here, Jason? Guy spared you in letting you keep your memories. He could’ve wiped you clean. Instead, he chose to let you remember… all with the hopes of one day coming back to you.”

Drawing back, Elliot glared at me with his piercing blue eyes, waiting for a response.

When I gave none, he brushed past me and started for the hallway leading to the stairwell, but stopped before he could clear the threshold.

“Jason,” he said, his voice no less firm than it had been the moment before. “I’m only going to tell you this once, so listen carefully: If you ever wish to see Guy again, do not leave the ranch. Believe me when I say there are far worse fates than that.”

The night passed fitfully. Filled with sorrow, anger, regret, anxiety over the days and weeks to come, I tossed throughout and eventually succumbed to the sweet nothings of the alcohol cabinet. I certainly drank my weight in the stuff, and would’ve continued, had my body allowed. Instead, my early-morning indulgence ended with my head in the toilet, which promptly resulted in a much-needed and shameful return to bed.

I couldn’t remember much when I dragged myself out of bed the next morning. Though the hangover was a blight upon my awareness, I thought of only one thing as I sauntered into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of water.

Guy.

The task would be enormous. So shrouded in mystery were the Kaldr that there appeared no outright indication of where their people might go. The phrase ‘mountain men’ had come up in last night’s conversation, but even then, that could hold no bearing on Texas geography. It’d been referenced in regards to European lineage, not something that would relate to the Americas, or even Texas. There were no mountains here.

Unless—

I shook my head.

No.

I couldn’t bear to think that.

Guy wouldn’t have left the state just to protect me—or would he?

I swallowed down my first glass of water and tried to see through the hopelessness of the situation. The looking glass was marred—flecked with illusions of promise that came in the form of excruciating sensitivity to light. To think that I could even begin to gleam any amount of information today was nearly impossible.

I closed my eyes at first to shield them from the light, then I realized to fight the urge to cry.

“Come on,” I whispered, the sound of my own voice enough to drive needles in my eyes. “You can do this. You know you can.”

Could I? The headache was enormous. If I did anything now, I might miss something. But if I went and laid down…

No.

I couldn’t afford to waste time.

Taking hold of the water and bottle of painkillers, I stalked through the hall and into Guy’s study.

On a leaflet of paper from a tiered shelf behind his desk, I began to make a list of everything necessary for my departure from the Kaldr ranch. They ranged from clothes, to nonperishable foods, a casual form of disguise and, of course, something to protect myself with. That didn’t inlcude a car, which I knew I wasn’t going to get—unless I happened to steal one, in which case I could instantly kiss my credibility with the Kaldr goodbye.

Then again, wouldn’t leaving automatically exonerate me of their trust?

Sighing, I shook my head and continued to tack down everything I could possibly think of. When my brain had run dry, I leaned back in Guy’s office chair and took a deep breath, eyes instantaneously drawn to the triangle-like symbol cast in fine silver over his desk.

In all the time I’d spent with Guy, he’d mentioned little about his personal life. Nothing about friends, not a word about past boyfriends or lovers—not even the name of the place he worked. While some information would have been easily accessible with an internet connection, I was lost in that aspect. As such, there was very little I could actually go upon.

A brief glance through file cabinets and personal documents showed nothing more than forged implications of Guy’s life.

It was sad.

He’d never got a chance to be a real person.

“Until he met me,” I mumbled.

Defeated, I settled down in the middle of the office and stared at all of Guy’s things.

It wasn’t hard to realize that, in some people’s eyes, I had become one of them.

I dreamed I was standing in the middle of an open field.

I was a child, here. Seven years old, short and with long mangy hair, stubborn about my need to wear prescription glasses but forced to use them because of the headaches I’d otherwise endure—at that age, I was the trademark of what you would call an all-American boy. I played baseball, I did well in school, attended church regularly. I was rarely prone to bad habits, but the one thing that always got me in trouble was the one thing that could kill me.

Thunderstorms.

One rolled across the winding outskirts of east Texas in a great fog of white. So smoky that the clouds resembled nothing of their usual selves and instead looked like marshmellows finely melted over a brimming fire, it ebbed and contracted as the wind carried it across the state with a casual malevolence only found in nature. Such storms had always fascinated me. Previous viewings in other states did little in comparison I found to the awesome spectacles that took place in Texas. As such, I had wandered away from home—across the street to the field where, during the summer months, I played baseball with my little league team.

My parents had no idea where I was.

Mom was making dinner.

Dad had yet to come home from work.

I’d been given the perfect opportunity to sneak away.

The first flashes of lightning were like startled insects freed from their inconspicuous homes—one here, one there. They rarely spiderwebbed and only occasionally produced thunder—which, even in its infancy, sounded like great belches from the Gods. I struggled to maintain my position, keeping away from the trees that blanketed the outer sides of the park.

There was one thing I’d always been told—even as a child, when I could just barely walk: When you’re out in a thunderstorm—

Stay away from trees.

The monumental moment in which I would be struck came as no surprise to someone who suffered reoccurring nightmares. There was no reason in the way it happened. Lightning can’t strike twice. It rarely strikes in open fields. But when it does, it rarely strikes anything in them.

That day, I just so happened to be that mathematically-impossible thing that happened.

It hit me—hard, right on the top of my head. Supercharging the hairs on my skin, sending my hair straight on end, my body reeling from an electric shock so immense that it would knock me out for hours on end.

Unlike my regular dreams, I wasn’t viewing myself from the outside—I was actually in my body.

I didn’t feel the impact. I didn’t experience the pain, the confusion, the outright terror as my mind struggled to process the situation. Instead, I looked directly into the face of the beast and waited for my answer.

Something materialized before me.

The flowing skirt of snow, the immense obsidian eyes—

The flash cleared and with it the memory of my past. In its place came the Kelda—who, hovering in midair, descended toward me with a grace incapable of any living thing.

Jason, she said.

I couldn’t speak. Shock might’ve played a big factor in that, as well as my dream-like state, but I understood everything.

A great wrong has been committed in the grand scheme of things, she continued, her countenance not faltering once as she lowered to just a foot above the ground. Kaldr Winters has faltered. They have usurped the destined ruler. A traitor in our midst. Guy Winters has been taken.

“What?” I asked.

The breath parting from my lips whispered before me in a low white hue, disappearing moments afterward as the storm raged on above. The Kelda’s face remained unmoving—stone-like even in her eyes. Her thin, nearly-invisible lips parted, paused, then parted again before she said, I do not know the answers to the questions you speak. I hear them, child, in my head, my heart—but my passion calls me to my child. He has not been taken by a man of mortal flesh. Those who bay within the night have sought to call him Justice.

Lightning flashed. The rustle of leaves, followed by the downpour of them past her figure, shrouded the Kelda’s form.

Her mouth opened in silent admission of surprise.

My guts strangled themselves.

“Where is he?” I asked, stepping forward, breaking free of what I imagined must have been some supernatural hold. “Where is he, Kelda? Tell me where he is.”

It is a trap. They wish to lure you into their den.

“I don’t care! I can’t leave him to die!”

I hear truly the matter of your heart, dear Jason DePella, Warm Flesh and Bóndi of Kaldr Prince Guy Anthony Winters. I speak only one thing: The dogs live underground. They will not be hard to find.

The sky opened to let forth peals of rain, which struck the Kelda and surrounded her porcelain skin with globules of ice that resembled hailstones. She looked briefly to those pooling before her, then lifted her head to train her eyes on me.

She said nothing.

I only faltered.

Such a pull was indicative of a dream-like state.

I was waking up.

And when I did, I knew what I would do.

I was so engrossed in packing that I didn’t even hear the door open, nor see the figure who passed into the bedroom until a flicker of movement appeared out of the corner of my eye.

“Jason,” Amadeo said, upon garnering my attention. “I came to see how you were.”

“Fine,” I grunted, shoving another pair of clothes into my pack. I slung it into my arms and started for the doorway without any consideration for the man’s appearance.

“Where are you going?” the man asked.

“To get Guy,” I said. “Whether anyone likes it or not.”

I pushed into the kitchen and began to tear through the cabinets, grabbing bags and cans of food without so much as looking at what they were. A can opener graced my palm, as did a casual cutting knife, which I pushed into a makeshift sheath before securing it into the pack.

“I think you’re overreacting,” Amadeo said from his place opposite me in the living room.

“Overreacting?” I laughed. “Are you kidding? I should’ve done this sooner!”

“Jason—”

“Where the hell were you when all this happened? Huh? Where was the good parent when the bad one kicked his only son out of the house!”

“I sympathized with Guy’s plight only because I wanted you to be safe.”

“So what is this then? A witch hunt? Tie the victim to the stake but let his martyr burn instead?”

“That isn’t what I did.”

I slammed the backpack on top of the counter and zipped my makeshift survival pack up. After a careful scan of Guy’s pantry and makeshift medicine shelf, I grabbed what I needed, shoved it into the bag, and started toward the doorway.

Amadeo pushed his arm out to stop me.

“Move,” I growled.

“I can’t let you leave, Jason.”

“You’re going to. Now.”

“Don’t be ridiculous! Get a hold of yourself! You don’t even know where Guy is.”

“Yes I do.”

“How could you possibly—”

“The Kelda told me.”

Amadeo’s lips faltered. “The Kuh-Kelda?” he asked. “Jason, what’re you—”

“She came to me in a dream. Told me that Guy had been captured by the Howlers and that they lived underground. Said they wouldn’t be hard to find.” I shoved past Amadeo and headed toward the door. “That doesn’t give me many places to look.”

“You can’t go.”

“Stop me.”

“You’ll get caught, Jason. You’ll be the death of Guy.”

That stopped me in my tracks.

Frozen before the doorway, hand extended toward the handle, I trembled as the realization set in.

I did what any good person would do to protect the man he loves.

Tears sprung at my eyes, mirroring the stutter in my limb. The sound of Amadeo’s approaching footsteps were the only warning I had before he set his hand on my shoulder.

I expected him to freeze me—to knock me unconscious and keep me locked within this place, or to at least punch me out or slam me in the door. Instead, his fingers curled around my shoulder and remained there.

“I never told him I loved him,” I said, turning my head to look into Amadeo’s eyes.

“Some things are meant to happen,” Amadeo replied.

“You can’t keep me here. You can’t let me let him die.”

“Jason—”

“Please, Amadeo!” I sobbed. “Please! He’s the only thing I have left! Without him… there’s no point in living.”

The subtle shift in Amadeo’s eyes was something I noticed only because of the rings around his irises. Emblazoned to a brighter hue, they flickered in their sockets as they looked upon my face and traced the flow of tears along my cheeks. His adamant expression had recessed. Instead, he appeared sympathetic—as if his eyes and lips told the story of every regretful man’s life.

Did he remember his own plea, when Elliot had saved him on the verge of death?

Amadeo’s hand slid from my shoulder.

Stepping forward, he reached out and set his hand on the door handle. “You know,” he said when he didn’t turn the handle to open the door. “I was in your position, once. When there was nothing I could do and only one person I cared about.” Amadeo’s fingers slid along the door until his hand found the locks. With careful clicks, he secured them into place, then ran the chains across the door before he turned to face me. “I know where they’re keeping him, Jason.”

A lost breath instantly returned to my lungs. “You do?” I asked.

Amadeo nodded. “There’s a location—east of the Enchanted Rock State Park. It’s a compound, hidden under the ground, concealed in a dilapidated farmhouse that’s been abandoned for years.” He sighed and lowered his hands at his side. “I know I can’t stop you, Jason. You love him far too much to simply let him go, but I couldn’t live with myself if I let you go and something happened. Which is why I brought this.”

Reaching back, Amadeo lifted the hem of his shirt and withdrew a revolver from the small of his back. He popped the cylinder to reveal a full round of silver bullets.

The absurdity was too much.

I laughed.

“Does that really work?” I said, faltering when I realized that Amadeo’s expression had not lightened. “I mean… just like the movies?”

“Silver is the greatest weapon against evil,” Amadeo replied. “Do you remember the cross Guy always wears around his neck?”

I wear it as a sign of my mortality, Guy had said that first fateful night. I have hope. One should when they see such horrible things.

I nodded. “Yeah,” I said. “I do.”

“That cross is lined with silver. To a Sanguine, it’s repulsive—a sign of their damnation from the unholy thing that made them. To a Howler? It’s like liquid fire spreading through their veins.” Amadeo snapped the cylinder shut. “I have boxes of this for you. I can get you a car, food, supplies. I can get you out of here, if that’s what you truly want. There’s only one condition.”

I waited for him to continue.

“Once you rescue Guy,” he said. “I don’t want you to ever come back. He sealed his fate when he left this camp.”

“I understand,” I said.

Amadeo nodded. “Good,” he said. “Give me an hour to get everything ready. Then you can leave.”

“Everything’s in the truck,” Amadeo said. “The food, the supplies, the ammo.”

We stood in the ranch’s garage looking upon the beast of a machine that would take me to the entrance to the Howler’s lair. At such an early hour of the morning, it was illuminated only by the fluorescent lights that flanked either side of the walls, but that did little to diminish the enormity of the cobalt-black structure before me.

Black as night, the Spanish Kaldr had been fit to say. Quiet as can be. Tinted windows. Nondescript.

The plates were registered under a different name from someone who now lived in a different state with documentation that would raise no wariness or speculation. With the vehicle arranged as it was, Amadeo said someone would have to peer through the front window in order to see its occupant, and even then they’d be hard-pressed to identify someone whose height only allowed him to look over the steering wheel.

You’ll be fine, the man would have said, had he the inclination to believe in me.

Instead, he figured me nothing more than dead—a stupid kid on a suicide run to save his boyfriend.

Amadeo gave me a brief tour of the truck and all its features. GPS navigation on the dashboard, overhead sunroof above the console, the various dials that controlled the heat in both the front and back cab—at one point, he pulled out a drawer beneath the passenger seat to reveal a full pack of bottled water and an emergency kit, complete with maps tucked behind the seats.

“You’re set,” the man said, after he deemed me informed of the appropriate knowledge.

The scrutiny in his eyes was unbearable. Torn between the urge to flee and the knowledge that he was providing me the keys to my kingdom, I nodded and stepped back as he secured the truck’s back door.

From his pocket he dangled the ring, simple with the Ford ignition key and a Swiss Army knife. “I’m trusting you know what you’re doing,” Amadeo said, his voice almost lost in the shadow of the nearby generator.

“Yes sir,” I said. “I do.”

Leaning forward, Amadeo took my hand, pressed the keys into my palm, then wrapped my fingers around them. “Godspeed, Jason. Godspeed.”

He pressed a kiss to my brow.

Breaking away, he walked to the garage door, took hold of the bar, and dragged it out of position, looking back at me as I rounded the hood to enter the vehicle. “I’ll open the front gate,” he said. “After that, you’re on your own.”

Darkness.

It was all I could see as I drove along the long stretch of Hill Country highway that would lead me to the place Guy was being held. The A/C on full blast, the windows down and the wind blowing through my hair, I regarded the GPS laid into the dashboard with cautious consideration as I realized that it would not be long before I arrived at my destination.

It’ll be off the road, Amadeo had said, and you’ll have to get out of the truck, so make sure you’re armed.

The pistol lay on the center console—loaded, the safety on, the bullets secured in their packs of cartridges beneath the passenger seat. All I had to do once I pulled over was round the vehicle, open the passenger door, and lean under. Then I could reload and go in guns blazing. Or not. At this point, I wasn’t sure how anything would play out. I didn’t want to kill anyone. I wasn’t a violent person. But if it meant them or Guy—sociopaths who would either kill or sell Guy to those who would brutally torture him—it would be them.

I cycled through the radio in an attempt to find something to calm my nerves but was unsuccessful. Frustration eventually took the best of me and I swiped my hand over the nodule, silencing the various sounds of country and various pop music instantly.

Sighing, I trained my eyes along the darkened road.

Here, so far from anywhere, the only sights revealed was the grass and trees that flanked the road.

My paranoia over getting there rivaled that of the actual arrival. I was terrified out of my mind of hitting a deer.

I shook my head.

I had to get a hold of myself.

“Just keep your calm,” I whispered. “Everything’s going to be all right.”

Somehow, I highly doubted that.

Blood would be spilled tonight.

The GPS directed me to a run-down gas station matching that of Amadeo’s directions. I pulled over to the side of the road and let the truck sit idle before I killed the engine. The lights dimming, then going off, my nerves escalating to a fever pitch, I scoured the landscape for any sign of trouble and reached into the console to retrieve the revolver with the silver bullets. Secon nature drove me to ensure it was loaded and that the safety was on.

This was it.

In less than a few moments, I would be entering the dilapidated property and descending into the Howler lair.

I’d never been more scared in my life.

Dirt crunched beneath my shoes as I jumped out of the truck and rounded the vehicle. Key in hand, its jagged edge a sharp countenance of extra defense, I opened the passenger door and fumbled through the ammo caches until I pulled free seven cylinders.

Thirty-five bullets, not counting the five already in the revolver.

Hopefully I was still the decent shot I’d been in my teens.

The woods whispered about me as I stood there considering my plan, rustling about the underbrush and flickering through the high branches. Few birds could be heard, save the hoot of an owl and the low mourn of a dove, and the few animals were insignificant to the point where their noise was little distraction. I caught sight of an ugly creature’s eyes as I swept my flashlight along the line of trees, but disregarded the hiss the opossum offered.

There were animals here.

I was safe.

Training the light on the ground, I followed the directions Amadeo had offered by tune of a compass inlaid into the Swiss Army Knife and headed into the wooded area. So close to ranching property and even closer to ranchers who would have no hesitation shooting trespassers, I kept as quiet as possible, knowing well that any unwanted attention would surely result in the police being called.

The bitter humidity was staunching.

Sweat beaded down my neck and slid into my shirt.

I licked a droplet from my lips and tasted salt.

It was at that moment that I realized I’d just become even more vulnerable.

If there were any Howlers downwind—if they were anywhere near me—

I froze in place.

The dove, the owl—they’d stopped calling.

A rustle in the bushes spun me around faster than I thought possible.

The safety went off.

The gun barked and muzzle fire flashed in the night.

The figure—only briefly illuminated as a man—went down instantly.

Lowering the smoking gun, I centered the barrel on the unmoving body and waited for any further movement.

Steam sizzled from the gap beneath his arm.

Howler.

I turned my head and swallowed a lump in my throat.

So—I’d already been approached.

Directly around a bend in the animal-trodden path was the dilapidated home Amadeo had spoken of—desecrated with age, ruined by weather, and gnarled by human abandonment.

It had no roof to speak of.

The front door and a portion of windows were completely missing.

I exhaled the breath that had been trapped within my chest and fumbled through my pocket for the cylinders, my thumb flicking over the bullet’s tipped surface before sliding it into the weapon.

I didn’t want to go in with fewer bullets than I could manage.

Bracing myself for whatever was to come, I started up the path.

The trees provided ample cover for myself and anyone who might be watching me. The snarl of gunfire had momentarily silenced the night, to the point where only bugs chirruped or whistled in the early-morning dark. Guided only by the flashlight and the moonlight that illuminated the house, it took little to realize how much of a target I was.

I’d killed one of their own.

I’d broken the pact.

Humans had entered their territory.

All those hikers, all those travelers—gone, missing, only to be found later, ripped to pieces by what the authorities had considered accidental causes and then by the feeding of animals—

I was in their territory now.

The game was on.

I mounted the incline where the stairs leading up to the house used to be and directed the flashlight around the area, cutting a beam of light through the broken windows and the open front door. Free of graffiti and bearing only the casual semblance of animal activity, it appeared nothing more than an abandoned house—a place where some lowly farmer or widow had lived in ages past.

With trepidation I’d yet experienced before in my life, I stepped into the house.

Old glass crunched under my feet.

The hairs on my neck stood on end.

The one thing Amadeo had not been able to tell me was where the entrance was.

It’ll probably be a hideaway, he’d said. Look where a basement would be.

And I did. What little space there was to search offered nothing in regard to secret entrances that would lead to some underground bunker.

I paused, in the middle of the room, and directed my attention toward the kitchen.

Most of it lay in ruins.

The one thing that didn’t was the pantry door.

Lifting my gun, I edged forward.

It took only a second for me to lash out, grab the handle, and rip the door open.

There was revealed a hatchway—leading directly to what I could only assume was the Howler compound.

I only had one way to go from here.

Reaching back, I guided the pantry door closed behind me, then flipped the porthole open.

A ladder descended into darkness. A quick sweep with the flashlight showed nothing but solid, concrete ground at the end.

Slapping the flashlight into the space between my belt and waist, I balanced its outer rim alongside my pocket before I crouched down and took hold of the rungs.

It was there that I began to descend.

Only the coldest parts of the Kaldr estate could make me feel the way I did as I touched down into the Howler compound. Hairs on end, the back of my neck prickling with tension, I pulled the flashlight from my waistband and scoured the excruciatingly-claustrophobic tunnel with a sense of dread. At little more than ten feet wide, I would stand little chance if I got overwhelmed, though thankfully if I managed to get a shot off, the narrow corridor gave me an upper advantage.

I only faced one problem:

Now that I was here, where the hell did I go?

It turned out the answer was not as hard as I thought.

Most of the entrances to other rooms were either completely barricaded or blocked off with faded ‘DO NOT ENTER’ signs. Age had warranted several of their collapses, prompting the summons of refuse and dirt, and those doors that seemed capable of being opened I avoided completely—in part because of the lack of any voices behind them, but also because they appeared too insignificant to hold someone important like Guy. They wouldn’t have put him in some normal, back-bunker room, where behind a cage he could freeze the air and will to his command the atmosphere within it. No. They’d have to keep him somewhere high-security, somewhere they’d be able to contain him if something went wrong. Somewhere like—

“A lab,” I whispered.

The sound of my voice was like a brick being dropped in the middle of the compound. Echoing across the concrete walls, a mere whisper in the darkness, a tentative signal for prey—it shattered all sense of calm and forced my heart to beat ten times faster.

The gun was up before I could think.

The flashlight cut a path through the corridor.

Without hesitation, I started forward.

My footsteps couldn’t have been any louder. At the pace I was walking, they sounded like untrimmed nails rebounding off a linoleum floor. The dogs were coming, my conscience was quick to say, as I continued to peruse the corridors, and because of that my panic began to escalate. Given my father’s military background, I’d never been prone to such unnecessary apprehension. But here, in this place, with these monsters, and only a gun and a few silver bullets to protect me, I couldn’t have been more exposed.

I turned down one corridor, then another.

The flashlight passed over doors whose windows were clean and whose surfaces were maintained.

A silhouette behind one broke all sense of rationale.

I ran.

The harsh bark of a door slamming into the hallway and a voice crying after me signaled the call for the hunt. Torn free of their dens, they bayed and howled and screamed as if they were demons within the night and came barreling into the corridor behind me—nails clicking like wildfires in the open countryside. The twists and turns that managed to lead me to safety seemed eventually to taper out into little more than one-ended options. At one junction I was forced left, then right, then back around again. I blindly fired a shot behind me, resulting in a wicked howl, and threw myself into a side corridor.

A dead end.

A dead fucking end.

I spun just in time for one of the creatures to rear its ugly head.

It snapped.

I fired.

Its teeth sunk into my arm and tore into my wrist before sliding off the bone.

Bleeding, and backed into a corner where behind me a high-security door lay in all its glory, I centered my gun on one of the approaching creatures and tried to see through the haze of pain.

“Get back,” I managed. “Get… back.”

I fired a warning shot near their feet, which was met with snarls.

“Leave me be,” I cried. “Leave me—”

“Enough!” someone shouted.

That voice—

It sounded just like—

The wolves cowered under the man’s voice and shrunk as he approached.

I swallowed.

The man who’d confronted Elliot Winters in his own home

The Frenchman was beautiful in his feral grace and immaculate appearance. His harsh features accentuating a pair of gold-rimmed brown eyes, his jaw covered in a bristle of stubble and his lengthened hair hanging in straight locks to his waist, he centered his attention on me and pressed a hand back to the pack.

“Silence, my brothers,” he said. “He is one of our own now.”

The Howlers eased forward to stand behind the Frenchman, their glowing eyes haunting in a place where, only illuminated by the flashlight’s beams, they appeared to belong to nothing but ghosts. The Frenchman held my attention. His tone rang of complete and utter dominance.

Was this the alpha of the pack?

“Guy,” I managed, grimacing as a sliver of pain shivered along my arm. “Where is he?”

“I assure you, he is perfectly safe,” the man said, taking a step forward. I raised my gun and pointed it directly at his chest. “There now. Don’t be getting any ideas.”

“Stay away from me,” I said.

“You’re in danger now that you’ve been bitten, Jason. You’ve contracted Lycanthropy—the Howling Fever. It’s only a matter of time before you turn.” He took another step forward, hands falling. “You’re one of us, Jason. We take care of our own.”

The tangible sensation of something making its way through me was reminiscent of blood exiting under the guidance of a hypodermic needle—quick, without control, and in a way that made it feel as though your body was inhabited. It reminded me of a parasite—a monster whose sole purpose was to possess you—and in that came to light what was really happening.

I was becoming a monster.

Now that I’d been bitten, I’d soon be one of… them. Those… things that had tried to kill me, that looked nothing like normal animals, who changed from men to beast by curse or will only to slaughter those weaker than them.

The barrel of the revolver was still warm from the last discharge.

If I just put it to my head—

The Frenchman stepped forward. My gun was on him instantly. “Easy, now,” he said, raising his hands to his sides. “We don’t want you to do anything drastic.”

“You did this!” I screamed. “This is all your fault! YOUR FAULT!”

The tremor throughout my injured arm reduced my aim to a feverish inconsistency. If I shot now, I would most surely only graze, if not miss him entirely. But I didn’t care. I couldn’t save Guy if I was a monster. I couldn’t do anything if I was the one thing that sought to kill him.

Shivering, I tightened my screaming muscles and focused the gun on the man.

“I have the cure,” he said. “If you kill me, how will you ever get it—or see Guy again?”

“You’re lying.”

“No. I’m not.” The man stepped forward, apparently unafraid of the gun or the silver bullets within it. “You’ve only recently contracted the disease. In its infancy—before the first transformation—it can be treated. But that’s not going to happen if you stand there pointing a gun at me.”

“What do you want?” I asked, tears burning down my face.

“Why don’t you come in and find out?” the man said. He extended a hand. “Give me the gun, Jason. We can talk about this. You can see Guy.”

The urge to shoot was overwhelming.

I only had two bullets in the cylinder. If I really wanted to shoot this man, then take my own life…

No.

I couldn’t.

I couldn’t do that to Guy—Howler, human, or something in-between, I’d come here for him. I couldn’t let him down.

Lowering my gun, I flipped the cartridge open, dumped the bullets onto the ground, then extended the revolver to the Frenchman by the barrel, who took it with little more than a nod. “Good choice,” he said, stepping toward the security door. “Come, now. Let us see your beloved Guy Winters.”

Hope was but an illusion as we walked through the high-security door into what was for all respects a medical facility. The rows of glossy metal tables, the acrid stench of painkilling fluids and antiseptic wipes, the sheer, blinding white light that emitted from fluorescent bulbs all around—all spoke of hospice: a place where the sick came to be healed. But I knew better. Death was here, laid plain in stains and colors, and the smells that wafted as we tread into the space I could not have even begun to imagine.

Despite the pain coursing through my body, I had enough merit to warrant a shiver.

This was no medical facility—at least, not the kind I was used to.

This was a laboratory.

Disoriented by the shock likely rocketing my system, my eyes trailed across the space, darting across areas where light was consumed by shadow and where figures could briefly be seen in human form.

Eventually, my eyes fell to a fixture at the far side of the room, one I’d not noticed upon our initial entrance—a glass wall, or at least a window, set into a series of stonework behind behind which held a self-contained room.

A flicker of movement appeared from the depths of it.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I was seeing things. Then I realized I wasn’t.

The eyes looked back at me, their rims solid and glowing blue.

I lost my breath as the only thing I could say was, “Guy.”

The Kaldr man—stripped naked but for commonplace white briefs—stood opposite the glass window, hand pressed to the glass.

“Jason,” he said.

The sound of his voice through an intercom caused a jarring pain that ripped fire through my head. Grimacing, and stumbling forward, I reached up to cradle one ear with my good arm while keeping my bad one against my chest.

Before the glass, I looked at Guy with tears in my eyes.

Frost framed his dispersed fingers.

“Jason,” he whispered, eyes falling to my arm.

The click of a gun sounded. Then the barrel was placed to my ear.

“Time’s up,” the Frenchman said.

“Let go of him you bastard,” Guy growled, spittle flying through his teeth. “He had nothing to do with this.”

“Quite the contrary, Mr. Winters. He has everything to do with it.” I felt the touch of the man’s hand along my collarbone and shivered at how hot his skin felt. “I see you haven’t marked him—at least, not in the way I would’ve expected. A human mate? Warm flesh? Are you Kaldr really that noble?”

“Let him go, Pierre. You can do whatever you want to to me, but by God, let him go.”

“I could,” the Frenchman said, “but then there’s the matter of his infection.” I grimaced as he reached around and took hold of my right arm, his fingers prying through the tattered flesh to take a rough hold. “You see, Guy, there was an… accident. One of my wolves got too careless and let the boy shoot him after the first bite. He didn’t finish the job. He’s infected. He’s turning. Now. I let him go—and by God, out there, in the wild—he’s going to go on a rampage. The bloodlust will consume him. There’s a reason Howlers are made in confined quarters.”

I fought to contain my tears as Pierre tightened his hold on my arm. “Please,” I begged. “Don’t do this to me.”

“There’s a perfect alternative to the matter, Jason. I assure you of that. But your boyfriend here is the one who has to cooperate.”

“I told you,” Guy growled, “it’s not going to work. It’s just legend.”

“You Norsemen believe the Wendigo is legend?” Pierre laughed. “What the hell is wrong with you? Your history speaks for itself. You believe it the monster of man, the perfect chimera of bestial nature. There’s always been whispers of a bond between us, but you’ve been too afraid to seek them out.”

“You’re mad with power.”

“And your boyfriend’s turning faster than you can think.”

“If you’re so convinced this is going to work, why not test it on one of your men? Or yourself?”

“Because every number is important when we have so many others to deal with,” Pierre replied. He released hold of my arm and nudged the gun against the back of my head—directly where the robber had in weeks past. “It’s your choice, Guy. Either way, I’ll get what I want out of you. I’d say my deal with the Spaniard went pretty damn well.”

“The Spaniard?” Guy gasped.

No.

“Amadeo,” I whispered.

“Yes,” Pierre chuckled. “Our beautiful little Spaniard. He’s the one who orchestrated this entire ordeal. From slipping the robber a master key, to flushing you out of Austin, to killing the joggers along the lake.”

He’d known where Guy was, had shown such indifference, had paled when offered mention of the murders.

A flash of pain erupted between my eyes.

Crimson flooded my vision.

At first I thought I was bleeding, but when I felt nothing trailing down my face, I realized that wasn’t the case.

Could I be bleeding internally?

A second flash erupted along my conscience, followed by a third which sent a whimper from my throat.

My gut churned.

My arm throbbed.

“Do you see what you’re doing?” Pierre asked. “How you’re torturing him?”

I forced my eyes together to fight the images assailing me.

The blood, the teeth, the excruciating pain—

The overhead moon, the hunt that followed—

The pale-skinned man, so naked in his youth, as he was ripped limb from limb by the savagery of supernatural jaws.

The shiver became violent—to the point where I felt was I in the frigid arctic—and when I opened my eyes I saw hopelessness in Guy’s face. There was no all-knowing look that gave answer all my questions. There was merely turmoil that could not be solved.

“Time’s running out,” Pierre said.

The scuffle of footsteps from the far wall entered my ears and passed through my head as if they were no more than a foot away. Within moments I could sense so many were in the room—to the side, in the shadows, along the wall, even beyond the lab. Their stench of sweat and cigarettes and even fresh blood was tangible to the point where I could taste it on my tongue, and my eyes were taking on a subtle shift that I couldn’t discern at first.

I was changing, right there in front of him.

“Jason,” Guy said, his voice a whisper through the intercom. “Your eyes.”

A brief impression of gold-rimmed eyes entered my awareness before leaving completely.

“Time’s up,” Pierre said.

Even though he was behind me, I heard his finger shift to the trigger.

Without thought, driven by primal instinct, I spun and knocked the gun out of his hand with my right arm.

The weapon discharged and spun across the floor just as Pierre stumbled back, blood coating his face from a gash inflicted upon his cheek.

I lifted my arm.

All five digits on my right hand had lengthened and developed black claws.

“Get him!” Pierre screamed. “Shoot that motherfucker!”

I flung myself over one of the metal autopsy tables and brought my foot down on the end of it just in time to deflect a hail of bullets.

The world was lost in the sound of chaos. Animal instinct helped me detect every life form within the room. The gunpowder was no deterrent. There were several on the wall—three, at least four—not counting the two pressed alongside the door and Pierre, whose presence I could no longer detect. The bullets were another matter. Each discharge could be heard like the drop of a pin, followed by an explosion similar to a car crash in the middle of a quiet street. The number of shots gave me cause to believe that they weren’t firing in succession—it was blind tactics, meant to kill me regardless of loss.

The world was moving so slow.

My head was spinning.

My vision, brightening—

The wink of metal along the floor caught my eye.

I lunged without question.

My speed, far beyond that of any human, delivered the gun into my hand, then me to my feet in an instant.

“GET DOWN!” a voice screamed.

I fired toward the glass entrapping Guy.

Webs splintered across its surface.

The entire magazine was emptied.

The glass shattered and the temperature plummeted.

I threw myself to the ground as the beads of sweat along my body turned to ice.

Faintly, I could just make out the fluctuating temperature clashing between the testing and examination rooms.

Guy stepped from its depths.

His eyes blue, his ancestral mark emblazoned upon his skin—he lifted his hand and guided shards of glass about the air in front of him as if they were a revolving spectrum before firing them throughout the room.

Screams shattered the night.

Blood splashed the air.

A single convulsion forced my back into the air and then back on the ground.

My head slammed against the tiled floor.

My teeth sunk into my tongue and drew blood.

I was barely aware of the ongoing events as the seizure took my body. Forcing tremors throughout every limb, occasionally causing my back to spasm in a mild convulsion, spilling froth from my mouth that I thought would choke me but instead brought forth a sound that sang like the angel’s lips upon the midnight ferry—what little breath I managed to take did little to seep into my brain, for the stars before my vision were falling, exploding, reforming, then falling against.

A single second felt like an hour’s worth of pain.

One moment, everything was chaos. The next, everything was silent.

The fine hairs springing along my arms and the exposed portion of my collarbone stood on end as from the side came a presence.

I tried to turn my head, but failed to do so.

A foot stepped forward.

Swathed in light, his figure illuminated only by the glowing crystals that circled about his body, Guy leaned over my trembling form and took me into his arms.

“It’s ok,” he said, his voice nirvana within my head. “Everything’s going to be fine, Jason. I’ll get you out of here.”

I tried to speak, tried to breathe, tried to cry. Nothing worked.

The flash of pain that had come earlier returned.

This time, it hit me like a truck.

All I heard was my final scream before I blacked out.

Epilogue

A cold, hard bang—the sweet tang of rain splashing upon my back.

A run through the woods alongside the pack—barking, snarling, howling.

The taste of blood across my tongue, the tear of flesh between my teeth.

The rain.

The rain.

Why was it so painful?

I opened my eyes to find my vision devoid of any clarity. I struggled focus on my surroundings and found that I couldn’t. The air was cold, the ground hard, yet beneath me was not tile. No. It was… dirt, it seemed—earth: dampened by rain. I was nowhere near that underground place, but if not there, where?

My inclination was to believe that we’d somehow gotten away—that, despite the odds, Guy’s abilities had enabled us to flee the compound.

But was it true?

Had we escaped?

The world came to be slowly and like a fog drifting free of a cloudless sky. Revealed in shades muted and gray, then more vibrantly as time went on, I took in a breath as above the trees were revealed in full. Rain filtered down through their branches, kissing drops to my lips and face. I opened my mouth to take in the moisture.

Slowly, I lifted my arms.

Neither bore the scars of the previous night, nor the monstrosity I witnessed myself turn into.

I was… human.

“Guy?” I said, the word like a dull knife cutting through my chest. “Are you there?”

The shuffle of feet drew my attention.

Turning my head, I looked at a raised portion of earth to find the Kaldr crouched there, eyes intent and watching me. “Hey,” he said. “You ok?”

“Yeah,” I replied, still struggling to speak. “Are… you?”

“I’m ok,” he said, stepping down off the slight incline. “I’m sorry I had to tie you up, but… I had to be sure, and after what happened last night…”

I looked down. A series of bungee cords and all manner of rope had been secured around my waist and upper body, essentially trapping me to the tree I’d woken against.

“Did I,” I started to ask.

Guy didn’t need to say anything to reply. His nod was answer enough. “Yeah,” he said. “You did.”

“Let me see.”

He raised a piece of glass likely lifted from the nearby house and held it before my face.

As I feared, my eyes were rimmed with gold. They glowed a faint amber in the pale morning light.

Sighing, I bowed my head and allowed the realization to sink in, knowing fully that my options were growing slimmer by the second. First my life had led me to Guy, then from Austin in a desperate fit for survival. Then I’d become a part of the Kaldr only to willingly leave after my lover had been exiled. And now—here, in the wild, with Guy at my side, and with everything I could’ve ever wanted—I’d been delivered the deadliest gift I could ever possibly imagine.

I was a Howler.

There was nothing I could do.

“It’s going to be ok,” Guy said, setting a hand on my face and tilting my chin up. “I told you everything would be.”

“You can’t do anything for me,” I replied. “I’m fucked—screwed.”

“Jason—”

“Can they…” I swallowed. “Control it?”

Guy sighed and shook his head. “No,” he said. “They can’t. And there’s no real pattern to transformation either, so far as I’ve known.”

“But the wolves in the compound—”

“Were what we called the Crazed—the ones who’ve fallen so far to the beast they were never able to change back.”

“What does this mean for me then?” I asked. “For us?”

There was no real answer that could be expected from such a question. I was asking the world—for all its contents and everything in-between. I couldn’t have been any bolder even if I’d walked up to God Himself and asked, “Knock knock, can I come in?” Because that’s what I really was—damned. Just as Amadeo had said. Damned. That lying, conniving bastard. Because only the wicked can be killed by silver. Only the wicked have fallen from true grace.

Guy’s eyes flickered away. His obvious struggles in trying to maintain focus on me while still attempting to control his emotions were painful to behold. I’d never seen anything like it in anyone—not my grandfather when my grandmother had passed, not my parents when my grandfather had finally left, not friends who’d lost their friends. This—this was something else. This was salvation dangling in reach yet always evading whenever one extended an arm to take it.

Lowering his eyes, Guy lifted his hand and covered his face. “Jason,” he whispered. “I… I don’t—”

“Do it.”

The words were out of my mouth before I could think twice.

“Do what?” Guy asked, returning his attention to me.

“What Pierre was trying to make you do,” I said. “If he really believes that the Wendigo is the product of a Kaldr and a Howler, that means you’d be able to turn me into one—that I’d be able to control myself.”

“We don’t even know if that would work.”

“What else are we going to do?”

“You might die, Jason.”

“I’d rather die than live with the knowledge that someday I might kill you.”

Guy’s features softened.

Closing my eyes, I tilted my head back and inhaled the damp morning air.

A pair of hands pressed against my face and guided my head back into a straightforward position.

I opened my eyes.

Guy stared back at me. “Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked. “You know that if anything happens… we can’t go back.”

“I know,” I whispered.

Tears slipping down his face, Guy nodded and pressed a kiss to my forehead. “I love you, Jason.”

“I love you too.”

“Just open your mouth when I kiss you. That’s all you have to do.”

“Will it hurt?”

“No. It won’t.”

I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable.

Guy’s tongue pressed against my lips.

My mouth opened.

A fine frost slipped inside.

A part of me I never knew existed instantly reacted.

Primeval, born from the time when we were not human and were truly something else—his touch bonded my skin in a strange symbiotic nature before ice began to form between us.

I opened my eyes.

The ice was beginning to cloud my view—but somewhere, deep within its glacial surface, I could just barely make out the thing that looked back at me: the thing with the great stag’s antlers and a wolfish creature’s head.

Even when I closed my eyes, there was no denying what I really was.

Guy had always said his people had been afraid.

Now they had a reason to be.

I was the Wendigo.

Amadeo had started a war.

Written By: Kodyboye

Picture: Google+

 

Looking for writer’s who want to post their stories on GayNerdy.com and, or The Gay Classifieds

More to come! Let me know what you think and don’t hesitate to comment me ideas of what you’d like to read next. Thanks for reading, I hoped you enjoyed it.

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