Adapting Instincts

an excerpt

Chapter One

Sharp clangs of metal on metal rang through the air. A high pitched, primate shriek filled the brief pauses between banging. Other howls joined in, creating a chorus of monkey screeches. Despite the cries, Carl moved at his usual steady pace, knowing there wasn't anything wrong. It was just Davy and his impatience waiting for his dinner.

The crafty little simian discovered one day that creating a ruckus brought him running to the habitat for the Black-headed Spider Monkeys, and once there and seeing nothing was wrong, he went ahead and fed them. Davy used that ploy for a week...and he fell for it every time.

Now, he wasn't going to cave to the monkey's mischief. Especially since he could see the habitat from where he was standing and nothing was wrong, other than Davy banging a metal food dish against the steel mesh and riling up his three brothers, Micky, Michael, and Peter. He could almost hear Andreas's voice beside him, teasing him for naming them after The Monkees band.

Carl lowered his gaze. He turned back to the cart, his hands moving automatically as he got the food for the Black-and-white Colobus monkeys.

Andreas. He missed him so damn much. He hadn't seen him in three months, not since Andreas left Chicago for England, and then for Tanzania, where he was setting up his wildlife sanctuary. But setting up the sanctuary wasn't the real reason Andreas had left. It was because Andreas had become a vampire.

Carl finished shoving fruits, lettuce, and other leafy greens through the feed door to the habitat, all to be snatched away by the monkeys. He pushed the cart toward the next habitat, one thought circling round and round through his head; his best friend was a vampire.

Seriously, what the fuck? Whose best friend becomes a vampire? And how the hell was it vampires even exited? Those were the questions that haunted him since the moment Andreas pounded on his door in the middle of the night looking like he'd been chased through hell and still had the devil on his heels.

When Andreas told him he'd become a vampire, that his boyfriend, Titus...Anton...Cal-- whatever the fuck his name was--also was a vampire, he thought Andreas must be playing a screwed up joke. But the proof was before him in two glistening fangs protruding from Andreas's gums, and fingernails that shifted to claws. In the days following, more proof hit him as he was attacked and kidnapped by vampire hunters and a psycho vampire.

Even though months had passed, it all still felt fresh, close, and totally unbelievable. At least, the scientific side of him wanted to disprove it. There was no way to do that, though, because no matter how he tried to rationalize it, the proof always came back around solid and irrefutable that vampires were real. He couldn't deny the existence of them any more than he could deny the existence of the Capuchin monkeys he was approaching now.

He still had so many questions...and so much hurt. And regret. Of the questions, the one he wanted an answer to most was what had happened to Matthew. While he still didn't fully understand the events surrounding his and Andreas's kidnapping, he knew the young vampire hunter escaped the carnage when Bernard, the psycho vampire, turned his vampires loose on the hunters. Maybe that's all he would ever know.

Of his hurt and regret, it was hard to sort through it all, but one thing kept lingering close to the surface; a single soft kiss, just a brush of warm lips. It was a good-bye from a man who, the moment Carl saw him, he felt something stir inside. It was something deep. Something he didn't even really understand, but it was there, strong, and so tangible he could feel it in his chest and body. And yeah, the fact that the guy looked like a living, breathing, Norse god could be part of it, but what he felt was more than physical. Or maybe, it was the allure of a vampire.

Was it even proper etiquette to call a vampire a man? Damned if he knew. From what Andreas told him, vampires were a sub-species of humans since essentially, the majority of vampires originated from humans, but they had evolved higher physical and sensory adaptations. Andreas believed vampire blood contained an infectious agent that allowed for a mutation to DNA, creating adaptations such as greater strength, speed, stronger senses, fangs, claws, resistance to diseases, saliva with a healing quality to it, and immortality.

Well, immortal so long as they continued drinking blood. That was the little hitch to it all. Without blood, a vampire would die. And while their bodies were more durable than humans, they could be killed a lot more easily than a stake through the heart or having their head cut off, like the old legends told.

So since their DNA was human with a few tweaks for upgrades, a vampire was still a man. Right?

Carl shook his head. Just one more thing he didn't understand. Through all the confusion and unknowns, though, there was one thing he was sure of; he wished he could see Egill again.

Egill Dalgaard. In his mind, he could see him so clearly; tall, broad shoulders and chest, big arms and hands. And he was a sucker for big hands. He could imagine what both of them would feel like gripping his ass, how warm and strong they'd be.

Carl took a deep breath. He needed to redirect his thoughts before he ended up with a raging hard-on. As it was, his damn dick was starting to go up. Not that it was surprising. It was his usual reaction when he thought about Egill. How could he feel anything but horny when thinking about Egill's powerful body and his towering six foot seven height? Top all that off with bright red hair, rugged and handsome features, and soft green eyes that for his gruff exterior, showed the type of man Egill really was: intelligent, caring, and gentle.

In the few days they were together, Egill had left an impact on him. Egill watched over him, protected him, made him feel safe and secure.

If only he could still feel that way.

As much as he tried to push it down, being betrayed by Matthew, taken captive by hunters and held hostage by a vampire, watching that same vampire assault Andreas, then seeing Titus unleash his rage on Bernard, it all affected him. He found himself constantly glancing over his shoulder when walking to and from work. He didn't go out at night unless he absolutely had to, and then kept it to early evening, which made no sense to him since the old myths were wrong about vampires not being able to come out in sunlight. He sure as hell didn't go to bars and clubs.

The thing was, he didn't know what had him more on edge, the vampires, or the mercenaries who hunted them. He'd seen horrible things from both sides. Guess that proved vampires hadn't evolved all that much from being human.

Egill, though, was different. Somehow, he knew that. Egill wasn't malicious or bloodthirsty like Bernard. Not that it'd mattered. He was certain he'd blown his shot with Egill because of the role he'd played in helping the hunters get Andreas, then worrying about Matthew afterward.

Carl exhaled a heavy sigh. Blowing it with two men before he got either of them in bed? Now that was a record for him.

The sharp clanging pulled him from his thoughts. Or rather, stopped them since he couldn't hold onto them with the pinging of the bowl on the steel mesh.

Carl stopped outside the habitat for the spider monkeys. He released the cart's handles to place his hands on his hips, fixing Davy with a disapproving look. "Really? Is that necessary?"

Davy quit banging the bowl on the mesh and stared up at him with intelligent black eyes.

Carl swore the monkey was trying to play innocent. A smile broke over his lips despite trying to stay stern. It was all Davy needed. The monkey scurried up the mesh to be at eye level with him, reaching through with his left hand, the one missing the index finger.

Carl held a finger toward him, and Davy wrapped his others around it. The warm, soft leathery feel of Davy's palm made him grateful he'd been able to save the monkey's hand. When Davy and the others came to the zoo, starved and sick from the poor care they'd received in a backyard zoo--or deathtrap, as he called it--Davy's hand was so infected from a baboon biting his finger off, he didn't know if he'd be able to save it. But he had, and after months of diligent care, Davy and his brothers were healthy and sassy.

Carl patted Davy's hand with his other. "All right. Now that you're behaving, I'll get you your dinner."

He reached in the cart, picking up half a mango. He handed it to Davy, who stuffed it in his mouth and bounded away.

Carl stretched to collect more food, pausing as a chill came over him. His sixth sense tingled with the sensation of being watched. He froze, thinking it was his mind playing tricks, like it so often did these days. Unable to resist the urge, he started turning to see behind him.

Strong arms clamped around him. A hard body pressed against him from behind. Panic held him in place, his throat too tight to breathe, let alone call out.

Warm breath washed over his ear as a deep voice whispered, "I vant to suck your blood."

All panic fled before a rush of excitement and happiness. Not even the horrible fake Romanian accent could disguise that voice. He jabbed an elbow back, planting it into the ribs of his "attacker." A hard grunt followed and the arms holding him dropped away.

Carl spun around to a laughing Andreas.

Andreas rubbed his side. "Well I see how much you missed me."

Carl flung his arms around him in a crushing hug. "When did you get back?"

Andreas hugged him tight. "This morning. Now that we're settled in our new house, we wanted to come back and collect a few things from here. You know we kind of left in a hurry."

Carl nodded, still not loosening his hold on Andreas.

"And," Andreas continued, "I wanted to give you a kick in the ass to get you moving faster so you can join me at the sanctuary."

Carl laughed and leaned back from him. "You might not have to kick too hard. I was thinking I'd be on a plane at the end of the month."

"That's great!"

"Yeah, I..." Carl's voice stopped, his gaze moving over Andreas.

Andreas still looked very much like himself, but even more attractive, and he hadn't thought that was possible. There was a healthy glow to his olive-tinted skin, his blue-gray eyes seemed even richer in color. His curly, ebony hair shone in the fading sunlight, and it hit him how much harder Andreas's body had felt against him, as if he'd gained extra muscle. Andreas didn't look much more bulked up, but he could tell there was definitely a difference in him.

Carl took a step back to get a better look at him. "Damn. Look at you. You look incredible."

Andreas flashed a glowing smile. "Yeah, it's amazing how good lots of rest, sex, good food, sex, the blood of an Ancient vampire, and sex are for you." He glanced over his shoulder.

Carl followed where Andreas was looking and met the silver gaze of Titus Antonius Calidus, Andreas's boyfriend. Or eternal partner, as Andreas called Titus now. His white-gold hair captured the sunlight, and Carl swore the very air around Titus hummed with confidence and strength.

Next to Titus stood the beautiful Daniel Valente, who he'd lusted over terribly after first meeting him. With Daniel's shoulder length black hair, dark brown eyes, and delicate features, he thought that lust was very well placed. Daniel had never given him much more than the time of day, and now was on the arm of Ryunosuke Kimura, the rock star looking samurai vampire whose beauty made him feel totally inadequate for even fantasizing about Daniel.

But at that moment, none of those past emotions touched him, because standing behind everyone, a head taller than Titus – who was the tallest in the group – was the man he'd wanted to see and speak to for months.