Protective Instincts

an excerpt

Chapter One

Ryunosuke stepped out of the manor to the gray morning. The sun had risen an hour ago, but wasn't yet strong enough to break through the fog and mist that rolled across the fields and veiled the nearby forest. He walked farther out onto the grand porch, leaving the heavy and tall oak doors open behind him. The myths and legends of vampires incinerating at the sun's touch might be false, but that didn't mean he enjoyed being up at sunrise. He'd always been more of a nocturnal creature, even during his human life, yet here he was, at the beginning of this new day having woken to an empty spot in bed beside him.

It happened frequently. Not for any lack of connection between him and Daniel, but because here, in England, in this home and roaming these lands, Daniel was at peace. It'd been Daniel's home for centuries, where he found safety for the first time, where he shed his mortal life and began his immortal existence as a vampire by the fangs and blood of Titus Antonius Calidus.

Ryu glanced back at the gray stone manor towering behind him. Times gone by clung to it as much as the ivy climbing the sides. The Victorian manor had belonged to Titus for centuries until he'd gifted it to Daniel. Being Daniel's master, Titus understood how much the manor and lands meant to him, how they comforted him, and probably felt it was more of a home to Daniel than to himself. Titus didn't lack for places to reside, his main home now being in Tanzania with his eternal partner, Andreas.

It was good of Titus to have given it all to Daniel and in a way, he felt it was Titus's final act in putting Daniel out on his own and not needing his master any longer.

He and Titus had been friends for decades turned into centuries. He was one of the few who Titus allowed to call him by his ancient nickname, Cal, from his Roman cognomen, Calidus. But that didn't mean their friendship was always easy. Not for him, at least. Not when Daniel had loved Titus and hadn't been able to see the love he had for him. Though to be fair to Daniel and Titus, he'd never shown clear signs of his adoration for Daniel. He hadn't believed Daniel could ever be his.

Now, he was.

A little more than a year ago, he and Daniel had recognized each other as eternal partners. In that time, they'd fought for each other and beside each other.

Things had finally settled over the winter...other than Troy Raines rearing his head again. Troy may have been pardoned by the Tribunal, he may be Renart Bellerose's eternal partner, and Troy and Daniel even had some sort of strange respect and understanding between them, but he wasn't one to forget betrayal. Only because of Troy's help in saving Daniel and bringing down Isaac Brasher would he concede that the reformed traitor was worthy of a second chance.

He wasn't a stranger to second chances either, after all.

Claws clicked on the foyer and Kuma trotted out the door. The red and white Akita Inu bounded down the steps. He stretched his front legs, his rump raised and curled tail wagging. He hopped up, letting out a woof at Ryu.

Ryunosuke grinned at the dog. Kuma had been with him for over a hundred and fifty years. Bound to him as a servant, the dog's life would be as eternal as his own--and would end with his own too--if anyone ever managed to accomplish that feat. He wasn't arrogant enough to think there wasn't a vampire out there stronger than him, who didn't have friendly views of him and would like to bring his nearly five centuries of existence to an end, but he was confident enough to say he would make the task very hard for them, especially now that he had Daniel.

Since having him, for the first time in centuries, his life felt as though it had true purpose.

Kuma let out another low bark.

"What? If you want to run the fields and forest and wreak havoc on small furry things, you don't need to ask. Go and play."

Kuma sprang his front end off the ground, turning on his haunches. He landed, ran two strides and froze. His ears perked, his attention focused toward a field past the elegant stone barn.

Ryunosuke gazed in the same direction. He sensed Daniel's presence, still in the distance, but drawing closer quickly. The steady drum of hoofbeats echoed through the quiet.

Through the mist and fog, a black horse emerged like a charging shadow. At the horse's side, a black leopardess glided with a graceful lope. Asha had been brought to Andreas as an orphaned cub, her mother slaughtered by poachers. Daniel had formed an instant connection to her, caring and doting on her. Understanding all too well what it was to be alone in the world, he'd made her his servant. Now at eight months old, Asha was growing into a large, sleek, and powerful cat. Once she reached full maturity, her aging would stop for her to live eternally at Daniel's side.

Daniel sat steady upon the stallion, his hands soft and relaxed on the reins, his body rocking in harmony with the horse's strides. As Daniel had said when they'd moved into the manor, it'd been far too many years since horses ran the pastures. He'd had the fences rebuilt, the barn cleaned and prepared, and bought the Friesian stallion and a few mares. For himself, he'd nearly forgotten what a fine horseman Daniel was. Seeing him ride was a thing of beauty. But then, so was Daniel himself.

Daniel's black hair, parted to the side, his bangs laying long to the left of his face, was windswept from the horse's speed. The white shirt he wore was blown tight to his body, showing his slender and toned build. His dark brown eyes were focused ahead toward where he guided the stallion, but flicked up toward the manor and Ryu. A smile rose to lips and shone over his delicate and lovely features.

Ryu moved down the steps, heading to meet Daniel, Asha, and the stallion. Kuma walked at his side.

Daniel brought the stallion down to a trot, then drawing closer, reined him to a walk. Ryunosuke stopped on the dirt lane leading to the barn and let Daniel guide the horse to him. Daniel halted the stallion before him.

Ryunosuke moved to the horse's side, patting the stallion on the neck. He rested his other hand on Daniel's thigh. "Did you have a good ride?"

"I did," Daniel said, his sweet tenor voice flowing from him with a refined English accent. He leaned down from the saddle, bringing his lips close to Ryunosuke's. "But I enjoyed my ride last night even more."

A pleased moan rumbled in Ryunosuke's throat. The memory of lying back in bed, Daniel straddling him and riding his cock, filled his mind. He thought of how he'd bared his neck for Daniel, earning the reward of hot pleasure consuming him as Daniel sank his fangs into a vein and took his blood, then coming hard and deep inside Daniel's tight hole.

Ryunosuke brought their lips together, but despite his refreshed arousal, he kept the kiss chaste. "Now that makes me happy." He patted the horse on the shoulder. "Baron's become a great horse for you."

Daniel rubbed both sides of the stallion's neck and under Baron's long, thick mane. "He has. I'm growing very attached to him. You know, after Cal took me in and brought me here, he'd taught me to ride and it was a dream I'd never thought would come true. I still remember when I was a boy in Venice, how I would to go the cathedral and sit on the steps outside, too poor, too dirty, too born of sin to be allowed inside for Mass or services, and how one of my favorite things was to watch the wealthy people come in for service and see all the beautiful horses they'd ride and have pulling their carriages."

He grinned down at Ryunosuke. "Those horses were far cleaner and more well-fed than I was. There was one man who rode a horse very similar to Baron here, big and black and powerful. I was enamored with that horse. One day, I finally got up the courage to sneak up close enough to pet him. The man was already in the cathedral and his groom was holding the stallion, not paying attention and talking with another groom.

"When I touched the stallion, just petting him on the neck and shoulder, it was the greatest moment of my sad little life, having such a magnificent creature allowing me to be close to him and to touch him. Then the stallion swung his head around and gave me an affectionate bump with his nose, and I felt more blessed than I ever had near that cathedral. It ended rather quickly when the groom spotted me and screamed for me to get my filthy hands off the horse and when I didn't move fast enough, he threw me to the ground, but it was worth it for that one brief moment.

"Back then, I dreamed of being a stable boy and caring for horses like that black stallion." Daniel pointed a warning finger at Ryu. "And don't you dare ever tell Andreas that. If he finds out I aspired to shovel horse poo, he'll never let me live it down."

Ryunosuke laughed softly and bent to the side, stroking Asha on her head. "He's already gotten a bit of revenge back for your constant teasing him about cleaning up after his cats when you had to start doing the same thing for Asha. But don't worry, your secret's safe with me."

"Good. He doesn't need any more fuel for his fire." Daniel patted Baron's shoulder. "So I suppose there's still a part of that boy inside me who admires a fine horse. I've known and ridden many in the years since Cal had taken me in, but in recent years, having been away from riding, I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed it and how it has always helped me work through my thoughts."

"And what thoughts were those?"

Daniel swung his right leg over the stallion's rump and dismounted. He laid a hand on the stallion's chest, making sure the horse wasn't hot and didn't need to be cooled down further, then gave him a pat. Baron nuzzled into him. Daniel rubbed the stallion's cheek and gently ran his hand down Baron's face. "That I've been selfish. When we came here, it was only to be temporary, for me to gather some things and then we'd return to Japan." He brought his gaze back to Ryunosuke. "But months later, we're still here. I've kept you from your home."

Ryunosuke stepped closer to him, resting his hand on Daniel's cheek. "Our home. What I have is yours. And anywhere is home when I'm with you."

Daniel laid his hand over Ryu's hand that was on his cheek. "But I know you miss it."

"I do at times, but I've been away for longer."

"Yes, but still, I think it's time for us to go back for a bit." Daniel held the reins in one hand, took Ryu's hand in his other, and walked toward the barn. Asha and Kuma darted ahead, racing around and chasing each other. "I'd like to spend more time in Japan. I loved it when we were there and I was comfortable, but I want it to feel as much of a home to me as it does here."

Ryunosuke gave Daniel's hand a squeeze. "I want you to feel that way, too."

They walked into the barn, the stalls cleaned and aisle already swept by the stable hands who were there earlier in the morning to tend to the horses. A few would return to feed and do the evening chores. They also had hired help to keep the grounds, the gardens, and the manor itself clean and tended to; but once the work was done, they allowed everyone to go. Neither he nor Daniel were much for having people unnecessarily around them.

Ryunosuke breathed in the scents of the fresh straw bedding the stalls, the hay brought down from the loft, the leather of Baron's tack. He leaned a shoulder against a thick beam that was part of a wall between stalls and watched Daniel slip the bridle off Baron's head, put the halter on, then move with quick skill in removing the saddle and brushing the stallion down. "If we return to Japan, the Kyoto manor isn't in the best shape for horses anymore. We'd have to get some of the trees cleared, a barn rebuilt, and pastures put up, but even then they wouldn't be very large, not like here. Or we could look for a new place in the country."

"I was thinking we'd leave the horses here and bring in a farm manager to live in the barn apartment." Daniel collected the lead rope and turned to walk Baron from the barn, smiling back at Ryunosuke. "Besides, spring is in the air, breeding season is nearly here. I'm sure Baron will have different things to occupy himself with other than me dragging him from the pasture for a jaunt through the fields and forest."

Ryunosuke moved to Daniel's side. "Is that going to be your new hobby? Horse breeding?"

"Since I can afford to pay others to shovel their poo now, it seems like a good idea."

Ryunosuke laughed, earning another smile from Daniel.

They stepped out of the barn and walked to the gate of a large pasture. In the distance, three Friesian mares lifted their heads, whinnies of greeting ringing across the field. Ryunosuke held the gate for Daniel to lead Baron through.

Daniel gave Baron a pat on the neck and reached to remove the halter. "There you are, lad. Off to your ladies you go."

The stallion trotted a few strides away and dropped to the ground, rolling in the grass and dirt. He sprang up, bits of debris clinging to his coat and mane, and galloped to join the mares.

Daniel slung the halter and lead rope over his shoulder. "Charming what horses find attractive."

Ryunosuke closed and secured the gate after Daniel stepped through. "Oh, I don't know. There've been a lot of times I've found you sexy when you're dirty and disheveled."

Daniel bumped his shoulder playfully into Ryu's and stayed close to him as they walked. "So are you saying you'd like to get dirty and disheveled with me right now?"

Ryunosuke rubbed Daniel's lower back, drifting lower to caress the curves of his ass. "No, I was saying that you already are. Pretty much all the dirt you brushed off Baron is on you now and instead of your usual delicious scent, you smell a little like that horse manure you once aspired to shovel."

Daniel gasped. "I do not smell like poo!"

"Judging by the brown substance on your boot, I disagree."

Daniel playfully shoved Ryunosuke away.

Laughing, Ryunosuke caught him around the waist and pulled Daniel to a stop at the barn entrance. Daniel took a quick step forward to meet him, wrapping his arms around Ryunosuke's neck and bringing their lips together. The force of Daniel's passion came through the kiss, giving Ryunosuke a heady rush.

Daniel...always so eager and hungry for him. And for himself, he still felt he could never get enough of his beautiful eternal partner. He would always want him, always crave him in body and blood, in spirit and mind. And there was nothing he wouldn't do to ensure Daniel would always be his.

Daniel eased back from the kiss and took Ryunosuke's hand. He flicked his head toward the manor. "Since I'm in such a state, I think I'm going to need a little help getting washed up."

"I agree, and I'll make sure I thoroughly go over your entire body."

Smiling, Daniel leaned into him as they walked toward the house to spend the rest of the day in each other's arms.