Refined Instincts

an excerpt



Chapter One

The silence in the dark alley broke with the shuffle and drag of uneven footsteps. Troy slowly made his way, his keen eyesight picking out trashcans, litter, dips and holes in the pavement. He may bear an eternally broken body, but his other vampiric senses were still sharp, so much stronger than when he'd been human...those three short years ago.

Troy shook his head, wishing the motion would scatter his memories. But like his shadow behind him, they were dark ghosts that forever clung to him, never parting from him. Even when he couldn't see them, just as a shadow waits for light to show itself, so his memories waited for a moment of weakness to bring him down.

He should've known returning to Chicago would strengthen them...and weaken him, but he needed to come back. This was where it all began. This was where he wanted it to end.

And he did want it to end. All of it. The memories, the regrets, the guilt, the pain-physical and emotional. He no longer wanted eternity. He wanted peace.

Gazing up the alley, he could almost hear the phantom laughter from him and Isaac, taunts from their fellow young vampires aimed at Andreas Nikandros as they dragged him into this alley. And another who'd spoken with calm authority that demanded to be obeyed. His own voice replying, filled with his temper and righteous indignation, telling Lord Titus to stand down, that Andreas was theirs to play with. All it took was a glare from Lord Titus to send a cold shiver of fear through him, despite how bold he tried to remain on the outside.

For his disrespect, Lord Titus could've ripped his throat out, and for that, he loathed the weight Ancient vampires carried in their society. Since then, he'd come to see how well deserved that respect was and how ignorant he'd been to challenge that power. While he and Isaac had already set their plans to bring down the Tribunal and eliminate Ancients and elder vampires, that night was the catalyst in the chain of events that brought him to this exact moment, the lowest of his life.

Troy moved through the alley, dragging his right leg across the wet pavement with every step. When Daniel Valente threw him from the building, his right side had taken the brunt of his impact with the ground. Or maybe it was when he fell through the overhang and hit the steel supports. He couldn't be sure. It'd all happened so fast, his memory of it was faint and blurred.

He didn't hold a grudge or hard feelings toward Daniel for tossing him over the building's edge. Not now. Looking back, he saw the path he was on, all the death and destruction he was destined to bring. Sir Daniel had inadvertently saved a hell of a lot of lives. And, he gave him a chance to open his eyes to the horrors he and Isaac were on the fringe of committing. He was thankful to Daniel for that, even if at this moment he did feel mild bitterness toward the beautiful vampire for not ensuring he'd finished his kill.

And that's why he'd returned. To finish what Daniel Valente had started.

Troy glanced up, his destination lit by a single dim light over a steel door. He limped toward it and stopped on the outside of the circle of light, keeping on the edge of darkness. He gazed up at the metal sign above the door, reading, La Rose Rouge.

Memories slammed through him. Two years of happiness, of feeling like he finally belonged, he was finally part of something...a family, maybe...of having support, care, food, shelter, all he needed provided for him. Friends. Laughter. Love. Love for two men, but returned from neither.

Isaac. Friends since junior high, lovers since high school, they'd had their ups and downs, their fights and making up, but no matter what, they were always there for each other. Their relationship wasn't what he would've preferred. He hardly remembered a time when it wasn't open. Isaac always wanted to either bring in a third, or go out in search of partners who could satisfy the needs Troy couldn't, as much as it hurt him to say that there was anything sexual he couldn't provide for Isaac. But Isaac was...rough. Even before becoming a vampire, Isaac enjoyed pain and blood in the bedroom. After becoming a vampire, it intensified to a fierce magnitude.

He never minded Isaac satisfying those needs elsewhere. If anything, it was a relief to him. There were times Isaac scared him. During those moments when he was in the erotic throes of a whipping or beating, drawing blood and playing with it, Isaac seemed on the edge of sanity. He relished seeing pain, giving it. Every time, it sent him raging with arousal and it'd been getting worse.

He saw the progression in Isaac; each time the beatings, the ripping of skin to see blood, was growing stronger. He supposed it made sense. Like anyone who developed a tolerance for a type of drug or alcohol, it took more to create the desired effect. That's how things had gotten with Isaac, with him needing to become more brutal to reach the state of arousal he sought.

It's how he knew Isaac cared for him. Yes, there were times Isaac was rough with him while they had sex. He'd occasionally hit him, choke him, but Isaac always held back on doing the things he knew Isaac was capable of.

Troy closed his eyes. And there it was again. Even now, nearly a year after Isaac's death, he still tried to deceive himself into believing Isaac had cared for him. But maybe it wasn't a total deception. Isaac had loved him once. In the end, though, all Isaac loved was power. He'd felt that from him when he drained the last of Isaac's lifeblood. The only emotion from Isaac was rage at being brought down, murderous to the point where Isaac wanted his blood so he could rise again to kill Daniel Valente, Ryunosuke Kimura, Titus Antonius Calidus, Andreas Nikandros, and all others who'd dare to defy him, including their mutual master, Renart Bellerose.

Renart...

An ache echoed through Troy's heart. It was a feeling he'd long since become accustomed to. He had so many regrets regarding the elegant vampire who'd Turned him...the other man he'd loved once.

The first time he met Renart Bellerose, he'd gone to an underground BDSM club with Isaac. A fight broke out, he still wasn't sure of the details, some longstanding issue between two Doms was the most he ever found out, and they were two vampire Doms. Heedless of who was around them, the two attacked any who came close to them as they fought each other, one nearly landing a punch to his cheek.

The next he knew, he was dodging blows and blocking hits, until he grabbed a beer bottle and smashed it across the face of the vampire, who he hadn't realized was a vampire at the time. It was enough to stun everyone to stop and over the silence in the club came the single, slow beats of applause. He'd turned and looked into the deep brown eyes of the most beautiful man he'd ever seen.

Renart had moved across the barroom with graceful strides, confident and unhurried. His hair, a rich mahogany brown, was bound in a long braid trailing past his shoulders. His features were sharp, aristocratic. Others parted before Renart, respectfully lowering their gazes. And while he moved, Renart's eyes remained focused on him.

He hadn't known vampires existed. He thought the man walking toward him was probably the club owner, or possibly a mob boss. One or the other. But when Renart spoke, his deep baritone colored with a French accent made the latter seem a less likely possibility. Of course, in that exact moment, it still would've seemed more likely than Renart being a vampire.

Renart had stopped before him, smiling wide enough to reveal his fangs, and said, "Mon cher, with your grace and moves, you have an ancient warrior for your soul, there's no doubt. I could help you awaken him."

And with those words, Renart owned him. He didn't fully understand what Renart meant, but something, so very deep down inside him, responded. He knew he would do anything Renart asked, follow him anywhere.

Only, the moment broke with Isaac stepping up to his side, throwing a protective arm around him. He still remembered the glare Renart gave Isaac, but it seemed Renart was willing to tolerate Isaac, for him.

Troy continued to stare at the sign and backdoor for La Rose Rouge. Why had he asked Renart to Turn Isaac? How stupid had he been? Yeah, he could say it was love. What a shitty reason. And really, could he even say it was love? Or was it for comfort, familiarity, and security? Isaac had always been there for him. He couldn't imagine him not in his life, even if that life extended into centuries. And, it was also what Isaac wanted. There were times he thought Isaac wanted to be a vampire even more than he did, and that was probably true. They were both twenty-three, still believing in the invincibility of mortal youth. To become a vampire would only make that invincibility even more true. Or so they thought.

They'd been wrong. Very, very wrong.

Renart had been resistant to Turning Isaac. But he'd begged and pleaded Isaac's case, saying he loved him, he wouldn't consider becoming a vampire without him. That was the only reason Renart consented. His master saw something in him and wanted him to be a vampire badly enough to make Isaac one as well.

If only he knew what it was Renart saw in him. Whatever it was, he'd lost it. He was sure of that. He wasn't even close to the man he'd been before he became a vampire, and he certainly wasn't anything like the vampire he'd become. He really didn't know what he was anymore.

Broken. That's all he was. Just broken. And who would want him like that? No one.

The sound of footsteps from the other side of the door came to his ears. Troy turned away, limping back down the alley. Rain slowly began to patter down and from the heavy scent of it in the air, he knew the small lull from the earlier shower was over and this rain would last through the night.

The door opened behind him, but he didn't stop. Light steps came out with no hesitation, the walker familiar and confident in his surroundings, but they stopped short.

A voice, young, male, called out, "Sir?"

Troy slowed his steps to a halt and half turned toward the young man, dressed in the black slacks and white shirt of a waiter in La Rose Rouge. His short blond hair was well styled, and even across the distance separating them, he picked up the scent of flowery cologne and young masculinity.

The waiter took a step toward him. "Can I help you, sir? Were you looking for the entrance to the restaurant?"

Troy shook his head and turned away. "No on both. I'm just a shadow going back to the darkness."

Without looking back again, he continued up the alley. It seemed his words had confused the young man enough to leave him alone, as he heard footsteps slowly retreat inside, the door closing softly. He was glad for that. He hadn't meant to come here to confront anything but memories. He'd done that. Now he could do as he planned; go to the building that brought him so much pain and let it bring him peace.