Sin & Salvation

an excerpt

The snow fell in huge flakes, each light bit of fluff looking rough as sand but touching his face as if carried on a baby's breath. Ian Flynn couldn't remember seeing snowflakes this big in over three hundred years. During that time, he'd become something of a connoisseur of snowflakes. He favored cold climates that reminded him of his birthplace in northern England, ensuring there would be snow in the winter, especially for Christmas.

If he had to spend the holiday alone-and he had for over two hundred years despite having a steadfast, beloved lover for all those decades-he was determined to have the comfort of a white Christmas. This year was no different; it would be a lonely, if white, Christmas.

Ian knew all he had to do was call to Trevor through the strong bond they shared as master and child, lover to lover, friend to friend, and Trevor would come to him, compelled and unable to resist.

But Ian never pulled Trevor away for trivial reasons, especially from Trevor's single-minded, yearly, seasonal mission of hunting down the murderous riffraff and gang members that still haunted the same London streets where Trevor himself had met the end to his own mortal life so long ago. Christmas Eve had a different meaning to Ian and Trevor than to most people.

Trevor celebrated by taking revenge on the same type of men who had murdered him, and Ian spent the season contemplating his greatest sin. Even vampires had ghosts that haunted them and demons that needed excision. Dirty blood soothed Trevor's pain; snowflakes eased Ian's.

"Are you coming in soon, sir? It's a bit chilly and I have almost completed dressing the shrub in the main living room. The lights need your approval before the baubles are hung."

The smooth, cultured tones cut through the cold night air in a neat, precise, clipped voice, but Ian could hear the slight chatter of his manservant's teeth. Sighing, Ian blinked the remaining flakes off his eyelashes.

He glanced over his shoulder at the waiting man and, not for the first time, marveled at Stuart Graves's capacity for understatement. The temperature had been hovering slightly above two degrees for the last week, the "shrub" was a twelve-foot blue spruce with an eight-foot span at the bottom, and the "baubles" were hand-blown, one-of-a-kind antique glass ornaments. Nodding, Ian gave Stuart an exasperated smile.

"I'm sure you've done an outstanding job, like every year, Stuart. Nobody has the eye for color and details that you do."

Ian turned back to watch the flakes fall from the sky, each frozen droplet riding the sharp gusts of frigid air. He tried to lose himself in the warm memories of long ago holidays and happier times. Things would be better in a few days. They always were.

When his hearing told him Stuart hadn't moved, Ian softly added, "Go on back inside before you freeze. I'll follow you in a second. I just wanted to watch it snow for a bit."

Stepping to the vampire's side, Stuart lowered his voice. Clearly uncomfortable, he suggested, "If you're concerned…for his safety, maybe…you should call him home." Hesitant, Stuart glanced up at Ian and caught his gaze. "Just this once."

After a moment, Ian lowered his gaze, then stared up into the falling snow. He didn't need to intimidate Stuart. The man had been his servant and confidant for over twenty years. Ian knew he had lost any real fear of him long ago.

He sighed and studied the cloud-cloaked, inky night sky. He wished he could see the stars. His mother had always told him as a boy that the stars were actually prayers on their way up to heaven and God's ear. He'd believed that if he prayed hard enough and was a good son, his prayers would become stars, too. But that was all in the past. Ian was pretty sure that heaven didn't answer the prayers of demon spawn, even if a little part of him still believed in his mother's tales.

He wondered if it was snowing for Trevor right now. The dirty back streets of London were far away from his cozy, New York City penthouse.

"He can take care of himself."

Stuart didn't move. His voice stayed low, but grew firmer, concern and conviction in each word. "He can't continue to haunt the same alleyway Christmas Eve after Christmas Eve, year after year without running the very probable risk of capture. Not in these modern times, sir."

"He'll be all right." Ian swallowed past the lump in his throat, almost smiling at the thought he could still feel terror after all these years of existence as an undead creature of the night. He could feel terror, and pain and love and concern, too. But mostly tonight, like every other Christmas Eve, he felt guilt and acceptance. "He's very good at this."

"He's being hunted as a serial killer." Surprised by the ring of desperation, Ian turned to study the man's face as Stuart tersely added, "They call him the ‘Yuletide Terror.' A madman. They'll hunt him down like one, too."

Ian didn't outwardly flinch, but he felt his eyes narrow and his vision grow yellow-tinged with the first signs of his vampire nature coming forward.

Stuart paid the warning sign no heed. "They almost captured him last year." He stepped one pace closer. Ian let him, taking comfort from the man's concern, if not his words. "This year the London police are sure to be even more prepared."

"I can't interfere." Last year's brush with the police frightened Ian just as much as it did Stuart, but he refused to let it show. He did appreciate Stuart's concern. Not many humans grew to care about vampires the way Stuart cared about Ian and his mate. He sighed and stared off into the night, resigned and unhappy. "I don't have the right."

Fastidiously dusting the fine layer of snow off Ian's broad, firmly-squared shoulders, Stuart let his hand linger a moment on the vampire's arm and gently said, "He doesn't blame you."

Spine curving under the weight of the centuries-long guilt he carried over what he considered to be his greatest sin, Ian slumped under Stuart's comforting touch, gold-tinged eyes staring unseeingly up into the silent heavens and whispered, "I blame me."

His voice sounded old and raw, reflecting all the years his age had gathered in the time since his turning. It was old and raw, but also strong and primal, leaving no room for argument. He knew Stuart would heed it and as if on cue, the man stepped back, sighing.

"I'll tend to the fire. It will have faded by now." Stuart turned and walked back to the balcony doors, but paused in the open doorway, concern etched into his aging, aristocratic face and dark, caring gaze. "I'll have a goblet of something warm waiting for you when you come in." He shivered, rubbing at his upper arms. "Please, don't stay out here too long." His tone lightened a touch and he briskly added, "The blood will congeal and you'll have to eat it with a spoon. And I'm not staying up to watch that."

With a huffed, halfhearted chuckle, Ian dropped his chin to his chest, nodded, and then turned to face the man.

"I wouldn't want to put you through that, Stuart. I'll be in soon. I'm going to count the stars for a while." He turned back to look up at the sky, snowflakes collecting on his dark lashes and hair, blinding him. He glanced one final time over his shoulder at the waiting man. "Thank you, Stuart." Ian stared at a small snowdrift gathering in one corner of the penthouse patio, suddenly unable to meet Stuart's imploring gaze. "For everything."

Silence was his only answer for a second longer than he thought was reassuring, but then a firm but sad "Yes, sir" banished his fears. Stuart did understand. That was important to Ian. Stuart was the second most important person in his life, a trusted servant, a father figure and a confidante.

The door shut softly behind him and Ian knew Stuart had retreated into the warmth of the apartment. Within moments, the mellow, moody sound of Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" drifted out to him. The phrase "I'll be home for Christmas" reached his ears, and he had to give an ironic chuckle at Stuart's pointed lack of subtlety in songs. Beneath his formal manners and acid-tipped tongue, the man cared very much about him and Trevor. The fact that he would be so brash proved it.

Next to Trevor, Stuart was the only other person Ian had allowed himself to have feeling for. He dreaded the moment when the man would grow infirm with age and die, leaving Ian to face the world and future Christmas Eves on his own again. Loss was the hardest part of being immortal. If he hadn't had Trevor by his side all these years, he would have walked into the sun long ago. Trevor was his salvation.

The desire to have Trevor at his side was nearly overwhelming. Something powerful and compelling told him to search the black, clouded skies, and with a childish sense of hope and anticipation he did, memories of his first meetings with Trevor piling like the snowflakes in the corner of the balcony wall.