Reylan’s last assignment for The Arcadia Trust brought a rebellious human servant under his roof, and a volatile werewolf lover named Jorgas into his bed, leaving the self-reliant Blood Shade—known to the outside world as vampires—in no hurry to risk his immortality for them again.
But when a new terror starts disappearing humans from a bad part of town, Reylan must do everything in his power to keep Sydney’s supernatural factions from the brink of war. Having an ambitious, meddlesome human in the mix is only going to make things worse…especially when that human is Jorgas’s father.
Reylan will need all his determination and cunning to keep the peace under his roof, between the night’s power brokers, and in his lover’s troubled heart.
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 2
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: Ageless/Immortal
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Tropes: Lone Wolf
Word Count: 85,000
Setting: Sydney, Australia
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
I wet my lips, unable to quell my faint arousal as the first drop of blood broke from the man’s skin. The scent had been lingering on the air for the best part of an hour. No matter how careful the man’s master had been, there was no containing that delicious aroma. The withdrawal of the first needle sent the sweet liquid dripping down its owner’s pale flesh. It flowed into the shallow gullies of a former six-pack that had long been padded out by the comforts of a double-income-no-kids lifestyle. I heard a faint whine from beneath the man’s hood, to which his master lowered an attentive ear, wiping the rich nectar away with a handful of tissue paper. The scent of it, however, still clung to the air, tormenting me.
Ever since the bars and discos had emerged as prime feeding grounds, slowly replacing the smoking lounges, dog tracks, and speakeasies, I’d wondered at the sheer imagination of humans when it came to realising their physical and social perversions.READ MORE
Nightclubs remain a particular fascination. In Sydney, my home for close to thirty years now, I usually rotated my patronage around three or four clubs at any given time. The present list included Fantasy, an aviary for young, pretty, and emotionally fragile birds of paradise, newly flowering to adulthood and discovering the club scene, and Blaze, for those who’d decided a life of slavery wasn’t such a terrible thing, provided it was spent in service to the gym, protein supplements, and trance music.
Then there was Sulphur. Not that I consider BDSM or leather bars to be anything novel. I’d seen them swing over the decades between this look and that. Moustache to baby face, back to beard, provided it accentuated the obligatory flannel. Skinny if you were submissive, muscles required if not. Rubber allowed, rubber allowed but not encouraged, rubber required, women welcome, women unwelcome, women preferred, Victorian overtures a bonus…I’d seen hideaways such as this in many cities over the years, the most entertaining and creative having dotted Berlin during the Weimar years.
Your imagination, vivid though I’m sure it is, can’t even begin…
Sulphur also offered patrons a straightforward, unapologetically sexual antidote to the sometimes immature and bitchy tone set by the likes of Fantasy. I smiled at the notion of tonight’s demonstration gracing that stage, then shook the thought away as the squeal of some disgusted young twink pierced my hearing. I had to wonder. If humans knew the true nature of the beings that walked among them, would they throw terms like “blood play” around quite so liberally?
In the unlikely event you’re still unsure, yes. I am of that most fortunate of races that will never know the suffering of age. I sustain this immortality through the drinking of blood. You may refer to our kind as Blood Shades.
In polite society, we do not use the “v” word.
I’d positioned myself in the corner, dressed modestly by the standards of those around me. A short rubber tunic encased most of my torso, ending just a few inches above the belt. My pants were of the same substance and didn’t leave an inch to breathe. A faint smile warmed my lips as I glanced around the room. My outfit may not have been standard wear for a man of over one hundred and fifty, but such things are made easier when the world takes you for a sprightly twenty-four.
That’s how old I was when my Blood Shade nature usurped its human shell. This natural phenomenon, strictly inherited through one’s family line, can lie dormant for generations. But when it takes hold…well, let’s just say having one’s blood vessels rewire themselves to the digestive system while still conscious is an experience one doesn’t soon forget.
My Mannequin, Brett, stood at my side, cutting a handsome figure in the dim, fiery lights of Sulphur. I’d afforded him only a small pair of leather shorts, offset by what could generously be called a sleeveless shirt. A dozen light chains hung off a pair of thin leather shoulder pads, draping his otherwise naked chest and back. Another chain at the base connected them, serving as a seam. Flimsy, but smart-looking leather cuffs bound his hands behind him.
No doubt binding my Mannequin in leather while I sported rubber violated some unwritten dungeon code, but the majority of Sulphur’s kinksters were far too polite to say as much, and when Brett’s survival depended upon regularly imbibing my blood, the disapproval of some fetish fashion cop was the least of my concerns.
His shirt had been a sentimental choice. It reminded me of the one he’d worn the night of our first meeting. It too had been adorned with chains. Then by chance—my version of the story and I’m sticking to it—our second encounter had seen him mortally wounded by a werewolf. Drinking my blood had spared Brett a painful and premature end, healing his wounds and granting him some of my ability to overcome almost any mundane injury or disease.
Such powers of course, do not come free. Dependent on my blood for the rest of his natural life, Brett now belonged to me.
As a bead of sweat trickled down over his ear, Brett flicked his tongue over his lips, trying to keep them moist as he surveyed the room. I assumed this was his first visit to such a club. I too might have been nervous as a first timer, watching some burly gentleman withdraw carefully placed skewers from his victim’s skin.
Another trail of delicious red seeped from a new wound.
I could stand it no more. I needed to feed, and so did my Mannequin. With a light tug on his chains, I took Brett upstairs where the party was in full swing. We found a spot leaning comfortably against an empty boot blacking station. I watched my Mannequin settle on a woman with long black hair, who’d draped herself over another patron. He was gasping for air. I shot Brett a knowing glance. Staring was just rude, and common rudeness, I could not abide.
“Wait here for me.” I drifted through the club to a wide-eyed young man I’d spotted across the room. The boy wasn’t dressed for Sulphur. He seemed instead to have stumbled in from Blaze after a drink or pill too many and had, no doubt, been slogged an extra cover charge for not adhering to code. But his gaze was one of wide-eyed longing, and the muscles beneath his tightly drawn T-shirt twitched in sympathy with another young man bound to a Saint Andrew’s cross, enjoying the hot purple pleasures of an electrical prod.
I can’t read minds, but I can read bodies. I know a human swimming in desire when I see one. Finding a position near the boy, I feigned interest in the same show. He looked up defensively, as though I’d intruded on some private performance.
I had perfect control from the moment his eyes met mine.
His name didn’t matter. All that mattered was his pulse. Its gentle, constant vibration battered the cusp of his neck as he stared at me, his resistance swept away by curiosity and wonder. By lofty Blood Shade standards, I consider myself average, but in that moment, I was the most beautiful creature this human had ever seen. I slipped a gentle hand under the lip of his shirt, caressing the small of his back.
The older man’s sub was still gasping, a ridiculous grin on his face as each new shock from the prod sparked its own moment of sensual glee.
I didn’t need such gadgets. My very touch commanded a direct link to the nerve centre of my companion’s brain. Before long, he too began flinching, sharing in the same sweet pain as his entertainment. Finding nervous links to his fragile mind, I enthralled him with harmless little shocks. The boy moaned, catching his breath between pulses, his human mind easily fooled into feeling precisely what it desired. He finally collapsed against me, his soft neck resting on my shoulder, his weight against my chest.
“Fuck, you’re hot.” His voice was a barely conscious whisper.
I kissed his cheek as he nuzzled my neck, and then I led the frightened animal away from the electric mayhem that had so captured his imagination. A collar would have suited him well, but I was prepared to work with what I had. The boy regarded Brett with curiosity and more than a little desire. Not that I could blame him.
Understand that Blood Shades are asexual beings. My fondness for men is a simple matter of taste. They’re also simpler and easier to manipulate than women. I do, however, still appreciate the aesthetics of a good companion, just as I recognised Brett for the handsome man he was, endowed with an endearing vulnerability and firmly entrenched heterosexuality.
Our new friend raised a hand and touched one of Brett’s chains, running his fingertips over the red letters I’d instructed Brett to scrawl on his chest to ward off any talent-scouting doms.
Owned by master.
Brett flinched uncomfortably at the boy’s touch.
I shot out a hand and grabbed my prey, whose face contorted as I pinned him against me. “Learn to read, boy. He doesn’t belong to you.” Gently but firmly, I wrapped my arms around him, soothing and calm after the scolding. As he moaned in appreciation, I almost let him go. His desires were all too easy to read, and there was no fun in that. But both Brett and I were too hungry for games.
Brett flexed his shoulders, straightening his chains as he watched the young man nuzzle me. “Reylan?”
“Patience,” I muttered, letting my prey dab my vest with his tongue. I could smell the elixir flowing inside him, hot and inviting.
Perhaps the sexual atmosphere of the club was clouding Brett’s self-control. He shouldn’t have been this hungry. Not after all the work we’d done, building up his endurance.
“I said, be patient.”
Keeping our lifestyle hidden from human sight is the best defence we have, and not one I was prepared to risk by feeding Brett in public. Not that I had to worry about the boy in my arms. He could hear us well enough, but he’d never question the words under my influence. Perhaps I could get away with feeding Brett here. The patrons of Sulphur were a worldly lot, more likely than most to look the other way or dismiss it as some macabre party trick.
“Please,” Brett whimpered without glancing at my prey, though the boy watched him with keen interest.
A pained, dejected look crossed his face as I held my prey tighter against me, stroking his hair again. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“Quentin,” he replied, his voice as low and soft as Brett’s stammering.
“Quentin, this is Brett. I gather you like him?”
The boy nodded, looking Brett up and down with keen desire as my Mannequin shifted uncomfortably.
“Reylan, please, I need it,” Brett begged.
“He’s yours? You own him?” Quentin asked.
“I do. He’s being naughty at the moment.”
“Reylan, I want to go home,” Brett protested. “Can we go home, please?”
“Can I use him?” Quentin asked, glancing over at Brett. “I mean, would you like some help with him, Sir?”
Brett was beginning to shake as he stared at me. It was no act. He needed feeding.
“No, you may not,” I said, answering both of them.
“Can I just watch then?”
I looked between the two. I had too much class to pimp out my Mannequin, but if it was a show Quentin wanted, then a show he would get.
“Reylan!” Brett stumbled to his knees as I shot out a hand and grabbed his chin. When a Mannequin is starved, their every function begins to cloud, to stutter and break down until they’re barely a shell. I wouldn’t do that to Brett, but we were nowhere near that point yet, and I was trying to teach a lesson in self-control.
Keeping a firm hand on Quentin, I ran the other through Brett’s soft, dark hair.
“What’s wrong with him?” Quentin asked.
Curiosity. I don’t like human curiosity.
“He’s hungry,” I replied truthfully.
“Can…can I feed him?”
Oh, the answer to that question!
“No. I’m sorry. You really can’t feed him.”
I heard the leather bonds snap, right before Brett grabbed hold of my belt. I couldn’t sustain this charade. If Brett had broken out of his cuffs, I’d overestimated his endurance. He needed to feed, which meant so did I. Right there and then. I took Quentin’s chin in one hand and flicked my tongue over his lips. As the man opened his mouth, I carefully pierced a dead spot on his tongue, allowing just the faintest hint of blood to flow. Not bad. A little underdeveloped, but not bad at all.
Brett stared at us in jealous dismay.
Quentin reached down to him, running his fingers over the curve of Brett’s neck. With the grace and agility of a startled cat, my Mannequin sprang back against the wall, away from the intrusion.
I grabbed Quentin’s wrist, tight enough to make him wince. “I’ve told you once. He’s mine, alone.”
I gave Brett what I hoped was a reassuring nod as he re-steadied himself on his knees. It wouldn’t be long now. Taking Quentin in my arms, I reached under his shirt and teased him with the cold touch of my fingertips. He strained against my embrace as I held his body against mine, secure as he could dream.
And in that state, I bit him.
Humans don’t scream once you’ve reached this point. That’s the beauty of it. Once you solidify your hold over their mind and body, you can do very little to cause them pain. Quentin’s eyes shot open as he realised my teeth had punctured his throat. Smooth blood rushed to greet my hunger. Quentin heaved against me, now lost to the beauty of the experience. Far from protesting my kiss, he implored it, unable to break free.
I could hear Brett’s panting and whining as he watched the change within me. I was growing stronger, and to his eyes, more alluring. The aromas of blood, sweat, pain, and sex filled the space between us. For a moment, his whimpering made me fear he’d jump me mid-feed in an effort to take what he desired. Such a panic could kill Quentin, and that was a complication I could do without. Only the careless killed their prey without provocation, along with the stupid, and, in some cases, the insanely cruel. But Brett, to his credit, kept his composure until I’d finished.
I released Quentin and licked his wound closed, gently resting him against the wall. His eyes flittered as he tried to take hold of me again, pushing his erection against my thigh.
Brett bounded up to me like a puppy and clasped my wrist. I gently slapped his face to settle him, then brought the wrist to my mouth and punctured it. He grinned as he pressed the wound to his mouth.
Quentin pulled his shirt up over his head, laying bare a smooth, powerful torso before rubbing his hand over the clear show of approval that had swelled his jeans. “Will you own me?”
Having somewhat regained his senses, Brett stood up and shot Quentin a furious look. Perhaps to Brett’s mind, I belonged to him as much as he did to me. The insane jealousy of a Mannequin was not unheard of. To lose their Blood Shade was to lose the being that kept them alive, after all.
Nor did he share Quentin’s penchant for humiliation.
“I’m sorry, the position has been filled,” I replied, taking Brett’s arm and leading him away.
“Please?” Quentin called.
I paused for a moment, looking him over as he thrust his chest forward. I reopened the wounds in my wrist. Dabbing a finger in the blood, I dragged the words over Quentin’s chest, red letters glinting under the dim light. In his dazed state, did he even know what I was doing? I stepped away to reveal the words Just Owned, painted in blood across his chest.
“Wait…wait, you mean…?” Quentin stammered.
I hushed him with a gentle kiss before leading Brett out.COLLAPSE
Sarina on Love Bytes Reviews wrote:
As this is book 2 of Arcadia Trust, I highly recommend you read book 1, The Beast Without, as it contains much of the world building and initial character development that is key to understanding what is happening with the story and characters in this book.
Reylan is back and trying to acclimate his Mannequin, Brett, to his new life as a vampire (or Blood Shades, as they prefer to be called) servant dependent upon Reylan’s blood for survival. He isn’t taking it too well, and they have a few bumps to smooth out before that can happen.
In the meantime, there are some sinister developments involving missing people and other Mannequins that cause Reylan to call upon one of the few people he trusts (as fragile as that trust may be), that being Jorgas. Reylan runs into the sexy werewolf (Flesh Master, if you don’t mind) while trying to find some clues about the missing people. He comes up with a plan for Jorgas to move in with him to watch over Brett while Reylan is out of commission during the day.
Now, I love these two together. As we learned in the first book, they have a very tricky relationship. Reylan is an a-sexual being by nature, but Jorgas ignites something in him that no other before him has ever done. Even though their pairing is frowned upon by all parties involved, the Vampires, Werewolves, as well as the Arcadia Trust, they, or I should say Reylan, decides it doesn’t matter.
As with the previous book, I love the world created here. It has the same feel as Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Series, with a little more grit, and of course, the added m/m element. There is plenty of paranormal elements involved, some more gruesome than others, but it is a very colorful and interesting story. There is a plethora of interesting characters, such as Colin, the other “master” vampire, as well as other Blood Shades involved with the Trust. It started out at a slow but even pace, but quickly picked up and had me on the edge of my seat until the end. It does have a bit of a cliffhanger though which made me screaming at Mr. Baines through my Kindle and extremely eager for the next installment of this exciting series.
Oh wow; I really have to give it to the author with this one! After how much I enjoyed the previous book, I was thrilled to dive back into this universe with the sequel and, let me tell you, it did not disappoint! Reylan was back in all of his snarky glory but in this story, you get to see a different side of him; one that would almost make him seem human. (I’m sure he would be horrified at such a declaration, but its true.) I loved Reylan from the moment I first got to know him but he really shone in this book. Also back were Jorgas and a few other favorites introduced previously.
The mystery this time around was much more intricate and watching as the pieces slowly unraveled was immensely entertaining and easily kept me on the edge of my seat. Besides the disappearances, and mysterious connection to Jorgas’ father, that Reylan is investigating, Reylan also finds himself fighting with his new Mannequin, Brett, dealing with Ross’ divided loyalties and trying not to run afoul of a much older, stronger, Blood Shade. And when he isn’t neck deep in all that mess, he’s busy trying to convince himself that what he’s doing with Jorgas is just a fling, nothing more. He’s absolutely not in love with the other man. Nope, no way.
The story…was just fantastic! I’m just amazed by the imagination the author put into this, from the culprit to the resolution I just couldn’t put it down. ( Seriously, I originally said I’d read a chapter or two and then sat and read the entire thing instead. Lol) The ending was a bit heartbreaking in a few different ways and I cried a little, I admit it, but it was so good I only regret it a little. The final page, however, made me cuss. Lol All I can say is, well played Mr. Baines, well played.
While I’m sure the next book will be a while in coming, I will still eagerly await it as I’m not nearly done with these characters yet. If you enjoy Urban Fantasy/Paranormal or Mysteries, I’d highly recommend this book. You will need to read the previous story to get the most out of it, however, and perhaps a tissue or two. I guarantee you won’t regret it though.