This post is late. I meant to post it yesterday, which is my daughter's birthday. And the reason I was posting about vampires on her birthday is because it was her idea that I write about vampires in the first place. It turned out to be an excellent idea, IMO, because even though I was initially skeptical, I've grown to absolutely LOVE my vampires. I'm finishing up book six in the series right now and then there's only one book left and I am going to MISS my vampires so much once I'm done with this series.
Anyway, moving on...
Let's recap. Last week I was supposed to be attending the RT Booklovers' Convention in Dallas Texas. I didn't make it, and I'm not real happy about that. Especially when I saw pictures of my poor neglected signing table looking all forlorn and encroached upon. See what I mean?
Anyway, as you can see, I was going to be signing three of my Children of Night books. What I like to think of as my boy books, since A) there are guys on the covers (duh!) and B), the romance in these three books is predominantly m/m. The other two are mostly m/f.
And, yes, btw, take it from me: writing a series that is that hard to categorize? Not too bright from a marketing standpoint. But what can you do? The heart wants what it wants and what these guys wanted was each other. Who am I to argue?
One of the reasons I was skeptical about writing vampires is all the conflicting traditions. Every writer has his or her own take on vampires--what they can or can't do. They need to sleep in their native soil--why's that? They die each day at daybreak only to revive after dark--how come? They can't see their reflection in mirrors--oh, FFS! How is that even possible?
Frankly, I'm pretty sure my daughter regretted starting me down this path because I complained endlessly about all of these things until I hammered out the details of what my vampires can and can't do and why they can or can't do them.
I'll let you in on the secret. My vampires don't even know this, but their species originated from an alien, parasitic species that crash landed here on earth and managed to survive by infesting the bloodstreams of their human hosts. They don't like sunlight or hot dry climates because they come from a planet that is cooler, wetter and darker. They don't like garlic because garlic thins the blood (truth!). They aren't dead--cause that'd just be creepy--but because they fall into a coma-like state while their body metamorphosizes, people used to think they had died and later came back from the dead. Like zombies. They age, but so very, very, very slowly that it's hard to tell. Their cells replicate virtually without error and they actually become stronger with age--kind of like trees--rather than weaker.
My vampires do have a few weaknesses. They're inordinately flammable. If they're drained of blood they'll die. There's even a vampire "blood plague" that was engineered by alchemists during the middle ages, and which nearly succeeded in wiping the entire species out.
My vampires are made, not born. Born Vampires are a myth...except when they're not. My twins, Julie and Marc Fischer, are the only two born vampires in existence. The truth about their heritage is a secret that's been kept from everyone--even them.
It occurred to me yesterday that almost all my books are about family relationships--and whether those families are bound by blood or by the heart is immaterial, IMO.
The twins were raised in secrecy and isolation by their sire, Conrad and his long term partner, Damian. I'm having a contest this week and giving away a signed print copy of either book 2, 3 or 4 in the series (IOW, the books I was supposed to be signing this weekend!) as well as a digital copy of book 1. The sign up is right below this, but keep reading after the jump, because I'm posting one of my favorite scenes from In the Dark (book one). This is a flashback to when Damian first learned about the twins. Enjoy and good luck!
San Francisco, CA
Monday, November, 3, 1969
Damian stood on the sidewalk outside the gate of the Italianate Victorian mansion, staring irresolutely at the building before him, trying hard to quell the queasy nervousness he was feeling. So it had been a hundred and thirteen years since he’d last seen Conrad, was that any reason for him to be trembling inside like a virginal debutante hoping she’d be asked to dance? It wasn’t likely the man had changed. No doubt Conrad was still the same tyrant he’d always been. Short-tempered. Overbearing. Domineering. Ruthless…
“So then why are you here, you fool?” he asked himself. Good question. Why had he dropped everything and rushed to Conrad’s side the minute the selfish bastard snapped his fingers? “You’re acting just like the good little lap dog he always wanted you to be.”
But, the answer to that was obvious. He was here because it was Conrad who’d asked him to come. Conrad, who never forgot and never forgave and never took anyone back, who couldn’t possibly be reaching out to Damian now in hopes of reconciling with him…but who could hardly have had any other reason for contacting him, either.
“Idiot,” Damian chastised himself, as he leaned on the doorbell. After all this time, he should know better than to get his hopes up too high. He should have ignored the summons, pretended he’d never gotten the entirely too cryptic message and stayed at home.
Ah, but that was the problem, wasn’t it? Because, however much he might wish it were otherwise, home was still exactly the same place it had always been for him. Wherever Conrad was.
“Chi è esso?” Conrad’s rich baritone sounded exactly the same, as well—even despite the distortion caused by the intercom. “Who is it?”
Damian’s heart contracted. He bit back a shaky sigh. “Es-es yo,” he replied, his voice faltering just a little. “Damian.”
The intercom shut off with a snap and a buzzer sounded as the gate was unlocked—for all of an instant. Damian grabbed for it just in time and headed toward the house muttering beneath his breath—roundly cursing himself and Conrad and whatever unlucky stars had happened to have been in alignment on the day they’d first met. “I should have never have allowed myself to become involved with such a…with such a peasant.” That had been his first mistake.
The front door was ajar. Damian froze with his hand extended toward the doorknob and his pulse racing with the thought that it could be a trap he was walking into. For just an instant he considered retreating. But, what the hell? He’d come this far, what was a little more lunacy?
Still, as he pushed through the door and stepped into the darkened entrance hall the sound of his own heartbeat was so loud in his ears it drowned out any other sound. “Lucy, I’m a-home,” he called in his best Ricky Ricardo impersonation, almost jumping out of his skin when Conrad growled softly,
Damian spun around to face him. For a very long moment he just stared, unable to do anything but drink Conrad in, as though his eyes had been starved for the sight of him. Finally, inexcusably late in the day, his self-preservation instincts kicked in. Fear had him drawing back, straightening his spine—even as his insides continued twisting themselves into knots. There was a faint frown on Conrad’s stern face, a wary gleam in his glittering, ametrine eyes. Damian’s own eyes widened in uneasy surprise when the squirming bundles in his old friend’s arms finally registered.
He waved one hand at the babies in a seemingly careless gesture as he joked, “Why, what are these, mi querido? Appetizers? But, they’re so small! You cannot possibly be planning on our making a meal of them?”
Conrad’s eyes blazed with a look that was just this side of insanity. He laid back his lips and snarled savagely, “They’re not food, you imbecile.” Then he turned on his heel and stalked away. “Shut the door,” he hurled over his shoulder as he disappeared down the hallway.
Shaking his head, once again, at his own stupidity—for not leaving while he still had the chance—Damian did as he’d been told and then followed Conrad into the large room that had been intended as the mansion’s formal dining room. Flames leaped and crackled in the ornate marble fireplace.
Another unwelcome surprise. Even though today was the first decently overcast day the city had seen in weeks, it was certainly not cool enough to warrant a fire.
Perhaps Conrad had another purpose in mind for the blaze? Fire could serve as a weapon, could it not? Or as a devastatingly efficient means of destruction. But who, or what, might he be intending to burn in its flames tonight?
“Conrad, what the hell is going on?” All kidding aside now, Damian studied his friend with mounting concern. Conrad, his face drawn, sat slumped in an armchair uncomfortably near the hearth, and within arm’s reach of the crib into which he’d placed the two infants. “You look terrible.”
Conrad ignored the question and waved Damian toward a second armchair, on the other side of the fireplace. “Sit down.”
Damian crossed to the chair, but he cast a worried glance at the hungry flames as he did. His nerves were shrieking warnings. What was it that most alarmed him, he wondered; the doubtlessly deadly blaze, or his potentially murderous companion? He’d never seen Conrad in such a mood as this and he didn’t trust it. Standing in front of the chair, he hesitated. “Conrad,” he murmured pleadingly.
“What is this? Why am I here?”
Conrad roused himself. Eyes flashing darkly, he fisted one hand on the arm of his chair, leaned forward and fixed Damian with a menacing glare. “It’s a long story. If you want to hear it, sit down!” Their eyes met. As his gaze focused on Damian’s face, it seemed as though a little of the madness left Conrad’s expression. His face relaxed. A small smile appeared and graced his lips. “Please?”
Too surprised to reply, Damian plopped into the chair behind him—quickly, before his legs could give out. It was the shock of being addressed so cordially, he told himself, refusing to even consider the awful possibility that it could have been Conrad’s smile that had once again made him go weak in the knees. No. I can’t. Never again.
For another long moment the two men stared wordlessly at each other. Finally, seemingly satisfied with whatever he’d seen in Damian’s face, Conrad dropped his gaze. He slumped back in his chair and sighed. “It’s good to see you, caro.” And then, again without giving Damian any chance to recover from this latest shock, he launched into his tale. “There was this girl…”
“And you’re certain they were born this way?” Damian asked, when Conrad had reached the end of his story. “No. It can’t be. You must be mistaken.”
“So, what then?” Conrad drawled sarcastically. “You think they were turned in the hospital, perhaps? How? And by whom? The same beast who attacked their mother, perhaps? Even assuming that was possible, why would anyone do such a thing?”
Damian shook his head. “No sé, but…what are you going to do with them?”
Conrad shrugged. Turning his head he gazed at the twins, his expression one of pain, hopelessness, resignation. “There’s only one thing I can do. I’ve given my word. I’m going to raise them.”
“You can’t,” Damian replied automatically. “I mean, how can you? If anyone finds out…they-they’ll kill them. They’ll kill you.”
A scornful smile curved Conrad’s lips. “They can try—others have. But who, exactly, do you mean by they?”
“Everyone,” Damian snapped. “Or, almost. The ignorant. The superstitious. The fanatics. The traditionalists. Everyone for whom the very idea of born vampires is, is, is…”
“Impossible?” Conrad suggested mockingly. “An abomination? The first sign of the Apocalypse?”
“A threat to the status quo. An unacceptable risk. Too potentially valuable—or potentially destructive—to be allowed to live. You, of all people, should know that.”
Conrad’s eyes turned glacial. “And are you very certain it’s they you meant to say, my dear? English never was your best language. Perhaps you meant we?”
For an instant, disappointment stole Damian’s breath away. “You think so little of me?”
“No.” Conrad shook his head. “No, of course I don’t. I don’t know why I said that. You must know I would never have asked you to come here tonight if I believed that to be the case.”
“Why did you?”
Conrad hesitated. “I need help,” he said at last with a small shrug. “I’m committed to keeping them alive but…I don’t see how I can do it alone.”
Surely, I misunderstood? Damian stared at Conrad, too shocked to speak. Surely, he is not expecting me to risk my life—my life—to help save his dead lover’s bastard spawn? “You loved her that much?” he asked, his heart contracting in pain, once again, when Conrad nodded.
“Yes, I did. I loved her very much. I’m sure I always will.”
That should have been enough, but still Damian was unable to keep from torturing himself; from poking at his wounded pride, his wounded dignity. His wounded heart. Dios mio, what next will he ask of me? “So who else have you appealed to?” he drawled, practically asking to be hurt once more.
“Tell me, Conrad, how many others had to turn you down before you even recalled my existence?”
Conrad’s eyes widened in surprise. “There were no others. You were the first person who came to mind. As of right now, you’re the only person who knows anything at all about this other than me. I’m sure you’ll understand that, if possible, I’d like to keep it that way.”
Damian nodded. “Of course.” Well, that’s something, he thought, feeling slightly mollified—but only slightly. Because, most likely, all that really meant was that Conrad had figured him for the biggest sucker of the bunch, the idiot most likely to go along with so hopeless a plan.
For that reason alone, Damian wanted to refuse him.
But he couldn’t. Not after a hundred and thirteen years spent regretting having walked away the first time. Not while Conrad was so clearly hurting, so obviously in trouble. And especially not when refusing would only mean that someone else, rather than Damian himself, would be the one to comfort him. Lap dog, he thought, silently berating himself once again for his weakness. Perhaps if you roll over and beg nicely enough, he’ll even consent to give you a pat on the head every now and again?
“I will be your friend,” Damian told him, scraping together all the dignity he could muster. “And I will be your partner in this…this madness. I will do whatever I can to keep your secret, to help you raise them, to safeguard their lives. But I won’t be your lover again. That’s over with.”
Conrad nodded acceptance. “I understand. I wouldn’t have asked it of you. I’m through with such things myself. Love…in the end, I find, it brings nothing but sorrow.” And then, to Damian’s consternation, he put his head in his hands and wept.
“No, no, mi querido, don’t!” Crossing the room, Damian perched on the arm of Conrad’s chair and pulled him close. But the smell of Conrad’s skin and the weight of his head as it rested against his thigh had Damian struggling to keep his fangs sheathed. Ay, dios mio, I must be insane to be doing this.
“If only I could have done something to save her,” Conrad murmured, his words instantly quelling Damian’s lust. “If only— Ah, but you should have seen her, Damian. She was so young, so full of life…”
“Si, amigo,” Damian murmured as he stroked his fingers through Conrad’s hair and resisted the urge to make off-color jokes about life and blood and babies and other things the dead girl might have been full of at one time or another. He doubted Conrad was in any mood to appreciate that sort of humor right now. “I’m sure she was.”
A shudder ran through Conrad and he groaned. “You’re right, you know, it is madness. I don’t know what I was thinking asking you here. I should never have involved you in this. And, now…oh, my dear, however are we going to manage?”
At that, Damian almost smiled. “Are you asking me for my opinion, mi amor?” Perhaps a hundred years has changed him, after all. His gaze cut to the twins, asleep in their crib, looking far too peaceful, innocent and trusting, especially considering how much heartache they’d already caused and how slim their chances were for survival. He felt an odd and completely unexpected feeling of fellowship, of kinship, possibly even affection, for them both. And he did smile then. There’s not a chance in hell we can pull this off, but at least we can go down fighting. At least we’ll be together when the end comes. I’d always hoped that might be the case.
Laughing softly, he leaned down, pressed his lips briefly to Conrad’s temple and murmured, “But, what is it you’re so worried about? Look at us, Conrad. Such a happy little family—are we not the perfect picture of domestic bliss? Why, I’m sure this is just the start of another grand adventure.”