By the time Cronin had made arrangements to meet Kennard inside the British Museum, Eiji had armed himself and Jodis with quivers of arrows and stakes, and Kole had declared he wasn’t going anywhere if it involved leaping. Jacques would stay with him, as would Eleanor. Alec knew his father would more than likely go back to bed, considering it was after midnight, New York time.
In truth, Alec realized, his dad looked like he could use the rest. He looked tired, worn, and worried. “Be safe, huh?” was all Kole said before Alec, Cronin, Eiji, and Jodis disappeared.
In what was his third country in less than an hour, Alec found himself standing inside the British Museum. It was lit only by security lighting, the room was huge with high glass ceilings. Everything else was marble and tile, including the stairs that wrapped around both sides of the round room. They’d landed in the Great Court, and Kennard along with two vampires Alec had not met before, greeted them with warm smiles.
Cronin greeted them with a blunt, “Security?”
Kennard waved his hand toward the far wall, where Alec assumed there were offices. “Taken care of,” he said smugly. “Davis here ensured the video surveillance will play on a loop of empty rooms, and Julia helped the guards to sleep. They’ll wake up just fine after we’ve gone, of course.”
Alec hated to admit that as a cop he’d detest what they were doing, but now he was on the other side of the ethical fence, he thought their ability to remain undetected was pretty damn cool.
The tall male vampire, who Alec assumed to be Davis, bowed his head to Alec. “It is an honor,” he said, his British accent thick.
The woman, Julia, followed suit. “And a privilege,” she said, sounding more Cockney.
Alec swallowed hard. He would never get used to people treating him as though he were royalty or something. “Um, thanks?”
Eiji laughed and shook hands with Kennard. “It’s been too long, my friend.”
Kennard grinned widely. “You’re feeling better?”
Then Kennard took Jodis’ hand, and Alec half expected him to kiss it. He didn’t, though, he slightly bowed instead. “My memory does your beauty injustice.”
Jodis rolled her eyes. “Yet I remember your charms just fine.”
Kennard laughed and Jodis smiled at him. It was clear they were old friends, and Alec envied their history. He was such a newcomer, so young compared to them all, and it was mind-blowing to think Alec’s entire lifespan of twenty-nine years must have felt like a week to them.
“Alec,” Kennard cooed. He smoothly took Alec’s hand and looked up at him.
Cronin growled, making Kennard laugh. “I see someone has his jealous pants on today.”
Cronin’s growl got louder and a lot more serious, and Kennard stopped smiling. He turned to Cronin and raised an eyebrow in question.
Eiji quickly stood between them and pulled Kennard’s hand from Alec’s. “He means nothing of it. It seems there are undue consequences from drinking Alec’s blood.”
Alec quickly stepped around Eiji so he could touch Cronin. He put one arm around him, standing half side-on to Kennard.
Jodis added. “Or from being fated to a human, we don’t know. There are many questions and very few answers.”
Kennard blinked, his expression grew concerned. “Why did you not say anything?”
“Changes in Cronin’s behavior are not something we want made public,” Alec said.
“Hmm,” Kennard hummed with a serious nod. “A point I can understand.”
“I apologize,” Cronin said quietly. “I cannot help it, or so it seems.”
“My friend,” Kennard said warmly. “Apologies not required. I was unaware. But rest assured, I won’t touch him.” Then he smiled. “Unless he wants me to.”
Cronin growled again.
Kennard’s lips twisted. “Or make jokes about it either, apparently.”
Alec tightened his arm around Cronin, wanting—no, not wanting, needing—to reassure him. To protect him, to ground him and soothe him. And in that moment, Alec knew if Kennard or anyone else tried to touch Cronin, he’d do more than growl at them himself.
“It seems it’s a mutual symbiosis,” Kennard mused, looking at how Alec was almost curling around Cronin.
Jodis nodded. “We need to fight whatever war is coming and finish it before this symbiosis”—she nodded toward Alec and Cronin—“as you call it, becomes irreparable.”
This time Alec growled and Cronin’s hold on him tightened. “We’re not broken,” he murmured.
Kennard eyed them both cautiously with a look on his face that clearly said, Well, you’re not too freakin’ normal either, but he very wisely changed subject. “Tell me what you’ve uncovered since we visited Jorge.”
As they told him what they’d learned and of the attack in New York, Alec looked around the museum. Alec could see it was grand, even in the dark. To the left, guarding an entrance to what was obviously the Egyptian exhibit, were two statues. Memories of Egyptian mummies—the screams they made and the unholy stench of death—assaulted Alec’s mind, and he shivered from head to foot.
Cronin noticed, of course, and looked to see what had caught Alec’s eye. But then Alec had noticed something else. To the right of the cylindrical room were two large banners, both easily twelve feet tall, each picture was of a Terracotta Soldier standing guard at the door.
Not paying any attention to what the others were saying, Alec was drawn to the right. Whether it was fate or curiosity, Alec found himself walking toward the Ancient Chinese exhibition.
When he got to the door, he stopped. “Alec,” Cronin said. He was right behind him, and Alec was of the impression it was not the first time Cronin had called his name—he’d just not heard it. He was so engrossed, so hypnotized by the lure of the Terracotta Army. All seven vampires were now behind him, watching him cautiously. Eiji and Jodis both now had wooden stakes in their hands.
“This way,” Alec said quietly. It was almost dreamlike, like he was almost floating, but he led them into the room.
There were square pillars lining the long and narrow room, holding up the grand and ornate ceiling. Alongside the pillars were glass cabinets of antiques that normally Alec would love to inspect and question, but in that moment he cared for none of it. Because in the center of the room, behind glass walls, were six Terracotta Soldiers. They faced him, stoic and still, like they were waiting just for him.
Four foot soldiers stood and two archers knelt in combat formation, and Alec stood before them. The silence was deafening, everything was eerily still, though it was far from peaceful. Alec’s heart was hammering, his gut instinct was telling him to turn and run, yet he stood as motionless as the terracotta men before him.
Then a strangled, horrific bray broke the silence like thunder. Alec spun to the sound to see a lone terracotta cavalryman tethered to a terracotta horse in a glass room. The horse, with its mouth open and its eyes wide, pulled its head back, braying again. Slowly it lifted one foot, and when it stomped to the ground, the terracotta foot broke off and the animal screamed.
Then in an unfolding horror, the six terracotta men in front of him moved. The foot soldiers moved their arms, as if lifting weapons they weren’t holding, and the kneeling archers slowly stood up and aimed their arrows at Alec.
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With just one week to go, I thought I’d share an excerpt from Cronin’s Key II…
Alec sat on the sofa with his feet on the coffee table reading the New York Times on an iPad. He’d look up every so often at the apartment, at Cronin’s walls of memorabilia, smiling at the antiques shelved there, then at the vampire beside him.
“What’s so funny?” Cronin asked. He didn’t even look up from the Chinese newspaper he was reading, though a smile played at his lips.
“I was just looking over all your relics,” Alec explained. Cronin had told him about most of the artifacts he’d collected, and despite their conversations starting with good intentions, they usually ended up in the bedroom. Or on the sofa, or on the floor, or over the dining table. “I mean, those antiques are pretty cool, but you’re my favorite.”
Cronin looked up at Alec then. “Your favorite antique?”
“Well.” Alec’s grin widened. “You are a 744 vintage. I think you qualify.”
Cronin smiled, amused. “And you’re a what?”
Alec imitated the guy from Antiques Roadshow. “A contemporary piece, 1980s Americana. Perfect condition, well-endowed.”
Cronin laughed at that. “You’re bored.”
“Ugh.” Alec groaned and let his head fall back on the sofa. “So bored.”
He’d spent the last eight weeks holed up in Cronin’s lavish New York City apartment. His days, which were now fully nighttime hours, consisted of a workout regime—Cronin had installed gym equipment in the cinema room to curb Alec’s boredom—hours of foreplay and sex, the occasional movie on Netflix, and reading and researching vampire histories. He rarely left the apartment.
The view was spectacular, and if he wanted something—anything—he could simply order it, pay for it with Cronin’s black credit card, and have it delivered. But he was still confined to quarters. Meaning he was still wanted by NYPD, his former colleagues no less, though the hype had died down.
The fact that his and Cronin’s disappearing acts, which had been caught on CCTV—once in his department’s office area and once in the department’s stores facility—had been leaked on YouTube, meant Alec’s relatively quiet and unnoticed disappearance had gone global.
The footage went viral, making news headlines around the world and him an internet sensation. Some called it a hoax and disregarded what was just too impossible to understand, and others called it what it was.
Cronin’s ability to appear anywhere in the world—or leaping as they called it—was, in Alec’s opinion, the best talent a vampire could have. And it was awesome. Not that they really went anywhere these last eight weeks.
It still wasn’t a great idea for Alec to be seen in public, and Cronin couldn’t go out in the sunlight. That limited their outings to faraway places, wherever it was night.
Alec sighed and went over to the shelves lined with Cronin’s memorabilia. He had wanted to know about all the items Cronin thought important enough to collect over the last twelve hundred years. As a vampire, Cronin had seen things Alec couldn’t begin to imagine, and he wanted to know as much as he could. He’d asked about most of them, but went to one display that held three items he’d not gotten to yet. Alec put his hand out, almost touching the artifact. “Can I touch it?”
Cronin now stood beside him. “Of course,” he answered with a smile.
Alec carefully picked up the small, crudely glazed bottle, admiring it as he turned it in his hands. It was whitish-brown and looked like a child had made it in school art class “What about this one?”
“That is a Mayan poison bottle.”
Alec blinked. “Oh.” He changed how he was holding it, as though it would now bite.
Cronin smiled. “The year was 821. Jodis and I went there and were ill-received. Can’t imagine why.”
Alec laughed and rolled his eyes. “No, I can’t imagine why either.”
“A witch-doctor offered us a drink,” Cronin said, nodding toward the bottle. “Courteous fellow.”
“Well, it would have been rude to refuse,” Alec added sarcastically.
“Yes, quite.” Cronin said, amused. “In the end, he drank it himself rather than see his end with one of us.”
“And this one?” Alec picked up what looked like a bone knife.
“Ah, that’s a Peruvian weaver’s bone wand.”
“Of course it is.”
Cronin chuckled. “It’s from 1288. An old woman stabbed me with it.”
Alec’s mouth fell open. “She what?”
“She stabbed me, only barely.” Cronin was still smiling. “Eiji and Jodis thought it funny that an elderly human woman could do such a thing. She was no taller than four foot.”
“I hope you killed her.”
Cronin barked out a laugh. “Uh, no. Her heart gave out before I had the chance.”
Alec turned back to the shelves and picked up a long metal pin with a jeweled end. It looked expensive. “And this?”
“That is a seventeenth century French shawl pin,” Cronin said, almost wistfully. “A man tried to stab me with it. I believe it belonged to his wife.”
“What is it with you and being stabbed?”
Cronin sniffed indignantly. “It must be my charming personality.”
Alec snorted. “If by charming personality you mean vampire about to kill them, then yes, I think so too.” But the truth was, Alec knew from years of police work that stabbing was an intimate crime; the offender was well within the other person’s personal space. He frowned. “I don’t like the idea of you being close enough to bite someone else. Or that you have your mouth on their skin… or your teeth.”
Cronin took the shawl pin from Alec and put it back on the shelf. “It doesn’t bother you that I kill people, only that I have my lips on them when I bite them?”
Alec looked to the floor and nodded. “You get close, you touch them, you put your lips on them,” he said. He knew he was pouting, but he couldn’t seem to stop. “It’s not fair.”
Cronin put his finger under Alec’s chin and lifted his face so he could see his eyes. “It is not the same.”
“I know,” Alec said petulantly. He knew he was being unreasonable. He craned his neck, exposing it to Cronin. Alec knew there were vampire puncture wounds marking his skin, and he loved them. He wore them with pride. “I like it when your lips are on my neck, when you bite me. When you drink from me.”
Cronin leaned in and ran his nose along the bite wounds. “Do I not take enough from you?”
“Never,” Alec whispered.
Cronin licked the two bruised hole marks, making Alec shiver. “Do I not bite you enough?”
“Never.” Alec was getting dizzy with want. He had to remind himself to breathe. He leaned against Cronin, feeling the strength and warmth of him from his thighs to his neck. He was already getting hard. “It will never be enough.”
Cronin kissed Alec’s neck once more but pulled away. “I can’t keep feeding from you. It can’t be good for you.”
Alec chuckled. “It is really good for me.”
This time Cronin laughed, a purr rumbled through his chest. “You test my restraint, yet again. Please know, Alec, I’m not opposed to such a notion. Though the hours spent in bed this morning may suggest you need a rest. Just because I can bite you without changing you, doesn’t mean you are unaffected.”
Alec groaned. They’d found out after the battle in Egypt that Cronin could bite Alec and not change him into a vampire. It opened a whole world of questions, but more than that, it meant they could have sex while Alec was human. And yes, as much as he wanted Cronin to take him, fuck him, and bite him, his human body needed recuperation. The intense sexual pleasure and slight blood loss took its toll when it was for hours at a time. So as much as he didn’t like it, he knew Cronin was right.
But Cronin also had a warped sense of time. Living for twelve hundred years would do that, Alec conceded. So while Cronin was patient and content to sit and read or research for hours upon hours, Alec was restless for something else beyond that, some sense of normalcy. He was used to police work, and now he sat around doing a whole lot of nothing. Even though he’d left normal behind the day he’d met Cronin, the vampire he was fated to, he was still a twenty-nine-year-old man. He needed to do something human. He grinned at Cronin. “Come on, let’s go out.”
Cronin quirked an eyebrow. “Where to?”
“A club somewhere.”
“I meant in which city.”
“Oh.” Alec was thinking some nightclub in the Meatpacking District would do. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to being able to leap to any country he chose. He grinned. “Well, it’s night time in Europe. I’ve always wanted to go to London.”
Cronin smiled. “I know just the place.”
* * * *
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