Copyright: N.R. Walker Cover art by SJ York. Outtake banner made by N.R. Walker. This has not been edited.
CRONIN’S KEY OUTTAKE
How did Cronin know to leap into the police station the night he and Alec first met?
Cronin stood at the huge glass wall overlooking New York City. He’d stood there for hours, not moving, barely breathing.
Something was wrong.
He’d leapt to London, Budapest, Amsterdam, Glasgow, all in the last few hours just to escape the unease he felt, but something kept drawing him back to New York.
He couldn’t explain it. He felt wrong in his own skin. Nervous, anxious, excited, dread, longing. Like his soul ached for something he could not define.
Through the protective glass of his penthouse apartment, he’d watched the sun draw a close to another lonely day as the insignificant humans scurried on the streets below like ants. His reflection stared back at him; wary, black eyes, his short ginger hair a perpetual mess, his dark coat with the collar upturned suited his mood.
Tonight, when darkness shrouded his city, he didn’t feel the liberation like he normally did. Unlike most other vampires, Cronin could leap to anywhere in the world at any time he chose. He was rarely impeded by sunlight because he could simply chase night around the globe. Still, he lived by moonlight and normally he reveled in it.
But not tonight.
Something was wrong. There had been rumors of an unsettling of the Egyptian covens, and that was indeed cause for concern. But this was different. The agitation he felt in his bones was personal.
He didn’t need to feed. He’d taken care of that in Budapest, and Amsterdam. Overfed, probably. But it didn’t quell the discomfort. It didn’t feel like anything would. In all his days, over a thousand years, he’d never felt like this before.
Cronin took a deep breath through his nose and tried to center himself. Focus eluded him, the ability to find calm and patience was born from a long life, but tonight restlessness settled over him like a cold blanket.
He stretched his neck to each side and let out a frustrated sigh. He thought of Eiji and Jodis, his two closest friends, and for a brief moment he considered leaping to where they were. The presence alone was always a source of comfort. But what could he say? How could he explain how he felt when he himself did not know? He could roar and pull at his hair to relieve some of the pent up rage. Jodis would be concerned, and Eiji would probably laugh. But what would it accomplish?
No, he would not concern them with this. He’d spent long enough alone to know that all things come to pass. The something in the back of his mind told him this would not go away until he found the source.
Annoyed with himself, he took out his phone and sent Eiji a quick text. Everything okay where you are?
His reply was immediate. Yes of course, brother. Why do you ask?
Cronin didn’t reply, and a minute later another text arrived with a more urgent tone. Cronin?
He shook his head at himself and regretted texting at all. Letting out an angry snarl, he roared at the empty apartment. Then with no more than a thought, he was gone.
The nightclub Cronin found himself at was in the meatpacking district, owned and regularly frequented by vampires. The humans who stumbled in didn’t know that of course, and they never could. Vampires didn’t drink alcohol but the atmosphere and the music was a sense of normalcy to otherwise endless days. Mingling with an unsuspecting human menu didn’t hurt either.
Cronin wasn’t in the mood. He leapt to the alley behind the building and stalked around to the front. It was after two in the morning and the place was thumping. The front doors were opened for him, both doormen bowed their heads. The other vampires in the nightclub all noticed him immediately and parted in an almost imperceptible path. The humans were blissfully ignorant to his presence, but with his vampire hearing Cronin heard his name in hushed whispers. He was, after all, a coven leader. He was their leader.
Fury rolled off him in waves.
Unexplainable, all-encompassing. This feeling was consuming him.
The owner of the nightclub was quickly in front of him, head slightly bowed. Gregory was a century-old vampire from Belfast. “Cronin, may I be of assistance?”
Cronin almost laughed. Instead, he shook his head. “Has there been any developments to the rumors with the Egyptians?”
Gregory flinched and gave a small nod. “Just tonight, there were rumors of rogue seekers.”
Cronin’s nostrils flared. “And no one thought to notify us?”
Gregory looked apologetic, and for all intents and purposes, innocent. “They are but rumors, Cronin. If I thought for one moment―”
“What was said?”
Gregory looked around the crowd and nodded toward the end of the bar. Not that it mattered because all vampires in the room could hear their conversation, even over the music and noise of the crowd.
“All I heard was someone thought they saw seekers. Not of this coven. Not American. That’s all I know.”
“Don’t know what they’re after?”
Gregory shook his head. “No.”
The ache in Cronin’s chest squeezed tighter, the agitation made his hands shake.
Gregory frowned but eyed Cronin warily. “It’s not the first time we’ve had foreign seekers in New York. What’s wrong, Cronin?”
I don’t know. But something is very, very wrong. No, not wrong… misaligned.
Before Cronin could question what warranted his word choice, two vampires walked into the bar unaware of Cronin’s presence. One was excitedly telling a story, “… no, it was a cop! Can you believe that? A cop chased down a fucking seeker!”
Both Cronin and Gregory turned to face them and a hush fell over the vampires in the room. Something snapped in Cronin. Something else he couldn’t explain, but something in his blood was making him crazy. He was getting close to the source, he knew he was. He could feel it.
He crossed the room in a flash and took the vampire by the throat and pinned him to the wall. The vampire tried to resist, until he saw who had hold of him.
Cronin’s voice was fire and wrath. “What did you just say?”
If it were possible for vampires to piss themselves, this one surely would have. He was young, experience curtailed by arrogance. His eyes were wide and everyone in the room was watching. “Word is a cop chased down a seeker.”
“Dunno. But the cop’s from the thirty-third. A detective. His name was Alec something. That’s all I know.”
And suddenly everything slotted into place. The pieces of the puzzle made sense.
Cronin let the vampire slide down the wall. He scrambled to his feet and put some distance between himself and Cronin, but never turned his back on his leader.
Out of fear or respect, Cronin didn’t care. He took out his phone and hit Eiji’s number.
“I need you.”
“We’re already on our way. Your text concerned us, brother. Please, tell me what’s wrong.”
“I’ll explain everything. Right now, I have to go.” Cronin ended the call and took a breath to calm his nerves. He had a name, and a location. And he knew, like he knew his own name, that he had to find this Alec.
Like the earth orbited the moon. Like a river ran to the sea. It was unchangeable.
Cronin put his hand to his chest. My heart. His heart ached with longing, and he knew. He just knew.
Like he was carving the directions into stone, Cronin thought of the police department’s thirty-third precinct. With a sigh that sounded like coming home, he closed his eyes and leapt.
Apparently police didn’t like an uninvited man appearing in their offices. But the moment Cronin landed, he saw him and he did not care for anything else in that moment but Alec. He was making his way out of an office at the far end of the long room. A dozen men stood and yelled. Yet all Cronin could see was him.
He’d waited a thousand years for this. His fated one. His mate, stood staring right back at him. Something clicked into place in his soul, something incomplete was now whole.
Cronin could not believe his eyes. This beautiful man, this very human man, was here at last. “It is you. Finally.”
Oblivious to the policemen who aimed their guns at him. They were insignificant, soundless, and the world moved in slow motion. Cronin could only stare at Alec and smile as they moved toward each other. “Will you come with me?”
Alec’s answer was immediate. Perfect. “Yes.”
“Put your arms around me and hold on.”
Alec did as he was told, and his touch almost brought Cronin to his knees. It was a quickening: a visceral connecting of two souls. He was forever changed from this moment forth. Against all odds, he had found the missing piece of himself.