AFTER A quick shower, Julian stood before the bathroom mirror. His hands clenched into fists that he planted on the vanity. He tried to force calm on himself and failed. He opened a drawer and snatched out a handful of small silver hoops. Despite his effort to stop it, his hands shook as he stabbed the hoops into the holes in his ears, nine each. The earrings and the barbed wire tats circling his biceps were more badges of his conflicted youth.
He flashed a toothy, humorless grin at his reflection. Reality was an ironic bitch. Every vampire movie he’d ever seen portrayed them with retractable teeth. No such luck. The damn things were always on display. No nice tricks to make blending in easier.
Nothing was going to be easy from here on.
He wanted to pray, to beg God to help him, but he wouldn’t do it. If God existed, He didn’t care about a vampire.
He had to help himself. And he would.
The apartment door opened. Closed.
His stomach plummeted.
Tommy was home from the symphony.
The moisture in his mouth evaporated. He tried to swallow and steeled himself. Other than burying his mother, facing Tommy topped the list of things that sucked the root.
Regardless, there was no putting it off. With his heart beating a too-fast tempo, he slipped into the living room where Tommy was going through the mail.
He glanced up and shock flashed over his face. “My God, what happened to you? Who did that?”
Julian touched his cheek.
Tommy straightened. “What’s wrong?”
His best friend knew him way too well. Besides the physical beating, Tommy knew something was out of whack with him. “I…”
Tommy’s face drained to a pasty color. “What the fuck?” He backed up a step.
Oh, shit. Julian didn’t move.
“What the fuck?” Tommy backed farther away.
Julian’s stomach lurched. “I—”
Tommy held his hands up like a shield. “Stay the fuck away.”
“What?” Julian sputtered.
Tommy went another shade of pale. “A fucking vampire. Jesus fucking Christ.”
“I swear to God, I didn’t know. I wouldn’t have done that to you.”
The loss of Tommy’s sister to a vampire yawned between them, the Grand Canyon of hatred and distrust.
“You’ve got a hell of a nerve, pretending to be human. Pretending to be my friend.” The last word came out in a screech.
Julian felt sick to his stomach. “I never pretended anything. You’re my best friend. That’s real.”
“Those teeth are real.” Tommy’s eyes glittered. “You’re one of them.” Scorn dripped from his voice. “A no good, baby stealing, murderer.”
Julian shook his head. A sensation like a wadded up sock jammed down his throat cut off his ability to breathe. “No. You know me better than that.”
Tommy laughed. He sounded on the verge of hysterics. “Apparently not.”
Julian tried to drag air into his burning lungs. “I’m still the same inside.” It came out in a panicked rush, an octave too high. “I got jumped in an alley. They did this to me.”
The scent of fear clogged Julian’s senses and his insides clenched. “I’m still me.” It sounded pathetic and unconvincing to him.
“Yeah, except for the desire to drink blood and kill people.”
“No! I don’t want to hurt anyone.” His heart pounded his chest so hard that he felt lightheaded. How could this be happening? “You know me. We’ve been friends for years. Tommy, I swear to God, you don’t have to be afraid.”
“You think I’d believe a word any goddamned vampire said? You know me better than that.”
“Shut the fuck up. You’re vermin and you can’t be trusted.” His face contorted into a grimace of disgust. “Get the fuck out of here. Right now, before I call the authorities on you.”
Shaking, his insides twisting into a sick knot, Julian held his ground. “I don’t have anywhere else to go. This is my home too.”
The fear stink intensified around Tommy.
Tommy straightened. “Get out! Get the fuck out of here.” Something ugly and malicious settled over his face. “I hope you end up at a hunt club or in a dog ring. That’s all your kind is good for.”
Julian stumbled back, off balance as if Tommy had struck him. That his best friend would wish him killed for sport or entertainment, or whatever the bastards wanted to call it, destroyed something inside him.
He felt it die.
Tommy yanked his cell phone from his pocket. “Get out right now or I’ll report you, so fucking help me God. And I won’t care about what happens to you.”
Ice coursed through Julian’s veins. The urge to take what he desperately needed hit him with stunning force. A metallic taste coated his mouth and he dropped into a crouch.
His gaze fastened on Tommy’s throat. Growling, he curled his lip off his fangs.
The little remaining color in Tommy’s face fell out. He backpedaled across the living room.
Tommy’s fear scent flooded Julian’s senses, awakening something dark and primal in him. Tension knotted his muscles and he waited for Tommy to run. He would kill him before he made it to the door. He would drink him into a husk. He would—
He clenched his fists and fought for control, forcing himself to remain still when every instinct urged him to kill. He backed away. He had to get out of the apartment before he ripped his friend’s throat out and drank him dry.
Heart hammering, he struggled to curb his basic instincts. He wouldn’t take the life of someone he’d cared for like a brother. No matter what. He wasn’t—wouldn’t be—a monster.
He wheeled around, snatched up the duffel bag and violin case, and raced for the door.
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