Natural Instincts, Book 1 in the Instincts Series
Andreas Nikandros has one focus, to kill the vampire he believes murdered his sister, and he knows with their greater strength, the surest way to kill a vampire is to become one. As a zoologist, he’s used to looking at the world from a natural standpoint, but when he sets out on a quest to find a vampire to Turn him, what he finds in Titus Antonius Calidus is the last thing he expected.
Titus has lived for over a thousand years, and in that time has only ever given his heart to one man. As they follow their natural instincts, they discover something truly worth living forever for, each other.
“Do you have a reservation, sir?” she asked.
“I do. It’s under Nikandros.” Andreas smoothed his pale blue button-down shirt and flicked his hand at nonexistent lint on his black pants, feigning patience while she opened a ledger to check for his name.
She inclined her head in acknowledgment and turned to show him into the restaurant. “Would you prefer the bar or the restaurant, Mr. Nikandros?”
Andreas followed her through an arched doorway. “The bar, please.”
Dark red carpeting flowed before him, and he couldn’t help but think the color had been wisely chosen. Round wooden tables covered in white linen and booths of cream colored leather seats filled the space. Small chandeliers hung down from the cathedral ceiling, their light causing tiny rainbows to dance off the walls trimmed in a gold leaf border. To the far right on a half circle stage, a string quartet played Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”
Andreas noticed eyes turning from conversations and meals to him, many holding open appreciation, others a hunger beyond physical attraction. He was used to being looked at in the first way. His medium build lined in fine musculature, his hair of loose black curls, eyes of blue-gray, and delicate facial features provided him many admirers. Though in this place, being an attractive human was like being an injured gazelle within a lion’s sight.
Andreas followed the hostess as she turned to the left, leading him through another arched doorway to the bar. The dark wood floors and walls made the space feel warmer than the cool formality of the restaurant. It also allowed for darker shadows.
The hostess departed, and Andreas headed for the long bar. As he reached for a stool, a hand clapped down on his shoulder. He turned, and though he considered himself fairly tall at six feet, his eyes were only level with the chin of the man beside him. Andreas was positive the guy wasn’t a vampire, though he might be an ogre, if such things existed. At this point, with how his vision of “the real world” had been shaken, he didn’t doubt the existence of anything.
Andreas tipped his head back to look into the man’s eyes, and with a backhanded slap to the other’s wrist, knocked the beefy hand from his shoulder. “Hands off.”
The large man reached for him again, snatching him by the upper arm. “My boss wants a word with you.”
Andreas stared at the man in disbelief. He’d been in the restaurant for less than five minutes, and already he had caught Renart’s attention? The guard started walking, leaving Andreas no choice but to go with him. From the guard’s purposeful march, Andreas guessed their destination was a booth taking up a back corner that allowed for a clear view through the doorway to see all who entered the restaurant.
His gaze fell on the man occupying the booth, and he knew from his sister’s descriptions he was Renart. With his dark brown hair pulled back in a tight, short queue, his sharp, raptor-like features were pronounced. Andreas couldn’t deny Renart was attractive, but there was an aura around him enhancing Renart’s physical appearance. The vampire sat with an air of complete control, power, and dominance.
The guard brought Andreas to a halt at the table’s edge. Andreas watched Renart’s deep brown eyes move over him. He chanced glancing away from Renart to the group gathered round the booth: three males, two females. The predatory look in their eyes gave them away for what they were, and also, he didn’t think Renart would flank himself with humans. Two of the males stood side by side whispering to each other. Watching them, a tremor of unease went through Andreas.
Neither of the two males looked like they could be far beyond twenty years-old, or in actuality, couldn’t have been older than that when Turned. One had a purposely messy cut to his brown hair, the other wore his blond hair in a short, neat style. The brown-haired one had features rugged and angular, but no less handsome than the softer face of the blond. Andreas’s gaze darted back to Renart when he caught movement from him.
Renart leaned his cheek on his fist, an amused smirk on his lips. “I know who you are, and I can make a guess as to what you’re doing here, Andreas Nikandros.”
Andreas steeled himself against the sound of Renart’s voice, deep, smooth, and tinted with a French accent. How many times had Adrienne said the sound of Renart’s voice alone was enough to melt her? Now having heard it, he understood better.
Andreas adopted a posture of arrogance and let out an indignant snort. “I would hope you could figure it out since I used my real name to make my reservation, and my purpose for being here should be fairly easy to guess considering this is a restaurant.”
Renart’s smirk broadened. “Not only is your scent similar to your sister’s, but your sharp tongue is also. That was one of my favorite things about her and all the various ways she was skilled with in using it.”
Andreas stared at him in cold silence.
“Ah, but that was before her tragic death,” Renart continued, his voice nonchalant. “And now here you are, her distraught little brother coming before me on some misguided sojourn for revenge. I am correct, no? That is why you’re here.”
Andreas fought to control the muscles in his face from contorting with rage and maintained a neutral expression as he looked into Renart’s eyes. “Actually, I’m looking for a master.”
Renart let out a chuckle. “Are you now? Why does that sound so very unbelievable considering I know how dear you were to Adrienne, and I gather your feelings toward her were the same.”
Andreas shrugged. “I warned her more than once that if you play with vampires you’re bound to get bit. But she didn’t listen, and now she’s gone because of it. I don’t have the same delusions she did, thinking she could make a beast like you love her. I know what I’m walking into, and I can handle it.” On his final word, Andreas fought to not put a hand over his heart to calm the hurt from speaking of his sister in such a way.
“Oh, you’re good.” Renart sat forward and placed his hands on the table. All amusement vanished from his expression. “But I can smell your pain with every word you spit out. And while this display is mildly entertaining, I can’t continue to breathe in that sweet scent you carry just like hers.” Without taking his gaze from Andreas, Renart flicked his hand toward the brown-haired male. “Troy, take this toy out back and instill in him the importance of never returning here again.”
Andreas lunged for Renart. He hardly twitched forward before Troy and the blond male snatched his arms. He felt their sharp fingernails, already grown into their predatory claws, sink through the thin fabric of his shirt and into his skin. Knowing that struggling would only attract the attention of other vampires, Andreas silently glared at Renart, and then walked as the vampires pulled him toward the back of the bar and through a swinging door to the storeroom. One of the females squeezed between them and the rows of shelves holding bottles of wine and various alcohols to a steel door. She shoved it open a fraction of a second before he was thrown toward it.
Andreas stumbled into the alley, reeling to catch his balance. He whirled around. A fist smashed into the side of his mouth. The force knocked him to the side and the ground. He landed hard, his body rigid with shock and pain.
Andreas struggled to suck in a breath, then lost the little bit of air he gained when a sharp-toed boot slammed into his ribs. He curled his body into a ball. Through his pain, laughter deafened him. Andreas lay still, waiting for the next strike to come. His mind moved far too sluggishly in forming a plan for escape, and it seemed fixated on one thought: he’d failed.
A voice broke through his thoughts and over the laughter.
“Children, children, look what you’ve done.”
The laughter ceased.
The rich baritone spoke again. “Clearly you’re undeserving of such a fine treat.”
Andreas sensed the other vampires moving away from him. He opened his eyes to see them standing in a cluster near the wall of the restaurant, their gazes fixed beyond him. He couldn’t help but think they resembled a pack of hyenas when forced to bow to a lion, unable to do anything but watch as their prey was stolen from them.
Andreas felt a presence standing over him. A hand touched his shoulder and pushed him onto his back. Andreas’s gaze traveled up long legs clad in black pants to a steel-gray silk shirt and over each button to the top where two were open to reveal ivory skin. He looked at the slender jaw, the high cheekbones framed with platinum-blond hair, and met the silver stare of the other.
Troy took two quick steps forward. “Back off, Calidus! He’s ours!”
The blond vampire snatched Troy by the arm, muttering under his breath. “Troy, no. No one’s allowed to call Lord Titus that.” His voice dipped lower, though Andreas still caught him mumbling the word “ancient.”
Troy shook off the other’s grip. “I know who he is, Isaac, and I don’t give a shit. That piece is ours!”
Titus looked up from Andreas to Troy. With fluid grace, he stood, his gaze locked on Troy. Even without the gaze focused on him, Andreas could feel the lethal threat radiating from Titus.
Troy slunk back toward the door. “Don’t think I won’t tell Lord Renart about this.”
“I’d be grateful for the favor,” Titus said.
Troy backed through the door, Isaac and his companions mimicking his movements.
Titus kept his gaze on the door until it closed, then brought it back to Andreas. “And now for you.” He bent over him and dipped the fingers of one hand into Andreas’s hair near his temple, drawing them through the curls. “Let’s get a better look at you.”
Titus slipped his hands under Andreas’s arms and, with the ease of lifting a small child, hauled him to his feet. He spun Andreas around, holding him under the light hanging above the backdoor and looked into his eyes, drinking in their blue-gray hue.
“Like the sea before a storm,” Titus said softly.
His strength returning, Andreas got his feet under him and moved to take a step back. Titus dug his fingers into Andreas’s upper ribs, stopping him. Andreas stood eye to eye with him, his heartbeat quickening. “Titus, that’s your name?”
Titus tipped his head closer to him, his lips a fraction from Andreas’s. “Titus Antonius. And yours?”
Andreas took a breath, inhaling Titus’s exhale. “Andreas Nikandros.”
Titus bowed his head, bringing his nose closer to Andreas’s neck. “A Greek name.” He lifted his head, his eyes focused on the rivulet of blood coursing from Andreas’s bottom lip to his chin. “Maybe you carry ancient blood also.”
Titus touched the tip of his tongue to Andreas’s chin and licked up the red line, a deep groan rumbling from his throat as he did. There was a sweetness to Andreas’s blood, just as his natural fragrance had betrayed, and the energy and virility of his essence sent a euphoric rush through Titus.
Copyright 2011 by S.J. Frost and MLR Press