Mel Keegan

Price: $10.99

Step into the glittering midnight world of the ancient ... the immortal ... the vampyre. Intrigue welcomes Captain Vincent Bantry home to London in 1892: he's a veteran of the Far East, opium smugglers, Manchu warlords, but little in his experience prepares him for the young Irish occultist, Michael Flynn. Their future unfolds in the Tarot cards - danger, pain, struggle; but the end of their story cannot be told. And what of the past? The mystery of Flynn draws Bantry into an occult world, alien and irresistible. Instinctively he knows Flynn is different, not merely beautiful, brilliant, exotic, but unlike any other man he ever knew. Soon Vince is caught in a tangle of deceit, danger, one jump ahead of the law, and seduced by the grandeur of a midnight world into which he's glimpsed ... and which he desires.
ISBN: 978-0975088449
WORD COUNT: 219551
CATEGORIES: Vampires / Werewolves, Historical, Romantic Suspense
KEYWORDS: vampire, gay, historical, occult, Mel Keegan


EBOOKS BY Mel Keegan

COPYRIGHT Mel Keegan/2004
A little before midnight the front door clicked shut, and Bantry locked it. The sounds of the house were still so strange — the slow, heavy tick of the grandmother clock, the scratch of branches on a window, the creak of floorboards. Odd, Bantry thought, how a man could feel like a visitor in his own castle. Flynn had swung off his cloak, but as he stepped toward the stairs Bantry caught his elbow.

He dropped his voice to a whisper. “Not yet. There’s something I must show you first. It could have been made for you. This way.”

The terrarium was still warm. It hoarded the sunlight that poured through the glass all afternoon. The orchids were like wax castings, almost shining in the light of the gibbous moon, and the air was rich, laden with the scent of the night-blooming plants. Flynn stepped into the glass cloister, murmuring with inarticulate pleasure, and Bantry closed up swiftly to keep in the warmth and scent.

Moonlight was the only illumination, and he was sure Flynn bathed in it. The man’s head tipped back, his lungs opened wide to drink in the perfume. Just as Bantry has seen him inhale brandy vapors till his cheeks flushed and his breath smelt sweet and strong with the liquor, so he drank in these flowers.

He turned around slowly, his breath coming in shorter gasps, and at last put out one hand to steady himself on the nearest wooden upright. To Bantry’s astonishment, Flynn was dizzy. “Michael, are you — you’re not drunk, are you?”

A chuckle, earthy and ribald. “Not yet. Not ... quite ... yet.” Flynn leaned on the wood, one hand on his brow. “It’s been a long time.”

“Since you indulged in this?” Bantry felt a falling sensation, the familiar pang of hunger swelling into full-blown desire, throbbing in every vein. “Some sensual perversion, Michael? To me it just smells sweet.”

“I’m not the same.” Flynn’s head fell to one side. “Your senses are dull, you’re blind and deaf, maimed by your years of bright light and loud noise. I’ve lived in darkness and silence till I appreciate the gift of light and music. And this. Your senses are blunted by the excesses of your food, your drink, your tobacco and opium.”

“I’ve smoked opium,” Bantry admitted. “Many times, of necessity.”

“In China.” Flynn tapped his nose. “I’ve no need of it — opium is only a plant, and so are these.” He inhaled deeply and his chuckle was closer to inebriation every second. “Wonderful. But you’d best get me out of here, else you’ll be carrying me out to sober me up!” When he let go the upright he was unsteady on his feet.

“My God, you are drunk!” Bantry caught the occultist before he could stagger, and once he had the slender body against him, he could no longer keep his hands away. Flynn lay against him, accepting every caress, and at last lifted his mouth, hunting for kisses.

Careful of the razor-sharp, damaged canine teeth, Bantry took what was offered, only a little surprised to find the sweetness of flowers on Flynn’s breath. But in moments more Flynn grew heavier in his arms with the beginning of real languor.

“Out of here,” Bantry said sharply, “before you fall asleep on me and make a ruin of the whole night.”

Flynn laughed but did not deny the possibility. “Only let me breathe. As quickly as I’m overcome, my head clears again.” Outside, he stood against the glass, pulling the night air to the bottom of his lungs. As Bantry watched, fascinated, he regained his sensibilities. “I’m not the same,” he said again. “I should apologize.”

“I don’t see how you could apologize,” Bantry said bluffy, “any more than I’d be apologizing for — for influenza!”

He was looking in through the glass now, studying the orchids. “How beautiful they are, unearthly, unnatural, yet still things of nature. As awful as they are lovely, in fact. Like the mistletoe they’re abject parasites — did you know? No one begrudges the orchid life, for they gift whatever they adorn with beauty. Yet these plants thrive in decay, in filth, and are happiest living on the dead. How strange is nature.” Flynn looked up and back at Bantry as he spoke, and suddenly was as sober as he had been intoxicated in the terrarium. “How like the orchid I am.”

The sentiment was laden with some terrible, unspoken meaning at which Bantry could not even guess, and did not care to. A shiver coursed the length of his spine and he was silent as he took Flynn’s arm to usher him into the house.

The Winthrops had retired; all was silent. The stairs creaked as they climbed, but who would hear? A hearth was set in the master bedchamber, and the bed was made up. Bantry knelt to light the kindling and coax the fire alive with a shovel of coal from the scuttle. Flynn turned the gaslamp up the little that was comfortable for his eyes.

They stood in the gathering warmth, studying each other for a long time, content just to look. Then Bantry took off jacket and waistcoat and unfastened cuffs and collar. Still Flynn did not move. “Second thoughts?” Bantry asked quietly. “You’re free to leave, still, if you wish ... but I hope you won’t.”

Flynn did not speak. He was anxious, and when they embraced Bantry felt the quick, heavy beat of his heart. Desire, or fear? It was impossible to know. Bantry saw a feral look about Flynn tonight, as if he were hunted. Which was true enough in one sense. Bantry counted himself the hunter as, slowly and deliberately, he opened the white evening shirt, baring the smooth, pale expanse of Flynn’s chest. His fingers played in the soft chest hair, and Flynn’s eyes closed, his breath coming in little gusts as he was stroked. Bantry’s thumbs found the hard lines of his collarbones, the hollows of his shoulders, the little peaks of his nipples.

And Bantry knew. “It’s been a very long time, hasn’t it? Since you were last with a man.”

“Yes.” Flynn looked up at him, no deception now. “There must be great trust, and I’d thought I had forgotten how to trust. I’ve seen so much, Vincent. Too much.” For a moment he seemed to lose focus; other scenes, other times possessed him.

Bantry wondered what horrors he had survived; were these the terrible secrets haunting him? Patience, he told himself. At last Flynn took a quick breath and the feral expression gentled into one of painful longing. They were kissing then, devouring one another, and Bantry heard low, catlike whimpers. A moment later Flynn turned his head away, and for a second Bantry was sure he would wrench out of the embrace. Instead Flynn pressed closer and tucked his face into the curves of Bantry’s shoulder.

Cool caresses discovered Bantry’s chest, exploring, hesitant at first, and Bantry felt his whole body come alive. He heard the rush of his blood, the pulses in his temples and throat. He had slept alone since he left Peking, bound for Hong Kong. Business there was poor. He was ill at ease in the Colony — and he struck out for home aboard a doomed warship. Pain and sickness had dogged him through months as the Viceroy’s guest before at last he headed west, home, to become Lockwood’s guest. Where was the opportunity for sensuality of any kind, let alone like this?

He was hungry for it. He had not realized how famished he had become, and he was barely aware of his own urgency until Flynn yelped. Bantry jerked fully awake to find the fingers of his right hand sunk deeply into bare flesh. Flynn’s shirt was knotted at their feet. The Irishman’s head was held back ruthlessly by the left hand tangled there, and the long, smooth line of his throat was exposed, vulnerable and white.

Bantry murmured an apology and released him at once. He pressed a kiss to the great column of the jugular vein and Flynn stiffened, crown to toe. He turned his head to allow Bantry greater license, exposing the vein as if in complete surrender.

Drawn to it, called by the siren-song throb of life, Bantry closed his lips on the vein and suckled, his tongue pressed to the beat within it. Flynn weakened beneath the caress, hands grasping uselessly, and slid down onto the foot of the wide bed.

Mouth still locked on that pulse point, Bantry followed him down. He felt every beat of Flynn’s heart, and knew when it began to race. He lifted his head at last and found himself pinioning the man. Flynn’s own head turned to offer his throat, but now the Irishman’s face showed as much anguish as pleasure and Bantry choked back another apology.

“Have I hurt you? I never meant to.” His voice was thick, his tongue uncooperative. Slowly, Flynn seemed almost to wake from some trance. His head turned back, and Bantry saw tear tracks, silver in the gaslight. His body was as taut as a bowstring, racked by urgency and anxiety. Bantry stroked him. “Do you think I’ll hurt you, is that it?” He knew he sounded aghast.

Somehow Flynn found breath and voice enough to speak. “It would be easier if I could think that.” He silenced Bantry’s demands for an explanation with a kiss and sat up with an effort. One hand, claw-like, raked the hair back from his face. “Is there any brandy in the house? I need something, if you have it.”

“In the kitchen. Not a good label, but it’ll suffice if you’re not fussy,” Bantry offered, remembering the previous tenant’s forgotten clutter. He leaned over to kiss Flynn’s cool brow. “You’re frightened, aren’t you? No, don’t answer. Brandy, then. And for the love of God, Michael, relax.” He stood, reached for the quilted dressing gown and sought a little levity. “Get into bed and put out the light, if you like!” A faint smile rewarded him, but he saw the tears spill before Flynn turned his face away. He sighed. “I’ll see what I can find.”

He took a lamp, for the back of the house was a well of darkness and the passages were still strange. He knew where to find the spirits and glasses, and was not long in the old marble-slabbed pantry.

Hesitance, fear, were the last things he had expected from Flynn, but they were deeply endearing. He was moved, as he had rarely been inspired before, to gentleness and patience. Collecting the brandy and two glasses, he had closed up the pantry before he heard any sound on the stairs. When he heard the click of the front door he was out of the kitchen fast, disbelieving.

Patience and gentleness turned swiftly to anger. Bottle and glasses thudded onto the sideboard by the door and Bantry choked back a blistering oath.

Flynn was gone.


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