QSFer Addison Albright has a new MM paranormal book out, sequel to “The Recruit”: The Choice.
As a freshly turned vampire, Neil had frozen in panic when he’d found himself face-to-face with his ex-boyfriend, Cameron. Neil thought that misstep and its associated danger was all in the past, but Cameron’s current boyfriend, Dennis, is like a dog with a bone, and a keen imagination. When the two men’s curiosity progresses to the point the vampires consider their secrecy to be endangered, choices must be made.
Now that faction leader Albert has a blood-mate, he finds himself second-guessing his decisions. Neil would be crushed knowing his mistake led to human deaths, but Albert shouldn’t factor that into the difficult choices he must make. Will Albert’s indecision put the entire vampire establishment in danger? Or is redemption only a flamethrower away?
Sequel to THE RECRUIT, which should be read first
Addison is giving away an eBook copy of “The Recruit” with this post – the first book in the series. For a chance to win, comment on this post below.
Chapter 2: A Change of Plans
They separated as they walked the few blocks to the nearest subway station, appearing to be no more than buddies heading out together. Much as they’d both love to put their devotion to one another on full display, it was too chancy. Homophobia still existed, and the added risk they’d be taking encompassed more than their own personal safety.
They could recover fairly quickly from any injury that didn’t instantly kill them—Albert faster than Neil, due to his years—but that fact, and their black blood, would raise questions they didn’t want asked, and didn’t want to have to take steps to cover up. If an exposure became uncontainable, the entire worldwide vampire population could be in jeopardy.
Albert took care to enter a subway car located near the middle of the train, far from the conductor. Should the need arise to activate one of their safety nets to send nearby humans into a mild catatonic state via the technology built into the device every vampire had implanted under their scalp, then having the driver within range would create bigger problems than the one that had prompted the action. He also positioned them near the middle of the car, so everyone within the compartment would be within range, depending upon the setting.
The ride passed without incident. Nothing requiring the assistance of their technological gadgetry to help them out, anyway. The drunk puking at one end of the car wasn’t a threat to their safety, only to their acute sense of smell. Nonetheless, they lost no time hustling out at their stop.
Daisy, Natalie, and Juan were waiting in front of the theater when Albert and Neil approached. “Great,” Juan said. “We’re just waiting on one more now.”
“This movie looks fantastic,” Neil said. They were seeing First Man, about Neil Armstrong. “When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut.”
“Me, too,” Natalie said. “It must have been exciting to have witnessed such an epic moment as man’s first steps on the moon.” She glanced at Daisy as she said this, and with long practice, managed to say it with a straight face. Her words reflected their apparent ages in case anyone nearby overheard them.
Natalie looked to be in her low twenties and might well have dreamed of becoming an astronaut when she was a human child, but it would have been a fertile imagining fueled by reading Jules Verne rather than as a viable and hoped-for career path. Like everyone else in their group, other than Neil, who hadn’t even been born, Natalie had sat riveted in front of an RCA color television set, watching the spectacle unfold.
Albert and Daisy had watched it together. In their 1969 identities, she’d been playing the part of Albert’s mother. Daisy was the only one in their group whose current outward appearance could justify public acknowledgement of having seen that monumental event as it happened.
“Even though I was barely twelve,” Daisy said. “I’ll never forget it. Walter Cronkite summed up the landing perfectly with a single word.”
Neil wasn’t quite as good at maintaining a poker face at the age references. He understood it, though. “What was it?”
“He said, ‘Boy!’ You should have seen Cronkite’s face. He looked like an excited child. It was just how I felt, too. Of course, part of my thrill for that first step, hours later, was from getting to stay up so late. It was July, so no school, but my parents were usually so strict about my nine o’clock bedtime.”
Neil choked in his attempt to cut off a laugh, which knowing Daisy, had been her goal with that exaggerated statement. Albert patted Neil’s back and forced himself to keep from turning the action into a more sensual PDA.
“April, what time is it?” Both Albert and Juan turned their heads slightly to maximize their ability to hear what would come next. Lester had spoken the words. April’s name had been said first with a slight sharpness in the tone to grab their attention over the general noise of the crowded streets, and “what time is it?” had been to further alert them that they needed to pay attention to what was going to follow.
The faction had security personnel spread throughout the city, and Lester and April were a pair of security operatives stationed in this sector. From the sound of it, they were about a block away. Their proximity was no surprise. Security HQ continually monitored where vamps were via their implants and repositioned their personnel accordingly.
Neither Daisy, Natalie, nor Neil’s hearing was acute enough to have heard any of that, but the senior two of that trio were experienced enough to pick up on the subtle signs that Albert and Juan had gone into “focused listening mode.” Over the course of years, the improvement in all their senses was progressive and steady, allowing them to gradually get used to controlling and bearing the enhancements. That which would drive insane those who suddenly found themselves bombarded with noises and conversations from all directions was just a Tuesday for senior vamps.
“Eight-ten,” April replied, simply an accurate stating of the time for the benefit of humans nearby. “Gary and Troy should be here soon.”
Albert stiffened. Those were the code names they’d given to Cameron Ferguson and his boyfriend, Dennis Mills. The two were under constant surveillance now, and while Albert didn’t need to be alerted to their every move until the plan to deal with them was executed, it was crucial that any run-ins between them and Neil be avoided.
Daisy silently steered them all to look at the movie posters hanging outside the building, so their lack of conversation wouldn’t appear unreasonable. Neil had proven to be a quick learner, and though he raised a brow, he knew enough to follow their lead.
In such a vast metropolis, the odds of chance encounters were slim, but a faint likelihood wasn’t the same as zero odds. People were creatures of habit and tended to patronize the same businesses over and over. Still, tendencies were not absolutes, thus the elaborate aesthetic efforts they took when they assumed new identities on top of relocating to a different part of the city. But that wouldn’t do any good in this situation.
“Christ,” Lester grumbled. “Why is it such a challenge for them to be on time?” The only word in that sentence that meant anything in their communication to Albert was “challenge.” It was the code word for the subway exit just north of where they stood. Which meant Albert and Neil needed to clear out and head south, pronto.
It was unfortunate that Ivan and Melody, who’d been on surveillance duty at the men’s apartment building, hadn’t been able to give any advanced warning. Apparently Cameron and Dennis hadn’t said enough to clue them in prior to arriving at their subway stop.
Besides the tracking devices implanted in all vamps, the security personnel wore inconspicuous communication devices whenever on the job. Ivan and Melody’s movement was, of course, monitored, and would have been enough to alert HQ of their exit without their needing to verbalize it, and HQ would have promptly alerted April and Lester.
Albert pulled his phone out of his pocket and tapped it to life as if he was checking a new text message alert. “Holy shit, Neil.” Albert cocked his head in the direction they needed to head and pulled a random name out of thin air. “Gloria is in labor. Let’s go!”
Neil blinked a few times and gave a slight shake of his head as if trying to clear a path through his confusion.
“Congrats,” Juan said. “Give her our best wishes.”
Daisy and Natalie echoed his sentiment.
Albert gave Neil’s arm a tug as he strode south while staying alert to anything further from April or Lester. Neil kept pace without questioning any of it but repeatedly cast not-so-furtive glances in Albert’s direction. Peeks that held no fear—or if there was any, it was overshadowed by his wide-eyed open reverence and complete trust.
Hopefully that admiration wouldn’t dim before the end of the night.
Of course, Neil knew Albert wore many hats. At home, Albert was Neil’s partner. His lover. His friend. Even when Albert had first approached and turned Neil, he’d presented himself as a regular everyday guy so as not to frighten the man.
But Albert was also a faction leader. That was the highest rank at city level—highest rank overall, equal to council members who coordinated issues at a global scale. Faction leaders and council members’ responsibilities differed, but their status and the weight of their votes on heavier issues were the same. Neil knew that, too, but had only a general idea of what that entailed and had never witnessed any kind of operation underway.
“They’re close,” April said.
“Damn,” Albert muttered. Cameron and Dennis were closing in. “Following?” Albert looked to the side like he was asking the question of Neil, but it was meant for April and Lester.
Neil opened his mouth but must have realized what was going on because he closed it and nodded. Now his brows angled a bit to advertise concern. He might even be figuring it out.
Oddly enough, the targets hadn’t spoken to each other, otherwise Albert would have heard it. Perhaps not so odd, considering their suspicions. Not many, but a few bits of vampire lore had a ring of truth to them, and elevated hearing was one that did. It made sense that they would have used only body language if they’d spotted Neil.
“Yeah? That’s great,” Lester replied. That affirmative was meant for Albert. So Cameron and Dennis weren’t simply behind Albert and Neil. Whatever their plans had been—possibly seeing a movie at the same theater—they’d spotted Neil and were now actively following.
Albert sighed and glanced again at Neil. He would much prefer that his blood-mate not be along for this, but there wasn’t anything he could do about that now. “Hey, let’s go see Colin and Patty.” They were well clear of anybody who might have overheard their excuse for leaving the movie, so it sounded perfectly benign.
“Sounds good.” Neil wouldn’t know the names, but he played along. “Colin and Patty” was the code name for a safehouse within walking distance rather than for two particular individuals. Like all their safehouses, there were a couple paths to it free of security cameras.
April and Lester continued to talk, but it wasn’t meant for Albert. They were giving coded messages to security HQ to put a new plan in motion. By following Albert and Neil, Cameron and Dennis had brought their situation to a head. The vamp’s original plan would be set aside, and a new one would be put into play. Tonight.
Albert made a fist to suppress an overwhelming desire to grasp his blood-mate’s hand. Whatever happened with Cameron and Dennis, Neil would be there to witness it.
The lack of commentary directed at Albert meant nothing had changed. Cameron and Dennis were still “close,” a word that specifically meant fifteen to twenty yards back, and still following.
A few more blocks and Albert made a turn that put the breeze at their backs. When the targets also made the turn, Albert picked up their scent…loud and clear. It was tinged with caution and a hint of fear.
Neil stiffened beside him. That distance was usually beyond Neil’s fledgling abilities, but the odor was strong enough with the direction of the breeze that he might have caught a whiff. Neil turned to Albert with widened eyes but remained silent. Clearly he’d recognized his ex-boyfriend’s scent.
Another turn and the smell faded, the breeze carrying it in another direction. They zigzagged for a few more blocks before turning onto the street that would lead them to the safehouse.
Still silence from April and Lester. The safehouse came into view. The front porch light was off, so the occupants had been alerted. No need to put a spotlight on the targets’ arrival since they didn’t yet know how the humans would be leaving.
Albert continued past the building because he wanted the targets stopped right in front of it rather than fifteen or twenty yards back when Albert and Neil turned in. He trusted that April and Lester, who would have closed their gap and would be the ones with a visual, would take care of the stop.
When he and Neil were about twenty yards past the entrance, April said, “Gary, Troy, you made it. Come on in.” Her tone and volume were meant to sound…normal. Nothing to see here. Nothing suspicious going down. Nobody would take a second look. Nobody would remember much if asked, but the names and the fact that Cameron and Dennis followed like willing puppies to the mildest of friendly nudges from April and Lester would rule them out should anything be remembered, and if inquiries into the men’s disappearance made it this far.
The targets had stopped, then followed, because one of the operatives had activated that bit of technology the vampires had developed that sent nearby humans into a mild and temporary catatonic state. Unprompted, they’d simply stop. But they’d be calmly open to suggestion.
Albert knew without looking that one of the building’s residents had met the quartet on the street, swiftly and inconspicuously using gloved hands to relieve the targets of their cell phones, keeping that technology smoothly moving in the same direction they’d been heading. The phones would be passed off several times on that journey so no random security camera footage the authorities might study would show any one person making the entire trek. They wouldn’t show Cameron or Dennis, either, but that would be negative evidence, and it was unlikely the exact path the phone took would be identifiable in an after-the-fact investigation anyway. The phones would be left somewhere far from any vampire operations.
The only people Albert had seen on this street had been moving, either on foot or in the light traffic. He’d paid attention to windows, too. Nobody was looking. He steered Neil around the block so they could circle back. That wouldn’t be noticed in the same way an about-face might have been.
Clearly Albert hadn’t underestimated Neil’s intelligence back when he was being considered for recruitment. He’d known to keep his mouth shut until the door to the safehouse closed behind them.
“That was Cam, wasn’t it? I smelled him.” Neil’s voice warbled. “I thought he believed it when the delivery service reassured him my name was really Neil…that I’d just transferred from the Tulsa branch. You told me that.”
Albert ran a finger down the side of Neil’s face. He hated the expression in those beautiful green eyes that hinted at betrayal. It had hurt so much the last time he’d sensed a lack of trust from Neil. He’d been appalled and had closed himself off before he could say anything regrettable that would never, ever be forgotten. In the end, he’d been upset with himself rather than disappointed in Neil, feeling like he’d let down his blood-mate by overprotecting him. “And that was the truth…at that time.”
“When…when did that change?”
Albert gestured for Neil to follow him up the stairs. “A few weeks ago.” Like all vampire-owned apartment buildings, this one housed only vamps, so they could safely speak in the corridor. “We’d kept him on light surveillance.”
“I understand that. But what happened? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“A decision was made this afternoon. I was planning to tell you about it this weekend.”
“Decision? Oh, no.” Neil stopped. “You’re not going to…no…he’ll get a choice, right? You’ve mentioned that before.”
“Right. And I sincerely hope they make the right one.”
Ah. Neil’s sense of smell hadn’t been that good. He’d picked up on Cam’s scent because it was familiar, but hadn’t differentiated it from the other. “Cameron’s boyfriend, Dennis, is just as deeply involved. Really, he’s the instigator in the escalation of this dilemma. And yes, he’s here with Cameron now.”
“Crap. It’s all my fault, and two lives are on the line.”
“Come on.” Albert hitched his head. “As a familiar face, you might have a calming effect on them. Or at least on Cameron.”
“Maybe.” Neil’s expression didn’t match the word. He was usually a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, but clearly this situation was stretching his ability to remain optimistic.
Addison Albright is a writer living in the middle of the USA. Her stories are gay romance in contemporary, fantasy, and paranormal genres. She generally adds a subtle touch of humor, a smidgen of drama/angst, and a healthy dose of slice-of-life to her stories. Her education includes a BS in Education with a major in mathematics and a minor in chemistry. Addison loves spending time with her family, reading, popcorn, boating, french fries, “open window weather,” cats, math, and anything chocolate. She loves to read pretty much anything and everything, anytime and anywhere.
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