Chapter One

Nicky Anderson finished his shift hot, tired, and ready for a hot tub and a nice massage, not that he was about to receive either one of them any time soon. He sank down on a stool at the bar and smiled. His friend Steven, the bartender, sat a beer in front of him.

“Thanks. I need this. Is it just me or were the customers particularly boorish today?” “If by boorish, you mean assholes, then, yeah, they were.” Steven grinned and set a bowl of peanuts closer.

“Hey, pretty boy! You off the clock?” Sam, the manager, a man Nicky detested with every fiber of his being, leaned against the end of the bar, snarling at him.

“Yes, Sam,” Nicky replied. He tried desperately to hold onto his temper. Nicky needed this job, and Sam would love a reason to fire him.

“You better be paying for that beer, or it’s coming outta your pay.”

“Okay,” he said with a sigh. “Keep your shirt on, Sam.” Nicky pulled out his wallet, or rather he started to pull out his wallet and discovered it wasn’t in his back pocket. What the hell? He had a memory of jumping out of the shower, running incredibly late for work. He’d pulled on his clothes and rushed out the door in a hurry, no doubt leaving his wallet lying forlornly on the dresser in his room.

“Oh shit, I don’t have my wallet!”

“Uh-huh,” Sam said with his usual nastiness. “How convenient.”

Nicky clenched his fists, biting back a sharp remark. He couldn’t even charge it. Sam had refused to let him start a tab like some of the other employees. Nicky closed his eyes for just a second thinking of how satisfying it would be to slam Sam’s face into the bar.

“Oh, for God’s sake, Sam, it’s just a beer. I’ll put it on my tab.” Steven frowned at Sam, as he wiped down the bar at the other end.

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“Just so long as it’s paid for. Nobody gets anything for free around here.”

“Isn’t that the truth?” Nicky muttered under his breath as the manager walked away. “Asshole.”

“Oh, and tie that hair back before you come in tomorrow, or I’ll make you wear a hairnet. Health Department’s gonna close us down with all those pretty little curls of yours flying around everywhere.”

Nicky flushed, embarrassed over his unruly, blond hair that absolutely refused to be tamed, no matter how much product he put on it. He meant to get a haircut yesterday, but he was running short on cash before payday. He’d just have to tie it in a ponytail, sure Sam would make good on his threat if he didn’t.

“Damn, Nicky, what have you done to Sam to make him hate you so much? I mean, he’s a jerk, yeah, but with you, it’s like he takes special delight in giving you a hard time.”

Nicky sighed. “Yeah, I know. He asked me out a few weeks ago, and when I told him I wasn’t gay, he got a little upset.”

“Upset? He looks at you like he wants to rip your head off. Hell hath no fury like a gay man scorned, I guess.” Steven laughed as he walked down to take his boyfriend another beer.

Steven was the first gay man Nicky had ever really gotten to know well, and he considered him one of his best friends. Steven had a very jealous boyfriend who came by the bar every night to give dirty looks to anyone foolish enough to hit on Steven. The boyfriend was even unfriendly to Nicky, simply because of the way he looked.

Nicky considered his good looks to be a curse, one he could gladly do without. He didn’t like a lot of attention over his handsome face. Around age eighteen, when he realized he had blossomed into an extremely attractive man, his good looks only served to embarrass him. At five feet nine inches tall, he’d been a little chubby as a teenager and started working out at a young age when he was subjected to teasing by his classmates. As a result, his body was as muscular and sculpted as a young Greek god’s, if Steven was to be believed.

Steven had been trying to build his confidence for some time, insisting he get out there and find someone to date. “Girls, boys, whatever! Just don’t let all this go to waste, Nicky!” He smiled, gesturing at Nicky’s body in the tight jeans he favored.

Nicky blushed. “Not boys, Steven. I don’t have anything against gays—not at all—but I don’t swing that way.”

“Don’t knock it till you try it, babe. I could get you a date any time you say. You’re what’s known as a gay man’s wet dream.”

Nicky didn’t feel like anything special tonight—just exhausted. He’d had an art class earlier in the morning, spent the early afternoon cleaning his apartment and doing laundry. After finishing a grueling eight-hour late shift as wait staff in an upscale restaurant in downtown Atlanta, he only wanted to go home and go to sleep.

He finished his beer and started to get up when Steven came up to him again. “Hey, your admirer is back. Has he said anything to you yet? Made any moves?”

“Huh?” Nicky glanced over his shoulder at the young man sitting by himself at the corner table, staring at him. “No. Creepy, isn’t it? He looks like he’s about seventeen, but he’s been in here every night this week, just staring at me until I get off work.”

Steven smiled. “Like I said, you have an admirer. This might be your chance to find out if boys are for you, after all.”

“Yeah, well, even if I liked guys, which I don’t, serving time for statutory rape holds no attraction for me in the least.” Nicky stretched and yawned, almost unable to keep his eyes open. “I’m not going to find out what he wants tonight, that’s for sure. I’m so tired I’m about to pass out and I’m not in any mood to fend off unwanted advances. Thanks for the beer, Steven—I’ll pay you back. See you tomorrow.”

Steven nodded and waved, and Nicky made his way to the door. He glanced over his shoulder to see if the boy still watched. Sure enough his hazel-eyed gaze met Nicky’s blue one almost curiously, certainly without any embarrassment at being caught staring. Nicky gave him a little disapproving frown as he walked out into the cool evening.

He’d only walked about a block and was almost to the bus stop when he heard a noise behind him and turned quickly to see two men coming up fast out of a dark alley. That was the last clear memory he had for a very long time.

* * * * Nicky let the voices flow over him without really paying much attention to what they were saying. Drifting in a lovely haze was easier. He couldn’t seem to get his eyes open enough to see who it was anyway. He’d just lie here where it was warm and soft and not think about anything. The voices were becoming annoyingly clear though. Despite himself, he listened to what they had to say.

“What’s wrong? Why is this pet unconscious?” “Nicky’s just—just resting, I think, and been awake for some time now. It’ll be all right. The pet’s only been turned for a short while, you know. They always go in heat right away.”

In heat? Were they talking about him? Wasn’t that something dogs did? Bitch dogs? What the fuck?

“Hmmm…pretty little thing. Beautiful long eyelashes. Her blonde hair would be nice, but it’s cut too short. She’s awfully flat-chested too.”

There was a short laugh from the other voice, and a sudden blast of cold air as the blanket was pulled back. “That’s because ‘she’ is a he! This is Marco’s new pet.”

A quick intake of breath followed. “Marco! You turned Marco’s new pet? There’ll be hell to pay over this.”

The voice sounded young and a little frightened by the mention of this Marco. “I know, but what could I do? By the time I saw what happened, he was already cut bad. His pulse was so slow I thought he was dying! I had to do something quick, and I did the only thing I knew to do to save his life—I turned him. Anyway, he’s only the least little bit in heat for me. I never fed him, and the two of them are blood mates. Once he mates with Marco and then feeds from him, it’ll overpower my bite completely.”

“You’d better hope it does,” the other voice said quietly.

Nicky went right back to wondering what the hell they were talking about again. Who was going to “mate” with Marco? Marco was a guy, right? Nicky sincerely hoped they weren’t talking about him, because he definitely was not gay. He totally had no interest in “mating” with any guy. And did someone just mistake him for a girl? He knew he’d let his hair get a little long, and maybe he had a bit of a baby face, but a girl? Nicky hated the idea someone would think he looked feminine. He once tried to grow a beard to make his young face look older than twenty. He shaved it off when Steven took him aside and apologetically told him the look wasn’t working for him. The hair on his chin was so sparse it looked like blond pubic hair.

One of the voices spoke again, sounding excited. “Marco’s here. He just arrived.”

Nicky tried to get his eyes open to see who this Marco was. He opened one eyelid a little to discover he lay on a table of some kind, wrapped in a soft, furry blanket. Several big, burly men he didn’t recognize stood around him, falling back when a cold breeze swept through the room. Some of the men standing closest to him stepped to the side to let the newcomer move up next to him.

Nicky peeked up through his lashes to get a look at the newcomer and gasped aloud when he saw him. The heads of some of the men pivoted toward Nicky in surprise. He had no interest in them. All of his focus, his entire center of being honed in to the man standing beside him as if he’d been waiting for this one person all his life and just hadn’t known it until he saw him. All the light in the universe convened and decided to shine and sparkle on this one man. Who could he be? And why in the hell was he so attracted to a man?

Tall and muscular, Marco reminded Nicky of those muscle men he’d sometimes seen on television. He was absolutely gorgeous, which was shocking, because Nicky’d never thought of a man before in those terms. His dark hair was cut very short, and his dark brown eyes were fringed with thick, black lashes. Nicky had never been so drawn to anyone before in his entire life. He heard himself whimpering deep in his throat as he wanted—no, make that craved—the man’s hands on him. His mind felt separate from his body, watching, horrified, at what his body did. Totally unable to stop himself, his arms reached out to the man, like a child begging to be picked up by his daddy.