Congratulations to N.R. Walker
Cronin's Key II
History isn’t always what it seems.
With the battle of Egypt behind them, Alec and Cronin are enjoying the thrill of new love. Though fate doesn’t wait long before throwing them back into the world of weird.
They know Alec’s blood is special, though its true purpose still eludes them. And given Alec’s inability to be changed into a vampire, Cronin is free to drink from him at will. But the ramifications of drinking such powerful blood starts a ripple effect.
With the help of Jorge, a disturbing vampire-child with the gift of foresight, Alec and Cronin face a new kind of war. This time their investigations lead them to the borders of China and Mongolia—but it’s not what lies in the pits beneath that worries Alec.
It’s the creator behind it all.
In the underground depths of China, amidst a war with the Terracotta Army, they will find out just what the Key is, and what Alec means to the vampire world.
It took Alec a second to get his bearings. Leaving a warm and well-lit apartment and landing in a cold, dark alley in the time it took to blink was disorienting. He was used to the pain of leaping now. The feeling of being pixelated and shredded at the cellular level was expected, but he knew it was only momentary.
The cold air blasted him regardless, and he shivered against Cronin. Cronin took his hand and led him down the alley, out onto the street.
Alec noticed the cars first. The steering wheel was on the wrong side of the car, the cars were on the wrong side of the road. He looked down the neon-lit street, hearing the foreign accents around him as they passed Londoners having a night out. It made him grin.
Cronin walked up to a nightclub door, ignoring the waiting line-up of hopefuls. The bouncers gave him a nod, and Cronin pulled Alec through the doors with him. “Known around here, I take it?”
Cronin looked over his shoulder and smiled at him, giving Alec a glimpse of his vampire fangs. “This establishment is owned by a friend.”
Okay then. A vampire nightclub. Alec had no clue what he was walking into, yet he felt no fear. He was with Cronin, after all.
Cronin was an elder of the US East Coast, well-known and well-respected. A healthy dose of well feared didn’t hurt his reputation either.
The room was packed and pumping, the floor filled with dancers and drinkers. It was dark inside like most nightclubs Alec had been in, but he could still see that most of the people inside were human. They seemed blissfully ignorant of the company they kept. Alec guessed it kept in line with the vampire law of anonymity, though he did wonder how many of these unknowing humans wouldn’t see morning.
As if Cronin could read his mind, he leaned in close and whispered over the loud music, “No one can be harmed here. It would bring too much attention to the owners. It is simply a business owned by one of our kind.” Cronin pulled back, his dark eyes black, his normally rust colored hair tinted blue from the neon light above. “Drink?”
Alec nodded and Cronin led the way to the bar. Cronin stared for a beat too long at some guy who was leaning against the bar by himself before he nodded and called him by name. “Lars.”
Alec wanted to ask what was up with Lars—he was obviously a vampire—but before he had the chance, a voice came from behind them. “Cronin.”
Cronin smiled before he’d even turned around. “Kennard.”
Alec recognized the man as the elder of the London coven. He’d spoken to him via a video call when they were planning their attack in Egypt two months ago. Kennard was young in human years, no more than twenty. He was shorter than Alec imagined, with a slim build outlined by his fitted jacket with the collar upturned, perfectly styled blond hair, pale skin, and pink lips. He was boyish in looks, but there was a ferociousness lurking under the innocent façade. Alec thought that was what made him even more frightening.
“And Alec!” Kennard said, his eyes lighting up delightedly. He took Alec’s hand. “An absolute pleasure to meet you in person.”
Cronin made a point of looking at Kennard’s hand on Alec’s and feigned a snarl. It was hardly menacing, considering he did it with a smile.
“Oh, hush,” Kennard waved Cronin off. “You’ve been hiding him away for weeks now.” Kennard smiled up at Alec. Kennard’s flair and inflection reminded Alec of an over-acted Shakespeare play, and given Kennard was indeed a London elder, Alec wondered how far wrong he was on when exactly Kennard was human. “So, the hero of Egypt? No wonder you’re fated to Cronin. Only someone rather remarkable would be a match for him.”
Alec wasn’t sure what to make of Kennard. “Um….”
Cronin laughed and took Alec’s hand out of Kennard’s. “Ignore him. He’s an insatiable flirt,” he said, smiling warmly at his English friend. “But yes, Alec was very brave and clever.”
“You forgot handsome and good in bed,” Alec added.
Cronin blushed and Kennard clapped his hands as he laughed. “Oh, how I like you.” Then Kennard gave the barman a nod, “Get my friend here whatever he wants.”
Alec ordered a scotch and lime water, rather thankful he didn’t have to pay, because the only money he had was American dollars.
They followed Kennard through the crowd, up a few stairs, to a booth on a platform. It was clearly Kennard’s table, where he could sit and watch over his club. It also gave them privacy to speak freely without fear of being overheard by human ears. When they were seated, Kennard was still smiling at Alec. “So, the key is still human,” he said. “I have to say Cronin, I’m surprised.”
“Yeah well, about that,” Alec said, sipping his drink. “I can’t be changed. Not for the lack of trying.” He craned his neck slightly so his jacket slid down his neck, knowing Kennard would see the bite marks.
Kennard’s eyes shot to Cronin’s, and he sucked back a breath. “What is the meaning of this?”
“We don’t know,” Cronin said, his arm sliding protectively around Alec’s shoulders. “His blood is… special. It’s what made him the key to defeating Keket in Egypt—he resurrected a mummified vampire with his blood alone,” Cronin said. “Though our seer says his work is not yet done.”
Kennard’s eyes narrowed, but he shook it off and schooled his features with a smile. He looked again at Alec’s neck. “Well, if any one of us were fortunate enough to have the best of both worlds, Cronin, it would be you.”
Alec finished his drink, Kennard waved his hand, and not a moment later another full drink was on the table. “Thank you,” Alec said. “And thank you for helping us in Egypt. I’m glad I got to thank you in person.”
“It is I who should be thanking you,” Kennard said. “It’s not every day we get to meet and talk with a key.”
Alec was beginning to hate that word.
Maybe he wouldn’t hate it so much if he knew what it fucking meant.
Kennard was still obviously shocked. “Yet you can bite him and he remains human?”
Alec swore he heard a rush of whispers from the edges of the crowd. The vampires in the club clearly heard what Kennard said. Cronin let out a low growl. Kennard raised a hand dismissively and the whispers stopped. Cronin’s growl lowered but took a while to fade completely.
Kennard laughed. “Maybe we shouldn’t talk about biting here, no?”
Cronin’s reply was low and final. “No.”
Kennard changed the subject of conversation. “How’s Eiji? Is he getting better?”
“All but healed,” Cronin answered. Word had spread quickly that Eiji had survived exposure to sunlight in saving Alec’s life. “He and Jodis are in Japan while he convalesces.”
Alec finished his drink, and a third appeared in front of him. He was already a little buzzed, so he sipped his next drink and scanned the floor while Cronin and Kennard talked of vampire matters. It was all rather political, and Alec was too busy checking out the dance floor to pay any attention. He wasn’t one to dance often, but in the end, it got the better of him. Alec downed his drink and stood up. “I’m gonna hit the dance floor,” he said.
Cronin started to object, naturally, but Kennard put his hand on Cronin’s arm. “Ah, Cronin,” Alec heard Kennard say. “Let him dance while we talk business. No need for the three of us to be bored senseless.”
Not caring they had company, Alec leaned down and kissed Cronin soundly before going back down the stairs and making his way through a sea of people. They were a mix of men and women, and from the lingering, knowing looks by some of them, Alec knew they were a solid mix of human and vampire.
Alec didn’t care. He let his head fall back and closed his eyes, feeling the bass of the music in his chest. It felt good to be doing something so normal, so human. He knew Cronin never took his eyes off him, and once upon a time that would’ve annoyed Alec. He’d have forbidden such possessive behavior, but now he reveled in it. He craved being owned by Cronin, as much as Cronin longed to be owned by him.
Being fated was a beautiful thing.
Alec couldn’t believe he’d once tried to rebuke the idea.
A warm body pressed a little too close, making Alec open his eyes. He knew it had to be some human—no vampire in the club would be stupid enough to approach another vampire’s mate, and Cronin’s mate no less. It was a guy who smiled at him, but before he could even speak, Cronin was in between them, staring at the now-pale human man until he backed away.
Alec pulled himself against Cronin’s ass and laughed. “Jealousy looks good on you.”
“We must leave,” Cronin said.
“He didn’t mean anything by it,” Alec started to say.
But Cronin had Alec’s hand and was leading him to what Alec realized was the back way to the fire escape. “No, we must go. Now.”
Alec knew from Cronin’s tone something was wrong. He tried to clear his head. “What happened?”
“It’s not what has happened,” Cronin said as he pushed through the back door into an alley where Kennard stood waiting. “It’s what’s going to happen.”
Alec had no sooner stepped into the alley, than Cronin looked around and checked that the three of them were alone. He put his arm around Alec, pulled him close, put his hand on Kennard’s shoulder, and they leapt.
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About the author:
N.R. Walker is an Australian author, who loves her genre of gay romance. She loves writing and spends far too much time doing it, but wouldn't have it any other way. She is many things; a mother, a wife, a sister, a writer. She has pretty, pretty boys who live in her head, who don't let her sleep at night unless she gives them life with words. She likes it when they do dirty, dirty things...but likes it even more when they fall in love. She used to think having people in her head talking to her was weird, until one day she happened across other writers who told her it was normal. She's been writing ever since...
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