BOOK TOUR: Realm Of The Vampire Council by Damian Serbu (Excerpt & Giveaway)

The Vampire’s Angel
The Realm of the Vampire Council Book 1
by Damian Serbu
Genre: M/M Paranormal Romance, Dark Urban Fantasy
As Paris devolves into chaos amidst the French Revolution, three lives intertwine.
Xavier, a devout priest, struggles to hold on to his trust in humanity only to find his own faith threatened with the longing he finds for a mysterious American visitor. Thomas fights against the Catholic Church to win Xavier’s heart, but hiding his undead nature will threaten the love he longs to find with this abbé. Xavier’s sister, Catherine, works with Thomas to bring them together while protecting the family fortune but falls prey herself to evil forces.
The death, peril, and catastrophes of a revolution collide with a world of magic, vampires, and personal demons as Xavier, Thomas, and Catherine fight to find peace and love amidst the destruction.
Thomas walked back to Paris after Anne pushed him out the door. Of course she was right. If he planned on eternity with Xavier, waiting for even a couple of years meant little. The only risk was Xavier’s mortal safety, but Thomas could protect him.
Still, he hated that Xavier fought his true nature, and despite the peace within him, his passion against the church intensified. Against his better judgment (he heard Anthony scolding him in his head), he headed for the Seine and the glorious Notre Dame Cathedral. It took no effort to locate the bishop. He scaled a wall, opened a window, and seated himself on the end of a bed. The figure at its head slept soundly so Thomas wiggled the mattress.
The man woke and screamed in terror. With superhuman haste, Thomas covered his mouth and ordered him to stop. “I won’t kill you if you obey,” he said. He let go of the bishop, who cowered under his sheet.
“We need to chat.” Thomas got up and walked around, taking in the room’s opulence: the expensive furniture, the ornate china left from dinner, the silk vestments, all the finery that one would find in the homes of Paris’s elite. He compared it to the sparse conditions of Xavier’s room: the blank walls and broken desk. Thomas ran his hand along the crucifix, mocking its inability to protect the allegedly holy man. After a grand pause, he turned back to the bishop.
“I know I woke you and it’s late, but I didn’t think that you’d accept my request for a visit.”
“What do you want? Take anything.” The bishop’s voice shook.
“Do I look like a common thief?” Thomas waved his hand at his own expensive clothing. “You and I have other business.” He took a seat on the bed next to the quivering man and ran his fingers along the wrinkled cheek, delighting in the bishop’s terror.
“It’s about a mutual friend. But I warn you, our friend has no idea I’m doing this. If you utter one word to him, I’ll break your neck. The same will happen if you speak of this to any other soul or seek retribution. Agreed?”
The man nodded, hands trembling on the sheet.
“I need you to write a letter of retraction regarding the things you’ve said about Abbé Saint-Laurent. You must admit you were incorrect and commend him for his fine work.”
“He defies the laws of the church.”
“That’s not why you harass him,” Thomas said, leaning forward, tone dangerous. “I couldn’t understand it before I saw you. Why would someone insult a priest who serves a parish few others would even enter? You tried to seduce Xavier and he rebuked you.”
The bishop’s pallor faded even more at Thomas’s words. “I don’t know what—”
Thomas nestled up to the man, put his face nearby, and massaged his leg. Though Thomas glared, the bishop refused to look at him. Thomas blew into his ear and then grabbed his genitals.
After a second, he released them and jumped off the bed. “Still want to deny it, Father?”
By now, the bishop was weeping as he shivered. Thomas marched to a desk, snatched a parchment, and thrust it at him. The bishop obeyed every command. He wrote three letters: one for his official files, one to the Vatican, and one to Xavier, apologizing for his mistaken condemnations and instead praising the young priest for exemplary service. Thomas took them when he had finished, sealed them with the bishop’s emblem, and slid them into his coat pocket.
“You have what you want. Leave me,” the bishop said.
“Do you understand what I mean to do if this isn’t the end of it?”
“Go away. You’ve won.”
Unconvinced that the bishop grasped the severity of his threat, Thomas grabbed the foot of the bed and broke it from its hinges. The mattress crashed to the floor and the bishop rolled to Thomas’s feet. He cried and quaked anew. Thomas reached with a swift motion and broke the man’s little finger. As the man howled in pain, Thomas smashed through the window and jumped two stories to the ground.
Now, to celebrate. Time for a kill.
As usual, people crowded the bars and drank, gambled, had public sex, and railed against Louis. The tawdry scene would produce a worthy victim or two. Thomas entered an establishment and took a seat. Nothing unusual caught his eye. No one longed for his fangs to end an unseemly life, until he heard a familiar voice. He turned, slowly, and saw Marcel seated nearby and talking to the likes of whom Thomas never wanted to even touch. They stank of men hired for dirty, illicit, and violent tasks.
There was a group of worthy victims. He could kill all of them, including Marcel, and rid himself of a major problem. Then Thomas remembered those damn ethical guidelines Anthony pronounced: never meddle in human affairs. Killing Marcel, even in a vial setting, violated that principle. And he had already gone too far in violating the ethic with his visit to Notre Dame. But that logic seemed faulty, until he recalled his conversation with Marcel. What if the demon placed some spell on Xavier to protect himself if Thomas came after him? Was such a thing possible? Thomas had no idea what to do.
Frustrated, Thomas listened.
“You’re fine gentlemen, as always,” Marcel was saying. “I hardly believe you dispatched that customer so fast and without a mess. I appreciate your efforts on my behalf—”
“Enough talk, old man, get to the point,” said one of the men. His breath hit Thomas from two tables away, stinking of tobacco, rum, and a gross assortment of decay.
“Don’t take that tone with me. I have a spying assignment, to watch two men. I need to know their patterns, their friends, and their beliefs. Discover any weaknesses, any material for blackmail, anything they conceal. Try to find out where they keep their money and when they sleep. I must know anything and everything about both of them. Monitor the two Saint-Laurents. One of you watch Michel, the other take Xavier.”
“How long do you want us to do this? It’ll cost you,” the other added.
“I’m well aware of your prices, and believe me, this is worth the cost. I’ll expect a weekly report. One more thing. Never go near their sister. When they visit her, walk away.”
Marcel described Michel and told them where to find him and Thomas pictured the route to Xavier’s church as Marcel gave it to the other man, depicting him, as well.
Thomas let Marcel leave, against his better judgment, as the rules haunted him and his magic concerned him. He followed the other two, however. He sensed enough to know that killing them would not violate the ethic, at least not as much as if he had gone after Marcel. These two had never met anyone from the family, so Thomas decided they stood outside the ethic’s prohibitions. They walked a few blocks, singing drunken songs, proud of Marcel’s coins and then entered a salon with rooms for rent. Thomas stayed close behind when they entered their room. He waited a few seconds and then burst in as they counted their money.
In a complete fury, he first grabbed the one intended to spy on Xavier. He almost failed to notice the terror on his face as he crushed the man’s skull between his hands. He paused as the cranium crunched like a seashell and gore exploded all over the room. He dropped the corpse and swore under his breath. He’d waited too long. The second man had escaped the room, and his screaming brought other patrons into the hall to see about the commotion. Thomas kicked the dead body before he swiftly went into the hall and vacated the building. He could not risk going after the remaining man as he stood among all these onlookers. Instead, he went to feed, once again hungry for blood after several nights of depriving himself.
The Vampire’s Quest
The Realm of the Vampire Council Book 2
The Vampire’s Quest brings back the beloved gay vampires, Xavier and Thomas, in the anticipated sequel to The Vampire’s Angel.
In 1822, the Archangel St. Michel orders Xavier to go on a quest to America, a quest that violates the Vampire Council’s laws to the point of a possible death sentence. Worse, Xavier must abandon his lover, Thomas. Xavier runs to his aging sister and pleads for Catherine’s help as Thomas races after them. With Thomas and the Vampire Council vying for Xavier’s soul, Xavier and Catherine struggle to obey the former priest’s divine calling before their inevitable capture.
Xavier remembered the scene before him well: the unused bridge on the outskirts of Paris, the no-man’s land—created by Anne’s magic to ward off intruders—and the bright fire and living quarters underneath it, where he and Anne lived for a time after returning to Paris.
It took Xavier several minutes to compose himself after watching Thomas dart away before he came here. The sight looked as if nothing changed since the French Revolution, when he and Anne spent many good nights after Xavier reformed himself and prepared to return to Catherine and to find Thomas to profess his love.
Despite the warmth he still felt for the place, the atmosphere was disturbed. Anne had never let angry spirits or demons haunt her realm, but Xavier sensed them all around. He headed toward the fire and paused before it when he saw Anne. She lay upon a makeshift bed of straw with blankets piled upon her still form. Her body was not three feet from the fire, which threatened to set her bed ablaze.
“A little cold to be living under a bridge, isn’t it?” Xavier walked toward Anne, who grinned when she saw her visitor.
“I sensed your undead self coming my way. The spirits are already up in arms around here, sensing I can’t control them like before.” Xavier felt comfortable the moment he heard her dialect, a mixture of her Cajun upbringing with a French accent. She had a rhythm all her own.
“I’d retort, but you don’t look well. You’re awfully close to the fire.”
Anne rumbled with laughter under the blankets, which sent her into a fit of coughing. Her thin arm came out from underneath to wipe her mouth. She spoke when she calmed. “Well, then you don’t need to ask about my proximity to the fire, do you? A dying, old person needs warmth. Lots of it. Good thing a little spell here and there keeps my fire roaring without much effort.”
The vampire ethic forbid interaction with humans a vampire knew in life not only because it threatened exposure, but to remove the temptation to cross them over in order to save them. Xavier wondered today, however, if it also protected their emotion. Other than Catherine, Xavier avoided the misery of seeing his dear and close friends grow old and die. Anthony allowed Xavier to continue seeing Catherine, at Thomas’s pleading. Saying the Vampire Council allowed it because of the “unique circumstances,” whatever that meant, Xavier continued to see her but no one else. Here Anne lay, too gaunt, freezing under a bridge amidst the winter’s snow and coughing because she laughed.
Xavier also knew she would refuse him even if he offered her eternal life. He already had as a last desperate attempt to avoid saying goodbye to her those twenty plus years ago. She had bent over laughing, telling him he already knew the answer, which he had.
“Does the spell keep your bed from catching fire?” Xavier kept a safe distance, always afraid of flames, more so since his visits from St. Michel.
Anne laughed again. “Get around here to the other side where those nasty flames won’t get you. Do you think I’d let this fire do any harm to you?”
“Of course not.”
“You look well, abbé.”
“I am. Or was, until you sent saints and Jesus after me. Did you send them to torture? It was hard enough saying goodbye to you the first time when I knew you were young and had a full life ahead of you.”
Anne reached over and patted him on the arm. “What is this talk of Jesus? You think he listens to me? Or that I command St. Michel?”
“Well, you know something. I didn’t say anything about the archangel’s visits. Or the scar he left atop my head.” Xavier bent his head to show Anne, who howled again with laughter.
“Not my doing. I swear. I called for you, but not through him. We can’t always control the gods with how we want things done, can we?”
“At least you find it funny.”
“I do. Nothing like a good archangel to scare you to death and get you going.” Anne coughed again.
“You’re dying.”
“Yes.” Anne nodded and closed her eyes. “And it’s about time. I lived a good, full life. Happy, mostly. Not bad for a black woman in a white world chased by the church for what I believed. Don’t go around feeling bad or moping because of me. It’s time, and I’m ready.” She reopened her eyes and wiped at a tear.
“Then why am I here? Or was I right, you couldn’t resist torturing me one more time?” Xavier smiled at his friend, whose eyes twinkled despite how she flinched in pain every time she moved.
“It was a way to return the favor of how much I worried about you, when you tried to drink yourself into oblivion, as I dragged you all over France. And for the fact you brought a vampire into my life. Then two, and finally yourself. I owe you a lot for those tricks, you know. You could repay me with the last rites if you’re still available as a priest.”
“You’re dying, and you’re in a lot of pain. And you want extreme unction? Even though you never did believe in my church?”
“A church you don’t believe in, either. It’s complicated, isn’t it? Dying, I mean. And faith?”
“It always was.” Xavier leaned over and touched his cheek to Anne’s.
“Perhaps all of our long theological discussions taught me that more than anything else. We have to keep our minds open, don’t we? We never know how God will approach us.”
“How right you are, abbé. You’re a comfort to me.”
“But you didn’t bring me here to talk about theology. Or to administer the sacrament? What else?”
Anne’s eyes grew wide with fear. She clutched at Xavier’s hand with a power he thought had long since left her. Then she wept. “I didn’t know who else to call, where else to turn. I don’t have power anymore, or I could have done this myself. I hate asking this of you. I know you aren’t supposed to do it. But I need you.”
“What is it?” Xavier petted her hair. “Tell me.”
“I’ll show you.” Anne pointed to the fire.
The flames flared to the top of the bridge, causing Xavier to shrink back. Then they died down but left in their place a vision of another land Xavier had never seen. The image appeared as if from a dream. Xavier could tell the event occurred, despite the fact the people and buildings were blurred, not real and solid. The scene engulfed Xavier. He felt Anne reach over and grab his hand. Her presence and comforting voice surrounded him, though he could not see her. “I’m right here. It’s the only way I know to show you. I’ll bring you back once you know. You’re in New York City. In America.”
Buildings huddled close together, and dirt and grime covered everything. The stench of feces and garbage in the muddy streets offended his senses. It was night, with little light illuminating anything, though Xavier could see well because of either his vampiric vision or Anne’s magic. A strapping young man in his twenties came meandering around a corner, whistling a tune and tossing an empty bottle in the air, only to catch it again. “My grandson, Duncan,” Anne said.
“You have a grandson?” Xavier looked around for Anne in the vision but saw nothing but New York City. “I never knew.”
Anne chuckled. “This was my secret. I didn’t talk about them because I missed them too much. It was a painful memory. And continues to be. I was raped in New Orleans before we came to Europe. They took my baby away from me and hid her. I never met my child but learned through magic to watch her from afar. I cared for her from a distance the best I could, and then for her husband and son when they came around. Now stop talking to me. We haven’t much time and you need to see this. Memorize his face for me.”
Xavier glanced back to the young man, who almost caught up to where Xavier stood. Xavier burned the man’s image into his mind: the height, around six feet, the short-cropped hair. He was hit by the man’s beauty. He had a square jaw and chiseled face with the hint of a smile. His full lips enticed Xavier. Absent Thomas, Xavier thought he could fall in love with the man. Or, at least, lust.
Just as he almost lost himself in the fantasy, two horses came storming from an alley. The white riders snarled as they raced through the streets, then one took out a club and swung it over his head. Xavier ducked before remembering none of it was real. Duncan whipped around in surprise and then terror when he heard the horses behind him. Xavier saw the club smash into the young man’s head. Duncan fell to the ground.
The two men reared up their horses and jumped down. As Duncan tried to gain his senses and lurch away, one of the men punched him. Blood poured down Duncan’s face as he yelped and tried to get away to no avail. They hit him again and heaved him over one of the horses.
Xavier almost threw up. He had run over to help Duncan, to intervene, screaming at the men to stop. Of course he knew they heard nothing. But he screeched again in anger when both got back on their horses, the one with Duncan again hitting the man over the head with the handle of his revolver. At that, the scene went black and Xavier stumbled back into reality.
Xavier had fallen beside Anne’s bed with the blood tears streaming down his face. “That happened?”
“It did.” Anne wheezed more than before, Xavier assumed from the exertion of showing him the image. “I can’t see him anymore. They took him. I’ve looked and looked and asked spirits I dare not ask for help. Nothing.”
“How long ago did this happen?” Xavier got up, wiped his eyes, and returned to Anne’s side.
“Not long. I have one more thing to tell you, and then to ask for my favor.” Anne coughed and trembled, barely able to whisper. “I went to dark places after they took him. This body,” she motioned down herself, “was fine not one week ago. Healthy as a horse. Until I went to the black magic to find him. I pleaded with the demon to take me and free Duncan, but he laughed in my face. He cackled, saying I was of no use to him. These things happened, he told me. I offered him my soul. But he laughed again, saying no one wanted it. Imagine, a demon telling you your soul’s worthless. Then his eyes turned fire red and his nostrils flared. ‘I’ll tell you what happened. That’s it. If you’ll release the spirits you captured from me, and then agree to die. Soon.’”
The story sent shivers down Xavier’s spine.
“Oh, my friend, was I stupid.” Anne coughed. “I should have known a desperate person gets tricked by the demon. Happens every time. I need to save Duncan so badly. I said yes.” She shook her head in dismay. “I said yes. The minute I uttered the word, the spirits I saved from the black realm soared away, crying in agony as the demon took possession of them. I screamed at him to uphold his part of the bargain. He stalked back to me, black as night except for those burning eyes, and smirked. ‘Slavery. They took him to slavery. He’s safe and sound now in the South.’
“And he disappeared. I screamed again at him. I sought to get him back. But we made a bargain, and like a fool I accepted it. All these years, I refused the black magic. In one stupid moment of desperation, I let it all get away from me. Gone were the spirits I protected, and I glanced down to see this emaciated body. He kept his promise to tell me what happened, but it did me no good. It meant nothing.” Anne stopped talking as she labored to breathe, sweating from the painful memories.
“So you called for me.” Xavier sat beside his friend, who nodded her head.
“I’m so sorry,” Anne whispered. “I don’t expect you to do it. I don’t need repayment for anything I ever did for you, it’s not about that. It’s…” Anne drifted off, crying.
“You were desperate,” Xavier finished for her. Anne nodded her agreement.
“And friends never abandon each other. Ever. I’ll find him.”
As if at last hearing what she needed, Anne’s hand went limp in Xavier’s. Her open eyes stared into the vacant night, and the fire went out. A chilled breeze blew under the bridge, carrying with it the unsavory smell of death.
“I’ll find him,” Xavier said again, knowing Anne’s spirit hovered nearby.
Numb, Xavier moved into action. Without comprehending how he gained the knowledge, Xavier knew what he had to do. He constructed a funeral pyre and then leaped atop it with Anne in his arms. Setting her on the structure, he kissed her cheek softly and administered the last rites, as she requested. Once on the ground, he rebuilt the fire. Slowly, so as not to burn himself, he reconstructed the roaring conflagration. The priest in him took over as he said a funeral mass while Anne’s body burned to nothing.
It embarrassed Xavier he spent so much time with her and never knew about that part of her life. In the vision, he sensed the agony it caused her but also felt the deep bond of love she had for her daughter and grandson. As he gathered Anne’s things and heaped them on the fire to follow her into the afterlife, he discovered recent letters between her and Duncan. She had reached out to her grandson, and he rejoiced at finding his grandmother when he always believed he would know nothing more about his family. These, Xavier tucked away in his coat pocket.
So that was the quest St. Michel commanded. Perhaps Anne would never require such a thing of him, but the archangel expected as much. Besides, Xavier did not need the divine command to spur him into action. Anne had saved him. When drunk and despondent, Xavier ran to her for help. She pulled him into her grasp and led him throughout France, letting him decide for himself to become sober, waiting at the seaside while he had a brief romance with the sailor who helped him to understand his sexual longings, and then back to Paris and reconciliation with Catherine. Anne nurtured him until he went to Thomas, his true love, and began eternal life with the man of his dreams. He could never repay her.
But he could save the one thing on earth Anne held dear to her. He could go to America to find and save Duncan. With or without a guarantee of protection from St. Michel for violating vampire laws, Xavier had a moral and spiritual obligation to go on the quest.
The Vampire’s Protege
A Realm of the Vampire Council Novel
A sinister vampire offers Charon a choice he can’t refuse: play a deadly game of winner takes all, losers die.
Charon relishes the competition and molds himself into a sexy vampire who defies vampire law, savoring his power and embracing the role of villain. He also loves surrounding himself with hot young men. But when an alluring vampire stalks him and threatens to turn him into the Vampire Council unless he helps with a seemingly impossible task, will Charon risk his perfectly narcissistic life on the challenge? Does he have any other choice?
Charon walked briskly toward the traffic light, continuing on the path to the little wine bar across the street where he’d intended to go before his new straight pal delayed him. Without a word, the guy caught up to him.
“You care where we go?” Charon asked.
“You’re weird.” Part of this whole scenario absolutely creeped Charon out, like the time the dude approached him about getting into porn, but unlike that time, another part of him wanted to listen to this one’s proposal or insanity or whatever. Like some fatal attraction drew him to this stranger.
The guy laughed softly. “You’ve no idea.”
Even stranger. Whatever. Charon intended to keep this in public and safe. Might as well enjoy a freak session with a straight guy while he waited for his semen to build back up for another run at some hot little number. Might even spend the night with the next one.
Charon sat at a small table to the side, expecting the guy to take the opposite seat. Instead, he went over to the bar and ordered something. He returned with two empty red wineglasses and set them on the table.
“My treat.”
“I don’t let guys treat me. Leads to expectations and bullshit.”
Again the dude laughed. “Typically, I suppose so. Drink anyway. This is a very expensive bottle, and I would hate to drink it alone.”
“What’s your name?” Charon asked.
Dude smiled. “In time.”
This got more fucked up by the minute. Total mistake to engage the lunatic, no matter how good-looking or powerful his aura. “Don’t you even want to know my name?”
“I don’t need a formal introduction, Charon. Though in a minute, I’d like to learn your real name, and not the frat-boy image you portray.”
“You know my name?” Charon’s jaw dropped open, but he recovered quickly. “And I don’t go for frat-boy covers. I am who I am.”
The man nodded. “I stand corrected. You’re quite right. It’s not some façade but rather your true persona. That’s why we’re sitting together, actually.
Though I still know it’s not your given name.”
The shop owner appeared with the bottle of wine, holding it out to the guy with a sweeping gesture. “Not many ask for this one. Rare. With a wonderful bouquet! Still, it usually sits there for quite a while.”
“Because most can’t afford it.” He sounded like Charon with the snotty, dismissive answer.
The waiter attempted one more time to chat but gave up and uncorked the wine, poured it, and took his leave.
“He usually talks up a storm.” Charon smelled the wine. Exquisite.
Charon laughed despite the guy unnerving him. “I enjoy his chatter. Nice enough.”
“Nice doesn’t usually appeal to you.”
Charon tasted the wine. “That’s the second time you claim to know something about me. And kind of got it right, but not quite. I like nice people. In small doses. And when I seek it. Before this gets any stranger and you reveal that you’re a serial killer or whatever, would you explain what the fuck’s going on? How did you know my name? What exactly do you want?”
This odd companion lifted an eyebrow and took a long drink of the wine, then held it in his mouth for several seconds before swallowing and closing his eyes. After a long moment, he opened them again. “That is wonderful. Perhaps you’re right about him. He recommended it, so I should go lighter on him.”
“That’s not an answer to my question.”
“I don’t intend to answer it right now. Since you’re so eager to get on with our business, allow me to cut to the chase. At this point, you’re free to go as you choose. That freedom won’t last long. The longer you persist with hearing my offer, the more entrapped you become in the game. I’ll explain everything, on my time—not yours, but you’ll have to be patient. When I finish this small monologue, I’ll ask a few questions. More curiosities than anything, to fill in a few gaps in my knowledge. You may answer or refuse. Any refusal becomes an end to our conversation. That is, until you reach the point of no return. Understand?”
Charon swirled his wine and laughed. “You’re even more fucking nuts than I thought. Whacked completely out of your mind. You somehow think you’re the Phantom of the Opera.”
“Yet still you sit here. You obviously sense that I offer something marvelous.”
Charon raised his eyebrows. Kook.
The man leaned over the table toward Charon. “Even in your brilliance, with all your wealth, your complete control over all situations, and utter disregard for those around you in your quest for whatever you want, I possess something you would die for. It would rival the rather impressive art collection on your walls.” Again Charon wondered how this guy learned so much. “Your furniture, the penthouse, none of that can measure up to this opportunity. But you have to play my game to get it or even find out what it is. First question. And I warn you, don’t piss away this opportunity with your attitude.”
He paused, but Charon said nothing. How did he know so much about
Charon? Instinct told Charon to accept the offer to get away and leave at once. Nothing good could come from this impossibly weird conversation, could it? On the other hand, he gained that information about Charon for a reason, the bottle of wine spoke of wealth, as did his Guess jeans and DKNY tank top. The Rolex, too.
Charon looked around. The owner of the shop chatted away with a couple of other patrons and four other customers sat around a table across the way. Perfectly safe. Might as well continue. If anything, this totally odd interaction amused Charon for a while.
“What’s your question?” Charon lifted his glass and smelled the wine again.
“How did you get the nickname Charon?”
Charon shrugged. “In college, from my fraternity brothers. No big deal.”
“Of course not. But you must admit it’s intriguing. I already figured they labeled you with it. Let me rephrase the question. You seem more like an Eros, the way you convince anyone who sees you to fall in love. Or, at least they think they want to love you, until they meet the real you.”
“Well, you just answered your own question, didn’t you? I hardly act like Eros, pining for true love and offering it to those around me.”
“Still, then what about Apollo? A beautiful and powerful God. Or Achilles? He’d even match your sexuality. But Charon? Have you seen the depictions of him? Snarled and ugly as he demands payment for crossing the river into death.”
Charon laughed at the brief lesson in Greek mythology. He already knew it, of course. Truth be told, Charon fit his image much better than those dazzling names and personas. “They may match my appearance better. Yeah. That’s true. But I got slapped with Charon because I paddle anyone who comes my way across the River Styx toward gloom, only humor them to get what I want. The name is about where I lead people.”
“Charming.” The man smiled and then tilted his head back and roared with laughter. “Especially that you so embrace the negative moniker given by those closest to you. Your truest friends even think you’re a fiend.”
“Yeah, well, speaking of charming, it’s not like they’re much better.”
The man nodded. “To an extent. At least, they were. Yet since college, they returned to their given names. Reformed their behaviors quite a bit, this weekend notwithstanding. You, however”—he shook his finger at Charon—“still go by your Greek god’s name to the point of doing it anywhere you go, not just with them. You still party like a freshman. There’s nothing mature in your life. Now, that could be the trust fund you stole and live off. No need for responsibility with you.”
Fuck. How did he know about that? Nobody knew that. Nobody. “Can you read minds or something?”
“No, I can’t. I like to toss you little tidbits from time to time to keep you interested. But it’s not time for me to explain that yet. We’re still learning about you.”
“What else is there to tell?” Charon became uneasy again. “You nailed it. I don’t intend to change. Charon suits me just fine. I like it.”
“And being unencumbered by relatives or people close to you helps as well.”
Charon nodded and took a big drink. “You got it.”
“Though I learned a lot, I still haven’t figured out if you mean that or resigned yourself to it.”
“I’m not lying to you.”
“Perhaps to yourself? Anyway, I’m sorry I’ve frightened you to this point. I didn’t know how else to get your attention.”
Charon poured each more wine and gave in completely to the moment. Something held him here despite his initial fear and the general creepiness of what this guy knew. He either needed to bolt now or stick to it. No one ever intimidated him into fear or submission.
“Actually, you’re lying to me for the first time. You’ve enjoyed this. You love the fear and control over me, as much as I do when I get it over other people. But you were at least right. It got my attention. So no more bullshit. What other questions do you need answered before you reveal this amazing game you want to play?”
The man smiled and leaned far across the table toward Charon, mere inches from his face. “That’s the Charon I’ve grown to know and love. That’s better. Good.” He moved back into his own space. “Your real name?”
“Blade Haden. How on earth did you know everything else but that?”
He smiled. “Just making sure you were still compliant, despite the real you coming to the surface. Of course I knew it. You gave it to yourself.”
“Well, I never knew any other name.”
“I know. So, Blade Haden-cum-Charon. I think we’ve almost advanced to the next stage.”
“Your point of no return?”
He nodded.
“Then let’s cross it.” Charon drained his glass.
“You don’t want to ask any questions? Maybe I’m a cold-blooded killer and chose you as my next victim.”
“Then I’m already dead. And I did wonder about that. But I hardly think that’s your game because this took too long. You took too much care for something as pedestrian as that.”
“Come now, humor me with a little something.”
Charon thought for a minute. He really had nothing else but wanted to move to the next thing. “Okay. What’s your name?”
“Good question. I’m afraid you don’t need to know it.”
“Seems like we might spend some time together, at least for the night. Am I supposed to just shout ‘Dude’ every time I want your attention?”
He laughed. “Fair enough. How about this? Call me Styx.”
“Sticks? After all this buildup, you want Sticks?”
He shook his head. “S-t-y-x.”
“Ah. I see. You like my nickname and want to be like me.”
“I’ve no desire to take on someone else’s persona. Give me more credit than that. But I do intend to be the river that transports you to where you long to go. Just as the River Styx provides our dear Charon with transportation.”
The Bachmann Family Secret
A Realm of the Vampire Council Companion Novel
Jaret Bachmann travels with his family to his beloved grandfather’s funeral with a heavy heart and, more troubling, premonitions of something evil lurking at the Bachmann ancestral home. But no one believes that he sees ghosts.
Grappling with his sexuality, a ghost that wants him out of the way, and the loss of his grandfather, Jaret must protect his family and come to terms with powers hidden deep within himself.
My thoughts then turned to Gramps. Overlooking his yard reminded me of the fireflies Gramps and I had spent hours catching when I was a kid, before we moved to Colorado and afterward on our summer visits here. I remembered the special cages we’d bought at the drugstore for them, but they rarely lived past a couple of days. I didn’t care. I’d go out and catch dozens more. And Gramps never complained, never let on he might have wanted to do something else.
The ghosts of their little lights blinked at me, as if calling from the past. I wondered why none appeared tonight, and then my grief overcame me, and I wished Gramps were still alive. I thought about his appearance earlier in the afternoon. Why was he so scary? And how come he didn’t look as solid as he had earlier? He changed once I got to the house. What was going on? That wasn’t the Gramps I knew. Maybe dying changed him. But I didn’t want to believe anything bad about the man who loved us so much in life.
I also thought about the faces in the attic window I’d seen from my walk. I wanted to believe a family member got the door open and went up there, but I knew the attic door was still jammed. I didn’t even have to try the knob to know. So who, then, was at the window?
Darth growled and I whipped my head toward the bed to see her staring toward the side of me. She snarled and rose to her feet, the hair on her back standing straight up. The hair on my arms rose, too, when I turned and saw Gramps sitting in the corner, rocking in a chair. I went over and turned on the lights to get a better look. He appeared solid again, human even, and his gentle face seemed loving and reassuring, not irate. Gramps smiled at Darth and made a peaceful gesture for her to sit down, which she obeyed. She stayed on guard, but stopped growling.
Then he looked at me and smiled. I smiled back. “I miss you,” I said, and he nodded in a way he used to do, when he was sympathizing with me.
Again questions shot through my mind with no answers in sight. What did he want me to do? And how come I was the only one in the weird family he came to? His ghost stood and walked toward the door and looked back when he reached it. He motioned for me to follow, then waited.
Confused, I went with him, but made darn sure Darth came along. And even though he’d been so weird and pissed during the afternoon, I trusted him. Lord, I thought, I’m talking about a man who’s dead, but he’s taking me on an evening stroll through his house. I hoped my parents or someone in the family didn’t decide to get up for a drink of water or anything.
Gramps took us to the attic door and, without making a sound or movement, opened it and pointed. Well, the door opened by itself. I stared at the opening, feeling a new sense of dread, and refused to move, refused to step inside the room with the horrible energy, with all the bad feelings in it. I had never gone up there while Gramps was alive, and I couldn’t go now, even with Darth, even with Gramps’s nice ghost encouraging me.
Gramps still smiled despite my resistance. He looked at me and signaled he loved me by placing his fist over his heart and then pointing at me. He next drew a necklace around his neck and pointed into the attic.
No way, I thought. Jewels? Is Gramps showing me the jewels? I watched and he lifted his fingers to his lips in the shhh gesture. He wanted me to keep the news a secret. But from whom? And how come I got to know? I started to ask him, but he disappeared and left Darth and me alone in the hall. The attic door closed and locked shut without a sound as Gramps’s ghost vanished, leaving me more confused than before, if possible.
Okay, so Gramps shushed me. Did he disappear because I tried to speak? Was he mad again? A chill passed down my spine and the hallway became icy cold, as Darth resumed growling in the darkness. I strained to see what bothered her when I saw Gramps again coming down the hall, but he was frowning, angry, and back to the pissed-off version of a spirit. What was going on? He was no longer solid, either, as I stared right through his form. Plus, he appeared younger than he was when he brought me to the attic not five minutes ago. Had I disappointed him? Was he angry I started to talk?
He drifted up to me and opened his mouth, and like when his laughter filled my head, his voice flooded my brain. “Where?” he screamed as he circled Darth and me.
Scared shitless, I ran toward the stairs and dragged Darth behind me. The ghost—Gramps?—stayed in the hallway and moved in violent circles. I felt the air as it swirled around. Why was Gramps kind and gentle one minute and then attacking me the next? What was going on? And why did he tell me about the jewels and then get all pissed?
I sprinted across the first floor to the back door where Darth’s leash hung, grabbing it as I opened the door and ran outside with her at my heels, not bothering to hook her to the leash until after we stood in the backyard well away from the house. My heart pounded, my entire body trembled, and I struggled not to slump over.
I glanced at the house to see if anyone followed me or turned on a light because of the commotion, but the scene appeared serene and quiet. Like no maniac irate ghost spun around like a madman in the upstairs hall. Good, because how was I going to explain what happened? Oh, don’t worry. Go back to bed, Mom. Just a pissed-off ghost in the hallway. No biggie. It’s under control. I needed to take another walk, get myself together. I started to turn away when Gramps looked out the landing window and glared down at me with glowing red eyes. Even angrier than a moment ago.
“What?” I whispered. “What did I do? Why are you so mad?”
I pulled Darth away and headed out the gate, down the street, with no idea where to go or what to do, except I needed to get away from the house and the furious ghost. I sprinted down the sidewalk, my entire body still shaking, paused after a few blocks, exhausted, and glanced back at Gramps’s house. Even from a distance, I made out its shape and saw the gables peeking out from behind the trees. Despite all the warm memories, the place felt like the devil’s lair in the blackness of night.
The Vampire’s Witch
The Realm of the Vampire Council Book 3
The Vampire’s Witch welcomes readers back to the world of vampires, witches, and magic.
Jaret Bachmann’s life spins out of control after a handsome stranger saves him from an attack along the bike path on Lakeshore Drive. His estranged high school sweetheart stalks him, the enraged ghost of his ancestor destroys his family, and his bike path savior-cum-lover abandons him after learning Jaret is a powerful witch, all of it sending Jaret into deep depression. Struggling to find his way afterward, Jaret searches for comfort in the unlikely friendship of a secret vampire community.
Xavier, Thomas, Anthony, and Catherine return in this, the third book in The Realm of the Vampire Council series and a sequel to The Bachmann Family Secret. Over time, Jaret’s friendship with the vampires strengthens and he forges a new family connection with Xavier, Thomas, and Catherine. But he and Anthony are estranged and though their souls are entwined, there hearts are another matter.
Jaret gripped the steering wheel, his palms sweating. His ancestral home sat before him. Dark—foreboding. His head hurt like hell.
He realized he’d stashed his cell phone in the center console and forgot to check for calls. He pulled it out and saw several messages from Xavier and Thomas but decided to listen later after he made sure about his family’s safety.
Darth barked like a rabies-infected beast, and he pulled her close to calm her. “Darth, no barking.” She quieted even as she panted hard, her eyes never leaving the house. “I know girl. I’m spooked too.” Jaret blew out a breath and reached into his pocket to feel the Bachmann gemstones he’d brought along. His nerves quieted a little to know these stones gave him power over the supernatural. Even Henrik, the enraged ghost of one of his ancestors.
Still he trembled and delayed the inevitable trek up the large porch that wrapped around the old Victorian house. His mind whirled with the events of the last year leading him to this moment and inspired fear deep within his soul. Something had gone terribly wrong. Henrik had returned to exact vengeance against the family. Against Jaret.
He wiped the sweat from his brow and looked at Darth. “Ready?” She panted an unknown answer and growled, almost under her breath.
Jaret stared at the ground as he stepped toward the porch, then watched each foot climb one step at a time. Slow. He reached down to make sure Darth had stayed by his side. Only then did he feel the hair on her back standing straight up, the rumble of warning still in her belly.
He pulled the house key from his pocket, making sure to grab as many of the jewels as possible in his other hand. He touched the front door. The pounding headache always warning him of hauntings threatened to drop him to his knees so he asked the gems for strength to continue, which they granted. Still, his head hurt more than he could ever remember. Even more than the time, at this very house, Henrik attempted to kill him and Steve.
Then he felt the presence in his very bones. Henrik had indeed returned to Fremont. Angrier. Irrational. Set on destroying the family and everyone in his path. Jaret knew the truth without needing confirmation. Henrik waited inside for him. He had no choice but to enter.
The door creaked as Jaret slowly opened it. Darth whined a protest and lurched back before charging forward in front of Jaret after he proceeded inside. She had never abandoned him. Jaret relied on her inner dog voice to push her forward, knowing she would defend him with her life if necessary.
Jaret choked back the bile when he set foot in the entryway. He smelled rot. Human waste and death clung in the air like thick smoke. Henrik had transformed the mansion into a haunted house, complete with streams of blood flowing down the stairwell and dank mold covering the walls. The grand house of his childhood, when his loving grandfather had safeguarded the family, had turned into a house of horrors.
His head swirled and he fought with all his inner strength against the desire to faint away and make reality disappear. He glanced up to see if Henrik waited at the top of the stairs, as he had so often in the past, but saw nothing but Henrik’s addition of uncharacteristic cobwebs covering the grand chandelier.
An evil wrapped itself around this house, something tangible and horrific. His heart sank, something deep within telling him a tragedy had occurred, the likes of which he had never witnessed. Next he peered into the living room. He saw ripped furniture, toppled tables, glass shards everywhere. Henrik produced mold to grow on the walls here too and blood covered every surface. Deep, crimson blood everywhere. On the carpet. In the chairs. Smeared across the ceiling.
Again the room began to swirl and his knees buckled. Jaret clutched at the jewels, begging them for more strength than he had ever needed. They responded and again he stood upright, though losing his last, tiny semblance of confidence. On the long drive from Chicago he reminded himself he had defeated Henrik in the past and jailed him inside the iron box. The gems fought for him, too, along with an increased knowledge about his own powers.
Such reassurance worked until his mind forced him to confront the memory of death when he had walked into his apartment and saw the iron box opened, the golden key in its lock, and Steve dead. To avoid panic, Jaret reminded himself Henrik could have designed all these theatrics to scare him. Maybe he spared them. The Bachmann family legacy meant everything to Henrik, so he had to keep them alive, right?
Again Jaret smelled the death and decay in the air. This time, he leaned over and threw up. As he worked to right himself and ignore the macabre scene, Darth lurched forward and howled a warning bark before snarling and growling. She positioned herself between Jaret and the staircase, barking as if a pack of wolves headed toward them.
Jaret scanned up the stairs, following the flow of blood, until he saw feet standing upon the landing. He glanced up the blue wool pant legs covered in blood, saw the bloodied hands contentedly folded in front of the man’s groin, and continued up the stained and dripping shirt until he stared into the bright-red eyes of a smiling Henrik. A ghost, no doubt, but never before had Jaret seen him so solid and in command.
Henrik smiled, blood covering his teeth. “Hello, Jaret.”
The stairs spun away, and Jaret’s last sight was the enormous spider spinning away in the chandelier when the world went completely black.
Damian Serbu lives in the Chicago area with his husband and two dogs, Akasha and Chewbacca. The dogs control his life, tell him what to write, and threaten to eat him in the middle of the night if he disobeys. He has published several gay horror/romance/humorous books with NineStar Press. Keep up to date with him on Facebook, Twitter, or at www.DamianSerbu.com.
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