Marcus was likely dead, killed by the Inquisition, or so it was believed. Then the vampire was found, broken beyond words, in an isolated prison fortress. Marcus had never expected to see daylight again, let alone be rescued by his mate. Now he worries he’ll drag Caleb into his darkness.
Caleb was the one who pulled Marcus out of his prison cell, and he’s determined to drag him from the nightmares of his mind as well. After all, that’s what mates are for, and Caleb had lost hope at finding his. And if he can help destroy the entire Inquisition? Well, all the better.
Dealing with Marcus’s physical and mental healing from his trauma is difficult enough, but Inquisition holdouts are causing chaos everywhere, and sinister plots are rampant. Marcus and Caleb have no choice but to fight back. It’s a good thing they are not alone.
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Part One: Donovan
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IF YOU'RE LOOKING to read a story about a sassy teenage gay boy who refuses to behave until he meets Mr. Wonderful in Senior Honors Physics, and then is dazzled into improved conduct and future monogamy, I highly doubt this is the book for you. Believe me when I say you should close the book right now — drop it into a recycling bin if you're all about keeping the earth green — and walk away. To this point, my life hasn't run according to a predictable romantic formula. I don't see a reason for this status to change.
Maybe you think you're into something darker, so an unconventional story will suit your offbeat mood. News flash, reader: loners spend significant time in bookstores. I'm aware of the kind of books that consider themselves dark, at least in a carnal sense, and many are categorized as "New Adult," just like this one. Between lewd front and back covers featuring tits, tats, and torsos, a threadbare plot is woven into a heavy fabric of inspired sex. You're not likely to find that shit in here, either — but don't I wish?
By now, you've probably noticed I possess a flair for the dramatic. Well, I look at it like this: creating drama staves off boredom. Not that I need to justify myself. But if you're still with me, you've earned a shred of my respect. So on second thought, maybe you should keep reading.
Stick along for the ride if it pops your cork ...
I TOWEL MYSELF off after my second, extremely necessary, shower of the morning. Mom's cast-off pale pink towel is history thanks to unsightly smudges of black dye. Whatever. I did what I had to do, even if it was messy.
This morning, you see, I woke up and dyed my roots black. The urge to do it had been gathering steam for a few days — ever since the new kid started working at the diner. I picked up the dye on a rather compelling whim at the 24-hour pharmacy on the corner of Depot and Wilder Streets after work on Tuesday night. The rest is well-planned history.
I had to refer to a YouTube video so my roots would appear intentional, rather than a result of lazy grooming. And you may think I seem like a hot mess, but my crime against hair color has been done by careful design. Don't delude yourself — I wasn't going for the chic ombré look. Believe me, there's nothing trendy about me. I want bold black roots with zero transition to the rest of my white-blond hair.
I glance in the mirror over the bathroom sink and see the male reverse of Cruella DeVil. And I smile, having achieved the "what the fuck's up with his hair?" vibe I desire.
I suppose you want to know why I did it. That's an easy one, and I think you're going to appreciate my total candor. Drumroll, please: It's because even if I'm a loner, I'm not heartless. I'm different, and I flaunt it, which is my way of keeping it real with the world. FYI: "Different" is my PC way of letting the public know I'm strange, frightening, and maybe even slightly dangerous. So, it's better if that kid at the diner, and everybody else, looks away.
And you know what, boys and girls? I can help with that ...
Here's how: I dress like a Halloween scarecrow. Yeah, yeah ... You're wondering what, exactly, constitutes "scarecrow attire"? Go ahead, bookworm, google it. I did — I'm a visual sort of guy. You'll see images of rigid figures, some stuffed with hay, others skinny as the barn boards they're made of, clad in an unfortunate variety of secondhand clothing. I wear plaid flannel button-downs and overalls — yes, even to the wedding of a random second cousin last summer — peplum shirts of coarse fabric, and baggy, worn-out jeans, cinched at the waist by knotted burlap belts. Countless patches, Western bandanas, and an antique, oversized top hat finishes my retro cast-off style.
I laugh as I pull on today's hokey duds. I'm not what you'd call the picture of fashion. In fact, I'd wager guys rarely fantasize about their boyfriends sporting dirty, patched overalls and a hat like Abraham Lincoln's. But even if I take the hat off, you'll see my new jet-black roots — hard as hell to appreciate on a bleached blond. Dedicate the hair color upgrade to that guy at work who won't look away.
He probably considers himself eclectic and likes to think he appreciates life's more unusual things. Or maybe he's merely a Halloween maniac who is turned on by scarecrows with hair like straw. Incidentally, when I stripped my hair of color, I hoped it would further shock those around me into keeping their distance, but it seems to attract a certain fry cook.
I have fifteen minutes before I have to leave for the torture chamber most people refer to as high school, so I kneel in front of the coffee maker and brew a pot. I'll check over my take-home Euro History quiz while it brews. No, I'm not a nerd, but I want better options for the future than I've had in the past.
Before you ask, I have my reasons for wanting to appear shocking to the point of repellant. And for the most part, I've gotten my wish. Teachers and students at school, coworkers and customers at the diner, not to mention Mom and Jake downstairs, all glance at the floor when I walk by. But this guy fixes his gaze on me. Maybe my unnatural black roots will scare him off, the way a good scarecrow stuck in a vast cornfield scares away so many crows.
I just don't understand why he can't see how frightening I am.
You can see it, can't you?
* * *
"The freezer pop is here." Nobody laughs because it's not a joke — they all know it's true. I'm a damned cold human being, at home, at school, and here at my part-time job.
Yippee. He noticed I'm alive. And yeah, if you're wondering, I'm being sarcastic.
As I swish past Walter Ricker, I try to decide if it's worth the effort to flip him the bird for heckling me. By the time I reach my locker, I've decided not to acknowledge his rude remark with an equally rude gesture, mostly because he wants me to so friggin' badly. The dude craves attention — if not from me, then from his puny, not to mention captive, audience. I refuse to satisfy his narcissistic need. With a small yawn, I open my locker and toss in the oversized plaid flannel shirt I wear as a coat. I'm more careful when I store my antique top hat on the shelf. It's showing serious signs of wear and tear.
"Stand back everybody, unless you want freezer burn." More silence.
I reluctantly acknowledge Walter's persistence at inflicting his cruel humor on me. He's braver than the kids at school. Or maybe my disturbing reputation followed me from Leighton High School to Windsor Academy, but not to the Monty-Carlo Diner. Or, not yet. But nobody else in the break room moves a muscle. I have that general effect on people.
I step back so I can see my face in the mirror I super-glued to the inside of my locker door on the very day I was hired last spring. Then I pull my bleached blond hair with newly black roots into a messy bun, but I'm distracted. At school, they cautiously call me Ice Queen, and I like it. At least, I prefer it to "freezer pop." It's more dignified.
"What's today's special, Rhonda?" I use my sharpest voice.
Rhonda Rosco is caught off guard, although she shouldn't be. The girl likes to think she's invisible when she leans against the wall in the corner by the window overlooking the parking lot. Immune to my wrath. But she's wrong — I see everything. And everyone. Don't get too comfortable, reader. I can see you too.
Rhonda smooths her khaki skirt over her full hips, tucks a strand of dull auburn hair behind her ear, and glances around to gauge reaction to the fact that today I chose her. She's not sure whether this makes her a target or one of the gang.
"What's the daily special, Rhonda?" I don't raise my voice. I never raise my voice anymore. I haven't shouted since I was twelve years old. Which is a different story for a different day. Don't hold your breath, bookworm.
"P-pot roast. With g-gravy and mashed potatoes. And mixed veggies ... with garlic butter."
Want to know my secret to success in the realm of human intimidation? I choose my victims wisely. A different worker each day, so they can never relax. I rarely vary from my course, as routine calms me. Still peering in the mirror, I carefully apply the dark red lipstick I keep on my locker shelf. It has to be perfect to alarm them. And just like yesterday and the day before, I can literally feel the united stare of my bewildered audience of waiters and fry cooks as it descends upon me. I'm like a fatal accident on the side of the highway — a scarecrow boy sporting dark red lipstick and now, jet-black roots. They don't want to look at me, but they're compelled to. Face it; if you were in the break room, you'd be staring too.
"Thank you, Rhonda," I say, careful not to sound even remotely thankful, and sure in the knowledge I'll again become invisible when they get what they came for: a good long gawking session at the strangest person they know.
The lipstick I wear is as dark as red gets. I'm convinced it discourages customers, and everyone else, from entertaining the slightest urge to kiss me, or do anything else with my mouth. One of my two bosses, Monty, is a huge, silent, and — like me — intimidating guy. But surprisingly, he's cool with the whole "boy wearing makeup" thing. He won't let me wear black lipstick when I serve food in his diner though. Believe me, I tried it. It's a big no can do. I have to settle for sporting black lips at school.
I frequently consider getting a stitched-lip tattoo along the entire length of my mouth — above and below my lips. That'd certainly do the trick in discouraging oral fantasies — am I right, or am I right?
After hanging my messenger bag in the locker, slipping my feet out of my combat boots and into black sneakers, and tying a red apron around my waist, I walk back the way I came onto the floor of the Monty-Carlo Diner.
"You're on section C tonight, Donovan. And you've already got customers waiting on you at C25." Despite being young enough to be his son, Carlo is Monty's partner in all aspects of life. Where Monty does all of the employee scheduling, orders, and other behind-the-scenes types of work, Carlo is always present at the diner, sticking his nose into every other aspect of the business. Lurking over our shoulders by the cash register, hanging in the kitchen near the fry cooks, lingering in the hallway by the restrooms — his job is to make sure everything at the diner is correct, clean, and cooked to his standards. And I've always suspected Carlo was the man behind the "no black lipstick at work, Donovan" decision.
"Yes, sir." I'm always respectful to authority figures, with the exception of my mother and her boyfriend. Not sweet, by any means, but respectful. In this case, I know who butters my bread. I may be a scarecrow, but I'm no dummy.
I deliver glasses of ice water to an elderly couple I recognize from their frequent diner visits. The pair is memorable because they say in unison, "God bless you, dear," at the conclusion of every meal. And they're as familiar with the diner's menu as they likely are with Bible verses. The pair is ready to place their order before I have a chance to ask them what they want for dinner. As usual, they detail how they'd like their grilled cheese sandwiches cooked.
"Past golden-brown, dear — we find them tastiest when they're almost burned."
The weight of a gaze on my back presses like a flattened palm. And in my hair ... like fingertips running through my new black roots.
Over the past eight years, I've grown adept at recognizing the almost-physical sensation of being watched. My lessons in this began at home when I was ten. By the age of eleven, I knew exactly when Jake was gawking at me — he lurked in the hallway when I was in the shower so he'd be in perfect position to watch me run down the hall to my bedroom, wrapped in only a bath towel. And he stared at my lips as I sucked up strands of buttered spaghetti at dinnertime; somehow, I was aware he was looking even when my gaze was fixed on my bowl. At twelve, I told Mom her boyfriend should take a picture instead of constantly staring at me, because it would last longer. She reported my accusation to Jake, who claimed I was a "lying little bitch."
I know what being studied feels like. But the gaze on me is soft and warm, not creepy and chilling, like Jake's. Or catty, like the staff's. Or scared shitless, like everybody at school. Somehow, I also know all of this.
When I turn around, I see him. The new short-order cook is staring at me from behind the lunch counter and sipping iced tea from a red-and-white striped straw. Shoulder-length curly brown hair — cut in the style of an eighties rocker — and expressive gray eyes with dark lashes that define them like eyeliner. Doesn't he know he's a vision of a bygone era? And he apparently hasn't got a clue — the way the rest of the staff at the Monty-Carlo Diner does — that Donovan Liss is a stone-cold loner. A danger to him at worst, and in the best case, a lying little bitch who has zero interest in learning so much as his first name. So I do what I do best; I tell him to go to hell without using words. I simply stare right back at him, as brazen as can be, and scratch my nose with my tall middle finger. When he glances away, I revel in my success until a surge of guilt floods me, because maybe it was a bit like kicking a puppy. But if scarecrow attire and black-rooted straw-like hair don't repel him, a nasty gesture surely will.
I don't let anybody in. Not even adorable shaggy rock 'n' roll puppy dogs with sad, dark eyes. Do me a favor, reader — hold off on the blame game until you know my reasons.
* * *
His name is George ... well, George C, since there's already a George who works at the diner as a delivery person. Despite how much I didn't want it, this knowledge was forced upon me tonight.
"George C, I need a large fry!"
"George C, put extra mayo on the fish filet!"
"What's taking so freaking long on those cheeseburgers, George C?"
Everybody eventually learns the name of the short-order cooks. It's inevitable. And necessary, if you want your orders to be plated in a timely and accurate fashion. Which I do.
I'm usually pretty stressed-out by the end of my shift. Forcing a smile on my lips and a genial tone in my voice for an extended period of time is exhausting. The walking back and forth and the lifting of heavy trays don't faze me. But after six hours of being on my best human behavior, I'm more than ready to hurl one of the potted spider plants from the large tables by the window across the room into the breakfast bar. And watch it smash against the plaster. And slide to the floor in a pile of brown and green chunks.
The image makes me smile, as I head back to the break room. I rarely smile, so it catches Carlo's attention. "Are you grinning, Donovan?"
I fight the urge to tell him to go fuck himself. In order to do this, I picture a thick slab of brown bread smeared generously with butter. This job is my bread and butter. "Yes, sir. It was a good night for tips." I jingle the cash in my apron pocket.
"Well, you should smile more often. It works well on you. You'd probably take home even more tips."
"You're hotter when you smile, Van."
Shadows of Jake follow me everywhere. Through gritted teeth, I utter, "Thank you, sir."
"Enjoy your evening, son."
Carlo's now grinning, like he's going to ask me if I have any special plans for tonight, as it's a Friday, and isn't Friday night date night? Or is date night Saturday evening? I don't give a shit, but I shake my head deliberately in an effort to discourage him.
"Monty and I are going to listen to a band, down by the lake. It'll be chilly, but I'm taking along a couple of sleeping bags so we'll stay warm." His voice is dreamy, and I swear he has stars in his eyes.
At least I don't have to worry about my bosses wanting to get busy with me. They're too passionately busy with each other. How fucking sweet. "Sounds like a blast. Have fun."
This is about the extent of small talk I'm capable of. I hurry to my locker, where I pull out my messenger bag, lift the flap, and after untying my apron, I pour in the cash that's weighing me down. Then, I pull on my flannel coat and oversized top hat, change into my boots, sling my messenger bag over my shoulder, and head back through the restaurant to the front door.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Scarecrow & George C"
Copyright © 2019 Mia Kerick.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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