A larger-than-life werewolf who wears his heart on his sleeve…
becomes instantly smitten with a shy vampire living in quiet isolation.
Damien is definitely cursing his bad luck while chasing down his friend’s escaped black cat in the middle of the night. Until, that is, a handsome stranger offers to help patch him up after he runs face-first into a hedge; then Damien’s thanking his lucky stars. Handsome Stranger’s name is Henrick, and while he’s clearly soft-spoken and shy, it belies a sly, sarcastic streak that Damien is very into. He couldn’t care less that Henrick’s a vampire. In fact, it seems like he minds it less than Henrick does.
Henrick leaves his house for work, for nightly walks, to occasionally get late-night tea and, of course, for blood. Blood which comes in sanitary-sealed bags from his local bloodbank, because Henrick is a modern-day, civilized vampire thank you very much. He keeps himself busy when he’s not at his third-shift job. He reads. He draws. He plays piano. He doesn’t socialize, but that’s… fine. His life is fine.
When the earnest and upbeat werewolf who nearly bowls him over asks to take him out for coffee as a thank you for the first aid, Henrick finds himself unable to say no. Damien is interesting and attractive and Henrick’s been alone for so long… surely one coffee can’t hurt. But Damien’s current interest in him aside, there will always be people who think that the only good vampire is a dead vampire.
Can Henrick learn to believe that he’s worth Damien’s protection… let alone his love?
“Shit, shit, shit.” Damien skidded to a stop and closed his eyes again, trying to concentrate. He was house sitting for his friend Keiko and her girlfriend Grace, which also meant feeding their demon cat Yoshi. He’d been warned that Yoshi was a damned escape artist, but he hadn’t actually expected to open the front door and then immediately have him streaking out into the night. So now it was nearly eleven, he was exhausted from second shift at work, and he was chasing after a fucking black cat in the dark.
At least he had his werewolf senses on his side. He knew what Yoshi smelled like. So now he was running around chasing that scent, maybe going a little faster than the average human was capable of. He guessed that was the one plus side to it being so late; no one was around to witness that.
Ah-hah! He caught the scent again and bolted. He’d be able to dash forward and scoop Yoshi up the minute he was in sight. He just had to get there first.
Damien turned around the block, picking up speed, and fuck there was some guy standing on the sidewalk, right in his path. At the speed he was going, the guy could get seriously hurt if they collided, and Damien didn’t trust himself to stop properly in time.
With only a split second to think about it, he shoved his toes into the ground to change directions and barreled headlong into the giant garden hedge bordering the corner of someone’s property.
“Fucking ow,” he moaned, spitting out leaves. The October-appropriate jeans and hoodie he was wearing had protected most of him, but his face and hands had gotten all scratched up, a painful sting even if they’d be healing up quick. Damned cat.
“Are… are you alright?”
Damien freed himself from the clutches of the hedge. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m f–” he turned and froze.
Standing there was the most beautiful man he’d ever seen. Dark brown skin, brown eyes flecked with gold, gorgeous, angular face with full lips, a sharp nose. Shorter than he was, but then again, Damien was six foot six and taller than most of the planet. He licked his lips and tried to remember what he was saying.
Those brown eyes were narrowed in concern. “You don’t really seem fine.”
Damien swallowed and shook his head to clear it. “Sorry. Long day.”
The man peered around Damien. “Are you being chased? You were going very fast. Do you need help?”
The idea that someone would be trying to chase him down was hilarious, but the concern was really nice. “No, no, I was doing the chasing.” At the sharp look of surprise, Damien added, “my friend’s cat got out. I was trying to get him back.”
There was a loud miao that came directly from the left. Damien whipped his head around to see Yoshi, looking altogether too pleased with himself, sitting eye level in a tree. “Okay, you fucking cat,” Damien growled, taking a step forward. “Come here.”
Dark and handsome held out a hand. “Here, let me.”
“It’s really okay. You don’t understand. He’s a literal demon hellcat.”
The guy gave him a small, close-lipped smile and turned toward the tree. “Hello,” he said to Yoshi, holding out his hands. “Can you come down, please? Can you be good?”
I can be good, Damien thought. Followed swiftly by what the fuck, when Yoshi jumped obligingly into the stranger’s arms.
“There now,” he said, stroking Yoshi back. Yoshi started purring. “Good boy.”
“How… how did you do that?”
The guy picked up his head, though he only met Damien’s gaze for a moment before he was looking away. “I’m good with animals.”
“Wow, no kidding.” He brushed bits of twig off his arms, wincing at the splinters in his hands. They’d heal out of him eventually, but it would be better if he dug them out to speed up the process.
“Oh,” the guy said. “You’re hurt.”
“It’s okay,” Damien said, waving a hand. A hand covered in scratches and splinters and bleeding a little, so maybe not the best thing to do to convince this guy that he was okay. “I barely even feel it.”
The guy nodded his head in the direction of the house next to the one with the murderous hedge. “I’m just over here,” he said. “And I’m trained in first aid.”
“Oh, uh, sure. Thank you.” He followed him down the front walk. “I’m Damien, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you.”
Henrick shifted Yoshi in his arms to open the door to the house, then let Yoshi hop down. Damien spared an instant to worry about how he’d manage to get Yoshi back to Keiko’s house, but then he figured if Henrick could get the cat to literally jump into his arms out of a tree, he’d probably be able to pick him up in his own house. “My kitchen has the best light,” Henrick said, leading the way.
Damien sat in the chair Henrick directed him to, nodding when Henrick said he’d be right back. He wasn’t too worried about Henrick coming back with an axe or something; he was a giant of a man and a werewolf besides. There really wasn’t much he worried about, when it came to his own well-being. So instead he took the opportunity to look around the room. The walls were pale yellow with white trim. White curtains on the windows, covering them completely, light brown cabinets. Very quaint. It smelled scrupulously clean.
Henrick returned a moment later carrying a white container and several bottles. He set all but one bottle on the table, and Damien watched curiously as Henrick went to the sink and filled a large mixing bowl with hot water, then opened the bottle to pour some of the contents inside.
The scent of lavender filled the air, but not the chemically, canned kind. Pleasant, if a little strong.
Henrick came forward and set the bowl on the table, then held out a hand. “May I?”
“Uh, sure.” Damien put both his hands, palm-up, on the table as directed. Henrick carefully wiped each one down with antiseptic, meticulously cleaning off the blood. He was very gentle and kept his touches light, not pressing down hard enough that the splinters dug deeper.
Damien would be lying if he’d had to say his breathing didn’t get a little shaky, throughout the ministrations.
When Henrick was done, he pushed the bowl forward. “If you soak your hands in this for a few minutes, it will help the splinters work loose.”
“Thank you,” Damien said, plunging his hands in the water. “And, uh, thank you. For helping me at all. With this and with Yoshi.”
Another small smile. “Is he yours?”
“Nah. I’m house sitting for my friend Keiko. He’s hers.”
“You really are crazy good with animals,” Damien said, after a minute of silence. “Do you have any yourself?”
Henrick shook his head. “I’ve thought about it. But I work, ah, very strange hours. Third shift. It really wouldn’t be fair to an animal.”
That was confusing. If nothing else, Damien didn’t think a cat would really care, but then again, he knew very little about cats. “Mind if I ask what you do?”
Henrick’s gaze met his briefly before sliding away again. “Law enforcement.”
“Oh, wow, really? Cool. Lotta respect for you guys.”
“Ah, thank you. How do you spend your time?”
Damien grinned. He liked that Henrick hadn’t automatically assumed he worked. A lot of people did, in conversation, and it could make people who didn’t or couldn’t work super uncomfortable. Didn’t apply to him, but a great habit for someone to have. And now he liked Henrick even more. “I work at a halfway house. Counselor, teacher, mentor, front desk staff… pretty much all of it.”
“Do you mind if I ask which one?”
Henrick’s eyes widened slightly, before they narrowed. “Teacher there, you said?”
“Among other things, yeah.” And huh, it was very, very interesting, for Henrick to focus on that. Hilmann’s was a halfway house for shifter youth, privately funded and operating quietly under the public eye. Damian had been there for nearly six years now. As an alpha werewolf, he was invaluable to working with a lot of the kids. It was brutal sometimes, but he was able to go to bed every night knowing he was making a positive difference.
Henrick wasn’t a wolf. Damien would’ve been able to sniff that out easy. And while he didn’t smell entirely human, that could have been any number of things or scents throwing off Damien’s nose.
But if Henrick recognized Hilmann’s and knew it for what it truly was…
“How long have you worked there?”
“Almost six years.”
Henrick tilted his head. “Do you know a Tommy Richardson, by chance?”
Damien blinked. Tommy had been a Hilmann’s kid back when Damien had started working there. He’d gotten mixed up with a bad older alpha, who had ended up with a five-year jail sentence, in part because he’d broken a hunk of metal over Damien’s head. When the alpha had gotten out, he’d gone after Tommy again. Tommy had managed to get in contact with the local supernatural law enforcement—also operating in plain sight—and get the whole thing dealt with, but it had been a rough several days.
He’d ended up happy though. And mate-bonded to the police inspector, Michael Sternecki, who had taken on the case.
Damien still might view Sternecki with a little suspicion, truth be told. Tommy was the same age as Damian’s baby brother Cassidy, and Damien couldn’t help but think of Tommy the same way; a little brother pack member who needed to be protected. Especially what with all he’d been through. But there was no denying Sternecki made him happy and, well, and cared about him a fuckton. That was something.
So Henrick worked in law enforcement, recognized Hilmann’s, and knew Tommy? That was an awful lot of stuff leading Damien to the conclusion that Henrick knew about the supernatural world. “Yeah,” he ended up saying. “He’s my little brother. Or, uh, not quite, but kind of. I mean yeah, I know him. How do you know him?”
“I met Tommy when he was seeking help regarding a situation a few months ago.”
“Wait a fucking—do you know Sternecki? Michael Sternecki?”
“Yes. He’s my coworker.”
“Hell. Small world.” Damien raised an eyebrow at Henrick, no doubts left. “Especially ours, huh?”
Henrick cleared his throat and looked down at the bowl Damien was soaking his hands in. “I can probably start to remove the splinters now.”
Damian obligingly pulled one hand out of the water and held it out as Henrick used an alcohol wipe on a pair of tweezers. Then he took Damien’s hand, touch still gentle and light, and squinted down at it.
Damien couldn’t help a grin. “I’m like Tommy. In case that wasn’t obvious enough.”
“I gathered.” Henrick plucked out a sliver of wood. “Healing factor or not, splinters are a nuisance.”
“Alpha healing factor,” Damien felt the need to point out. Being an alpha was impressive.
Henrick glanced up at him, eyebrow raised, before turning his attention back to removing splinters.