Dax lost his fated mate years ago, and he mourned William far longer than anyone thought was healthy. But there was a reason no one knew about. Dax fell in love with Quinn, William’s twin brother, and he's felt guilty ever since he realized it. Yet as his brothers both find their own mates, he sees that he can’t keep hiding his feelings simply because he fears rejection.
After his twin died, Quinn felt lost and alone, but Dax stood by him when he had no one else. Quinn has moved on, but he feels as if Dax is still weighed down by William’s death. The very idea tears Quinn up inside, and he’s determined to see Dax as happy as he was when they first met. The vampire always looks sad and lost in thought, and Quinn promises himself he won’t rest until he manages to help the best and dearest friend he’s ever had.
This tale begins in the present, but read on below to find out how Dax and Quinn met 8 years earlier.
Quinn stared at Lucky, who munched grass as if he’d done nothing wrong. The horse didn’t seem to care that he’d thrown his rider into a ditch or that he was being summoned.
Quinn clucked his tongue once more and called Lucky more firmly, and then he gave up with a loud curse. He didn’t know if anything was broken, but he certainly hurt all over. If the horse would only come closer, Quinn thought he could pull himself up easily enough. But Lucky refused to move away from the meal he’d found.
“You look as if you need help.”
Quinn looked up and saw a vampire approaching. He didn’t recognize the man, but the flowing silk robes and white irises gave his status away. Quinn felt a bit of fear in the pit of his stomach, but the vampire’s kind smile helped to quell it. He felt ashamed being afraid of vampires at the age of twenty-two, but he’d never been completely able to shake the irrational emotion.
The man knelt and smiled again. “I’m Dax. Are you hurt? I can help you.”
“I’m not sure. My legs and back sort of hurt. I was just going along, and Lucky threw me for no reason.”
Dax nodded to the tree line. “I was in the woods there, observing some birds. Perhaps he scented me or my horse and panicked.”
Lucky disproved that theory when he came over and nuzzled against Dax. The vampire pushed him away. “Or maybe not.”
Quinn sighed as Lucky moved back to his patch of grass. “He’s a bit odd. Always has been. But he was cheap.” He regretted the words right away. Vampires never had to worry about those kinds of things, and he didn’t want Dax to think he’d meant anything by the comment.
Dax gave him a sympathetic look, which surprised Quinn. “We all have to make do at times.” He extended his hand. “Will you try to stand so we can see if you’re hurt? My own horse is tethered not too far away. I could take you home.”
“Thank you, my lord.” He took Dax’s hand.
The vampire made a face. “I hate being called that, but I know it’s proper.” He sighed as he pulled Quinn up. “Sometimes I hate that, too.”
Quinn winced as a pain shot through his left leg. “I think I am hurt.” He stumbled a bit.
Dax helped him back to the ground. “Let me look.”
Quinn blushed, extremely embarrassed as Dax took his boot off and looked at his ankle, which was purple and swollen. The vampire’s eyes flicked up and over the rest of him. “You’re bleeding, too. I can smell it.”
Quinn trembled at that, and Dax gave him another sympathetic look. “You seem afraid of me. Please don’t be. I know some vampires are cruel and treat humans badly, but I’m not like that.”
“You’re … being very kind. Forgive me. I’ve always been scared of vampires. It’s stupid. I have no reason to be. Our lord here is good and generous.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Dax’s eyes fixed on Quinn’s stomach. “There, I think. I see some blood on your shirt.”
Quinn lifted up his shirt and saw a short gash there on his side. “It’s nothing. Should stop bleeding in no time.”
“I could heal it, if you like.”
Quinn’s head filled with a vision of the handsome vampire licking his stomach, and he felt the color drain from his face. “That’s all right. I’m fine.”
Dax chuckled. “Here. It’s a bit gross, but,” he licked his finger and ran it over the small wound, which healed right away, “it’s effective.” He eyed Quinn and grinned at him. “Did you think I was flirting? You are very handsome, but I’m not like most vampires in that way, seducing everything in sight. I’m sort of waiting for my fated mate.”
“You’re waiting?” Quinn couldn’t tell how old the vampire was, of course, but he was certainly old enough to have had lovers. He hadn’t managed to hide the surprise in his voice, and he pressed his lips together, wondering if he should apologize for being rude.
Dax pushed his dark hair behind his ears and said, “Well, sort of, as I said. I’m no virgin, but I don’t jump every person who arouses me.”
Quinn smiled nervously, glad Dax wasn’t offended. “Like the king?”
Dax laughed much louder this time. “Yes, I am nothing like Jareth.” He glanced down the road. “Let me get my horse and get you settled on him. Then we can head to your home. Do you live with anyone?”
Quinn nodded. “Yes, my twin brother, William.”
“Twins?” He stood and started walking off. “Good thing I’m not Jareth. He wouldn’t be able to resist.”
Quinn watched the vampire walk away before looking to Lucky again. He felt bad inconveniencing Dax, but he was grateful for the man’s kindness. When he returned a moment later, Dax very kindly, and patiently, helped Quinn onto the horse. Then he took Lucky’s reins as well and led both horses down the road, following Quinn’s instructions.
William came running out as they approached, his light blond hair flying around him. He clutched a bloody rag to his hand, but his gaze went straight to Quinn’s ankle, which was only getting bigger as blood rushed to it. “What happened?”
“Lucky threw me,” Quinn said, tossing his boot down so he could grip the saddle better and throw his other leg over.
“Stupid horse,” William said as he hastily wrapped his hand and moved to let Quinn lean on him as he slid off the horse. “Thank you for bringing him home, my lord.”
Dax stood there, motionless and speechless.
“Is everything all right?” William asked as he steadied Quinn beside him.
Dax blinked and moved to tie the horses up. “Yes. Fine.”
William stared at the vampire’s back a moment before helping Quinn in. “Odd fellow,” he whispered.
“He wasn’t like that a minute ago. He was very friendly and open,” Quinn said in a low voice as he tried to hop to keep up with William.
They both glanced back as they made it inside. Dax stood between the two tethered horses, staring down at the ground.
“Maybe he was friendlier because he likes you.” William grinned as he helped Quinn to the small sofa by the fireplace. “Lucky you. He’s handsome. Well built.”
“Yes, he is, but I really don’t think that’s it.”
William put some pillows under Quinn’s foot. “How’s that?”
“Fine. I don’t think it’s broken. Just sprained.” He nodded to William’s hand. “What happened to you?”
William unwrapped his hand. “Dropped a knife and stupidly reached to grab it as it fell instead of letting it fall. It’s not too deep, but it bled a lot.” His brows furrowed as he looked up. “Maybe the scent of my blood bothered him.”
“The scent of your blood did affect me,” Dax said from the doorway. “But it isn’t bothering me, not the way you think.”
William stood and took a few steps toward Dax. “What do you mean?”
“Here, let me heal it for you.” Dax reached for William’s hand.
William hesitated a moment. “You don’t have to, my lord, though I’d be honored.”
Dax stepped closer and took William’s hand. “No, I’m the one who’d be honored.” He held William’s gaze, his irises going black.
William gasped, and Quinn couldn’t help staring. Vampires had white irises that changed color with their moods. The meanings of each color varied with each vampire, just as personality traits did in humans, but two colors had the same meaning for all of them. Red indicated anger or the need for blood, and black indicated sexual desire.
Dax smiled. “My name is Dax, and I’m very pleased to meet you, William, because you’re my mate.” Without waiting for William to respond, Dax raised William’s hand and licked the wound, never breaking the eye contact.
Quinn looked away, feeling as if he shouldn’t be there. He closed his eyes when his brother let out a moan, and he really wished something besides his ankle had been hurt so he could leave the room. When he heard nothing else, he chanced a look over at them, only to turn away again when he saw they stood in a close embrace, kissing deeply.
“Gods above,” William whispered a moment later.
Dax cleared his throat. “Sorry. Got carried away.”
“Oh, feel free to carry me anywhere,” William said in a husky, flirtatious tone.
Dax cleared his throat a second time. “Um, I think we’re embarrassing your brother.”
Quinn dared to look over at them again. “I’d have gotten up and left if I could have.”
“We were just kissing,” William said with an eye roll. “I’ve come close to doing worse in front of you.”
Quinn tried to smile, but he felt awkward being there when Dax and William probably wanted to be alone.
“Now I know why I liked you so much, Quinn,” Dax said as he took William’s hand and led him over to the chairs across from Quinn. After they sat down, he focused on Quinn again. “I’m usually shy. Serious. I was curious as to why I was able to joke and feel at ease with you when we just met, and it must be because you two are twins. You were bleeding, and maybe I scented your blood. It happens often with twins.”
“Really?” Quinn asked.
Dax nodded. “Yes. It’s nothing like the mate bond, but there’s something in your blood that’s similar. Here in this very dominion, a few generations ago, Lord Petrus suffered from the Dissolution. His fated mate was dead, so everyone thought Petrus would die.”
The Dissolution was the only disease vampires could get. It stopped the “second heart”, the special gland that regenerated their blood and granted them long life. It wasn’t always fatal, but most vampires who couldn’t drink from their fated mates did die from the disease.
“But he didn’t?” William said.
“No. His children sent for their uncle, Petrus’s mate’s twin brother, because they thought their father was going to die. The uncle was to be their guardian until they came of age. Everyone had given up hope. The man offered his blood at some point while he sat by Petrus’s bedside, just to ease his pain and comfort him, and Petrus began to recover. It wasn’t just coincidence. Petrus had been very close to death. Once a vampire becomes so weak that it’s bedridden, not just anyone’s blood will do.”
“But we’re not both your mates, right?” William waggled his eyebrows. “That would be kind of kinky.”
“William! Don’t be so flippant. Matehood is a serious thing,” Quinn said, his face flaming in shame.
William snorted as he laughed. “Sorry. I was just curious. And it was only a joke.”
Dax smoothed his robes and gave William what Quinn thought was an indulgent smile. “No. We get one mate each, which is why I feel very blessed. I almost stayed inside today, and I’m so glad I didn’t.”
“You’re visiting Lord Rollo?” Quinn asked, anxious to move away from his brother’s lewd joke.
“Yes. And I was supposed to be leaving tomorrow. If Lucky hadn’t thrown you, we wouldn’t have met, and I’d never have come here.” He smiled warmly at Quinn before turning to William and taking his hand. “And I might never have found you,” he said in a softer voice.
After some more small talk, Dax seemed to take pity on Quinn. He definitely appeared sympathetic to Quinn’s discomfort even as William dismissed it and went on teasing him. Quinn knew it was how his brother showed affection, but at times it grew tiresome. They made sure Quinn was comfortable and then went out for a walk. William didn’t return until almost midnight.
“Isn’t he amazing?” William said as he stirred the fire and sat on the hearth near Quinn.
“Yes, I liked him.”
“You’re going to have to stop being scared of vampires now. There’ll be tons at our matehood celebration.”
“So you’re definitely consenting and accepting the mate bond?” Quinn asked.
“Yes. He’s so wonderful.” William finally seemed to remember that Quinn was hurt. “How’re you feeling?”
“Fine.” He wiggled his ankle. “Still hurts, but the swelling has gone down.”
“Dax could give you some of his blood. He’ll be like a brother to you now, too.”
“I’d rather not. That’s a bit too … intimate.”
William laughed. “Look, I’m sorry I embarrassed you, but he’s just so sexy. Gods, I wanted to drag him back here and fuck him senseless. He’s such a gentleman. I made it clear we could go ahead and sleep together, but he said he wants to wait.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being a gentleman.”
“But we’re fated mates! What’s the point in waiting?”
Quinn bit his tongue to keep from saying something hurtful. Instead, he said, “Maybe he wishes to know you better to make it sweeter. More meaningful.” William often fell into bed with lovers too quickly, and Quinn didn’t think it was always wise.
William raised one eyebrow. “Perhaps the gods should’ve fated him to you. You two would suit better. Plus, it would save you the trouble of putting forth any effort.”
Quinn sighed in exasperation. He’d only been with one girl, and in that relationship she’d been the one to take the lead. While Quinn could appreciate male beauty and did think the vampire handsome, he’d never really desired a man that way. William teased him all the time because he’d had dozens of lovers since losing his virginity at the age of fifteen while Quinn had trouble even talking with women. With anyone, really. Quinn fixed his brother with a serious look and said, “Don’t joke like that around him. You might hurt his feelings. He seems…”
“I don’t know. Sensitive? Empathetic?”
“Why do you say that?”
“He just seemed to sense when I was uncomfortable or nervous. Even when you acted oblivious, he tried to say and do things to make me more comfortable earlier. You might not have noticed, but I did. He even knew I was scared of him, and he was very kind about it.”
“He is kind. And handsome. And wonderful. I love him already.”
“After one day?”
William rolled his eyes and groaned. “Gods, a handsome man falls into my lap and you’re going to be skeptical? We’re fated mates. The gods want us to be together, and I can’t wait to spend every night in his arms.” He leaned forward and grinned. “He was a gentleman, but he was aroused. And I’m not just talking about his eyes. When he kissed me outside before he left, I felt him pressed against me. He’s huge! I can’t wait to let him sink—”
“Would you stop it?” Quinn said much more loudly than he’d intended.
William stopped talking and shook his head. “One day, you’re going to fall in love. Then you’ll see. Maybe you won’t be raving about the guy’s cock, but when you fall, it’s going to be hard.”
“I don’t imagine it’ll be a man,” Quinn said.
“You never know. Maybe you’re fated to one of Dax’s brothers! He has two of them. And with the twin thing, who knows?” The excitement showed in his eyes. “Think about it. It would make perfect sense. The gods know better than to separate you and me.”
Quinn couldn’t help chuckling at that idea. “Well, please don’t invite them to bite me when we meet them, all right?”
William stood and offered to help Quinn to bed. “I’m only trying to help you enjoy life. If it weren’t for me, you’d never do anything. Never go anywhere.”
Once Quinn was settled in bed, William sat by him and went on. “I miss Mom and Dad, too, but we have our own lives. We can both have families. I’ll be mated to Dax, and you can get married. Have children. Maybe Dax likes children and will want to adopt. Lots of same sex fated pairs adopt. Wouldn’t you love that? Our children playing together and being the best of friends?”
Quinn couldn’t help softening. “Yes, I would love that.”
“Good.” William stood and stretched, a goofy grin on his face. “And you can doubt all you want, but I do love him already. I want you to love him as well.”
“I’ve already said I like him. And if he makes you happy then of course I’ll love him.”
William practically bounced out of the room, and Quinn relaxed down into the covers before dimming the oil lamp by the bed. They’d woken up expecting an ordinary day, yet their day had turned out to be anything but.