New Babylon, Velvet Pearl
The Past: Prologue
"I like your style, friend."
Gabriel had just tipped his head back to relax in the warm springs when he heard that low voice above all the others in the bathhouse.
He sat upright on the underwater bench and gazed over in that direction, peering through the steam across the sizable pool. Hooded gray eyes stared back at him.
The black-haired Kindred? The ladies at this palace whispered that he was an Elder in manner and influence equivalent to a prince, rich beyond measure and a generous lover of both males and females. And those eyes... so human. Clear of the red that usually signaled bloodlust in Kindred.
Fawning admirers surrounded him; so why would the vampire be addressing Gabriel?
"My style?" He must've watched me tonight. Gabriel was fresh from the Friday night free-for-all, an orgy with dozens of Kine blood dolls. He had just stopped for a soak and a last mug of AB-negative, before returning to his home, the Buckingham.
To face his failure. The first-ever hunt and seduction he could not complete.
The vampire's expression was amused. "I saw you in action earlier, sweetheart."
Gabriel's face warmed at that endearment. Blushing? As a Kindred well-versed in the art of seduction, he did not falter. "I do what I can."
The other laughed, the rich sound pleasing to the ear. A lock of shoulder-length black hair fell over one of those gray eyes, and he smoothed it back. Though his clean-shaven face was vampire pale, his high cheekbones were tinged with healthy color. "A charmer, aren't you?" He had a thick accent. German? "Come, join us."
Everyone in the bathhouse - mortals and Kindred alike, fucking on lounge chairs, in the water, even in the air - seemed to be watching this curious exchange.
What does he want with me? "I'm good, thanks."
Gasps sounded from all around. The Elder vampire's brows shot up with surprise. Never been turned down before? With a slow grin spreading over his face, the vampire rose and began making his way across the pool.
Those deserted admirers shot Gabriel killing looks. As if he'd sought this attention? He was straight, which the other Kindred would have gathered if he'd truly watched Gabriel in action.
Instead of speed-shifting via celerity, the vampire chose to wade through the waist-deep water. He looked to be a few inches taller than Gabriel. Whereas Villiers possessed a brawny build, the Elder was sculpted in lean sinew.
Other Kindred clocked his hypnotic movements. A succubus riding a muscular Kine on a massage table tweaked her nipples as she stared. When the Elder passed some random Blood Doll - who was getting railed from behind by a huffing domitor - she stretched just to brush her fingertips along his arm.
Typical vampire magnetism. In order to feed, members of that species lured other beings within striking range. A biological necessity made Kindred some of the most mesmerizing supernatural creatures in existence.
Once he reached Gabriel, the Elder vampire stretched out on the narrow bench beside him, utterly at ease. "Greetings."
The Toreador inclined his head. "What's brought you over here?" Into this darkened corner. With me.
"My cock." The Elder gestured to his semi-hard shaft, visible through the steam and water.
Gabriel tensed. "Pardon?"
"The wayward thing has a mind of its own. It points, and I must follow." Staring down, he gave a woebegone sigh. "If only it weren't so beautiful..."
"Your wayward cock was mistaken to point you in my direction." A sentence I never thought I'd utter. Already in this limited exchange, Gabriel had lost his equilibrium and couldn't quite recover it.
The Elder raised his gaze. "I'm jesting with you," he said, immediately mouthing, I am not jesting with you.
"I desire only females, friend."
The vampire's lips curved, revealing white teeth and fangs. "My own desires are not as . . . restricted. But I have others who can sate those needs. I did not seek you out for some mere fuck."
He didn't want to fuck Gabriel? An odd thought arose: What does he find objectionable about me? "Then what do you want?'
"For now, I'll have your name."
He grudgingly answered, "Gabriel." The other males Gabe hung out with - rowdy Toreador in Crimson Lights and Blood Doll groupies - seemed far less complex than this vampire.
"I am Lord Steward, Eric Destler. Call me Eric."
"Steward of what?"
"A secret realm. I am afraid I can't say more."
Was the Elder fucking with him? Though Gabe's closest friend and sire, was of the French aristocracy, he mistrusted the wealthy. She was the rare exception.
Destler said, "Already I break the laws of my organization, just by conversing with you."
Gabriel doubted the Elder wanted only conversation. They always want more. He felt as if he lived two lives: his normal existence as a vampire, and his shadow life filled with depraved exploits. No one in his shadow life cared to converse with someone like Gabriel. "You joined me for a reason..."
"Perhaps I seek the friendship of a fellow connoisseur of beauty? Tell me about yourself."
Why waste his time with me? The Elder must still think he had a shot at a brief exchange of bodily fluids. The two of them sat unclothed on a bench that seemed to shrink by the instant. If Gabe moved his leg by even an inch, his bare thigh would brush Eric's. "I mean what I said, Steward. I appreciate your interest, but I don't return it."
"My interest at present is in your mind, Gabriel. I've a Kindred's curiosity, and your behavior fascinates me. Answer a few of my questions, and share a drink with me." He waved for one of the servers to bring over a voluptuous redhead.
"My mind?" Gabe couldn't keep the disbelief out of his voice.
"Yes, your mind."
Flattered, Gabriel sat a little taller.
The server arrived with a shapely auburn-haired beauty who cast Destler a look of longing. Had the Elder vampire enjoyed her before? According to others, he had been with most here - because he refused to repeat himself.
In the meantime, Eric ordered the palace's newest virgin acquisition for his 'handsome new friend.'
Gabriel raised his brows at the gesture, one he wouldn't normally expect from someone of Destler's status. "Perhaps I can remain... for a few." He did not want to return home yet anyway. He was weary to his bones, had come to this place to release tension.
"Good man." Eric flashed him a smile of praise. "Ah, my handsome one, what fun you and I shall have together."
For some reason, a shiver crossed Gabriel's nape. The Elder's words were harmless enough. So why do I feel like I just agreed to far more than a drink?