Twice the Burn by J. Hali Steele

Twice the Burn (The Triumvirate Book 3) by J. Hali Steele

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Twice the Burn (The Triumvirate Book 3) by J. Hali Steele

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One creature seizes Piara Kaur Indigo’s attention; another is thrown in her lap. Not only does she crave both, together, she intends to keep them.

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Chapter One

Jumping ship in a new world seemed like a good idea until the only person he could talk with, be understood by, and screw until sunrise burst upon each day, turned up dead. After years secreted in caves, barely surviving, Julius Talmane had the incredible misadventure to be bitten by none other than Layne Indigo. His life changed radically. Julius realized the devil, or something closely akin to him, existed along with his outrageous thirst for blood which he handled very well considering Layne left him shortly after turning him and Julius had very little knowledge of how to exist in his new state.

Layne returned over fifty years later and became Julius’ best friend.

A fantastical life looking forward to forever worked for him.

For some it did not.

Five hundred years since his turning and his kind still needed to be careful with whom they befriended. Many older than Julius had succumb for a multitude of reasons. Taking their own lives to escape what they considered a curse, death at the hands of their own kind seeking additional magic, and more recently, slain by human hunters and their holy bullets after they came out to the world.

Death went on and on.

Exactly as prejudices did.

Damn, he often missed fighting at Layne’s side helping to bring peace to a world awash in chaos and strife. Instead, Julius stood on his suite’s balcony in the buff enjoying his new favorite pastime—smoking a short, thin cigar which contained cherry tobacco. Sipping his fabricated coffee as daylight broached the horizon, he looked over the Ashley River at an island he’d explored many times. Barely twenty acres uninhabited by humans, rife with wild life and fauna, the place was exquisite and for some unknown reason it beckoned him. South Carolina sought to sell the tiny atoll to fund its waning coffers. Julius was aware, though his wasn’t the only bid, it was the highest and now it belonged to him. He hadn’t divulged this information to anyone. Not even Layne Indigo, still the strongest and most supreme vampire alive. Why hadn’t he told his best friend? He struggled daily to keep his secret buried in what he envisioned as a steel vault in his mind. A trick he learned from the great stalker and true leader of The Triumvirate.

A noise far below distracted his mental meandering.

Extraordinary vision alighted on a tiny old woman pushing a shopping cart full of… Hell, he’d say junk but it probably carried everything she owned and held valuable. His elite hotel attracted homeless people who sifted through trash for anything edible as well as clothing and other items they found useful in helping to make it through another day. Close on her heels a tall, menacing hooded figure limped quickly along carrying something in a brown paper bag. Lord knows, he shouldn’t interfere in human affairs but he wasn’t going to allow the creep to molest an unfortunate person.

At times like this he wished he had Layne’s extraordinary supernatural ability whereas Julius could have merely thought the individual away. Ingesting his master’s blood made him stronger but its effect never lasted long enough to suit Julius and lately he’d been denied this privilege on a regular basis. While Layne bounded about with his wife, Emerald, acting as The Triumvirate’s killing machines, Julius and Layne’s mother, Piara Kaur Indigo, were relegated to solving mundane disruptions in the human and vampire accord through a myriad of laws put on paper. Still, more powerful than most vampires and considered not only a true master, Julius held an esteemed position as third member of The Triumvirate.

He also got to spend glorious days in Piara’s company and he needed to consider why being with her brought such pleasure. His cock jerked between his legs. “Not now, damn it.” Another problem he strove to hide from her son, Layne. Growing hard for his best friend’s mother, considering their past indiscretion, simply would not be acceptable. His cigar and coffee cup vanished but instead of dematerializing, he dove over the waist high wall gliding to a smooth landing to stand between large trash containers the hapless creature ransacked. Give the fucker a goddamn heart attack!

He prepared to step out until the strange man announced, “Bette, you didn’t stop for your breakfast sandwich.”

Son of a bitch! Seems he had no intention of harming her.

“Isaiah Sims, you’re a Saint.”

“You shouldn’t be here by yourself, Bette.” His voice practically hypnotized Julius.

“I came early as the birds to see if they tossed any old linen. River bringing cool air now.”

“Birds can fly away if danger threatens, you can’t. Why won’t you go to the Salvation Army?”

Julius could have been knocked over with a feather watching what unfolded in front of him. Such caring and concern. Neither human would see him even if he strolled right into their path yet for the first time in hundreds of years he felt as though he eavesdropped.

“That stuff for those who can’t get around no more Mister Ice.”

The sun crested the horizon and the man Bette called Ice unzipped his hoody, shoved his head covering off, and put hands on narrow hips. Julius sucked in a draft of air. Jesusfuckingchrist, you’re beautiful! Russet brown eyes turned to stare at Julius’ position beside the dumpster. Incredible—he’s an empath!

Shaking his head, he returned to admonishing the old lady. “I don’t like you out here alone. And stop calling me Mister Ice. It’s plain old Ice.”

“Lord, Mis… Ice you ain’t plain nothing and you sure ain’t old.” She laughed displaying a mouth missing over half its teeth. “I been taking care of myself since before you was born.”

“Promise me you’ll come for lunch.”

“If you finish dressing so my old heart don’t give out looking at your pretty self.”

His laughter wound around Julius, latched onto nerve endings suddenly raw and throbbing. Just as quickly something inside him snapped. This isn’t possible! Again the man faced Julius. He didn’t wear a shirt beneath his cotton jacket. Skin the color of dark honey stretched over lean muscle and worn jeans rode so low, Julius spied a fine line of hair vanishing into the waistband. Material of his pants encased thick thighs one would expect to find on an athlete and almost black, close cropped hair appeared freshly cut. Particularly the beard which was a swath of hair from ear to chin. Below a full lower lip was a little patch of hair some young men had taken to wearing. On him it looked good.

Twisting, he asked, “Bette, you done yet? I’ll walk you back to Main Street.”

“Lordy, Ice I better git you outta here. Looks like you done seen a ghost.” She closed the trash container lid and moved toward her cart. “Seem I be walking you back.”

Both headed along the alley but part way down, Ice peered over his shoulder and, damn, it was as if he looked Julius dead in his eyes. Exhaling air trapped in his lungs, Julius recalled his nakedness when he glanced down to find his hand caressing his slowly rising dick.

* * *

Isaiah Sims left Bette, one of many homeless he fed each day, rolling her house on wheels down Main before he ambled to the rear entrance of Simply Smothered where he halted and stared long and hard down the alley. Nothing. The creature had vacated his spot. Vampire. Isaiah’s sixth sense always alerted him to their presence which became more prevalent since The Triumvirate accord with humans permitted vampires more freedom to roam cities. Seems the vamp in charge wanted to make headway by normalizing relations amongst species. Malevolence occasionally slithered into Isaiah’s mind and he’d grip the forty-four snub nose mag he continued to carry in the waist band of his pants. Their magical abilities made them quite aware he used bullets fashioned from holy wood and the information usually sent those intending mischief scurrying. A hunter cell recently approached to induct him into service warning Isaiah vampires now attended churches around the world giving some power enough to deflect holy ammunition. They sought his superb marksmanship. He declined their invitation having encountered more good than bad in many undead he brushed against.

The one he considered today didn’t run, neither did he give off the foul feeling of evil as it lingered in his mind. It was different which didn’t surprise Isaiah because vampires, especially males, were known whores who’d sleep with any sex. Stronger than most he’d come upon; it did perplex Isaiah why it made no move to do anything other than watch. Rubbing his temples, he realized the culprit was more than aware Isaiah knew he remained in his head and… Odd, there was the distinct smell of cherries.

“You okay, man?”

Snatched into the present, Isaiah twisted to look at the chef. “I’m good. Why?”

“Look like you saw a ghost.”

Bette’s exact words. Normally better at camouflaging what he felt, Isaiah shivered as if someone walked over his grave. More importantly, why had the monster set up shop in his psyche? Bastard continued to sift through every open pathway stealing bits and pieces of his mundane life. “Get the fuck out!” he growled.

“Ice, dude!”

Looking up he realized not only the chef eyed him, two other employees peered at him through shelving. “I’ll be back.” Both men stepped aside when he limped past and headed up a flight of stairs to his spacious apartment. Locking the door, he immediately began to strip clothes off on the way to his bathroom. “No, no, not now, not a man.” Don’t let him see! Stepping in the shower, he set the faucet to spew tepid water down his body which, though it felt overheated, continued to tremble as though ice water sloshed through his veins. “I will kill you if I ever lay eyes on you.” Christ, he’d never felt one like this, not attached to every sensual nerve linked to his brain cells, not burrowed so deep inside him… “Jesus, God, help me.” He allowed water to sluice down his back while soaping his chest and belly. Reaching his crotch, he begged, “Please, please don’t watch me.”

* * *

Julius had dematerialized and ended standing in front of a mirror in his suite’s bathroom thinking first thing he should do is inform Layne. Empathic individuals were scarce and many of those surviving had been mustered by vampires into service, their abilities honed and used as instruments against their own people.

“Not him, not Isaiah Sims. Leave him be.” Julius never desired anyone this much except… No! He thought he’d shoved her from his mind. Falling the fuck apart. Ignoring his own advice, Julius planted himself in the man’s psyche where Isaiah discovered him immediately, felt Julius’ furtive tentacles reach into every corner of his brain snatching parts of his life. “Christ, he almost controls his power.” Many empaths shut down completely by leaving society and they subsisted away from anything living. Some lost their minds and lived out remaining days in mental institutions while many more, unable to handle the cacophony of voices as well as feelings rattling through their heads, ended their lives before they even reached adulthood.

Julius had travelled up steps with Ice and entered a large apartment where he undressed, scrambled through an airy room into his bathroom, and turning water on, he stepped under a cool spray. Julius grasped every move, he even began to stroke his cock in time with Ice until he made a fantastic discovery. His heart thundered at learning Isaiah had yet to give himself to a man, take pleasure the way he always dreamed. “Mine!” Julius exclaimed.

Trying to remain quietly ensconced in Isaiah’s head wasn’t easy. In fact, he failed miserably as his own neediness swept through his body and rendered his dick so hard his vision blurred, but then Isaiah pleaded, Please, please don’t watch me. Agony in his words dropped Julius to one knee.

Julius Talmane’s existence had become one of imparting pleasure to anyone interested. Stay in his head, give him what he craves. “What the fuck!” Julius, unable to regain his feet, couldn’t find it in himself to disobey such a heartfelt cry. “I can’t do this,” he whispered as he relinquished Isaiah’s mind.

* * *

Monster vacated his mind as quickly and quietly as it had arrived.

Nothing changed in Isaiah’s bathroom.

With the delicious scent of cherries blanketing him, Isaiah cupped his balls, fisted his dick, and savagely began to masturbate. Unable to stand on wobbly legs, he dropped to his knees while he kept up a vicious pace jerking off. Each time his crown poked through his fingers, he sucked in air and water. “Shit, shit,” he cried jamming his dick into the makeshift hole formed by long, thick, and tightly folded fingers. In, out, he slammed his length and groaned, “Fuck…so good, sweet Jesus yes.” The creature who’d left him feeling empty had no face as Isaiah’s hips bucked forward, pulled back, damn, he worked his penis. He used one hand to pinch taut nipples before he caressed his buttocks and prodded his puckered anus. Sinking one, then two fingers inside, he didn’t recognize his own voice as groans ricocheted from ceramic walls. “Unnhhh, yeah, fuck…fucckkyesss,” he hissed rocking on his hand as cum streamed from his cock splattering his tub before spurts cascaded over his hand, and disappeared with soapy water in a swirl down his drain. Positive no one remained in his mind, Isaiah whispered, “I hate you.” Did he hate himself or the vampire for igniting a fire he had no choice but to extinguish in one way?

Isaiah loved fucking women especially when he could control himself.

Their softness, perfumed bodies, he enjoyed everything about them. How their asses swayed and their tits jiggled when they moved, lilting voices, lips around his fat cock… All of it. But it was never enough. Isaiah had never given in to his longing but he’d known for a time he desired something else, craved another kind of satisfaction he’d only find with a man. Standing, he stepped from the shower and angled the spray to rinse away every vestige of lasciviousness.

He refused to acknowledge his bisexuality.

After replacing everything into invisible compartments in his head, quieting his thoughts came easily when he closed his eyes and his chest heaved with long, deep drafts of air. Isaiah centered himself here and now. Handle breakfast service, see to lunch getting started in Simply Smothered which belonged to him and he’d scuffled damn hard to make the small eatery work; therefore, there was no way he wouldn’t open his shop on time. He donned a pair of black slacks, a crisp white shirt and, before slipping on a pair of loafers, sans socks, he rolled sleeves to his elbows.

Seven o’clock, dressed for business, Isaiah went down to the kitchen.

No one made eye contact as Isaiah walked through to unlock the front door where a few of his regular crowd already waited. After all, Simply Smothered served the best biscuits and gravy on the riverside of Charleston, hell, in South Carolina. Some liked his homemade gravy recipe with a chicken or beef topping, most ordered his fresh made rolls sopping with plain or sausage gravy and a side of buttered grits—none left anything on the plate. Open only until four, lunch and early dinner differed by adding home fried or barbequed chicken sandwiches with sides of corn on the cob, coleslaw, or crispy french fries. However, breakfast fare premiered until closing, barring he didn’t run out which hadn’t happened since getting a handle on frequenting clientele.

Isaiah excelled at catering to his customers and he could call most by their first name.

With his affliction, he’d learned long ago how to compartmentalize and he seldom ever touched a patron. He smiled at the first older black man who came through the door, “Walt, same as usual?”

“You know it. Add three to go. I’ll surprise my office with a delicious breakfast.”

Isaiah rounded the counter, grabbed a guest tablet and scribbled, “Four sausage gravy with four sides of grits, one without butter, to go.” Chris, a young man who worked weekdays, joined him to help with the morning rush.

“I sure hate my wife ever came in with me.”

Isaiah chuckled, “I can give you low cal margarine.”

Walt laughed, “I’m a few pounds lighter and healthier so it’s all good.”

“Coming right up.” Isaiah pushed the slip through the opening and continued to take orders until everyone was waited on. As meals came out, some paid and remained to eat at small tables while others cashed out and headed to work with white lunch kettle sized boxes labeled Simply Smothered in their hands. Best advertising he’d invested in yet.

A lull in business gave him time to fill out a supply order sheet. The door opened and hair stood on the back of Isaiah’s neck. Hands shaking, he continued to fill out the form. Do. Not. Look. Finally done, he had no choice but to peer up and across the room. Seated at a table tucked in a corner, head and shoulders concealed by a large ficus plant, he noted impeccable suit pants encased long legs stretched out with ankles crossed just above a pair of expensive loafers. Isaiah knew that because they matched his exactly. This was not going to happen. “Customer at number seven.” Let Chris get him.

In minutes Chris approached the register. “Says he met you this morning and he’ll wait for you to take his order.”

Son of a bitch. Slightly pissed, Isaiah snatched a tablet up and moved slow enough to disguise his limp walking across shiny black and white tiles. “Can I help you?” Suffocating heat overwhelmed Isaiah and sweat beaded on his brow as his shirt glued itself to his back. He knew better than to look into the beast’s mystical eyes. Every human learned that pretty quickly nowadays.

“Yes.” His voice, deep and husky, slid down Isaiah’s spine as if it were an icy mint julep he sucked down on a sweltering day. It swaddled him in coolness.

Silence. Intending to wait the prick out, he methodically drummed his pen on paper. The man reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a small tin. Opening it, he removed a thin, brown cigar, tapped it on the metal, and lit it with a snap of slender white fingers. Smoke smelled like ripe cherries as it wreathed Isaiah’s chest, still, he refused to look any further up than sensuously curved lips. “You have to go outside to smoke.” Another finger pop and the cheroot vanished. Annoyed by time wasted, he had no choice but to raise his head. Isaiah gazed into forest green eyes that drank his nearly six-foot frame in from head to toe, and back again. Suddenly, it dawned on Isaiah that the monster didn’t try to invade his mental path. He was glad since most everyone, particularly vamps he came in contact with, left a nasty skid mark in his mind for days. Part of his disorder.

The one seated in front of him had not left a trace of himself!

“Empath.”

“I know what I am.”

“Why do you think of it as a disorder when it is a blessing?”

“When you feel the misery I have…” Shit! Eyes blinked, became red. Didn’t stop Isaiah from adding, “If you endured pain, you most likely caused some.” How the hell did he feel what this one did without touching?

“You cannot begin to imagine.” Maybe the vampire’s eyes were hazel. Lips curved sardonically. “I allow you to feel what you need to know. You also see I’ve never harmed an innocent.” He shrugged. “I’ve appropriated blood but I do not kill unless necessary.” Pushing back a styled hank of dark blond hair, his smile softened. “They are green.” Hair was close-cropped on the sides, a modern, metrosexual style this creature wore well.

He’s anxious. “I don’t feel you in my mind this time yet you hear my thoughts.” Isaiah garnered much knowledge about vamps as any smart human should since they were a permanent part of society now. Normally they couldn’t read a human unless blood had been exchanged.

“A gift along with many others those of us who are very old possess.”

Cheeks warmed with embarrassment. “God!” Had he remained to observe Isaiah’s debasement? Did he know…

“You asked me not to watch.” He grasped Isaiah’s fingers and an amazing rush of lust swarmed his entire body. “Ahh, to have witnessed your raw passion.”

There were no voices when he touched Isaiah, no anguish, or sorrow. “I-you… Don’t.” He snatched his hand away not because he wanted to, but because fear rained down on him. He’d never touched a living, or undead, soul and not felt anything. He’s dead! “I will kill you, motherfucker.”

“You’re too late for that.” He stood. “I wish to give you something you have long yearned for.”

Isaiah trembled but this time he wasn’t sure it was fear. He wanted to reach out and touch the man. He’s not a man, damn it. “You’re a fucking vampire.”

“I feel everything a man does.”

“You’re a monster.”

“I crave what every creature does. Happiness, peace if it’s possible.” Eyes narrowed. “I embrace my bisexuality as should you and I believe there is no sin in having either sex if the feeling is reciprocal.” He turned away.

Wanting, needing him to leave, it shocked Isaiah that as the vampire prepared to go, he attempted to stop him. “Don’t you want…”

“Breakfast?” He twisted around, leaned, and kissed him lightly. Isaiah damn near swooned before glancing to see if anyone saw them. “The plant hides us from prying eyes, but what to do about my arousal?” Isaiah couldn’t help peeping at the vampire’s crotch. “I am Julius Talmane. Call me Juls.” He blatantly adjusted his dick. “I don’t want food.”

Isaiah croaked, “Wh-what do you want?”

“You, Ice.”

He knows my name!

“I know everything about you.” Julius strode across the room, opened the door, and walked out leaving Isaiah with his mouth open.

He rounded the plant and searched his premises. No one, not even his helper remained in the front room.

You required privacy, I provided it.

“Stay out of my head.”

It will be hard to leave you alone now that I’ve found you.

Isaiah whispered, “I don’t want this.”

You do and I am the only one, Ice, who will see to your every desire.

Isaiah waited and waited to hear his silky voice again.

Absently massaging his aching knee, he searched his mind. Shit, shit, shit. He had really left and Isaiah felt even more alone which brought to mind his mother and father, the only other people who knew he was an empath. They never fully understood it and neither bothered to get him any sort of help. Isaiah didn’t hold them accountable because when he touched either, he absorbed more love than anything else. His parent’s fear went unspoken and Isaiah learned early to mask his true self. Vampire said his affliction was a blessing. Never had Isaiah imagined it as anything other than a curse. His classmates tagged him with the nickname Ice because he remained aloof, standoffish, away from everyone and everything that could cause a child pain. When he touched people, felt their inner turmoil, occasionally their approaching deaths, as he had experienced with both parents a few years ago, he’d hole up in his room until it passed. As time went on he learned to put pieces in compartments in his mind giving them time to fade away. In school he participated in distance running because he never, ever had to come into contact with anyone if careful. Running afforded him freedom he found nowhere else until he radically tore his ACL. A little money left by his parents and hard work at two jobs afforded him enough to open Simply Smothered.

Never ran again and left with a limp for the remainder of his long, tiring existence.

Long. Vampires were immortal, lived for hundreds of years. Perhaps forever. How in hell did they stand so many voices? Could Julius help show Isaiah… No! Acquiring knowledge to handle bullshit he’d been plagued with his whole life would be miraculous yet the vampire spoke of another of Isaiah’s dreams, one he’d tried in vain to exorcise from his soul. Sniffing loudly, he breathed remnants of scented tobacco which lingered in his shop. Limping to the front door, he opened it and stepped out to look both ways. Gone.

For the first time ever—silence grew deafening.

“I didn’t want you to go.”

Twice the Burn (The Triumvirate Book 3) by J. Hali Steele
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