“Go away, Cole.” Control finally started to seep back, and Brady tightened his hand on the door to slam it shut. “Don’t come back.”
Like a good puppy, Brady stopped. And hated that he reacted so automatically to a man who’d been dead to him for a decade.
“One night,” Cole said. “That’s all I ask for. The guys that did this…they’re not that far behind me. They catch up, and they’ll finish the job.”
“You ever think that maybe the fact people are hunting you down is a good sign you’re a monster that should’ve been destroyed years ago?”
Cole shook his head. “They’re not people. They’re other vamps.”
Brady’s eyes immediately went over Cole’s shoulder, but the shadows looked exactly the same.
“The sun’ll be up soon,” Cole continued. “There’s no place else I can get to in time.”
“That’s not my fault.”
“You don’t really want to have me die twice, do you?”
Bile rose in the back of Brady’s throat. It was a low blow, and there was no way Cole didn’t realize that.
“I invite you in, and you’ll tear my throat out,” Brady said. “So no thanks. I’m not in the mood to be your all-night buffet.”
“I won’t.” Hair slipped over Cole’s cheek. “I promise.”
“You’re a vampire. Your word means shit.”
“It never used to.”
“That was before.”
Cole blinked. Once. Twice. Three times. Nothing else moved, not a rise of his chest, not a flutter of his shirt.
“I’m sorry. I thought…” He shook his head. “Never mind. Forget I said anything. Forget I was even here.”
“Don’t worry, I will.”
He thumbed the hammer on the gun, ready though he knew it would be pointless in the long run. Cole pushed off from where he leaned against the wall, but as he turned, his shirt collar fell open and revealed a vicious, circular gouge in the left-center of his chest.
Like someone had tried cutting out his heart.
Without dwelling on the consequences, Brady reached across the sanctuary of the threshold and grabbed Cole’s shoulder. Blood seeped through his fingers, and he had to set down the gun to hold Cole still and undo two more buttons to expose the injury.
Cole let him.
Brady stared at the bleeding wound, the ragged edges where the pale skin had been sliced open. He flashed back on the crime scene, questions abounding. Had he been blind? Had Cole been one of the bodies they’d found at the frat house? He didn’t have a pulse. He could have fooled the cops who checked. In spite of the possibility, though, Brady knew he hadn’t been there. It wasn’t just that he could draw the scene from memory.
He’d lived with Cole’s specter haunting his dreams for a decade. He would never miss it if it was right in front of him.
Brady looked up to find Cole regarding him. “One night. And you’re going to tell me everything. How you got this, who did it to you, where I can find them.”
Something akin to hope fluttered in Cole’s dark eyes. “Are you sure?”
Hardly, but he wouldn’t give Cole the satisfaction. “I’m not repeating the offer.”
Under Brady’s grip, Cole sagged like a puppet cut from its strings. “Thanks—”
“Don’t thank me.” He let him go, abruptly stepping back into the apartment. “Just don’t kill me.”
Cole nodded, but after several seconds, he still hadn’t moved. “You have to invite me in,” he said, almost apologetically.
Brady’s skin turned to ice, so cold it burned. The words he uttered were the last he’d ever thought he’d say.
“Come on in, Cole.”
* * * *
Brady had never really thought of his apartment as small before. He didn’t spend much time in it, and when he did, it was usually confined to the bedroom for sleeping and working out, and the occasional quick meal in the kitchen. That was all he needed. That, and the security of having a threshold safe from monsters.
But with Cole standing in his living room, the walls shrank. At six-one, Brady was a tall man, but Cole topped him by an inch, and his rangy build had always exaggerated the effect of his height. It felt like Cole’s head skimmed the ceiling, that everywhere Brady turned, Cole was there. Almost as if he’d never left even though they hadn’t shared space in a decade.
“First things first.” Brady grasped Cole’s arm, helping to shoulder some of his weight. “You’re showering. I’m not losing my deposit because you bled all over my carpet.”
Cole didn’t protest as Brady led him toward to the bathroom. “Someone would have to find the carpet first,” he joked lightly. “I see you still leave your clothes wherever you take them off.”
Brady clenched his jaw. No one in this world knew his housekeeping habits better than Cole Singer.
As soon as they’d left the beige carpeting behind for the white—much easier to clean—tile, Brady released his arm and went to the tub. The toilet seat clattered as Cole dropped it, but Brady didn’t look back to see whether or not Cole was actually sitting down. He didn’t care. This wasn’t about feeling sorry for Cole, or missing him, or anything personal like that. This was about information he might have that would help Brady close his newest case. That was all.
With the water steaming so hot he could barely put his fingers under it, Brady almost believed it.
“If you want to take a shower first, I don’t mind waiting,” Cole said. “The bleeding is slowing down, and you’ll want to go to bed soon, right?”
Brady snorted. “You think I’ll be able to sleep with a vampire in my place?”
“I already promised you, I wouldn’t hurt you.”
“And I’ve already made it clear, I don’t trust you.” He straightened and pulled the curtain on the tub. “I’ll find some clean clothes for you. Leave your old ones.”
When he turned to leave, Cole was still sitting on the toilet. Under the harsh lighting, his skin took on an even sicklier pallor, and shadows mottled the hollows below his dark eyes. His gaze slid sideways to the tub and stayed there.
“Would it be too much to ask to take a bath instead?” The hand holding his shirt together trembled. “I’m not sure I’ve got enough strength in me to stand for a whole shower.”
It was on the tip of Brady’s tongue to argue that if he did that he’d be sitting in his own blood and filth, but he curbed the dispute. What did he care? If that was what Cole wanted, that was what Cole would get.
He flipped the switch back on the shower, pulling the stopper on the plug at the same time. “Soap and shampoo are on the shelf,” he said when he was done. “Help yourself.”
Brady didn’t wait for any more delays. He strode into the hall without looking back.
Finding clothes that would fit Cole proved harder than he anticipated. Brady was bulkier than Cole. Always had been. Most of his pants or jeans were completely out of the question. His running shorts all had elastic waistbands, which threw those out. Finally, he found a pair of old sweats with a drawstring. It was the only garment he could guarantee would stay up on Cole’s lean hips. Because no way in hell was Brady risking them falling down to expose more than he needed to see.
The entire time he searched, he did everything he could to block out the memories that refused to be ignored. He didn’t need reminders of what Cole’s laughter sounded like or how his skin carried a permanent glow in the summertime. All it took was a little bit of sun for Cole’s Native American ancestry to take over. Brady used to slather him up with sunscreen, then make him tan for hours, just so he’d have the pleasure of licking the heated flesh when the sun finally set. Girls might have always hit on the pair of them in hopes of more, but from the day they met in their freshmen year at Stanford, Brady and Cole had only had eyes for each other.
Those same eyes burned now. He rubbed at them, hoping to alleviate the discomfort.
Brady grabbed a trash bag before going back to the bathroom. The door was open, the curtain pulled, but he kept his eyes averted as he dropped the clean clothes on the counter next to the sink and scooped up the wrecked ones Cole had folded neatly on the toilet. Any evidence he gathered from them would be inadmissible, but he couldn’t throw out any possibility that could help focus their investigation.
Behind him, the water lapped against the tub. He kept expecting Cole to call out, or talk to him, or make more platitudes about how he wasn’t going to hurt Brady, but Cole never uttered a word. For some reason, that didn’t make it any easier to walk out to stow the trash bag in a safe place until he left for work. He wanted to be reminded that Cole was a vampire now, a monster who murdered innocent people for the sheer pleasure of it. He couldn’t afford to start thinking of him in human terms.
Brady killed more time by locking up, picking up his discarded clothes, doing miscellaneous housekeeping while he waited for Cole to emerge. Staying busy was his forte, but now it made him itchy, like a coat that didn’t exactly sit right on his broad shoulders. Even the sweat drying on his skin felt wrong. Every other minute, he glanced in the direction of the bathroom, expecting noise, expecting a door opening, expecting something
other than the quiet that seemed to permeate his apartment.
Sunlight peeked around the edges of his blinds by the time he got what he was waiting for. A floorboard creaked, and Brady deliberately concentrated on squaring the edges of a pile of year-old sports mags next to the couch. I’m not afraid of you
, he wanted Cole to understand. An exercise in nonchalance. Except if Cole touched him, Brady was pretty sure he’d explode.
“Do you have a first aid kit?”
He replied without looking back. “Under the sink in the bathroom.”
The board in the hall groaned again. Brady waited several seconds before glancing up, half-convinced Cole’s presence had etched an outline on the wall. The light from the bathroom filtered across the carpet, the sound of paper tearing a distant rustle. Only when he realized what exactly Cole was covering did Brady rise to his feet. Those injuries were most of the reason he’d let him in. He couldn’t lose whatever story they might have to tell by healing before he got a chance to inspect them.
Cole stood in front of the sink, unfolding a gauze pad so that it would stretch across the largest slice on his chest. Brady stiffened when he realized the reflection in the mirror was empty, but he kept his eyes averted to keep the worst of the anxiety at bay.
“Don’t cover those up yet,” he said, more than a hint of irritation in his voice.
Cole’s long, graceful hands immediately stopped. “I’m still bleeding. I didn’t want to get blood on your shirt.”
Brady snorted. “Don’t pretend you give a damn about my wardrobe. Now let me see.”
Obediently, Cole turned toward him, his arms falling to his sides. With the worst of the blood washed away, there was no mistaking the marks on his chest. Circular, right over the heart, with jagged edges where broken glass had torn the skin. It was exactly like the ones they’d found on the frat boys. Which put Cole on the scene.
Brady clenched his jaw. He’d known that was a possibility. Having the evidence at his fingertips made him a little sick to his stomach.