I know there's some anticipation for REFINED INSTINCTS for those who have followed the Instincts series all this time and I can't tell those of you who are looking forward to it how much I appreciate that. I think this one has a little bit of a different feel to it than the others. Mainly because there's not as much of Titus, Andreas, Daniel, and Ryunosuke. With Troy Raines being one of the main characters, it gives more of his perspective of what happened during the rebellion, and it also a deeper look at Renart Bellerose. Timeline wise, it would fall after ADAPTING INSTINCTS, so the series is still moving along a chronological timeline and is still best read in order, I think. But I also think you wouldn't have to read ADAPTING INSTINCTS to follow this story.
So, there you go! A little insight into the story. And now, I should quit my rambling and let you all read the excerpts! For this one, I'm going do what I did for MODEL LOVE, post this first two chapters. I thought it'd be a good way to re-introduce everyone to Troy and Renart, and welcome you all back to the Instincts world.
Also, if you guys would like to take a minute, I have a poll running right now over to the left column. I'd just like to know what you'd like to see for future sneak peeks at stories, so that way I can be sure I'm doing what most of you like to see :-) Please feel welcomed to cast your vote for what you like!
To everyone who has stayed with the series this long, thank you so incredibly much! I hope you'll enjoy this next installment. And for those who are thinking of starting the series, if you do give the books a read, I hope you'll enjoy them!
BLURB:Troy Raines wants it all to end. His pain, his heartache, his regrets. Having been in hiding to avoid capture from the Tribunal, he returns to Chicago believing since that's where everything began for him, that's where it should end, as well.
Renart Bellerose has known many regrets in his long life as a vampire, but few are stronger than what he has regarding Troy Raines. As the one to make Troy a vampire, he gave him power, money, anything he thought Troy wanted, but he restrained on giving him what they both needed.
When Renart and Troy face each other again, anger and passion explodes between them. Renart wants to help Troy find redemption, but as danger closes in, it might be too late to set right the wrongs of the past.
The silence in the dark alley broke with the shuffle and drag of uneven footsteps. Troy slowly made his way, his keen eyesight picking out trashcans, litter, dips and holes in the pavement. He may bear an eternally broken body, but his other vampiric senses were still sharp, so much stronger than when he’d been human…those three short years ago.
Troy shook his head, wishing the motion would scatter his memories. But like his shadow behind him, they were dark ghosts that forever clung to him, never parting from him. Even when he couldn’t see them, just as a shadow waits for light to show itself, so his memories waited for a moment of weakness to bring him down.
He should’ve known returning to Chicago would strengthen them…and weaken him, but he needed to come back. This was where it all began. This was where he wanted it to end.
And he did want it to end. All of it. The memories, the regrets, the guilt, the pain—physical and emotional. He no longer wanted eternity. He wanted peace.
Gazing up the alley, he could almost hear the phantom laughter from him and Isaac, taunts from their fellow young vampires aimed at Andreas Nikandros as they dragged him into this alley. And another who’d spoken with calm authority that demanded to be obeyed. His own voice replying, filled with his temper and righteous indignation, telling Lord Titus to stand down, that Andreas was theirs to play with. All it took was a glare from Lord Titus to send a cold shiver of fear through him, despite how bold he tried to remain on the outside.
For his disrespect, Lord Titus could’ve ripped his throat out, and for that, he loathed the weight Ancient vampires carried in their society. Since then, he’d come to see how well deserved that respect was and how ignorant he’d been to challenge that power. While he and Isaac had already set their plans to bring down the Tribunal and eliminate Ancients and elder vampires, that night was the catalyst in the chain of events that brought him to this exact moment, the lowest of his life.
Troy moved through the alley, dragging his right leg across the wet pavement with every step. When Daniel Valente threw him from the building, his right side had taken the brunt of his impact with the ground. Or maybe it was when he fell through the overhang and hit the steel supports. He couldn’t be sure. It’d all happened so fast, his memory of it was faint and blurred.
He didn’t hold a grudge or hard feelings toward Daniel for tossing him over the building’s edge. Not now. Looking back, he saw the path he was on, all the death and destruction he was destined to bring. Sir Daniel had inadvertently saved a hell of a lot of lives. And, he gave him a chance to open his eyes to the horrors he and Isaac were on the fringe of committing. He was thankful to Daniel for that, even if at this moment he did feel mild bitterness toward the beautiful vampire for not ensuring he’d finished his kill.
And that’s why he’d returned. To finish what Daniel Valente had started.
Troy glanced up, his destination lit by a single dim light over a steel door. He limped toward it and stopped on the outside of the circle of light, keeping on the edge of darkness. He gazed up at the metal sign above the door, reading, La Rose Rouge.
Memories slammed through him. Two years of happiness, of feeling like he finally belonged, he was finally part of something…a family, maybe…of having support, care, food, shelter, all he needed provided for him. Friends. Laughter. Love. Love for two men, but returned from neither.
Isaac. Friends since junior high, lovers since high school, they’d had their ups and downs, their fights and making up, but no matter what, they were always there for each other. Their relationship wasn’t what he would’ve preferred. He hardly remembered a time when it wasn’t open. Isaac always wanted to either bring in a third, or go out in search of partners who could satisfy the needs Troy couldn’t, as much as it hurt him to say that there was anything sexual he couldn’t provide for Isaac. But Isaac was…rough. Even before becoming a vampire, Isaac enjoyed pain and blood in the bedroom. After becoming a vampire, it intensified to a fierce magnitude.
He never minded Isaac satisfying those needs elsewhere. If anything, it was a relief to him. There were times Isaac scared him. During those moments when he was in the erotic throes of a whipping or beating, drawing blood and playing with it, Isaac seemed on the edge of sanity. He relished seeing pain, giving it. Every time, it sent him raging with arousal and it’d been getting worse.
He saw the progression in Isaac; each time the beatings, the ripping of skin to see blood, was growing stronger. He supposed it made sense. Like anyone who developed a tolerance for a type of drug or alcohol, it took more to create the desired effect. That’s how things had gotten with Isaac, with him needing to become more brutal to reach the state of arousal he sought.
It’s how he knew Isaac cared for him. Yes, there were times Isaac was rough with him while they had sex. He’d occasionally hit him, choke him, but Isaac always held back on doing the things he knew Isaac was capable of.
Troy closed his eyes. And there it was again. Even now, nearly a year after Isaac’s death, he still tried to deceive himself into believing Isaac had cared for him. But maybe it wasn’t a total deception. Isaac had loved him once. In the end, though, all Isaac loved was power. He’d felt that from him when he drained the last of Isaac’s lifeblood. The only emotion from Isaac was rage at being brought down, murderous to the point where Isaac wanted his blood so he could rise again to kill Daniel Valente, Ryunosuke Kimura, Titus Antonius Calidus, Andreas Nikandros, and all others who’d dare to defy him, including their mutual master, Renart Bellerose.
An ache echoed through Troy’s heart. It was a feeling he’d long since become accustomed to. He had so many regrets regarding the elegant vampire who’d Turned him…the other man he’d loved once.
The first time he met Renart Bellerose, he’d gone to an underground BDSM club with Isaac. A fight broke out, he still wasn’t sure of the details, some longstanding issue between two Doms was the most he ever found out, and they were two vampire Doms. Heedless of who was around them, the two attacked any who came close to them as they fought each other, one nearly landing a punch to his cheek.
The next he knew, he was dodging blows and blocking hits, until he grabbed a beer bottle and smashed it across the face of the vampire, who he hadn’t realized was a vampire at the time. It was enough to stun everyone to stop and over the silence in the club came the single, slow beats of applause. He’d turned and looked into the deep brown eyes of the most beautiful man he’d ever seen.
Renart had moved across the barroom with graceful strides, confident and unhurried. His hair, a rich mahogany brown, was bound in a long braid trailing past his shoulders. His features were sharp, aristocratic. Others parted before Renart, respectfully lowering their gazes. And while he moved, Renart’s eyes remained focused on him.
He hadn’t known vampires existed. He thought the man walking toward him was probably the club owner, or possibly a mob boss. One or the other. But when Renart spoke, his deep baritone colored with a French accent made the latter seem a less likely possibility. Of course, in that exact moment, it still would’ve seemed more likely than Renart being a vampire.
Renart had stopped before him, smiling wide enough to reveal his fangs, and said, “Mon cher, with your grace and moves, you have an ancient warrior for your soul, there’s no doubt. I could help you awaken him.”
And with those words, Renart owned him. He didn’t fully understand what Renart meant, but something, so very deep down inside him, responded. He knew he would do anything Renart asked, follow him anywhere.
Only, the moment broke with Isaac stepping up to his side, throwing a protective arm around him. He still remembered the glare Renart gave Isaac, but it seemed Renart was willing to tolerate Isaac, for him.
Troy continued to stare at the sign and backdoor for La Rose Rouge. Why had he asked Renart to Turn Isaac? How stupid had he been? Yeah, he could say it was love. What a shitty reason. And really, could he even say it was love? Or was it for comfort, familiarity, and security? Isaac had always been there for him. He couldn’t imagine him not in his life, even if that life extended into centuries. And, it was also what Isaac wanted. There were times he thought Isaac wanted to be a vampire even more than he did, and that was probably true. They were both twenty-three, still believing in the invincibility of mortal youth. To become a vampire would only make that invincibility even more true. Or so they thought.
They’d been wrong. Very, very wrong.
Renart had been resistant to Turning Isaac. But he’d begged and pleaded Isaac’s case, saying he loved him, he wouldn’t consider becoming a vampire without him. That was the only reason Renart consented. His master saw something in him and wanted him to be a vampire badly enough to make Isaac one as well.
If only he knew what it was Renart saw in him. Whatever it was, he’d lost it. He was sure of that. He wasn’t even close to the man he’d been before he became a vampire, and he certainly wasn’t anything like the vampire he’d become. He really didn’t know what he was anymore.
Broken. That’s all he was. Just broken. And who would want him like that? No one.
The sound of footsteps from the other side of the door came to his ears. Troy turned away, limping back down the alley. Rain slowly began to patter down and from the heavy scent of it in the air, he knew the small lull from the earlier shower was over and this rain would last through the night.
The door opened behind him, but he didn’t stop. Light steps came out with no hesitation, the walker familiar and confident in his surroundings, but they stopped short.
A voice, young, male, called out, “Sir?”
Troy slowed his steps to a halt and half turned toward the young man, dressed in the black slacks and white shirt of a waiter in La Rose Rouge. His short blond hair was well styled, and even across the distance separating them, he picked up the scent of flowery cologne and young masculinity.
The waiter took a step toward him. “Can I help you, sir? Were you looking for the entrance to the restaurant?”
Troy shook his head and turned away. “No on both. I’m just a shadow going back to the darkness.”
Without looking back again, he continued up the alley. It seemed his words had confused the young man enough to leave him alone, as he heard footsteps slowly retreat inside, the door closing softly. He was glad for that. He hadn’t meant to come here to confront anything but memories. He’d done that. Now he could do as he planned; go to the building that brought him so much pain and let it bring him peace.
Renart stared at the monitors in front of him, leaning one elbow on the arm of his plush leather chair, his cheek resting on his fist. Each monitor showed a different area of his restaurant, but no one interesting had walked through the doors of La Rose Rouge tonight. He’d like to blame it on the poor, rainy weather, but no one interesting ever walked through the doors anymore. Not since Lord Titus Antonius had left Chicago, taking all interesting company and gossip with him.
A heavy sigh left Renart. He couldn’t believe he was about to admit it—even alone and to only himself—but he missed Titus. He’d never been fully certain if they were friends or enemies, and while he felt they were closer to friends now, having Titus around always kept him on his toes. He didn’t want to say Titus had been an adversary, but in a way, he was.
Titus had been the oldest and most powerful vampire in Chicago, a position he wanted. For as old as Titus was, he could go almost anywhere and have that status. While he never would’ve done anything to bring harm to Titus, he had wished on more than one occasion for him to be gone from the city so he could attain that honor, especially since Titus cared nothing for the respect and notoriety it brought him.
Only, now that Titus was gone, left to live in Tanzania with his eternal partner, dear Andreas, he cared little for his new status as the oldest vampire in Chicago. He knew now why Titus cared nothing about it, because the position was just that; nothing. He didn’t feel any more powerful or respected. Yes, his reputation had taken a hard blow from the rebellion some of his Turned had put on, but his role in stamping out that same rebellion helped him recover the majority of his lost respect.
But, if foretold plans came to fruition with the Tribunal creating court districts for vampire society and he became one of five appointed judges for this region, now that would bring power, respect, and notoriety. It wouldn’t be a hollow title, appointed by none, earned by default. It would be an official mark of superiority.
He must get that position. He would like to think it’d be easily done with nearly five hundred years of existence on his side, but while many were willing to forgive his transgressions with Turning a high number of individuals and the rebellion, as he knew, forgiveness was not a strong feature in the Tribunal. Fortunately for him, when the rebellion led by Isaac broke out, he’d been able to prove the only thing he was guilty of was making poor choices in who he’d Turned. Had he not been able to do that, he wouldn’t be breathing now.
The heat of anger spread through his chest, burning stronger as his thoughts focused on the one who’d nearly brought about his death and that of so many others. Isaac.
He wished it’d been him who’d sucked the last drop of Isaac’s blood and made the last sound that came from Isaac an anguished scream. Rather, Isaac was granted a mercy he didn’t deserve; a peaceful passing at the fangs of one who loved him.
Renart closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead with his fingertips. A low growl rumbled in his throat. All the way to how he died, Isaac was a torment for him. He’d never understood Troy’s attachment to Isaac. They had a history together, he got that, but the darkness in Isaac’s soul betrayed Troy’s light.
He never should’ve given in to Troy’s request to Turn Isaac. But back then, there was little Troy could’ve asked of him that he wouldn’t have done. Admittedly, in his arrogance he thought he’d be able to win Troy away from Isaac. With Isaac always putting on a face of absolute respect toward him, he never suspected that behind his back Isaac was whispering poisonous words to Troy, turning Troy against him, along with so many others.
If only he’d known that once gaining vampire strength, Isaac’s darkness would slowly begin to overpower Troy’s light. He would’ve killed Isaac without Troy ever knowing who’d done it, then Troy would’ve grieved and moved on. But no. He wanted Troy happy. That’s all he’d ever wanted for him.
His thoughts fueled Renart’s anger toward Isaac. It was a ridiculous thing, to still hold so much hate for someone who was dead. He knew that. But he couldn’t help it, because with his death, Isaac finally took Troy away from him. At least he gained some comfort in knowing Troy was alive, somewhere. When he’d believed Troy was murdered, thrown off the roof of a building, the sense of loss, the pain, that’d risen in him…
Renart inhaled deep, a heavy sigh leaving him. He wouldn’t think of that again. He couldn’t.
Opening his eyes, Renart looked to the monitors again to see if anyone new had come to La Rose Rouge. He needed a distraction. He would not allow his thoughts to travel down the path of regrets and what-ifs. It was an even greater waste of time than hating someone who was dead and he couldn’t unleash his wrath upon.
A soft knock sounded on his office door.
Renart glanced over his shoulder to the double wood doors, painted cream with gilded roses and vines. “Enter.”
One door cracked open, a young and beautiful face peering through.
Sweet, obedient Lucas. The young man came into his service six months ago after a bad encounter with a vampire who’d used him and taken his blood by force. One of his Turned told him about the incident, informing him of the traumatized Lucas, who was still recovering from the ordeal and living in fear.
He knew the vampire who’d brutalized Lucas, a fiend named Carlo who he’d had past run-ins with. While he sent some of his young vampires to retrieve Lucas, he went to Carlo to personally give him a message; leave the city. Carlo chose to stay. It was a poor decision on his part, and if Carlo were alive, he was sure he’d regret it. Certainly as Carlo thrashed under him as he took the last of his blood, the bastard seemed to know then he’d chosen wrongly.
He wouldn’t suffer rogue vampires in his territory. He’d seen what happened when one fool broke the rules of their society, the chaos and death that followed, the majority of those deaths being innocents. That was one of the reasons he Turned so many. He needed a strong force to support him in those efforts. Now, though, since Isaac’s rebellion, he’d stopped Turning as freely as he used to and would never Turn anyone again unless he had strong and undeniable reasons.
Which was a pity for poor Lucas. After he’d taken him under his care and the young man realized he was among “good” vampires, Lucas felt he’d found a safe haven and wanted nothing but to serve him. Not in an intimate sense, and he was fine with that. For as lovely as Lucas was, he knew if he took him to bed, it’d only feed the adoration he already saw in his bright blue eyes, and that he most definitely didn’t want.
He was fond of him, but fond was the deepest his emotions would go. For anyone. Love, in all its forms—intimate, friendship, familial—was pain, and he’d had more than enough of pain and love in his life.
Lucas stepped fully through the doorway, smiling at him. Balancing a silver tray and glass on one hand, he closed the door. He made his way across the spacious office toward Renart’s large, ornate desk, moving with such grace the deep red liquid in the glass didn’t so much as waver. “My lord, I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
Renart swiveled his chair toward his desk, his back to the monitors. “You never disturb me, mon cher.”
Lucas glowed with a bright smile and placed the tray before Renart. “You haven’t had any refreshment since you came in. I thought you could do with a little something.”
Renart breathed through his nose, taking in the fragrant warm scents of the red wine and blood…Lucas’s blood. A quick glance at Lucas’s wrist revealed a bandage. Whenever he requested a drink with an additive—or even didn’t request it, like now—rather than taking from the stored stock of blood he kept in supply for their vampire patrons or allowing one of the other servers to give their blood, the sweet boy always bled himself. He knew it was Lucas’s way of trying to take care of him, and the efforts touched him. It was one of the reasons he was fond of him.
Renart wrapped his fingers around the glass, warmth leeching through from not only Lucas’s fresh blood, but also him gently warming the wine. “You’re so very thoughtful. I don’t know what I ever did before you.”
“My guess is not take care of yourself as well as you should.”
Renart smiled at Lucas’s teasing. “And now I have you to help me with that.”
“And it gives me so much pleasure to do so.” Lucas glanced behind Renart to the monitors. “It’s slow tonight.”
Renart swirled the wine and blood in the glass. “Oui. It seems so most nights these days.” He tapped a button, shutting off the monitors, then hit another, making the wall slide shut to form a mural of lavender covered fields in the French countryside.
Lucas clasped his hands behind his back. “I like that it’s quiet. But I did have an interesting encounter just before coming up to see you.”
Renart lifted the glass to his lips, taking a sip. Sweet and succulent, Lucas’s blood slid over his tongue. The young man’s essence washed through him with a soft hum of pleasure, though it was drastically diluted from what it would be if he was taking directly from the vein. “Oh? And what was that?”
“Right after I bled my vein, I stepped outside for a few breaths of fresh air while your wine warmed, and there was a man in the alley. At least, I thought he was a man at first, but then I thought he felt like a vampire, because I got a chill when I spotted him. I asked if I could help him, and he said no, he was just a shadow going back to the darkness and he walked away. Or more to say, limped away. He was dragging his right leg. So, he must’ve been a man, because a vampire wouldn’t have a limp, right?”
Renart froze with his lips still on the glass. He slowly lowered the glass, swallowing hard. “Did you say he had a limp?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“On his right leg?”
Confusion drew Lucas’s pale blond eyebrows closer together. His voice came with more hesitation. “Yes.”
Renart set down the glass and shoved away from the desk, springing to his feet. “What way down the alley did he go?”
Lucas followed behind Renart as he darted around the desk. “Up the end further from the street. When you go out the back door, to the right. Is everything okay, my lord? Should I call some of your guards?”
Renart grabbed a door handle and spun back toward Lucas. “No. Tell no one anything of what you saw. This is between us.”
Lucas nodded once. “Yes, Lord Renart. Anything you desire.”
“Good boy.” Without another word, Renart tore open the door and raced toward the stairs. He’d left his security doors open for vampires and staff to be able to come see him easily if they needed. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, he slowed just enough in the foyer to not appear to be in a mad dash and draw attention to himself.
Striding quickly through the dining room, not bothering to look at any of his patrons, only barely hearing the string quartet on the half circle stage, he aimed for a door leading to a storeroom. Once he pushed through the swinging door, he broke into a run, rushing past shelves of wine and liquor, and burst through the steel back door.
He slid to a halt, extending his senses. Faint…very faint…very weak…but it was there, the presence of another vampire, one so very familiar to him.Renart spun to his right, racing down the alley. Rain pattered on his face, in his eyes, but his instincts guided him. He wasn’t going to allow this shadow to become one with the darkness.
Copyright 2013 by S.J. Frost and MLR Press