A muggy heat descended on the small town of Soulcrest, creating a thick, hazy fog in the air. No one dared leave the air-conditioned safety of his home lest his skin become covered in slick, sticky sweat. Even the animals of the neighborhood had found a cool space to spend the evening. The light of the full moon peaked out occasionally from the dark, thick clouds that covered the night sky.
A single cry from an owl broke the silence in the air surrounding Soulcrest Cemetery. The pale moonlight cast eerie shadows around the tombstones, providing a surreal, ominous feeling to the graveyard. A pair of figures moved stealthily across the hallowed ground making sure to stay close to the shadows. The only sign of their movement was the faint glow of the moonlight as it reflected off the pair’s nocturnal eyes.
One of the figures quickly raised his hand, signaling his companion to stop. The duo carefully scanned the immediate area for any signs of movement. The clouds suddenly shifted and the moonlight shone down upon them. The creatures’ true nature was revealed a moment later when they opened their mouths and light glinted from their razor sharp fangs. They were possessors of the dark gift, children of the eternal night. Vampires, roaming the cemetery grounds.
Just as the two vampires had decided the area was clear, a new figure–dressed in a black monk’s robe–stepped out of the dark shadows created by a mausoleum. The deep hood of the robe was pulled forward over the stranger’s face masking his identity. The hungry vampires took immediate notice of the new arrival, grateful that a human snack had been so easily delivered.
The soulless creatures split apart and slowly circled their prey, trying to decide the best course of attack to take their dinner down. In the same instant, the duo sprang into action and leapt to attack. They were both a few feet from their feast when the stranger’s hands shot out at them, and they suddenly stopped in midair. The vampires howled in frustration at their inability to move.
“You will no longer hunt these grounds.” The figure’s quiet voice slipped from beneath the hood. “Burn.”
The vampires’ howls increased in intensity as their bodies burst into flame. The hunter stood motionless as the vampires turned to ash. The robe-covered arms remained outstretched until the remaining ash of the soulless creatures floated away on the breeze. As the figure turned around, he came face to face with another vampire. Unlike his companions, this vampire stood a few feet away and watched the cloaked figure, making no move to attack.
As their eyes met, the hunter’s breath caught in his throat. There was something different about this vampire. An unusual feeling that could not be explained shot through the cloaked figure. The two of them stood silently, carefully watching each other, but neither made any attempt to move. After what felt like an eternity, the vampire slid back into the darkness and disappeared. The hunter’s head shook back and forth slightly. He couldn’t understand why he let the vampire live. He felt as if he was under some type of spell. As the moon was once again shrouded in darkness, the mysterious figured stepped back into the shadows and disappeared.
Ian Sanders sat up in bed, gasping for breath. His unfocused eyes darted around the confines of his bedroom. A shaking hand reached out and brushed back a piece of blonde hair that was stuck to his sweaty face. His body didn’t stop trembling until he realized that he was safe and sound in his own bedroom. Ian sighed as he glanced at the clock on his bedside table. It was too early in the morning to be awake, and the dim light creeping through his windows, signifying the rising sun, solidified the fact.
Ian had been having the nightmares for over a week, ever since his run-in with the mysterious vampire in the cemetery. He couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t sensed the creature behind him. His reflexes were razor sharp, and it worried him that his abilities had failed him. With another deep sigh, he pushed himself out of bed. There was no way sleep was going to be coming again. Ian was in for a very long day.
Groggily, he made his way into the apartment’s kitchen. He filled up the coffeepot before making his way into the bathroom. His six-foot-three frame fit snugly in the small shower stall as he washed himself clean. Ian dried his body with a towel and then brushed his shoulder length hair back and secured it at the nape of his neck with a strip of leather. He threw on some clothes and headed into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee.
Ian hoped that the caffeine would help with the headache that was ravaging his head. He had been on pins and needles ever since seeing the mysterious vampire in the graveyard. Ian had to been on guard constantly because he obviously couldn’t sense this new vamp. He knew the best course of action would be to talk to his grandmother. If anyone could shed light on the situation, she could.
Ian placed the half-empty cup of coffee into the sink and grabbed his keys off the counter top. He locked his front door and started walking the few blocks to his grandmother’s house. Ian hoped that his father wasn’t there visiting, as well. Ever since he came out of the closet a few years ago, there had been a large distance between the two of them. Jeffrey Sanders still felt that Ian was a child, even if he was twenty-two-years-old.
His father was old fashioned, and he wasn’t very happy to find out that his son would not be continuing the family name. Ian was the first male child to be born into the family for many generations. The family’s bloodline had depended on the women to carry on their heritage for so long, his father was very proud to sire the first boy in hundreds of years. Ian knew that his sexuality damaged his father’s pride, but there was nothing he could do about it. Being gay was no different than being born a Gypsy. It ran through his veins defining the man he had become.
Ian slowly made his way up the front steps of his grandmother’s old Victorian home. Happy memories from his childhood flooded through his mind as he stepped into the entryway. He would treasure the years he had spent growing up in that house for the rest of his life. As he headed down the hall towards the kitchen, those happy thoughts were interrupted as a warning bell sounded off in his head.
Without even a second thought, Ian dropped to the floor and somersaulted forward. He came up in a defensive crouch with both his hands extended. Every muscle in his body tensed as he waited for the attack to come, but nothing happened. His head jerked towards the kitchen as sounds of clapping reached his ears.
“You’ve certainly been honing your skills, my young one.” Irina Sanders’s eyes sparkled with mischief at her grandson. She sat at the kitchen table drinking some hot tea, her silver hair curling around her shoulders as she smiled at him.
“I should have known you were just testing me,” Ian growled as he slowly stood up. “There hasn’t been a day-walker documented for over a century.”
“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t always be on the alert.” His grandmother motioned him to towards the kitchen counter. “You know where the coffee pot is, dear heart.”
Ian grabbed himself a cup of coffee even though he didn’t feel like having anything to drink. He sat down at the table and just stared into the cup. His grandmother simply sipped her tea and waited. She knew that when her grandson was ready to talk about something, he would. All she had to do was be patient and wait for him to form the words.
“I took care of two more vampires last night.” Ian said quietly.
“That’s nothing new. You’ve handled more than that in one night,” Irina replied. “Was something different?”
“They were working together, Grandmother.” Ian looked up and gazed into her chocolate brown eyes. “I’ve never seen anything like it. They circled me and attacked at the same time. I couldn’t believe it. Vampires never work together.”
“They do sometimes, dear one.” She sighed heavily and took a sip of tea. “Did anything else strange happen?”
“Yes.” Ian felt a chill run down his spin just thinking of the mysterious vampire. “After I had taken care of the two vampires, I turned around, and, out of no where, another one was standing there. The only problem was,” Ian took a deep breath. “I couldn’t sense him.”
“Have you been having nightmares, Ian?” His grandmother’s voice became very serious.
“Yes, for just about a week now. Ever since that night, in fact,” Ian replied without thought. His eyes bulged in shock. “How did you know about that? One of the only things I remember is the word Romani. Do you know what it means?”
“Romani means Gypsy in our language, my child.” His grandmother reached out and took onto his hand. “I think it’s time for you to be told some things.”
Stefan Renaldi growled as he paced back and forth across the family study. Images of the robed hunter had been plaguing him for over a week, and he couldn’t understand why. Felicia Renaldi stood poised in the study’s doorway, watching her son. It had been many years since she had seen him so worked up.
“Are you ready to tell me what is on your mind yet, my child?” Her silken voice floated through the elegant room.
“I encountered a Romani in the cemetery last weekend.” Stefan refused to make eye contact with his mother.
“So the Gypsies finally found their way to our small town.” Felicia took a seat on the leather sofa. “You are well aware that they cannot sense you. Their family can only sense one of the soulless. You know as well as I do that the only way to lose your soul, and your humanity, is to kill someone. Have you murdered someone, my child?”
“You know very well that I have not,” Stefan snarled at his mother, his fangs breaking through his gums as his anger erupted.
“I advise you to calm down, my son. You may be centuries old, but I can still put you across my knee, if necessary,” Felicia warned. She patted the open seat beside her. “Stefan, come sit down and tell me what is really bothering you. You have never feared the Romani before.”
“I felt drawn to the hunter, Mama.” Stefan dutifully sat down. He felt his mother’s hand as it came to rest on his shoulder. “I could not see his eyes, but I felt my skin burn as his gaze locked onto me. It felt as if I was falling, and I did not want it to stop.”
“Wait a moment.” Felicia’s hand tightened its grip on her son’s shoulder. “What do you mean, ‘he’? The hunters have always been women.”
“I can not say for certain that it was a man because of that damn robe.” Stefan growled, again. “This hunter was tall, Mother. At least an inch taller than I am. I have never met a woman that tall. Besides that fact, the hunter seemed to have a broad, muscular build under his robe. So, unless he are using his Romani magic to cloak his appearances, this hunter did not have breasts.”
“A man is hunting?” Felicia’s face was paler than normal. She pushed a strand of her midnight black hair back. “This is not good, my son. A male Gypsy has never hunted our kind. He may possess powers we have never heard of. What if he can sense us as well as the soulless?”
“Calm down, Mama.” Stefan laid his hand over hers on his shoulder. “I told you that he could not sense me. When he turned to face me in the graveyard, his body language showed how shocked he was to see me standing there. Besides, he did not burn me on sight. Something strange passed between us, and I can not put my finger on it. It almost felt like I knew him.”
“You are to avoid this man at all costs,” Felicia ordered her child. “This may be some new Gypsy trick, and I would throw myself into the sun if anything ever happened to you.”
“You worry too much. I will be careful,” Stefan assured his mother. He watched as she rose from the couch and moved towards the door. She was so graceful, it almost appeared like she was floating, but, then again, knowing his mother, she might very well have been.
“I will speak to your father about this. We will need to warn the rest of the family.” Felicia smiled at her child. “Remember my warning. Avoid this Romani at all costs.”
Stefan watched as his mother closed the door to the study, leaving him to his own thoughts. He began to pace again because his body would not be still. Something was pulling at the back of Stefan’s mind, but he just couldn’t figure out what it was. His thoughts returned to his mother’s warning.
“I’m sorry, Mama, but I have to find out what is going on. Forgive me.” Stefan’s voice echoed in the room.
“What things do I need to know?” Ian’s heart nearly stopped at the serious tone in his grandmother’s voice.
“I think it is time for you to learn about the curse that created the vampires,” Irina said as she stroked the back of her grandson’s hand.
“Grandmother, Papa told me those stories when I was young.” Ian sighed. He didn’t feel like sitting through another retelling of his family’s history. “A gypsy girl was supposed to be married to a boy in another tribe. She betrayed her family and ran off with someone else. Our family cursed the boy’s family as revenge.”
“Do not take that bored tone with me, child.” Irina was clearly irritated. “That load of rubbish your father told you is not the true story.”
“What do you mean?” Ian wasn’t sure what his grandmother was talking about. “Everyone in the family has told the story of the curse, and it was always the same.”
“You are well aware of the fact that you birth was very special.” Irina smiled at her grandson. “The first male child born in the family for centuries. The first male to be born since the curse. Your foolish relatives were afraid of history repeating itself, so they created the story to tell you.”
“But why tell me now?” Ian asked.
“Your run-in with the mysterious vampire,” Irina explained. “I knew this day would come, but I am getting ahead of myself. Get yourself some more coffee, child.”
Ian stood and poured himself another cup of coffee. A thousand thoughts ran through his head. Why would his family lie to him about the curse? What did they have to gain from not telling the truth? He was anxious to hear what his grandmother had to say, but at the same time, he was fearful. How would the truth effect him?
“Centuries ago, the Merripen and Renaldi families lived beside each other in happiness. The families had become so close, in fact, that an arranged marriage was going to take place between the Merripen leader’s son and the Renaldi leader’s daughter.” Irina paused and took a sip of her lukewarm tea. “The two tribes were very excited about the union of their families. It was decided that once each child reached the age of twenty-one they would be married. The number twenty-one was considered to be a sign of good luck.”
“An arranged marriage!” Ian exclaimed.
“You must remember, Ian, that it was a different time back then.” Irina gave her grandson a patient smile. “Arranged marriages were very common place at that time. No one thought that there would be any problems with the arrangement between the families. It soon came to light though that the marriage would not work.”
“What happened?” Ian was being drawn into his grandmother’s story.
“It was during one summer night when fate decided to stick her hand into things and change the families forever. The Merripen boy was found in the woods having…relations.” Irina chuckled as Ian rolled his eyes at her choice of words. “The problem was it was not with the girl he was to marry.”
“Who was it with?” Ian asked.
“He was with the girl’s brother.” Irina sighed heavily. “Needless to say the Merripen family was outraged. They couldn’t believe that one of their own would mate with someone of the same sex. They were even more upset when the Renaldi family didn’t even blink an eye. In fact they offered their son in place of their daughter.”
“Are you serious?” Ian was shocked. “Their family was that open-minded?”
“The Renaldi family loved their children very much and only wanted for their happiness. The Merripen family felt very differently. They demanded that the boy still marry the Renaldi girl. Of course the boy refused, he claimed he was in love with the young man.” Irina’s eyes filled with tears as she continued the story. “The boy threatened to run away with his lover. His father gave him a choice: either stay with his family or he would be hunted down and killed. The man believed his son was betraying the family.”
“So the boy had to choose between life or death, his love or his family?” Ian’s eyebrows rose high on his head. “That is so wrong.”
“Wrong and ironic, Ian, because the name Merripen in Romani means life or death.” Irina continued. “It gets worse, my child. The boy was so fearful for not only his life, but his lover’s life, he choose to remain with his family. His father is the one responsible for the curse. He forced his child to perform the ritual and curse the Renaldi family. They were cursed to forever walk in the darkness, to never see the light of day again.”
“How could someone do that to their own child?” Ian was pissed off. “That had to have destroyed the boy.”
“It did break his spirit.” Irina agreed. “The full impact of what the curse had done was not realized until weeks later when half of the Merripen family were killed in their sleep. The Renaldi family sought justice for the cruelty that was inflicted upon them.”
“They had every right to!” Ian exclaimed. “They did nothing wrong. Their family should have never been cursed!”
“I agree with you, my child.” A sad smile appeared on her weathered face. “The Merripen family was scared for the remaining lives of their family. So they called upon their ancestors to help protect them. The Merripen family had some Gypsy magic in their blood, but with help from their ancestors they became very powerful. They vowed to hunt down and destroy the creatures that killed their family.”
“You mean hunt down the people that they had fucked over to begin with!” Rage surged through Ian’s veins. “They cursed the Renaldi family, and if they wouldn’t have done that then no one would have died. It makes me sick to even be a part of this. I won’t hunt anymore. I refuse to! This is why no one has told me because they knew I wouldn’t agree!”
“You must continue to hunt, my child.” Irina gave Ian a stern look that told him to keep his mouth shut. “The boy had worded the curse very specifically. His father wanted the family to be stripped of their humanity, but the boy’s love stopped him from doing that. Yes, he turned them into creatures of the night, but he did not take their souls.”
“What?” Ian’s head pounded in confusion.
“The Renaldi family was forced into the night because the sun was deadly to them, and of course they were forced to drink blood to survive.” Irina explained. “However, they were not monsters because as long as they didn’t kill and only fed from willing humans, they would keep their souls and their humanity.”
“So I’m not hunting innocent beings.” Ian’s eyes showed his understanding. “Once a vampire takes a human soul on purpose, they lose their own soul. And if they lose their humanity, there is nothing that would stop them from killing again and again. I’m hunting murderers.”
“Exactly! I knew you were a smart boy.” Irina patted his hand. “The Merripen ancestors were very smart as well because the power they bestowed on the family would only allow us to sense vampires without souls. That is why you were surprised by that vampire. You were not supposed to kill him because he still has his humanity, his soul.”
“Are the vampires aware of this?” Ian asked.
“Are they aware we only hunt the soulless?” Irina smiled as Ian nodded his head. “Yes, Ian, they are aware of it. A few decades ago a hunter ran into one of the Renaldi family members. She was completely unaware that the woman was a vampire. They were attacked one night walking through a park, and when she killed the soulless creature with her power the vampire revealed herself.”
“Why would she do that?” Ian couldn’t believe the hunter trusted the vampire.
“Because it made her job easier. If the vampires with souls knew that the family would only be going after the soulless then we didn’t have to worry about them trying to attack us as well.” Irina sighed. “We have enough on our plate with the soulless, could you imagine, my child, what it would be like if every vampire alive was after you?”
“I don’t want to.” Ian shuddered. “I can’t believe all of this was kept from me. Why wouldn’t anyone want me to know this?”
“It’s because of your destiny, my dear one.” Irina leaned over and patted Ian’s cheek. “You…”
“Irina! What are you doing?”
Ian cringed at the sound of his father’s voice booming through the kitchen. Jeffery Sanders’ tall frame filled the kitchen doorway. Anger flared in his eyes as he stared at his mother-in-law. Ian avoided his father as much as possible because he just didn’t feel like dealing with the headaches that normally accompanied being in his father’s presence. Ian couldn’t believe his father’s timing. Leave it to his father to interrupt during something important.
“Leave us.” His father commanded without even looking at his son. “I have things to discuss with Irina.”
Ian sighed and gave his grandmother a hug and a kiss on the cheek. The look in her eyes told Ian that he needed to visit again soon. There were still many things for them to discuss. Ian left the kitchen without even acknowledging his father. As he walked out of his grandmother’s house Ian was surprised to see the sun so high in the sky. Time had certainly flown by during his visit. He decided to take a nap before going back to see his grandmother again. Ian still had to go out hunting that night, but he wanted to find out what she had meant about his destiny.
His feet pounded on the dirt as he ran through the dense forest. The boy’s heart throbbed painfully in his chest. The night sky was dark due to the full moon, and it was very difficult to see. The tree branches and bushes ripped into his clothes and even scrapped his skin as he ran, but that did not stop him. He knew that the love of his life was somewhere in the darkness.
Fear coursed through his veins as he heard the men running through the woods behind him. The boy couldn’t understand how they had been caught. They were both so very careful. He could hear his father screaming his name in the darkness. His feet would not stop their frantic pace. Suddenly his surrounds began to shift and change. The boy jerked to a stop to catch his breath and to figure out what was happening.
One moment he was running through the woods and the next moment he was standing in front of the bonfire at his village. His head snapped in different directions as he tried to figure out what was going on. There were strong hands holding him in place, and an old, weathered book was forced into his hands. The grip on his shoulders tightened painfully as he was told to read the page in front of him.
The boy tried to escape from the menacing voice, but other hands grabbed onto him, forcing him to remain in place. His eyes scanned over the page and his heart dropped to his stomach. There was no way they wanted him to do this, to utter the horrific words in front of him. Before he could stop himself the words came flowing from his mouth. Tears filled his eyes, but he was able to alter some of the words without the men noticing.
He may be forced to do their bidding, but he could change the outcome to a point. As the last word left his lips, only one thing was on his mind. The boy thought about his lost love as an image of his lover flashed through his head, and he could feel his heart shatter.
“NO! Stefan!” Ian screamed as he shot up in bed. His breathing was shallow as his eyes tried to focus.
The nightmares had gotten worse. Before just images or sounds came to Ian in his dreams, but suddenly everything had become clear. The dream felt so real to him. It took a few moments before Ian realized the significance of his nightmares. He was reliving the curse of the Renaldi family. His dreams were putting him in place of the young Merripen son. Ian’s first instinct was to run to his grandmother to find out what was happening, but then he glanced at his watch. His simple afternoon nap had turned into a long slumber.
It was almost a half-hour after the sunset, and that meant that Ian had to be out hunting. Visiting with his grandmother would have to wait until tomorrow. Ian quickly changed clothes and ran out of his house without a second thought. If he had paused for a moment he might have remembered what he had forget. The black monk’s robe still hung in his closet.
Stefan cautiously made his way through the shadows of the local park. He had checked out the cemetery earlier and knew that none of the soulless lurked there that night. He had hoped to catch a glimpse of the mysterious hunter. He promised his mother that he would be careful, and Stefan had every intent to keep that promise. There was something about the male gypsy that compelled Stefan to look for him.
Stefan paused behind a large tree for a moment. From his hiding place he would able to see the path that snaked through the middle of the park. He only had to wait a few minutes before a figure appeared in the distance. The light from the lamps lining the path reflected off of the man’s golden hair. Stefan sighed in frustration. He could only hope that a soulless would attack this human so the hunter would come to the rescue.
As the man moved closer Stefan’s eyes were able to focus more clearly. His breath caught in his throat as his body responded to the man. The golden hair flowing around his shoulders made the stranger look like a god or an angel. Stefan admired the firm muscular body of the stranger. If the Gypsy did not appear soon, then Stefan would follow the gorgeous man. The blonde hunk sat down on a bench a mere fifty feet from his hiding place. Luckily Stefan was standing in the shadows of the trees and could not be seen.
Stefan’s nocturnal eyesight picked up on a figure moving in the trees behind the bench. He watched as one of the soulless moved carefully towards his blonde god. Stefan was surprised to feel his fangs break through his gums. He couldn’t understand his urge to protect the stranger in front of him. Before Stefan could figure anything out the soulless vampire leapt to attack its prey.
“Look out!” Stefan called out before he could stop himself.
The blonde hunk looked up at him in shock a second before the vampire knocked him to the ground. Stefan ran towards the two of them. The vampire had the human pinned to the ground, and its fangs were ready to attack. Stefan grabbed the soulless creature’s arms and yanked him up from the ground. His super-human strength allowed him to toss the creature away harmlessly.
Stefan pulled the man to his feet and his breath caught in his throat as their eyes met. There was confusion in the icy blue eyes he gazed into. Stefan’s breath caught in his throat at how easily he could get lost in those eyes. The blonde’s eyes widened in recognition as he looked at the man in front of him.
“Stefan?” The blonde asked.
The smooth baritone was like music to his ears, but Stefan had no clue who the man was. How did this beautiful man know his name? Stefan opened his mouth to question the man, but was interrupted before he had a chance.
“Behind you!” The blonde yelled.
Before Stefan could react he was roughly pushed out of the way. He tripped over a rock that was on the path and he tumbled to the ground. As Stefan glanced up he saw the blonde man fighting with the vampire. As he rose to his feet to help Stefan heard the stranger mutter something, and the vampire suddenly burst into flame. Stefan stood completely still, shocked to the core. His beautiful stranger was actually the hunter.
“Are you okay?” The man asked as he cautiously approached Stefan. “I think I have some explaining to do. I’m Ian.”
Ian offered his hand to the dark stranger. Though the man wasn’t really a stranger to him, he was the man that had appeared in his dreams. Ian felt fear surge through his body because he was nearly positive that he was standing face to face with one of the original Renaldi family members. In fact Ian knew that it was not just a family member, but the lover of his ancestor. Ian knew he should be running way as fast as he could, but he felt drawn to the man in a way he couldn’t explain.
“How do you know my name, Gypsy?” Stefan’s voice was cold even though his body trembled at being so close to Ian. He refused the Ian’s hand, but it wasn’t out of anger. Stefan was afraid he wouldn’t be able to control himself if he felt the Gypsy’s warm flesh. Something clicked in Stefan’s brain though. “What did you say your name was?”
“I know your name because of my Gypsy heritage.” Ian lied through his teeth. There was no way he was going to admit his dreams to Stefan. “I said my name is Ian. Why?”
“That is very interesting.” Stefan trembled as Ian confirmed what he thought was said. Memories long pushed away surfaced and drifted through his mind. “I once had a lover named Ian.”
“The Merripen boy’s name was Ian?” Shock rocked through Ian’s body. Was he named after his ancestor or was Stefan just toying with him?
“You do not know your family history?” Stefan spat at him. It was easier to be mean to the man because otherwise he would be pulling Ian’s body against his own. The blonde Gypsy looked nothing like the man he was named after, but it seemed his effect on Stefan was the same. “I thought the Gypsies were so proud of their heritage.”
“Why don’t you tell me?” Ian argued back. “Gypsy blood runs through your veins as well.”
Stefan could not control himself as he pulled Ian into the darkness of the trees. He slammed Ian up against a rather large tree trunk. Stefan’s face was inches away from Ian’s. Ian felt fear course through his body as he was pinned against the tree.
“The blood that runs through my veins is the blood of the poor people I am forced to drink from.” Stefan growled. “It was your family that forced this on me.”
“Don’t blame me for the sins of my ancestors.” Ian’s voice was soft but strong. “I understand that you had no choice in who you have become, but realize that I had no choice either. You also realize that I could kill you right now. You’ve watched me hunt before, Stefan Renaldi.”
Hearing his name roll off of Ian’s tongue did something strange to Stefan. There was something almost familiar in the way Ian said his name. He knew very well that Ian could kill him at any moment, but for some reason he trusted Ian. It scared him that he could so easily trust someone he did not know, especially when that someone is a Gypsy hunter.
“You will not kill me, Ian Merripen.” Stefan quietly responded.
Images and pictures began flashing through Ian’s mind as he heard Stefan say his name. The Merripen name had not been used in a very long time since there was no male child to carry on the name. Ian saw images of himself with Stefan. The two of them walking through the woods, lying next to each on a blanket under the stars, and finally their naked bodies locked together.
“Stefan…” Ian felt like he was in a trance.
His fingers reached out with a will of their own and ran gently down the dark haired man’s cheek. Ian expected the skin to be cool, but it was far from cool. In fact the skin was hot and smooth. The heat from Stefan’s cheek seemed to slide down Ian’s arm and into his body. Ian couldn’t stop himself as he leaned forward and kissed Stefan. Stefan stiffened at first at the suddenness of the kiss. He could feel the moist heat of Ian’s tongue against his lips seeking permission to enter.
Stefan allowed his lips to open and Ian’s tongue plunged in. His head spun from the sensation of the man’s tongue as it dominated his mouth. Stefan released his hold on Ian’s shoulders as he gave into the passion of the kiss. He was used to being the aggressor in such situations, but there was something familiar about Ian Merripen that caused Stefan to give in. A low moan rumbled in Ian’s throat as he felt Stefan’s tongue slid against his own.
Ian’s hand reached out and grabbed onto the back of Stefan’s neck, pulling the man deeper in to the kiss. His free arm wrapped around the man’s waist and pulled their bodies together. In some part of Ian’s mind it registered that he was kissing a vampire, but he felt no fear whatsoever. For one of the first times in his life he felt safe, free. It felt natural for Ian to be holding Stefan in his arms, to be kissing him.
Stefan’s hands roamed over Ian’s broad, muscular body. His fingertips moved on their own accord as if they already knew every inch of the man in front of him. The sighs and groans that slipped from Ian’s lips only urged Stefan on. A voice called out in his head that he was with a Romani hunter, but his heart ignored the plea. Stefan knew deep within himself that no harm would come to him from Ian. How he knew that he had no clue.
Stefan finally broke this kiss. Their chests rubbed against each other as they gasped for breath. Their eyes locked together and that magical pull seemed to appear again. Stefan realized that Ian was slightly taller than he was as he leaned forward to suck on Ian’s earlobe. Ian arched against Stefan as he felt the moist pressure on his ear. Stefan slowly moved down until he was gently sucking on Ian’s neck.
Ian stiffened for a moment, and Stefan immediately pulled back. He berated himself for doing something so foolish. Of course Ian would be wary to have a vampire lick and suck at his neck. Stefan opened his mouth to apologize, but Ian’s intense gaze stopped whatever words he was going to say. After a few tense moments Ian tilted his head slightly. Stefan’s eyes bulged as shock coursed through his body. This beautiful man had just offered Stefan his bare neck. He realized that Ian was offering his trust to him.
Something stirred deep in Stefan’s heart at the gesture. Feelings he had thought he would never feel again after the curse suddenly blossomed into existence. Instead of returning to Ian’s neck he crushed his lips against Ian in a deep, passionate kiss. Ian literally felt his breath being sucked out of him. He grabbed Stefan’s hips and pulled the man against him. Ian could easily feel Stefan’s arousal as it rubbed across his own aching member.
The sound of a dog barking caught Ian’s attention. He glanced around and suddenly realized just how close to the path they were. Ian gently pulled away from Stefan. He grinned reassuring at the confused look on Stefan’s face. Ian glanced over his shoulder and looked into the woods behind him. An idea sprung into his mind and he felt compelled to follow it. Ian leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on Stefan’s lips.
“Think you can catch me.” He breathed into Stefan’s ear.
With a small chuckle Ian took of into the dark woods. He was sure that Stefan would follow him, though he had no clue why he was so certain. Stefan stood completely still for a moment as Ian’s words slammed into his brain. Century year old memories flooded into his mind. It would not be the first time he had chased a Merripen through the woods. Stefan’s heart pounded in his chest as he remembered the first time a Merripen said those words to him.
Ian’s ancestor, the one he was named after, had said the exact same thing to him hundreds of years ago. Stefan had chased the beautiful man through the woods. His cock throbbed as memories of what happened after Stefan caught him came to mind. Would that happen again? Stefan mused there was only one way to find out. He took off after Ian and hoped his vampire senses would aid him.
Stefan’s pace quickened as he ran through the trees but couldn’t find any sign of Ian. He had just sped past a very large tree trunk when he felt something grab onto this back. Before his mind could register what was happening Stefan found himself on the ground. Ian had him pinned to the forest floor. His body covered nearly every inch of Stefan’s muscular frame.
“I see you caught me, Ian.” Stefan slowly licked his lips as he gazed up at the beautiful man on top of him.
“Only because you run through the woods like a rampaging bear, Stefan.” Ian’s light laughter echoed through the dark trees.
Stefan’s breath caught in his throat as Ian’s words flowed over him. The air in the forest suddenly seemed thicker than before. He could almost feel electricity sparking through the air. The Ian that was lying on top of him looked nothing like the Ian he had known, but the two men nearly sounded the same. The present Ian repeating things to him exactly as he had heard them centuries ago. Ian’s laughter stilled as he saw the intense look that Stefan was giving him.
“What’s wrong?” Ian was concerned. He stood up and helped Stefan to his feet.
“Nothing at all.” Stefan leaned forward and began sucking on Ian’s bottom lip.
As the two men shared another hot, intense kiss they began pawing at each other’s clothes. The need to feel their naked flesh touch was overpowering. Ian broke the kiss as he looked into Stefan’s hungry eyes. They started to undress themselves. Stefan moved faster than his human counterpart and stood before Ian completely naked. His erection slapped up against his belly and glistened in the faint moonlight. Ian stood still with his white briefs still on.
Ian’s eyes roamed over the naked beautiful man in front of him. His dick ached to be released as he watched Stefan ran his hands over his smooth, taut chest. His tongue darted out and moistened his lips as Stefan reached down and cupped his own balls. His eyes focused on the large, uncut erection that sat above Stefan’s smooth balls. Ian was very aware of the fact that Stefan was teasing him, fueling his passion. Stefan was using every ounce of strength he had to stop himself from pouncing on the angel that stood before him.
As Ian slowly, and teasingly, slid his briefs off Stefan felt the entrance to his body twitch in anticipation. He wanted Ian to claim his body, to take what he could give. The moonlight made Ian’s body almost glow. Stefan’s eyes paused as he noticed something on Ian’s left hip. He stepped forward to inspect the mark he saw there. Stefan’s fingers lightly traced the pale, pink strawberry shape on Ian’s hip.
“It’s a birthmark.” Ian blushed as he felt Stefan’s fingers rub his hip. “I hate it.”
“It’s not possible.” Stefan could feel his eyes becoming moist. His breathing became ragged, and Stefan felt like he was going to pass out.
“What’s not possible?” Ian grabbed onto Stefan’s shoulders to steady him. The gorgeous man in front of him had begun to sway slightly.
“Your birthmark.” Stefan’s eyes refused to look away from the pale shape. “Ian, I mean my Ian, had the exact same birthmark.”
Ian could tell by the fear in Stefan’s voice that he wasn’t lying. His grandmother’s words from earlier in the day echoed through his mind. She was going to tell him about his destiny. As he gazed at Stefan’s trembling body something stirred deep within his soul. Ian knew deep in his heart that he belonged Stefan, the same way that Stefan belonged to him.
“I love you.” The words came out of Ian’s mouth before he even knew what was happening. Stefan’s head snapped up in shock. “Don’t ask me to explain it, but I know that my heart belongs to you. You are mine.”
The intensity in Ian’s voice caused shivers to run up and down Stefan’s spine, and in that moment he knew that Ian spoke the truth. His soul recognized the man in front of him, and it was telling him that his Ian had returned. Granted the man in front of him bore no resemblance to his ancestor besides the birthmark, but Stefan knew that somehow, someway, his Ian had found a way to return to him.
Stefan pulled Ian against him, and both men groaned as their flesh came into contact for the first time. Their thick members rubbing fluidly against each other as the men shared another kiss. Ian’s hands ran down Stefan’s back and began to massage Stefan’s sexy ass. Stefan arched his body as he felt one of Ian’s fingers slip into his hot crack.
“Take what is yours, my love.” Stefan panted.
Ian growled and pulled Stefan to the ground. Stefan’s head began to spin as he smelled the earthy scent of the forest mixed with Ian’s own natural scent. Ian broke the kiss and began to let his mouth travel down Stefan’s body. His lips quickly found one of Stefan’s hard nipples, and his tongue darted out to tease the point of flesh. Stefan’s fingers tangled in Ian’s long hair as he groaned out in pleasure. Stefan’s fingers pulled Ian’s head against his chest as he felt Ian start to chew and suck on his chest.
The head of Ian’s cock dripped heavily as it rubbed against Stefan’s smooth, large balls. The exquisite friction only fueled the fires that burned in both men. The muscles in Ian’s bubble ass flexed as he thrusted against his lover. Stefan’s body trembled as Ian’s mouth slowly made its way down across his flat abs. His hands pressed on Ian’s shoulder urging his lover to move further down.
Stefan nearly exploded in pleasure as he felt Ian’s tongue slip under his foreskin and then a warm wetness engulfed the mushroom head of his cock. Fingertips barely grazed against his balls as Stefan groaned. Sweat broke out on his forehead as he tried to hold back his orgasm. He had barely regained control as he felt Ian’s lips and seductive tongue slide down the length of his thick cock. Stefan felt Ian’s nose bury itself into the hair surrounding his cock as Ian’s throat muscles massaged his sensitive head.
Ian started a slow, teasing pace as his mouth slid up and down his lover’s erection. Fluid continuously leaked from Stefan’s cock and Ian devoured every drop. Ian used his lips and tongue to tease and play with the tight skin that surrounded his lover’s cock. The delicious nectar surged across his tongue as Ian licked and sucked the mushroom head. Ian was surprised at how easily Stefan’s thickness slid into his eager throat. It was if his body had been made to pleasure the man that lay underneath him.
Ian could feel his lover’s body tense and gently pulled off of the throbbing cock. He was not ready for his lover to climax and instead he started tonguing the low hanging balls of his beautiful man. Stefan’s legs bent towards his chest to allow Ian easier access to his body. Stefan moaned Ian’s name over and over again as he felt Ian gently nip and chew on the sensitive sack of skin that held his balls.
A growl rumbled in the back of Stefan’s throat as Ian bit down on the sensitive patch of skin directly behind his nuts. Ian played with his body that way a master musician plays his favorite instrument. None of the many lovers Stefan had over the long years ever brought such pleasure to him. Any coherent thoughts that were left in Stefan’s head were gone as he felt Ian’s tongue slide between his muscular cheeks.
Ian’s hands lifted Stefan’s ass higher so he had better access to the entrance of his man’s body. Stefan had told him to take what was his, and Ian had every intention of claiming Stefan’s body. Ian’s tongue gently ran around the edge of Stefan’s pulsing hole. Stefan’s eyes rolled into the back of his head as he felt Ian’s tongue dart across his aching hole. As the minutes dragged Stefan had thought God had been gracious and allowed him into heaven. Every nerve ending in his body exploded in pleasure as Ian’s tongue slid into him as easily as a hot knife through butter.
Ian’s balls churned as he felt Stefan raise his hips to press his hungry hole against Ian’s tongue. Ian lost control as he licked and sucked at Stefan’s sweet body. His tongue sliding in and out of the wet heat of his lover. Ian knew he could wait no longer. He needed to be inside of his amazing lover. Ian smiled at the whimpers that came from Stefan as he withdrew his tongue.
Stefan glanced up to see Ian stand and then straddle his chest. His mouth was wet from hunger as he saw the dripping head of Ian’s erection move towards him. Stefan gazed up at Ian as he took the sensitive head into his skilled mouth. Stefan knew exactly what Ian had wanted. He wanted Stefan to get his dick nice and wet for what was to come. Stefan grabbed onto Ian’s rock hard ass and pulled him forward causing his cock to slide deep into Stefan’s greedy throat.
Ian’s fingers got tangled in Stefan’s short hair as he began to slowly fuck his lover’s mouth. The feeling of Stefan’s tongue and lips was almost too much for the man. He knew that if he didn’t move quickly he would be exploding into Stefan’s mouth. Ian gently pulled Stefan’s head from his cock and got between his lover’s legs again. Stefan’s leg automatically wrapped around Ian’s waist. Stefan pulled his lover down until he felt the blunt head of Ian’s cock drag across his hole. He felt Ian’s body pause, and Stefan looked up into his lover’s beautiful eyes.
“Have no fear, my love.” Stefan murmured as he stroked Ian’s face. “Human diseases do not effect me.”
“I wasn’t worried about that, Stefan.” Ian’s eyes filled with love as he looked down at his handsome lover. “I just don’t want to hurt you.”
Stefan leaned up and kissed Ian deeply because words could not express how he felt at that moment. He tightened his legs pulling Ian’s body closer causing his lover’s cock to enter his hot hole. Both men shuddered and groaned as their bodies joined together. Ian was amazed at how incredibly hot and tight his lover’s body was as he slowly and carefully pushed himself inside. Sex had never felt so amazing or wonderful for Ian.
Stefan felt something shift in his soul as he felt Ian fill his body completely. He could feel the heaviness of Ian’s balls resting against his body. His soul sang with joy as his lover claimed him. Ian rested for a moment as his full length entered Stefan’s body. Stefan’s muscles clutched and grabbed at him almost as if they were milking pleasure directly out of his body. Their lips met in another deep, soulful kiss.
As their tongues slid against each other if felt as if electricity shot through their bodies. Images and pictures flashed through their minds at the same time, memories of a far distant past, memories of a much happier and peaceful time. As the kiss ended Ian slowly pulled back until just the head of his long cock rested at his lover’s entrance. In one fluid motion his cock again sunk deep into Stefan’s body.
Stefan was amazed at how easily his body responded to Ian. It was if his body knew and remembered the man that was on top of him and inside him. As Stefan gazed up into Ian’s eyes he noticed something different there, something he had never expected. Recognition. He felt as if he was gazing into his Ian’s eyes, the Ian of the past.
“Ian?” Stefan trembled as his lover continued to move gently in and out of his body.”
I remember, Stefan.” Ian leaned down and sucked gently on Stefan’s ear. “I don’t know what is happening right now or why, but I remember you. The times we spent together and the joy that you brought to my life. How is this possible?”
Ian wasn’t sure what was happening, but he was not afraid. Memories of another person’s life were flashing through his mind, but yet they felt like his own. The only thing he knew for certain was that he was deeply in love with Stefan Renaldi, and he had no reason to question that. His heart and soul told him that all was how it should be.
“I can feel it.” Stefan panted as Ian’s cock rubbed across that magical place inside of him. “I can feel your soul, my love. Somehow, someway, you have come back to me.”
Words could no longer express what passed between the two of them. Words had been replaced with the deep moaning and groaning of two people sharing their bodies and their souls with each other. Ian kept his pace slow and steady, though it was a difficult task. He wanted to plunge himself deeply and quickly into his lover, but he knew that he would not last long. Ian wanted to draw out that moment for as long as possible.
Ian buried his head into Stefan’s neck and licked and chewed at the sensitive skin there. Against his best efforts his body was starting to quicken it’s pace. The fat head of his cock continued its assault on the sensitive button deep in Stefan’s ass. Stefan could feel his balls began to pull against his body, and he knew that it was only a matter of time before he exploded from the intense pleasure.
Stefan’s body urged Ian to quicken its pace. He wanted to feel Ian explode deep inside of him as he climaxed. Ian understood his plea and shortened his thrusts to deep, quick jabs. The sounds of their joining echoed against the trees as skin hit against skin. Ian’s cock slammed into Stefan’s ass at the perfect angle, and he found his body exploding in pleasure. He screamed out Ian’s name as his cock shot ropes of sticky, thick fluid over their chests. His ass muscles clamped down hard around Ian’s cock causing Ian to release his seed deep inside of him.
Stefan heard Ian cry out his name as his body shuddered in pleasure. Ian slowly lowered himself down onto this lover. His cock still remained deep inside of Stefan. Their chests were slick with sweat and Stefan’s juices. As Ian moved into kiss his man he noticed the white stickiness that clung to Stefan’s neck. He leaned down and lapped at the precious liquid savoring the taste of his love.
Stefan pulled Ian’s face to his own and kissed him deeply. Ian shared the nectar with his sexy lover. Stefan was surprised to find that Ian had saved some of his come to share with him. His throat rumbled in pleasure as Ian shared the efforts of their coupling. It had been a very long time since Stefan had felt so loved and so complete. He nuzzled his face against Ian’s trying to convey what he was feeling.
“I love you, Stefan Renaldi.” Ian murmured. “I can’t explain it, but I know that my heart and soul belongs to you.”
“As I belong to you, Ian Merripen.” Stefan answered.
The two men enjoyed themselves for hours getting reacquainted with each other’s body and mind. Their bodies never seemed to tire as they took turns claiming each other over and over again. The only thing that could separate the two lovers was the approaching sunrise. They carefully cleaned off as best as they could and enjoyed dressing each other. Kisses of promises and love were shared over and over again.
“I can not wait until the next sunset to see you again, my love.” Stefan hugged Ian close. “I thank God for bringing you back to me.”
“No, Stefan.” Ian gently ran his fingers over Stefan’s cheek. “Devlesa avilan.”
Stefan wasn’t sure who was more shocked at Ian’s speaking of the old Romani tongue, Ian or himself.
“I was not aware you knew the language of the Gypsies.” Stefan murmured.
“I don’t.” Ian’s heart beat wildly in his chest.
He had no idea where the words had come from. They had just suddenly appeared in his mind. Somehow how though, Ian knew what the words meant. Devlesa avilan was Romani for “it is God who brought you”. Ian knew that a visit to his grandmother was definitely in order.
“I hate to leave, Ian, but I have less than an hour until the sun rises.” Stefan pressed his lips to Ian’s one last time. “I will look for you after sunset tomorrow.”
“I look forward it to, Stefan.” Ian smiled and hugged the man tightly against him.
They shared a few more kisses before finally parting ways in different directions to get to their respective homes. Both men were lost in revelations that night had provided to them. If it weren’t for the thousands of thoughts that ran through their heads they might have noticed the shadowy figure that had watched them from a distance. A figure that was carefully and cautiously following Stefan.
Ian grumbled in frustration as he looked at his watch. He had forgotten that the following day was a Monday, and that he would have to go back to work. The important talk with his grandmother would have to wait until early that evening. He sighed as his eyes roamed over the aisles of books the library held. It wasn’t the best paying job in the world, but it was something at least.
Thankfully the Soulcrest library was fairly empty, and Ian didn’t really have to deal with anyone that day. That was a blessing in disguise because his mind was everywhere but work. His body still tingled from the amazing sex he had with Stefan the previous night. Some of his muscles were sore from the all the moving and thrusting of their nocturnal activity.
The day continued to drag on until it was finally time for Ian to close up for the day. He quickly made his rounds through the building to make sure there were no stragglers. Ian turned off all the lights and then locked up for the night. Luckily, his grandmother only lived a few blocks away so it didn’t take long to walk there. He took the front steps two at a time and entered the house. Ian found his grandmother sitting in her living room reading a book.
“Why hello, dear heart.” Irina said as Ian leaned down to kiss her cheek. “I’m so glad you’ve come back today. Your father was a pain in the ass as always.”
“I need you to tell me what is going on.” Ian blurted. He needed answers, and he hoped that his grandmother had them.
“The memories are appearing aren’t they, child?” His grandmother motioned for him to sit down. Ian quickly nodded his head. “Well that can only mean one thing. You have found Stefan again.”
“How do you know that?” Ian felt the blood rush to his face.
“I do not know exactly what has happened, child. So don’t you worry.” Irina playfully patted Ian’s knee. “Though I can tell a few things from your reaction.”
“My head is full of memories and things that aren’t mine, grandmother.” Ian explained. “Last night I even spoke in Romani, and you know that I was never taught that.”
“I need to finish telling you the story, my sweet child.” Irina gave him a gentle smile. “Your father had rudely interrupted me yesterday when we were talking about your destiny.”
“What about it?” Ian asked.
“Stefan has probably already made you aware of the fact that your ancestor that cast the curse was the man you were named after.” Irina continued after Ian nodded his head. “Ian Merripen was heartbroken over the choice he had made. He knew in his heart that he should have chosen Stefan over his family. Before he died Ian used the Gypsy magic to place a spell on the Merripen family. One that would allow him a second chance with Stefan when fate would allow it.”
“What type of spell?” Ian was still shocked about everything that was happening to him.
“He cast a spell that no male children would be born in the family line until his soul was ready for reincarnation.” Irina kept a careful eye on Ian. She was worried about how he would take the news. “The spell would allow his ancestor to remember his life and the mistakes he made. It would allow his love for Stefan to last over time.”
“So what I’m feeling isn’t real?” Ian couldn’t believe it. His feelings for Stefan ran so deep in his heart that he knew that they had to be true.
“What you are feeling is very real, my child.” Irina paused and gathered her thoughts. “Forgive me, Ian. I’m not explaining this very well. Your love of Stefan is real and true because even though you are a different person than the original Ian Merripen, the two of you are still the same because it is the same soul. Stefan is your soul mate. Though this has to be very weird for you, Ian. You are Ian Merripen reincarnated.”
“That’s why I was having the nightmares.” Pieces of the mysterious puzzle were slowly sliding into place for Ian. “That’s why I felt like I knew Stefan when I saw him. I had seen him before in my dreams. And when we were together last night, our souls touched. I felt it.” Ian’s face was bright with happiness. “That’s why I knew the Romani language. Stefan opened the gate in my mind, and allowed my original memories to come to the surface.”
“You are correct.” Irina hated what she had to say next. “But you must also realize the danger you will be in. The danger you both will be in.”
“Danger?” Ian gazed into his grandmother’s eyes. The last piece of the puzzle slid into place. “My father. The family knew about the spell that was cast. That’s why everyone was so freaked out when I came out of the closet. They are afraid history is going to repeat itself.”
“I see you have been educating my son about the family history.” Lela Sanders, Ian’s mother, walked gracefully into the room.
“Mom!” Ian rushed over to hug his mother, but stopped short when he saw the look of fury on her face.
“Do not let her fill your head with lies, my son.” Lela slowly ran a hand down her son’s face. “You must avoid the Renaldi family at all costs. They want revenge on our blood for the justice we gave them.”
“Justice?” Ian stepped back in horror. “There was no justice. They forced me to choose between my love and my family. Actually, that’s not true.” Ian’s blood boiled in anger. “I was threatened with death if I did not abandon my lover. To top everything else off they were too pathetic and weak to do anything themselves. They forced me to perform the curse. They were spineless cowards!”
“You see what you have done old woman!” Lela yelled at her mother. “You have filled his head with nonsense and allowed Stefan Renaldi to once again corrupt our family.” Lela moved towards her son again. “Ian, everything she told you was false. The story of the curse we told you when you were a child is true.”
“No, it’s not.” Ian moved away from his mother. He could feel his power building, and he didn’t want to accidentally lash out at her. “I know in my heart and soul what is true. I’m in love with Stefan. I will not allow you or father to stop me. I will NOT allow this family to rip love from my hands again.”
“Foolish, ungrateful child!” Lela regarded her son with a cold look. “We will not allow you to disgrace this family again with your perverseness.”
“What have you done?” Ian knew the determined look on his mother’s face all too well.
“The family has been watching over you ever since you started hunting on your own.” Lela sat down gracefully on Irina’s couch. “We knew what your birth would mean, and we were determined to keep you away from Stefan and his family at any cost.”
“You’ve been following me?” Ian was outraged. “What gives you that right?”
“We are your family, Ian.” Lela’s demeanor was icy and harsh. “We could not allow you to wallow in your sin. You are the first male born to our family since that cursed Ian Merripen. You will marry and bear children to carry on the Merripen name.”
“I will not.” Ian’s jaw clenched with hate. “You can’t stop me from being with him.”
“But we can, you fool.” Lela grinned maniacally. “Your father was tailing you last night. He saw that wretched act the two of you performed in the woods. Your father was able to take care of Stefan, once and for all.”
“Liar!” Ian spat at his mother. “If he had died I would know it.”
“You know nothing!” Lela growled. “It is over Ian. I am here to give you a choice.”
Lela’s words sent chills down his spine. Flashes of past memories echoed through his mind. He could almost feel the hands of fate gripping onto him. His soul knew that the time had come. It was time to fulfill his destiny.
“What choice would that be?” Ian asked.
“You will stop this ridiculous fascination you have with men.” Lela locked eyes with her only child. “You will marry a good woman and have children to carry on our family’s bloodline. We already have the paperwork ready to have your last name changed back to Merripen. We will require you to have at least one male child to carry on the family name.”
“And if I refuse?” Ian demanded.
“You won’t refuse us, Ian.” Lela slowly stood. “Because if you do then you will die.”
“You would kill your own child, Lela?” Irina stood defiantly next to her grandson.
“We will not allow his filth to ruin the family again, mother.” Lela moved towards the doorway. “You have until sunrise to make your decision. You have already lost Stefan, for a second time. Do you really wish to lose your life as well?”
Lela didn’t wait for Ian’s response. Instead she moved gracefully out of the room and then out of the house. Irina and Ian could hear the front door closing behind her. Tears filled Ian’s eyes as his world came crashing down around him. Irina hugged her beloved grandson close to her.
“He can’t be dead, grandmother.” Ian sobbed into her chest. “I’d know if something happened to him.”
“I do not think he is dead either, my child.” Irina tried to soothe his worries. “They would not allow a Renaldi to die an easy death. Unfortunately I think they would torture him first.”
“I have to find him.” Ian quickly wiped his face off. “If they are giving me until sunrise to make a decision then he will probably live until then.”
“Sunrise!” Irina exclaimed. Ian looked at her questioningly. “They are probably going to let the sun kill him. The exposure to sunlight would be far more painful than anything they could do to him.”
“I don’t have much time.” Ian glanced at his watch. “I might have about ten hours, but I doubt more than that. I need to find him.”
“Go child! Hurry!” Irina pushed him towards the door. “I will see if I can figure anything out. I know you can do this!”
Ian kissed his grandmother on the cheek and gave her a quick, but tight, hug. He ran from the house and off to the cemetery. The cemetery was on the edge of town. Ian would start there and work his way across the town as quickly as possible. He prayed that he would have the time to find Stefan and save him.
Ian sat down dejectedly on one of the park benches. Tears streamed down his face. He had been over the entire town almost twice and he still couldn’t find Stefan. He realized that his family could have easily taken Stefan out of town to get rid of him. Ian was lost and had no idea where to turn. Ian already knew what his answer to his family would be. Death. He would not choose to live his life without Stefan, not again.
As Ian was making his way back to his apartment he glanced at his watch. It was nearly six o’clock in the morning. The sunrise was just about a half-hour away. Ian sat hunched down on the front steps of his apartment building as sobs overtook him. His pain was so intense he never noticed the figure that stepped in front of him. His head jerked up in surprise as he felt a hand lightly rest on his shoulder. The beautiful woman in front of him looked very familiar to him. It only took a moment before his mind realized who it was.
“Mama Renaldi?” Ian asked.
“I see the legends were true.” Felicia responded as Ian stood up. “You did find a way to come back, Ian Merripen. Though I say you look nothing like you used to.”
“I’m the same on the inside.” Ian looked at her pleadingly. “My family has taken Stefan, and I don’t know where they have him. I think they are going to expose him to the sunrise. Do you know where he is?”
“I do know where he is.” Felicia responded. She looked appraisingly at Ian. “When Stefan told me of a male hunter my husband and I were concerned. We had heard the rumors of the spell the first Ian had cast before he died. We have had our own family following Stefan to ensure his safety. That is how we discovered where they took Stefan.”
“Were you able to free him?” Hope sprang up in Ian’s heart.
“No.” Felicia’s voice reflected her pain. “When Stefan was captured they used your Gypsy magic to keep us away. My husband followed at a distance and saw where our son was taken. He hid in the shadows and listened. Stefan is shrouded in magic now, magic that will not allow us to get to him.”
“Where is he?” Ian demanded.
“He is tied between two trees at on the edge of the park’s forest.” Felicia locked eyes with Ian. “That spot will be covered in sunlight moments after the sunrise.”
“I’ve been through that damn park twice. Why didn’t I see him?” Ian was furious.
“Your father and cousin cast some type of spell around the grove of trees.” Felicia explained. “My husband heard them talking about it. The spell will not allow anyone of Gypsy blood to see what is behind the wall of magic. We can not get to him.” Felicia’s voice broke as unshed tears filled her eyes. “I am here as a last resort. Do you love my son?”
“Yes, I do.” Ian immediately responded. “In the past my family forced my hand when it came to your son. They would have killed me if I left them to be with Stefan. I had no choice. It is something that I will regret for the rest of my life. Things could be so different now.” Ian paused and took a breath. “My mother came to me tonight and told me they had captured Stefan. Actually they told me that they killed him. I was told that if I don’t change my sexuality and marry a women and have children, then I would be killed.”
“Your family does not seem to want to stay out of your business, Ian Merripen.” Felicia gave him a small smile. “And what would you choose?”
“If I lose Stefan then I lose everything. I will die without him.” Ian’s voice was filled with his love for her son.
“If you were to save him, would you allow your family to come between you again?” Felicia asked the difficult question. She was not surprised to see the hurt look that appeared on Ian’s face. “Ian, I do not hold you responsible for what your family made you do. I only ask you this because I know that Stefan would rather die than go on again without you.”
“I will let nothing come between us. No matter the cost.” Ian’s voice was steady and strong. “My family will not interfere ever again.”
“That is what I was hoping you would say.” Felicia’s smile finally widened. “Quickly, come with me. We do not have much time. Take my hands.”
“Why?” Ian asked.
“You forget that the Renaldi family was once Gypsies as well.” She held her hands out to Ian. “Our family has its own kind of magic.”
Ian quickly gave Felicia his hands. As soon as their hands touched Ian felt a wave of heat wash over his body. He became dizzy and closed his eyes to regain his balance. When he opened his eyes he realized that they were no longer in front of his apartment. They were standing in the middle of the woods. Before Ian could move a group of people came out from behind the trees. Ian realized he was standing face to face with the entire Renaldi family.
“We ask that you move quickly and do whatever you can.” Felicia released his hands. “If you can free Stefan he will show you the way to our home. We can not stay any longer. The sun will be rising soon.” Felicia pointed to two of the trees on the edge of the forest. “That is where my son is. Good luck, Merripen.”
Ian nodded his head and quickly moved towards the trees. He didn’t have time to say anything to Felicia or her family. His mind was solely focused on saving Stefan. As he approached the two trees he could feel the air shimmer from the powerful magic. Ian felt like he walked through a wall of water as he reached the trees. Stefan suddenly appeared. Stefan’s arms were stretched out to his sides with rope that was connected to the two trees. Ian rushed over to him.
His head spun in shock as he saw that Stefan’s clothes were covered in blood. There was a long gash on both of his arms. Ian saw that Stefan’s eyes were closed, and he prayed he was not too late. A branch snapped under his foot as he approached Stefan.
“You will not break me, Romani.” Stefan’s voice sounded tired, but strong.
“I am not here to break you, my love.” Ian reached out and touched Stefan’s cheek. “We have to get you out of here.”
“Ian?” Stefan’s eyes shot open. “I can not believe you came. They told me that you thought I was a dead. I thought I would never see you again.”
“They told me that they killed you.” Ian kissed Stefan quickly on the lips. “I knew in my heart that it wasn’t true. Now, we need to get you out of here.”
Ian tried to untie the ropes that held Stefan captive, but he was unable to work the knots loose. Out of frustration Ian tried to use his magic to burn the ropes, but that also did nothing. Ian glanced over his shoulder and saw the sky above the horizon start to change colors. It was nearly sunrise.
“I can’t undo the ropes.” Fear filled Ian’s heart. “They must have cast some spell on them. You need to use your strength to break free.”
“I can not, my love.” Stefan glanced down at the gashes on his arms. “They drained me of nearly all my blood. I do not have the strength to release myself. Otherwise I would have done that already.” Stefan smiled gently at Ian. “I am glad I got to see you one last time though.”
“Don’t you dare give up on me!” Ian nearly yelled. “We will find a way out of this! I will NOT lose you!”
“There is no way you will be able to find a willing donor in enough time, Ian.” Stefan was resigned to his fate. “Blood must be given freely, otherwise I would lose my soul.”
“I don’t have to find anyone, Stefan.” Ian pressed himself against his lover. Stefan looked at him. Confusion was written all over his face. Ian tilted his head and offered his neck. “Drink.”
Images flashed of the previous night flashed through Stefan’s mind. The way Ian’s body tensed as Stefan licked at his neck and as some momentary fear had shuddered through Ian. Stefan could not do as Ian asked. He knew that if he were to drink from Ian, then his lover would forever be fearful that he might lose control and drink again. It saddened his heart to deny his lover’s request.
“I can not.” Stefan mumbled as he averted his gaze.
“What the fuck do you mean?” Ian demanded. “It is the only way for you to live. Drink from me.”
“My love, I will not allow you to be a part of this vicious cycle the curse has caused.” Tears welled up in Stefan’s eyes. “I will not take your blood. My feelings for you run too deep. I am afraid I would be pulled in and I would not be able to stop drinking.”
“I trust you, Stefan. I love you. I know you won’t do anything to harm me.” Ian looked over his shoulder again and he saw the edge of the sun peak over the horizon. He glanced up and saw the sunlight touch the treetops. “We don’t have much time. You HAVE to drink. If you don’t you’ll die. I know that you would lose your soul if you killed me. I know how important your soul is. You wouldn’t risk losing it.”
“But my sweet Ian, I have already lost my soul.” Stefan gazed lovingly into Ian’s eyes. “My soul was given to you the first time we met centuries ago, my love. I love you totally and completely, Ian Merripen.”
“This is not goodbye. I refuse to let you go. I made that mistake once before and I will NOT let it happen again.” Ian quickly looked up again and saw that the light was slowly making its way down the trees. An idea quickly formed in Ian’s head. Time was running out and he prayed that it would work. “I love you, Stefan.”
“What are you doing?” Stefan demanded as he watched Ian concentrate on his hand. Ian was mumbling words under his breath.
“Saving you.” Ian replied. A faint light had circled around Ian’s finger. He lifted his hand and ran his finger in a sharp line across his neck. Almost immediately the skin broke and blood dripped from the open wound. Ian yelped in pain as he felt the blood run onto his shoulder. He grabbed Stefan’s head and pushed it into his neck. “DRINK!”
Ian’s blood smeared across Stefan’s lips. Stefan used whatever strength he had left to force himself to not feed. Some of the blood had slipped into his mouth though, and Stefan’s strength was soon gone. Natural instinct took over as fangs broke through his gums. He carefully sunk his teeth into his lover’s wound. Ian cried out as he felt Stefan began to drink, but it was not a cry of pain, but of happiness.
Ian’s blood surged through Stefan’s body. It was a moment that would forever be burned into Stefan’s memory. The taste and feel of his love was intoxicating. Stefan had never tasted anything as sweet in all of his years. Energy poured through Stefan’s muscles and with a quick pull the ropes holding him snapped. Ian felt Stefan’s arms wrap around him.
Ian felt Stefan withdraw from his neck. Ian muttered some words to heal his wound right before his lover’s lips quickly claimed him and kissed him deeply. The taste of his own blood did not phase Ian in anyway. Ian’s heart leapt with joy. They were reminded of the seriousness of their situation as the sun crested the horizon and bathed them both in light. Ian pulled back suddenly to get Stefan out of the way. He was shocked to see his lover standing perfectly still watching the sunrise in complete awe. Ian took in the beauty of his lover’s face drenched in sunlight.
“But how?” Ian asked out loud. “I thought sunlight was deadly.”
“I have no clue, my love.” Stefan smiled at Ian once he realized he would not be bursting into flames.
“You have broken the curse, my child.”
The men spun around to find Irina standing at the edge of the woods along with the entire Renaldi family. Tears of joy were in all of their eyes as they saw the first sunrise in hundreds of years.
“Your ancestor was smarter than anyone had given him credit for, Ian.” Irina moved over and hugged both of them. “He knew that his soul would be reincarnated. So when he altered the curse he added a small loophole. The blood of a Merripen freely given out of love would break the curse. Unfortunately the Renaldi family will still need blood to survive. Ian was not able to alter that at all, but he was able to include something that would free them from the shadows.”
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Ian demanded. “I could have had him drink before now.”
“Because it was not for you to know, my child.” Irina calmly explained. “The curse could only be broken by true love. If you knew that you could break part of the curse then you may have done it for the sole purpose of doing it. The curse was cast in the first place because of love. Love is what started it, and it was love that would end it.”
“Then we were lucky that our family had come to this town.” Stefan wrapped his arms around Ian’s waist. “This may have never happened otherwise.”
“Luck had nothing to do with it, my Stefan.” Felicia stepped over towards them. “Many years ago I had a run in myself with a Gypsy hunter. She spared my life because she knew that I was different from the soulless. We shared stories of our histories. Once we found out the truth of the curse we decided to stay in contact. Once a male child was born to the Merripen line our family would be contacted.”
“So when you found out I was born, your family moved here in the hopes that one day I would run into Stefan again?” Ian asked. Ian saw a twinkle in his grandmother’s eyes. “Do I even need to ask who that Gypsy was?”
Irina and Felicia chuckled before going to talk to the rest of the Renaldi family. Stefan and Ian were left alone. The two men gazed into each other’s eyes again before their lips met in a loving kiss.
“I can not believe how stupid I was, my love. My stubbornness almost cost me my life.” Stefan murmured.
“You were just trying to protect me, and I love you even more for that.” Ian hugged Stefan closer to his body. “Though if you don’t mind, I don’t think you’ll need to look for willing donors anymore.”
“If you so choose to give me such a gift, my love, then how could I refuse?” Stefan leaned his forehead against Ian’s. “What about your family?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Ian sighed. “Don’t you worry though, you’re not getting rid of me that easily. You’re stuck with me for a long, long time.”
“I was hoping you would say that.” Stefan grinned. “I love you, Ian Merripen.”
“I love you, Stefan Renaldi.” Ian leaned forward and captured Stefan’s mouth with his own.
The two men were oblivious to the people that still stood around them as they kissed. The bond between Stefan and Ian had become unbreakable that morning as they stood in the sunlight. Ian knew that there would be problems with his family, but he would not let them stop him from being happy. He knew that he would protect Stefan and his family until the day he died. Ian made a mental note to talk to his grandmother about a Gypsy spell for extending life. He knew in his heart that he had centuries of time that he had missed with Stefan, and Ian planned on having many, many years to look forward to in their future.