Feed. Prey. Love By D. H. Starr
At Whispering Hills where mortals and paranormals coexist peacefully – and romantically - love really does bite!
Talib Eldridge is a vampire who lives with guilt. 100 years ago, he accidentally turned a human to a vampire and has been afraid to get close to anyone for fear of ever losing control as he once did. When he meets Conley Berillo, his commitment to living in isolation is challenged. Immediately drawn to the human, he can’t help but fall in love.
Conley has always felt out of place. Never fitting in with others, he too has lived in isolation. When the existence of paranormal creatures is finally acknowledged, he feels an immediate affinity to the outcasts, still feared and hated by humans. Moving to Whispering Hills in Providence, Rhode Island, he knows immediately that he belongs to this new world. When he meets Talib, that conviction is only solidified.
When Jonah Townsend, the human Talib had turned about a hundred years earlier, re-enters the picture, Talib and Conley’s newfound happiness is threatened. Conley becomes the tool that Jonah uses to get back at Talib and Talib is forced to make a choice. Fight for his own happiness and risk Conley’s life, or put Conley’s safety first and sacrifice what he’s searched and struggled for over two hundred years!
Talib, meaning seeker of knowledge, had been named after his late grandfather. His father was filled with pride when, at only eighteen, Talib was accepted to Beit Rabban, the house of the teacher, to serve as an apprentice under Rabbi Elder. It was a bittersweet moment when Talib left his meager village, proud tears streaming down his father’s cheeks. Although Talib inherited a dark complexion and angular, strong features, his frame was slender. Nothing like the muscular build of his father, who served as a commander in the Ottoman Empire army. Yet for all of his father’s size and military success, Talib had never questioned his love. While Talib might never be a military leader, he could show leadership in his own way and planned to open a school house once he finished his own education and pilgrimage. In the meantime, he relished his “special” relationship with his master. Only that eased his great homesickness.
He had been at Beit Rabban for nearly six months and missed his family dearly. The longing for home would have been unbearable had it not been for Rabbi Elder’s mentorship. More than a teacher, Elder had been an older brother of sorts, a friend to confide in and a man to emulate. The fact he seemed to be no more than ten to fifteen years Talib’s senior was simply another attribute to admire about the man. Rabbi Elder had to be truly great to attain his position at Beit Rabban at such a young age. Each day, Talib gazed at Elder’s sandy blond hair, the curls of his payot framing his face perfectly to accentuate his cheekbones while hiding a sharp jawline, and was amazed that such a great man would devote so much attention to Talib's academic studies and studies of the flesh.
The creak of his door each night was a welcome sound, one he had grown to long for over the past few months. He had lost count of the number of times Elder had climbed into his bed. At first he was shocked, having studied in the scriptures that the pairing to two men was a sin against God, but Talib quickly reasoned that his mentor and nightly lover knew best. Who was Talib to question a man who knew the Talmud far better than he?
Rather than dwell on his notions of right and wrong, Talib relished the spark Elder ignited within him. Longings Talib had felt, but never dared explore, became a reality as he and Elder discovered each other’s minds and bodies. To know that a man as worthy of respect as Rabbi Elder wanted the pleasure of another man filled Talib with a sense of wholeness. That Elder had chosen Talib over all the other students at Beit Rabban filled him with a sense of pride, a belief that everything within him was true and right.
Rabbi Elder padded softly across the stone floor of Talib’s dormitory room. While there were other students, each received his own sleeping quarters. The accommodations were sparse, walls of stone, a cold and harsh atmosphere, but that was all part of the learning. Sacrifice of personal luxury helped students to better learn to empathize with those less fortunate. Yet as hard as the thin mattress was, the warmth of Elder’s body and the give of his muscles pressed against Talib’s own blocked anything else from his senses.
“I’ve missed you, Rabbi.”
Soft lips pressed against his own, capturing him in a kiss which began gently but quickly became fevered. Something was different about the kiss, a hunger which wasn’t normally present. As if Elder had a greater need than usual. Once he pulled out of the kiss, brown pools seeming to glow with an amber fire stared down into Talib’s eyes. “I’ve told you, when we lie together, you are to call me Elder. The lines of master and scholar do not exist when we are joined like this.”
“I’m sorry, Rab…I mean Elder. It’s difficult for me to remember. I look up to you so.”
Elder’s eyes softened, the fire dimming as he stared down into Talib’s. “It’s all right, my love. Tonight is going to be a very special night for the two of us.”
Heat washed through Talib, beginning in the pit of his stomach and radiating outwards. The waves of sensation burned from within yet left an electrified chill along his skin, causing the hairs to rise. His lover’s words incited Talib. Excitement warred with anticipation as he waited for his mentor to continue.
“You know how much I love you, don’t you, Talib?”
The words filled Talib. He would have thought he was floating if not for the weight of Elder’s body on top of his. “Yes, I do. And I love you, Elder. You have given me a gift greater than knowledge; you have given me the gift of awareness.”
Elder brushed his fingers through Talib’s black hair, pushing his payot aside so they splayed on the pillow. He lowered his head to Talib’s neck and pressed his nose to the skin, inhaling deeply. The intimacy of the act caused Talib to shiver. In a husky voice, Elder whispered into Talib’s ear. “There are things I have not yet taught you, but I would like to.”
“Anything. I am a vessel for you to fill.” Talib smiled thinking of how many times Elder had filled his vessel.
Elder laughed. “You are playing with your words, but yes, you are my best and favorite student. Yet there are things not written in books which I must…no…which I desire to teach you. I have become…attached to you, and I wish to share everything I am with you.”
The way he phrased his comment sent Talib’s mind soaring skyward. Elder wanted him, was attached to him. He had called him special. “Whatever you wish to teach me, I am willing to learn. You are a brilliant teacher. A highly skilled scholar. A man of great knowledge.”
“Yes, but I am more. Will you allow me to show you what I am? May I introduce you to the world I live in, one quite different from the world you know?”
There was mystery behind the cryptic words, forcing Talib’s breath to quicken, each intake shallow, uncertain. But Elder had opened Talib’s eyes, led him down paths which had frightened him, and Talib’s world was brighter and fuller as a result. If his mentor and lover wanted to share something with him, he would gladly receive the gift. “Yes, of course. Anything.”
Elder smiled, but it wasn’t a smile of happiness. Rather, his lips curled up into a grin revealing some other emotion Talib couldn’t identify. Only in the last moment did Talib realize Elder wore no smile. He drew his lips back, exposing teeth which seemed to have grown longer. Fear not were the last words Talib heard before Elder descended, clamping down on his neck.
Razor-sharp teeth penetrated his skin. With a piercing scream filled with pain, shock and pleasure, Talib gripped at Elder’s head, trying to escape but to no avail. Blood flowed from his neck and into Elder’s hungry mouth. A sickeningly sweet iron odor filled his nostrils. Along with the sensation of blood flowing from him, each lick of Elder’s tongue brought excruciating pleasure, Talib could also feel Elder’s arousal pressed against his thigh.
Time seemed to slow. The space between Talib’s heartbeats lengthened. The flow of his blood coursed slower and slower.
After what seemed like hours, Elder drew back. Crimson blood stained his lips and dripped from his still-elongated fangs. While the bite had been painful, Talib longed for Elder’s mouth to return to his neck, to continue to draw blood from him. Although it was difficult to focus, Talib was able to make out the expression of lust and hunger in his mentor’s eyes. Elder’s arousal continued to drive against him, and his own hardened shaft pressed back. He’s something other than human. How can this excite me?
“Talib, I am a creature of the night. You have a choice to make. I have drained you to the point of death. You will die if I do not feed you, but if you accept my gift, you will become what I am, and we can spend our lives together, for all eternity.”
Through the haze of his faint consciousness, he could make out the earnest expression on Elder’s face. Thoughts flittered through Talib’s mind, disconnected, difficult to comprehend. “A creature of the night? A golem? Not real…only stories.”
Elder caressed his forehead, hot fingers burning against his cold skin. “I assure you we are not lore. I am not a demon or possessed by a dybbuk. I am real and I wish to give you the gift of eternal life. Will you share your love with me for all time?”
Darkness crowded in until he could barely see or hear. It wasn’t until the warm drops of thick liquid hit his lips and dripped into his mouth, quenching a thirst he hadn’t realized he’d felt, that his answer came to him. Gripping Elder’s wrist, he pulled the torn flesh to his mouth, sucking with all his might, drinking life’s essence back into himself with each pulse of Elder’s heart.
As if waking from a dream, Talib became aware of each of his senses. Sights, smells, scents, sounds, everything coalesced with great clarity and sensitivity. The fear emanating from a fly trapped in a spider’s web entered his nose. I can smell fear. Along with the coppery, iron flavor of Elder’s blood, he could taste the wine Elder had drunk at dinner. Disconnected thoughts flew through his mind. How can I taste the wine in his blood? Golem are real?
Sensation upon sensation filled him, only to come to a screeching halt when he heard something he never expected to hear. I have turned him. He’s now mine.
“What? What do you mean you’ve turned me?” Talib was sure he had misheard. It had to be the result of his loss of blood or perhaps the fear coursing through him. He had broken so many rules, he must be possessed by a dybbuk, the spirit of a dead man who’d violated the laws of Torah. Perhaps he had been wrong in believing what he and Elder shared was right. Was God punishing him for breaking His laws? An image of his home, his father’s proud face, flashed in Talib’s mind. Shame and panic swirled within him, making breathing impossible. He had shamed himself and his family. He had turned on his God, on his religion. All because he had trusted Rabbi Elder.
Elder’s eyes widened and his mouth opened slightly, only to clamp shut once again. Disbelief, no, shock, settled on his face. “I said nothing, my love. You must still be weak from the transformation.” It can’t be. He couldn’t possibly have heard my thoughts.
“But I do hear you. What is this? Have you deceived me in some way?” Fear shifted to anger and hurt. He’s betrayed me. He’s led me down the path of sin, knowing I could never return to the life I’d dreamed of. He’s forced me to act against my God…so I could be…his? The sense of foolishness closed in and around Talib, and he pushed to free himself, to stand, to take in deep breaths of cleansing air. With little effort, he flung Elder across the room, the teacher's body hitting the wall with enough force to kill a man.
Even in the dim light of his bedchamber, Talib saw the color drain from Elder’s face. “But how…how do you know the thoughts which run through my mind?” He mustn’t ever find out I did this so I won’t have to be alone any longer. I need a companion. Isolation has left me starved.
It took Talib a minute to get over the shock that Elder had not been hurt from his crash with the wall. Talib could hear everything, every truth Elder had failed to tell him. He had not offered Talib eternity out of love. His motives had been selfish. Talib could hear it in Elder’s thoughts, for the man could not lie there.
Talib was no longer human. He knew this in the deepest reaches of his being. The change had occurred. He was a dybbuk and worse, a golem. He had broken every rule there was to be broken short of killing. There was no turning back. The truth filling him caused Talib to retch, thick red jets of blood erupting from his mouth. When he could speak, he scowled at his former master, the man he’d loved, had given his heart and body to. The man who’d deceived him in the most wretched way. “You did this to me because you wanted a companion?” While the words formed a question, his tone carried all the anger and accusation coursing through him.
Raw emotion lifted Talib from the bed. Before he realized what was happening, he was hovering in the air before Elder, defying gravity and laws his human form had to abide. He glided effortlessly, slowly closing the distance between himself and the deceitful man who had irrevocably changed his life. Instinctually, he reached out with his mind, linking it to Elder’s, forcing him into helpless paralysis.
Elder cowered, but was unable to avert his gaze. Talib could feel the will seep out of Elder as his weaker mental abilities gave way to Talib’s strength. He could sense the urge to fight back within his former mentor but could feel the weakness radiating toward him. Elder wasn’t as strong as Talib. Talib was more than Elder, different. What have I become?
Hatred swelled within him as he prepared to strike, but he stopped, released Elder and lowered himself to the ground until he once again stood on his own two feet. “I will not kill you, nor will I remain with you. You may have taken the life I planned to live from me, you may have turned me into a golem, but you can never take my humanity. I may not be able to return home—I wouldn’t bring that kind of shame to my family—but I won’t stay here with you.”
Elder rushed forward. Kneeling before Talib he wrapped trembling arms around Talib's bare waist. Fear radiated from his very pores. Talib could taste it, smell it. It burned his nose and tongue like acid. “Please. I’m so lonely.”
Talib pushed him away once again, not as hard as the last time, but hard enough to make his point. He had no idea what his future held, only that it had been changed. He could not undo the things he had done against God, but maybe there was a way to reverse the evil coursing within his body. Maybe he wouldn’t have to live an eternity, as Elder had said. Maybe he could become what he had always been, pious, a man of God.
Disgust filled him as he turned to face Elder. Looking at the weak, pathetic man cowering on the floor, hands raised up in defense, Talib shook his head, a single, sad laugh escaping him. “And so you shall remain, for I must leave you.”