Genre: Paranormal, m/m non-traditional Romance, Novella, (R-18)
Prepare to be toasted…
Dressed for far colder weather, Armand makes a strange spectacle in Final Cut. Krakow cannot believe Nicodemo the bartender sends the man over to his corner, especially when he told the sex demon he wanted to be alone. His disgruntlement soon changes when he realises there’s something different about Armand. Has Nico done the impossible and found someone Krakow can finally share intimacy with?
Krakow has the answers to Armand’s lonely existence and a cure so Armand no longer has to feel cold.
Read an Excerpt…
Krakow watched the stranger’s reaction, trying not to gape in amazement. Most humans — those he wasn’t trying to seduce, and Krakow hadn’t tried to entice anyone in a long time — moved away from him, instinctively knowing they’d come too close to something they’d be safer not touching.
This young man appeared to savor the interaction. Not only was his reaction peculiar, so was his appearance and attire. He wore the wrong clothes for the season, and his sandy hair looked unruly. There was no way one could call the haircut a style, and yet the very thickness and disorderly strands made Krakow want to tangle his fingers into it.
Even as he stared, the other man opened his eyes at the same time as he swallowed. Again, his tongue flicked out, licking his lips. Something about the wild look in those green eyes made Krakow smile. Raising his own glass to his lips, he took a drink. He set it back down on the table, tilted his head, and said, “Hello, stranger.”
For a time, the other man said nothing. He swallowed a few more times as if he struggled to make his throat work. When he spoke, he sounded hoarse. “Armand. My name is Armand.”
Krakow inclined his head in greeting. “Krakow,” he replied.
“Sounds Russian.” A flush sped through Armand’s skin even as he spoke. He looked down, appearing a little shamefaced. “I mean…”
Smiling, Krakow waved the concern aside. “It’s not, and it’s far older in origin. So old even those who know it probably don’t know where it truly came from.”
Nico’s timing was impeccable. He interrupted them, setting down new drinks, whisking away their empty glasses so quickly one could hardly follow the exchange. Positive Nico would avoid his gaze, Krakow purposely stared at him.
Sure enough, Nico ignored him, but was a small smile tugging at the demon’s lips?
Sex demon. Ugh. Krakow suppressed a shudder. Some thought them the lowest of demons. Matchmaking. Using seduction as a weapon or for their own amusement. Some had motives more… complex. What were Nico’s?
Surprised to find he felt more amused than annoyed, Krakow turned his attention back to Armand. Armand was staring at the glass, and then he slowly raised his gaze to stare at Nico’s departing back. Puzzlement tightened an otherwise unwrinkled brow. Krakow couldn’t blame him for feeling puzzled. He didn’t like the idea that Nico had manipulated the situation, but he couldn’t deny he felt… intrigued. Aroused.
Was Nico matchmaking now? He felt certain of it. Instead of feeling irritated, as he thought he would if the demon ever tried this with him, Krakow had to admit his curiosity ruled his emotions. He looked at Armand and couldn’t help wondering why Nico had chosen him. What was so special about this Armand?
He’s not entirely human.
The thought blasted into his mind like wind carrying a blizzard, sending the internal fire always blazing within him into a dance of flickering flames and glowing embers.
“What’s happening here?” Armand gasped out, breaking into Krakow’s contemplation. “Who are you?”
Could it be? Was it possible? Does he have any idea? No. If there were one thing Krakow felt sure of it was the man beside him truly had no clue as to his nature.
Drawing his lips into a closed-mouthed smile, Krakow waited a moment before he answered. “It would be better to ask what I am.” He waited a moment longer, allowing the questions flaring to life in Armand’s thoughts to intensify. He took up his glass, rolling the dark amber liquid around on his tongue before swallowing. “There are other things in this world than what is commonly known, Armand.”
“I know.” Armand whispered as if he didn’t have the energy to talk any louder.
“But do you know their nature?”
Armand hesitated, appearing thoughtful. “A little,” he murmured, sounding disinclined to say more.
“Well, the bartender is a demon. That woman over there is human but the man beside her is a shape shifter. She knows it,” Krakow added, to calm any fears Armand might entertain owing to inaccurate horror movies he might have seen. “There are two ways to become a shifter. One is to be born, one to be bitten. I think he was bitten, and both have had to come to terms with his… condition.” He injected humor into the word, turning his head as he did to meet Armand’s gaze. “The bouncer’s a grizzly-shifter. Sam, the owner, is human. Completely clueless. There are also such things as elves and fairies, banshees, and –”
“Enough,” Armand said. “You’re being ridiculous.”
“Am I?” Krakow studied Armand’s face before shaking his head. The man’s reply had sounded too pat, the sort of thing one said because you were used to living in a world where believing in such things were grounds for committal. “No. I think you know I speak the truth. Deep down inside, you know. You also know you’re not entirely human. You’ve not thought of it in those terms before, but you know you’re different.”
“Different?” Armand asked the question, but his voice lacked power. A questioning look of horror flashed over his features. Krakow waited, displaying the same kind of patience that had served him well for generations. He waited, watching emotions play out on the other man’s face. Armand’s expressions flashed through various degrees of annoyance, to denial, frustration, then to something like acceptance. Oh this one knew all right, deep, deep down inside where he’d buried the knowledge of how he felt isolated, set apart from the rest of the world.
Krakow continued to watch even as Armand swallowed, opened his mind to the possibility, and sought guidance. “Do… do you know what I am?”
“Now that,” Krakow said, taking another swallow of his drink before setting down the glass with a little clunk against the table, “would be telling. I’d rather show you.”
© Sharon Maria Bidwell, all rights reserved.
(Note: this story was originally released as Toasted Almond at AMP, was only available for approximately one month before the publisher went under and I never received any royalties for it. This version has been edited to fit the Final Cut Miami series at Changeling. Although I usually write with UK spellings (when publishers allow) in UK settings, this story is set in Miami and therefore has US spelling.)