Paul’s apartment was indeed small, a studio with exposed brick walls and two white-cased windows. Through them Taviano could see a fire escape and then, across the street, a tiled roof. The latch on the right window had broken. Foolish man, he thought as he watched Paul hop on one foot to take off a boot. Let a monster in the front door. Invite a robber through the window. How are you still alive?
He surveyed the rest of Paul’s home. An open door revealed a small bathroom. The opposite wall contained a two-burner stove, a sink, and a half-sized refrigerator. A wooden café table sat with two mismatched chairs. A futon couch along another wall likely served as Paul’s bed.
Next to it was a milk crate on which sat a tiny Christmas tree, wrapped in blue and yellow lights. A few small ornaments dangled from its boughs, though no presents rested underneath. That struck Taviano as sad, given the work Paul had gone through to gather gifts for the homeless youths.
A distinct combination of smells tickled his nose from the area of the futon. Besides Paul’s unique scent there were echoes of other men. Different colognes or bathing products. Latex, foil, something oily, and then…
Taviano turned away as he identified traces of semen. The turmoil in his chest that the evidence of Paul’s life produced disturbed him. If he could blush, he would.
Paul finished with his boots and socks and tugged off his bloodied T-shirt. Tossing the garments in a heap on the floor, he strode to the sink. Dressed only in low-slung corduroys, he turned on the faucet and began to scrub away dried blood on his shoulder and palm.
Taviano took in the sight of lean muscle, flexing under pale skin as Paul washed. That skin reminded him of cream. A tattoo of a tree adorned Paul’s back. Its delicately drawn branches spread to his shoulders. The twisted and sturdy trunk disappeared into the mistletoe-themed boxers resting low on his hips. One side of the tree showed a splintered stump, as if someone had wrenched off a branch.
Although curious about the imagery, Taviano wondered more how that inked skin would feel under his lips. Then he wondered why he wondered. His demon’s hunger for blood drove him for such long years. He’d all but forgotten what it was like to hunger for touch.
Year after year, he hunted with a singular purpose, among people useful to him only as food. Yet he found himself imagining what it would be like to draw Paul against his body. The warmth would be delicious. Soothing. It reminded Taviano of the difference between appetite and attraction. He found the thought both sobering and exciting.
Twice, many decades ago, and before he began to hunt exclusively among villains, he’d given in to curiosity. He’d caressed a willing man with his sensitive fingertips, and even allowed him to stroke Taviano with lust. Both times, the sensation was too intense to be pleasurable. It had been like dragging woolen cloth over a sunburn.
Neither encounter had smelled like Paul, though. Would the taste of his skin be as unique as his scent? Would his body be warm and welcoming? Why should just one man out of the multitudes he’d encountered draw him so profoundly and calm his demon? If he touched Paul once, Taviano wasn’t sure he’d want to stop.
Paul turned from the sink to grab a hand towel and caught Taviano staring at him. Another tattoo, of a sun rising above a mountain range, sprawled down his left pectoral. He stilled but made no effort to cover his hair-dusted and spare torso.
Instead he stood silently as Taviano studied him. His eyes caressed the alabaster planes of Paul’s chest, the sinewy shoulders and elegantly tapered arms. He admired the tight skin at Paul’s stomach, the tracing of fine hair that disappeared down into his boxers. Paul began to breathe more heavily under the scrutiny and his pants tented outward. Taviano smelled arousal and it echoed in his own belly.
Finally Paul swiped the cloth against his shoulder and dried his hands while holding Taviano’s eyes. He licked his lips and flushed. In a slightly hoarse voice, he asked, “Did I get it all?”
As if drawn by a magnet, Taviano stepped closer, hearing Paul’s heart beat faster at his approach. His body glistened in the dim light of the room. Taviano sensed no fear as he took another step and peered at Paul’s shoulder. He brushed trembling fingertips over clean white skin and murmured, “It looks perfect.”
Thankfully his face couldn’t blush and his heart couldn’t pound; he was sure he’d be a sight to behold otherwise. The desire to touch, to stroke, was difficult to hide, from Paul and from himself. Paul stood mere inches away. His coursing, rich blood generated warmth that called to Taviano. For once, it had nothing to do with his demon’s clamor for food.
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Meet the Author
Robert Winter lives and writes in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He is a recovering lawyer who prefers writing about hot men in love much more than drafting a legal brief. He left behind the (allegedly) glamorous world of an international law firm to sit in his home office and dream up ways to torment his characters until they realize they are perfect for each other. When he isn’t writing, Robert likes to cook Indian food and explore new restaurants. He splits his attention between Andy, his partner of sixteen years, and Ling the Adventure Cat, who likes to fly in airplanes and explore the backyard jungle as long as the temperature and humidity are just right.