Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Warm Taste (A Vampire Coffee Shop Romance) by Julia Leijon

The Warm Taste

Can a dark creature find a home in the light?

Robin appears to be a quiet, attractive young man, but the exterior hides his true vampire nature: ageless, unchanging, and bloodthirsty. His current obsession is Martin, the personable and generous owner of a coffee shop, The Warm Taste.

All Robin’s careful plans to remain unnoticed are ruined, however, when Martin asks him out on a date. Can Robin really have something so good and sweet as an ordinary relationship, after such a long existence of cold loneliness?

And if things fall apart, and Robin goes back to his old ways, will Martin survive it?

Full of deliciously explicit sex scenes, this novel truly lives up to its name: dark, sweet, and just the thing to satisfy a craving.

Visit the website!

Sink your teeth into this excerpt:

It was well past evening. The windows of the coffee shop spilled warm golden light out onto the cold sidewalk. Robin’s breath didn’t steam on his exhales, and the temperature of the air didn’t bother him, but he wore a bulky coat and scarf for show.
He’d learned years ago that if he made sure that the people around him had no reason to notice him — if his dress was seasonal, his manner unremarkable — then he was forgotten almost before he was gone. It was possible to behave in a very inhuman fashion without drawing attention, provided he at least looked the part.
Most of the patrons inside the coffee shop at this hour were students from the local college studying late. The campus was nearby, and it was still early enough in the semester for all the young scholars to look fairly bright-eyed and confident, not panicked and exhausted like they would when more weeks had passed.
The light inside was bright enough that Robin couldn’t see even a faint reflection of his own face in the glass of the door. If it had been darker inside than out, there would have been a mirror image, despite what superstitions about vampires usually said. Robin knew well enough what he looked like.
His eyes were blue, with enough grey lurking in the color that they could pick up a tint of green if there was a particularly vivid shade nearby. His hair was blonde and he wasn’t tall, or broad-shouldered, which could have had the effect of making him look even younger than his unchanging eighteen years, if not for the confident grace he’d always had to his movements.
To those who only met him briefly, Robin probably appeared around the same age as those college students on the other side of the glass, just starting out towards the world of adult life, before the cynicism set in.
If anybody knew him for a longer length of time, they would have begun to see flashes of hardness and darkness in his sweet, fine-boned face, flashes that made him look much, much older. But Robin made sure that nobody ever knew him for long enough to notice things like that about him.
He pushed the door open, the wave of warmth and sound reaching out onto the cold street to envelope him, drawing him into the small enclave of life inside.
Martin was behind the counter, because Robin wouldn’t have bothered visiting the coffee shop in the first place if it had been the man’s single weekly night off. Robin had taken the time to learn Martin’s schedule, in order to avoid unnecessary ventures out into the living world. There was no point in spending time among the students and their books and coffees unless Martin was there.
Robin’s knowledge of Martin extended beyond knowing the man’s working days. Little facts and slivers of information had been collected by Robin, piece by piece, until he’d managed to build up a comprehensive picture of the coffee shop’s attractive, personable owner.
Martin was thirty-five years old. He didn’t have any brothers or sisters, and had lost his parents in his early twenties, coming into a considerable insurance payout when they died. That money remained largely untouched, however, with Martin only dipping into the funds once in all the time he’d had it. That had been when he’d bought the coffee shop. He’d named it ‘The Warm Taste’ and had worked there ever since.
He had brown eyes and brown hair with the first glints of silver shot through it. He was tall and lean, his body kept in shape through energetic games of frisbee and fetch with his dog on days off.
Robin liked Daniel’s dog. She was a black and white fox terrier cross with a truly obnoxious personality, barking viciously at innocent bystanders as if they were dire threats but instantly cowering from the slightest hint of real danger. She had Martin wrapped around her metaphorical little finger; he would have done anything for that rotten little brat. It made Robin smile to watch.
The dog’s name was Nora, and she liked Robin. Dogs always liked Robin. They noticed him much more often than people did.
Robin approached The Warm Taste’s counter, glancing up at the chalkboard hanging suspended from the ceiling and displaying the various beverage options Reading through the choices was just habit, because he always ordered a cappuccino with one sugar. Observation of the coffee shop’s patrons had taught him that this was the most commonly ordered drink, which therefore made it the least individual, the easiest to forget.
Robin didn’t want to be remembered. He made a point of having as little impact on human lives as possible. On the occasions when he’d been weak-willed, and given Martin reason to have strong recollection of him, Robin had later, with utmost care, mesmerized the man. Made him forget.
If anybody had known Robin’s habits well enough to comment on them, they would have called him fastidious. Nobody did, though. Robin was careful to make sure that was the case, as well. The more solitary he was, the less complicated his existence remained. So long as nobody knew him, nobody was affected by him.
Robin’s natural inclination to thrive on chaos was not a recipe for longevity, and so he’d forced himself to learn how to appreciate an existence that ran smoothly.
“Cap with one sugar, right?” Martin asked, interrupting Robin’s moment of introspection.
Robin blinked in surprise. Martin shouldn’t remember him at all, much less have his order memorized.
Martin was giving him an easy, friendly smile, waiting for confirmation of the order. “Y-yes,” Robin stammered, thrown by the situation. He handed over his money and moved away from the counter hurriedly, seating himself at a table in the corner.
He’d never had that happen before.
His hands, usually steady and still, were shaking. It had been a very long time since anything had managed to unnerve him. Robin found that he did not like the reminder of what that particular sensation felt like.
“Here’s your coffee,” the shop’s waitress said as she placed Robin’s order on the table in front of him. She gave him a friendly but impersonal smile, and left him alone again.
That was Sarah. Robin had never bothered to wipe clean any memories Sarah might have had of him. He’d been able to tell from the first time he’d visited the coffee shop that Sarah was someone who was very good at minding her own business, like he tried to be.
There was a cosy rhythm to The Warm Taste’s operation. The thunk-thunk-thunk of spent coffee being knocked free, the hiss of heating milk, the scent of each fresh order. Some of the tables, those with groups seated around them, were sites of conversation, and each opening of the door let in the soft sounds of the night street outside with its cars and trams and pedestrians.
Sarah’s young daughter arrived, looking over towards where Robin sat and then leveling a stormy glare directly at him. Before he had a chance to puzzle over the meaning of the thunderous expression, Sarah went over and gave her child a hug of greeting.
“Mom, there’s someone in my seat,” the girl complained, shooting another scowl at Robin. He shrank lower in his chair, wondering if he should move somewhere else.
“You don’t pay rent on it. It isn’t yours,” Sarah answered cheerfully, gesturing to one of the still-unoccupied tables. “Sit there instead.”
“But that one is my one. I always sit there.”
“Hey, Polly,” Martin called from behind the counter. “I’ve got cinnamon buns and donuts on offer today. Which do you want?”
While she was distracted by making her selection from the food on offer, Robin quickly disposed of his order and exited the coffee shop. He didn’t want to cause trouble. He didn’t want to cause anything.
It would only be a few hours until closing time. It would be just as easy to spend it out here, in the shadows of the surrounding nine-to-five stores with their lightless interiors, as it would have been to remain inside. Easier, in fact, because out here there was nobody to notice him, only fast-walking pedestrians who never looked his way at all.
Robin waited, unmoving, as the time ticked past.
Eventually, Martin emerged from the now-darkened coffee shop, swathed in his own scarf and coat, the last to go home as always.
Robin had tried, in the past, to have conversations with Martin at this juncture. Something always ruined it, sooner or later. Martin would notice that Robin’s breath didn’t steam as his own did, or Robin would find himself too caught up in Martin’s friendly conversation and forget to be sufficiently careful with his own words. It was easier to do things the way he did now.
Robin stepped forward, blocking Martin’s path. Before the man had the chance to do more than give a start of surprise, Robin had made eye contact with him, their gazes locked together with all the power of a meeting between predator and prey.
It was simple enough for Robin to bewitch humans in this fashion. There wasn’t any real magic behind it; it was merely the power of an extremely persuasive vocal cadence and unwavering eye contact combining to create a powerful hypnotic suggestion. It was an evolutionary advantage bestowed on those with the unfortunate luck to have been turned into vampires.
“Don’t notice me. I’m not here,” Robin instructed Martin in quiet, lilting tones. Martin gave a small nod, his posture the slightly slack carriage of someone not completely aware or awake. “Now go home.”
Martin shook himself, roused from the trance, and glanced around. He had a perplexed expression on his face. His eyes didn’t pause for even a moment as they looked past Robin and moved on. Robin was as good as invisible, completely unregistered by Martin now.
Martin lived in the same neighborhood as his coffee shop, only fifteen minutes away on foot. He owned a car, but Robin had never known him to drive it. It was clear he liked the quiet interlude of time spent walking to and from his business each day.
Despite Martin being right there next to Robin, albeit oblivious to his presence, Robin felt oddly lonely as they moved through the darkened, sparsely populated streets towards Martin’s home. It was idiotic to feel this way, of course. Robin had more sentimentality in him than was good for him. He really must make the effort to discard such absurd thoughts.
Loneliness, what an absurd notion for a vampire. Loneliness was for wolves or lions, denied a pack or pride. Vampires were solitary hunters. Their very nature was to be alone.
Nora the dog barked noisily as Martin unlocked his front door. Robin’s mouth curved up into a small, brief smile. He was irrationally fond of the irritating little animal, and enjoyed seeing how she and Martin doted on one another.
After greeting Nora, Martin took off his scarf and coat and hung them on a hatstand positioned near the front door. Robin left his own on. Temperature made no difference to him.
The sight of Martin’s now-exposed neck made Robin’s mouth water.
“Sit on the sofa,” he ordered the man, his voice a little ragged and raw to his own ears. Martin did so, walking through to the living room area and resting against the cushions with a tired sigh. Robin followed, kneeling on the sofa beside where Martin sat.
Nora trotted in after them, taking up her habitual position on an armchair in the corner of the room, and began methodically shredding a small plush toy in the shape of a mallard duck. Robin couldn’t help but laugh quietly at the sight. He wasn’t sure which interpretation was funnier: either Nora considered him unthreatening, despite his blatantly predatory intentions towards her human, or her natural instincts as a coward made her determined to ignore the proceedings completely.
Forgetting about Nora for the time being, Robin turned his attention back to Martin. He tilted the man’s head away from him, baring the smooth, warm skin of his throat.
Usually Robin hardly noticed his own fangs. They were barely longer than the teeth surrounding them, only an eighth of an inch or so of extra sharpness at their points. Now, however, they seemed to crowd his mouth, making it difficult for him to think of anything but biting down into that skin.
Instead of the deep bite that Robin’s baser nature urged him to inflict, the strike he made was little more than a small shallow nip, piercing the skin carefully and delicately. This way, he could drink for longer without bringing any kind of real harm to Martin.
Robin’s face was cold from the night air, his body having picked up the ambient temperature of his surroundings on the walk to Martin’s home. Robin hadn’t been a source of heat in decades, ever since his death. He absorbed, never generated.
The touch of his lips to Martin’s skin made a minute shiver run through the man, the skin of his arms pebbling into gooseflesh.
The reaction was an automatic response to the cold. If Robin was some other kind of predator, it might have been an instinctual reaction to a threat, but — in yet another case of fact running counter to superstition — vampires who intended to survive for any length of time hardly ever seriously harmed their quarries, let alone killed them.
They left no carnage, conjured no warmth. They were as invisible as thoughts.
Martin’s blood was honey-sweet over a whisper of iron, warm and slow and so good that Robin’s eyes rolled back at the first taste of it on his tongue.
It took a considerable amount of self control for him to resist the urge to suck at the little wound, but Robin was nothing if not well-versed in acts of considerable self-control. The cut itself, he’d be able to heal without trouble, but it would be unwise to leave any other kind of mark behind after he was finished.
Fuck, Martin tasted so good. Despite owning a coffee shop, he only drank a few cups of it each morning, typically switching to peppermint tea and water at midday. Robin, despite his extensive experience with people’s blood, had no idea if any of that played any role in the taste of him. Perhaps Martin’s chemistry was just perfectly, exactly aligned with Robin’s own.
It was that taste that kept him coming back. It was incredibly dangerous to return to the same source of blood over and over like this, but he couldn’t stop. He couldn’t imagine contenting himself with another source, not while he knew Martin existed. Not while there was his exquisite blood somewhere in the world, there for the taking.
Robin repositioned himself, straddling Martin’s lap in order to press himself closer. In his new posture he could inhale Martin’s scent more deeply, drag his tongue against the welling cut on Martin’s skin, lose himself in the experience.
He was so lost in it, in fact, that when Martin’s hands moved up to fumble with the scarf still wrapped around Robin’s own throat, it was a few moments before Robin realized what was happening.
Martin’s fingertips sought the skin of Robin’s own neck and shoulder, stroking at it, urging him closer. The touch was like electricity on Robin’s skin, thrilling and terrifying. Martin’s fingers were combing through his hair, resting against the back of his skull, as Martin sighed contentedly.
It good enough to drive Robin crazy. But, like any goodness that came into his life, it was a goodness he had stolen. Guilt and shame drained the pleasure from the moment, and Robin broke away from Martin’s throat and sat back, forcing himself to stand up.
He pressed the pad of his own thumb to the point of one of his fangs, breaking the skin and making a bead of his own dark blood well up. He pressed this against the little tear he’d made on Martin’s neck. The skin began to heal together almost immediately, without leaving any sign that there had been a cut at all.
“Stay there,” Robin ordered in a quiet voice, making his way into Martin’s kitchen. He was thrumming with energy, his mouth still full of the taste of Martin’s blood. This was always the worst moment; this was when the full weight of what a monster Robin was would weigh down on him.
The rest of the time, Robin had no strong feeling about his existence. He tried to avoid having strong feelings about anything, if he could at all help it, and this applied twofold to the sordid choices and actions he let himself make on a regular basis.
But in these moments, when the blood was warm and new inside him, and it was his responsibility to see to the wellbeing of someone at his mercy, it was difficult to remain remote. Reality crashed into him, and he felt as if he might suffocate under the weight of it — or would, if he had a genuine need to breathe.
From out of the refrigerator he retrieved a carton of orange juice, a packet of sliced ham, and a tub of easy-spread butter. There was a loaf of whole wheat bread on the countertop, which Robin inspected to make sure it was still suitable to use — Martin’s busy schedule meant that sometimes loaves didn’t get eaten in time to prevent penicillin colonies from attempting to spawn.
The bread was mold-free, though, so Robin made Martin two ham sandwiches and poured him a glass of orange juice. Provided he gave Martin a strong suggestion to have eggs and spinach for breakfast the following morning, the combined iron content of the two meals would help Martin’s body replace what Robin had taken.
He took the food to Martin and ordered him to eat, waiting as the command was carried out. Even that gave Robin new waves of guilt, because watching Martin chew and swallow each bite mechanically, not truly tasting what he ate, was like stealing from him a second time.
Martin had a grand, all-encompassing enthusiasm for life. To take even the small simple pleasures of a sandwich from him proved what an irredeemable creature Robin was.
When Martin had finished eating, Robin washed the plate and glass and left them in the kitchen, returning to his original spot on the sofa beside Martin.
“Look at me,” he said. His eyes seized Martin’s, transfixing Martin’s gaze within in power of his own. Then Robin began to speak, repeating himself over and over, varying the words but always with the same message: forget me. I was never here. You had a quiet evening, and now you’re tired. You have no memory of me. You do not know that I exist.
When Robin’s voice began to go hoarse from speaking, he went quiet. Martin’s eyes closed, and after a heartbeat’s length of time he gave a wide and weary yawn.
Blinking, he rubbed at his face with his palms and got to his feet, shuffling towards the hallway that contained the bedroom and bathroom.
Nora jumped gracelessly from her position on her chair, trotting after Martin, leaving Robin alone in the room to do the last small tasks of cleaning up.
He straightened the sofa cushions, turned out the lights, and made sure the door locked behind him as he left himself out. There was no trace left behind that he’d ever been there at all.
It was even colder now, the last warmth of the day long-faded. Robin paid no attention to the chill as he walked back to his own apartment, which was small and dark and empty.
The following night, Robin didn’t go to the coffee shop. He simply stayed in bed. He wasn’t hungry anymore, so there was no reason to go anywhere. The hours felt excruciatingly long and exhaustingly short all at once. Robin simply waited for them to end, and then slept again.
When the next evening began, Robin dragged himself from the bed, showered, and dressed. He had to make sure that Martin’s memories had been properly fixed this time. He couldn’t risk any future familiarity on visits to The Warm Taste.
If it hadn’t worked for a second time, he knew that the only safe course of action would be to break contact entirely. The thought alone was enough to make him pause and close his eyes, overwhelmed with sudden panic.
There was no reason for his worry, though. When he entered the coffee shop and walked to the counter, Martin smile at him with no hint of recognition in the expression.
“Welcome to The Warm Taste. What can I get for you?”
To his surprise, the question left Robin feeling strangely bereft.

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