Trace has no idea how he, an old, grumpy dragon shifter, ended up fated mates with two young vampires, but they better not call him daddy.
Saint Lakes Universe
Trace Anguis has a secret. A big one. He’s not exactly a long-haul trucker. Or he’s not only that. He’s also a vigilante who provides justice for murder victims and their families. He’s made a lot of enemies over the years, and one is hellbent on exacting revenge. It’s one of the reasons he would never take a mate. But Fate has other plans, namely giving him two vampire mates.
Release Date: April 16, 2021
Publisher: Hard Rose Publishing
Cover Artist: Studio ENP
Length: 60,000 words
Troupes: Menage, fated mates, age-gap
Universe Link: https://books2read.com/u/3yz06B
The Perfect Exhale
A Short Story
The chair creaked each time Laslo rocked.
How had he gone from soldier to father in a day?
Leadership of the coven changed and, with it, his life. Not that he was complaining. He would rather rock babies to sleep than shoot someone any day of the week.
Eli and Skyla’s breathing evened out with the movement. He should lay them down in their beds, but it wasn’t a hardship to stay as they were. He wanted to give them as much affection as he could because up to that point, they had had little.
They were so small. Eli couldn’t even walk yet. He was at the crawling stage. Skyla was at the three words stage. Sometimes she was never quiet. She spoke with some level of coherence, though. Even as small as they were, they hadn’t had very many adults rock them to sleep.
The old leader was a sick bastard who treated the children as if they were soldiers in the making. Even Emma, who lay sleeping in a bassinet close by and wasn’t even three months old yet, had been nothing more than that.
The coven had treated the children like orphans. The children had watched their parents run drills from a distance. Other than that, it was the only contact they had gotten. They had even housed them away from everyone else.
The new leader had reunited the kids with the parents. Only four remained. Their parents had likely died in battle. But Laslo wouldn’t let them stay parentless. They were wanted and Laslo would make sure all four of them knew that every day.
It looked like his forced soldiering days were behind him, so Laslo intended to stay in dad-mode for as long as the kids needed him. The rocking and cuddles would continue for as long as his four kids could tolerate it. Albi was already at a stage where he didn’t which was fine. Laslo would show him affection in other ways. Laslo still had a lot of years left with the three little ones.
Laslo shook his head. By the gods, he became a dad of four kids ranging from fifteen all the way to a couple of months old overnight.
Laslo had a lot of atoning to do. He’d made mistakes. It had been his idea to join the Blackwing coven. His brother, Kellam, had gone along with it. Laslo hadn’t understood how mentally unwell the old leader was until it was too late.
I wasn’t just joining the coven. Laslo had been a passenger in his own life for far longer than he should have been. He’d always been good at going along to get along. It hadn’t served him well.
And then he felt the weight of two little bodies sleeping against him.
He could be someone steady. The five of them would make a good family.
He just had to ask the paranormal council how to make it all legal. They needed the paperwork to solidify things. After that, they were in each other’s pockets for the long haul and something about that comforted Laslo.
A council member had come to Blackwing when the new leader took over. The old leader might have been insane, but he created a military that made an excellent ally. No one wanted Blackwing as an enemy, and the council didn’t want the coven going rogue again either.
Laslo was one of those who welcomed the changes.
He hadn’t met the council member yet, but he would soon. The council could help him legalize the adoption. Laslo would like to start down that road as soon as possible. It would give them all a sense of belonging. Or at least solidity the feeling.
When someone knocked on the door, the butterflies fluttered with anticipation. Kellam and his mate had gone to get the council member to talk to Laslo about his kids, so he already knew who it was. The council guy’s presence brought him closer to jumping the next hurdle in making his kids feel secure and settled.
Laslo didn’t want to wake the babies, including the one in the bassinet a few feet away, so for that reason, he tried to keep his voice at a reasonable level. “Come in.”
Laslo stood with each kid in his arms, trying to be as gentle as possible, and made his way into the other room. The building was two large rooms with very few doors. The back room had nothing but beds in it.
The new leader already started renovations on a few of the buildings, so no more barracks-style living. Instead, they intended to keep families together and the new housing reflected that. Laslo and his family stayed in a building that used to house all the littler kids. He hoped his building would get renovated soon, but it worked for them in the meantime.
“I’ll be right out.” Laslo laid Skyla down first because she was a hard sleeper and wouldn’t wake when her body met the mattress.
Eli whimpered when Laslo tried to lay him down, which wasn’t surprising.
Laslo cradled Eli in his arms, swaying back and forth. “It’s okay, little man.”
He heard footsteps behind him. “Sorry. You caught us at naptime.”
Even before he turned, his fangs dropped, and he couldn’t figure out why. He didn’t feel threatened by the person in the room. He grew up on the wrong side of the city with parents who were addicts and neglectful because of it. Tha environment had taught him to pay attention to his instincts, so the physiological response confused him.
He had to assess his feelings about the stranger when the doubt set in. Doubt and confusion didn’t make good bed fellows.
And then the scent hit him.
His mate was a vampire, just like him.
When he finally turned and met the guy’s gaze, he can face to face with one of the most beautiful people had even had the chance to encounter. The vampire was tall but lean. His eyes glowed blue, but even with that, Laslo could see kindness in his expression. He smiled and took a step closer, as if they were opposite ends of a magnet.
“Mate.” The vampire’s voice was deep and filled with emotion.
“My name is Vesh.”
“Laslo.” He gestured to the bed. “Let me lay him down. We can talk afterward.”
Vesh nodded, but he didn’t leave the room the way Laslo expected him too. Instead, he watched as Laslo placed Eli on the bed next to Skyla. The decent was slow and gentle. Eli turned toward Skyla but didn’t wake up, so Laslo focused on Vesh again.
When he closed the distance between them, his hands shook.
Vesh had a sheen of sweat on his face and looked as if he had sawdust on his jeans. He had on a t-shirt with the arms cut off. It advertised a café in a city out east. The only reason Laslo knew the geographical location was because the logo included the city and state.
Vesh must have been helping with the renovations.
Laslo wanted to touch, but they didn’t know each other well enough to gauge if the gesture would appear too forward.
Vesh didn’t have the same shyness because he cupped Laslo’s cheek. “How have we not met before now?”
“When the council and the new leader attacked the coven, my brother and I stayed with the kids because their caretakers left them alone. I’ve been here ever since. Saw you at the coven meeting but from a distance.” Laslo swallowed the emotions in his voice. “You’re beautiful. I thought so then too.”
Vesh smiled. “I’d say the same thing about you.”
No one had ever called Laslo that before, although he knew some had found him attractive. Overall, Laslo had cared little about his looks.
“I don’t…” Laslo took a deep breath. “I don’t know how this should go. What I should do next.”
He’d never felt more connected to someone before. Not even his brother, and they shared blood and experiences. While that was a good thing, it was a lot all at once and he needed Vesh to tell him where to place the next step.
“What would you like to do?”
Laslo chuckled. “Tell you I have four kids. Not trying to scare you, but you should know I’m a package deal.”
“I came by to talk to you about adopting them, so I’m aware.” Vesh rubbed his thumb across Laslo’s cheek. “I like kids.”
“Do you like mouthy teenagers because I have one? Not just little kids like Skyla, Eli, and Emma.”
“Are you trying to talk me out of mating with you, honey?” Vesh wasn’t serious. Humor laced every word.
Laslo smiled. “Just want to be honest.”
“While I appreciate the transparency, it won’t keep me from you. In fact, I like you even more because of your children. I’ve been waiting for you for a long time.”
Laslo pulled Vesh into a hug. His breath came out shaky when the emotion overtook him. Something about Vesh made him want to confess things he wouldn’t have told anyone. “I’ve done things. Bad things.”
“Me too. Keep trying. It won’t work.”
Laslo pressed his cheek against Vesh’s and sighed.
He’d been alone for so long. He’d been responsible for Kellam because he was the oldest. While there weren’t many regrets, it had made him feel like an island in a storm at times.
“I need you.” Maybe saying it put a lot of pressure on Vesh, who was a stranger really, but it was the most truthful thing he had said so far.
“Me too, mate.”
Laslo met Vesh’s gaze. “Yeah?”
“Yes. We found each other. We can exhale now.”
That was exactly what Laslo needed to hear. “Can I kiss you?”
They were just about to connect when the door opened.
Laslo sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“To be continued.”
And then Albi came into the room. Albi waved at Vesh but otherwise got down to business. “They said I can help if I asked you. Can I?”
“As long as you’re not in the way.”
“Gretchen and I are building a wall. I gotta get back.” Albi waved and turned to leave.
Laslo stopped him. “Wait a minute. Can I introduce you to Vesh first?”
Albi sighed and held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Albi. Laslo’s kid.”
“Vesh. His mate.”
Albi raised his eyebrows. “Are you like dad number two now?”
“We haven’t gotten that far yet. We’ve only just met each other.”
Albi shrugged. “As long as you’re not an asshole we’ll welcome you to the family.”
Laslo could feel the heat rise from his chest to his neck. “Albi!”
“Sorry. I’ll rephrase that.” Albi smirked. “We don’t allow mean people in our family, so assess yourself. Make sure you’re a nice guy.”
“By the gods.” Laslo wanted to crawl into a hole. “Go, Albi. Let them work the sass off you.”
Vesh laughed. “That’s the best advice I’ve ever gotten.”
Laslo shook his head. “It’s a good thing you think so.”
“Does that mean we’re good here?” Albi’s body practically vibrated with anticipation.
Albi pumped his fist and then closed the distance, giving Laslo a quick hug before he left. On his way out, he said, “Thanks, Dad. Welcome to the family, Vesh.”
It was the first time Albi had ever called him that, and something about it made Laslo’s heart swell.
When Albi left, Vesh wrapped his arms around Laslo. “About that kiss.”
Laslo had just pressed his lips to Vesh’s when he heard Kellam and his new mate come in. They barely paid Laslo and Vesh any attention, thank the gods.
Laslo grabbed Vesh’s hand and pulled him into the front room. Baby Emma lay sleeping in her bassinet and toys covered the floor. It wasn’t the most romantic place for a first kiss, but Vesh didn’t seem to mind.
He gripped Laslo’s neck and pulled him closer. The kiss spoke of how easily their mating would go.
He couldn’t ask for anything more than Vesh and his kids.
Copyright 2021 © April Kelley
Saint Lakes Universe
Leave It All, Dragons and Mistletoe, Running Out of Moonlight, Cookies for the Dragon, New Addiction, A Cautious Romance, Finding Happy, Right Side Up, Solid Ground, A Little Unsteady, Christmas Cookies, Where We Are, Begin Again, Special Packages, Captive Soul, Color of Blood, Uncovering the Dark, another Somerset, Blackwing
April Kelley is an author of LGBTQ+ Romance. Her works include The Journey of Jimini Renn, a Rainbow Awards finalist, Whispers of Home, the Saint Lakes series, and over thirty more. She’s a main contributor at Once and Books. April has been an avid reader for several years. Ever since she wrote her first story at the age of ten, the characters in her head still won’t stop telling their stories. If April isn’t reading or writing, you can find her taking a long walk in the woods or going on her next adventure.
If you’d like to know more about her work, visit her website and sign up for her newsletter https://www.authoraprilkelley.com/.
Become a Patron https://www.patreon.com/aprilkelley.