Authors: A.J. Llewellyn, D.J. Manly
Series: Banpaia, Book 1
Genre: M/M romance; paranormal, vampire, dark fantasy
Price: 2.99 USD
Cover art: Louca Matheo
A sensuous m/m vampire tale by two of the hottest names in the LGBT Romance genre!
Chinatown, Los Angeles. Young men are disappearing from their beds, sometimes vanishing as they cross the street with friends. The few witnesses who actually report a strange, mystical creature soon suffer memory lapses and die.
Yet the young men all return, one by one. They seem the same, but they are different. Strange things are happening all over Chinatown, as if an odd mist enshrouds it. None of the men who disappeared can say what happened to them.
Late at night, however, this legion of men, in love and lust with the one they call Banpaia, reach out for one another in the frenzy of their need. For Feng Li, a suicidal young man who feels he was saved by the legendary, centuries-old Japanese vampire, yearns for only him. For him, there can be only one to claim his body and his heart.
Publisher’s note: This title has been previously released at eXtasy Books and Mojocastle Press.
Feng took his time finishing his second cup of coffee at the Korean café on Sixth Street before checking into work for the night shift at the dreary Cedar House hotel. It was late October and LA’s weather was still hot. Too damned hot with Halloween only a week away. Not only did the locals say it presaged an earthquake, but it also felt wrong. Very wrong, when the mysterious fog enveloped the whole downtown neighborhood each night.
It was almost five p.m., the sun starting to set. He’d been here two hours. Anything to avoiding being home.
The café was warm, but a slight breeze blew in as the front door opened and three guys walked in. The waitress came from the kitchen with a fresh tray of pastries for the counter display. Feng detected the smell of fresh go mo bang, the peanut butter-flavored bread he adored. No time. And…big inward sigh…he shouldn’t spend the money.
Feng caught a glimpse of a certain gleaming dark head in the doorway, but the guy wasn’t looking at him. Ki was pointing at the sticky buns, laughing with his friends.
Damn. He had to show up right now. Feng hated having to leave. He felt safe here. His evening desk clerk position at the Cedar was the worst job he’d ever had, but he needed it. His dad was still out of work and his mom was drinking heavily. He made sure his head was bent to his ever-present notebook as the three men walked from the front door into the café. He heard movement as they settled beside him at the next table.
Feng stayed very quiet, pen in hand, doodling.
“So, anyway…they say he just disappeared,” the first voice said.
Feng tried to place it. He knew the three guys beside him on sight, but they never invited him to join them, even the nights they all sang karaoke in the upstairs Shelter Room in Little Tokyo. Only one of them ever acknowledged him and that was only after they sang. Sometimes they sang back to back, wowing the crowds. Ki was Japanese and Feng was certain that was the problem. Old country rivalries between the Japanese and Chinese had taken root here in California. The Koreans had it worse. The Japanese street gangs picked on the Koreans. But not this crowd. In this café, they all blended and got along…on the surface.
Ki’s family lived way down in San Pedro, but Ki had recently moved up here to Little Tokyo. He wanted to be an actor and singer.
Feng closed his eyes, squeezing his pen a little harder. Each little detail he gleaned about Ki was hard-earned and won, like little nuggets of gold after a long day panning for the stuff. He had such a fierce crush on Ki. He liked everything about him; the man’s smooth, milky-colored skin, his long, dark hair, his absolutely spectacular voice.
“What do you mean disappeared?” another voice asked.
“They were crossing the street. They stepped off a curb. Joby says he heard a car stop but didn’t look because they were crossing legally. By the time he got to the other side, Vince was gone.”
There was a moment of hushed silence.
“Nah…I don’t believe it.” This came from Ki. Feng recognized his cadence. He’d had a crush on the guy for six months now, so he was used to the ache, but today, it hurt.
Today it hurt worse than ever because Feng’s mom had disappeared the night before and both he and his dad had been secretly relieved.
Maybe the mysterious vampire would take her, too…only most people didn’t believe in the vampire. Feng did. He heard the whispers, felt the tremor of fear. He’d prayed once or twice for the vampire to claim him. He liked hot, young guys. Maybe Feng wasn’t hot enough. He cradled his cup between both hands. One more sip and he had to be on his way.
“Joby says Vince’s family is frantic,” the first voice said again.
“Vince disappeared in broad daylight!”
Sixteen men had vanished so far. Most disappeared from their bedrooms, one from a crowded elevator and now…this Vince guy.
“Nah, I don’t believe it,” Ki said again. “Somebody’s trying to spook everyone because it’s almost Halloween.”
Feng had heard this plausible story before, but the vanishings started a few weeks ago. The first one was right here in Little Tokyo, or J-Town, as most people called it. The vampire had crossed the invisible demarcation zones between J-Town, Koreatown and Chinatown. Feng lived in Chinatown on Hill Street, above the seafood dim sum café that could never get better than a C rating from the Health Department and was frequently shut down for code violations.
He’d slept many nights with his window open hoping for abduction. Hoping he took the mystery vampire’s fancy. Nah, Ki was right. Vampires weren’t real. His mother’s explanation of kinky sex abductions or maybe even secret organ harvesting made more sense, except…where were the bodies?
“Look, he’s listening,” One of the voices said.
Are they talking about me?
This shocked Feng. He longed to turn and look at them, maybe say, boo!, but didn’t hurry his movements. Even as he felt the weight of the stares on his back and shoulders, he took his time.
“Nah,” the second guy at the table said. Feng wished it had been Ki who’d said it.
He left a buck under his coffee cup, shoving his journal into his backpack. He heard the conversation at the next table resume as soon as he started to walk away. He fully breathed again once he was out of the café. Feng could smell human urine now, but then they were almost at Skid Row here. Vagrants didn’t care where they peed. He stood outside, trying to imagine how it would feel if you crossed the road with your best friend thinking everything was okay, only to get to the other side and find he’d vanished into thin air. Freaky, man.
Feng checked the time on his cell phone as he crossed the street. Three minutes to five. The Cedar House stood in a semi-decrepit pocket on the edge of J-Town, right at the crossroads of the downtown Toy District. He liked the many Korean cafes lining Sixth Street, just two blocks from the rundown hotel on Fourth. For a shabby looking, four-story building slapped up against Skid Row, it surprised him how many Chinese tourists came there each month.
Some had sure been sold a bill of goods by their tour promoter. Others were students whose friends back home had fond memories of the Cedar and its cantankerous manager, Mrs. Wei. He bit his lip. He shouldn’t call her cantankerous. She was a sweet old thing but lately she was in so much pain from her sciatica she sometimes took it out on Feng.
The truth was the elderly Chinese woman was kinder to him than even his own mother. He blushed with shame thinking about the call he and his father had received from the Commerce casino in the early hours of the morning. Having been banned for life from gambling there, his mom had shown up drunk and caused a scene. She was now at home, sleeping it off. He wondered who had it worse, him or his dad. As he rounded the last corner and opened the door to The Cedar House, he decided his dad had it much, much worse. His mom when she was drunk was bad. Mom hung-over was a friggin’ nightmare.
Mrs. Wei greeted him with a wide smile and an old-worldly tilt of her head. She might have been the proprietress of a high-class joint, the way she greeted him and their guests. Guests! Man, some of them were total losers.
He was right on time. He never liked to give up more time to the Cedar than he had to. She buzzed him behind the oak and glass door into the office enclosure. He checked the books. Six new guests. He recognized three of the names. They got a lot of repeat business here. It wasn’t that their services were so fantastic. It was that the hotel’s close proximity to many homeless shelters made this a second home to many abuse victims.
New laws passed by California’s governor no longer gave long term housing to men and women residing in shelters. Every thirty days, these long-term homeless had to leave their shelters and find someplace else to stay for a week. During that time, they had to reapply for their emergency housing and with Mrs. Wei’s help on the computer, they left again, safe from the streets or abusive spouses to wait out another month in secrecy.
It broke his heart to see Angie Montoya’s name on the register. She and her eleven-year old son, Antonio, had fled her abusive husband. It had taken some resilience on her part considering he’d beaten and tortured her, knocking out all her teeth. Now with the state’s help, she was taking computer courses and would soon be eligible for permanent housing which she would subsidize with her new income, once she landed a job.
People like Angie and the unsuspecting travelers who’d been duped into booking at the Cedar were the ones who got under Feng’s skin. He worried about them. They were like a second skin he couldn’t shed.
“Here, Feng, I have a little gift for you,” Mrs. Wei said.
She handed him a red envelope. It was an especially pretty one with a golden dragon and the red lanterns so popular in Chinatown.
He turned it over in his hands. “A lisee? For me?”
She smiled. “I know it’s your birthday in a couple of days. I’m giving this to you now.”
She knew. The new Dragon Ball manga would be coming out at midnight and he’d coveted it. Wow…he’d missed the last few issues. He could maybe even buy back copies.
Mrs. Wei shook a finger at him. “This is for you. Hide it from your mother. And under no circumstances are you to pay any bills with it. Understood?”
He stared at the envelope, feeling its thickness. Tears stung his eyes. Even as he felt the need to protest, he felt the wind blowing away from those sails. He traced the fire-breathing dragon with his fingertips. She’d found him the perfect envelope.
“I want you to believe in hope,” she said. “Hope is all we have in this world, Feng.”
I’m going to be twenty-two, he realized. Twenty-two, but I feel like forty-two.
“Thank you, Mrs. Wei.” He felt humbled by her generosity and her compassion. He didn’t open the lisee. He didn’t care how much was in it. Her thoughtfulness really counted with him. She was right, though. As much as he loved the envelope, which was a tradition in the Chinese culture, if his mom went through his stuff, which she regularly did, and she saw the lisee, she would know somebody had given him money.
She would demand it, claiming bills needed to be paid, when he was the one who paid all the bills. His beautiful gift would be swallowed up by a poker machine as soon as his mom got her hands on it.
He kept the envelope on him all evening. He kept touching it in his jacket pocket. Mrs. Wei must have known how much it meant, because he caught her smiling at him a couple of times.
At six p.m. Mrs. Wei was supposed to leave but still she stayed, fussing over guests, worrying about little details. It was what made her a great manager, but she needed to take a break. Feng wished her cherished and adored daughter would spend more time with her. Instead, he frequently heard Mrs. Wei saying, “No, problem, I understand,” when her daughter called to cancel their evening plans.
“What are you going to do with your evening?” he asked.
She smiled at him.
“Are you going to trip the light fantastic and go dancing with some fancy man?”
She laughed. “Trip is right. I’m so tired, I’d fall over fast.”
Mrs. Wei had been a celebrated ta ge dancer in her day. Now, she hobbled. It was amazing how much she achieved on an average day, even when she was in pain. He’d once found footage of her, strangely enough, on YouTube, in an old competition. She’d been as surprised as he, to see how beautiful she had been when she was young. Her feet had mesmerized him. He’d never seen actual ta ge dancing before and the ancient Chinese art of step-dancing had been lyrical, beautiful to watch.
“Get going,” he said now, keeping his voice gentle.
“You trying to get rid of me?” she feigned a scowl. The truth was, he knew, she liked the show of attention that Feng gave her.
“Before I leave,” she said, holding up a crooked finger, “there is some food I couldn’t quite finish, so please eat it so the food doesn’t spoil.”
He swallowed over a lump in his throat. He knew he was skinny and he was certain she could see into his soul and know how long it had been since his mom had cooked an actual meal. He kept his gaze lowered, afraid he would cry when she showed him the covered bowl of homemade miso soup with healthy chunks of char sui pork, basil and a whole egg. On a plate beside it were two oranges she would have bought when she picked up fresh offerings to be left on the business altar in honor of the gods.
And to his joy, there was a small, fresh, unsliced loaf of peanut butter-flavored bread from a Korean bakery.
Mrs. Wei never overdid her food offerings so as not to embarrass her young employee. He knew that. She left enough that would get him through the night, but not enough to offend Feng’s family honor.
“Thank you,” he said. None of the food would last very long. He’d really enjoy the meal tonight.
She picked up her things. It was their understanding, and his promise to Mrs. Wei’s daughter that his mom would always leave before dark and with him watching her as she got into her car wedged between garbage bins at the back of the building. Hers was the only vehicle allowed back there.
He helped her outside, aware of the strange, heavy mist already rolling over the neighborhood.
“Don’t put your brights on,” he reminded her. “It will make it harder to see. Please call me when you get home.”
He hugged her thin body and he felt her comforting pats on the back.
She gazed at him as she started the engine. She paused, waiting for him to go back inside. He waved from the back door, knowing she hated to leave the front desk unattended, even for these brief moments.
Feng locked and double-bolted the back door, the chill from the mist making him shiver.