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Ozzie cocked his head to the side as if he were inspecting Nolan as well. The cranky creature squawked once and snapped his large beak at him, earning a tap from Bel.

“Be polite. He’s just curious. I’m sure he’s never seen a bird as lovely as you,” Bel admonished.

“I haven’t,” Nolan agreed. “You are the largest and most beautiful raven I’ve ever seen.”

Yes, he was talking to a bird. Why not? This was a night of just rolling with the weirdness.

He almost asked if Ozzie could understand him, when the bird lifted his head and puffed out his chest. Yes. Ozzie could understand him and was now preening under his praise like a black peacock.

It was on the tip of his tongue to inquire more about Ozzie, but a wolf howl cut through the silence followed by several other excited yips and howls. Ozzie’s entire body stiffened for a blink of an eye, and then he was off, darting through the night.

“Don’t get in the way!” Bel shouted after him. “Let the wolves eat first!” The vampire turned his attention to Nolan and flashed a crooked grin. “He’s a beautiful bird, but he’s gotten quite heavy since I found my mates. He eats far too well, thanks to Wyatt and River.”

Damon grunted softly at their feet, and Bel immediately shook his head.

“No, you’re a very lovely pig. Mr. Mosely did a wonderful job when he turned you into a pig.”

Red huffed and hung his head. “Really, you can just call me Red. All my friends do.”

“Thank you, Red. Would you mind very much if I watched you change Damon into a human? I’ve had the opportunity to watch Fox cast a few spells, but never anything quite so astounding as changing an animal into a human.”

Both Nolan and Red stared at Bel for a moment. His manner of speaking, his posture, everything was so straightforward and earnest. Nothing like Winter or even any of the Sandor clan that he’d met.

“You can watch. No problem. The more complicated spell is changing him into the animal. Switching to his true form isn’t much,” Red explained.

“You know, you’re not like any of the other vampires I’ve met so far,” Nolan blurted out.

Bel’s lips twisted into a smirk. He blinked and his eyes glowed red. “Were you expecting something a bit more like this?” As he spoke, long sharp fangs flashed.

Nolan jumped back a step, his heart jumping into his throat. The transformation from harmless bunny to bloodthirsty wolf was almost instantaneous. The idea that Bel Varik wasn’t dangerous evaporated in a puff of smoke.

The vampire blinked twice more and the red was gone. A laugh escaped him and the fangs were gone as quickly as they appeared. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you so badly. That was cruel of me. It was just a joke. No, I’m not like a lot of vampires, but I am still one. We come in all shapes, sizes, and types.”

“If you want to meet an unexpected vampire, I’ll have to introduce you to Gideon in person,” Sky called out as he approached with a small leather satchel in his hand. “A video call isn’t the same. Gideon is adorably sweet. You would never expect him to be a vampire.”

Bel nodded next to him. “Yes, very true.”

Sky handed the case over to Red and sidled up to Nolan, who subconsciously wrapped his arm around Sky’s shoulders again. The smile that Sky directed up at him said that he was well on his way to being properly trained. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Sky was a cuddler. He liked hugs, cuddling, and generally being petted. Did that make him an affectionate cat or just an oversized lapdog?

An elbow poked into his ribs and he glanced down to find Sky scowling at him.

“What are you chuckling at?”

“I was just wondering if you were a cat or a dog in a past life?”

“Cat,” Red said before Sky could even open his mouth. “He’s the pickiest fucking eater. Plus, he can do that sprawl-and-sleep-anywhere thing that cats do.”

“Hush. You worry about changing your ex-boyfriend back into a human,” Sky commanded, which earned him a single-finger salute from his friend while he was opening the satchel.

“Ex-boyfriend?” Bel inquired.

Red groaned. “Sky, tell the story. I gotta prep this.” The witch didn’t even bother to look up from where he had selected a long blade that resembled a long chef’s knife. He plunged the tip into the ground and began sawing into the earth, carving a circle around Damon.

“I don’t know all the details,” Sky started with a small disclaimer and then dove in with an excitement that did Nolan’s storyteller heart proud. “But apparently Damon’s current boyfriend had become abusive and controlling to the point that the witch trapped Damon in his home. Damon called Red, whom he used to date but separated with on good terms, to help get him free. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance that Damon’s current boyfriend could track him as a human, so Red turned him into a pig to make him harder to locate. By bringing him here, we’re hoping to mask Damon’s presence under Moon’s latent magic, giving Damon and Red a chance to figure out what to do next.”

All during Sky’s explanation, Damon added grunts and oinks, making Bel’s head snap back and forth as he got all the details from the two parties.

“Fascinating! But how did you and Nolan get drawn into this?”

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