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By Marie Hall
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Grim reaper Frenzy never thought he would see the eyes of his lover again. She was murdered centuries ago, but her amber eyes are alive in Mila. Though it’s not his job to protect humanity, something tells him protecting this human is what he was born to do. Yet vampires are the least of their worries. Frenzy and Mila quickly learn that a dark force is matching their every step. And even as they crave each other, the darkness craves them . . .
Toccata and Fugue in D minor” echoed through the cave, the glow of candlelight flickered across the red stone walls. The man in a white lab coat wiped the blood off his brow as a sound drew his eyes to the doorway carved inside the rock.
“Well?” The voice of the black silhouette standing in shadow made the man in the lab coat cringe. The sound always reminded him of a knife blade running across glass.
Licking his front teeth, he tossed the bone saw upon the mutilated corpse of the woman the shadow had dragged to the dungeon only a few short hours ago.
She was hardly recognizable now as the sexy redhead with pale ivory skin. The shadow, and that was all the man ever knew of his nocturnal visitor, always brought him a body or two at least twice a fortnight.
He never questioned why, or if the bodies might stop appearing. He had need of them as well. There was a compulsion inside him, an insidious monster that enjoyed the sight of blood, of turning something beautiful into something even more. As a child he’d been obsessed with Frankenstein, creating perfection from the parts of many.
But the shadow wasn’t like him. The shadow had a purpose, a purpose he did not share with the man. The shadow’s only demand was that the eyes belonged to him, the rest the man could keep.
Nodding, he held the small glass jar in front of him. “I’ve extracted the eyes. This was”—he swallowed hard, sweaty fingers clenching by his pant leg because the thought of releasing this part of her was abhorrent to him—“the most beautiful specimen yet.”
“Set them down.” The shadow’s arm moved, pointing in the direction of the lab table.
The man in the lab coat nodded, walked over to the table, and, with a final pat to the lid, turned and walked back to the dismembered body. He needed to get the limbs on ice before they began to rot.
His latest work of art would be one for the ages. This woman had been beyond compare in beauty. Such a shame that the shadow had killed her first; perhaps if he’d met her while she’d been alive he might have even let her live.
But it was too late now for such maudlin thoughts. She was gone, and her sacrifice would not go to waste.
The man was careful to not glance at the shadow as it slowly slinked its way inside. He’d tried once, to peek, to look upon the face of his benefactor, and had nearly paid the price for it.
Shadow had one rule: never look at it. Never try to engage—he’d learned that truth with a knife across his throat.
There’d been so much blood, his blood had dripped from between his fingers as he’d tried to staunch the wound. But the cut had been sure and deep, and all the man in the white lab coat knew was…the shadow had killed him. He’d died. He’d seen a vision of a dark, dark tunnel, felt his soul (or consciousness, or essence, whatever you wanted to call it) begin to drift, slip off into a black void of fury and sounds that still made his body tremble if he thought on it too long, when suddenly he was back. Gasping and sputtering for breath.
The shadow had somehow brought him back, had spared his life, but with a warning. Never look upon it again, to not even wonder who or what it was, because if he ever did he wouldn’t come back the next time.
All the man in the lab coat had seen had been a pair of ruby-red eyes. If he’d seen anything else, he could no longer remember. The rest was lost to him forever.
If it was a demon feeding him these bodies he didn’t know, and he didn’t care. He would never wonder again.
There was a sound like the scraping of a lid being turned, and then a low, furious hiss. “This is not the one. That bitch gave me the specs. Told me what she would look like. She was wrong.” It slammed its fist onto the table, causing the sensitive electronics and tools of his trade to jump almost a foot up in the air.
Licking his lips, the man whispered low, “Perhaps if you tell me what you’re looking for, I could try to help. I might be of more service than just—”
A brush of fingers trailed along the back of his neck, making his skin tingle and shiver as if shards of ice had been rubbed against it. He shuddered, heart thumping hard in his chest.
“You work for me, butcher. You’d do well to remember that.” The voice in his ear was a sonorous echo, making his veins throb and his eardrums spasm with a sharp burst of fiery pain.
Howling, he grabbed his ears, keeping his eyes peeled on the stone floor. Praying to god the shadow wouldn’t decide his usefulness had come to an end.
“Get back to work. I’ll bring another.” And from the corner of his eye he watched as the shadow picked up the hand of the woman and brought it to its lips. He couldn’t be sure, but it seemed to him as if it even kissed her fingertips. Then it released the hand and walked away.
The man didn’t move until he was sure the shadow was gone. Running to his woman, he picked up her hand, a faint blue color now marring her fingertips. Rubbing at the fingers furiously, he tried to take the spot off, but neither scrubbing nor dipping the hand in alcohol eradicated it.
Furious, he tossed the half-open bottle of alcohol against the cave wall. It landed with a dull thud. The shadow had ruined her perfection, but he had no other choice than to use her; he was on a deadline.
His audience waited.
They were coming.
Mila panted, sweat poured down her brow, her back. Her lungs burned with fire as she raced around the corner of the brick building, trying to lose herself in the labyrinth of alleyways that bisected the city like a giant tic-tac-toe square.
A glass shard wedged itself into the sole of her foot, but she barely even felt it. Somewhere along the way she’d lost her slippers. She couldn’t recall how or when.
She’d been in bed, dead to the world, and then the dreams had come—nightmares really, visions of the future. Visions of futures were never a sure thing; there were so many different possibilities, so many different choices to be made that could affect the final outcome.
The one she’d seen was a future she couldn’t hope to make sense of. The dream had involved half-living things and fangs and a man with long red hair and silver eyes that gleamed like liquid mercury in flame. She’d seen him before, brief flashes of the same man throughout the years, and one thing had always remained a constant: she’d wake with her body burning for the touch of his hand. With a moan she’d gripped the sheets, writhing as the dream man leaned into her, whispering words she couldn’t understand but felt like a dark promise in her soul.
Then suddenly the image had shifted, and it’d shown her, lying in bed. She knew instantly she wasn’t witnessing a vision of herself; the one thing her kind could never do was see their own future. But in a twisted, convoluted way, she was now, because what she was seeing wasn’t a possible future, it was the present of someone headed her way.
Her silhouette was dark against the shape of the light mattress as lavender rays of moonlight spilled across her pale face. She watched the scenes through a set of eyes outside her window. Standing next to the head she now inhabited lingered three shadowy forms converging slowly on her house, their sharp, angular faces intensely serious as they drew near.
In the vision an owl hooted, echoing the same chilling cry outside her window. She not only watched the vision unfold, but heard it happening around her. Heart trapped in her throat, she listened as a pebble skidded across asphalt, then saw that it was actually not a pebble but a bottle cap left behind by a child at play earlier in the day.
She shivered, all traces of sleep fleeing in an instant. Mila sensed their eager anticipation for her death; it clung in the air like oily tendrils, making her breathing hitch and her body shudder with an immediate wash of adrenaline, hyperaware and knowing she had less than five minutes to flee.
Alert and in a near panic, she’d barely had time to grab a robe and slippers and slide awkwardly out the bathroom window, running down the narrow path that separated this gingerbread home from that of the neighbors. The only element of surprise she still had left to her was the knowledge that they didn’t know she knew they were after her.
She’d known today that they would come. That she’d blown her cover, it was why she hadn’t hidden out in her home. She’d broken into a neighbor’s home she barely knew, a neighbor she’d sometimes waved Hi to on her way to work in the mornings. She’d hoped it would throw them off her scent, but obviously not. Tomorrow she would have been safe. The boat she’d chartered would have taken her far from here, from this city that now felt more like a tomb.
As raw fear pounded an unforgiving melody in her skull, she pumped her arms harder, cringing at the taste of adrenaline thick on her tongue.
There was only one chance to escape them. If she could just reach Club X, Lise would give her sanctuary. Mila knew that; she didn’t know how she knew that, but she knew that Lise had power, had always sensed the frail-looking woman was more than she seemed.
Footsteps echoed behind her. Fleeing had only bought her a very slim head start. In her dreams the shadows moving toward her bore fangs—she knew what these monsters were; she’d lived in San Francisco long enough, been around the day the creatures had finally come out of hiding. They wanted her scared, wanted fear pumping through her veins; it was an aphrodisiac to them.
They could catch her, would probably catch her. Running was just prolonging the inevitable, but she couldn’t stop, because stopping meant she’d given up, and Mila never gave up. Her gran and mum had raised her to fight, to be proud, and to know that a woman’s worth didn’t come from being fearless, but from being brave in the face of fear.
Her chest ached, her legs shook—she wouldn’t last much longer. It was three in the morning, and there were few cabs out right now, but even taking a cab wasn’t safe: she’d put others in danger. They’d stop at nothing to get their hands on her, and she wouldn’t put anyone else’s life on the line; her conscience wouldn’t allow it. The vampires wanted her, and she knew why: because of her powers. But they didn’t know the truth. They’d kill her for something they could never hope to understand, could never hope to harness.
Somewhere an alley cat screeched.
She’d always been so careful using her powers. Even before the monsters came out of hiding and showed the world that they were more than myths, her mum had told her to guard her powers with her life. To never show it to outsiders. To never speak of it to others. To pretend it did not exist.
She’d been so careful.
Until today at the bar, but she couldn’t regret saving that little girl. She’d do it again.
The footsteps were getting louder; a whimper spilled from her lips. Gaze frantically searching for any sign of escape, she spotted a dilapidated brownstone a few yards ahead. The windows were boarded up and crime scene tape was stretched across its doorless frame.
She’d seen that abandoned house before, in another dream. Below a metal grating was a secret entrance, a tunnel dug out decades ago to help smugglers move drugs. The tunnel led into the sewers; in the dream she’d crawled through it, finding a silver ladder affixed to the wall. The ladder led up to the street. A sewer main had busted a few days ago. City workers had been at the site, but the man responsible for replacing the manhole cover had gotten a call from his wife. She’d gone into early labor. He’d been careless and the cover wasn’t on all the way. Which meant she could maybe push it off. The tunnel was barely ten yards from the entrance of Club X. The chance of safety was slim, but it was her only hope.
The breeze stirred, carrying the stench of the streets with it, along with the sound of a coat flapping, like the rustling movements of bat wings. Heart lodged in her throat, Mila dove inside the door, landing hard on her knees. Pain exploded in her joints and she had to bite down on her lip to keep from whimpering.
They were toying with her, like a cat with a mouse. A quiet sob tore through her throat as she scrabbled back to her feet. It was so dark in here, there were no lights, and the smells were terrible—the place was musty and squeaking with rat chatter. Trying not to think about any of that, she held her hands out in front of her and made her way toward the kitchen.
She didn’t need to see to know where she was headed; the map of the house had imprinted itself in her mind the moment she’d dreamt of it. Ten steps down the hall, turn right at the first door, and now she was in the kitchen.
Walk five steps forward and…her fingers grazed the outline of an old fifties-style fridge. Planting her back against the side of it, she shoved off the balls of her feet, working it back away from the wall. Exposing the metal grate hidden behind it, she was so close. A horrible grinding sound reverberated like a gunshot through the nearly empty room as she pushed at the fridge. She was being too loud, they would find her, but she didn’t have a choice to go slower. It was now or never.
Almost there, almost there, I’m almost—
“Did you really think you could run, little mortal?” The strange male’s voice was like ice, heating her flesh in an arctic embrace, breaking her out in a wash of goose bumps.
Squealing, she didn’t have time to think, because hard hands dug into her shoulders and flipped her around. Flailing wildly, she raked her nails across something and then stomped down on its foot as hard as she could.
He hissed, then a fist connected with her jaw and all she could see was a halo of stars. Pain flared and throbbed through her skull as she sank to her knees.
“She’s in here,” the male called out, and that’s when the other two shadows converged on her.
Reaching into her nightshirt, Mila yanked out her rosary. “Hail Mary, full of grace—”
A woman laughed then jerked her chin up. Something sharp bit into her skin and broke through it—nails, fangs, she didn’t know for sure, but whatever it was it burned like holy fire and made her have to bite down on her tongue not to scream out—blood slid thick and warm down Mila’s jaw, bringing a wafting metallic scent with it.
“You think your God can save you now? We’ve been looking for you a very long time, little seer. The time for running has ended. We want what you have.” The woman’s voice was like brittle glass raking across her ear canals, making her wince and squirm as she tried in vain to break free of the male’s hold on her shoulder.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Mila’s words came out short and choppy through clacking teeth.
This time the hands that touched her were gentle, gliding, and then they framed her face, forcing her to stare into the glowing blue-eyed gaze of the other male captor. The burn from his eyes highlighted his features, and she cringed. The man staring at her had half his face melted off; his lips were grotesque on the left side, looking almost like they were sliding slowly down. His skin was mottled and as pink a newborn rat’s.
“Wait, Lucian,” another male voice growled just before a hand clenched ahold of her captor’s wrist. “We were hired. If this betrayal is discovered, we’ll be—” He clenched his jaw, muscle in his cheeks straining, as if the words he was saying he didn’t actually want to say.
For a brief second hope beat powerful wings in her chest. Maybe this wasn’t the end after all. Maybe she’d still be spared…she’d find a way out of this mess. Maybe…
Her captor curled his upper lip. “Gabrielle, you’ll unhand me or I swear you’ll wish you never did what you just did. She is ours, we have her now, and nothing will induce me to let her go.”
Gabrielle swallowed hard. It was difficult to make out his appearance; his face and body were hidden in the darkest shadows of the house. Narrowing her eyes, hoping she was looking directly at him, she shoved as much longing for her life into her eyes as possible.
Trying without words to tell him that she wanted to live, that they didn’t need to do this, to please help her. But her savior never came.
“Forgive me, Lucian,” he said, words hushed and trembling with a thin thread of fear.
Any last vestige of hope she’d had died an excruciating and painful death. Because with those words the fingers clamped onto Lucian’s wrist let go. She was alone with the devil himself.
“We will get what we want, mortal.” His voice shivered with raw power, and Mila understood there’d never been a chance of escape.
Fighting at this point was worthless. They were too strong for her. There was only one option left, and as much as she’d always hoped it would never come to that, she had no other choice. Holding her chin high, Mila sucked in sharp breaths and glowered at the monster holding her.
His thumb rubbed along her cheekbone; his one eye searched her face. The other was nothing but an empty socket. He smirked, the right side of his lips tilting up just slightly.
“This is what your kind has done to mine. You humans swore we were safe, and yet still you try to hunt us. But your powers”—his mouth parted and a sort of hungry gaze burned back at her, his breathing rose as if he were…sexually excited, which made her stomach turn—“your powers will level the playing field. I’ve decided you belong to me, not her. Never her. Not again.”
She couldn’t make heads of his rambling. Did he not want the female vampire to claim her? She didn’t know, and frankly, she didn’t care. “You don’t understand. It’s not what you—”
His nostrils flared and he clamped her lips shut forcefully, his long nail nicking her flesh, making air hiss between her teeth at the sharp burst of pain.
“You’re done talking. We monsters have played your human games long enough. Now it’s time for you to play ours. Vanity”—he looked at the feminine shadow standing beside them—“hold her legs.”
Gran, I’m sorry. She squeezed her eyes shut. She’d screwed up bad at the pub. If it’d been anyone but a child, she never would have done it. She would have walked out the door. She would have turned her face to the side and pretended that the future she’d seen wasn’t meant to be.
But it was too late for regrets.
There was only one way to take her powers, she only prayed to God they didn’t know it. Opening her eyes, she plastered on a sneer and then, gathering every last dredge of courage remaining, she opened her mouth and spit on him.
The only way to save humanity now was to make sure they killed her.
Frenzy heard the screams first before he smelled the stench of blood. Fire ripped down his left side, burned the flesh off his hand, turning it to nothing but bone. The bumping sound of a heartbeat in distress slammed into his consciousness.
Sucking in a sharp breath, sweat coating his frame, he gasped as he turned to look at the dilapidated buildings towering around him.
Thanks to Cian’s betrayal of The Morrigan, the queen of the fae sithen, Frenzy had been forced back into reaping souls—a task he did not want. He hated humanity and all it represented.
The greedy corruption of their souls had nearly infected him once centuries ago. No, not nearly—it had poisoned him. A betrayal by one had turned him into a monster. Frenzy had become someone of dark legend, an avenging demon of death. It’d been a black time in his long life and many had died. For the sake of the world, The Morrigan had yanked him away from the humans, made him serve her whims only, and he’d slowly begun to heal.
Now she’d thrust him back into this world, and there were no words to describe the absolute agony of being permanently returned to a place he wanted to see burn to the ground. They all deserved to die and to be forced back into their lands; to have to carry out the duties of a grim reaper all over again made a fury burn through his soul.
The bones of his hand throbbed, made bile roil through his gut. The only way to ease the ache was to drag the soul to its resting place.
A black alley cat screeched, arching its back as it peered up at him with angry yellow eyes.
“Come here, kitty cat,” Frenzy drawled, wiggling his finger at it, then laughing when it jumped behind a Dumpster and scampered off with its thick tail tucked between its legs.
Gods, he hated this world.
Following the stench of blood, he slowly made his way toward an abandoned building, in no hurry to get there. The maggot could wait a while longer; not like he/she/it was going anywhere any time soon.
Frenzy rolled his eyes as he continued to snap and crack the bones of his left wrist. As the screams raged down the mostly deserted alleyway, he gazed at the abandoned houses with wooden boards hammered against the windows and bullet holes riddling the walls. Humans. They destroyed all they touched.
Kicking a glass bottle hard enough to shatter it against a set of crumbling cement steps to alert whoever was snacking on whatever that someone was at present, he waited and listened.
“Did you hear that?” something snarled. The voice came from the house directly in front of him.
The house had at one point been painted robin’s-egg blue, but now it was mostly just patches of paint interspersed with long slivers of ragged wood poking out. The door was gone, and yellow crime scene tape marked the entryway.
A man’s voice growled. “Go check it out. We’ve come too far.”
Frenzy rolled his eyes. What the hell had he walked into this time? Another rape, murder, mugging? Only more of the same crap as always.
He could just sit out here, drape himself in essence, and become invisible until they finished whatever the hell it was they were doing, but he was bored and all he wanted now was to get back home. This would be his final harvest of the night, then he’d tell Morrigan he was done. Period.
She could flay him, skin him, rip him limb from limb—frankly, he didn’t care. But he was done being death’s bitch.
With a loud sigh, he opted to get it over with quickly. “I’m outside, dumbasses,” he growled.
Suddenly the voices grew hysterical.
“Get the hell away from here. She’s ours,” a deep masculine voice rumbled before a pair of bright blue eyes locked onto his from the doorway. Instantly the ripple of other pulsed against Frenzy’s body. It took barely a second for him to peg the monster. Werewolf killings were much gorier; the creature standing before him was clean, which meant he was a vampire. His jacket and jeans were spotless, but Frenzy’s nose was as good as any bloodhound’s. There was blood soaking into the floorboards of the old house.
The vampire cracked his knuckles, taking an advancing step out the door. “I said go. She belongs to us.”
Snorting, Frenzy nodded, making sure to keep his hands hidden inside his black leather jacket. “Yeah, sure, dip weed. Finish her up, whatever. I’m patient.”
Leaning against the ramshackle house, he bent his knee and yawned.
The vampire full-on growled, making a sound like an angry pit bull in the back of his throat. “Vanity, get the hell out here,” he called over his shoulder, never stopping his slow, menacing glide toward Frenzy.
“Seriously, man, go finish.” Frenzy waved him on, still trying to appear at ease while the muscles in his legs began to reflexively tighten up. “I’ll wait.”
Another vampire joined the first one—this one a female, with short black hair and intense amethyst eyes. The two began a slow convergence on him and Frenzy might have laughed, if he weren’t suddenly annoyed.
“I don’t think you heard me the first time,” the male spoke up again, opening his mouth wide to expose the long canine fangs.
“I’d listen to Gabrielle if I were you.” Vanity’s full red lips curved up at the corners as she eyed him slowly up and down. Her fingers began toying with the collar of her pristinely white shirt.
The sexual heat in her eyes was obvious; so was the bloodlust. Her irises were a deep, bloody red. She’d recently fed on the human still inside the house.
The wind kicked up then, dragging the scent of blood, but mixed in with it was the unmistakable odor of vampire hormone. It was metallic and spicy and tickled the inside of his nose.
Frenzy chuckled, pushing off the wall as Gabrielle came within five feet of him. Unlike Vanity, the electric-blue-mohawked male was definitely posturing, ready for a fight.
“You should have left when you had the chance.”
If the chuckle was intended to terrify Frenzy, it missed the mark. “Really?” He shook his head. “You’re really doing this? I told you to finish, I’m not gonna stop you.”
Gabrielle narrowed his eyes, his jaw clicked, and then a second later his nostrils flared. “You’re a faerie.” He spat the name like it offended him. His grin was nothing but teeth. “Fairies aren’t welcome ’round these parts.”
Vanity straightened up and where there’d been heat in her eyes only seconds ago, now there was the flickering flame of pure hate. Suddenly there were knives in her hands and she was standing by Gabrielle and they both knew they were going to kill him.
At least that was the attitude they were giving off. Goddess, he hated how stupid others were sometimes. Did they really just assume because he was a “faerie” he was an easy mark?
Being a faerie wasn’t very popular these days. Not after the Great Wars, not after the way his kind had nearly caused the rest of the supernatural world to go extinct. But he didn’t care about any of that; whatever hatred they still held on to, that was their own drama. He was only here to pick up the pieces of their meal.
If they wanted to fight, well, then…He smiled, more than happy to oblige them.
"Well written, heart wrenching new adult story. Ryan reminds me of my Drew in ways..."
—New York Times bestselling author Monica Murphy on A MOMENT
- "A beautiful, sorrowful, well-written piece with extremely dark moments, but with bittersweet and extremely sweet moments, too."—Maryse, Maryse's Book Blog on A MOMENT
- On Sale
- Jun 3, 2014
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Forever Yours