*Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy 18+*
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Death Meets His Match
Death lurked around every corner. Death was a disease with no cure—a tyrant with a one-hundred-percent success rate. Mortals and immortals alike ingested the phantom’s toxic essence with every breath, every sigh, every spoken and unspoken word.
Keller O’Leary had Death inside him—an all-consuming monster hell-bent on consumption and destruction. The beast burned beneath his cool skin, like a fire that never weakened, clawing and tearing at the fragile tether that Keller could barely keep intact.
A light snow fell on his cheeks as he stood on the edge of a city fragrant with rich copper. Nashville, Tennessee. So much energy. So much life. Keller wanted all of it, wanted to absorb the life power of the humans laughing and carousing on the streets just beyond the shadows from where he watched. Perhaps then he would feel something more than insatiable hunger—something that just might be the salve he needed to heal his ravaged soul.
He’d come to the quaint city for two reasons: his sister, Sage, and the whispered promises of blood more powerful than any he’d ever tasted. Keller doubted the latter, but would find out soon enough. When Sage had telepathically contacted him with a personal invitation, the pure excitement in her voice had him more than a little intrigued. The typically sullen Sage had transformed into someone else, and that someone wouldn’t have taken no for an answer. Nor would she have had to. Keller would always come when Sage needed him. He looked forward to seeing his sister tomorrow. Too much time had passed since their last visit.
Clouds slid across the moon like curtains drawn at the end of an act. His skin tingled in anticipation of the next. Something big would happen tonight. Something out of his control. The monster wild against its leash promised it.
Sensing prey, Keller focused.
A lush blonde broke from a group exiting a small brick building, and she bid them farewell with a wave of her fingers. Keller sifted through the intricate details of the crystal snowflakes and the soft glow of the holiday lights, zeroing in on the pulse point just beneath her ear. She wore a red dress that hugged her curves and beckoned him like a bullfighter’s cape. The scooped neckline plunged too low for the chilled temperature, exposing the swell of her full breasts—an intentional play on her part to attract men. Neither that nor her shapely legs were what drew him to this particular beauty. Her pulse, on the other hand…
Keller stepped out of the shadows, teleported across several streets in a flash, and caught her as she stumbled, her heel catching in a sidewalk crack.
“Oops. Sorry about that,” she said, giggling softly. She looked up and sucked in a breath. Her hand fluttered to her chest, lingered.
Keller recognized the appreciation in her blue eyes. Part of his allure was that vampires were more striking than mortals, with a few exceptions. The other part was solely a benefit of exceptional DNA, something he couldn’t take credit for.
Her pupils dilated. Her nostrils reacted with a slight flare. He’d seen it before in women and men alike. His beauty distracted their senses, making his work easier. As her heart rate accelerated, Death roared to life, pushing Keller to move—to act. His feeding was long overdue. He could drain her in less than a minute.
But he did not move. He didn’t have to kill.
He could let her walk away, go home, and wake up tomorrow in her warm bed.
Death roared and prowled, pulling its chain tight, close to snapping. Death disagreed.
“No need to apologize.” Keller peered into her eyes and turned his Irish lilt up a notch. “Come with me.”
She sighed and he strode into the alley. He needn’t turn to check if she followed. The power of persuasion had been a gift since the moment he’d been turned nearly a century ago. Many vampires had to work to hone their powers. Keller was different. It had all come very natural to him. Something had happened during the change to make it so, something his sire refused to explain.
The moment he and the blond were off the main drag, he whipped around and pressed her against the wall with one hand wrapped gently around her neck. He stroked her vein with his index finger. A touch of fear, along with a hint of excitement, played across her features as her mouth widened to release a gasp. Keller clenched his teeth and fought to maintain control. He flashed, a blur of motion, and then his body was tight against hers. Brushing a hand over her hair, he drew her closer.
“Wha—what are you doing?”
He answered by sliding his palm up her thigh until she shivered with want. Keller tilted her head—
The monster keened. The tether snapped.
He pierced the taut skin of her neck. Blood coated his tongue, the flavor tainted by the alcohol she’d recently consumed. Death didn’t care. Keller drank.
She stiffened and whimpered. Alarms sounded in his head urging him to stop before he took too much, but the flavor, the high... A single tear rolled down her face, sounding like the haunted whispers of a thousand souls. Her heart thudded, pounding against Keller’s chest. She fought, kicking him in the shin and twisting her body. Death laughed at her feeble attempt. Keller held her steady, shoved Death into the recesses and eased her pain by infusing his bite with a heavy dose of endorphins until she became so aroused she pulled him closer and tugged at his clothing. Death swore and commanded Keller to change his course. Keller continued to drink, feeling stronger with each swallow. Power rushed through his veins. Her heart rate slowed second by second until it faded to nothing but a soft quiver.
Death rallied, barking orders and encouraging Keller to drain her body of every last ounce.
Keller broke away, gasping. The blonde slid to the ground in a heap, her legs folded under her like a ragdoll. The power that had surged moments ago fled into the night, leaving him as he was before. A shell. A walking corpse with little but anger and resentment to guide him. He bent over and dry heaved to no avail. The blood—her blood—was now part of him.
What had he done?
Keller crouched, listened. She wasn’t dead. Not yet, though the pallor of her skin warned she was very close. He quickly sealed the wound on her neck with a soft lick, threw her over his shoulder, and raced to the nearest hospital, thankful for the well-marked signage.
The blonde stirred as he dusted a thin layer of snow from the sidewalk and propped her against the wall outside the Emergency Room entrance. Gripping both shoulders, Keller shook her, forcing her to open her eyes. This would only work if they maintained eye contact. He had to hurry.
“Who…are…you?” she whispered.
A nightmare. “Help is coming. Everything will be fine.” He tapped her cheek with two fingers until her eyes fluttered open once again.
“I’m tired… so cold.”
Guilt ate a hole in his gut. Keller shrugged out of his jacket and laid it over her lap. “Remember nothing but the kiss of a stranger.”
A touch of color crept up her neck and smeared across her face. Her breathing remained shallow, but she would be fine. Eventually.
Keller heard approaching footsteps. They came from about ten feet away, inside the hospital. He turned to leave, but the woman gripped his hand. He spared time for a last glance.
“I liked your kiss.”
Keller smiled half-heartedly. “They always do.”
Teleporting two streets away, he distanced himself from the memory of the near catastrophe. Death had almost won this time.
The moment he stopped moving, a cloaked figure slammed him to the ground with a flying side-kick. Keller rolled and jumped to his feet. He paused mid-punch as the wind wrapped him in his attacker’s scent. Not male. Female.
His cold heart stuttered in his chest. Interesting. Disconcerting. Keller narrowed his eyes and wondered if she’d somehow cast a spell.
The brief hesitation cost him. The hooded woman nailed him with a heavy boot to his ribcage. He rocked back and shifted as the gleam of a knife came far too close for comfort. What would have been a direct hit to his heart, instead sliced open his shirt and grazed his skin. The wound burned for the half second it took to heal.
Whoever she was, whatever she was, she wasn’t playing around. Keller couldn’t get a read on her and that troubled him.
He faked a turn, then swung his leg and clipped her behind the knees. She stumbled and fell, catching herself with her palms before she kissed the ground. He nearly laughed in victory. If only he could see her face to know who he was laughing at. She smelled like any other human, but her strength...
Maybe a witch. But Keller could smell a witch’s magick from a mile away. It didn’t make sense. She didn’t make sense. And why was he playing around when he could end this by simply teleporting across town?
Because, for the first time in a very long time, he was enjoying himself and wanted to prolong this dance. More importantly, he wanted to know how and why she stirred his slumbering heart.
Could it be?
Keller reached out to pull the hood off of the female who’d bewitched him. The moment his hand would have touched the silky fabric, she threw a punch that landed a direct shot to his balls. He doubled over. She shoved him hard enough for his ass to meet asphalt. Her combat boot connected with his chest. Leaning forward, she used all her weight to hold him in place.
Keller let her believe she was the stronger being here while he tried to wrap his mind around the impossibility of one single word that refused to leave his thoughts. Mate.
“I don’t know who you are, but I saw what you did.” She moved in. As she leaned closer, Keller strained to see more of her face. He was certain she was mortal, but again, the thought confused him. As did his stammering heart. He had to taste her—had to know. Would fate be so cruel as to tease him?
“Consider this your only warning.”
Keller marveled at her bravado. No one warned him and lived to back up the threat. Still, he didn’t move.
“Get your fanged ass out of my city.”
She kicked him once more and then ran off down an alley. Stunned, Keller watched her long cloak drifting behind her like a shimmering eel. He could have given chase, but his body was rooted in disbelief and…hope.
A few minutes in Nashville had changed the course of Keller’s life.