Authors: Christine DePetrillo
Tags: #romance, paranormal,spicy
“Don’t be. She’s the nicest of the renters. Your father, too.” Luke motioned to the lifeguard station. “The view really is wonderful up there. Want to see?”
Deciding not to be rude, she climbed the ladder at the base of the lifeguard station ever mindful of the fact that Luke was below her probably getting an indecent view of her crotch and all the hairs she’d missed while shaving her legs. Why didn’t she grab her towel, a pair of shorts, a handful of seaweed? Dammit.
She settled on the chair at the top of the station, and within a moment, Luke was sitting beside her. He smelled like sand and coconut and maybe grapefruit. His eyes were rainforest green, and his gaze slid between Holly and the water.
“You visiting your parents?” he asked.
“Yes, for the weekend.”
He waved to another lifeguard passing by below them, then faced Holly. “Mona’s told me a lot about you.”
Was her mother advertising she had an available daughter for sale?
“My apologies. I’m sure she bored you to death.” She folded her arms across her stomach trying to cover up what she could.
“Now why would you think she bored me?” Luke’s gaze swept back over the water.
“Well, I’m not all that exciting. I’m a teacher. Off for the summer. Looking forward to going back at the end of the month. The end.” Holly shrugged. Easy to make herself sound so…normal.
When Luke glanced back at her, she compared his eyes to Keane’s. Though the green was deep and rich, Luke’s eyes didn’t have the intensity that filled her current roommate’s. Her unwanted, current roommate’s. Luke’s tanned skin was also a direct contrast to Keane’s pale complexion. A fairness that only made Keane’s black hair more shocking, more dramatic, around his ever-solemn face.
Why are you comparing them?
she asked herself.
You’re rid of Keane for the weekend. Enjoy it.
She shook her head and focused on Luke. The muscles in his legs were taut under that sun-soaked skin. Grains of sand glistened on his flesh giving him a sparkly sheen.
“I’ve found that people who try to make themselves seem ordinary rarely are.” Luke knocked his knee against her leg.
“I’m the definition of ordinary. Trust me.”
“Well, I like ordinary. How about dinner tonight?”
“Wow.” She gathered her tousled red tresses and twisted them into the clip she had stuck on the shoulder strap of her bikini top. “You work fast, Luke.”
“I’ll have plenty of time to waste when I’m dead.”
She cringed. “Right. Well, I’m afraid I have dinner plans at my parents’ tonight.”
“Then I guess it’s a date. Mona invited me to dinner at the beach house this evening.” Luke’s victorious smile irritated her, but she could go with the flow. The flow her mother created for her apparently.
“You realize my mother is a terrible cook, right?”
“I’m not going for the food.” He winked at her.
She was about to launch into a speech where she brilliantly and convincingly conveyed the fact that she was
looking to get into a relationship at the moment. Sweet Mary, she could just picture it. Bring a man home. Sneak him past Keane to her bedroom. Have crazy, but quiet sex until her body could take no more. Wake up in the middle of the night after a horrific nightmare to get a drink of water and run into Keane dragging a demon corpse into the backyard. Lovely. Just lovely.
The word had Luke leaping off the lifeguard chair and bolting for the water.
“See you later, Holly.”
While she had to admit that the view was spectacular as Luke ran through the sand and dove into the water, she knew all she could do was look. She couldn’t touch. Not until she’d gotten rid of Keane.
Alone on the lifeguard station, she listened for other sounds of distress. Perhaps the beach could offer her the opportunity to do something heroic. Something important that would send Keane onto his next save.
Next victim is more like it.
The way she lived right now didn’t feel like salvation. It felt like condemnation.
The house was cemetery quiet without Holly. Although watching her find ways to not be in the same room with him was painful, not having her around at all was worse.
“You idiot,” Keane said. “She’ll be back in two days.” And why did he care if she ever came back?
He pressed his palms down onto the coffee table in Holly’s living room. The TV was on, but he wasn’t watching it. He’d wanted the noise while he combed through the newspaper looking for his next target. Always plenty to choose from. Plenty of rotten demons in human bodies doing rotten things every rotten damn day.
Too bad he couldn’t take the demons out before they ever got the chance to overtake human hosts and do their evil. Then maybe he could have saved his brother from being gutted like an animal by the leader of an opposing army centuries ago. A leader who attacked Eliah in the woods while he rode alone and unarmed on a day reserved for mourning the dead between battles. Every soldier knew of the day. Knew that no fighting would take place on the battlefield out of respect for the fallen. This leader, however, saw the skill and passion with which Eliah fought alongside Keane. Saw that Keane depended on his brother. Loved his brother.
Since the crone’s spell, Keane had remained in the Celtic army with Eliah. They fought for their people, but every now and again, he would be compelled to leave their countryside and save a dying soul as the hag’s curse dictated. Eliah knew why this happened as did some of Keane’s men, and they always covered for him. Always fought bravely in his absence under Eliah’s command. Upon Keane’s return, Eliah always had victorious news to report.
“How would we fare without you, brother?” Keane said one day after having disappeared to the hills for weeks to save a young boy who had eventually figured out an irrigation system that gave his village the ability to farm.
“Probably much better, Keane, for it was I who brought this curse upon you. My selfishness in wanting you to live has reduced your life to its current state.” Eliah sighed as he pulled off his armor and set it on the ground in the barn behind the stone cottage he and Keane shared.
“Feel no guilt, Eliah.” Keane rested his hands on his younger brother’s shoulders. “I would have made the same choice were it you on death’s door.”
Eliah smiled a little at that. “Emotion clouds the mind.”
“Indeed.” Keane stowed his own armor and motioned to the cottage. “Come. Let’s retire for the evening before our day of mourning tomorrow.”
They had rested and led a ceremony the following dawn for all their lost soldiers, many of them kin. When the ceremony ended, Eliah mounted his horse and headed for the woods as he did whenever he had a free moment. He loved to ride. Keane had no idea that would be the last time he would see Eliah alive.
He’d taken his own horse and gone looking for Eliah when the sun slipped below the horizon. He had found his brother and his horse on the ground, the blood of them both pooling together on the leaf-strewn path. He’d tried to save Eliah. Pressed his palms to his brother’s chest. Waited for the familiar white light to zip to his fingertips and start Eliah’s heart again.
When it didn’t come, when instead he held his brother’s lifeless body in his lap with no hope of reviving him, Keane had died, too. True, his body would not cease to function. His men would not bury him in the earth alongside Eliah. But he would not enjoy this life he’d been given by the witch. She’d called it a gift, but if he could not save the one person who’d meant more to him than anyone, it was no gift. A curse, pure and simple. That was the last day he was able to go out in the sun as well. It was as if losing Eliah had taken all the light away. Had reduced Keane to something that could only scurry around in the darkness. He had packed a small sack and left his countryside, never to return. Without Eliah, there was nothing for him at the cottage they had called home.
He no longer had a home.
Staring at the newspapers in front of him now, he wished he had come upon Holly some other way. He didn’t want her to be one of his saves. Didn’t want to have to force himself into her life until she despised his presence. And she did despise him. She had to. She never said it outright to his face, but he could read her looks, her body language, the distance she kept between them.
He’d had no choice about saving her. The witch decided whom he would save. He merely carried out the orders, followed the compulsion toward someone who was dying, and did what he alone could do. He worked hard to keep what he did a secret both for his sake and the sake of his saves. Many of them went on to be famous. They didn’t need a sketchy character like him showing up in their biographies. He knew how to be invisible which also made him an excellent killer. He was a walking paradox—a savior in one breath, a murderer in the next. He had to remind himself constantly that he killed demons, not humans. Sometimes he just didn’t see the difference.
Keane got up from the couch and paced the length of the living room. He’d stayed in some shitholes with his saves over the years. Holly’s farmhouse, on the other hand, was so cozy and clean. The rooms were big and airy, yet oozed southern charm and warmth. He didn’t necessarily feel the warmth, but he knew it existed. Could see it in the primitive paintings Holly had hung on the walls, in the quilted blanket she kept on the back of the plaid couch, in the little bunches of flowers, both dried and fresh from the front yard, she’d placed in mason jars throughout the house.
This was her space, and he didn’t belong in it. He wanted to. He wanted to stop his roaming from place to place, person to person, and root himself right here forever. Become a part of this land, this time, maybe this woman. He missed having a home.
Holly had given him one of the bedrooms at the northern end of the house. Not that he actually slept in it. He didn’t need to sleep. Holly’s master bedroom was all the way over on the southern side of the house. That little detail bothered him, but he’d been thankful he’d gotten a room at all. He’d stayed with people who had treated him like a pestilence, not allowing him to set foot in their homes. By the rules of the curse, they didn’t have to quarter him. He’d been relegated to sheds, garages, under porches and decks, pool houses, crypts, and dungeons.
Here, with Holly, he had free rein of her house. She’d only asked him to stay out of her bedroom, which he respected. He used the bedroom she’d supplied to keep his small stash of clothes in his duffle bag, his set of daggers, which he used every seven days, and a tattered copy of Kafka’s
. He knew a thing or two about being changed into a monstrous vermin. He sympathized with old Gregor Samsa.
He made use of the small bathroom across the hall from his room to shower, especially on those nights when the green blood of his kills stained his flesh. Holly had said he could use the larger bathroom closer to her room, but he’d declined. He was already far too comfortable in her house. He didn’t want to allow himself too much freedom for he wouldn’t be staying long. She would eventually do what she was meant to do for the world, and he’d be forced to roam around like a vagabond once again until he was compelled to save the next person.
How he wished that compulsion wouldn’t come. That he could decide for himself where he wanted to go. Looking around Holly’s living room right now, he knew where he would stay.
Wanting to stay with her was foolish thinking. He knew what happened if he got too close. He’d made that mistake once. About five years into living with the abra cadaver curse, he had saved a teenage girl after she had drowned in a lake on her family’s land. Saving young ones was difficult because he had to deal with parents, many of whom didn’t believe he’d revived their child or considered him a deviant.
This girl’s family, however, took pity on Keane and welcomed him into their home. They considered him a hero for saving their daughter and very kindly never spoke a harsh word to him even when the girl woke screaming every night from the dreams. They supported their daughter, looked for ways to help her find her something important, and treated him like a member of the family. They knew he killed demons, but they didn’t fear him or think less of him.
And then there was Melinda, the girl’s older sister. A fair lass with golden hair and blue eyes that sparkled like sunshine on water. She had a singing voice that rivaled angels, and she had a way of making him feel less of a monster.
One night, after slaying a particularly nasty demon, he dropped the body in the woods bordering the family’s property and jumped into the lake to wash away the night’s work. On his way back to the barn where he had been given accommodations, he saw someone standing in the doorway. Melinda waited for him.
They had watched each other silently for weeks, and Keane had helped her brush down horses in the barn several times. He’d stolen many glances at her, always delighted to find she was doing the same to him. Something about this quiet young woman warmed the very cold places inside Keane.
“Good evening,” she said.
“Good evening.” He stopped a few feet in front of Melinda. Water dripped from his hair and he combed his fingers through it. Her gaze followed his movements. “Is something wrong?”
“No.” She cast a look down to her bare feet. Her hair had been freed of the long braid she usually wore, and a slight evening breeze sent tendrils dancing about her face.
He took a step closer, reached out a hand, and caught one of the silken strands. He tucked it behind her ear, and she slid her petite hand over his before he could back away from her. Before his mind could register what was happening, Keane’s lips had found Melinda’s. They shared a kiss that spoke of possibility. Possibility and hope.
During the night, as he slept in the barn and dreamed of more kisses with Melinda, more touching, the demon kill he had thought he’d left for dead in the woods awakened. It crept into the family’s house and slaughtered everyone except the teenage girl he had saved.