Authors: Christine DePetrillo
Tags: #romance, paranormal,spicy
Melinda was dead. His hope was lost.
He’d learned two valuable lessons from that experience. One, make sure the demons were good and truly dead. He always burned the demon bodies now. Two, love was not something he could have.
Now, in Holly’s house, shadows crept along the hickory floor, and he knew what night it was. Seven. Night seven. He had an appointment with some unsuspecting demon in—he angled his head at the newspaper still spread out on the coffee table—in Mexico. Part of the curse allowed him to use unconventional means to get around the globe to both his saves and his kills. Teleportation. A jump from one place to another in an instant. Eliah would have loved such a ride. Too bad he could only use it to get to saves and kills, not wherever he wanted to go. Even something that seemed like a gift from the witch wasn’t.
In his room, he pulled on his boots, grabbed his daggers, and skimmed the newspaper article one more time. The headline read
Man Kills Local Shopkeeper, Still On the Run.
“Not for long.”
He opened the front door and stepped onto the porch. The sun had slipped behind the trees; the sky was a starry midnight blue. Crickets chirped in the nighttime heat, and he longed to sit on Holly’s porch swing in the backyard, preferably with Holly beside him, a cold brew in his hand. But alas, he could neither taste the smooth flavor of a good beer nor enjoy the company of a beautiful woman. He couldn’t even smell the summer flowers in full bloom all around Holly’s house. He could only save the selected dying, wait for them to do something important, and kill to keep them alive. Then he got the lovely opportunity to do the same cycle over again. And again. And again.
Focusing on Mexico, he prepared for the tingle that always came before he jumped. His toes buzzed with the power first, then the sensation traveled up to his head. In the blink of an eye, the wooded expanse of Holly’s property was replaced with a run-down Mexican street corner. He searched the outdoor restaurant across the street from where he now stood. He already missed Holly’s place.
“Stupid.” He shook his head and fingered the dagger tucked into his jeans. The photo of the accused from the newspaper flashed into his mind, and he turned on all his hunting instincts. With the abra cadaver curse, the witch had given him the ability to instinctively find the demons. They looked like everyone else, but he could spot them easily. Demons had a cloud of dirty energy that surrounded them like smog. It was that same energy that kept his saves—kept Holly—alive.
His target sat at a table alone, not looking worried at all that what goes around comes around. Where did such confidence come from? Or was it ignorance?
Leaning against the brick building on his side of the street, Keane waited for the demon to finish his meal. Too many other diners in the area to barge in and do the deed now. Demons liked hanging around humans for this very reason. Watching also allowed Keane the chance to size up his target. About five foot seven and 160 pounds. Keane had the advantage in both height and weight, not that he’d need it. His daggers easily found the victims’ hearts with one pierce. He’d learned how to kill demons efficiently and completely. They were dead before the warm gush of green blood encircled their bodies.
The demon hiding in human flesh paid his bill, took a last sip of his wine, and got up from the table. He flicked a glance around as he stepped onto the sidewalk, and Keane realized the creature wasn’t as confident as he’d appeared.
Letting his prey get a head start, he began his pursuit on silent feet. He was used to being a shadow, a dark thing that came out when the safety of the sunshine had vanished. It only took him moments to turn the corner and catch up to the demon. He sensed guilt, but whether it was his own or the target’s he couldn’t tell.
He slid the dagger from his jeans. Moonlight glinted off the blade.
. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all so wrong as well. Nonetheless, he reached out a hand, placed it on the target’s shoulder, and squeezed hard enough to bring the demon to his knees.
“What the fuck,
?” the demon hissed.
“Some last words,
.” Keane shoved the dagger into the demon’s back, listened to the air gush from his borrowed lungs, never to be taken in again. Green blood soaked his hand and the dagger hilt, and the demon’s energy was released.
Kneeling beside the fallen, Keane freed his dagger and wiped the blade on the demon’s shirt before putting it back into the waistband of his own jeans. Placing his hands on the newly dead, he jumped them both back to Holly’s backyard. Even standing with a corpse at his feet, he felt as if he were…home.
He crossed the yard to the shed and retrieved the shovel. Holly insisted on burying all the bodies herself, but with her going away for the weekend, he’d convinced her to let him take care of this one. She’d been too aggravated with her mother’s pestering her to go to the beach house to refuse him. A million other questions to ask her had rushed into his mind that night. If she could say yes to one, maybe she’d say yes to others, but he couldn’t take advantage of her annoyance.
He hadn’t been able to burn any of the demon bodies he’d collected while staying with Holly, so he’d made sure they were truly dead before bringing them back to her house. He’d tried burning them elsewhere, but when he’d returned to Holly’s without a body, she pitched a fit and demanded he bring them home. Burying them relieved her guilt over cheating death. He wished there were something to relieve his guilt.
“You didn’t choose this, man. You shouldn’t feel guilty.” And there were times when he didn’t feel as if he were a beast. Times when he took a demon down easily and felt strong, capable, superior. If some of his eternity had to be spent killing demons, he was at least glad that he was good at it.
He dug a grave, placed the body inside, covered it, and returned the shovel. The entire process seemed much too casual, much too mundane, considering a life had been taken. He had to remind himself it was an evil demon’s life. He killed another killer. He had to hope that if some day he had the good fortune of dying himself and meeting his maker, he’d be forgiven for taking the lives of only the truly horrible.
He went back into the house, but after five minutes in the silent kitchen, he had to get out of there. He grabbed the keys to his motorcycle—teleportation wasn’t the only way to travel—and tore down the road to Raven’s Pub.
Sure, he couldn’t drink or taste the beer, but sometimes looking at one and pretending to enjoy it was enough. Sometimes.
“So what grade do you teach?” Luke sipped the wine Holly’s mother had poured for him.
Holly had to admit the guy sitting across from her at her mother’s dining room table cleaned up nicely. He had traded his red swimming trunks for a pair of light blue jeans and a green T-shirt that made his eyes electric. His sun-streaked blond hair framed his angular, tanned face as if it were a work of art, and it was. Only the thing was, she’d grown accustomed to the masterpiece she saw every day at home. She couldn’t do anything more than secretly admire that masterpiece, but Keane’s black hair, blue eyes, and light skin combination was more her taste than Luke’s Golden God of Summer look.
“I remember my fifth-grade teacher.” Luke put down his wine glass and took the basket of bread Mona handed him.
“Fondly, I hope,” Mona said.
“Actually, I hated her.”
“Ouch,” Holly said.
“Let me clarify.” He held up a hand. “We hated each other. I wanted to be swimming every day, and she wanted me to be doing homework every day.”
“You somehow made it to sixth grade, I presume,” Holly said. She pictured Luke as an eleven-year old doing the bare minimum to pass his classes. Slackers peeved her, even if they currently looked like a walking advertisement for a Californian vacation.
“The last quarter of my fifth grade year, I shifted it into high gear and got all As.”
“Thatta boy,” Holly’s father, Charlie, said.
“Holly, Luke’s with the Coast Guard too. Quite the hero. Isn’t that right, Luke?” Mona stood behind him and nodded so only Holly could see.
“Hero is a strong word. I just like to help out where I can,” Luke said, and she did feel a little something flutter in her stomach at the faint blush on Luke’s cheeks.
“Humble,” Charlie said. “Just like the rest of us heroes.” Holly’s father cuffed Luke on the shoulder then motioned for him to hold up his plate. Charlie dropped a huge slab of what Holly could only assume was meatloaf on Luke’s plate.
He studied it from all angles as he situated his plate back in front of him. He picked up a fork and hesitated.
“Your trepidation is warranted,” Holly whispered. “Taking your life in your hands right there.”
He looked up at her as Charlie chuckled and glanced to the kitchen.
“Don’t let your mother hear you.” Her father swatted at her hand as he got up to help Mona bring out the rest of the meal.
“If I choke on this,” Luke began, a lethal grin on his lips, “you’ll perform CPR on me, right?”
“I don’t know CPR,” Holly said, “but Dad does. He was a doctor before he retired.”
Luke frowned, and the word
popped into her head. She quickly darted her gaze down to her own plate and focused on the “not cute” meatloaf. She couldn’t afford to give Luke the wrong signals. She had to fly solo. Forever, perhaps.
“Here we go,” Mona sang as she put down a bowl of vegetables. “There, isn’t this nice?”
“Very nice.” Luke gave Holly a quick glance. “Thank you so much for inviting me, Mona, Charlie.”
“Anytime, dear.” Mona patted his forearm. “We love having company, don’t we, Holly Berry?”
Holly winced at her mother’s public use of her childhood nickname. “Yes, Mother. Love it.”
“Holly Berry?” Luke teased.
“Shut it,” Holly shot back.
“Holly, you be polite to Luke. He’s a nice,
, young man. Don’t you need one of those?” Mona said.
Sweet Mary, where can I hide?
Holly’s cheeks burned and no matter how much water she gulped, she couldn’t put out the fire. She’d forgotten how direct her mother could be sometimes.
“You need a haircut, honey,” Mona said. “Don’t you think she needs a haircut, Charlie?”
Her father studied her over the rim of his glasses. “I don’t know, Mona. I suppose it’s longer than usual, but my daughter always looks gorgeous.” He winked at Holly and sawed into the brick of beef on his plate.
“You should get a cut while you’re here.” Mona nodded as if it had all been decided. “Some asparagus, Luke?”
Somehow the rest of the dinner went along as if the four of them had been eating dinner together for years. Luke talked medicine with Holly’s father. He chatted tennis with Mona, and he talked about his teaching of CPR and basic first aid with Holly. Under any other circumstances, he would have been a great find. He was intelligent, funny, and gorgeous.
But he wasn’t Keane.
“Dummy,” Holly mumbled to herself as she washed dishes in the kitchen. How stupid to want to play house with a person like Keane. He wasn’t even entirely human anymore. He had explained that he had been an ordinary human once, a long time ago. All that changed, however, with some witch’s curse. He didn’t eat, drink, age, get sick…die. Just existed day after day, killing demons for the ones he had saved.
He had powers too. Raising the dead, teleporting, and killing with frightening accuracy. He wasn’t someone you built a life with. He wasn’t someone you cuddled with at night and loved.
No. She wanted Keane to leave. She did. He was six feet, three inches of pain in the ass. Though he stayed pretty much in either the living room or his bedroom, he was always around the house during the day. Apparently he couldn’t tolerate sunlight. At night, when she wouldn’t have minded having someone else for company, he worked in the central post office of her small town. He said filing mail was a good anonymous job, and one he’d done in several places around the world. He didn’t have to talk much, didn’t have to deal with people, and the work was respectable. She didn’t want to know what other, less respectable odd jobs he’d done to keep gas in his motorcycle and clothes on his back. Every seventh night, she knew he was killing...for her.
She still didn’t understand why he couldn’t ignore the deal. Sure, she would die—again—but what did he care? They hadn’t been family, friends, or…lovers. She was a stranger to him, and yet he killed demons every seven days to keep her alive. It didn’t make sense.
She couldn’t imagine being Keane. His life probably wasn’t as easy as he made it look. He seemed to have a conscience, seemed honorable. Sometimes she caught him looking at her with a faraway gaze, as if he were imagining being somewhere else. Was she with him in that vision?
“Holly, I can take care of those.” Mona came to the sink and pried a dish from her grip. “Why don’t you and Luke go for a walk?”
“Mother, I know what you’re trying to do here, but—”
“Shush, Holly Berry.” Mona put her finger to Holly’s lips. “You look like you’re drying up inside, sweetie. I’m trying to help you. You apparently don’t have any men around that farmhouse of yours.”
“I don’t need any men around my farmhouse.”
“That’s what women who don’t have any always say, honey.” Mona peeled the bright yellow dishwashing gloves from Holly’s hands and nudged her toward the door to the living room. “Now go on.”
Holly grumbled, but Mona sent her one of her “Mama is right” looks. No force in nature could successfully combat that look so Holly pushed open the door and nearly ran right into Luke on the other side. He put steadying hands on her arms.
“Sorry.” She maneuvered out of his grip.
“No damage done.” He gave her a smile, charming and perfect. “You want to get some air?”
Boy, Luke and her mother had choreographed this evening out, hadn’t they?