Beautiful Monster - The Exchange (Book One) Chapter 11

Lev rarely fed where he lived. At least his brother had taught him that much, even though Alexei didn’t follow the rule himself. There were times, he was ashamed to admit, even he’d broken that rule. The consequences of being caught wouldn’t be as dire for him as they would be for Alexei, since Lev had never completely drained a body, leaving a corpse to be found by a passerby.

Strangely, despite his other struggles with being a creature of the night, Lev did not find feeding terribly difficult. It was a primal need that had to be filled and that’s how he rationalized it, not letting what was left of his conscience get in the way. He knew if he didn’t feed often to keep sated, the darkness within would make its way to the surface. There was a kernel of good in that deed, he reminded himself, if for no other reason than to quell his shame.

Finding prey was simple for Lev, he’d strike up a conversation, usually with someone young—man or woman, it didn’t matter. With the added charms his undead status bestowed on him, his victims would fall under his spell and then he’d lead them away, like a puppy on a leash. A dark alley was always a good place to take them. He’d feed quickly, sinking his fangs into a wrist instead of the more dangerous and tempting jugular. Blood came quick and furious from that perilous artery, and it took longer to heal.

Feeding was the only time Lev allowed his darkness a modicum of control, still, the true Lev, as he liked to call it, never strayed far. Like a sentinel, his true self stood guard. Though he couldn’t help wondering if Tony, Alexei’s friend, would have been his first kill if his brother hadn’t stopped him. In the past, Lev had always been careful, never letting himself get too thirsty. The episode with Tony had been a shameful lapse in judgment. Was he going to let all that go tonight? Was he finally going to purge what was left of the true Lev and, in turn, his pain over the loss of Carly?

Though Alexei was his maker and his brother, they’d only fed together once, right after Alexei had turned him, when he needed to be shown the ropes, so to speak.

Lev remembered the experience well. His brother had whisked him away to a park miles from their home in Saint Petersburg. That first meal had been a young man barely out of his teens. Alexei, of course, had gone straight for the man’s jugular, then encouraged Lev to drink when his thirst had been quenched.

Darkness had been at the helm of Lev’s actions that evening, though the reins were still held by the true Lev. His nostrils had flared at the scent of the crimson fluid as it rushed through the boy’s veins. He’d inhaled it. He’d savored it.

Fear, distinct and palpable, had flavored it too, but he’d forced it away because it gnawed at what was left of his humanity. Lev had plucked up the boy’s arm and sunk his teeth into his wrist.

When they were done, he and Alexei had left the young man in an alleyway, slumped against a wall. His brother had assured him that, in time, their victim would be fine. Lev had listened for a heartbeat, and when he’d heard its faint cadence, he’d walked off.

Now, in the wee hours of the morning, Lev strode through the suburbs of New York with his brother. They were somewhere in Brooklyn, in an area with lots of open spaces and conservation area.

“I thought we were going somewhere else,” Lev said. “Is this not too close to home?”

Alexei threw Lev a look that said, “Who cares?” It was accompanied by a shrug, then in a move as quick as a heartbeat, Alexei pulled him into the doorway of a darkened store that had been locked up for the night. An iron gate was fastened across the entranceway, but there was enough room for the two of them to hide.

“Hear that?” Alexei asked.

Lev listened and soon heard the sound of footfalls. The click, click, click of high heels. “A woman!”

“Yesss, I think so.”

Lev could not only see the excitement in his brother’s eyes but also that his fangs were at the ready.

They waited in the shadows until she neared and as she passed, Alexei shot out a hand, grabbing the woman’s upper arm. There wasn’t even time for a scream as he whisked her away so swiftly, they were almost flying. Lev followed at lightning speed, trying to keep up with his adrenaline-spiked brother. They stopped when they reached a small grove of trees dense enough to hide them.

Alexei pressed the woman up against the wide trunk of an ancient oak. She squirmed but wasn’t able to budge under his powerful grip. Her wide eyes gave away her horror; a scream formed but died in her throat as Alexei clamped a hand over her mouth. Then he twisted her head to the side, exposing the vulnerable artery that pulsed with every beat of her heart.

“You first,” Alexei said.

Lev licked his lips. Fangs protruded through his gums, and he salivated like a dog waiting for dinner to be slopped into his bowl. He lowered his head until he was millimeters from the artery. He smelled iron and copper and heard the blood whoosh as fear hastened it through her veins and arteries. A whimper escaped her, and a single tear dropped onto Lev’s cheek.

His gaze strayed to her face. She was blonde and pretty with a small, turned-up nose and a smattering of freckles dotting her cheeks. She was also young, about the same age as Carly.

He pulled away, then roughly freed her from Alexei’s grip. She fled immediately, stumbling until she could gain her feet. This time there was no click of heels. She’d lost her shoes somewhere along the way, but Lev could hear her sobs. He held his brother tightly against the tree, giving her time to get safely out of harm’s way.

Alexei barely strained against him, and when he turned to his brother, disappointment colored his expression. Lev sighed and let Alexei go, giving him a little push.

“You were never meant for this life.” Alexei shook his head as he walked away.

“Where are you going?” Lev called out after his brother; afraid he might try to find the girl.

Alexei stopped and turned; his hands were stuffed into his pockets. Gone was the disappointment of moments ago, replaced by what Lev thought could pass for acceptance. “Come with me, Brother. I have an idea. One you will like.”

Lev took a step, then stopped. He studied Alexei’s face. They looked so much alike that Lev sometimes felt as if he was staring into a mirror. They had the same thick black hair, a five o’clock shadow covering angular jaw lines, and the same sensuous wide mouths. Alexei’s face, however, was a little more angular and harder, his mouth fuller, and his lips held a constant pink glow making him look as if he was wearing lipstick.

Was Alexei giving up on him? Yes, he thought, and truth be told, he was relieved. He was a creature of the night like his brother, but unlike Alexei, who had lost all humanity, the true Lev still lived in him. He wasn’t sure he ever wanted to lose that despite the pain he’d have to endure for all eternity.

What did he have to lose? Lev followed.

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I'm a USA Today bestselling author. I've written 12 novels and I also work as an editor. I love crypto, writing and Boston terriers.

Beautiful Monster - The Exchange
Beautiful Monster - The Exchange

Lev Baronovsky, a soulless creature of the night, has a problem. Carly, the love of his life has just died in an accident and in three days will pass to the other side. Without a soul, he cannot cross over with her and the thought of spending eternity without his beloved is unbearable. Is seventy-two hours enough time to find a way? With the help of his brother, Alexei, they must face the vilest creature of all, Boris, an ancient one with selfish motivations of his own. A CHAPTER A WEEK WILL BE POSTED

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