Beautiful Monster - The Exchange (Book One) Chapter 12

Lev and Alexei stood outside Boris’s dilapidated mansion for the second time in one night.

“Why the hell are we back here?” Lev asked. Anxiety began to lumber to its feet as he remembered what happened inside just hours ago.

Alexei ran a hand through his hair, took a breath as if to steady his nerves, then moved forward and grabbed hold of the bars of the gate. He peered through, pressing his face against the wrought iron. “We’re here because this is where Carly left through that…that hole. There has to be a way to reunite the two of you, and I imagine Boris’s house is the logical place to start. The scene of the crime, as such.” His hand strayed absently to his neck, to the spot where Boris had drunk his fill.

This was unbelievable. Lev turned to leave. “No. We can’t go back in there!” Why would Alexei suddenly care that Carly was gone? Red flags waved high and mightily in Lev’s brain.

Alexei caught his sleeve in one long-fingered hand. “There will be no rest for you until we try our damndest to get her back. I know you well, Brother. You will brood, you will cry, you will be hell to live with—” He sighed.

Lev held up a stilling hand. “Really? That’s why you brought me back here, to shut me up? It wasn’t out of the goodness of your cold, dead heart?”

Alexei looked puzzled, even hurt. Then he said in a somber tone, “We must try. Give it all we’ve got so that you can go on with your life. Perhaps then you will feed properly; perhaps you will kill. You will experience your first turning. I will not give up on you.”

Lev rubbed a hand across his stubbled cheeks. His brother’s motives weren’t pure or selfless. That didn’t surprise him. Yet, despite knowing Alexei was hoping for failure yet again in order to teach him a lesson, being back at Boris’s house made a certain kind of sense. He was eager to give it a try, and his heart leapt a little at the thought he might see Carly again.

The wheels were turning in Lev’s mind. She did disappear in that house, and this may be the only place where the portal could be reopened, but there were obstacles: even if they could manage to get back into the great room, then what? How would they find and open the portal? And, most importantly, what if Carly wasn’t in it anymore?

His enthusiasm waned when he remembered that even if she did come back, they would still only have a precious few hours together before she’d have to leave again, and this time, forever.

He pushed the thought away and as a distraction, asked Alexei a question that had been burning in the back of his mind. “Danger lurks here for you. You managed to get away once, but you may not be so lucky a second time. Are you not afraid?”

Alexei smirked and gave a dismissive wave, though Lev saw something in his brother’s eyes. Something he could not quite put a finger on.

“I’m not worried,” Alexei said. “Shall we go?”

“Back so soon?” came an all too familiar baritone. Boris was suddenly on the other side of the gate. He grabbed each of their hands, pulling their arms through the bars and clamping tightly so neither Lev nor Alexei could move. The man was powerful, but Lev had the sinking feeling he was being gentle and that he could crush them as easily as peanut shells.

“Your brother does not tell you everything, Lev. He is a man of many secrets. Still, I am most grateful to have met up with him again.” Boris puckered his lips and blew Alexei a kiss. “You are so pretty. Both of you actually, but lucky for you, Lev, only Alexei possesses what I want.” He turned to Lev, and although Lev had seen the man up close just a short time ago, he still found him frighteningly hideous. His bald pate held a few straggly gray hairs, making Boris look like an abandoned doll some child had ripped the hair off of. It grew thickest in the back in a matted, oily mess. Lev caught the scent of it, or maybe it was the scent of Boris himself: a mixture of dirt and rotten flesh, and when he opened his mouth to speak, it wafted out stronger, making Lev wince and turn away.

“I have been thinking about what happened with that ghost girl of yours. What was her name? Charlene? Carla?”

“Carly,” Lev whispered.

“Ah, yes, Carly. I have been wondering what the hell happened. I have never seen such a thing like it in all my years. The two of you left so quickly after she disappeared, I was unable to share with you what I saw.” He smiled a rotten-toothed grin. “I was hoping you would once again grace me with your presence.”

What he saw? Hope began to germinate in Lev, but he reined it in before it could take hold.

Boris must have noticed the look of interest on Lev’s face. In a voice lined in silk, he said, “Come in and I will gladly show you.”

Lev turned to Alexei. “Brother?”

Alexei railed against Boris’s grip, making the large man laugh. “Don’t think we have a choice, do we? Besides, that’s what we’re here for anyway.”

Boris let them go then toed the gate wide. It clanged against the metal post to which it was fastened.

Glancing up at the moon, Boris said, “Gentlemen, we must make haste. Soon it will be time to go to ground. Of course, you are welcome to stay here.” He turned to Alexei, “Especially you.”

Alexei’s hand flew protectively to his neck, and Lev noticed his brother shudder with Boris’s words.

“Hope he’s had his fill,” Alexei muttered.



They were back in the great room, where Carly disappeared into a vortex of light just hours ago. Lev walked to the spot and searched for some evidence, some remnant of the portal. It was hard to believe it even happened.

“Carly,” he whispered, knowing he’d never receive an answer. She was gone. Still, he wondered what Alexei had up his sleeve and what Boris had hinted at outside.

The big-nosed servant entered and stood like a sentry awaiting orders. Boris waved him off, and he scampered away.

No one sat. Boris, Alexei, and Lev stood in a small circle. Lev noticed his brother’s lip twitch with nerves.

Boris placed a hand on each of their shoulders and grinned. “You two look like twins. I still cannot get over the resemblance.” He smiled at Lev, making his stomach cinch with panic. No wonder his brother wanted nothing to do with this man. And to think, Boris was the one who’d turned Alexei. Lev thought of Boris’s pug face pressed against the flesh of his brother’s neck. It made him want to retch.

“You said there was something you wanted to show us,” Lev said, trying to hide his disdain.

Alexei took the opportunity to take a step backward. Boris let his hand fall to his side; disappointment crossed his features. “Why do you hate me so, Alexei?”

“You know why.” Alexei sneered and moved farther away.

“Because I keep telling you how exquisite you are? What man would take offense to that? Especially one…well, one like you.” He smiled, and that somehow made it worse. “Is it not okay that I pay you a compliment?”

“Actually, no, it’s not okay. I get it. You like me. You think I’m good-looking. But don’t think for one second, I don’t know what else you want,” Alexei said.

Lev was confused. He wanted to know what was happening between Boris and his brother, but he also needed to hear what Boris had to say about the portal.

“You do not realize how lucky you are,” Boris said, reaching with a sausage-fingered hand to caress Alexei’s cheek, but Alexei was too far away, and Boris’s hand hung in the air longingly.

“I know how happy you’d be to look like me. THAT is what I do know. You don’t just admire my looks, you WANT them.”

“Ha! You are smarter than I thought,” said Boris.

Lev stepped between them, utterly confounded. “What’s going on? What’s this talk of Boris wanting your looks?” He laughed. “How is that even possible?” Lev looked at his brother for an answer. It was crazy talk, utter nonsense. He didn’t have time for such foolishness. “Are you going to help me get Carly back or not?”

“I will help you, Lev,” Alexei said finally. “But first, I need something from Boris.” He turned to the slovenly creature. “I’ll give you what you want, but you must vow not to hurt my brother and to return to him what I have taken away. The one thing he will need if he is to be reunited with his love.”

“Anything,” Boris said, his eyes seemed to lighten a couple of shades.

Lev gave his head a shake. “What’s going on?”

Alexei and Boris turned to him now as if realizing for the first time he was in the room and listening to their conversation.

“Perhaps we should sit after all,” Boris suggested.

Alexei and Lev sat side by side, and Boris settled on the edge of the coffee table that was now back in place in front of them. Lev’s leg bobbed impatiently, and he folded his arms across his chest. Time was running out.

“Brother, you may be one of us, a creature of the night, and that is my fault.” Alexei splayed a hand across his chest, and his voice held a contrite affectation. “I never should have turned you. I am deeply sorry for that, but there are some things you are aware of and some you are not. As you do know, when a creature is made, he or she remains exactly the same as they were on the day of their turning. We grow no older. We keep whatever looks we have; we do not deteriorate.”

“Yes, of course I know this,” Lev replied. He tried not to look at poor unfortunate Boris, who was hideous before he was turned and was still hideous now, centuries later. With no way to improve his circumstances, he would remain a vile, ugly creature for eternity.

Alexei continued, “But what you do not know is that when a mortal is turned, the one who turned them takes his or her essence.”

“Essence?” Lev asked, confused.

Boris broke in with a chuckle, “I will be straight with you, comrade. Straighter than Alexei. Seems he has not done his duty and taught you the things you need to know to fully be one of us. I turned Alexei many years ago. We were on our way to storm the Winter Palace and overthrow the Tsar. Perhaps he has told you that story, no?” Boris didn’t wait for a reply. “When I saw your brother, I found him irresistible. I wanted him in the worst way, and, so, I took him. I turned him, but when I did, I also took a part of him that is not physical. Do you understand what I am saying?”

Lev shook his head no. He hadn’t a clue what Boris was hinting at. The big man clamped a hand on Lev’s knee and leaned in close, making Lev desperate to pull away.

“His soul,” Boris whispered in Lev’s ear, then leaned back, letting his fat hands fall onto his own knees. “I am filled with them! They are teeming within me and no doubt in your brother as well.” He threw Alexei a sidelong glance along with a raised eyebrow.

Lev stared, shocked. Could it be true? If so, it would mean his soul still existed—not in his own body, but it hadn’t been destroyed like Lev had believed all these years.

Boris nodded slowly as he saw understanding finally dawn on Lev. “I know what you are thinking, and yes, there is a piece of your brother in me. It gives me power, making me stronger than the one I turned.”

Lev looked at his brother with new eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me my soul wasn’t lost?”

Alexei let his head hang and studied the hands neatly folded in his lap.

“How do I get it back?” Lev asked, impatience coloring his voice.

A gruesome smile crept onto Boris’s face. “There is only one way.”

Alexei looked up and into his brother’s eyes. “I have to die, and the only one who can kill me is my maker.” He turned toward Boris who seemed as giddy as a child on Christmas morning.

“But why would Boris want to kill you?” he asked Alexei, wanting to add—it’s obvious he’s in love with you. He didn’t have to give voice to the question; Alexei answered it as if he’d read Lev’s thoughts. “If Boris kills me, he gets something he covets more than my soul—”

Boris finished for him, “His looks!” He laughed and rubbed his hands together eagerly. “Look at that face! That body! It would not just be mine, it would be ME.”

Lev jumped to his feet. “I can’t let you sacrifice yourself for me, Alexei.”

“But without you by my side, Brother, I would not want to live. You said it yourself—that if I would not help you, you’d leave. You said that knowing I wouldn’t be able to go on without the only person in my life that I love. I am not like you, Lev. I am corrupt. I have killed and I have turned others, but you, my brother, somehow, you’ve managed not to do those things. Your soul is pure. I can feel it inside me. Sometimes I think it’s the only thing keeping me from running wild, murdering, and turning everyone in sight. Think about it, Lev, if Boris takes my life, your soul will be released. It will return to its rightful owner. That is…” Alexei shot Boris a warning glare, then continued, “If Boris keeps his word and allows your soul to return to you, you will be free to find and be with Carly forever.”

Hollowness bore into Lev, dwelling side by side with the happy thought he may be able to be with Carly after all. It was bittersweet. Was he giving up too much? He let his thoughts become a question. “Will I have to die, too?”

“You will be mortal again, my brother. You can either wait until the time of your natural death or…” Alexei trailed off, averting his gaze.

Lev understood what his brother was trying to say, and he’d already decided he would go right away. Still, how could he allow Alexei to sacrifice himself?

“I…I’m not sure,” Lev choked out in a thin whisper.

Boris playfully punched Lev on the shoulder. “It is what your brother wants, comrade. Can you not see that?”

Lev let his head drop into his hands. The weight of his decision was too much.

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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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