Beautiful Monster - The Exchange (Book One) Chapter 4

“Do you have to leave?” Lev hated how desperate he sounded. “There has to be a way for you to stay.”

“I’m sorry, Lev, but the way to the other side closes in just seventy-two hours from physical death. Hours have passed already. I’m afraid these last few days will be all we’ll ever have.” Tears shone in her eyes, threatening to spill.

Lev hung his head. There would never be an afterlife for him, no passageway to the other side. He was already dead—a soulless being doomed forever to walk the earth. “But how do you know that? Who told you? I need you with me!” Shame filled him immediately. He was being selfish. How could he ask her to give up whatever lay in that other dimension, to walk the earth for eternity with him? He had no doubt it would be a far better place than where they were now.

“My love,” she said. “It’s a knowing. No one told me. No one had to. My soul already knows the answer.”

He took her hand and kissed it. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I’d never hold you back.” He wanted to ask if there was a way he could go with her, but he already knew the answer.

Carly placed her hand on his. “It’s kinda funny if you think about it. I’m dead, and you’re, well, you’re dead too, but we can’t be together because you have no soul. Talk about star-crossed lovers.”

He knew she was trying to lighten the mood, but Lev found no humor in her words. He held her hand, marveling at how solid she felt. The hours had molded her into something more concrete. “You seem so alive!”

“I feel alive.” She smiled weakly and pinched away the tears standing in her eyes.

Lev kissed her eyelids and smoothed her hair. “There’s barely an hour before day will begin to break. I have to go to ground soon. Where will you go? What will you do while I sleep?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll be here when you wake.”

“But what about Alexei? He’ll see you when he comes down to the basement to his sleeping chamber.”

“I’m not so sure he will.”

Lev was perplexed. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t think he’ll be able to see me. You can because I really want you to.” She grinned. “I don’t want Alexei to see me, and for the same reason why I know I only have seventy-two hours left, I’m confident I will stay hidden from Alexei’s sight. Also, perhaps I shouldn’t tell you this, but I was given some guidance by those on the other side.”

Lev’s brows knit together. “What do you mean by ‘those on the other side’?”

“I’m not even sure who I mean but there were voices in my mind explaining things. Guess I’ll find out more when I meet the owners of those voices. I was given a few ground rules just before I left my body.” She kissed Lev’s cheek. “Why don’t you go to sleep now? I’ll visit with my family for a while. I want to make sure they’re okay, and I’ll see you tonight after sunset.”

“Visit your family?” he asked.

“I’m going to stick around for a little while, but I do want to see them one last time. Sadly, I don’t they’ll see me. The bond between you and I is strong, Lev and although I love my parents and sister, I think being mortal, and in such despair, they won’t be able to see me, but I will be able to see them. That will be good enough.”

He had to go to ground, but a feral yearning nagged him. It was hunger, but there was no time to feed and he especially didn’t want to hunt with Carly around. She’d never borne witness to the dark side of him. Lev had no choice but to wait until he awoke in the evening to seek sustenance. In all his one hundred and forty years, this had been the most interesting yet excruciating day of his life, eclipsing even the evening of his turning.

Carly gave him one last peck on the cheek before retreating to a corner of the basement. Lev crept over to his creaky old sleeping chamber, which was buried in the earth and threw open the door, but before climbing in he looked at his love, trying to soak in as much of her as he could before pulling the lid shut and closing his eyes.

Sleep would come. It always did, but he was saddened knowing that as he slept, the hours ticked past—hours he could be spending with Carly.




When Lev woke, Carly was there, perched on the bottom step, waiting for him.

Before sleep claimed him, he’d spent some time racking his brain for a way they could be together. He’d do anything to make that happen. Sadly, he could think of nothing. Despite being greeted with Carly’s smile, disappointment filled him.

“Alexei’s up already,” she said when she saw Lev. “I can hear him upstairs, and it sounds like he has company.”

Lev made a face and stepped out of his chamber and onto the basement floor. After a quick dust off, he held out a hand to Carly, and she took it. He pulled her to him and kissed her. Although he hungered for her in the carnal sense, gone was the urge he’d constantly fought when he heard the rush of her blood or the beating of her heart. Lev was unsure if this was an unfortunate turn of events or something to be celebrated.

“How was your visit with your family?” he asked but immediately felt stupid. “Never mind. Please forget I just said that.”

Tears stood in Carly’s eyes and she let them fall. “Don’t feel bad. Although it was bittersweet, I know I’ll see them again someday. It’s you I’m sad about.”

Lev kissed her forehead and wiped her tears grateful she wasn’t upset over his question. He wanted to spend time with Carly but something more pressing was on his mind. He’d gone to bed uncomfortably hungry, and his need had grown during his slumber. He had to feed soon, but he didn’t want Carly around to witness it. He’d lied, telling her he only drank from animals, but now she could follow him wherever he went and would probably want to be by his side until the time came for them to part.

“So, Alexei didn’t see you?” he asked.

“I told you—”

Lev stopped her with another kiss. “Not to worry. I remember what you said,” he whispered, then led her up the stairs.

Alexei was in the dining room seated at a large mahogany table, empty bottles of wine and a crystal decanter of Scotch were set in the middle.

“Brother, this is Tony,” Alexei said without turning around.

Tony was a small man in his early twenties with thick blond hair and chiseled features. His cheeks were pink, and he held a crystal glass delicately in a slender hand. He extended the other to Lev. “Pleasure to meet you,” he said, a flirtiness in his voice. “You’re as handsome as your brother.”

Lev smelled his delicious youth. It was heady and overwhelming. He noticed the pinpricks of blood on Tony’s wrists and neck. He smelled that too, taking in a deep breath.

Lev threw a furtive glance at Carly. Tony had obviously been Alexei’s dinner, and Lev’s hunger was now unbearable, knotting and twisting in him. He tried to shoo Carly away with a look and a quick jerk of his head, but she took no notice and stood in the doorway, seemingly mesmerized by Alexei and his friend.

Instinct drove Lev toward Tony at lightning speed. He sunk his fangs into the young man’s left wrist. He smelled of expensive cologne and cheap wine, but tasted magnificent. Lev sucked and pulled the blood from Tony’s veins, drinking his fill.

“No, Lev. You’ll kill him!” His brother’s hands tightened around the collar of Lev’s shirt, pulling until his fangs disengaged. Tony slumped to the floor like a boneless lump of flesh, and tiny pools of blood soaked into the gray carpet around his hand.

“You fool. You went too long between feedings. Now look what you’ve done.” Alexei pouted. “I wasn’t finished with him yet.”

The smell of wine and Scotch were on his brother too, and Lev realized he’d been slowly getting drunk along with his friend. Alexei’s alcohol level had risen as he’d fed from Tony. Lev, too, now felt the giddy high of imbibing and the tang of wine on his tongue.

He suddenly remembered Carly and turned toward her. She was still in the doorway, her trembling hands covering her face. A low moan escaped her and then she, like Tony, slunk to the floor.

“Good Lord. Is that Carly? I thought she was dead,” Alexei said to his brother.

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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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