Beautiful Monster - The Exchange (Book One) Chapter 9

Carly let out a shriek and took cover behind Lev. “Can he see me?” she asked, her voice shaky.

Alexei answered for his brother, “Oh yes, my dear. I am sure of it.”

A towering, barrel-chested figure started slowly down the front steps, but in the blink of an eye, he was suddenly there, in front of the trio, his gaze glued on Alexei.

Boris was dressed in a tattered old suit with sleeves that were too short. The seams of the threadbare jacket threatened to rip apart across his great chest. A hole worn through the top of one of shoe offered a peek at a white sock over his big toe. Yearning emanated from the beast. If Lev felt its pull, what must his brother be experiencing?

“I knew I’d see you again, comrade.” Boris’s voice was as big as he was—booming and deep. He clasped Alexei’s shoulder, and Lev noticed his brother flinch as Boris’s nails curled into his leather jacket.

Reluctantly, as if not wanting to take his eyes off a prize, Boris turned his bulbous head toward Carly and sniffed the air like a dog. Lev heard the whistle of the man’s breath as he inhaled.

An eyebrow shot up in a question mark. “You are dead, yet you are not one of us.” Boris’s words were more of a question than a statement. “What kind of creature are you? There is no pulsing of blood in your veins.” He scratched his nearly bald pate in puzzlement.

Lev answered for Carly, who’d been peeking out from behind him. “Carly’s not among the living. She is…well, I guess she is what people call a ghost.” She wouldn’t like him using that word to describe her, but it was the only thing that came to mind.

“Are you serious?” Boris reached around and pulled Carly from behind Lev by one slender arm. “No need to worry. I won’t hurt you.” He gave her an almost pitiful look. Like a man would give a suffering animal caught in a trap.

He studied her as if she were an object; a sculpture, letting his gaze roam from head to toe. “How is it I can see you? I’ve never seen a ghost before. I did not think they even existed.”

“I don’t think many…people can see me,” Carly said, “other than the three of you of course, but that’s because you’re, well, you’re…special.” Her voice trembled. “But since you can see things mortals can’t, how would you even know if you’ve never seen a ghost before?” She smiled. Her eyes crinkled, making her look more like a child than a grown woman.

Boris returned her smile. “Smart girl. But truly, will wonders never cease? I am still amazed by you.” He touched her hair, lifting it and letting it fan back onto her shoulders as he walked a circle around her. “And that dress? Going to a party perhaps?” He laughed.

Carly tipped her head in a gesture of respect. Boris moved away from her then and turned his attention to Lev. His smile broadened, showing crooked, stained teeth. Fangs poked through leathery gums—tissue time had hardened. “You must be Alexei’s brother. The resemblance is uncanny. You are as beautiful as he is. How is it I did not know of your existence? Alexei never spoke of you.” He stepped closer and nuzzled his face into Lev’s neck, sending a shiver of repulsion down Lev’s spine. More than anything he wanted to move away, yet instinct rooted him to the spot.

Boris ran his tongue up the length of Lev’s neck. Its sandpapery feel made Lev think of a cat. The beast took a breath, inhaling deeply. “You taste and smell divine. I am disappointed it wasn’t me who had the privilege of turning you.” He flicked his tongue once more, dragging it Lev’s jaw, then licked his lips. “But that does not mean I cannot have a taste.”

Lev’s stomach did a flip-flop, and this time he did step backward, doing his best to cover his distaste for the man. With a weak smile, he said, “Perhaps later.”

Boris’s smile faded and was replaced by a furrowed brow. “Why have you come?” His question was directed at Alexei who did a nervous little sidestep, his gaze trained firmly on the ground. A moment of silence passed as Alexei seemed to be thinking, then suddenly Boris, perhaps growing bored, let the question go.

The big Russian laughed. “What kind of host am I?”

If nothing else, he was a changeable man, Lev thought.

“Please, come inside. We will be much more comfortable there.” He started toward the front doors of his house. The trio eyed each other and reluctantly followed.

The house was huge, larger than anything Lev had ever seen. Their voices echoed in the cavernous rooms, even though they were filled to overflowing with furniture and knick-knacks. Boris was the undead’s version of a hoarder, thought Lev.

They followed him into what he announced with a grand gesture was the great room. It was a large sunken living room surrounded by couches on all sides. A fireplace so massive a man could walk right into it without even ducking, was the centerpiece. In it, a fire blazed.

Overflowing bookcases decorated the walls, and the large wooden coffee table in the middle of the arrangement of couches was cluttered with magazines, bottles, glasses, and piles of books. There were bags of potato chips on the floor and empty beer bottles lying on their sides on an area rug that had seen better days, making it look as if a raucous party had just ended. Lev wondered why a creature such as Boris, who needed nothing but blood to survive, would have food and drink around the house. Perhaps for the pleasure and entertainment of others, he thought…human others.

With one sweep of his thick forearm, Boris whisked everything from the table onto the floor. “Gerry?” he bellowed. A moment later, a skinny, young man with a large nose and close-set eyes entered. He gave a small bow.

“Clean this up and bring my guests a glass of something suitable. You know what to do.” He looked at Carly, who sat squashed between Lev and Alexei on a worn sofa. “Anything for you, my dear? Or, are you finished with the annoying necessity of having to feed oneself?”

Lev had wondered the same thing but suspected that without a body, Carly would no longer need sustenance.

“Nothing for me,” she answered.

Gerry found what he needed leaning against a wall, a broom and dustpan. Then made quick work of cleaning the mess his boss had made. As he worked, an uncomfortable silence filled the room, all but Boris didn’t seem to mind. His eyes were trained on Alexei, drinking him in. A smile grew on the creature’s face and Lev heard the whisper of his thoughts which were directed toward his brother. ‘Do not fear me, dear one. I only want to possess you.’

The hawk-nosed Gerry made his exit, arms full of garbage and a dustpan.

“I am happy to see you,” Boris said. “It has been many years.”

“Yes, a long time,” Alexei answered. He squirmed, looking more uncomfortable by the second.

“And you’ve come with your brother and a friend. What a lovely surprise!” Boris added.

Alexei gave a quick nod and let his gaze roam the dark room, not wanting to make eye contact with his maker.

Gerry was back with three tumblers filled with a viscous red liquid. Lev noticed a fresh needle mark in the crook of Gerry’s arm as he took his glass. The blood was still warm.

“A negative. A rare vintage,” Gerry whispered.

“A toast?” Boris stood, and the two men did the same. “To the return of my Alexei. I have waited an eternity for you.” The large man drank, draining his glass in one gulp. Then he banged it down on the table as if he’d just downed a shot of vodka. “Nostrovia!”

Lev looked at his brother before doing the same. Alexei’s eyes were wide and darted quickly away from his. What had gone on between Boris and his brother?

The beast sat down on the couch opposite them. It groaned in protest at his bulk. With a sly smile, he patted the spot beside him while eyeing Alexei.

Alexei cleared his throat nervously, then slowly made his way over to sit beside Boris. Without hesitation, the big man threw a thick arm around Alexei, pulling him close.

“So, is someone going to tell me why it is that I have the pleasure of your company?” Boris asked good-naturedly.

Lev spoke, thinking it best to get right to the point. “We were hoping you could help us. And by us, I mean Carly and I.”

Boris looked confused. “Whatever can I do? What is the matter?”

Lev gave Boris the details, explaining how he and Carly would have to part in just a few short days. The big man took it all in with what looked like genuine concern. Then when Lev was finished, he said, “I will help, but you will have to give to me something in return.” A devilish grin spread across his purple-tinged lips.

Alexei pulled away from Boris and got to his feet. “I’m not staying here with you if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“But I have missed you so much. You cannot imagine,” Boris cooed. “I searched high and low but could not find you, and now here you are, landing on my doorstep. Why else would you come if you did not want to see me?”

Alexei sighed and threw his brother a nasty look. “I’m here because I want to help Lev. We thought if anyone knew a way he and Carly could stay together, it would be you.”

Boris’s expression darkened. “How did you know where to find me?”

Alexei smiled sheepishly. “It’s easy nowadays. With the Internet, you can find almost anyone.”

“I do not like this Internet.” Boris brought his hands to his forehead and grimaced as if a sudden headache struck. “It makes my head spin.” Then his dark eyes narrowed, and his brows knit. “If you knew where I was, why did you not come sooner?”

Lev spoke for his brother. “I think Alexei just didn’t want to bother you,”

The big man sat back and nodded slowly as if contemplating Lev’s words, then, without warning, he was on his feet, his face a thundercloud. With one quick heave, he flipped the heavy wooden coffee table upside down as easily as if it were made of cardboard.

He touched Alexei, running a sausage finger across Alexei’s chiseled jaw. “You are beautiful, Alexei. I have not seen a creature as handsome as you in all my years, but it hurts me that you knew where I was but did not bother to come to me until now, and it is only to ask a favor.” With a meaty hand, he pulled Alexei’s face to his and kissed him on the lips. “You will not get away this time. If you want me to help your brother, then you will have to stay here with me.”

Alexei stepped away, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand, a grimace on his face. He was stopped in his tracks when he hit the first step that led up out of the great room and fell hard on his backside.

Like a hog spotting a filled trough, a squeal of delight bubbled out of Boris just before he leapt onto Alexei. Distended fangs slid like a warm knife through butter into Alexei’s neck. Lev smelled the blood as strongly as if it was under his own nose. He could almost taste it. For a moment he stood paralyzed by the scent. It made his mouth water and his fangs fall into place.

“Help him!” Carly screamed at Lev.

He turned to her, letting out a hiss. She jumped away with a whimper to hide behind a pillar of piled-up junk, but it had been enough to pull Lev from his stupor. He gave his head a shake as if to clear the cobwebs, then jumped in to help his brother who was flailing helplessly beneath Boris’s bulk.

“Get off him.” Lev pulled at the creature, but it was like tugging on a grizzly bear.

“Stop, please stop!” Carly screamed.

Lev’s head snapped in her direction. She’d emerged from her hiding place and was sitting on the floor with her hands over her face, fingers splayed so she could take a peek every now and then.

Lev wanted desperately to comfort Carly. He heard her muttering, “I have to leave. I have to get out of here. Oh, dear God, help me.” What was left of his heart, broke. Yet he had no choice but to help his brother.

With difficulty, he managed to pull his attention from Carly, wound up, and punched Boris on the side of the head with as much force as he could muster, but it did little more than annoy the man. Boris lifted his head long enough to hiss and throw a dirty look at Lev. Blood dripped thickly from his leathery lips and rolled in rivulets down his chin. How on earth would Alexei survive this?

Suddenly, a spinning circle of golden light appeared in the middle of Boris’s great room, stilling them. It hung in the air, growing larger with every revolution. Lev watched as Carly began to crawl toward it.

“No!” he cried and took a step, but Boris swatted him away as easily as a mosquito. Lev hit the corner of the coffee table with a crack and yelped in pain.

Boris stood and stared at the spinning ball of light, all interest in his meal lost.

Alexei scooted away; one shaky hand plastered over the puncture wounds in his neck.

Before Lev could get to his feet, Carly was beside the spinning circle. It had opened into some kind of portal.

She reached out and touched the golden light with a fingertip, then, without hesitation, stepped into it. No sooner had she done so, than it began to close like the aperture of a camera. Lev saw tears as she turned to face him. Then he felt his own tears slide down his cheeks. The portal grew smaller and smaller, until finally, it disappeared, taking Carly with it.

“What was that?” Boris said, staring at the spot where the golden circle had been. He sat down on the step beside Alexei, as if unaware of the brutality he’d just meted out.

Alexei moved carefully backward, crab-walking up the steps toward the door. Then as quickly as a lightning strike, he was gone, leaving Lev to fend for himself.

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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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