Beautiful Monster - The Exchange (Book One) Chapters 6 and 7

“Do you think he saw me?” Carly asked Lev.

“We know he did,” Lev answered, surprised.

Carly shook her head. “No, not Alexei, his friend.”

“Tony?” Lev asked.

“Yes. The guy you…well, the man you just attacked.”

Lev wiped at his face again to be sure he’d gotten all of the blood. He doubted Tony had seen Carly, though he couldn’t know for sure.

“So, what if he did? He’d only think you were a living, breathing woman, or perhaps a creature of the night like Alexei and I,” Lev said. “As for my brother, I have a feeling Alexei’s able to see you because of the power of his senses. He’s stronger than I am. You underestimated him.

“Yes, he saw me now, but he didn’t last night when he went to ground. I watched him come down the stairs, open his sleeping chamber and climb in,” Carly said.

Lev threw his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “Alexei is reckless. He indulges too much. He gets drunk or high by feeding from men like Tony. My brother probably just wanted to get to ground and was thinking of nothing else. And even though you look like you’re alive, you don’t have a body so he wouldn’t smell you. If you were well hidden, he just must not have noticed you.” Lev tapped a finger to his chin. “Did I ever tell you about Alexei’s turning?”

Carly shook her head. “Why bring this up now? Don’t we have more important things to talk about?”

Despite her seeming objection to the direction their conversation had taken, Lev noticed curiosity in her eyes. He’d never thought to relate that story to her. He’d always felt she was too delicate to hear it. He wanted to protect her from his world but now things were different and when he began to speak, she didn’t interrupt.

“It happened during the Bolshevik uprising in our native Russia. Boris was the name of the creature who turned my brother. He was one of Lenin’s closest friends and allies, a power-hungry, older man who embodied everything my brother abhorred. Boris, however, had taken a shine to the handsome, young Alexei.

My brother told me his turning happened aboard a train filled with men bound for the Tsar’s Winter Palace. Boris had crept up on Alexei in the early morning hours while he was asleep in his bunk. Alexei’s first thought was that the large, grotesque man was going to rape him. ‘He had a strange look in his eye,’ Alexei had said. ‘Like a ravenous lion eyeing a lamb.’

Readying himself for the attack, Alexei took hold of a handmade shiv he’d hidden under his mattress. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to put the weapon to use before Boris was on him. But, from what Alexei has told me of the beast, it would have made no difference. It would have been like trying to kill a gorilla with a toothpick.

Alexei said some of the Boris’s power had been transferred to him during his turning. He’d felt it growing inside him, like a living thing, in the days and months following the attack. A creature of the night can never be as strong as the one who’d made him. That’s just how it is—a fact, plain and simple.

Months later, Alexei was lucky enough to sneak away, and the first thing he did was pay me a visit.

At the time, I’d been working as an apprentice in a leather shop. I’d left my parent’s home and found a modest apartment. Somehow, I managed to avoid factory work, the most common job in Russia at the time, which thrilled me because the hours were grueling, and it allowed me time to pursue my passion—writing. In the evenings, I would spend hours working on poetry and short stories by candlelight. Sometimes I’d write until the candle guttered out and would awaken in the morning with my head on my desk, fingers stained black with ink.

I didn’t have many friends, and truth be told, I liked it that way. But one Saturday evening, there was a knock on my door. I was expecting no one and debated if I should even answer. But my neighbor down the hall was pregnant, and her husband often worked late. What if she needed my help? When I opened the door, there he was, Alexei, wild-eyed and pale as a sheet of my writing paper. His hair was an unkempt mess; his clothes dirty and ripped.

Alexei stood on the threshold to my apartment as if rooted to the spot. I remember what he said then as if it had happened yesterday—“Aren’t you going to invite me in, Brother?”

I nodded and gestured for him to come in from the cold. I asked what had happened. It had been years since I’d seen him.

Alexei said, ‘You thought I was dead?’

‘Yes, in the war,’ I answered.

My brother heaved a sigh and said, ‘I am.’

And those were the last words I heard as a mortal.”

Carly’s eyes widened. “Your own brother turned you? How come you never told me?”

Lev turned away. “I’m telling you now.”

“Why now?”

“Because that’s the reason Alexei has power over me. He’s my maker. He’s stronger and I will never be his equal.”

Alexei was back in the dining room now. A huge grin spread across his handsome face, pulling Lev from his story and putting an end to any more questions Carly might have asked. In telling the story to Carly, something unexpected had some to mind. Perhaps it was divine intervention, though he doubted there was anything divine about his life anymore.

“Do you know where Boris is?” Lev asked his brother.

Alexei’s smile guttered out.






Alexei cleared his throat. “Why do you want to know about Boris?”

Lev thought he heard a wobble in his brother’s voice. “I think we need to find him. He might be able to help Carly and I.”

“No! I can’t go anywhere near that pig.” Alexei shook his head and started to back out of the room. His handsome face transformed, giving him the look of a frightened child.

Confusion settled on Carly’s face as she watched the exchange between the brothers, but Lev knew now wasn’t the time to explain. Although he’d never met Boris, the fact was the man was one of a handful of ancients—creatures of the night who’d been around since the dawning of time. And because of that, Lev hoped he possessed some knowledge, something neither he nor Alexei knew of to help him stay with Carly.

Lev followed his brother. He wasn’t about to give up easily. “Boris might be able to help us. Time is of the essence. We only have two days!”

An unexpected urge to cry swelled in him, but he swallowed it. He couldn’t show weakness now, not when Alexei was so upset. His brother was a loose cannon on the best of days. Still, Lev couldn’t help but wonder why he seemed so frightened of Boris. His brother had told him stories, and he knew the man was a bully, but Alexei had always given Lev the impression he was in control—that he could handle his maker if he had to. It wouldn’t be easy to get Alexei to take him to Boris, that is, if he even knew where to find him. But Alexei was clever, Lev had to give him that. He knew a little something about everything, and what he didn’t know, he could find out. Modern technology was his brother’s passion—computers, the Internet. He even had an iPhone, something Lev didn’t have the slightest interest in. And there were occasions when Alexei hinted that he knew where Boris was. Thinking back on it now, Lev had the sudden realization his brother probably did know where his maker was, and maybe, just maybe, for some reason he also needed to know.

Lev cornered Alexei in the hallway, stepping close enough so that their faces were inches apart. He said nothing, only stared into the dark eyes that were so much like his own.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t help,” Alexei said, and for the first time in a long time, there were tears in his eyes. He pinched them away and gave his head a shake as if restoring his bravado. “Besides, you’d be crazy to take Carly anywhere near that…that monster.”

Lev slammed a fist into the wall beside his brother’s head. “Are we not monsters?”

Alexei flinched and tried to step out of the way, but Lev held his position. There was nowhere for him to go.

“No,” Alexei said finally. “We are nothing like him.”

Lev contemplated his brother’s words. He was nothing like Boris, but perhaps Alexei shared the same vicious nature as his maker. Admittedly, Lev had his moments, like the one he’d just shamefully demonstrated with Tony, but he’d never turned anyone, and he’d never taken a life.

“I don’t ask for much. You think you’re the boss around here. I stand back. I let you take the lead, but I love Carly and will do anything to stay with her. This time I will not back down.” Lev stamped a foot on the old hardwood floor, making it creak and groan.

“I am your maker,” Alexei growled and jabbed a finger into Lev’s chest. “I am the boss! If you wanted to be with Carly so badly, Brother, then why didn’t you turn her?”

Anger had Lev in rough hands. His lips peeled back to reveal fangs. “I didn’t ask to be like this. You did this to me! I know the hell of this life and I would never inflict it on someone I love.”

The sounds of Carly scrambling away to another room came to him, along with the acrid scent of fear, but it wasn’t Carly’s; it was Alexei’s.

“I was out of my mind when I turned you, Lev. You know that. I was freshly turned myself. I…I couldn’t help what I did.”

“Not true!” Lev spat. “You always wanted me to fail. Everything was okay as long as you were doing better than I was, then and only then you’d wish me well, but as soon as I was happier than you, you had to take it from me, whatever it happened to be. I know you’re glad that I’ll soon be losing another woman I love. I see it in your eyes and in the way you smile at me. Alexei, please, Carly is the one I love most of all.” Lev lashed out with a fist, sending Alexei’s head crashing into the wall behind him. A picture rattled then fell, smashing on the floor. “You will help me, or I’ll take something away you that you love.”

Alexei recovered, shaking plaster dust from his hair. “There is nothing I love.” His words came with a small sardonic laugh, making Lev stand tall and throw his shoulders back.

“You’re wrong, Brother. There is something you love very much.”

Alexei’s wide mouth twitched into a tentative smile. “What? The pretty boys I bring home? They’re nothing but playthings and food. I don’t love them; I enjoy them. That’s all.”

“I don’t mean them.”

Alexei looked puzzled. “Then what?”

“The only person who will put up with your bullshit, the only person who can stand your company. Where I’m a man who enjoys solitude, you cannot bear to be alone. You cannot exist without one thing, and that thing is me.”

Alexei giggled. “Oh my, Brother, you do think a lot of yourself. I can live without you, and if I do get lonely, I can easily find others of our kind.”

“Perhaps, but they won’t put up with you for as long as I have. Admit it, Alexei, you need me. I am your brother—your only remaining relative. Without me, you’d be lost.”

A smirk curled Alexei’s lips. “What are you going to do, run away? You want to leave anyway, with that girl.” He tossed a nod toward the room Carly had disappeared into. “So why would I want to help you do that? You said it yourself. I am…” He looked thoughtful for a moment, then continued, “the gregarious type.”

“If I can’t be with Carly, I will end my life. If that’s even what this existence can be called. What kind of life do we have, Alexei? This is no way to live.”

Alexei’s smirk fell away. “You cannot kill yourself.”

Though he said the words as if they were some kind of immutable law, they rang hollow to Lev’s ears. “You’re not so clever, Brother. You wrote it in your own hand years ago, almost as if you didn’t want to forget because there might come a day when you no longer wanted to exist. I found your diary. I know our kind can be killed. Yes, I would cease to exist, but that would be better than bearing the pain of loss over and over again as I’ve been doing.”

Alexei had done his best to brainwash him. Telling him they were immortal. That they would live to see the end of time itself, but Lev knew there were ways for creatures like him to be put out of their misery. One way was to be killed by one’s maker. In his case that meant Alexei, and he knew his brother would not do such a thing, for selfish reasons of course.

“You know nothing,” Alexei said crossing his arms.

“I know that if I turned right now and walked into the parlor where the fire is blazing in the fireplace, it would consume me, turning my so-called immortal body to ashes. I know that if I waited for sunrise and walked out into the sun, even on the coldest January day, that its rays would also turn me to ashes. There are ways, my brother, and though you did your best to make me think them fairy tales, they’re true. I will endure that pain—I will seek oblivion, if you do not take me to see Boris.”

Alexei opened his mouth as if to speak, shut it again, then ran a hand through his dark, tousled mane. With a deep, mournful sigh, he slid slowly to the floor and let his head fall into his hands. “You don’t understand. I cannot tell you where he is.” His words were barely a whisper.

“You can’t, or you won’t?”

Alexei lifted his head, a single tear slid down his cheek. “I won’t.”

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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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