Copyright © 2013 Lexxie Couper
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Fred walked away from the lifeguard, the stiletto heels of her boots not even remotely sinking into the soft white sand. The coastal breeze caressed her face and arms and she pulled in a long breath, enjoying its heat even as the blazing midday sun sucked the moisture from the flesh of the humans—oblivious to her existence—around her. Summer in Australia. Hot. Hotter. Hottest. She was glad she’d ditched the stifling cloak.
Adjusting the sunglasses on her face, she sidestepped a teenage couple making out on a beach towel, casting them a detached yet curious look. He would live for another sixty-five years before dying in a car accident, she would die in five years of advanced skin cancer. Fred tsked, noting the gleaming oil smeared over the girl’s bare flesh. As if humans didn’t have enough to deal with in their short time, they had to go and seek her out any chance they could, all in the name of beauty.
She shook her head, following the waterline away from the commotion still unfolding behind her. The paramedics would not revive the drowned man, no matter how skilled or tenacious they were. All she’d left them was an empty skin-wrapped lump of meat and bones.
The icy tingle in the pit of her belly she experienced after every claiming whispered through her, feeding her magic. It nourished her power, sated the demon within. Today however, it also felt wrong. Not because the soul she’d removed from the mortal coil—Richard Michael Peabody—was a closet pedophile who deserved to die. That very morning he’d raped—for the tenth time—his six-year-old niece while his twin sister attended a doctor’s appointment. Fred felt no remorse for Peabody. The human male deserved to have his life extinguished. He most definitely deserved the eternal damnation awaiting him. When it came to mortal monsters like Peabody, Fred enjoyed her job. But today, even with the tingle in her core and the sure knowledge of just punishment about to be met, she felt conflicted.
Every soul she claimed, every life thread she severed she did with pride. Her purpose was ultimate. Life could not exist without Death. If she didn’t do what she did, humanity would pay the price. That didn’t mean however, that she was emotionless. She felt no pity for Peabody, really, who would? But she couldn’t help feel sorry for the lifeguard who’d tried so hard to save him.
She’d seen many EMOs at work, but none were as aggressively determined to thwart her work as the lifeguard. It was as though the very idea of losing Peabody assaulted him. Wounded him. Raw energy had poured from him in intoxicating waves as he’d fought to save the vile man’s life, almost as powerful and energizing as the sun above.
Uninvited, an image of the lifeguard filled Fred’s head and she pulled in a soft, appreciative breath. Now there was a tenacious son of a bitch. Not just tenacious, but damn fine to look at as well. Tall, lean and sinewy with smooth skin kissed bronze by the sun and shaggy blonde hair bleached golden by its solar rays. His eyes were a fierce, piercing green, his nose strong and hawkish, his lips totally kissable even when clenched together in stubborn denial.
A soft beat pulsed between Fred’s thighs and she took another swift breath, surprised at the reaction. It had been a long time since she’d been aroused by a mortal. The last—an arrogant but brilliant Roman general with a nose just like her lifeguard and a succinct way with words—had dumped her for a snooty Egyptian queen with an asp fetish.
She turned her mind back to the Australian, remembering the way he looked as he ran from the sea with water streaming over his lean, muscular body, the sun highlighting broad, strong shoulders, snug blue swimming shorts hugging narrow hips. It was a good memory. A potent memory.
The heat between Fred’s thighs pulsed again and, despite the warm breezes blowing across the ocean, her nipples pinched into tight peaks. Something about the lifeguard intrigued her. Not just his fierce battle to deny her, but something else. Something different.
She strode along the sand, a detached, professional part of her mind marking those around her for their time, and thought of Peabody’s failed rescue. Like the lifeguard, something about it had felt…what? Wrong? No, wrong wasn’t the correct word, especially to describe the lifeguard. Yummy. That was a good word to describe the lean Australian with the messy blonde hair. Sexy as sin another one. Well, another three, actually. Unusual however, was the word she was looking for to describe his rescue attempt.
What was it about the sequence of events?
The lifeguard works on the drowning man’s body, pounding against the man’s fleshy chest with his palms, the sun turning his smooth muscular back to a bronzed sheen. The subtle heat of the day kisses her arms and neck and cheeks as she watches him battle the inevitable. The sound of the pedophile’s perverted, weakening heartbeat vibrates through her core, feeding the familiar tingle in her gut as she prepares to sever his life thread… She leans over the lifeguard to touch Peabody and the salty bite of the lifeguard’s sweat threads into her being like mist. She turns her head, for some reason wanting to see his eyes, wanting see if they burn with the same fierce determination she feels radiating from him. She looks at him…and he looks at her, his soft breath fanning her face.
Fred froze, the sounds of the beach—seagulls screeching, swimmers splashing, people laughing—sucked away by stunned shock.
He looked at her.
He could see her.
That’s impossible, Fred. The living can’t see you until the very moment you claim them. Not unless you choose for them to do so and you sure as hell didn’t choose for this guy to see you today.
But he had seen her. He’d looked straight at her, and it was only now, with the post- claiming buzz fading to a soft tingle, that she realized it. He’d seen her.
How in all the levels of hell could he see you?
No, he couldn’t. The living didn’t see her. She prevented it. The Powers prevented it.
Wishful thinking? Maybe your starved libido is making you see things?
Before she could stop herself, she turned and gave the lifeguard a long, hard inspection from across the sand.
He sat beside Peabody’s inert body, head buried in his hands, broad shoulders slumped. She’d seen this very pose before. The position of a defeated human. But unlike others in this situation, anger radiated from the man. Anger. Not misery, or self-centered contemplation. Anger. Simmering, tangible anger.
Fred cocked an eyebrow, her sex squeezing in base appreciation. Who are you, Mr. Tall, Bronzed and Brooding?
Stare locked on the increasingly intriguing man, she tapped into the List of the Living threaded into her very existence, seeking the answer.
But all that surfaced from the never-ending database was a name and date of birth. Patrick Anthony Watkins. Born February 29th 1972.
Fred frowned. “That can’t be right. Where’s his date of death?”
From the moment of conception, the time and cause of death of every living creature with a soul was predetermined. The Order of Actuality demanded it. From the smallest baby to the leader of the free world, their lifespan was locked in a fixed time frame, imprinted on their very genetic fiber.
All, it seemed, except Patrick Watkins. Which made him a…
Fred narrowed her eyes, regarding him across the busy beach. The sun beat down on those around her, drawing moisture from their pores, turning the heavily populated strip of sand to a wavering shimmer of silver light and color, yet Patrick Watkins remained sharp in clarity. Just Patrick. Filling her vision and her core.
She studied him closely and then shook her head. Well, whatever he was he wasn’t a demon. He possessed a soul. She could feel its pure, spiritual presence pouring from him, even from this distance. A blazing white essence of life and humanity so strong it made her blood sing and her skin tingle. Frowning, she tilted her head to the side, looking at him through the darkness of her sunglasses. It didn’t make sense. If he had a soul, he should have a date of death. So why was she drawing a complete blank?
And why, in the name of the Powers, was she so damned turned on? Did the man’s ambiguity have anything to do with it? Or was it just because he was smolderingly sexy?
Fred shook her head again. She needed answers. And another closer look.
Because you want answers, or because you want to check him out again?
The unbidden and way-too-close-to-the-bone thought made her sex constrict in a firm, warm pulse of eager anticipation. She couldn’t touch him, but she could look. She could look a lot. She could take her visual fill of him because the living could not see her. No matter what her foolish mind insisted it saw.
A tense pressure welled in her chest and, turning away from the sight of Patrick kneeling beside the empty pedophile’s body, she released a long, dragged out sigh.
It was a sad fact of her existence she could no longer ignore. She, Death, the Grim Reaper, El Muerte, Cronus, Azreal, the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse, had become a Peeping freakin’ Tom.
Gritting her teeth, Fred stormed along the high-tide line, fighting like hell to ignore the damp tightness between her thighs. “Fantastic.”
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Length: 272 pages
Published: March 19, 2013
Artist: Angela Waters
When it comes down to love or duty, pick a side—and pray your heart survives.
A Principatus story.
Death exists for one purpose and one purpose only: to sever the life-threads of the living. She does her job with pride and an unwavering commitment. Nothing ruffles her. Until she encounters Patrick Watkins.
The Australian lifeguard pushes all her buttons—and makes her tailbone itch like crazy. And when her tailbone itches, it means trouble is brewing. Big trouble.
As far as Patrick’s concerned, everything Death tells him is a load of bull. But what if she’s right? How is he expected to save mankind from the worst fate of all—the Apocalypse? Especially when all he can think about is how quickly he’s falling in love with the most feared Horseman of them all…
Product Warnings: This book was previously published under the title Death, the Vamp and his Brother.