The industrial park stretched out empty and deserted. All Chaz could hear were the gulps of air he drank in. All he could feel was pain. Physical as he looked down at his side and emotional as he looked down at the victim. He knew which hurt more.
Damn it all to hell and back again.
He fell to his knees beside her body. Agony ripped at his heart as he watched blood pulse out of the two holes in her neck.
Why didn’t it try to kill him? Why did it turn tail and run? Why was Stacy alive and this woman dying?
Sometimes there weren’t any answers. Sometimes there was simply fate.
Without a choice, Chaz reached into his pocket and withdrew the Holy Water. He had a promise to uphold, a vow to keep. He wouldn’t let an innocent victim turn into a vampire.
He heard Stacy’s cautious approach, knew she had no concept of what had just happened. But he didn’t stop. He simply uncapped the bottle, placed a drop on his thumb, and made the sign of the cross over the first hole. The woman’s skin sparked and sizzled. God, he hated the smell of burning blood on flesh.
“You. By the body. Back away now.”
That was not going to happen.
“In Nomeni Patri,” he whispered.
“I’m not kidding.”
She had no idea who or what he was. She wasn’t supposed to. Right now, he was a thief or a mugger or even a Good Samaritan. He definitely wasn’t a vampire.
Taking a deep breath, Chaz repeated the action over the second hole. “Et Fili,” he whispered, letting the air out slowly.
“Put your hands over your head where I can see them.”
He couldn’t. He had a job to do.
“Et Spiritus Sanct.”
“I’m a cop. Step away from the body. Now! That’s an order!”
He held his hand over the holes. As he lifted it up, he watched them close slowly until they disappeared.
“If you don’t put your hands up over your head where I can see them right now, I swear I’ll shoot.”
“Amen” he whispered.
Chaz sat back on his heels and breathed a sigh of relief. As much as he wanted to answer Stacy, he knew he still owed this soul his respect. This innocent deserved the right to die in peace.
Using a syringe filled with the same fluid, he lifted his arm, arched down, stabbed the needle into her heart, and pushed the plunger in. The woman’s body jerked, then she sighed.
Stacy continued to approach from behind. He could hear her short, shocked breaths. He could sense her horror and dismay. Stacy might be a cop, and she might be well versed in the causes of death because of her profession, but Chaz was certain she’d never seen anyone killed before her very eyes.
Which made him want to go to her and fold her in his arms. But he couldn’t. Nor could he comply with her requests to back off. Not yet. Instead, he leaned forward and closed the woman’s eyes hoping the last thing she saw were the stars in the night sky, and not the creature draining her life from her body.
“Don’t touch her or I’ll shoot.”
Did Stacy really think a bullet would stop him any more than it would stop a rogue? Then he realized that Stacy was reacting as she’d been taught. She’d been a beat cop once. And even though he desperately wanted to comfort her, he still owed this soul a gentle passing. So Chaz locked her out of his mind and focused on the guard lying on the cold ground.
“It’s all right. Go now. Be at peace,” he whispered.
“Did you hear me?”
A slow burn ignited inside his belly. Why couldn’t Stacy understand? Why couldn’t she back off for a couple more moments?
Chaz closed his eyes as he sensed the guard’s life force slip into that place between life and death.
“I’m not kidding,” she warned again.
Chaz sat back on his heels again wondering if things could get any worse. Reality was that a woman had been brutally slain this night. Because of who and what he was. The fantasy was that the terror of this evening had brought the one person he wanted here above all others. Stacy stood not more than two feet away from him.
Oh, and the abject irony of this situation? While all he wanted to do was have her smile at him, just once more, and let the scent of her shampoo linger in his nostrils, she had a gun trained on his back.
He remembered each moment of their first meeting. She’d been going into the bar, he’d been leaving. He always had time to admire the rolling gate of an athletic woman and grinned as she passed by. He held the door for her and she smiled. What happened next made a mockery of this night. For her bright blue gaze became as inviting as the ocean of the tropics and her face lit up with genuine warmth, enough warmth for him to drown in.
His heart welled with the familiar pain of denial.
After that, it had been easy to find out who she was. And what she did for a living. So the question became, was the true abject irony who she was, or what she did for a living?
He heard the gun cock and couldn’t believe his ears.
Oh no. She was not serious.
Yes, she was. Because in her world, he was a nightmare. And in his world, she couldn’t exist.
Chaz whirled to face the one woman he needed beyond the fear of reprisal and could never have.
Ah God. His side. Pain, one hundred times that of what a human would feel, scorched through him. The wound. From the rogue. It hadn’t really closed yet and he could feel a warm wetness on his skin. His hand clenched his side. As he pulled it away, he looked down and found his fingers covered in blood.
He was on his feet and standing in Stacy’s face in the space of less than a heartbeat. In the space of another, he plucked the gun out of her grasp and threw it away where it skittered across the tarmac. The sound shivered down his spine.
His hands gripped her shoulders, pushing her back. The events of the night jelled into a giant ball of anger begging to be released.
“You were going to shoot me. I can’t believe you were going to shoot me.”
Her jaw fell open. She didn’t say a word. She simply stared at him, as if she couldn’t believe she was seeing what she was seeing. He knew what his face looked like, sharp, angular, ready to unleash the animal that raged inside. Her eyes widened in subliminal recognition.
“Who are you?”
Inside his heart he knew the real question—not who but what.
Pain and loss. His gaze searched her face looking for the inner warmth and beauty he’d found but knew could never be his.
“How could you do that to me?” he cried. “Are you crazy?”
“I’m a cop.”
Was. As if that answered everything. As if that justified everything.
Chaz forced her back until she was up against the wall of a building. “Goddamn you,” he bit out. “You were going to use that gun on me. Weren’t you? Weren’t you?”
Each question tore into him, more hurtful than his wound. She didn’t answer right away. Instead, her gaze changed. Accused him. As if all of this was his fault. It was. And that was when Chaz realized the hole he’d dug for himself. He was going to have to make her believe in the unreal—and the undead.
“What are you?” The question came out barely above a whisper. Ah, finally. The most important question of them all.
“Your worst nightmare,” he bit out, hating what he was but hating what he’d have to do to her even more.
“Take your hands off me and step back away from me now. I’m very serious. If you don’t, I’m going to take you down and haul your ass into jail.”
His fingers dug into her shoulders in frustration. Could she really do that?
“I’m not a perp. Don’t you understand? I was trying to help that woman,” he continued. “Not hurt her.”
Stacy chopped his arms from her shoulders, spun under and around, and started scrambling towards her gun. Chaz caught up to her, reached out, grabbed her arm, and hauled her up against his body. Rather than be frightened, she stood in front of him undaunted.
Her confusion turned to righteous anger, sparking a fire in her gaze right back at him. “And I told you to back off. You were supposed to listen. People that don’t end up with the consequences.”
“Consequences? You want to talk about consequences? You almost died just now. Did you know that? Did you know that?” he shouted at her. Fear for her safety shook at every fiber of his being.
Her expression got to him. “I live with death every day.”
“Yeah? Well, I’m the living dead.”
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