Read Beautiful Monster-The Exchange Online
Authors: Jeanne Bannon
Text copyright © 2015
All Rights Reserved
~ Dedication ~
This book is
dedicated to my husband, Dave for his support and encouragement.
~ Acknowledgements ~
“Vampire” — a mythical being who subsists by feeding
on the life essence (blood) of living creatures.
Without you, dear vampire, this novella would never
have been written. I want to thank creatures of the night everywhere, from Lord
Ruthaven, attributed as one of the first vampires in English literature, to
Vlad the Impaler, who it is said inspired Bram Stoker’s,
to Elizabeth Bathory, an authentic seventeenth-century countess, said to be one
of the most bloodthirsty vampiresses of all time. And thank you fellow authors
for bringing such creatures to life. To name just a select few — Bram Stoker
), Anne Rice (
Interview with a Vampire
), Stephen King
) and, Stephenie Meyers
Thank you to my dear friend and fellow author, Sheila
Dalton for her encouragement, her kindness,
her generosity, but most of all, for her friendship.
Thank you to Helena Newton, editor extraordinaire, who
knows firsthand of my inability to properly use commas and semicolons.
There is a high road to Heaven which few
people travel; Hell hath no door, but many manage to burrow their way in.
moved swiftly through the hallways, darting in and out and around what, to him,
were slowly moving nurses and orderlies—those unfortunates working the midnight
shift. Faster than any human eye was capable of detecting, he made it to
Carly’s room in a flash. In fact, he made it there just in time, nostrils
plucking the acrid scents from the air better than any dog’s.
sat on the bed beside her in the dimly lit room and noticed, thankfully, she
had no roommate. The bed beside Carly was recently vacated. The scent of death
still lingered heavily and sadly.
her delicate hand in his, Lev noticed a monitor clipped on an index finger. It
seemed it measured her pulse and heartbeat. He noticed too that her heart was
beating slowly, though he didn’t need a monitor for that. He heard its throb,
and it made him think of a dying battery.
relief settled on him as he realized he was the first to arrive after the
accident that had left her comatose. Carly’s family was nowhere near yet. It
would take hours for them to get here from the other coast. He had time, plenty
of it. Stealthily, Lev glanced into the hallway from his perch in the darkened
hospital room. The occasional nurse strode past, but it was late, or perhaps
the better term was early. In the wee hours of the morning, there would be
fewer staff than during the day.
a sigh, he took Carly in. Her blonde hair was matted and dirty, even though it
looked as if someone had tried to clean her up, perhaps finger combing her
thick mane and tucking it behind her head. Her face was still perfect. Not a
single scratch had sullied her beauty.
knot twisted in his belly. Why hadn’t he known? He could have saved her if only
he’d known. But even Lev couldn’t know everything. It was his brother, Alexei,
who’d given him the news moments ago.
he’d said, “there’s been an accident. Go now to the hospital or you’ll never
see your precious Carly again.”
hadn’t asked the how, the why, the when. Alexei had dropped his mental
barriers. Lev felt them fall like a drawbridge. His brother had let him in. It
was easier than speaking—Lev was able to glean whatever information he needed
in an instant. But with the simple facts of Carly’s accident came the
realization his brother was happy for the turmoil. A hint of a smile had curled
Alexei’s full lips, and his eyes were bright. Lev was not surprised.
pulled his thoughts from Alexei and looked down at his beloved’s hand in his.
The pallor of it matched his own. He listened to the slow rush of blood through
her veins, willing it to grow stronger.
close, he whispered, “I can save you.” He brought her dainty wrist to his lips.
She smelled like death already—like the musk of freshly turned earth. It was
now or never. His fangs pricked at her delicate skin, drawing a bead of
crimson. It tasted of iron and copper and of her. Carly’s very essence was in
stopped himself, knowing she wouldn’t want him to go through with it. They’d
talked about it many times, about the possibility of him turning her, so they
could be together, not for just the blink of an eye that was a human lifetime
but for eternity. She would be furious if he turned her, and he wouldn’t blame
her. Lev knew the pain and sorrow of being changed into a monster against one’s
But at least she would still exist. We could still be together.
He shook off that small, but oh so inviting thought. No, he would
not make a monster of her
a flick of his tongue, he licked the droplet away. A shudder of pleasure shot
through him, and as he pushed her wrist to his mouth, like a child ready to
bite into a ripe peach, the monitor blared a warning. He dropped her arm. Panic
filled him. Carly’s pulse rose and fell suddenly. The stagnant tone of a heart
that was no longer beating blared from the machine, stabbing sharply in his
ears, but the growing silence of blood no longer pulsing through veins and
arteries seemed louder. Hesitation had cost him. His compassion, as his brother
would say, was his one true downfall.
nurses and a doctor were in the room now, buzzing frantically around Carly. Lev
had disappeared through the pane of the window unseen and watched from outside
where the moonless sky hid him. His jacket flapped in a breeze that also
tousled his long black hair. It whipped and slapped against his cheeks.
was said creatures like him could feel no pain. That they existed only as
predators—takers of life—but Lev’s world had just crumbled. If he had a beating
heart, it would be broken in two. Tears welled in his eyes, and he longed to
let them fall. No, more than that, he wanted to scream, wanted to rip his cold dead
heart from his chest and stomp on it.
gathered himself as best he could, pinching the tears from his eyes and staring
up to the heavens, but there would be no help for him there. For Lev
Baranovsky, there was no God, only this perpetual hell he lived in. Love may
come for him again in time, though he wasn’t sure he wanted it to. Would he
ever get over losing his precious Carly? The vicious cycle of love and
heartbreak was enough to drive him mad.
should go now. Carly was gone. There was nothing he could do. Even though his
brother would be at home, he needed the comfort of his own space to grieve.
looked down at the ground two stories below, and when he peered back up for one
last glimpse of his beloved, his brows lifted and his dark eyes grew to the
size of poker chips.
was dead, but she wasn’t gone.
Confusion reigned as Lev fled back to the home he shared
with his brother, Alexei. He
have seen what he thought he did.
Carly’s was dead and lost to him forever, he told himself, but another, deeper
part of him wasn’t so convinced. He’d
her. More to the point, he’d
seen two of her. One lay in the hospital bed; the other stood at the window, a
sad smile playing on her lips as she stared out at him.
Alexei met him in the hallway as he entered. He leaned
his lanky frame against the wall, arms crossed. “Is she…?” He let his words
hang in the air, though that slow smile from earlier was back.
Lev shook his head in disgust and pushed past his
brother through the double doors of the parlor, where he found refuge in the
softness of an old chair. The room was dimly lit. A soothing yellow glow
emanated from matching Tiffany lamps on antique end tables. There was something
about the parlor that always brought Lev comfort, perhaps because it was
Alexei’s least favorite part of the house.
Alexei followed and took a seat on the couch in front of
a large picture window. He sneered up at the stained glass tableau that arched
across the top of the old glass depicting an image of St. Francis of Assisi, a
crucifix in one hand, the Bible cradled to his chest with the other, and a
white dove perched upon his shoulder. Alexei had threatened more times than Lev
could count to throw a rock through the ancient stained glass. It unsettled
him, but Lev didn’t mind it. Even the crucifix didn’t bother him as long as he
didn’t stare at it for too long.
“Why do you do that?” Lev asked, finally addressing his
brother. Anger colored his voice. “You smile when I’m in pain. Do you enjoy
seeing me in agony?”
Alexei’s smile blossomed. “Brother, this is not the
first and it certainly won’t be the last time someone you love dies. I smile
only because I wonder why you haven’t learned your lesson yet.” He sounded
almost jovial, like a giggle lived just beneath the surface of his words.
Lev’s dark eyes narrowed to slits. “And what lesson is
The giggle finally emerged and, Alexei covered his mouth
with a hand. “Why do you keep falling in love?” He tucked long dark hair behind
his ears and crossed thin legs.
Lev’s brow furrowed, and a grimace replaced his frown.
“Because I’m not like you.”
“Another lesson! Wouldn’t it be easier to be like me?”
Lev thought of his brother and his endless string of
lovers. Every week a new someone would be in his bed, usually a young, good-looking
man. Sometimes he’d turn them, sometimes feed, but mostly he’d kill. It
bewildered Lev as to why these humans were so willing to give themselves to
Alexei. Yes, his brother was handsome. Some might even say extremely so, but
he, Lev, was no slouch in the looks department either. They were so similar
with their dark hair and eyes, their tall, lean frames. The real differences
were in their characters; where Alexei craved variety and excitement, Lev
sought stability. Foolish, he knew, to search for something he could never
Carly was different from the other women he’d loved. The
others thought of him as a dalliance, a toy, a dangerous plaything, but Carly
had something he’d never seen—something precious. It was innocence, and it
compelled him to protect her.
And there was something else. She treated him as if he
were normal. He loved that especially. But if he’d wanted to keep her in his
life, he would have had to steal from her those very things he loved most. If
he turned Carly, her innocence would be shattered. She’d become something not
quite human, a creature like him. Lev would never be able to forgive himself
for being so selfish. As much as he yearned for her to be by his side forever,
he knew it would change their love.
The shock of what happened to Carly clung to him like a
guilty conscience. He’d thought they’d have more time. Much more. She was only
twenty-five! A human could live to be eighty or even older, but would he love
her when she was an old lady and he still a young man in his prime?
Alexei broke into Lev’s thoughts. “Would you like to go
For Alexei, going out signaled he was either hungry or
horny. Lev shook his head. “You go and leave me be.” He yearned for solitude,
but his brother was insensitive, not able to pick up on cues, or maybe it was
simply that he didn’t give a shit.
Alexei was now at his side, one long-fingered hand on
Lev’s knee. “You need to get out, to take your mind off her. She was just a
silly human after all. Nothing to get depressed about.”
Fury finally blossomed in Lev, and he flew to his feet.
He lunged for Alexei’s throat and wrapped a hand like a vise around his
brother’s neck. With momentum fueled by rage, he smashed Alexei up against the
wall. Books crashed from the floor-to-ceiling shelves, splatting on either side
of them like huge bugs.
Alexei choked out a laugh and peeled Lev’s fingers from
his throat with little difficultly. “Perhaps it’s better if we stay in tonight.
The day will be breaking in a few hours anyway.” He swatted Lev aside as if he
were nothing more than a mosquito buzzing around his head.
Lev turned to leave, the fight in him replaced by
sorrow. The high pitch of Alexei’s laughter followed him as he made his way to
the top step of the basement. Then a small voice rang out in his head, at first
distant and tinny. But there was no mistaking it was Carly’s. It can’t be, he
told himself. It can’t be!
It came again, an eerie whisper. “There’s no such thing
He wheeled around and saw her. It
she was different. Translucent and ethereal, yet still his beautiful Carly, the
way he remembered her when he’d last seen her alive. The night of their last
date—a carriage ride through the park. They’d kissed their way through the
entire thing, missing all the sights without regret.
Her hair was down, its soft curls cascading over pale
shoulders. Azure eyes held the innocence he loved. She wore a silky red gown as
if she were dressed for a fancy party. It clung exquisitely to her sensuous
frame. He smelled her too. The lavender scent of her shampoo and perfume, the
one she always wore. It wafted around him now, as she moved closer. He smiled
and his heart leapt. “Carly?” Lev’s voice dropped to a breath. “Is it really
Silence stretched between them like a small forever. She
smiled; he smiled, but then he gave his head a slow shake of wonder. No! This
was a hallucination brought on by grief. Carly was gone. Dead and gone. But
when he looked again, she was still there, floating inches from the ground. He
saw the swish of her silky dress as it brushed the top of her feet. Painted
toenails peeked through the front of her strappy heels.
She drifted forward, and a deep tremor ran through him.
“No. You’re not real!” Lev stepped backward, lost his
footing, and tumbled awkwardly down the stairs, until he landed at the bottom.
A plume of dust and dirt puffed out from under him like a small cloud.
He sat still as a statue, staring as if in a trance as
Carly floated down the stairs to join him.