e’d been created for one purpose—death. He was not there to comfort or to enlighten.
Keenan’s only job was to bring death to those unlucky enough to know his touch.
And on the cold, windy New Orleans night, his latest victim was in sight. He watched her from his perch high atop the St. Louis Cathedral. Mortal eyes wouldn’t find him. Only those preparing to leave the earthly realm could ever glimpse his face so he didn’t worry about shocking those few humans who straggled through the nearby square.
No, he worried about nothing. No one. He never had. He simply touched and he killed and he waited for his next victim.
The woman he watched tonight was small, with long, black hair, and skin a pale cream. The wind whipped her hair back, jerking it away from her face as she hurried down the stone steps of the cathedral. The doors had been locked. She hadn’t made it inside. No chance to pray.
He slipped to the side of the cathedral, still watching her as she edged down the narrow alleyway. Pirate’s Alley. He’d taken others from this place before. The path seemed to scream with the memories of the past.
That wasn’t the past screaming. His body stiffened. His wings beat at the air around him. It was
Nicole St. James. Schoolteacher. Age twenty-nine. A woman who tutored children on the weekends. A woman who’d tried to live her life just right ...
A woman who was dying tonight.
His eyes narrowed as he leapt from his perch. Time to go in closer.
Nicole’s attacker had her against the wall. One of the man’s hands was over her mouth, the better to make sure she didn’t scream again. His other hand slammed against the front of her chest and held her pinned against the cold stone wall.
She was fighting harder than Keenan had really expected. Struggling. Kicking.
Her attacker just laughed.
And Keenan watched—as he’d always watched. So many years ...
Tears streamed down Nicole’s cheeks.
The man holding her leaned in and licked them away.
Keenan’s gut clenched. Knowing that her time was at hand, he’d watched Nicole for a few weeks now. He’d slipped into her classroom and listened to the soft drawl of her voice. He’d watched as her lips curled into a smile and a dimple winked in her right cheek.
He’d seen laughter in her eyes. Seen longing. Seen ... life.
Now her green eyes were filled with the stark, wild terror that only the helpless can truly know.
He didn’t like that look in her eyes. His hands clenched.
Don’t look if you don’t like it.
His gaze pulled away from her face. The job wasn’t about what he liked. It never had been.
There’d never been a choice.
They have the choices
I only have orders to follow.
That was way it had always been. So why did it bother him, now? Because it was her? Because he’d watched too much? Slipped beside her too often?
“This is gonna hurt ...”
The man’s grating whisper scratched through Keenan’s mind. Neither the attacker nor Nicole could see him. Not yet.
One touch—that was all it would take.
But the time hadn’t come for her yet.
“The wind’s so loud ...” The man lifted his hand off Nicole’s mouth. “No one’s gonna hear you scream anyway.”
But she still screamed—a loud, long, desperate scream—and she kept fighting.
Keenan truly hadn’t realized she’d struggle so much against death. Some didn’t fight at all when the time came. Others fought until he had to drag them away.
Fabric ripped. Tore. The guy had jerked her shirt, rending the material. Keenan glimpsed the soft ivory of her bra and the firm mounds of her breasts.
The urge came from deep within, but it was an urge he couldn’t heed.
“Don’t!” Nicole yelled. “Please—no! Just let me go!”
Her attacker lifted his head. Keenan stared at him, noting the gaunt features, the black hair, and the eyes that were too dark for a normal man. “No, baby. I’m not lettin’ you go.” The guy licked his lips. “I’m too damn hungry.” Then he smiled and revealed sharpened teeth that no human could possess.
Figured. Keenan had been cleaning up their messes for centuries.
That’s what all those parasites were. An experiment gone wrong.
Nicole opened her mouth to scream again and the vamp sank his teeth into her throat. Then he started drinking from her, gulping and growling and Nicole’s fingernails raked against his face as she struggled against him.
But it was too late to fight. She’d never be strong enough to break away from the vampire. She was five feet six inches tall. Maybe one hundred thirty-five pounds.
The vamp was over six feet. He was lean, but muscle mass and weight didn’t really matter—not when you were talking about a vamp’s strength.
Keenan stared at the narrow opening of the alley. Soon, he’d be able to touch her and her nightmare would end.
“You’re just going to stand there?”
Her voice cracked.
His head whipped back toward her. Those green eyes—fury and fear—were locked on
She shouldn’t see him yet. It wasn’t time. The vamp hadn’t taken enough blood from her.
Nicole slammed her hands into the vampire’s chest, but he kept his teeth in her throat and didn’t so much as stumble. Her neck was tilted back, her head angled, and her stare was on—
“Help me.” She mouthed the words as tears slipped down her cheeks. “Please.”
Her plea seemed to slip right inside of him. “I will.” The words felt rusty, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d talked to a human. No need for talk, not really. Not when you were just carting souls. “Soon ...”
The vamp’s head lifted. Her blood stained his mouth and chin. “Baby, you taste so good.”
Her body slumped as her knees buckled. Keenan’s wings stretched behind him even as his muscles tensed.
“Grade Fucking A,” the vamp muttered and he eased back.
Why stop feeding
? The vamp planned to kill her. Keenan knew that. Nicole St. James was dying tonight.
Nicole’s hand rose to her throat. Her fingers were shaking. “Y-you’re not real ...” Her eyes never left Keenan.
“Oh, I’m damn real.” The vamp swiped the back of his hand over his chin. “Guess what, sweet thing? All those stories you heard? About the vamps and this city? Every damn one of ’em tales is true.”
Nicole didn’t look at the vamp. She kept her eyes on Keenan as she inched her way down the alley. With every slow move, her hands pressed against the wall.
“You gonna run?” The vamp taunted. “Oh, damn, I love it when they run.”
Yes, he did. Most vampires did. They liked the thrill of the hunt.
“Why don’t you help me?”
She yelled at Keenan, and the wind took the words, making them into a whisper as they left the alley.
That was the way of Pirate’s Alley. Sometimes, no one could ever hear the screams.
The vampire seemed to finally realize his prey wasn’t focused on him. The vamp spun around, turning so that he nearly brushed against Keenan. “What the fuck?” The guy demanded. “Bitch, no one’s—”
Nicole’s footsteps pounded down the alley.
Keenan almost smiled. Had she ever even seen him? Or had her words all been a trick to escape?
The vampire laughed, then he lunged after her. Four steps and the parasite leapt at her, tackling Nicole to the ground, and keeping her trapped in the alley. Glass shattered when she fell—a beer bottle that had been tossed aside. She crashed into it and the bottle smashed beneath her weight.
“You’re gonna beg for death,” the vamp promised her.
Perhaps. Keenan slowly stalked toward them. He lifted his hand, aware of the growing cold in the air. The stories about death’s cold touch were true. Nicole’s time was at hand.
“Please, God, no!” Nicole cried.
God had other plans. That was why an angel of death had been sent to collect her.
The vamp’s hands were at her throat. His claws dug into her skin. The scent of decay and cigarettes swirled in the air around Keenan.
“Flowers,” Nicole whispered. “I smell ...”
Angels often carried a floral scent. Humans caught a trace of that scent all the time, but never realized they weren’t alone.
The vamp sank his teeth into Nicole’s throat again. She didn’t even have the voice to scream now. Tears leaked from her eyes.
Keenan knelt beside her. The first time he’d seen her, he’d thought ...
Now, covered in garbage and blood, still fighting a vampire, still struggling to live ...
It was time. His hand lifted toward her and hovered over her tangled hair. His fingers were so close to touching her. Just an inch, maybe two, separated them. But ...
Why couldn’t someone else have come into the alley this night? A cop? A college kid? Someone
And not someone who was just supposed to watch her suffer.
A fire burned in his gut. She didn’t deserve this brutal end to her human life. From what he’d seen, Nicole had been
She’d tried to help others. His jaw ached and he realized he’d been clenching his teeth.
His gaze drifted to the vampire. It would be so easy to stop him and take one more monster from the world.
The order burned into his mind. He wasn’t supposed to interfere. That wasn’t the way. Wasn’t allowed. He was to collect his charge and move on. Those were the rules.
He’d take Nicole St. James this night, and someone else would wait on him tomorrow. There were always more humans. More souls. More death.
Her hands fell limply to her sides as the vampire drank from her, and her head turned toward Keenan.
There was gold buried in her eyes
. He’d thought her eyes were solid emerald, but now he could see the gold glinting in her eyes. Angels had strong vision—in darkness or light—but he’d never noticed that gold before.
Her eyes locked right on him. She was so close to passing. He had no doubt that she saw him then.
“Don’t worry,” he told her. The vampire wouldn’t hear him. No one but Nicole would hear his voice. “The pain is already ending for you.” His hand still reached for her. He’d wanted to touch her before. To see if her skin was as soft as it looked. But he knew just how dangerous such a touch would be—to both of them.
Keenan well understand what happened to those of his kind when they did not obey their orders.
Despite popular belief, angels were not the favored ones. They did not have choices like the humans. Angels had only duty.
“I don’t ...” Her words were barely a whisper. Had the vamp already savaged her neck too much for speech? “D-don’t ... want to ... die ...”
The vamp gulped down her blood, growling as he drank.
“Don’t ... let me ...” Her lashes began to fall. The fingers of her right hand began to curl inward, and her wrist brushed against the jagged glass. “Die ...”
There was so much desperation in her voice, but he’d heard desperation before. Heard fear. Heard lies. Promises.
But he’d never heard them from
Keenan didn’t touch her. His hand eased back as he hesitated.
He’d taken a thousand souls. No, far more. But her ...
Why her? Why tonight? She’s barely lived.The vamp should be the one to go, not—
Nicole let out a guttural groan. Keenan blinked and his wings rustled behind him. No, he had a job to do. He
Nicole grabbed a thick shard of broken glass and wrenched it up. She shoved it into the vampire’s neck and caught him right in the jugular. His blood spilled over her as the vamp jerked back, howling in pain and fury.