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The Immortal Beside Me, Book II

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Guess who is back? Keagan is all grown up and a detective in a small town. His past haunts him and with good reason. Another familiar face appears, mayhem ensues, and he's chasing a murderer.

Fantasy / Thriller
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

Keagan “Lynch” Tackett was in trouble. He had been placed in a chair, his hands cuffed behind his back. From the burning sensation he felt on his skin, he assumed they were made with a special silver alloy. He was stripped from the waist up, which showed the many scars scattered about his body. Lynch’s feet were bare. The parts of his body exposed were covered in sweat. He supposed this was part of the deal. The room where he was held captive was a fairly large basement, probably at least nine hundred square feet. Of course, he actually wasn’t in the right place or had the proper time to measure it. There were materials in here that normally belonged in a lab, such as chemistry equipment, slides, microscopes, lab coats, etc. It seemed like the perfect scene for a horror movie.

He eyed the two people standing before him. One was male, standing approximately six feet six with light blond hair that had just begun to thin. He looked to be in his early fifties, but his age was almost impossible to tell in his timeless face. His cheekbones were highly set on his face, giving him a distinct Nordic look. His eyes were ice blue, nearly translucent in color. If one stared into them long enough, that person just might go crazy. He wore an old fashioned set of spectacles that seemed as if they were from another time. The other person in the room was female. She stood much shorter than the man, at least by a foot. Her hair was shoulder length, very light blonde, and fell in thick waves down her back. Her hair would be a problem later; she should have tied it back. She just hadn’t thought that far ahead. Her eyes were the same shade of blue as the man’s. The two of them could have been brother and sister. The only exception was her facial structure. She had delicate features, not prominent cheekbones like her male counterpart.

Lynch thought at one time or another, he knew the names of these people. His memory was failing him at a geometric rate. He was beginning to forget his own details, his name, his age, where he lived. It was an unbalanced feeling, one very uncomfortable. He couldn’t help it. Right now, he didn’t care. He wanted free of these bonds so she could take care of the two people bent toward torturing him.

He began to struggle against his bonds until the metal burned his wrists. He tried to give them a harsh curse, but it seemed his vocal cords did not want to work. He couldn’t speak or think of any words to properly describe what he felt. The tall man watched him as the woman went to a small refrigerator sitting nearby. His eyes made out several syringes within the fridge. Vaguely, he wondered what the hell they were doing. She took one and squirted out some of the clear liquid inside. As soon as he saw that she was nearing him, his struggle increased tenfold. He didn’t know who she was or what she intended to do. What he did know was there was no way she was injecting him with whatever filled the inside of that syringe.

Snarling, he spat and fought. Snarling? What the hell? Since when did he snarl? The more he struggled against the bonds, the sicker he felt. What was happening to him? Would anyone ever explain it? The female drew closer and closer with the syringe until she was upon him. He snapped at her, bloodying his bottom lip in the process. Quickly, surely, she took the syringe and inserted the needle into the big vein in the bend of his elbow. When her chore was done, she stood back with the man and watched cautiously.

“Do you think it’s going to work?” She asked worriedly.

The man rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I don’t know. We’ll see soon enough. He responded quickly the last time we had to change the formula.”

After a painstakingly twenty minutes or so, Lynch’s respiration slowed, his heart rate dropped, and the sweat stopped pouring down his body. He watched as the man smiled and the woman began to shed a few tears. It took a moment for him to realize he knew who they were. The man was Andy Hoff and the woman Jenna Vos. Although he had seen Lydia Coyfield three hundred years ago, he didn’t understand or would ever comprehend that Jenna Vos was the mirror image of a woman long since dead. Was his attraction to her from the burnt ashes of his pa’s heart?

As a precaution, Andy and Jenna left Lynch shackled to the chair until they were certain the compound had done its job. This was part of the process as well. He remembered now. His name was Keagan Conner Tackett, known as “Lynch” to his friends and co-workers. He was certain that vampires didn’t exist. Lynch couldn’t say the same about lycanthropes. He had a good reason for denying one while believing the other existed. After all, he was a lycan or werewolf on his bad days.

The couple he thought was hurting him was actually trying to help him. They were his caretakers. Out of the two, Jenna was the scientist. She created the compounds that kept him from fully transforming into his lycan form. Without it, he had the potential to cause a lot of harm to many people. Andy took care of his personal needs while serving as one of his closest confidants. Of course, Jenna served in that capacity as well. Still, there were just things men needed to tell men. Both Jenna and Andy conducted extensive research on the proteins and enzymes to use as a way to keep him in check. If the circumstances weren’t so tragic, the way they went about it so cautiously might have been pretty damned funny. They asked delicate questions, kept their work private, and if asked, lied shamelessly.

When meeting people, Lynch told them he was thirty-five years old, when in fact, he was much older. His birth occurred over three hundred years ago. He had a regular life, normal job, and carried on as any human would. What type of work did he do? Well, according to myths, legends, and popular horror flicks, he should have been out in the woods, kidnapping virgins for which to snack. That certainly wasn’t the case. He was a Detective First Grade at the LeVale Police Department. Thinking about what he did, it actually wasn’t a normaljob for a lycan. He had always been drawn to law enforcement, long before the two words had been spoken. His strong sensitivity led him toward resolutions to crimes when other police departments would have remained stumped. All his life, he had held some type of position where his best talents lay. He, Jenna, and Andy lived in a south central state that had long, cold winters and even longer, brutal summers.

As far as he knew, he was the only immortal on the planet. Centuries ago, his father said one immortal would know if another existed. This theory had been overused numerous times in horror movies, but Lynch knew this statement to be one of two in a cauldron of lies. The other was silver. He was ultra-sensitive to it. Silver wouldn’t kill a lycan unless it was used in copious amounts. The point was, immortals just knew. Besides that, no one had sought him out. Perhaps it could have had something to do with his sparkling personality or lack thereof.

Whatever the case, Lynch had become immune to one compound and Jenna had had to create another. Since he had gotten his senses back, he supposed the new one was going to work. For how long? He didn’t know. Whenever they ran out of ideas, Jenna and Andy were instructed to shackle, kill, and burn his body.

For years now, Jenna had asked him to give her an immortal kiss so that he wouldn’t be on the planet alone, and to prevent his eventual death. He couldn’t do it. She was a good girl, terribly confused, but good. He wished he could say that the urges of the flesh went away with time. They didn’t. Two immortals were unable to reproduce. Two dead things couldn’t make a life. Lynch came to be because his mother was a lycan and his father was human. Although Jenna could technically carry his child, he wouldn’t put her through that. She deserved to have a life, be a wife, and a mother; all the things good girls do. She definitely did not deserve the curse of immortality.

Andy and Jenna were what southerners called ‘shirt-tail’ relatives. The two belonged to families that had assisted him since a traumatic event forced him to kill humans, something strictly against the rules of life his father taught him when he was fourteen years old. Before the Vos family became involved, the Hoffs were steadily in his life in some form or another. Andy tried to pass himself off as a servant, a house man. In actuality, he was the brains behind the entire operation and knew everything about immortals that would turn some people’s hair white. If Jenna couldn’t find what they needed, Andy always could.

After such a dramatic experience, Lynch was fully back into his human form now. Jenna and Andy released his bonds. It was time for him to pass out now, to sleep it off, so to speak. Sometimes he slept for a few hours, while at times, he slept for days. It was typical to call in for a sick day. He was certain this time would be no exception. He felt like a busy infant who hadn’t slept all day. As soon as his head hit the pillow, he was out.

Several days later, Lynch awoke in his bed. It had been some time since a partial transformation had occurred, memories of it felt like a dream. At this point, with his usual life getting in the way, he wasn’t certain anything had happened at all. He dazedly looked about his bedroom, his internal clock telling him it was time to get up.

Lynch, Andy, and Jenna lived in a sprawling old house that consisted of three floors and a large basement. Mostly, it was a piece of shit, but it worked as housing. The house had balconies on each floor, all with crumbling boards. It was probably dangerous, yet he couldn’t think of living anywhere else. This house was where his pa raised him, and the home he chose after putting in time with the colonial government’s militia and becoming a Pinkerton instead of fighting in the Civil War. Until he left home, it was his favorite place. It was once called Tackett House Manor in the old days. Every great plantation house had a name. He could almost visualize two proper southern maidens sipping mint juleps on a veranda (or verandah), but he knew Pa hadn’t kept slaves. He didn’t believe in the institution. No matter what happened in his life, Tackett House Manner was his haven. Although Andy and Jenna liked to conduct research, their interests didn’t extend to the house they called home. They were surrounded by vegetation, trees, and grass. Lynch preferred to sleep on the top floor, while Andy and Jenna had the run of the others. They slept in separate quarters on the second floor. The first floor was where they relaxed, talked about their days, and thought of new enzymes to inject into him to keep his transformations from occurring.

As he made his way from the third floor landing all the way to the first floor via a spiral staircase, he could hear Andy cleaning and Jenna singing. When she sang, his heart soared. It also meant she was cooking. Today, however, he didn’t have much of an appetite. He had had a strange dream last night. It was one he didn’t want to think about. Since that was the case, he would put it aside.

When looking her way, he often wondered why he didn’t think about Lydia. It was hard thinking of Lydia’s daughter already. Lydia and Jenna could have passed for relatives, if Jenna happened to be hundreds of years old. He asked her once if she was ever related to the Blount family. She denied knowledge, so he let it go. At times, he often found himself thinking that perhaps, she was lying. Then again, Jenna wouldn’t lie if her life depended on it. She was that honest, annoyingly so. One day, he might tell her of his past.

His male part-time caretaker was from an old family known well, just as Jenna’s was, to the Tacketts. He hadn’t learned of their existence until he came upon Andy’s distant relative long ago when Lynch had been a mess. Andy was a bachelor, like most of the Hoff family males. Not that any of them had ever preferred company of the same gender, it was just so. It was best for them to stay single, so humans would ask questions. Andy was gentle and superbly intelligent. He could research anything, find it, and present it without breaking a sweat. He had always been this way, as were his forebears, for as long as Lynch could remember. Another part of him was the constant butler, although he had never been asked to do so. He just saw what needed to be done and did it. No questions, no protests. Along with Jenna, he considered him family. The man had his quirks, but for each one, he possessed a strength unknown to millions of people. It wasn’t easy to live with a man like Keagan ‘Lynch’ Tackett.

Andy took a moment away from cleaning to nod his way. Jenna was a different kind of animal than Andy. She wouldn’t acknowledge his existence with a slight nod. She had to know everything about his sleep cycles and his nights at work. She was, in this light, more like a wife. Although he loved her greatly, this particular trait she possessed sometimes wore on Lynch’s nerves. He knew it was part of her duties, part of her way of dealing with his transformations. It grated on him when his sleep was particularly bad, when the dreams were strange. Today was one of those days, as tonight would be.

Lynch skirted around Jenna as well as he could. The moment she smelled the smallest hint of his aftershave, which was worn out from the day before, she turned toward him. “How did you sleep?”

He didn’t face her immediately. The question she asked consisted of a mere four words. To him, it was as if she had given him a full teacher-like lecture, waggling her index finger for good measure. Of course, he expected their conversation to bloom into an argument. At times, he wanted to tell her to leave, to find a better way of living her life. Although it sounded harsh, it was another way of giving her a chance to leave whenever she wished. If he couldn’t ask her to leave, he could try to chase her away with meanness. Once upon a time, he was mean, and it wouldn’t take much to do it again. This was true even if he didn’t mean it, and deep down inside, he didn’t. There was nothing more he would have liked than to have Jenna live with him for the rest of her natural life.

Lynch shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. “I slept fine.”

Jenna could only see the side of his face, but it was enough for her to judge that Lynch was lying through his teeth. While he slept during the day, she could hear him mumbling in his sleep. His bedroom was on another floor. Despite this, the walls were very thin. His dreams were changing from normal to bad. When the nightmares began, it meant his resistance to the injections was becoming a factor. It worried her greatly when this happened. It didn’t help that they had just begun a new course of injections. Perhaps, it was only an aftereffect and didn’t mean anything. Sooner or later, neither she nor Andy would be able to create another round of enzymes that Lynch had yet to try. It meant they were one step closer to ending Lynch’s life. She wasn’t ready for that day, she would never be ready. If he would only listen to her, help her achieve immortality, he wouldn’t be so alone. He wouldn’t insist on dying.

She wanted to call him on his obvious lie. She didn’t, she chose to play along with him. “Is that right,” she commented lightly. “Glad to hear it.”

Lynch watched as she turned away from him. His brow furrowed for a moment. Something about her response seemed false, forced, totally unlike her. Was she tired? Was she finally letting go of her desire to follow him into the land of never death? He paused for a moment, turning fully toward her. “Thanks,” he said gruffly.

Biting her lip, Jenna muttered, “I hope you’re hungry. I have a turkey casserole in the oven. Andy made his special chocolate cake for dessert.”

Ah, he thought. Mentioning the trivial. He had somehow hurt her. Normally, Jenna wasn’t the sulking kind. She had her days, though. He could have easily bridged the gap between them. He simply didn’t have the energy. When he began to have strange, lingering dreams, it was hard on everybody, and it completely zapped all the strength out of him. He would eat, get ready for work, and arrive spectacularly early. A part of him knew what was happening. The word today, children, is resistance. It had become something of a four letter word in his world. The new injections weren’t going to last very long. Sooner, rather than later, they would have to find something else and start right back at square one.

“Awesome,” he quipped sarcastically.

“We’re all on edge, Lynch,” Jenna suddenly said, her voice piping up several octaves than before. She faced him fully. Her eyes were ablaze, her nostrils flaring, her chest heaving in and out. “You don’t have to be an ass.”

Today was not a day for drama, his dream certainly dictated that. For no particular reason, he thought this moment was captured in film somewhere in a random unwatchable soap opera. Nodding, he uttered, “Touché, Jenna. I don’t mean to be an ass. Let’s just say my sleep wasn’t as great as I let on.”

He sighed heavily, noticing how Jenna’s eyes were still blazing. He noticed a slight shift in Andy’s position in the room. He had, perhaps, decided that their conversation was more interesting than any cleaning he could possibly do. A psychiatrist would probably think they were co-dependent on each other. That was most likely a very apt diagnosis.

She chuckled. “Wow. How did I know that?”

Lynch ignored her sarcasm and turned slightly when he noticed Andy drawing nearer. It was interesting watching the other man move about the room. It was like how a small dog watching his master walking toward him.

“Should we start another program?” Andy asked. Along with his height and presence, his voice was deep and raspy.

He ran his hand through his hair, leaving it on the back of his head. Was it too late to call in sick and go back to bed? “No,” Lynch answered simply. “I think it can wait for a while. We just started a new protocol. Why jinx it? Maybe it’s all a fluke.”

“Your sleep,” Jenna began.

Allowing his hand to drop back down to his side, Lynch shook his head. “It’s not that bad, Jenna. Before it can, be assured I will let you both know. We all know where this will eventually end.”

He noticed how Jenna flinched at his words. It wasn’t something she wanted to hear. He knew this, but it was constantly on his mind. Work was the only thing that kept him focused on something else. It gave him flight, making him feel almost human. His father told him once that he had had a chance of inheriting his father’s genes. It wasn’t to be so. Part of him often wished his father would have ended his life. If they had, he wouldn’t be standing here having this conversation with the two most important people in his life.

“We know,” Andy said before Jenna could open her mouth. “However, if we can stall that outcome, we will.”

Never taking her eyes off Lynch, Jenna harshly whispered, “Definitely.”

In another part of town, Hugh Norwood sat in his living room watching a football game he had saved on his DVR. In a few hours, he was due at work at the LeVale Police Department. He was also a Detective First Grade at the PD. In fact, he was Lynch’s partner in law and order. At any minute, he was expecting his sister, Callie, to ring the doorbell.

Callie lived in New York, but was strongly considering relocating near Hugh. She had escaped an abusive boyfriend and needed a break from her world. LeVale was the exact opposite of New York City. For Callie, that was a good thing. When Hugh found out Callie was on the receiving end of a fist, he wanted to grab Lynch so they could give the son of a bitch a taste of his own medicine. Hugh was quite protective of his younger sister. He knew his partner didn’t take kindly to abusive men. They saw plenty in their field, enough to make them hardened.

His sister was still in college, studying biology or chemistry or some shit he didn’t quite understand. His baby sister was something of a brain. He was often envious of that. He wasn’t a dumb ass or anything, but when it came to certain subjects, he felt like an idiot. There was a ten year age difference between them, and he supposed it was why he was so protective of her. Hell, truth was, it didn’t matter. Their parents raised them to ensure the other was always protected, no matter what. It was their family code.

It seemed, however, that Callie didn’t want much of Hugh’s protection. He offered to pick her up at the airport. She wouldn’t hear of it. The airport was about a hundred miles away, a long drive. Despite this, Callie persisted until he relented. He simply hoped she would arrive in time for them to have a decent dinner before he had to go to work. He had also offered to take off to show her around. Again, he was rebuffed.

At the best part of the game, the door flew open dramatically. With an excited whoop, Hugh was hit unexpectedly hard by his sister’s body. It was as if she had known he was watching football and had decided to tackle him for the hell of it. Callie was small, but her body felt like a bag of bricks as it hit the middle of his gut. Any other person to do this would have seen the angry side of Hugh Norwood. Since it was his sister, he laughed like a fool, enfolding her small body into the tightest bear hug he could manage.

After mauling each other, Callie rolled over to a spot on the couch beside him. It was then that he noticed how much she had changed. Oh, she still had the same brilliant lapis colored eyes and dark auburn hair. Her hair, once almost to her shoulders, was now cut into a short, chunky, funky style. His once stick thin baby sister had filled out. She had come to be a beautiful woman. No matter what he noticed about her, the one thing he definitely couldn’t miss was the healing bruise on her left cheekbone. That sight alone made his blood boil. Once again, he was tempted to fly out to New York and pay back the son of a bitch for putting a finger on her.

Despite the bruise, her hurt, she appeared to be happy. In his line of work, he had seen several battered women, most of whom cowered at the sight of a man. He was glad Callie walked away before she became another shrinking violet. It hurt his heart to see the victims; it hurt much worse when he realized someone he loved was in the same situation.

Apparently, Callie noticed how her brother’s eyes, so like her own, were focused on her. She could see what he was thinking. Part of her wanted to unleash the hell hound waiting inside Hugh. He wanted to get to her boyfriend like a dog wanted his bone. Although it would be very easy for him to do it, Callie didn’t necessarily think it was a good idea. Violence to solve violence didn’t make since to her. Besides, Clark was special. Not in a good way.

Hugh playfully yanked a lock of Callie’s shortened hair. “How was your flight?”

“It was okay.” She sat upright suddenly, gasping sharply. “Shit! I forgot my luggage outside. I’m such a bonehead sometimes!”

Callie jumped to her feet and darted quickly for the door. Hugh stood so he could follow and help. When she went to the door, he craned his neck to look over her shoulder. There were only a few bags. Furrowing his brow, he reached around Callie, darting his arm forward so he could snag one of the bags. She grabbed two and brought them inside. After closing the door, she turned toward her brother, noticing how he was looking at her.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she said with a sigh. “I’m checking out the area, looking at a college to transfer to, Hugh. I’m not moving here permanently yet.”

He set the bag near the door. “Have you told our parents?”

Their folks lived in Georgia. It was a good eighteen hours away from LeVale. Although they were close, Callie had yet to tell them anything. Hugh probably knew the answer, but he wanted to hear it from her.

“No, I haven’t,” she said tiredly. “I haven’t told them anything. They know about Clark, everything with the exception of his knocking me around regularly.”

Nodding, he crossed his arms before him. “I’ve got plans for us before I have to go to work. I also want you to meet Lynch.”

She smiled and shook her head. He was fairly close to his partner and often spoke about their exploits on the job. She assumed he would eventually want her to meet him. “That’s cool. I’m starving, too.”

He met her smile, glad that she could smile. “Let’s go, kiddo.”

Lynch, Jenna, and Andy sat at the dinner table. Lynch picked at his food, not showing much interest at one of his favorites. There was tension in the room. When it was like this, it was hard for Lynch to eat. He was closer to leaving the table and heading off to work.

As he grabbed for his iced tea, his cell phone went off. Lynch dug it out the inside of his jacket. He had it on vibrate, kept it that way when he was home, and it was completely aggravating. He swiped his finger over it and stuck it up to his ear. “Lynch,” he said gruffly.

“Hey, asshole. Why you sound so down?” Hugh asked.

Lynch could hear the good humor in Hugh’s voice. “What’s up?”

Hugh called often, but never so close to work hours. His first thought was that something had happened. LeVale wasn’t large by New York standards, but it had its problems. He wondered if someone had been murdered. It felt like a premonition.

Hugh picked up on Lynch’s tone of voice immediately. “Oh no, bro. Nothing serious. My sister is in town and I’d like you to meet her.”

His partner spoke of his sister often. Recently, he had told Lynch she was in a bad relationship. Lynch had seen pictures of her when she was a child, but had never met her. He found his eyes moving from Andy to Jenna. He wanted a quick escape for sure. They were family, dysfunctional at best, yet still a family. They might be hurt by his departure from dinner. However, they would understand.

“Sure, Hugh. Sounds great.”

“There for a minute, I thought you were going to say no,” Hugh said jovially. “We’re having dinner at The Palace.”

The Palace was the largest, best restaurant in town. They had dozens of chain eateries in LeVale, but The Palace was as close to fine dining as they could get without driving seventy miles.

“I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” Lynch said.

Without waiting for Hugh to say goodbye, Lynch pressed the red hang up button before tucking it back inside his jacket. He noticed that Jenna was looking at him curiously. He didn’t want to say anything for a few minutes in case Jenna wanted to speak first. Jenna put a forkful of the casserole into her mouth, chewed slowly, and swallowed. She did this without taking her eyes off Lynch.

“Was that Hugh?” Andy asked casually.

It was bad manners, he knew better, but Lynch couldn’t prevent folding his arms on the table. He pushed his plate away as he slid his arms further onto the table. “Yeah. His sister is in town and he wants me to join them for a few minutes before we go to work.”

Andy took a sip of water. “Good. At first, I thought something was wrong. It’s been a long time since there was a murder. I could definitely live without that.”

A small, crooked smile lit up Lynch’s face. “So could I, my friend.”

Jenna put down her fork and primly folded her hands across her lap. “Have fun,” she said with a small smile. “Be careful at work tonight.”

She was sweet, even if she wasn’t in the mood to be. “You bet.”

Callie stuffed a huge portion of chicken in her mouth just as Lynch entered the restaurant. She actually saw him before Hugh did. He was tall, well over six feet three, dressed smartly in a dark gray suit without a tie. It was off the rack, though he carried it well. His hair was dark, wavy, and just touched his collar. When he drew closer, she could see that he had a strong jaw with a slight cleft. His eyes were dark, intense orbs filled with passion and life. Although his body was hidden from view, Callie could sense that he was well built, with toned arms and legs. He looked to be Hugh’s age, but seemed a few years younger.

Lynch saw that Hugh’s sister was watching his approach. She was young, probably no more than twenty-two. She had short, dark auburn hair. The style was chunky, flirty, and flipped up at the ears. Her long bangs were combed to the side, lying wildly over her brow, resting almost against her chin. Her eyes were brilliantly blue like her brother’s. Her lips were full, her expression mirthful. He assumed he was looking at a female version of Hugh.

Hugh saw Lynch coming toward them from the periphery of his vision. He turned to look at his partner and deftly slid out a vacant chair for him. Without a word to either party, Lynch sat down, crossing his feet before him. He put on a smile for the two of them. He respected his partner greatly, but he was truly in no mood to associate. This was the only excuse he had to leave home, where the tension was thick, suffocating. At least here, he thought he might be able to breathe.

“I’m Callie,” she said before Hugh had a chance to introduce her.

Lynch eyed Hugh’s sister for a long moment. Her lapis eyes were gleaming as she held out her hand for him to shake. Her cuteness was marred by a light bruise on her cheek. He was automatically curious. Even so, he realized he had no right to pry. He took her small hand into his large one. It was cool to the touch, fresh, and her skin incredibly smooth and soft.

“Nice to finally meet you,” Lynch managed to say. “Your brother speaks of you often.”

Lynch’s hand was warm, strong, and blessedly dry. Most men his age seemed to have sweaty palms. Callie hated that. She had just met this man, but she was more than intrigued. His voice was deep and mellow, like Clark’s. Unlike Clark, he seemed as if he wouldn’t hurt a fly. Before releasing his hand, she slyly noted that his left ring finger was missing the telltale sign of marriage.

What the hell am I thinking? Callie internally shook her head. “You too, Mr. Tackett.”

He smiled at her crookedly. It was another endearing trait she admired. “Please, call me Keagan, or better yet, Lynch.”

Hugh was about to open his mouth, until Callie beat him to the punch. “Lynch? How did you come upon that nickname?”

He had just met this young woman and she had already zoned in on his nickname. It usually took an hour or two for someone’s curiosity to be piqued enough to ask. “It’s a long, boring story,” he began.

“Too long,” Hugh quipped. “We only have a little while before we’re expected at work.”

Callie took her napkin and fluttered it at him. “Oh hush, why don’t you?” She quipped playfully. “Go ahead. Tell me.”

She was fascinated now, her chin resting comfortably on her hand. He sighed heavily, wishing he had a nice stiff bourbon. “I was a law and order type of guy in college, so I worked part-time as a bounty hunter to pay my way through. My asshole roommate said I lynched guys for being stupid. After that, almost everyone I knew started calling me Lynch. It just stuck.” His story wasn’t the truth, exactly. It was just enough to answer her question.

Callie took a sip from her drink before focusing her eyes on his face. Something about the story seemed too simple. “A bounty hunter? Wow. It fits you, I think.”

Her behavior confused him. Hugh had told him her former boyfriend used her as a punching bag. Callie was flirty, giddy, unlike someone who had gotten out of a bad relationship. Lynch shook it off. He figured everyone dealt differently with abuse. Perhaps she was simply happy to be away from New York, ecstatic to be with her older brother again. Whatever it was, it worked for her.

“Not like the famous guy,” he said with a shake of his head. “I did it for a little while; I didn’t make it a career or TV show. If you saw my house, you would surely understand.”

“I told you about that, Cal,” Hugh said. “He has a big old plantation house out in the boonies.”

Her eyes lit up again. “I’d like to see it,” she said excitedly. “Is it haunted?”

If you only knew, he thought distractedly. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell her that a werewolf lived in it. It sounded crazy, but was the truth. He suddenly wondered if she was one of those paranormal crazies. He certainly didn’t need someone like her nosing around his house, not with the mini laboratory Andy had built in the basement for Jenna. If she saw that, no telling what she would do. He wasn’t sure Hugh had seen the basement.

He laughed gruffly. “Not in the least,” he said. “I don’t really believe in that stuff.”

Lynch dearly prayed for a subject change. He wanted to smack himself and Hugh upside their heads for even mentioning the house. He also hoped that Callie wasn’t some dumbbell chick who whined until she got her way. According to Hugh, she was a smart cookie, so he assumed she wouldn’t be the type he was most afraid of.

Callie took another drink from her glass. She noticed the slight shift in Lynch. Something was definitely bothering him. She was afraid she had somehow hurt his feelings. “Neither do I, really,” she finally said. “However, I do like touring old houses that are supposed to be haunted.”

“Oh, cut the crap,” Hugh said brusquely, ending the conversation. Lynch mentally thanked him highly. “I’ll probably try to cut out one day to show Callie around.”

Lynch chuckled. The sound rumbled deeply within his chest. “There isn’t much to see, I’m afraid. I’m sure you’ll like it here.”

“I’m sure I will,” she said, her eyes focused directly on Lynch’s face.

It was an uncomfortable moment for Lynch. He had been looked upon as meat before. Most of the time, he was able to ignore it and move on with his day. This time, it was more difficult. Something about this young lady was different. He didn’t know exactly what, he didn’t know if he would exactly follow up on anything running through his mind. What he did know was that he wasn’t in such a rush to get to work.

The kill was fresh, the blood still warm. When it was like this, it was the best. His (until she shifted) hand reached out and dipped into the fresh blood. He brought his blood soaked hand up to his mouth and suckled on his fingers like a child eating the remnants of a chocolate bar off its wrapper. He looked down at his victim. He didn’t really think of her as a victim, she more along the lines of a prey item. Anything human, anything that walked upright was his for the taking.

All around him, it was dark. It didn’t matter. He had the ability to see in the dark, his prey did not. It was what made it so easy to hunt them. If he couldn’t find one like he found her, it was easy to lure them away. It didn’t matter if his prey were male or female. It was best if they were afraid. Fear salted the meat, gave it life, so to speak. The intensity of the kill flowed through his veins, excited him more than anything else could. Lowering his head, he sniffed at the blood. Amazingly quick now, he opened his mouth and sank his fangs into her neck. The blood poured into his mouth, tasting like sweet, sweet nectar. He took a large bite, tearing through veins, tendons, and cracking bones with no trouble. He had to be fast. Once the blood cooled, meat didn’t appeal to him.

When he had his fill, he brought his body up to a full standing position. He was a big man, almost six feet four. His arms and legs were like clubs. If anyone saw him, they might assume he was a body builder. This thought often made him laugh. If they only knew. If they only knew, indeed.

He looked longingly at his prey. When she was alive, she was gorgeous. Her hair was long, bright red, and flowed down her back in a beautiful cascade. Her breasts were quite large, firm, and round. As he attacked her earlier, he tore away her royal blue dress. It was torn all the way to her navel. His sharp eyes identified a navel ring. He had the urge to grab it and rip it out. For no reason at all, the ring irritated him, poked him. He had no reason to hate it, necessarily. He wasn’t a serial killer, he didn’t take souvenirs from his kills, but tonight, he had the greatest urge to take the ring. Fighting it for all he was worth, he stepped away from her.

He knew he would have to leave her bleeding, torn body here. He had no desire to hide her. Why would he? It was much easier to be apathetic in this day and age. He hadn’t killed anyone; he took down his prey and fed. It was nothing different than a lion taking down a gazelle. It didn’t hide its prey, did it? Why should he? In his mind, he wasn’t committing a crime, he was eating. He leaned over slightly, so he could look into her dead eyes. He bid her a fond farewell, saying an apology for leaving her here, in this vulnerable state.

Lynch rode back to Hugh’s with him and Callie. They stopped at his place to drop off Callie while Lynch waited in the car. Callie said a quick goodbye to Lynch before exiting the car and following her brother inside. He was left to wait, to ponder the events of the evening.

Once inside, Hugh took hold of Callie’s elbow and drew her back to face him. “Wait up, Cal,” he said sternly.

Callie giggled at the tone of Hugh’s voice. He sounded just like their father. She was tempted to tell him just that, but his facial expression stopped her short. “What up, brother?” She chirped smartly.

“Don’t flirt with Lynch,” Hugh said. “He lives with someone. I’m not sure what the status of their relationship is, but I can only assume it’s serious.”

“Hugh, I wasn’t seriously flirting. I was just asking questions.” She sighed heavily and ran her hand through her cropped locks. “Besides, he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, so it can’t be that serious.”

“Callie, you just ran away from a guy,” he said, reminding her of something she already knew.

“I know, I know,” she said tiredly. “It was harmless, I promise.”

With that, she stood on her tiptoes and crossed her fingers on both hands. Her actions brought a smile to his face. “Okay,” he said, resigned. “Sleep well. Big brother’s gotta go fight crime.”

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