He’s a reaper who works by the book. But a sexy shifter will have him changing the course of fate just to be with her—if a killer doesn’t get to her first…
After four years as a reaper, helping souls cross into the afterlife is a job Adam Javorski has finally gotten used to. But when he arrives at the site of a serial killer’s latest victim, finding a living—not to mention gorgeous—hostage is the last thing he expects. The young woman captivates him in a way no one ever has—so much so, he breaks rule number one by helping her escape…
Marlena Walther doesn’t remember the man who rescued her. But when she sees Adam again, she recognizes him instantly as her soul mate. While the two work together to track down a killer determined to finish what he started, their undeniable attraction draws them even closer. Now Adam is the only one who can protect Marlena from a vengeful murderer—if he’s willing to sacrifice everything for her.
It was a wonder none of the neighbors had noticed that something wasn’t right with the house. Storm shutters covered every single window, with locks keeping them bolted in place. It might be considered normal during hurricane season, but year-round? Definitely weird. The pulse of pending mortality emanated from the building, weak but growing stronger by the minute. Soon, death would claim another victim, leaving Adam to clean up the mess.
As a reaper, that was his calling. Day in and day out, he claimed the souls of the recently departed and guided them to the next stage in their journey. Often, that meant a better place. Other times … not so much.
He’d been on the job for almost four years, after losing his own humanity in the south side of Chicago on a warm October night. Back then he’d been a cop, and a damn good one. But that hadn’t stopped him from royally fucking up and damning his soul in the process.
Shaking his head, he forced the painful memories from his thoughts and focused on the house across the street. Inside, the call of death intensified, gathering steam until it buzzed through his blood like a chain saw. He gritted his teeth when it reached a crescendo, his hands clenched against the steering wheel. He hated this part—not doing anything when you knew someone was about to die. It went against all of his instincts. But Fate had strict rules concerning interference, and he knew better than to challenge her authority.
Less than five minutes later the garage door opened and a silver four-door sedan backed down the driveway. Seven little stick figure decals were lined up on the back window, and Adam couldn’t help but wonder if they signified actual family members or the number of people he’d murdered. As for the killer himself, he seemed deceptively average: white male, average height, average build, with short graying hair and brown eyes. No visible scars, tattoos, piercings, or other distinguishing features. His mediocrity served as camouflage to conceal a predator lurking in plain sight.
As soon as the car drove out of the subdivision, Adam popped the lock to his door. “Call me if he comes back early,” he told Martin as he stepped out of the truck. From past experience and Dmitri’s notes, he knew the guy would only be gone for about ten minutes. Just long enough for the sick fuck to buy a half gallon of ice cream from the nearby grocery store.
Under cover of darkness, Adam crossed the street and approached the wood-frame house. He ignored the sign that warned of an alarm, since it merely served as a deterrent. No serial killer worth his salt would run the risk of the alarm sounding off and triggering a visit by local law enforcement. Retrieving the set of picks from his back pocket, he worked on the locks on the front door. The bottom one opened with little effort, but the dead bolt gave him a minute of trouble before the tumblers clicked into place. He took a deep breath, mentally bracing himself for the horrors that waited inside. The stench of fresh death and lingering decay assaulted his nostrils the instant he crept into the foyer. As a cop, he’d never gotten used to the smell, and he doubted he ever would as a reaper. With the lights out, he couldn’t see a damn thing, but he waited to flip the switch until after the door clicked shut.
The small foyer led into a large living room with a brick fireplace. There wasn’t a single piece of furniture in sight, and the vaulted ceilings and shuttered windows gave the place a cavernous feel. Blue plastic tarps covered the hardwood floor, probably to protect it from stains. Or perhaps they were there to make it easier for the killer to remove the body.
The victim was a male this time, barely out of his teens. The poor kid had been chained by his wrists to the wall a few feet away from the fireplace. He was clad in only a pair of ratty black jeans, with a silver collar fastened around his neck. The blade of a dagger was buried in a chest so mutilated it was almost unrecognizable. His pale green eyes stared into oblivion, his mouth opened in a silent scream. The soul had already broken free from the corpse, hovering close but not quite touching. Confused and despondent, he retained his human form, unaware that he no longer needed to conform to his prior physical constraints.
Pushing back against a rush of anger, Adam stepped closer to the body. The cop in him demanded immediate justice, but that was no longer part of his job description. He narrowed his focus, reaching out with his mind until he locked onto the kid’s essence. He sensed no taint of evil on the soul as he slowly drew it toward him. To calm the spirit he sent out wordless reassurances, promising safety, closure, and the end to physical pain.
Pacified, the soul offered no resistance, merging with Adam’s body in a wash of benevolent warmth. The kid’s essence carried a unique quality that Adam couldn’t quite define. Demon, mage? Honestly, he couldn’t say for sure. His experience with non-humans was limited. As the kid’s spirit distilled to its purest form, it became aware of the death of its body, and confusion gave way to panic.
“You’ve got to get out of here before he gets back! Please! Go, and warn the others. If he finds them, he’ll kill them all—oh wait! You need to free the girl first. She doesn’t deserve what he plans to do to her. Please say yes, I’ll do anything you want, please, please, please …”
Adam squeezed his eyes shut while he contained the soul, blocking out the unwanted flood of emotions for the sake of his own sanity. During his time on the force, he’d grown desensitized to crime scenes, but all that training flew right out the window when the dead insisted on talking. For him, it was one of the toughest parts about being a reaper, so much that it came close to breaking him during his first year on the job.
Finished, he turned away from the body, eager for a breath of fresh air. And a beer. He was halfway to the front door when a female’s voice shouted out from the rear of the house.
“Who the hell are you?” Her husky voice sounded harder than iron, but her eyes were wide and unblinking.
Adam didn’t answer. He was too busy appraising the locks. With enough time and the proper equipment, he could override the electronic keypad. Unfortunately, he lacked the luxury of either. Besides, it wasn’t his business. As a reaper, his obligations lay with the dead. He had no right to interfere with the living. Those lessons had been drilled into his head countless times. Always collect your appointed souls. Do not alert humans to our presence. Do not question Fate. And for the love of God, do not alter destiny. His mentor’s words echoed in his ears, the only thing keeping him from running to his truck for a hacksaw.
Frustrated, Adam balled his hands into fists. If he had a lick of sense, he’d leave the house before he did anything stupid. But something about the young woman called out to his soul, tugging so fiercely he found it impossible to turn away. A deep sense of connection flashed through his blood—swift, strong, and given the situation, completely inappropriate. He’d never experienced anything like it, and it knocked him completely off balance.
His phone vibrated in his back pocket, jarring him from his thoughts.
“Get your ass out of there,” Martin said when Adam answered the call. “Your boy’s on his way back to the nest, and it looks like he brought company.”
Shit. According to his notes, the killer worked alone. Since when had he recruited a partner? “All right, I’ll be there in a minute.” Adrenaline surged through his veins as he disconnected. There wasn’t enough time to break the blond free. But what kind of man would he be if he left a defenseless woman in the hands of psychos? Fuck destiny. The least he could do was give her a fighting chance at survival. To the best of his knowledge, she wasn’t fated to expire any time soon, and in his book that made her fair game.
“Hey!” the blond shouted when he stormed out of the room, fear rising in her voice. “Come back! Let me out of here!”
The sound of the garage door opening shot Adam’s pulse into overdrive. With time running out, he rushed to the kitchen and grabbed the cordless phone from the charging station. He dialed as he walked, and by the time he reached the back room, a 911 operator had picked up the call.
“Please state the nature of your emergency,” a woman said on the other end of the line.
Adam shoved the phone through the narrow steel bars. His gaze locked with the woman’s long enough to insert a mental suggestion.
You’re at 816 Heron Cove. I was never here.
She stared at him, a puzzled expression on her face as he turned and raced for the exit. He heard her speaking to the emergency operator, and relief flooded his heart. With luck, the police would arrive within minutes and free the poor woman from captivity.
The sound of a car engine shut off in the garage. Adam’s pulse pounded in his ears as he flicked off the lights and yanked the front door open. As he stepped over the threshold, he heard the creak of the door that connected the garage to the kitchen. Quietly, carefully, he closed the front door, praying they wouldn’t notice the unlocked dead bolt.
Not looking back, Adam ran to the truck and slid behind the wheel.
“What took you so long?” Martin’s nose crinkled. “Dude, you smell like roadkill.”
Adam shot him a withering glare as he turned the key in the ignition. “What did you expect? It doesn’t smell like fucking lilacs in there.” He twisted his neck and sniffed the sleeve of his shirt. Yep, he reeked of death, which meant a shower and a fresh change of clothes before heading out to the bar. After he clicked on his seat belt, he reached over and switched on the police scanner.
Martin glanced down as Adam adjusted the dial to pick up the right frequency. “What are you listening for?”
“Nothing.” The code for a drunk and disorderly came over the speaker, followed by an officer acknowledging the call and stating that he was en route. What the hell? Where was the dispatch to save the woman? Maybe they’d already made the call and he’d missed it. He drummed his fingers against the gearshift, hesitant to leave the scene until he knew an officer was on the way.
Martin’s thick eyebrows furrowed. Even in the darkened space of the cab, it was obvious he wasn’t buying Adam’s bullshit. “What did you do?”
Before Adam had the chance to think up a lie, another call came over the scanner. Possible kidnapping and murder, suspects armed and dangerous. Dispatch advised officers to approach the scene with no lights and no sirens. Good. At least they were taking the call seriously. From the sound of it, one of the units was close enough to arrive in under a minute. Thank God. Adam slipped the truck into gear and pulled away from the curb. The last thing he needed was to get dragged into a multiple murder investigation.
Martin’s mouth dropped open as they sped past the killer’s house. “You didn’t.”
“What was I supposed to do?”
“Your job.” Martin let out a grunt of disgust. “Fucking Boy Scout. You know better than that. Samuel’s gonna tear you a new one.”
“Only if he finds out.” The memory of what happened to his mentor sprang to mind and an icy ball of dread settled in his stomach. Samuel always found out.
Lori Sjoberg is the award winning author of the GRAVE SERIES. She lives in Florida with her husband and four-legged fur baby.
Growing up the youngest of three girls, Lori never had control of the remote. (Not that she's bitter about that. Really. Okay, maybe a little, but it's not like she's scarred for life or anything.) That meant a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy. Star Trek, Star Wars, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits - you name it, she watched it. It fed her imagination, and that came in handy when the hormones kicked in and she needed a creative excuse for being out past curfew.
After completing her first novel, she joined the Romance Writers of America and Central Florida Romance Writers. Now she exercises the analytical half of her brain at her day job, and the creative half writing sensual paranormal romance. Grim reapers are her specialty, but she loves to write about all creatures of the night.
You can read more about Lori at http://lorisjoberg.com/