The ghost hunter a paran.., p.21
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       The Ghost Hunter, a Paranormal Romance (The Hunter Series), p.21

           Lori Brighton

  The vampire rushed forward. In that moment Cristian didn’t think about his plan, he didn’t think about any demons, nor even the state of the world. No, the only thing he thought about was the woman in front of him.

  “Ashley, get down!”

  She didn’t hesitate, but dropped to the pavement, hugging her weapon to her chest. Cristian’s sword gleamed overhead as it landed against the vampire’s throat with a sickening thunk. The vampire’s eyes widened as his head lulled back, tumbling to the ground and bouncing across the sidewalk directly toward Ashley. The head stopped only inches from her feet, those dark eyes glaring up at her. His lips lifted, curling into a snarl, though no sound came from his mouth.

  “Shit!” She gasped and stumbled back. “It’s still alive!”

  Cristian pushed her aside. “Of course it is.”

  His gaze jumped to the body, still erect, still standing there only now headless. No blood coursed from the huge gaping wound, merely gray flesh and white bone. He was more relieved than he should have been and he knew the reason why, damn it all, Ashley was safe.

  “Kill it,” Cristian demanded.

  She jerked her head toward him, the look of horror upon her face almost amusing. “What?”

  He might as well test her now, see how far she’d go. He nodded toward the silver sword, still in her hands. “Ye want to know what’s happening here? No secrets. It’s time for ye to take yer rightful place in this world. It’s time for ye to accept what ye are, what’s out here. Go on then.”

  “Kill it? I can’t!”

  He sighed long and loud. Was she serious?

  She parted her lips, most likely to argue with him further when the vampire’s body stumbled toward them. Ashley gasped and stepped back right into Cristian’s hard chest. She didn’t seem to mind her close proximity and he sure as hell wasn’t going to voice his objection.

  “Where’s Kipps? Surely he’d be better at killing the thing.”

  “He went after the others. Now kill it, Ashley.” His tone was harsh, there was no room for argument.

  Her shoulders sagged. “How do I kill it?”

  If she couldn’t kill this monster, she hadn’t a chance of standing up to a demon. “Shove yer blasted sword through his chest, around the heart area.”

  “I…I thought I needed a stake.”

  The vampire stumbled and with arms outstretched like a bad imitation of Frankenstein, he continued toward them. Ashley dropped her gaze to the head. His lips were still curled, his black eyes narrowed into mere slits as he glared up at her.

  “Bloody hell, Ashley, do it now!”

  She stared at the monster body before her. “It’s pretty much already dead, isn’t it?” She was muttering to herself, which worried Cristian. “So technically I wouldn’t be killing it. Yeah, explain that to the jury.”

  Lord, she was going batty. Just when he thought he was going to have to do the deed, she bit her lower lip and jumped over the head. Ashley brought her sword down toward the body’s heart. The blade slid into the chest easily. Letting go of the hilt, she stumbled sideways, avoiding the head. The body began to tremble, the limbs shaking and the sword wavering back and forth. Suddenly, the vampire burst into a cloud of black dust, particles flying through the air. The sword clattered to the ground.

  Silence settled, the only sound Ashley’s harsh breathing. Where there once was a vampire, now there was only a pile of dust. The head, too, was only a small pile of dark particles. A breeze swept from the sky as if sent from Heaven. The dust floated down the street, a dark whirlwind. And then there was nothing. It was done.

  “Will I go to Hell?” Ashley whispered, staring at that spot where the body had been.


  She looked up at Cristian, her gaze wide, oddly blank. “Will I go to Hell? I…I killed it. I’ve never killed anything.”

  Lordy, she’d gone off the deep end. Cristian threw his head back and laughed.

  “It’s not funny!” she snapped.

  Still smiling, he picked up her sword and imagined it back at the pub. In an instant, the weapon disappeared. “Come on. It’s time ye got home.” He took her hand, her fingers cold and small. Damn if his heart didn’t warm at the emotion on her face. “Ye’ve a lot to learn.”

  Chapter 24

  “Where the hell have you been?”

  Ashley paused just over the threshold of the pub. Cristian practically ran into her back. She seemed surprised by Devon’s hard tone and the anger flashing in the man’s blue eyes. Cristian wasn’t surprised in the least. Damn, he didn’t need this right now.

  With a sigh, he nudged her forward, the thud of the door being shut vibrated the walls. “With me,” he said, his voice light and taunting. Best to draw the beast out now and get it over with. The longer it took, the closer she’d get to the man and the more she’d take it to heart when Cristian had to kill him…again.

  Devon’s jaw clenched and unclenched. His hand was tight on the railing, his entire body trembling with pent up anger. Would he be able to control himself?

  “We ran into a couple vampires,” Ashley explained.

  Devon’s brows snapped together. “What?”

  “Vampires.” Cristian moved around her. “Killed them. Now it’s time to eat. Killing always works up an appetite.” He started slowly toward the kitchen completely aware of Ashley moving up the stairs and Devon tensing at her approach. He wondered how long it would be before he’d have to intervene.

  “It’s late, I’m tired,” he heard Ashley explain.

  From the corner of his eye he saw Devon’s hand shoot out, his grip tight on her upper arm. “I told you to stay away from him.”

  Cristian paused in the hallway, hidden in the shadows, his heart leaping to his throat. The urge to attack the man overwhelmed his good sense. It was the blood in him, her blood, that was making him feel so possessive. Then again, how did that explain his reaction when he’d first met her?

  “Christ, Devon, let go.” She tried to pull away, but the man was tenacious.

  “I told you to stay away from him.” He jerked her forward. Ashley slammed against his chest. “You will listen to me.”

  “Let go.” She glared up into his eyes, but Cristian could sense the woman’s fear, pulsing through his body. Frankly, it fucking pissed him off. Irrational, he knew, for Devon wasn’t himself. He still wanted to kill the man. Devon might be weak, but even weak he was still stronger than Ashley. Cristian stepped into the foyer.

  “Let her go,” his voice was low, but hard, leaving no room for argument.

  Devon pushed Ashley aside. She stumbled back, attempting to find the stairs with her feet, but missed. With a cry, she fell backward. For one brief moment Cristian’s heart stopped beating. He surged forward, grasping her around the waist and drawing her near. Safe, yet his body still hammered with the need to protect her. He held her close, savoring the feel of her safely in his arms. Did she have any idea what she did to him?

  “I told you not to touch her,” Devon growled.

  Cristian gently pushed her behind him. “Bloody hell, I was afraid this would happen.”

  “What?” she demanded, scurrying down the steps and onto the safety of level ground.

  “Yer knight in shining armor has come back tae earth tarnished.” He held out his arm, thought of his sword, and the weapon appeared in his hand.

  With a growl, Devon crouched low and wasted no time in launching himself toward Cristian. If the former ghost were in the right frame of mind, he would have realized what an idiot he was being. And if Cristian really wanted Devon dead, he could have easily brought up his sword and plunged it into his body. Instead, Cristian made his sword disappear and he latched onto Devon. They came together with a thud, muscled body to muscled body, and fell back, rolling down the steps.

  “You’re going to break your necks!” Ashley yelled.

  Cristian and Devon landed at the bottom of the steps with a thud that rattled the chandelier above them. Devon li
fted his knee to Cristian’s gut. Pain rippled through his body. A pain he welcomed for it urged him to use his full strength when he had been holding back.

  “Blast it.” Cristian shoved his palms into Devon’s chest and heaved the man backward. Devon’s shoulders hit the edge of the steps with such force it surely would have broken the vertebrate of a lesser man. But a split second later he’d already jumped to his feet.

  Just as soon as Cristian managed to get to his feet, Devon threw himself forward. The idiot was relentless, intent on doing damage. Slamming together, they stumbled back. Ashley scurried out of the way as the two hit the wall, leaving the impression of bodies in plaster.

  “Well, I’m not paying for that!” Ashley started toward them. “I’ve already killed a vampire, and I don’t feel like facing more death tonight.”

  The daft woman was going to get herself killed. Distracted, Cristian didn’t see Devon’s fist in time. The man’s knuckles connected with Cristian’s jaw, sending him reeling backward.

  “Stop!” Ashley snapped and stomped her foot.

  Cristian landed with a thud to the floor. Hell, he’d been sent to his arse by a man half dead. How humiliating. The house fell silent, apparently as shocked as he was. The only one who didn’t seem surprised was the man who’d hit him. Devon stepped closer, hovering over Cristian with a nasty smirk on his face.

  Cristian jumped to his feet. “You’re going to regret that.”

  “No!” Ashley rushed between them, her small body a pathetic barrier. “No. No more. This is done. Now. Here.” She held her arms wide, trying to keep them apart.

  Devon latched onto Ashley’s wrist and jerked her forward. “I said don’t interfere.”

  Done bullying her, he pushed her aside. Unable to catch her balance, Ashley fell into the stairway. Her head slammed against the railing and she slumped toward the floor. Anger and fear propelled Cristian forward.

  “Ashley,” Cristian called out.

  She blinked her eyes open, her gaze hazy and unfocused. Relief made his knees almost buckle. If she hadn’t had his blood inside her, she would be unconscious.

  “Don’t touch her,” Devon hissed behind him.

  “Ye are really starting tae annoy me.” Cristian spun around. Lifting his arm, he slammed his fist into Devon’s face.

  Devon flew back across the foyer like a ragdoll and bloody hell, if Cristian didn’t feel a rush of glee. Devon splattered against the wall and slid to the floor, his head lolling to the side.

  “Is he dead?” Ashley jumped to her feet. “He better freaking not be dead!”

  Cristian’s hand shot out, his arm wrapping around her waist. He wasn’t sure whether to

  be relieved that she was all right, or angry that she cared so much over Devon’s welfare. “No ye don’t. He’s out cold.”

  “Not dead?” she said in a rush of air.

  “No, not dead.”

  She sank back into Cristian. He wished he could pretend she wanted to be closer to him, but he knew she was merely relieved. “You did that on purpose.”

  She didn’t sound angry, at least not much. “Better than actually killing him. The bloody bastard wouldn’t stop.”

  She pushed away Cristian’s arm, slipping from his grasp and heading toward Devon again. He latched on her arm, stopping her progress. “Leave him there. Ye need to go upstairs.”

  Before she could protest he scooped her up into his arms. Her face flushed pink, highlighting her high cheekbones. She was attracted to him, he could see that in the widening of her pupils, the harshness of her breath. Any jealousy faded.

  Her pink tongue nervously darted out to lick her lower lip. “You sure he’s okay?”

  He frowned and started up the steps. “Aye, although why ye care, I don’t understand.”

  “He’s a…friend.” She was silent as they made it to the landing above. “Was he always like this?”

  Her question irritated the hell out of him. Why did she wish to know about Devon? Why did she care? Cristian kicked open his bedroom door. She didn’t correct him as he placed her on his bed instead of hers.

  “What do ye mean?”

  “When you knew him. You did know him before, didn’t you?” She searched his face, looking for the truth and why shouldn’t she have it?

  He held out his hand, palm up and thought of an ice pack. One immediately appeared. “He’s not cruel, if that’s what yer asking.”

  She tore her gaze from the ice pack. “Then why is he being so hateful?”

  He settled on the edge of the mattress and slipped the ice pack behind her head where a bump was already forming. “It’s not him, the real him. He’s acting insane because ye brought him back.”

  She stiffened. “So it’s my fault.”

  He shrugged. He’d always been blunt, so why did he feel bad for constantly hurting her feelings? “Partly. But he’s always been a bit… upset with me.”

  Noticing the hesitancy in his voice, she pushed his hand away. “All right. I want to know everything.”

  He sighed and stood. He couldn’t blame her for wanting answers. He would have demanded the truth days ago. It would all come out eventually. Still, he hesitated, knowing no matter how much of his blood she had within her, things would change for the worse when she knew the truth.

  Cristian moved to the windows and gazed out onto the dark night. What was out there, just waiting for them? He was so damn tired. Tired of this Earth. Tired of the emotion. Tired of it all. “We’re Warriors.”

  “I know.”

  He turned around. “How’d you know?”

  “The tattoos, on your backs.”

  Tattoos on your backs. He nodded slowly, his gaze searching her face. She’d seen Devon’s bare back. Pain and anger shot through his body. He was acting as irrational as Devon, yet couldn’t stop himself. “I see.”

  Red rushed to her cheeks. “He was getting ready to take a shower. I mean…I wasn’t…with him in the shower, I…”

  He looked out the windows once more. She was telling him the truth, so why couldn’t he get rid of the horrifying image of Ashley and Devon together? “Every warrior has the tattoos to remind us of what we were, what we’re working for.”

  “And what’s that?”

  “Redemption.” He was silent for a long moment, letting the word sink in. “Until we’ve done enough, repaid our dues, we’ll not be allowed back to our former glory.”

  She tossed the ice pack onto the mattress and stood. “I don’t understand. How do you know Devon? He wears clothes from the 1800s.”

  “1901, to be exact.”

  Silence settled as realization fell between them. “My God, how old are you?”

  He laughed, a deep chuckle. “Honestly, I don’t remember. I lost count decades ago.”

  “Decades,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around her waist. She looked lost, vulnerable.

  She collapsed onto the edge of the bed. “And you two were friends?”

  His laughter faded, a dark, heaviness weighing down upon him when he should have felt nothing at all. “Aye. We were.” He was silent for a moment, his mind turning back to a better time. “He always had tae abide by the rules. Always had tae be bloody perfect.”

  “Is that so bad?”

  He shot her a look, his gaze sharp. Damn it all, he was tired of the fact that she felt the need to avenge the man. “It is. When ye only see in black and white, ye miss things, subtle things.”

  “Like what?”

  “Like friends who might betray you.” He didn’t care anymore, didn’t care if she knew the truth. He was tired of the burden. He continued to stare directly into her eyes, daring her to ask him the question that pulsed between them. She was a smart girl, deep down she understood but would she be brave enough to ask?

  “How did Devon die, Cristian?”

  Apparently she was. “You know the answer to that.”

  “Tell me,” she whispered.

  He held her gaze as if he had no shame. “I kil
led him.”

  Chapter 25

  No. She couldn’t be falling for a guy who was a murderer.

  Ashley jumped from the mattress, using the bed as a buffer between them. Her mouth had gone dry, adrenaline and fear mixing through her body in a dizzying combination. “What did you say?”

  Cristian paused for only a moment, but in his gaze, she saw the truth. “I killed him.” He looked away. “I didn’t put the sword through his chest, but it was my fault he died.”

  She wasn’t sure if that was better or not. Instinct had said something was wrong between Cristian and Devon, but murder? God, no. Cristian…Cristian was a soldier… a warrior…a fucking Angel. He wouldn’t murder! He couldn’t!

  “How?” Her voice was calm, the kind of calm voice you used when talking to a toddler throwing a tantrum. Or the kind of calm tone used when talking to an insane person holding a knife at your throat.

  “He blamed me for his father’s death and…other things.”

  Other things. She knew there had to be more to this story. The question was, did she trust Cristian to tell her the truth? Surely his version would be skewed. “Did you…did you kill his father?” A direct question and hopefully she’d get a direct answer.

  He smiled fleetingly, a whisper of amusement that was gone as soon as it arrived. “No. Not exactly.”

  Relief was sweet. She should feel relieved, shouldn’t she? So why was she waiting for the other shoe to drop? “Then what happened?”

  He looked away, but not before she saw the guilt in his eyes. Such a strong man… his shoulders wide, those muscles pressed tightly to his clothing, yet at the moment he seemed vulnerable…lost, and for some odd reason, her heart ached for him. “My father killed his. In the process…Devon’s wife died.”

  Confused, she shook her head. Devon was married? Why hadn’t he told her? “He had a wife? You can have parents? I mean, you can procreate and all that?”

  He laughed softly, his gaze heating, or was that her imagination? Lord, she wished more than any other time she knew what the man was thinking. “Aye. We can do almost everything that a human can.”


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