An infinity of lives, only one eternal love . . . . When Cole Kinsley asked Allie Knowles for her hand in marriage, he meant it. Death be damned. Nothing could keep them apart, not even a hundred years or more. Not even the vindictive spirit of Allie’s dead sister Grace. Released from her watery grave, she offers Cole a devil’s bargain. But to Cole, no price is too high when it comes to his beloved. Allie thinks it’s almost too good to be true. A week of bliss alone with Cole. His promise kept, after all they’ve suffered at the hands of her sister. To feel the strength of his arms around her again. But when she learns of the sacrifice he made to be with her, she plunges into despair. Forever has slipped from their grasp—unless forever apart is their true destiny. . .
Release date: September 27, 2016
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Print pages: 184
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Odessa Gillespie Black
I’ve died eleven times.
Part way through round twelve, I finally found a chance to be happy, but I had to live in a shabby hotel two towns away from Allie so I could get the animal under control. I barely made it through a kiss with her without the animal threatening to rip her to pieces.
My bags made a plop on the worn carpet. From the looks of the place, at any second, a cockroach could creep from under the sagging bed and carry it into the dark shadows.
I put it on the table.
Sure, I was used to sleeping outside in whatever animal form I chose on particularly stressful days, but cockroaches were the lowest form of pest. I voluntarily shuddered at the thought of them crawling in my bags or on my clothes.
The air conditioner was too small for the room or even a closet. The knob fell off into dry-rotted clumps of plastic in my hand. At least it had turned to high before it broke. I was always a little hotter than the normal human, so if it stayed on constantly, good.
Pulling the neck of my T-shirt from the back, I tugged my shirt over my head.
A shower might help. An ice-cold one.
At the front desk, soap and towels had cost five dollars extra. The hotel owner had to make his money somehow. It sure would not come from people visiting a second time around.
A ten-minute cold shower did no good, so I got out and toweled off.
Wet, frustrated, and needing the love of my life with me, I searched for the television remote. It was under my bag on the bed earlier. In minutes, the room looked as though I’d lived in it for a week, but I had the remote in hand.
Through the static of the outdated television, I received a few channels clear enough to watch. I landed on a cosmetics commercial much like Rollins Cosmetics would have boasted.
In a restaurant surrounded by a group of her girlfriends, a dark-haired girl resembling Allie winked at the screen. “No, I’m not wearing makeup.”
The announcer added that with the product the model wore, she could lie and no one would know the difference.
It would have taken globs of makeup to look as naturally stunning as Allie Knowles. Her beauty was unsurpassed by anyone I’d seen in the endless years I’d lived. No matter what appearance she took in each life, she was always stunning.
This time around, long brown tresses framed her high cheekbones and caramel brown eyes. Her skin was a creamy sun-kissed caramel superstars of this day paid professional skin care companies millions to achieve. And it was all natural.
Every inch of her was all natural.
Her long, toned legs.
Her dark, mocha tanned shoulders and smooth arms.
The swell of her chest and the curves of her hips.
Every single aspect of her was so tempting that I couldn’t be close and know for certain I could keep my hands off.
Every show and commercial, no matter the setting, took me into thoughts of Allie. I flipped the torture device off and sprawled back on the chair covering my face.
After only a few hours in the room, it was a wreck. I straightened it up and folded my one change of clothes. They looked lonely in the drawer. A thin, worn comforter covered the bed, and the pillows were flat under its tucked edge. In amber light, wearing only my T-shirt and a smile, Allie’s form took shape. Her long legs were curled under her as she drew me toward her with her forefinger.
My blood heated to boiling and the ache in my chest intensified as it traveled south. Trembling, I clenched the chair arms. Cold sweat beaded on my forehead. Muscle and bone grated against each other, initiating the shift. Forcing the thoughts of Allie into the recesses of my mind, I held both sides of my head.
Go away. You’re not welcome when Allie is close. You’ll hurt her. I won’t allow it. She’s everything to me. All I’ve lived for, for over a hundred years. You cannot be present when she is in the same room. You have your place. It’s in the woods.
“You know you want me. Why do you fight it?” Allie’s voice was soft and sensual.
The old habit directed a burn in my joints and tore at my skin.
With a powerful swipe, I tossed the blankets off the bed and slung the mattresses against the wall.
Nothing could wipe the intimate thoughts of her from my mind. But the animal would not control me. And I’d be damned if Grace would continue to hold me prisoner from the grave.
I had to calm down and focus. I could do this. And fantasies might help. I could use them to bring myself to the edge and then pull back. With each fantasy, maybe I could push myself further until I finally had a hold on the animal.
I pulled the mattress back to the box spring and flopped on the bed. With my trembling hands behind my head, I tried to ease into another fantasy. Controlling my breathing might keep my heart rate down. Keeping my heart rate down might stop the rage from welling inside me.
I closed my eyes and started another scenario.
Allie’s golden skin glistened as she stepped from a shower and pulled a white, plush towel around her. She wrung her long brown hair dry in a towel and let it fall in damp waves down her back. Turning to me, she gave me a fetching glance. She smelled as if she’d just stepped from a garden of spring flowers. As she took slow calculated steps, I was frozen in her path. The satin touch of her fingers met the five o’clock shadow on my jaw and pulled my face closer.
“I need you.” Her soft whisper tantalized my tongue and pulled my mouth to her neckline. My hand slipped under her towel. The animal threw every bit of its force into bending and cracking my bones into his form.
After a few seconds, my vision righted itself, and when I stretched my hands out, they were no longer human but the paws of a black panther, the shape I normally took when I fed in the wild.
In self-pity, I flopped onto my side thinking of every animal I’d love to tear to pieces to fill my hunger.
About thirty minutes later, I stretched back out to an upright standing human staring with pure frustration at the yellow ceiling.
And this was supposed to be a nonsmoking room.
Pacing, Allie had probably worn a rut in the marble floors and had probably stared a hole through the front door of my cottage waiting for signs of me. She’d probably plagued my poor uncle Thomas to insanity with questions as to my whereabouts.
I made him promise to assure her that I wasn’t gone for good. That it was detrimental to her safety for me to be gone a short time.
I hadn’t planned any of this through.
Leaving would upset her. Sure. But she’d understand when I came back, took her in my arms for a long overdue kiss without turning into an animal, and asked her to marry me.
As it stood, if I didn’t find a way to control my wild instincts, I would have to break her heart. I couldn’t let my curse become hers.
I’d have to leave for good.
But what if she left while I was gone? What if she got tired of waiting? What if she thought I had deserted her the way I had before?
I pulled my phone out and sat up.
I tossed it. It bounced off the pillow and over the side of the bed onto the floor.
If I talked to her, I’d go back.
Her soft, pleading voice. Her brown eyes with a hint of gold begging me. Her hands wandering my body would send me into the form of an animal that couldn’t be trusted at the initiation of the shift and a few seconds thereafter.
Deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. I could do this.
The same shuddering began. Grating bones and muscles.
No matter what, I would not let the thought of her pouty lips and the cute way her face pinched up when I’d said just the right thing to piss her off send me into another change. And I would not dial her number.
Rolling to the side of the bed, I retrieved the phone and flipped it open. I pulled her name up on my contacts. A candid shot of her on the pool patio with her head slightly bowed as she looked at a book popped up for her profile picture.
More bone and muscle grating.
Stop that, dammit.
Standing on the chair, I unscrewed a vent cover and took it down. Dust bunnies floated down. Spitting and cursing, I put the phone on the other side of the filter. I wiped my hands on my pants, pulled the chair back to its former post, and nodded with satisfaction.
I’d need to feed soon, but it wouldn’t be safe until nightfall. Maybe if I could get the animal on a schedule, train him in a sense, I might get better control of him during heightened moments of emotion.
Rolling into the dip of the sagging mattress, I lay back and rested my eyes. On the back of my eyelids, Allie reappeared, beckoning me in another dark setting. Vexed, I clenched my eyes until they hurt.
The ceiling rattled and through the vent, my phone flashed.
I jerked up.
What if something had gone wrong? What if it was Thomas calling to say Allie had left?
Tangled in the sheets, I fell off the end of the bed, catching my toe on the bed rail. I limped to the chair, and jerked it into place under the vent.
The pain in my toe sobered me. Screws holding the vent cover in place served a purpose more than fixating on the piece of metal. They kept my sanity intact too. The difficulty of getting to the phone gave me just the right amount of time to rethink calling her.
I’d feel it in my soul, if something were wrong.
Thomas knew my room number and would have called me if there was something I needed to be informed of.
So the call was probably Allie. Mad. Dejected.
Covering my ears, I sat in the chair, each incessant ring of the phone pulsating in my head. When it finally stopped and told me I had a new voicemail, I sank back.
Why I hadn’t turned it off before I put it up there?
Thinking clearly would be touch and go for the next few days or weeks. I couldn’t consider that amount of time, so I focused on today. I had waited over a hundred and twenty years to finally allow myself to touch her. It was just a few days.
What is wrong with you, man?
You’re in love.
No. This is worse.
It’s finally being reciprocated, and you don’t know what to do with yourself.
Stark raving mad is what it had made me.
By the time I got back to her, I’d be about as sane as Grace, Allie’s deranged sister from her first life. When you talked to yourself and answered in full conversation, that was a sure fire sign of impending insanity.
Having the animal in check would do me no good if I was crazy. And it was only the morning of day one.
Sitting alone in this room, pining away over her for two weeks, would be counterproductive. To save me from myself, I would have to be active. I needed to get my mind straight and be in places where every second wasn’t the misery of Allie tempting me beyond my limits. I needed a balance between her and my primal instinct.
I also needed food and lots of it, so if I couldn’t hunt, I’d have to go human and eat the way they did. The way I would be able to, if I could reintegrate myself into the human world.
* * * *
A nearby diner on a lightly traveled road looked inviting enough. I slid into the darkest booth in the back corner of the restaurant. A white and black sign on the wall near the entrance boasted a 93.5 sanitation grade. It wasn’t the highest I’d ever seen, but it was better than what I was used to in the forest.
Dining at The Greasy Spoon had to be healthier than feasting on dead animal flesh on the floor of dirt, pine needles, and bugs.
“A meat-only omelet, I don’t care what kind you throw in. Surprise me. A waffle, hash browns, and a gravy biscuit.” I handed the menu back to the attractive waitress and stared out the window.
I would have to consume an enormous amount of food to sustain my ever-increasing metabolism, and today I would indulge in excess to keep up the energy my will power would need.
The waitress brought the load of food balanced on each arm and set the plates down with ease. Her nametag read Sage.
Sage had long brown hair and a sweet smile, but the interested perk in her brow would have to be vanquished.
“All this for you?” Her flirty tone curdled my stomach.
I hated to dash young girl’s hopes, and for some reason, I had to do it a lot. I had a decent structure for a guy, I supposed, but I wasn’t much better looking than the upper half of the male population. Maybe it was some animalistic attraction the women couldn’t overcome.
“Um, yeah. I don’t know where I put it, either.” I tried to sound dismissive.
She leaned on the opposing seat with one knee.
I dipped my head and focused on lightly salting the buffet before me.
“So, you can seriously eat all that? What do you do to burn it off?” She gave me an appreciative grin and a onceover.
“Triathlons and long distance swimming.” I took a sip of water. If my mouth was full, maybe she wouldn’t expect me to talk.
“If you’d like some assistance with that, let me know. We stay in the same place. I saw you this morning when I left for work.” She slipped into the booth across from me.
So she was at the Starlight Motel too. Great. Another woman to hide from.
Unbothered by my silence, she continued. “I rent by the week. I’ve been staying there since I got this hole in the wall job. I go to school nearby, and my family isn’t the most supportive. Will you be staying long?”
“Not long. A business trip.” Lies had become my life.
“Really. I can’t imagine your girlfriend would let you go anywhere alone.” She ignored my obvious disinterest.
“She had no choice.” I picked up my fork. “You have ketchup anywhere in this joint?”
“Sure. And if you need anything else, you know where I am.” She gave me a quick flirty smirk and turned to fetch the ketchup. Finally. But her thoughts did exactly the opposite of flattery. “The things I’d do to him, given the chance.”
Scraping the food into a pile, I shook my head. That’s why I stayed on a remote property in the country. Other than the fact that being there created a sense of closeness with Annabeth. It kept me from having to face the normal male stresses.
Staring out the window, I dodged the girl’s unwanted affections for the rest of the meal. Dust rustled up behind a car outside.
A happy couple holding hands entered the establishment. After choosing a seat nearby, they absorbed themselves in cheerful conversation and leaned close to each other.
They could show their affection without the threat of a bloody murder scene. Must be nice.
I finished off the food and paid for my bill, leaving an unusually scant tip. It was still more than what most customers would have left her, but a larger tip might lead her on.
A mall nearby held all the shops I could ever need for my two-week stay. With a bag of only the bare essentials, I fled the mall because every store had something that either looked like it would look great on or off Allie.
Shutting the real world away behind the ratty hotel room door, I leaned against it. Maybe the waitress wasn’t off work yet. I could only hope.
The room phone rang as soon as I put my bags on the long scratched dresser.
The night before, Thomas had promised he would check in.
“For a recluse locked in a room, you sure haven’t been in today.” His voice bordered irritation.
“I’ve been out getting supplies. And as much as I thought being by myself in a motel would help me, it’s done very little. But it is day one.” I sat on the bed beside the phone. Not sure if I wanted to know, I took a chance on the next question. “So how irate is she?”
“She’s better than I thought she’d be.” Thomas cleared his throat and made a funny noise.
“Is she extremely mad, or is she just sort of mad but understands?” Dreading the answer, I pinched the bridge of my nose.
“I wouldn’t say she’s angry, just frustrated and on the verge of driving us all nuts with questions. I think she ran a rut into the marble between the windows overlooking the driveway in the vestibule and the rear entrance of the house facing your cottage.” Thomas chuckled. “But she’s definitely not without spunk. You’re going to have to get home soon.”
“I don’t know how soon I can come, Uncle. I have to keep some distance between us for a bit longer. I want to be sure I’m safe for her to be around before I come. Please do your best to make her understand.” I leaned back against the headboard and pulled my feet up onto the bed, shoes and all. It wasn’t like my lounging on the comforter could do it anymore damage.
“If she demands to know your exact location, how should I respond?”
“Honestly, you don’t know my exact location. And you can’t give her the phone number because if you don’t let it ring once, hang up and call back, then I won’t answer.” New determination I’d gained from staying away for even one day made me feel a little stronger.
“I’m proud of you, Son. It takes a true man to back away like this. I can say she’s never looked prettier since the threat of Grace has been diminished. She’s got a new glow. Even when she’s frustrated with you.”
“Don’t stroke my ego too much. I can’t promise you won’t find me on the doorstep in an hour or less. Every second is touch and go. I never had this much problem staying away from her in any other life.” Even hearing about how gorgeous she was gave me the uncontrollable urge to touch her soft cheeks and kiss her stubborn chin. I tried not to crush the phone with a bear’s grip.
“You also never had the chance to be with her without Grace’s involvement in any other life. You focus on the job at hand, and I’ll keep everything under control here. At least as much as possible. This woman is a force to be reckoned with. Once she has her mind set on something, it’s hard to knock her off course.” Thomas sighed.
I tried to slow my breathing. “I’m sorry I’ve put you in this predicament. But you know as well as I do that I can’t be around her. She’s shed blood more than she ever has in all her lives in one month there.”
“Since I first heard your voice on the line, I’ve been trying to figure out how to clue you in on some of the current events around here without sending you right back in Allie’s direction, but there’s something you might need to be made aware of.” Thomas cleared his throat. A bustling in the room behind him and a barrage of women’s voices interrupted us. “I’ll talk to you later. I appreciate your help. No. I don’t think I’ll need any more lumber. We’ll call if we need further supplies. Thank you.”
The phone went silent. Just like that. And I had to sit fifty miles away, in a remote torture chamber the owners hoped to pass for a top quality overnight stay and wonder why the hell Allie would need lumber. Was she building her own house away from me? Was she changing some part of the property?
I almost called Thomas back, but then if Allie was anywhere near him…
I could hear her v. . .
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