4. True Death

Paul - Present Day

Sturdy strides carry me to the closed double doors while a hammering heart chisels away inside my chest. A soft scent of lilac persists in my nostrils, bathing me in bliss. The girl is asleep in my arms. I have to resist the urge to gaze at her rather than where I am going.

Ana opens the main doors. "What happened? Who is she?"

I finally look down and see her face. That's what makes my knees go weak. She's so beautiful that it hurts to think about anything else. The light from the chandelier above us illuminates her pale skin as her eyelashes lay gently over her upper cheeks.

"She's—" My voice trails off when I realize I don't know the answer to any of Ana's questions.

Dan follows me inside the house. "From what I could tell from Paul's stuttering on the way here, someone tried to shoot him, and the girl leaped in front of him."

Ana darts forward to examine the girl. She tugs the ruined blouse down over the girl's shoulder, displaying far too much for my liking. I choke as I glance up at the chandelier.

"Are you certain she was shot?" Ana inquires, her voice filled with skepticism.

Dan nods. "The bullet hit her in the shoulder."

My eyes leap back to the girl. Her wound has already closed, and only a small scar rinds her perfect skin.

Ana takes her wrist as the mark on the girl's shoulder shrinks under our very eyes. "She has no pulse." Ana's verdict can mean only one thing. This beauty is an undead.

Dan stretches out his arms. "Give her to me. I'll throw her out!"

"No." I shook my head while climbing the stairs to the upper floor. "I still have a debt to pay."

"You owe her nothing, Paul," Ana yells from the bottom of the stairwell. "There is no way to repay a life debt to a dead lady. What's the point of bringing her upstairs?"

There's no need to explain my decisions to them. I'm the pack leader, and I get to decide things around here. If they don't like it, that's fine. They can come and challenge me under the full moon. My wolf and I are ready and eager for a fight.

With a kick of my left foot, I swiftly make the doors whoosh open to one of the guest bedrooms. Why is all my attention focused on her? Maybe it's just because I've never seen someone who has such wonderful copper-red hair. Or perhaps it's the way her body curves in all the right ways under my palms and fingers.

I place her gently on the bed. I crawl close to her, taking great care not to wake the sleeping beauty. Creeping into position one slow motion at a time, I move just like my wolf while hunting his prey. Without touching, I continue my thorough examination of her features.

She looks like a sugary, colorful lollipop in a candy shop window, and I sure have a sweet tooth. My wolf wants to lick her, more to make sure she tastes as good as she looks. Of course, I will not do such a thing. I'm not a pervert licking a sleeping stranger.

What expression will she wear if she opens her eyes now and catches a glimpse of me? Will her face melt into a smile or a frown when she first notices my proximity? Her freckles are perfect on her cheeks, and her lips are drawing me in like a magnet.

My wolf growls, whispering inside my head, "What has gotten into you? I will never kiss or lick the undead. Maybe just to bite her head off."

But even he is hesitant to do so. He talks out of turn and acts on instinct. We've known each other for a long time. He knows me more deeply than anybody else. He's my other self.

I get up from the bed and pace across the room. I'm not the patient type, not when I'm curious, and especially not when I need information. Feet tapping on the polished marble floor, the gears in my head spring to life. I see two options: make a move now, press her to tell me everything, or wait and see what she's like. My wolf is not too fond of planning; it's not his forte, so he pushes me to take the first option.

As I turn toward her, I glimpse the girl's face. It's impossible to keep my eyes off her. I want to touch her again. But her lashes flutter and her eyes start to open. I check her out with the coldest and most spiteful glare I can muster. "Who are you? Why are you stalking me?"

For her sake, I hope she won't lie to me. Nothing stays in my path if I run rampant. I have zero tolerance for lies and undead.

Her turquoise eyes widen slightly before she raises a little, leaning on her elbows.

"Why did you jump in front of me?"

She lifts her chin defiantly. "Because I can't die. You, on the other hand, are quite easy to kill, wolf."

"How do you know about me?"

"You are the powerful leader of the Muntenia pack and the ruler of the supernatural underworld. I don't mind being shot just to meet you." Because of her smirk, her demeanor changes. She transforms from that exquisite, perplexing beauty into sexual temptation, the type that is unhealthy yet too alluring to refuse.

"What do you want from me?" I ask.

"I want you to kill me." She looks me straight in the eyes, daring me to deny her.

"That's a good one, strigoi. You're already dead." I march toward the door.

As I clutch the doorknob, her voice caresses my ears. "No jokes. I want true death, and only you can give it to me."

I don't look back at her. "Then you should have thought twice before saving my life."

I push open the door and walk out. My wolf wants to hunt this creature down and tear her apart, to give her what she wants. I shake my head. This time we're in a disagreement.

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