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Voices pulled him from his slumber. He blinked open dreary eyes and stared at a daisy. He also had a crick in his neck and a full bladder that needed to be relieved. He didn’t like any of this. The sleep. The eating. The bladder-emptying. His single—and only—heartbeat.

“Reports have come in that Sophia Clark is a person of interest in the death of Elisa Elderman and is being held at the New York Police Department’s sixty-second precinct until further notice.”

Death jumped out of bed and stumbled down the stairs to see the television on and Sophia’s smile broadcast behind the talking head of the announcer. The image clicked to a man who still had years of life left to live and the announcer began another story.

“In related news, Jim Broton, leader of the Church of the Chosen was released from prison. Reports say he plans to live in seclusion for the rest of his life and pray for the souls of the impure to find their way to heaven.”

Death scoffed and zoned out of the report. The deeds of souls were laid bare when he reaped them. No amount of praying would change the color of a person’s soul. It only went one of two ways. White or red. No matter what humans thought, they could never change the reality. Where they went was based on the weight of each soul, burdened by the thoughts, actions and deeds culminated throughout a lifetime.

Besides, why would Sophia be a person of interest in Mrs. Elderman’s death when she very clearly was innocent? If he knew one thing, Sophia Clark was no murderer. Not the bright little shopkeeper who had been the subject of his dreams all night. Her soul held almost no weight at all.

He didn’t care to get involved with the dealings of humans, but a woman with a smile like that didn’t deserve to be locked behind bars due to mistaken assumptions. At least he could set things straight while he was stuck here. His chest felt a little lighter, a little less constricted when he thought of helping her.

Sighing, he took care of the business of his body and then trudged down the quaint little porch stairs to the sleek, gleaming, frosted-silver limo.
His mouth flattened into a grim line when the back door opened. He slid inside, reaching for the decanter of whiskey to find it filled with orange juice. Gritting his teeth, he splashed it into a glass and tossed it back. He silently cursed. There was no welcome fiery burn, just the sweet tingle of juice. He had to face facts; Danu was nowhere near finished with him if this substitution was anything to go by.

“Take me to Sophia Clark. And bring me whiskey.”

The limo drifted into traffic and the orange juice sloshed in the decanter. He was struck by the difference of actually living in the human realm, unlike merely coming here to reap. The sounds were louder, the smells grittier, and the light more piercing. He had to get his hands on a pair of sunglasses if he was going to be banished for much longer. There was no doubt, being here was doing nothing to better his state of mind, and it was grating on his nerves.

The car drifted to a stop and the door opened. He was ready this time and managed to scramble out before he was propelled. At least he retained his dignity and stood on the sidewalk instead of face-planting onto it.

The police station’s dark wooden door faced the corner of Bath and Bay. He’d arrived in time to see it open and a disheveled-looking Sophia emerged wearing yesterday’s clothing. She walked down the steps and stopped at the curb, watching oncoming traffic.

As a matter of fact, so did he. At home, he didn’t need to think of things like changing his clothing. He also didn’t have to think of things like body odor, things he was now discovering. Ignoring it for the moment, he didn’t fight the urge to stalk toward her, overwhelmed by what he was.

“Why are you crying?”

She blinked up at him, confusion on her lovely face before it morphed into something wary. “I’m not crying.”

“You just wiped tears falling from your eyes. Of course you’re crying,” he said.

She let out a frustrated sound and turned her back on him. He followed her. “Did they hurt you?”

If any of those police officers so much as laid a finger on her, he’d personally go in and shorten their life span significantly.

She looked over her shoulder, her fine blonde brows pulling together. “What? No!”

“Then why did they keep you all night?”

She stopped and swung around on him so fast he nearly ran into her. “Listen, I don’t know who you are, but my life has been a series of unfortunate events since you came into my shop yesterday. So please. Stay away. You’re bad luck.”

He guessed in a way he was bad luck. He was death after all, and a lot of people washed death away with the assumption that their death came at the hands of bad luck when all along it was just their time. The duration of their lives he had nothing to do about. Only the reaping of their souls when it was finally over. However, he didn’t like to think he was her bad luck.

“Why aren’t you smiling?” He preferred her smile to the downturn of her plush, very kissable lips. He frowned, wondering why he had even noticed what her lips looked like. Or why he’d think they were kissable.

“Why should I smile? You’re not smiling.”

“I never smile,” he said. The harvesting of souls required little interpersonal skills. That had never bothered him before either.

“Never?” She quirked a sleek brow.

He frowned. “No. Never.”

“Then you can’t expect me to smile. Usually one smile leads to another. They’re infectious like that,” Sophia said.

“Like a disease?” Now he was confused. Confused on so many levels.

“A smile is not a disease. It’s something you do because you feel it in your heart,” she said.

In his cold, dead, lifeless heart? “Impossible.”

She splayed her hand over his T-shirt. The heat from her hand seared through the material. “I’m sure you have a heart. It’s in there. See? It’s beating now. So you have a beating heart and you can smile.”

He put his hand over hers, trapping her hand between his hand and his chest. No one had touched him in millennia, apart from the other immortals when they battled. Those touches were nothing like hers. Besides, he’d never wanted anyone’s touch be it soft, harsh or anything in between.
And his heart was beating. Not just one thump, but one after another, after another.

His blood danced through newly flooded veins, and his body buzzed as unknown feeling came into his extremities. Unknown, but curious. Exciting. Arousing.

“There, you’re smiling now. It wasn’t hard, was it? Don’t look so stunned.” 

He lifted his hand to feel his curved mouth. He was dumbfounded. His heart was beating and his mouth was smiling. The corners of her lips lifted and he was lost in her smile that lifted and transformed her whole face from something beautiful to breathtaking.

His fingers left his mouth to trace hers. Her smile faltered as he traced the pad of his thumb along her plump lower lip. Her pupils blew and darkened her eyes. Her smile fell away and she drifted towards him. The air became heavier, her sweet scent floated around him, intoxicating him, stroking something inside him he never knew existed, and with that came the overwhelming knowledge that he wanted her.

She drew in a sharp breath and tugged her hand from beneath his. “Smile, stranger. You wear it well. Just keep away from me. If you’re bad luck, I’m bad news.”

A car drew to the curb. He glimpsed a young female driver before Sophia dove into the passenger side. The door shut with a slam and the car pulled back into traffic. He was struck that this was the second time she was taken from him.

And as she stared out at him from a car window as though there was something she needed to say, his heart stopped beating.


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