BEFORE THE FALL - A Dark Breed Novella

Chapter One

January 10, 6:07 p.m.

5 hours and 53 minutes before the fall . . .

There wasn’t a single bottle of whiskey that Zach Merchant hadn’t fallen in love with in the past six months. Tonight, as he headed out to hit his favorite haunt, Tattoos, his bedfellow of choice would be a soft, golden color that would coat his mouth with pure sexiness and would cloud his thoughts enough to give him his evening’s dose of peace.

He could have just poured himself a shot or two here, but sitting at home with his whiskey felt pathetic, even to him. Not that the women of Tattoos weren’t a draw unto themselves. They were. Or at least they used to be. These days, however, he found himself more turned on by the prospect of a finely-shaped bottle than a finely-shaped body.

So he’d head to Tattoos, let the women rub their bodies against him, and smile as though they’d made his night, when in truth not one of them could hold a candle to the woman he was trying to lose in the bottom of a shot glass—a certain brown-haired, doe-eyed woman who still owned more of Zach’s thoughts than he cared to admit.

It’s been six months, Merchant. Shanna’s not coming back.

As he locked his door and headed down the small walkway in front of his cottage, that thought made his head pound as he mentally kicked his own ass for being such a lovesick pussy.

When he reached the sidewalk, the faint whimper of his neighbor’s dog broke the usually peaceful sounds of early evening. The short dead end housed only himself and the old Murphy couple, who treated their yapping ankle-biter like the grandkid they’d never had. The Murphys would never leave the pooch unattended outside, so Zach immediately became alert, listening for any other oddities.

The couple was elderly, and Ernest had been having memory issues recently. Could be, the old goat simply forgot to bring the dog inside.

With a sigh, he cast a longing glance at the dusky sky and the path he’d intended to take, then headed in the opposite direction across the street to perform his neighborly duties.

But before he’d made it halfway down the stone walk, the Murphys’ little yellow cottage lit up, and Mrs. Murphy burst through her front door. Curlers in her hair held in place by a pink scarf, she stumbled down the porch steps, tripped, and hugged the rail with one hand to regain her balance. The moment her wild eyes caught sight of Zach, she staggered toward him.

His body instantly tensed, alert again and ready for trouble. As he rushed to her side, his ears were listening for any out-of-place noises, his eyes searching for moving shadows. He caught Mrs. Murphy’s arm just as her pink slippers stuttered on the curb and she spilled forward.

Her small eyes searched his face with a silent scream of fear and urgency. “Please . . . they’re killing Ernest!”

Her eyes rolled backward and she fainted against his chest.

He lowered the old woman to the ground and gently rolled her over, cursing under his breath when he caught a glimpse of her rotund belly. What he’d thought had been a design on the over-fluffed robe was actually shredded, blood-soaked fabric. He followed the trail upward toward her shoulder, watching with sickening dread as her arm— held in place by a few tendons, the bone torn straight through—fell away from her body, “Fuck!”

Pulling off his t-shirt, he wrapped it around her arm before carefully lifting her and taking her inside his house, where he laid her on the couch. He rushed to the desk in the corner of the living room. Shoving the clutter out of the way, he grabbed the old, hollowed-out phone book and shook it open. A long, sharpened silver stake and a curved silver dagger fell into his palm. He tucked them into his jeans pockets and ran back outside.

Zach had been around long enough to recognize wounds like Mrs. Murphy’s, and they hadn’t been inflicted by a human. He didn’t know what breed of demon he was about to face, but something inhuman was in there with Ernest, and the old guy wouldn’t stand a chance if Zach didn’t move quickly. Glad he hadn’t yet downed a shot of whiskey, he kicked the door open wider and stepped into the chaos of the Murphys’ living room. Immediately, instincts that had lain dormant for ten years zinged to life, warning him of a dark soul only