The Keeper of the Key by Debra Smith
erotic vampire paranormal category length novel
Length: 41000 words
Cover art by Winterheart Design
Kate, an everyday book store owner, is thrown into a world of danger after receiving a letter from her deceased husband. She follows the clues into the arms of Xander, a tough guy she can’t stop herself from wanting. Her passions ignite from a single glance, and she is unable to control her desires. Her love isn’t enough to save her, because a human can never survive a vampire's hunger.
Xander admires the fiery temper of the seductive human he’s determined to help. She must follow the dangerous trail onto which her dead husband’s message leads, for it ends in the mythical land of Shangri La. In an effort to save her, Xander bonds them together, sentencing her to death unless he can reverse the blood tie. Though he craves her touch, he's forced to push her away while they battle their way to the chaos at the heart of Shangri La. Can he protect her from her family’s secrets and find a way for both of them to survive, or will their love be lost in the pits of a crumbling castle?
The bell jingled above the door as a uniformed man carrying an envelope crossed the threshold. Kate pushed her glasses up her nose and placed her new romance novel on the book store’s counter, careful to mark the page.
“Katherine Collins?” The man scanned the small storefront.
Kate darted a glance at his embroidered name tag. Chip, how quaint.
“Yes, how can I help you, Chip?”
“I have a delivery from Tom Collins dated for today. Could you show me some identification and please sign?”
She froze, not even daring to breathe. Kate felt the blood drain from her face. The scent of fresh-cut grass, the sound of deep laughter, and the sweet taste of fresh strawberries lingered in her thoughts.
“Miss, is everything all right?”
Kate jumped with a start and blinked as her mind returned to the present.
"I beg your pardon." Kate flushed.
His eyes filled with concern as he repeated his question.
“Yes, everything’s fine.” Kate reached down behind the counter and retrieved her ID from her purse. She steadied her hand as she handed the man her license.
“Thank you. Could you sign on the line at the bottom of the page?”
She nodded in a daze, the torrent of emotions cascading through her body too much to process.
“Have a nice day, miss.” The man tipped his hat and offered a gentile smile.
“You too.” Her smile was a remembered politeness.
The man walked out, and Kate stared at the envelope. She lied. Everything wasn’t fine. The package was from her husband Tom, and he had died a year ago.
“Jenny, I need you to mind the register for a moment. I need to go to my office,” Kate called to her one employee stocking her new shipment of books for the store. Kate didn’t wait for a response as she walked to the back.
The door emitted a soft click as it closed. She engaged the lock, not because she wasn’t sure of her safety, but to buy her time to calm her thoughts. Air rushed past her lips when she collapsed in her chair. The old clock hanging on the wall marked the time, while she took several deep breaths, trying to appease her aching heart.
Tears fell down her cheeks. A fresh wound burned, raw on her heart. Maybe his death wasn’t behind her.
“Tom,” she whispered as she caressed the envelope with trembling fingers.
Her heart pounded, while her hand ghosted to her desk drawer to retrieve her letter opener. Kate slid the silver tip in the corner of the envelope, relying on familiar routine instead of a steady hand. She winced at the harsh tearing of paper. She cautiously slid the contents onto her desk and scrunched her eyebrows.
Two small things spilled out of the belly of the envelope. A delicate, silver necklace with a blue water lily pendant and a folded letter rested on the dark wood.
Kate reached forward and claimed one of the two confusing contents. Kate held the delicate lily between her fingers. The light glinted off the blue petals, causing her breath to hitch. Her fingers tingled while a dreamlike familiarity filled her heart. Why would Tom send a necklace? Maybe the letter holds the answer.
She opened the folded pages, making the paper crinkle in protest. She took a moment to let the unshed tears clear from her eyes before she began.
My Dearest Kate,
I’m sorry that I am no longer with you. I tried to protect you, but if you are reading this, I have failed. First, trust no one. What you are about to discover is dangerous. People will try to hurt you to gain the knowledge I have uncovered. The necklace is the key. You must hide it. We are not alone in this world. Forces of which you cannot possibly imagine will try to stop you. I know you had Great Expectations for our life, and I’m sorry I’m not there. You must find Xander. He can help you as he once helped me. Start at the Crossing, he should be there. Be careful. I have left clues for only your eyes. Be brave. I love you.
Kate folded up the letter, matching the creases exactly as Tom once had, and wiped the fresh tears from her cheeks. The whole thing was crazy. A letter from her dead husband, dire warnings, and tales of dark forces was too much to handle. She needed time to think. Heck, she needed a drink. Walking to the front of the store, she flipped the sign on the door to “closed”. Kate blew a slow stream of air past her lips.
“Everything okay, boss? We aren’t supposed to close for another few hours.”
“I’m just not feeling well. Let’s call it a day.”
Jenny popped her strawberry bubble gum and jumped from the stool, eager to escape her boredom and have a life at least for the evening.
“Okay, but I still get paid for the time, right?” Jenny asked while stuffing her fashion magazines in her oversized purse.
“Sure, Jenny, of course.” Kate pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes.
“Cool . Thanks, Kate. See you tomorrow.” Jenny skipped to the door, the scent of her Lucky perfume temporarily muting the smell of books.
“See you tomorrow.” Kate sighed as her gaze drifted to her office.
Her heels tapped along the hardwood floor while she made her way to the front door. She clicked the deadbolt into place and scanned the cars and people in front of her shop. Nothing seemed unusual. Rubbing her hands up and down her arms, she returned her gaze to her office.
She had a choice to make, and she needed to hide the necklace. Whatever was going on, it was important enough for Tom to come back to life, however briefly.