Read an Excerpt
The Keeper Series Book One
By Madhuri Pavamani
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Madhuri Pavamani
All rights reserved.
I was eight years old the first time I rode an elephant.
I was visiting my grandparents, and the local zoo's specimen had given birth to a dwarf, so everyone in the household wanted to witness the freak. They rustled up the whole lot of us, waved down some auto-rickshaws, and off we went, zooming toward the unimaginable feat of nature.
I took one look at that dwarf and knew it was scared. I also knew it was a complete bore.
The mom was much more interesting and already back to earning her share, offering rides to any souls brave enough to climb atop her back. My cousins needed no invitation, and before anyone knew what was happening, grandparents included, they scampered up the poor beast's back and were raring to go.
I stood off to the side and watched, shy and somewhat quiet, still a bit ill at ease in my new environs. It was not every day I was shipped halfway across the world on a bird in the sky, and summarily deposited with two elderly souls I barely knew and certainly did not trust.
The elephant was a good move.
I was warming up to the two brown people smiling while their eyes flashed back and forth in rapid succession from me to the brood atop the grey beast. My grandmother clucked warmly in my direction, offering some words of encouragement as the mahout waved me over.
He was awfully scrawny and rather filthy, and I shot him a foul look. No fucking way was he controlling anything if that grey monster decided to stop taking anyone's shit. But I was eight, and I was curious, and it was an elephant, for fuck's sake. So I stopped putzing around on the outskirts of the action and leaned in contemplative somewhat curious.
Which was enough for Mr. Mahout. Faster than I would have ever assumed he could move, he grabbed me by the nape of my neck and hoisted me onto the dwarf's mama.
Not on her back, with my cousins but right behind her ears, on what seemed to be her neck, my hands resting on her head.
She was just like the old man who swam laps at the YMCA every Monday and always bent over to lotion his legs, providing me the perfect view of his ass — hairy and wrinkled and grey.
The mahout settled in behind me and gave his signal, but the old girl wasn't going anywhere. She bobbed her head side to side, and he yelled something in Tamil, all of it unintelligible since I didn't speak a bit of anything from the motherland.
At least not then.
He yelled again and gave her some swats with his whip, but she didn't give a shit. Instead, she lifted her trunk into the air, pushed it about like a show-off, raised it to her head, and sniffed my hands.
I froze, for a second worried I might piss my pants.
I did not want to piss my pants, sitting there high in the air, because I did not want to soil her neck, but really I did not want another excuse to be the laughingstock of my unruly gang of cousins. So I let her do whatever she needed to do, praying all the while her trunk wasn't full of tiny teeth that could suddenly inhale my hands and then my arms and then my head to chew me up and feed me to the dwarf.
I had not flown halfway across the fucking globe to wind up as dwarf fodder.
So I shut up and homegirl sniffed me up and eventually she started walking, doing a slow rotation of the park, giving us kids the ride of our lives.
I was eight, and it was magical.
I am now thirty-seven, and let me tell you, this world is anything but magical.
My name is Dutch Mathew I kill for The Gate and I am a Keeper.CHAPTER 2
I was five years old when I died and ooooooh god did it hurt.
The pain is what I recall most, even more than the blood and the fear, the panic in my ma's eyes as she begged my da to drive faster, the strain in my da's voice as he emphatically insisted his child would not receive a transfusion.
Louder than any of that was the pain, the searing shock and burn of my throat as the bullet missed its mark, entered my neck right below my left ear, and exited slightly lower on the right side.
It had been a normal summer day in Atlanta, hot beyond all get-out, but by late afternoon with a storm on the horizon, the heat had relented a bit, providing some respite from the cramped boxes of our apartments in the Shamrock complex North Druid Hills Road Decatur, Georgia.
Hardly glamorous but hardly the hood, kind of a socioeconomic in-between land, rather nondescript and average.
The complex was full of families with kids everywhere in the pool on the courtyard down the street.
A jumbled, excited, energetic mix of brown and black and white arms and legs, ponytails and braids, Mohawks and fades. We played outside, unsupervised, because there were so many of us, a mass of pint-size humanity, running wild.
Until the day I died.
The sky was clear and a bird sang, which was so strange because usually the heat killed any motivation for creating sweet music. But not that day and not that bird. She was singing her heart out that afternoon.
I like to think of her as a "she" because that song was so damn pretty, so clear and melodious.
Until it wasn't.
The shot rang out in all of that summer perfection, ruining our fun and scarring our childhood. Those kids I ran with when I was so, so small, they forever remembered that shot. I, on the other hand, forever remembered the pain.
Heat ripped flesh pain like fire too much for a tiny human to comprehend and contain. And metal.
The taste on my tongue, filling my throat until I coughed and sputtered and felt like I could barely breathe.
I screamed I think or I tried at least. It came out gurgly and thick choked. Then arms so strong and certain clutching me and being airborne high above the others running fast fast faster. And screaming everyone was screaming kids mothers fathers and over all of them was the lilt of my ma's voice.
Through the haze of my pain and blood loss and trauma, she talked to me. Rubbing my head, begging me to keep my eyes open we're close we're close we're close.
But she could not ease the pain, damp the burn. Her voice could not soothe my misery, act as a salve, a poultice for the gaping holes in my tiny throat. Nothing could stop the fire that threatened to rip me in half.
That pain remains to this day. It hid in the dark places of my body, lingered in some of my light, and made certain I never forgot it. I might have worked for Death, that sexy mistress, but the pain was my lord and master.
I just didn't share that with Death. Not then, not ever.
My da was chief of something at the hospital in town. He ran in like he owned the place, I came to learn much later, and started going about the business of saving my life. Until he was pushed away and told to "wait right there!" so they could go about the business of saving my life. But it did not matter, they could do nothing. None of them, neither the doctors and nurses nor my da the chief, because that day, July eleventh, was to be my last on this earth as Juma Landry, daughter of Rufus and Mimi Landry.
Because on that day, July eleventh, I died and became Death's Poocha.CHAPTER 3
"Don't stop, Dutch!"
The blonde with the perfect ass wouldn't quit talking, and I needed her to shut up. This was not a love match. We were not going to have a friendly chat over a glass of wine. I was not going to ask her about her job or her family or her dog, because I did not give a shit about anything having to do with her besides where she wanted to fuck. I'd intimated as much earlier on the train.
"We can do this wherever you want, but we're doing this."
She laughed, low and husky, just the sound to hit me right in the balls, and pretended not to be interested, but I knew she was because I saw her pulse race when I leaned against the pole in the middle of the car and staked my claim.
"I don't even know your name."
Her blond hair was crisp and sophisticated, her breasts just right, and the way her pencil skirt hugged her ass was a crime. Just a glimpse of her curves had my dick itching to slide into her tight pussy and fuck her blind. How many men, nah, forget that, how many men and women caught a glimpse of that ass and wanted to own it? Well, tonight that ass belonged to me.
Miss Perfect Ass glanced up, those long eyelashes working some kind of magic around her cornflower blues, and I went in for the kill. I placed my hand on her hip and pulled her close while I leaned in and touched my lips to the shell of her ear. She whimpered, I smelled her desire, and I knew her panties were already soaked.
"I'm going to take you home and fuck you so hard, you won't be able to walk." I grabbed her hand as the train doors opened and pulled her out behind me, not waiting for her answer.
The parted lips, the heavy-lidded eyes told me she ached for whatever I was going to give her, and I was going to give it to her, but on my terms.
I had three rules, and she would follow all of them.
"No conversation," I stated as we crossed the threshold of my apartment and I closed the door behind us. "I despise small talk. We don't know each other and would probably never know each other but for the fact you caught my eye and made my dick hard."
Miss Perfect Ass raised a brow in shock as I continued, "We are together to fuck. Nothing more, nothing less, so I ask that you keep the conversation to a minimum, preferably not speaking at all. Just let me fuck you, give you the orgasm of your life, and send you on your way."
She started to say something and I pressed my finger to her lips, wanting her to shut the fuck up.
"Also, no kissing. I know my lips look like they're made for kissing, but that isn't going to happen. My lips will not meet yours, now or ever, so push that idea out of your head. Nothing about 'I am going to fuck you' implies I'm also going to kiss you. Nothing. Not one fucking thing. So stop gazing longingly at my mouth, gorgeous, because there is no way in hell my tongue is going down your throat. None whatsoever."
I moved my finger and she licked her lips, goddamned seductress.
"And for fuck's sake, don't touch me. I will tie your hands together, have you bound up so fast if you even think about doing otherwise. I hate being touched."
She placed a hand on her hip and the other on her throat and I knew that even though my demands were perverse, she was turned on.
"I love to fuck all the time, multiple times a day if possible. My appetite for pussy is voracious. But do not touch me. Do not guide my dick anywhere, do not grab my balls. Do not rake your nails down my chest, wrap your arms around my neck, or weave your fingers in my hair. Understand?"
And even though she claimed to understand me crystal clear when I listed my demands here she was Miss Perfect Ass moving that mouth and making sound come out of it.
"Dutch, please. God, please."
I grabbed a fistful of her hair and yanked her head back until I had easy access to her ear, all the while ramming myself deep into her from behind, and goddamn she felt good, but that mouth and her voice.
"Shut up before I stick my dick down your throat and make you shut up."
And like every other woman who crossed my path and found herself in my cold embrace, she arched into me, her breath hitching, her pussy clenching, wanting more of whatever I was giving her.
"Not another word," I growled, "as discussed."
And Miss Perfect Ass nodded her head and took my dick, and when she came she did not say a word, not even a whimper or a moan.
I could have kissed her, but I didn't because I don't kiss anyone.
Instead, I patted her ass, helped her into her skirt, and, while zipping my fly, reached for my pack of smokes. I glanced at the coffee table, looking for my lighter, then searched my back pocket and came up empty-handed. The cigarette dangled from my lips as I grabbed my coat off the couch where I'd tossed it right before I pushed Miss Perfect Ass against the wall face-first.
"This breaks your rule," she said with a smirk, "me getting all crazy and talking, but you want a light?" I reached for her lighter, but she snatched it back with a laugh, grabbing her clutch and stepping into my orbit. In another lifetime, one that did not belong to The Gate, I would have liked her. I might have even kissed her. In this lifetime, I had no time for her antics, so I grabbed her wrist, snatched the lighter, and fired up my smoke.
"You are a piece of work, Dutch-with-no-last-name," she called over her shoulder as she headed for the door, her perfect ass taunting me with every step.
"Your lighter," I called after her but never left my spot on the couch.
"Keep it, sexy."
The door slammed and she was gone.
I closed my eyes and sighed, the cigarette resting precariously between my lips, its smoke cutting through her lingering scent of freesia. I counted off ten beats in my head, telling myself on ten I would get the fuck up and handle shit. I knew I needed to, I just didn't feel like it. But that motherfucking Poocha, Arjun — my bloody bullshit assignment was out there — just waiting for me to bring death number eight, and until I did, he was going to keep crossing over Deaders.
Because he was a determined asshole like that.
And I was a mentally exhausted Keeper, sick of his fuckery and nonsense, and taking my time bringing about his end.
I leaned forward — a good sign, a sign that I might consider moving in the right direction — and thought about calling Frist for some of her stuff. But it had only been three days since I'd made my previous request of her. I knew the minute she saw my number come up she would get pissy and growl into the phone for me to leave her the fuck alone and let her work. So I pushed any thoughts of her out of my head and made my way to the back of my apartment and my stash of weapons, some poisoned and full of evil, others not.
Truth be told, I was pretty fucking deadly with a blade, so it was the rare Poocha who needed some poison, but Arjun had given me fits. He was worthy of some black magic. A little extra suffering for his bastard soul.
I picked a short-handled stocky knife with a long, upswept blade and a poison I knew would cause him pain well into his next life. I grabbed a couple of other blades just in case, holstered up, tossed on my jacket, and headed out the door. I considered the elevator, but my legs needed the exercise, so I hit the stairs, two at a time, cigarette dangling, lungs be damned.
The street and the sunlight and the pedestrians brought me real quick into the here and now, converging into a cautionary triumvirate, laden with the message, "Pay attention, Dutch! That motherfucker Arjun is wily." As if I didn't know that shit, but a reminder always helped. I checked the street, did a quick scan of every damn detail, then headed uptown and west for the apartment on Sixty-third and Columbus, and the dark-skinned girl with the mouth like a whore and an ass to match.
Arjun was fucking her, this I knew because I smelled his special brand of shit two mornings ago when she and I passed each other in Barnes and Noble. And no, I didn't read any goddamned books, at least not anymore, but I liked buying them, collecting them, building my library for the day I escaped this cesspool of shit I called my life and was once again able to get lost in the pages of a novel.
Kayti Nika Raet.
That was the book — the cover caught my eye on the train one day, and the next I was uptown searching the shelves for it. At least I was until she entered my peripheral vision.
The dark-skinned goddess.
She glanced my way and smiled.
I couldn't take my eyes off her ass. Really, I couldn't think about anything but fucking her among those stacks of books, that's how goddamned sexy she was. She passed me, looking like sin. And smelling like shit. I coughed in surprise — how the fuck could someone so stunning carry such a stench? I then collected myself, remembered who I was and what I did for a living, and dug a little deeper.
Something was off.
Mingled in with the shit was something lighter, sage maybe. With a hint of grapefruit. That was her — sage and citrus. With an undertone of clean laundry drying in the sun.
She was not fecal matter.
She was not the shit wrapped all around her, hiding all of her headiness. And then I knew.
That morning I found my book, bought it, and followed her out of the store, downtown about twenty blocks to her high-rise building near Columbus Circle. Now I stood outside that same building, taking stock. I inhaled-exhaled on my smoke a few times, flicked it into the street, and breathed deeply through my nose.
That motherfucker was here and had probably been here for a few days, holed up with the dark goddess, and if he was anything like me, he had been fucking that gorgeous girl in every hole possible, as much as possible. I checked my blades again, scanned the street one more time, and made my way inside.
Excerpted from Dutch by Madhuri Pavamani. Copyright © 2017 Madhuri Pavamani. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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