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Locke & Key

Less Than Three Press LLC

Heat Rating: SWEET
Word Count: 26,000
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Three tales of hunters, vampires, and the colorful lives they lead...

Locke and his partner Key hunt broken vampires—those who did not take well to the changes inflicted upon them, and feast wildly upon the living. They live the life of wanderers, traveling from place to place, putting an end to broken vampires. They rely on each other, partners through and through—until a secret rips them apart.

Preston is a hunter of top vampires, those who have lived for decades, even centuries. It is Preston's duty to keep an eye on these older vampires and ensure they do not break the strict rules by which they live. This duty is easier said than done, when his days are predominantly spent settling the disputes between two vampires with a vehement dislike of each other—but who share a particular fondness Preston.

Trevor has faithfully served top vampire Richard as housekeeper for years, watching from afar as the man he loves notices everyone but the man right in...

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Excerpt

Locke & Key

"I'm cold."

"Kill the vampire, sweetheart, then you can have a hot shower and a cup of coffee."

Locke smiled, but didn't let it slip into his voice. "Fuck you," he said. "You only call me sweetheart when you think I'm being a baby."

"Whatever you say. Sweetheart."

Rolling his eyes, Locke pulled out his guns one by one and checked them one last time. "Key, stop trying to flirt with your boss and do your damn job."

"Yes, sweetheart," Key replied, and Locke could hear him typing furiously away on his laptop.

Locke made a mental note to administer a beating when he got home. Lightly touching his clothing, his weapons, ensuring all was as it should be and could be grabbed in a moment's notice – or not grabbed, whichever applied – he climbed out of his beat up car, popped a piece of cinnamon gum, and started walking down the dark street toward the apartment building at the end of it.

Snow crunched beneath his heavy boots, clung to his dark brown hair and black corduroy jacket. He grimaced as the wind briefly picked up, making the cold that much more miserable. Ugh. He hated hunting in winter. Well, at least they weren't up New England way this time.

The apartment building looked like it had survived a small war. It was little wonder only broken vamps really lived in it.

Creaky, broken, it smelled positively rank - piss and cheap booze, sweat and sex, cigarettes and mold, and beneath all of it the unmistakable stench of old blood. Locke's nose twitched. Ugh, he hated broken vampires.

"Hey," Key said in his ear, "even the nastiest broken vamps are better than a single top vamp."

Locked glared at the dark, mildewed stairwell he had to climb, wishing Key was present to receive the glare and not a couple miles away. "Stop doing that."

Key sniggered. "Not my fault your thoughts are easy to predict."

"Shut up. Final count, how many would you say?"

"Mmm," Key murmured thoughtfully, keys clicking at a rapid fire rate. It was a familiar sound, soothing in the nasty atmosphere of the rundown building. "Reports seem to indicate three to five. Given the low population density in this area, the lack of crime...the absence of any sort of animals in your prelims, I'm going to say five, possibly six. No one has ever reported so much as finding a body, so they're smart or at least neat."

Locke glanced at a puddle of some questionable substance. "If you say so."

"At least they're not so broken as to ignore that sort of thing," Key said. "Six at most, come on. It won't take you long at all. I'll start the coffee once you're on your way back."

"Shut the fuck up," Locke said. "You do your job, I'll do mine."

"Yeah, yeah," Key replied, then fell silent save for the rhythmic clicking of his keyboard.

Locke weighed his options, touching each of his four revolvers, and finally settled on the Blackhawks. The Smith and Wesson were more fun, but guns meant for 'big game' were hardly required for a bunch of stupid broken vamps.

Unfortunately.

"If you want to play with the Model 500," Key said in his ear, laughter plain in his voice, "we can always switch to hunting top vamps."

"Fuck you," Locke muttered, drawing his Blackhawks and finally approaching the stairs. He didn't bother to be quiet, because any second now the vamps would pick up his scent anyway.

Oh, how they would pick it up.

There were two ways to hunt vamps when it came to smell – hide your scent, or show it off.

Locke's favorite day of every month in school had been show and tell.

He'd barely cleared the landing when a door at the end of the hall flew open and something that looked vaguely human half-lunged, half-stumbled out.

Ugh. He hated broken vamps, but he always felt sorry for the bastards, too. He wondered sometimes which feeling motivated him to pull the trigger.

Raising the gun in his right hand, Locke fired. The Blackhawk was by no stretch of the imagination a quiet gun. Nor a pretty one, so far as results went. The vamp went down like a lump of raw meat, finished off neatly and handily by a .44 hollow-point silver bullet.

The only thing his mama made better than bullets was chocolate chip cookies, and the fact she was due to be sending him both shortly was immensely cheering.

Locke turned as he heard something behind him and raised his second gun, taking down two more. That was three down, about three to go.

He grimaced at the strong smell of blood, which did not go well with the rest of the nastiness filling the old building. Not much remained of the corpses. Broken vampires weren't strong enough to have the regenerative abilities of a top vampire, but even if they did the hollow point silver slugs caused too much damage for that to fix. Even a top would be pissed off for a couple of hours after taking a hit like that.

Four bullets left in the first gun, three in the second. He still had the Smith & Wesson and the semi as a final resort. Whistling cheerfully now, ignoring the pained sigh in his ear, Locke moved toward the first vamp he'd shot, stepping over the mess and into the apartment.

If he was not already long-resigned to the stench of decay and old blood, it would have made him gag. Broken vamps were the worst – converted from humans, which seldom went well. It usually broke them one way or another, creating the repulsive, pathetic creatures he most frequently killed.

Shit, someone turned him into a bloodsucker he'd fucking go psycho too. Well, he'd kill himself, but that was beside the point.

He heard shuffling from what was probably a bedroom and moved that way, carefully moving around the drained corpses and other rot spread across the floor, wanting badly to puke.

"Think happy thoughts," Key said.

"Stop reading my fucking mind," Locke muttered.

Key snickered, then once again fell silent.

Cautiously Locke pushed open the bedroom door, ready to fire – but when he entered, all he saw was a broken vampire lying prone on a bed with stains best described as interesting. A lamp cast orange-yellow light, making everything that much uglier. The vamp moved, lifting its head just enough to look at him with eyes that might have belonged to a drug addict suffering serious withdrawal.

Locke shot him in the head and turned away before the mess really did make him hurl. Didn't matter how many years he did this, he never really got used to it.

He went through the remaining rooms as quickly as he could without being too hasty, then tracked back the way he'd come to explore the apartment from which the other two vamps had come. Nothing but more nastiness.

Frowning, he returned to the hallway. Fuck, he didn't want to have to explore the entire goddamn building and every apartment in it. If there was nothing but vamps around….generally they kept to the same hovel, and the first floor of apartments made the most sense…

Standing perfectly still, he listened, waited. If a vampire was close enough to smell him, it would come for him. He worked hard to make his blood the feast of feasts for a vampire. If nothing showed, he'd go up another level.

A faint creak.

He turned – and swore. "You're not fucking broken."

The vampire before him bared his pointy teeth in something that was part smirk, part grin, part you look really damned tasty, hunter.

In his ear, Key was cussing up a storm.

Locke dropped his Blackhawks and drew the Smith & Wesson even as the average-type vampire lunged for him. The guns roared as he fired, flashing bright enough to light up the dark hallway for a heartbeat. With enough firepower to take down a bear, they were more than enough to put a hurt on an average vamp.

It jerked back, right off its feet, and Locke wasted no time in shooting it a second time.

"Get it?" Key asked.

"Yeah," Locke replied tersely.

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