Though he has vampire, demon, and Viking blood rushing through his veins, Ivar Kjeidsen's soul-crushing trip to hell broke him in ways he can barely fathom. One vow keeps the deadly immortal standing: To rescue the vampire brother who had sacrificed freedom for him. To do that, Ivar needs the help of a brilliant physicist with wary brown eyes, fierce brilliance, and skin that's way too soft.
Dr. Promise Williams understands the underpinnings of the universe but has never figured out the human beings inhabiting it. Her function is to think-and not feel-until she's touched by a vampire who's nowhere near human. The primal hunger in his eyes awakens feelings in her that defy calculation. As she shows him the way to step between worlds, he brands her with a pleasure that could last more than a lifetime . . .
"Spicy romantic interplay; highly recommended."
-Library Journal on Vampire's Faith
"Sizzling sex scenes and a memorable cast."
-Publishers Weekly on Claimed
"A fast-paced, excitement-filled explosion of action... Zanetti keeps getting better."
- RT Book Reviews on Marked, 4.5 Stars Top Pick
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Across the windy cemetery, beyond the rows of gravestones, a man leaned against a pine tree and watched her. Even at the distance, the deep blue of his eyes cut through the day. He stood to at least two meters, his chest broad, his legs long. His gaze was almost physical and alight with something that caught her by surprise. A rare tingling, one she'd never been able to explain to herself, much less to anybody else, morphed into an instant headache at the base of her neck.
Dr. Promise Williams shivered and broke eye contact to focus in front of her.
Meager September sunlight glinted off the coffin as it was lowered into the wet earth. The clouds had finally parted and stopped dropping rain on the mourners. She closed her umbrella and tucked it into her overlarge bag, wet grass marring her smart boots.
"It was a nice service. Earlier, I mean," Dr. Mark Brookes said at her side, wiping his thick glasses on a handkerchief. He wore a tailored black suit with a muted tie, his eyes earnest and his thinning hair wet from the earlier rain.
Promise nodded, her stomach aching. The group standing around remained silent with a couple of soft sniffs piercing the quiet. She knew all of the mourners. Six professors, a dean, and two grad students. The earlier service had been packed with students, more faculty, and even the local press. This part of the day was reserved for family.
Dr. Victory Rashad hadn't had any family. Other than the faculty, of course.
The wind picked up, brushing across Promise's face. She shivered. Who did she have? If she died tomorrow, who would attend the burial part of her service? Unwittingly, she looked toward the pine tree.
The man was gone.
Not a surprise. While he'd visited the dead, no doubt he'd just looked over at the assembled group in passing. His focus hadn't been solely on her. She shook her head and tried to dispel the dread she'd been experiencing since the police had found Victory. The woman had been missing for nearly three days before being found. Torn apart.
Who would do such a ghastly thing?
The gears of the lowering device stopped, effectively concluding the burial for the bystanders. "Well." Mark held out an arm, and she naturally slipped her glove into the crook of his elbow. "Would you like to get something to eat?" He turned and assisted her over the uneven ground to their vehicles, parked on the silent road.
"Thanks, but I'd rather go home." She'd attended an Irish wake once where the family members drank into the next day, toasting the dead with stories. A wealth of stories, and all told with love and shouts of laughter. What was it about her world that lent itself to quiet services and no humorous anecdotes? "Thank you, though."
Mark paused at her new compact car and waited for her to unlock the door. "I hadn't realized you and Victory were close."
"We weren't," Promise said quietly, opening the door. The other professor had joined the physics department at the university during summer semester, and so far, even though the school was a month into fall semester, they'd merely politely greeted each other at department meetings. That was it. Maybe a lunch or two in the cafeteria, but she didn't remember the details. "Are we, any of us, close with anybody?"
Mark scratched his chin. "I am. Two brothers, both married with kids. In fact, Mike is having a barbecue this Sunday, probably the last one before winter. I've been meaning to ask you."
"I should probably work." The idea of witnessing a happy family was too much to think about right now. What was wrong with her?
"Okay." He waited until she'd sat before leaning over the open door. "Two dates, and now I'm not sure what's going on." His intelligent brown eyes studied her, while the too-musky scent of his cologne wafted in her face. "I'm thirty-five and don't have time for games, Promise. Are we going out again or not?"
She forced a smile. "No." He was a nice man, but she'd rather work with supersymmetry or cosmological inflation than spend time with him. Of course, who wouldn't? "I think we're better situated as friends."
"Well. I do appreciate your honesty." As he straightened, his tone indicated that he did not, in fact, appreciate the truth. "I'll see you Monday." He shut her door with extra force.
Cripes. Maybe the truth had been a mistake and she should've worked harder to soften her words. Like usual.
She started the engine and pulled away from the curb, winding through the cemetery and wondering about Dr. Rashad. The police hadn't indicated any movement on the case, but Promise felt she should do something. Perhaps she'd call on Monday and request a status update.
She sped up slightly, and her doors locked. Her shoulders relaxed. It had to be a coincidence that Dr. Gary Fissure, a colleague from Great Britain, was also missing. She'd collaborated with him on a paper several years previous.
The wind picked up, and rain splattered against the windshield again. Several roads spread out in different directions. She hadn't been paying close attention when she'd driven in. How stupid of her. So she took the first left, allowing her mind to wander as she drove among the peaceful dead. She flicked on the wipers and turned down another road in the sprawling cemetery.
Suddenly, her passenger door was wrenched open and the damaged lock protested, emitting a screech-popping sound.
A man forced his way inside, rocking the car, and slammed the door. Droplets of rain wettened her leather seats.
She reacted in slow motion. How was this happening? How had he broken the door lock of her new car? Her eyes widened, and she turned her head to fully face him. That quickly, she recognized him. "You were watching me."
"I was." His voice was low and mangled, gritty and surpassing hoarse. Those blue eyes were even darker inside the vehicle.
Adrenaline flooded her, and she finally reacted, slamming on the brakes and reaching for her door. Her seat belt constricted her, but she fought it, silent in her desperate bid to escape him.
He manacled one incredibly strong hand around her arm and yanked her back into place. "Drive."
Her shoulders collided with her seat back, and she opened her mouth to scream. Her headache blasted into a migraine instantly.
He pressed a gun into her rib cage.
Her scream sputtered into a whisper. She looked frantically around, but the road ahead and behind her was empty.
"I said drive," he repeated, no infliction in his tired tone.
She swallowed, and fear finally engulfed her. The sound she made was so much of a whimper that she winced. "My purse is on the floor. Take whatever you want and get out." Her voice shook almost harder than her hands on the steering wheel.
"I have what I want. Drive." The gun and his hold on the weapon remained level. He took up more than his own seat, his arms and torso solid muscle. His face was hard and angled — cut in a way that almost looked unreal.
His words chilled through her. How was she going to free herself from him? She pressed the gas pedal again and drove along fresh graves, spotting the exit farther ahead. Her heartbeat increased its force, and her ribs ached. "What do you want from me?" She held her breath.
"Just your brain," he said, the sound raw.
She jerked, her head turning to him again. "To eat?" she gasped.
He blinked. Once and then again. "No, not to eat." His wince drew his cheeks up and his darker brows down. "Geez. To eat? Why would I eat your brain? Ick."
Her kidnapper had just said "Ick" and looked at her like she was insane. She eyed him with her peripheral vision so she could better describe him in a police report — if she survived this. At least six foot six, long dark blond hair with even darker streaks strewn throughout, handsome face. Somewhat rugged but also sharp, and with healed burn marks down his neck. His eyes were world-weary and wounded, and he'd obviously survived hell. Now she had to survive him.
Wait a minute. His words registered even deeper. Her brain? Heat spiraled through her chest. "Did you want Victory Rashad's brain too?"
Oh, God. He was going to kill her — just like Victory Rashad. Panic took Promise again, and she slammed her foot on the gas pedal.
"Wait," he said, grasping her arm. "I won't hurt you. I'm here to help you."
Affirmative. Yes. The guy with the gun was interested in providing assistance. Right. She ducked her head and floored the gas pedal, bumping out of the cemetery and speeding down the quiet road.
"Slow down," he hissed, his hold tightening enough to bruise.
She zipped around a corner and into traffic, driving as fast as she could.
He swore and grabbed for the key, which wasn't in the dash. She'd used the starter button. She swerved around a minivan and finally spotted a police cruiser up ahead. Slapping at him, knowing if he got her out of the car, she was dead, she took the chance of being shot in order to gain freedom.
Yelling, finally, she slammed into the rear of the police cruiser.
Everything stopped for a second and then sped up. The crash was thunderous. Her passenger bellowed and flew through the window. The airbag deployed right into her face and propelled her back into the seat.
She blinked, her ears ringing as the bag deflated with a soft hiss and a smattering of dust.
A police officer ran up and opened her door. "What in the hell?" he muttered, blood on his chin.
She coughed and shoved the airbag down. "Where is he?" she gasped, her eyesight blurry. Her assailant lay sprawled on the pavement, blood coating his face as the rain pelted down to make the red flow to the ground. The other officer leaned over him, talking into a radio at his shoulder.
Then the kidnapper jerked awake and leaped to his feet. Blood covered his face and his neck, while his left arm hung at an unnatural angle. He stood several inches above the officer. "What did you do?" he bellowed. His eyes were so dark they appeared black, and his gaze was piercing.
The cop tried to grab him, but he shoved the officer into the side of the car. Before the officer next to Promise could draw his gun, the kidnapper turned and ran into an alley.
The police officers quickly pursued him.
She panted, her mind buzzing, her body aching.
The police officers soon returned, both shaking their heads.
Oh, God. He was gone.CHAPTER 2
Ivar Kjeidsen limped up the stairwell inside the high-rise building, blood trickling from cuts in his neck and down one arm from flying through a damn windshield. He hadn't expected the harmless-looking physics professor to defend herself so well. The healing cells he'd focused on his injuries were doing their job slowly — too slowly. The scar tissue down his neck semi-blocked the cells. Shit. He might even need a bandage, just like a human.
His boots echoed dully on the cement steps, and even though he was the only one in the entire high-rise crazy enough to climb thirty stories, the walls still pressed in too closely. But it wasn't nearly as bad as an elevator, which he'd avoid at all cost.
He'd had to walk all the way from the accident, having lost his fledgling ability to teleport the second he'd been injured. Being temporarily fragile sucked. He shoved open the door to the top floor and eyed the sheen from the white and gray tiles forming a sophisticated design down the long hallway. Beige-gray slabs of tile, thick and luxurious, made up the walls until the office opened into a center reception area surrounded by glass — one whole wall of it windows to the outside.
All glass and chrome and soothing materials.
He fucking hated this penthouse office space. It even smelled like recycled air and environmentally friendly cleanser.
Keeping his head down, he maneuvered through the hallway and past the deserted reception area to one of the many conference rooms down yet another hallway. The lights were too bright, the air too relaxed, and the height from sea level too damn far.
Banishing any hint of the pain still attacking him, he strode into the room and waited for the explosion to come.
None arrived. Instead, Ronan Kayrs looked up from a stack of maps that had been spread across the inviting and perfectly smooth light tan conference table, where he was apparently working alone at the moment. "Hello, Viking. The local news has already reported the attempted kidnapping. You had to go after her."
A familiar slash of guilt cut into Ivar. He barely kept his hand from trembling as he drew out an environmentally friendly chair to sit. "I didn't intend to take her." Sometimes his instincts still overruled his brain.
Ronan's eyes flashed a deeper aqua than usual. The vampire-demon had odd eyes, even for a hybrid. "You were on a reconnaissance mission. To watch and learn. She might be the exact wrong physicist based on the opinions expressed in some of her articles."
Ivar nodded. "I'm aware." The burn scars marring his neck went much deeper into his tissue than merely marring the skin outside, and his voice would always remain hoarse. Not as mangled as a purebred demon's, but close. Considering he was half demon, he really didn't give a shit. But right now, he couldn't let that hoarseness be gauged as weakness. "I saw an opening, and I took it."
"You failed," Ronan said simply, his eco-friendly chair squeaking as he leaned his impressive bulk back. The hybrid crossed muscled arms, looking just as deadly as the entire Kayrs vampire family was known to be, even with the recent cut to his black hair, which made him look more like a businessperson for this mission.
Ivar flushed, and his damaged skin ached. It was rare for a vampire-demon hybrid to scar, and when it happened, it hurt. Most of his burns had healed, but his neck and larynx still retained their rough texture. The inside of his throat was ribbed and uneven and annoying. Maybe hell wanted to stay with him as long as it could. "I made a mistake." One of many. When would he return to a thinking being instead of one propelled by survival instinct? He'd been trying so hard.
Ronan nodded, his mouth in a pinched line, which only accented the ones by his eyes. "She's going to be more difficult to get to now."
Ivar nodded. Taking him by surprise, a lightness caught in his chest. Nowhere near what humor had felt like years ago, but something different from pain and guilt. "She is smarter than I'd thought. Better thinking on her feet, anyway." He'd studied Dr. Promise Williams for months while he regained his sanity — somewhat — and she was obviously intelligent. But he hadn't expected her to ram her vehicle into a police cruiser. "She is in danger and needs to be locked down."
Ronan pinched the bridge of his nose. "We have got to quit kidnapping people," he muttered.
Ivar shrugged. "I don't know. It worked out well for you." Ronan had kidnapped a neurologist he'd ended up mating and adoring like a puppy that had found its place. "Where is your mate?" She was a doctor — maybe she could stem the blood Ivar still felt dripping beneath his dark T-shirt.
"Back computer room with her sister, researching that list of human physicists most likely to be targeted next," Ronan said.
"Promise Williams is next," Ivar said flatly. A couple of her academic papers had held cautions about messing with the universe, which might cause him problems. But there had been something about her. A tingling that had attacked him right before she'd tried to kill him. "And she's Enhanced." It had been the first time any of them had been close enough to her to sense her gifts, whatever they might be.
"Ah, fuck." Ronan shook his head. "I'd say the Kurjans wouldn't kill her if she's Enhanced, but now we know better." Their enemy, another immortal species, needed Enhanced human females as mates just like the vampires did.
"The Kurjans have lost their minds," Ivar muttered. The woman who'd been buried earlier that day had been Enhanced, and the Kurjans had torn her apart. Or rather, their Cyst faction, their religious soldiers, had done so. Ivar's duty began to yank him in opposite directions once again. "We have to get to her before they do."
"She might not have been on their radar until now," Ronan said.
Ivar's chest heated. "Bullshit. She's one of the best in her field, maybe the best, and she's next. We will get to her first." When he'd seen the crime pictures after the Kurjans had finished with Dr. Victory Rashad, even he had felt sickened. And he'd suffered through more hell worlds than he could count. They often blurred together in his nightmares. "This is as important to you as it is to me. This is our only way to save Quade. He's your blood brother."
Ronan sighed, the sound tortured. "So are you. Blood and bone, brother."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Alpha's Promise"
Copyright © 2019 Rebecca Zanetti.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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