Emma Paulsen is a geneticist driven by science. But she's also a psychic, so when a dark, good-hearted vampire frees her from the clutches of the evil Kurjans, she realizes he must be the man who's been haunting her dreams. But with a virus threatening vampires' mates, Emma may discover a whole new meaning of "lovesick"...
A DEADLY DECISION
As King of the Realm, Dage Kayrs has learned to practice diplomacy. Still, it's taken three hundred years to find his mate, so he'll stop at nothing to protect her-even if it means turning his back on his own kind...
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By REBECCA ZANETTI
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2011 Rebecca Zanetti
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She'd die if she jumped.
Probably with a great deal of pain first. The rotating hum of the helicopter blades echoed through the confined space of the aircraft as Emma Paulsen calculated her odds of a quick death — she'd likely hit a tree or two before slamming into the earth. Hmm. Not good.
Keeping her eyes closed, she lay curled on her side in the center of the beast, rocking back and forth from the movement of hurtling through the air. Dust littered the Black Hawk's floor, but she forced herself to breathe. Was it called a floor? Was it really a Black Hawk? If so, they'd modified the crap out of it. With a mental shrug, she cleared her mind.
No whispers from the future.
No glimpses of how this ordeal would end.
Damn. Maybe the drugs they'd injected into her arm accomplished more than simple sedation. She'd relied on her psychic ability her whole life, and now it was gone.
Her abductors, two living horrors, sat up front as pilot and copilot — she'd have to take them out last. Two other Kurjan soldiers escorting her to their Canadian leader sat in the rear of the chopper, arguing about football scores. Seriously? Undead monsters afraid of the sun talked about the Seahawks?
Their conversation slid around her unhampered by the wind rushing outside. The restructured walls denied sun and sound from filtering inside.
She centered herself. She'd have to kill them.
The odds of being successful calculated inside her head with a nearly audible click. The result: not good.
Nausea rose in her belly, and gray murk swam across her vision until she zoned out again. Damn drugs.
She floated in the place between dreams and reality, a place she visited often. Where was he? For so long she'd been afraid of meeting him, now she feared it would never happen.
Like an antenna had been angled, a large room swam into hazy focus. A massive fire crackled beneath a stone mantel, the walls rock, the floor dirt. There he was — Dage, King of the Realm. He stood near the wall, his jaw hard, his eyes molten silver of fury.
What century was she visiting? An early one — he held a broadsword in one hand, his legs encased in coverings reminiscent of an old warrior movie she'd seen as a teenager.
He stood shoulder to shoulder with a man who had eyes the color of gold coins. Talen, his brother. Three other men, boys actually, faced them. Similar bone structure, similar stances. All huge. The oldest tightened his grip on a deadly sword. "They killed our parents."
"Aye," Dage agreed. "So we killed them — and their parents. Enough." He dropped his sword to the ground. "We're done with the killing — with the war. Right now we strive for peace."
"I donna take orders from you, brother," the youngest lad said, his eyes a deep burnished copper.
"Maybe not from your brother Jase, but you'll obey your king."
The boy shifted his stance, his eyes narrowing. "Is that who you are now?"
"Aye. Until they cut off my head, I'm your king."
Emma started herself back into the current century, coughing out dust. Relief filled her that she could still connect with her silver-eyed savior in his past, if not her future. Her visions always predicted the future unless Dage was in them. Then she saw the trials of his long life. A highlight film of war, honor and hope.
"She's awake," came a hoarse voice from behind her. "Should we inject her again?"
"No," the Seahawk fan replied. "What can she do?"
Indeed. Emma pushed to a sitting position, scooting until her back rested on the inside wall and across from the door. "I could kill you with a simple thought." The metal chilled through her jeans and she fought to control her body. Shivering would show fear.
Their purple eyes widened in their inhuman white faces. Devils, Kurjans, the evil vampire race to be sure. One flipped his red, black-tipped hair over a shoulder. "You could not." His tensed shoulders belied his words.
Of course she couldn't. Dumbass. "Sure. You already know Franco wants me because of my psychic abilities. They include frying brains." Okay, the frying part may have been too much.
The pasty-faced bloodsuckers remained silent, bizarre gazes on her. How was it possible these freaks lived among humans without being noticed? They must hide really well during the day. In fact, what genetic mutation created these guys? The urge to study their physiology nearly overpowered the urge to end their lives. Nearly.
She glanced at the door, wondering how heavy it was. The sun blazed across a blue fall sky outside — beautiful and damn deadly to the Kurjan creeps safely ensconced in the helicopter. If she opened the door, would the sun angle in the right direction?
She rapidly considered wind speed, the sun's position, and their location. Nope. She needed the Kurjans to move.
Forcing fear down deep, forcing concern for her sister Cara down even deeper, Emma formulated a plan. Once she escaped she'd get back to Cara and rescue her from Franco's cousin, the Kurjan soldier who'd kidnapped them both yesterday.
Emma's plan was to lunge for the door, hoping at least one of the Kurjans went for her. If the sun hit him he'd fry like bacon. She tensed, ready to move ...
And didn't get the chance.
Something hard slammed into the thick metal. The door creaked, the hinges twisted and peeled away. In the next second the door was gone, ripped away from the helicopter to sail through the air. A broad hand reached in, grabbed the nearest Kurjan, and sent him spiraling into the blue day. The soldier's high-pitched scream echoed in the distance as the sun ate him alive.
In a blur of motion, a huge male form dodged inside, ducked a punch from the Seahawk fan and shot an elbow into his nose, splashing blood across the wall. The monster dropped his weapon, hands going to his face before he too was sent hurtling out the door. The Kurjan's loud screams followed the helicopter for several moments before dying out.
Her rescuer didn't need to turn for her to recognize him.
Could she still be dreaming?
His silver gaze ran over her before a sharp burst of green light ripped into his collarbone, throwing him back into the rushing air.
"No," Emma shouted as he fell, his large body half outside the helicopter. The massive bird teetered for a moment, then regained its course. She lunged forward, grasping his arms. Or tried to; his biceps were too big. Her nails bit into his flesh as she wrapped both hands around his left arm and pulled.
The Kurjan in the copilot's seat stopped firing his weapon, probably afraid to injure her. She was the prize, after all.
Dage eased back inside, attempting to shield her with his body.
She pushed at his uninjured shoulder, leaning down to yell in his ear. "Get behind me."
His eyes flashed fire even while his upper lip quirked. "You get behind me."
She gave a sharp shake of her head and shoved at him again. The wind screamed a warning outside, waiting for its next victim. Dage didn't budge. He grabbed the gun off the floor, pointed it at the copilot, and fired.
The Kurjan ducked, but the light green bullets ripped through the front windshield, allowing pure rays of sunshine to cascade inside. He screamed a shrill protest, throwing his hands up. The helicopter swerved and the pilot regained control, edging his body away from the sun and toward the side of the craft, his trembling fingers clenching the controls.
The copilot continued to scream in pain. The smell of burned hair and sizzling flesh filled the small space, and Emma fought the urge to vomit.
Like a rat fleeing a tomcat, the copilot scrambled over his seat, landing with a hard thud on the floor. His pasty-white skin melted down his face. Raw red blisters sprang up across abused flesh. Sharp yellow fangs protruded from his wide open mouth, while the rushing wind stole any sound he made.
Quick as a whip, Dage reached forward and grabbed him around the neck, tossing him toward the gaping hole. The Kurjan hit the side of the hatch, the impact rocking the small craft. Clutching both long-clawed hands into the floor, he tried to inch way away from the deadly opening. Dage shot one large flak boot into the Kurjan's battered face, and the copilot fell into the sun. Then Dage shifted, pointing the gun at the pilot's head.
The pilot aimed his purple gaze over his shoulder, sharp canines flashing in a dare. Kill him, and they would all die.
Dage grabbed Emma close and fired, striking the Kurjan in the head. He fell forward onto the stick, the metal bird spun, and shot for the earth.
Emma clutched Dage's shoulders, and then ... nothing.
It was as if they traveled through a vacuum — no sound, sight, smells — just ... nothing. Except the vague sense of Dage. Power and safety but shrouded.
Reality crashed back followed by Dage's hiss of pain. He released her to fall onto spongy grass, and she shut her eyes against the glare of the sun. The smell of wet pine and moist earth filled her nose.
The world spun. She opened her eyes, and the world spun more. Dage stood with his knees bent, held upright by ... a tree limb? A protruding snag from an old tree stump emerged from Dage's left shoulder, his silver eyes pissed, his blood a deep red.
His right hand patted the shards of wood emerging from his body. "Not my best landing, love. Sorry about that."
Emma shook her head to clear it. Her knees popped when she rose and stumbled toward the king. He'd impaled himself on an old limb. She peered around his back to find the gnarled trunk protruding from deep in the ground. Damn it. She needed some sort of chainsaw to cut him loose. And a medical team to remove the wood from his body.
An explosion over the next hill rent the air with an angry boom. She turned. Furious smoke billowed into the untouched sky. "The helicopter?"
"We didn't jump?"
"No. I can teleport. A bit, anyway." He readied his stance, positioning both hands on his knees like a lineman waiting for the snap.
Teleport? How in the world was that possible? Something to do with dimensions or gravity? Possibly relativity theory. "What are you doing?" She hated the quake in her voice. The smell of copper scenting the air made her gag.
He gave a weary grin. "I thought I'd take out this splinter."
Panic rushed through her. "You can't. I mean, you'll bleed to death. You can't." She pressed a hand against the black cotton covering his good shoulder where muscles tightened in response.
His eyes darkened. "I've waited centuries for your touch, Emma." He hissed out a breath. "This isn't how I pictured it." Shutting his eyes, he drew a deep breath. "Now step out of the way, love."
"No. You can't do this."
Silver eyes pinned her. "Night will fall within three hours. The Kurjans will descend upon the last known location of their helicopter, and we need to be long gone from here."
"Where are we?" The forest pressed in with silence. No doctors nearby, that was for sure.
"Shoshone mountains in northern Idaho. I chose to intercept you here because there are old mining caves to hide in."
Forget hiding. He was going to bleed to death. "Can you teleport us to a hospital?"
Shaking his head, Dage drew another deep breath. Round bullet holes from the copilot's attack dotted his upper chest and neck near the wood splintering his body. His blood flowed freely and spoiled the fresh air — along with the strongest hint of sandalwood. His scent. "No. I usually can only teleport once, then need to recharge. I've done it three times today, and I'm wiped."
"Three times?" She pushed harder against his good side, trying to keep him in place.
"Yes." Amusement lit his eyes even through the raw pain swirling in the depths. "Once to the ground along your known flight path, then to the helicopter when you were in sight, then to right here."
"How did you know my flight path?" Damn. He shouldn't remove the wood without a surgical unit on the ready.
"We raided the Kurjan facility in Montana right after they forced you to leave." Dage gasped in a deep breath. "One of the Kurjans kindly volunteered the information."
Emma raised an eyebrow. "Good thing you spotted the correct helicopter," she murmured, glancing at the stained branch. A warm tingle teased her heart. He'd come for her. Because his brother had married her sister? Or because he knew her as she'd known him all these years? Through visions. Of course, while she appreciated the rescue, she wouldn't have needed help if the vampires hadn't dragged her and her sister into their world. "So you were in time to rescue Cara?" Hope filled Emma. Please let her sister be safe.
"Yes. Talen should have his mate safely home by now."
Thank god. Emma exhaled. Vibrations from Dage's pain pounded toward her, and she concentrated on the situation at hand. Blood from his wounds flowed into each groove of the wood, resulting in the look of stained teak.
Dage groaned. "Step back, love."
Her trembling hand patted his shoulder before she stuck it in her pocket. "You're really a vampire?" She'd known of the vampire race for a couple of months since Cara had married Talen. Though this was the first time she'd actually been face to face with one. Apparently the sun didn't bother the good guys, only the Kurjans.
Emma took a step back. Vampires were immortal, right? "You'll survive this?"
"Yes. We can only be killed by beheading."
"Okay." She couldn't see an alternative. Her stomach pitched, and fear slithered down her spine. This had to work.
Dage sucked in air, then sprang forward. The tree branch ripped out of his flesh with a protesting snap. He landed on his knees in the crusty pine needles, emitting a string of Russian, Greek, or maybe Gaelic that sounded like curses. The earth rumbled and the wind picked up its strength around them. Winding down, he pushed to his feet. "Damn." His good arm grabbed the hem of his shirt and ripped it over his head, his back to her.
Emma gasped at the raw wound above his right shoulder blade. Sharp wooden splinters emerged from split bone, shredded muscles, and cut tissue next to the dangerous tattoo she knew so well. The breath caught in her throat when he pivoted and blood poured from his broad chest. "You're bleeding." She shook her head, her focus narrowing on the wicked tattoo of intricate markings along his left arm and over his shoulder to his back.
The design had haunted her dreams like a warning talisman.
He nodded, inhaling deeply, his metallic eyes unfocusing for a moment, his muscles visibly relaxing. The blood flow stemmed, leaving the bullet holes seeping. The wide gash crusted over. "That's the best I can do for now. It'll heal." He shoved the tail ends of his shirt into a back pocket and held out one large boned hand. "Come."
No. She wouldn't run into the woods. Not again. "Ah ..."
Dage raised an eyebrow. "We need to get going, love."
How many nights had she run through the woods to escape her drunken father and his beefy fists? Those days were over. She'd thought she was done running from monsters.
Dage waited patiently, his gaze on her, his hand extended.
She hesitated, glancing at the tarnished limb still protruding from the ground and awaiting its next victim. In slow motion, she shifted her gaze to Dage and paused for the briefest of breaths before sliding her hand in his. A click echoed throughout her heart, throughout her head when his warm palm closed over hers. No. Wrong time to deal with this. "I need to get to Cara in case the Kurjans had time to infect her with the virus."
Dage tightened his grip and started to jog, tugging Emma to keep pace. "Cara is fine." Pine, sunshine and wildflowers commingled into a scent carried by the slightest breeze as the trees rushed past. "Talen made sure of it."
Thank God. "The Kurjans didn't get a chance to inject her with the virus?" Relief began to wind through the nerves still jumping in Emma's skin.
"No. Cara and the baby are safe."
Emma stumbled, then regained her footing with the king's help. "She told you about the baby?"
Dage flashed a grin, the sunlight dappling through branches high above to kiss his bronze skin. "No." He tightened his grip. "I sensed the babe's heartbeat when Talen carried Cara out of the Kurjan research facility earlier today. I take it she told you?"
"No." Emma grinned back. "Psychic here. Sometimes, anyway."
"Ah. I wondered if you were an empath like Cara. A psychic scientist, huh?" Not by one breath did Dage show he ran with blood streaming from his shoulder.
Reality crashed back like falling boulders. "Yes. A scientist who helped develop the virus that might kill all vampire mates, including my sister."
Dage shook his head, slowing his pace. "No. The Kurjans didn't design Virus-27 to kill our mates." He stopped, resting his back against the trunk of a lodgepole pine, blood weaving down a six-pack worthy of billboards. "I need to close these damn holes."
Excerpted from Claimed by REBECCA ZANETTI. Copyright © 2011 Rebecca Zanetti. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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