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Under attack from Loki's minions, immortal warlord Leif is shocked to encounter a dark-haired beauty who fights like a warrior herself. Wounded and feverish, the Viking warrior kisses her, inadvertently triggering an ancient Norse bond. But when Naya Brisbane breaks away and disappears before the bond is completed, Leif's resolved warrior spirit goes berserk. If Leif doesn't find her fast, he's going to lose himself to permanent battle fury.
But Naya doesn't want to be found…and they're both running out of time.
When Loki's forces descend, Immortal Vikings are humanity's only protection against the dark…
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Viking Warrior Rising
By Asa Maria Bradley
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Asa Maria Bradley
All rights reserved.
Naya's hands shook as she clipped the last alligator clamp over the electrical wires, short-circuiting the power and the security alarm.
"Get it together," she muttered to herself.
As she crouched and peered down the darkened corridor, her infrared goggles helped her see the contours of the barred doors. Her brother was behind one of those. Alone.
She jogged down the hallway to the only cell giving off a heat signature.
"Scott," she whispered through the bars of the cell door, but the man lying on the cot didn't move. Her fingers recoiled when she touched the cold metal, remembering how often she'd been trapped in a cell just like this. She had to get her brother out. He'd suffered enough at the hands of Dr. Trousil and the rest of the lab's scientists. They both had.
The door swung open silently and she entered the cell. She shook her brother's shoulder, keeping her hand hovering over his mouth in case he woke up screaming. He remained lying limply on his side. When she turned him onto his back, his arm flopped over and dangled down the side of the cot.
Holding her breath, she leaned closer to his mouth. A weak puff of air fluttered against her cheek. Relief flooded her body. She joggled him again. "Scott, you need to wake up."
He still didn't react.
Naya hoisted him in a fireman's carry so that her much smaller frame could transport his six-foot body. Another five minutes and the security guards would return to patrol this end of the building. She'd figure out how to wake him later.
Her brother had weighed almost two hundred pounds when she last saw him. It had taken her eleven months and six days to return. Hanging across her shoulder now, his body barely slowed her down. She headed for the closest exit. The door closed softly behind her and she jogged across the field. When she reached the perimeter fence, Naya carefully lowered her brother to the ground and slid the bolt cutters out of her backpack.
"Hold on, Scott. Just a few snips and I'll have you out of here." She glanced down, trying for a hopeful smile, but her lips quivered. She remembered his nervous, yet excited, laugh as they raced toward this same fence that night almost a year ago. They had been so close to getting out together. He'd boosted her up on top of the fence, smacking her behind. "Let's finally get the hell out of here," he'd shouted.
She'd just reached down to help up Scott when the first shot rang out. The second pierced her brother's thigh and he fell screaming to the ground.
She blinked. Can't think about the past now. She couldn't fuck this up. There might never be another chance. Her sharp cutters snipped the wires like they were string instead of high-grade reinforced steel. A normal human wouldn't be able to bend back the serrated wire, but Naya was not normal. Ten years in the lab and weekly serum injections had created a super-soldier out of the twelve-year-old girl she had once been. Now she was the ultimate weapon. The ultimate freak.
She doubled over the folded metal to keep her brother from getting caught on any rough edges. Her baby brother. The only family she had left.
She slid Scott's unconscious body through the hole, hoisted him over her shoulder again, and then headed to the rental car parked in the woods. The smell of fresh pine permeated the air as her combat boots pounded the needle-covered ground. The crisp forest cleared her mind of things she no longer wanted to remember.
Now that Scott was out, she could build a life and never think about the years in the lab.
Soon, the dark-green Jeep glittered in the moonlight filtering through the trees. Without slowing, she punched a button on the key remote. Behind her, a powerful boom of an explosion drowned out the double beep of the doors unlocking. A kaleidoscope of red and orange illuminated the night sky. She heard shouts and commands carry through the woods from the compound. A bitter smile stretched her lips. That would keep them occupied for a while.
Growing up in the compound, she'd spent countless hours honing her combat skills, but the government-sponsored black ops program had also trained her in electronics, cyber technology, and weaponry — including explosives. "I used everything you taught me," she whispered at the flames.
She cradled Scott's head as she slid him into the backseat. His eyelids fluttered. For an instant, indigo-blue eyes so like hers focused on her. A slow smile spread across her brother's face before his eyelids fluttered closed again. "I knew you'd come for me, Neyney."
The childhood nickname pierced her heart. "I told you I would," she whispered. She kissed his forehead and brushed back his ink-black curls — the same color as her own spit-straight hair.
He mumbled something incomprehensible before his body fell limp against the seat. She clicked his seat belt in place and allowed herself to touch his face once more before she slid into the driver's seat. A glance in the rearview mirror told her the lab security forces were too busy fighting fires to come after her — for now. But they would eventually. And when they did, she'd better be ready for them. No way she'd let them imprison her brother, or her, again.
She threw the Jeep into four-wheel drive, hit the accelerator, and pushed the car as hard as she could down the rutted old logging road. Scott's head bobbed back and forth in the rearview mirror, but he didn't wake up. She swallowed the lump in her throat and pressed harder on the gas. Once they reached the main arterial, she eased off the pedal. No reason to attract attention.
She tuned the radio to the classical music station. Getting to Dr. Rosen's clinic in Colorado was the most important thing now. The doctor and his team had been sampling her blood for the last six months. Hopefully whatever he had learned would help Scott. Dr. Rosen was the best in his field. More importantly, he was her only hope for curing her brother. She settled in for the fifteen-hour drive from North Dakota to the exclusive medical facility.
* * *
Two days later, Naya struggled to keep her expression neutral as Dr. Rosen leaned forward in his chair, concern glimmering in his emerald eyes. He pushed up the rimless glasses perched on his nose and addressed her by the alias she'd given when they first met. "Ms. Driscoll, I'm afraid there has been no improvement in your brother since his intake."
"Maybe we need to give it a little longer before the drugs will work." She resented how her voice sounded. Pleading. She hated not being strong.
Dr. Rosen paused, his eyes kind. "I don't think waiting will help. I'm afraid we're going to have to try a different approach."
Naya's gaze drifted from the doctor's as she allowed his words to sink in. A bank of windows behind his desk revealed breathtaking views of snowcapped mountains. The clinic's exclusive clientele included media-shy movie stars and foreign dignitaries. It was the perfect place to hide her brother. She also needed it to be the perfect place to cure him.
"You said the modified formula your team developed based on my blood looked promising." All that research for nothing, but she refused to give up. There had to be a way to save her brother.
Dr. Rosen pushed up his glasses. "We had some promising nerve reactions after the first doses, but Scott reverted back to his vegetative state —"
"Don't say that." Naya burst out of the chair. "He's not a vegetable. He holds himself up, supports his body without help." She clenched her fists. "He spoke to me, damn it."
He held up his hands, palms facing her. "That may have been a temporary reprieve from his condition."
She slowly sat down again. "Are you saying he's getting worse?"
"At this point, I don't have a clear diagnosis. However, unresponsive and bedridden patients run a higher risk of infection, which can lead to respiratory complications, even organ failures. I can remedy that with antibiotics, but I'm not sure I can repair the extensive neurological damage Scott has sustained."
To avoid the pity in the doctor's eyes, Naya looked out over the mountains again. "Why are the drugs in Scott's blood shutting him down when I'm functioning just fine?" Better than fine, but the doctor didn't need to know that. He lived in the normal human world, blissfully ignorant of monsters and freaks like her.
"What do you propose?" Naya gripped the armrest of the chair and eased up when she heard the wood creaking. She had to rein in her emotions or she'd treat the doctor to a full freak show.
"We can continue to tweak the formula and hope for better results. I'd also like to explore your brother's vascular system and test how it differs from yours." He put his hands on the desk. "At this point, I must caution you about the high cost of therapy that may ultimately not produce the outcome you want."
"Let me worry about the money." Nothing was too costly if it helped Scott. Besides, she earned enough. As one of the best cybersecurity experts in the world, her services did not come cheap.
She stood. "I'd like to visit with my brother again before I leave."
The doctor rose as well. "Of course. He'll be well cared for until you come back."
"Until then, please keep me updated."
Dr. Rosen nodded. "I will personally send you a weekly report."
Naya thanked him before leaving the office.
She didn't want to leave her brother, but living near Scott in Colorado was too risky. If the handlers found her, they might also find him. Naya harbored no illusions about their outcome if the handlers caught them. They would be neutralized, or worse, returned to the lab for more experiments.
Naya wouldn't let that happen.
Her heavy boots beat a dull staccato as she strode down the hallway. Smells of antiseptics and disinfectant wafted through the air. Naya shivered. Those same scents had permeated the lab in which she had spent most of her life.
Taking a deep breath, she opened the door to her brother's room. He sat unmoving in a wheelchair, staring into space with empty eyes. "Scotty, it's me, Naya." She crouched before him, taking his limp hands in hers. His skin was dry and warm. He had spent the last two days sitting or lying, depending on which position the nurses put him, and always unnaturally still. He hadn't spoken to her again.
"I know you can hear me." She paused, waiting for a response. Naya touched her brother's cheek and hair, but he didn't react. She stood and averted her face to hide the tears about to spill. "Shall I read to you a little? How far did we get this morning?" She crossed the room and picked up the astronomy book she'd bought, his favorite subject. At least it had been when he still talked and walked and laughed.
She wouldn't let her thoughts continue down that depressing path, as if he was already beyond saving. Instead, she began reading to her brother about distant nebulas and galaxies. For another hour, she would pretend they were back in their childhood home, their parents still alive and watching TV while she read her little brother a bedtime story.CHAPTER 2
Two months later
Leif Skarsganger strode across the pockmarked asphalt of the alley, his footsteps echoing against the brick walls. His berserker paced, clawing at the mental cage Leif had created to stop it from taking control over his body. The fierce warrior spirit lived inside each of the einherjar, Odin's elite Viking warriors. Calling forth the berserker made them undefeatable in battle, but the inner warrior required a steady supply of human energy or it got out of control. Leif should have left the fortress before his berserker got this restless. The berserker lunged and growled, resembling its namesake animal, the bear, forcing Leif to stop. Breathing heavily, Leif rubbed his chest then continued walking.
At the back door of the nightclub Desire, Leif opened his senses to the energy created by the people dancing inside. Outside the walls, he couldn't see their gyrating bodies or sweat-soaked skin. He didn't need to. The frenzy of their sexual arousal as they ground against each other washed over him. His berserker howled in hunger. Leif's nostrils flared as the humans' energy swirled around him in an invisible maelstrom that he pulled deep within himself. Wave after wave washed through Leif's body, and the berserker gulped it down, absorbing it all.
The human energy from inside the club worked like the frenzy that arose from battle, and since the twenty-first century's warfare didn't include large-scale battle, the Vikings and Valkyries had found new ways of feeding the berserkers or feberandas.
Leif sighed deeply when his warrior spirit was finally sated and lay down in slumber. Hopefully it would remain dormant for a while. He pulled his cell phone from the back pocket of his jeans and checked the time. Two hours past midnight and plenty of time to sneak home before any of his warriors noticed him gone. If his second-in-command knew where he was and what he was doing, Harald would haul his ass home, king or no king. As the ruler of a band of Vikings and Valkyries, Leif broke a number of rules by leaving the fortress without backup in the middle of the night, but with his berserker growing more and more restless each day, he had no choice. This was the only way he could remain in control of his warrior spirit.
He took a step toward the alley entry, but feet scuffing on pavement made him slowly turn around. Behind him, four creatures were lined up for attack. Their faces were narrow and pointed, vaguely resembling wolverines. They could pass for human, except their eyes were black voids and sharp claws extended from the ends of their fingers. Through his connection with the resting berserker, Leif recognized them for what they were — Loki's minions. So far, Leif and his warriors hadn't been able to gather the proof Odin and Freya needed to outright prove that the half god was behind sending these creatures to the human realm, but they had an otherworldly glow only found in Asgard.
He'd been too preoccupied with feeding his berserker to notice these freaks sneaking up on him, but he wasn't worried. Four against one were odds he'd beaten before. Still holding the cell phone, Leif widened his stance and relaxed his shoulders.
Bring it on, you bastards.
A good fight would help calm his warrior spirit even more. So far, none of his soldiers had noticed how much more of an effort it took Leif to control his warrior spirit. He meant to keep it that way. But he should take a picture of this new threat so his warriors knew what to look for when out on patrol.
"What can I do for you ... men?" He curled his lips on the last word.
"Greetings, king," wheezed one of the creatures. "Such a coincidence to run into you tonight." He leered at Leif and all four took a step forward.
Leif remained still. "What do you want?" he challenged.
He snapped a picture with his cell phone to show his warriors this new tasteless creation of Loki's.
The minions hissed and snarled as the flash went off. One of them fiddled with something behind his back and brought out a long pipe and a shorter black cylinder. The creature's satisfied smirk indicated he'd armed himself.
Leif snapped another picture, earning another snarl. Not that he cared.
"We want so much from you, king," answered the apparent leader, his smirk broadening into a nasty smile.
Leif grinned back. He'd remained largely undefeated through the centuries. This was one of the reasons why Odin had appointed him as the leader of one of the Norse warrior bands sent back to Midgard, the human realm. The Wise One also believed Leif was the king predicted on ancient rune stones to prevent the final battle, Ragnarök.
Leif sighed. He was awful at strategic planning and diplomacy, never mind saving the world. But he was a damned good warrior, which these monsters would soon find out.
Slipping the phone into his back pocket, he tilted his head from side to side, loosening the kinks in his neck and shoulders. "Let's get this over with." He faked a step forward and then tripped the two creatures that lunged at him. A duo of swift kicks sent them careening across the asphalt, shrieking.
"Who's next?" Leif asked and couldn't keep a satisfied grin off his face.
The wolverine with the tube glared at him.
"Put down your toy and face me like a man," Leif taunted him.
An odd smile graced the creature's face as he lifted the weapon to his lips.
Leif frowned. Misgivings prickled at the back of his neck. He tapped the connection to his berserker.
Immediately alert, the warrior spirit roared a battle cry. Leif willed it to stand down, but remain prepared should he need it. His gaze focused on the pipe at the wolverine's mouth.
Excerpted from Viking Warrior Rising by Asa Maria Bradley. Copyright © 2015 Asa Maria Bradley. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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