Cara Paulsen does not give up easily. A scientist and a single mother, she's used to fighting for what she wants, keeping a cool head, and doing whatever it takes to protect her daughter Janie. But "whatever it takes" has never before included a shotgun wedding to a dangerous-looking stranger with an attitude problem…
Sure, the mysterious Talen says that he's there to protect Cara and Janie. He also says that he's a three-hundred-year-old vampire. Of course, the way he touches her, Cara might actually believe he's had that long to practice…
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February 22, 2011
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Excerpt from Fated by Rebecca Zanetti
"Mama! Mama, wake up." Tiny hands clutched at
Cara's worn nightshirt, shaking with all their might.
Cara's eyes flew open, and her heart hitched in her chest. Terrified blue eyes speared her through the dusk of the morning. The little girl must have had another nightmare. "Janie, sweetheart, what?"
"They're coming. They're coming now, the bad men. We have to run." Janie's breath came in sharp gasps before she let out a high-pitched sob.
Cara shook her head, reaching out to enfold her daughter in a hug. She slowed her own breathing, the need to comfort her child overwhelming her. Poor Janie. Not another nightmare. She reached for her reading glasses on the table only to realize she'd fallen asleep with them on. Again. The newest edition of Botanical Magazine hadn't been the barn-burner she'd expected.
She smoothed Janie's hair down while silence echoed around them. Now more than ever, she wished Simon had lived, maybe he could have soothed their daughter's fears. She flipped on the antique pink Depression glass lamp. "It's okay, sweetheart. I'm sure it was just a bad drea--"
A loud crash came from the other room and Cara yelped. The sound of splintering wood propelled her to action. She leapt from the bed, yanked Janie into her arms, and sprinted for the master bath, barely missing the potted fern in the corner. Her heart slamming against her ribs, she locked the door and rushed toward the small window. She failed to unlock it before the thin door burst open behind her.
A broad hand stopped the door from clanging against the wall. At least six and a half feet of muscle-packed male filled the doorway.
With a cry, she dropped Janie to her feet and dodged in front of the four-year-old. The air caught in her throat and her ears started to ring as adrenaline spiked through her blood. This was not happening. She yanked her head to the side and forced herself to accept the situation. Accept that she needed to fight. She dragged oxygen into her tight lungs and searched the tiled counter for a weapon--her tweezers probably wouldn't harm anybody.
She pushed Janie back against the wall. Retreating a step, she held one hand out to ward off the threat. His size made her gulp. Brown eyes raked her from his hard cut face, and raven black hair reached his collar with a freedom that disavowed any ties to the military--although he wore the requisite flack boots and dark jeans under a bulletproof vest. She'd seen the gear on a Discovery Channel special about soldiers.
The energy emanating from him stole her breath.
"Get out," she said, shielding her child. Trying to shield herself from the feelings he threw at her. Anger, passion, and urgency all swirled together, mixing with her own panic and making her light-headed. Her knees wobbled, and her head began to ache. She usually blocked better than this. Or maybe his emotions were just that strong.
"We need to go." His tone was water over sharp rocks, as if he was trying to gentle a naturally rough voice. Then his eyes dropped to her faded nightshirt to see the image of Einstein surrounded by shopping bags--"Quantum Shopping." His top lip quirked up and a dimple winked. Her heartbeat slowed in response. Then he stalked a step closer, his hands at his sides, and her gaze flew to the gun on his hip, to the several knives secured in his vest.
Her heart leapt back into action. "You have the wrong house." She glared up at his implacable face--a face cut from granite with a jaw made to take a punch. She'd have to jump to even come close.
The scent of spiced pine and male infused the room.
He shook his head. A pit the size of a large rock settled in her stomach as adrenaline slammed the room into sharp focus. Her breath came in short pants, and her scientific mind sought an answer. A way to take his massive frame down. She stamped down on the rising panic when nothing came to mind, and again searched for a weapon, spotting the tiny Fittonia "White Anne" in the terra-cotta planter. She couldn't throw Annie at the man; the plant would never survive.
The intruder took another step to peer over her shoulder. "It will be okay. We have to go." His large hand encircled Cara's bicep before dragging her into the bedroom. Fear seized her vocal cords for a moment, and her mind scattered. Should she tell Janie to run? Could she slow him down long enough?
Then, with a muffled curse, he dropped her arm. A low growl emanated from him as he peered at his hand. He wiped it on his pant leg and grabbed her again. What had been on her shirt?
The phone near the bed caught her eye, and she lunged for it. He jerked her back, his hand warm and firm on her arm. Cara dug her feet into the carpet but their forward momentum didn't slow, so she tried to yank away as he pulled her toward a basket of clothes at the foot of the bed.
"Janie, follow us," he tossed over his shoulder.
Cara coughed out air. He knew Janie's name. This wasn't random. Fear choked her again. "How do you know her name?"
He pivoted until she smacked flush against him. Heat filled her, surrounded her. His hands settled on her arms, and his determination and intent beat at her. Damn it. She couldn't block him--she sucked as an empath. Then he lowered his head.
"I know both of your names, Cara. Listen. My name is Talen Kayrs, and I won't hurt you. I'm here to help." Determined eyes captured her while he gave her a moment. "Take a deep breath. I can feel your power. You can find the truth here. You know I won't hurt you." His voice rumbled low. Soothing.
Her body softened from his tone even as her mind rebelled. Her breathing evened out. Danger radiated out of the man, but she could sense no intention to harm her. Or Janie.
Janie tugged on her waist. "It's okay, Mama. We have to go. They're coming."
Cara stepped to the side and nodded. "Fine. We'll leave. We can follow you." If she could just get Janie to the car--
He grinned, flashing even white teeth. "You can't lie worth spit. You have one minute to throw on clothes." The sound of his rough voice shot nerve endings alive through her skin. But not from fear. He turned toward the door.
"No." She again tried to wrench away while her body tingled where it met his.
"Then you go in your pajamas." He grabbed the basket of clothes in his other arm while he towed her into the hallway. "Keep up, Janie." The little girl stumbled behind, keeping her hands glued to Cara's waist.
"Wait, no, Mama," Janie cried out, pulling on her mother. "I need Mr. Mullet." Her voice rose to a shrill sob.
Talen whirled around and squinted over Cara's shoulder. "Mr. Mullet?" He eyed the living room entrance and then focused on the little girl.
Cara pressed a hand against his chest, settling her stance to protect her child. "Mr. Mullet is her stuffed bear--she doesn't go anywhere without him." If Janie could leave the room, Cara could really fight.
Talen raised an eyebrow, his gaze thoughtful. "Hurry, Janie. Get the bear--we have to go."
Quick as a flash, Janie darted from the room. Dark eyes met Cara's and she wavered, then shot her knee upward to his groin, simultaneously punching her fist toward his face with a fierce grunt.
He shifted, allowing her knee to connect to the muscle of his upper thigh while his arm shot out to stop her punch. His broad hand enclosed her fist inches away from his chin, and the slap of skin on skin echoed around the room. The basket of clothes remained safe in his free arm.
Pain lanced through her leg, and fear cascaded down her spine. Panting out breath, she waited for retaliation. If he hit her, he'd knock her out. What about Janie?
Talen tilted his head to the side, his hand warm around hers. "Is your leg all right?"
He asked about her leg? Seriously? She'd just tried to turn him into a eunuch. "Fine," she hissed through her teeth.
"Hmmm," he said, twisting his hand to grasp her wrist and yank her into the living room. "You might want to work on not broadcasting your intent with those pretty blue eyes next time." Mere politeness colored his tone, not an ounce of anger to be found.
Cara stumbled, truly off balance for the first time that evening.
"I got him, Mama," Janie chirped, running into the room with the stuffed bear and her worn blankie. "We can go now."
The front door hung drunkenly split in two. At the sight, Cara began to struggle again. With an exasperated sigh, Talen dropped the basket of clothes, shifted her to the side, and lifted Janie into his arms.
"No!" Cara cried out, reaching for her daughter before pounding on his broad back. Pure instinct moved her to protect Janie, and rage choked her as she beat on his dark vest.
"Get the clothes and move it," he growled over his shoulder. He crossed the front porch, heading toward a black Hummer idling at the curb.
Cara threw herself against the man holding her child, knocking over the basket. Clothes scattered across the wooden planks.
"Let her go, you bastard!"
He may not intend harm, but he had no right to kidnap them. She clutched one arm around his massive neck as her knees dug into his spine. She jerked hard against his windpipe. A rush of anger slammed through her body, pushing out the fear.
Even with her struggling on his back, his long strides continued toward the vehicle unhampered. He yanked open the rear door, placed Janie in a booster seat, and buckled her in with quick motions. Cara moved to jump off him, only to have him close the door, grab her arm, and pull her around. Two strong hands held her aloft. Hard steel met her backside when he stepped into her, his face lowering to hers. "Stop fighting me."
His strength was unbelievable. Her own vulnerability beat into her as she realized her nightshirt had risen to reveal pale pink panties. The cool night air rushed across her bare legs. Dark denim scratched the tender skin of her inner thighs, and she opened her mouth to scream.
One swift movement and his mouth covered hers. Hot, firm, and somehow restrained. The effort of his restraint belted into her. He fought to control himself. Heat slammed through her. A roaring filled her ears and her breath hitched. Her heart slowed, and time stopped. For a brief moment, his heartbeat echoed throughout her body to a spot below her stomach.
He growled low and his mouth moved over hers, no longer silencing her, but tasting. Exploring. One thick arm swept around her waist and pulled her into him; the other lifted to tangle a hand in her hair. He tugged, angled her head more to the side. He went deeper.
She moaned as his tongue met hers. He explored her mouth like he owned it. For a moment, he did. She forgot everything. There were only his lips on hers, demanding. Promising. His heat warmed her as she returned his kiss, pushing closer into his hard body, forgetting reality.
Pure strength surrounded her. Hot. Dangerous. Tempting. Then a bird screeched high above and awareness crashed into her.
She jerked her head back, her lips tingling, her mind spinning. Deep brown eyes kept her gaze. His arm tightened around her waist while he raised his head farther.
"Don't scream." His voice had deepened to something guttural, something that added to the fluttering in her lower stomach.
"Mama?" Janie's voice wavered from inside the vehicle.
"She can't see us--I have the privacy screens up," Talen murmured.
Great. So no one could see in, either. Smart kidnapper.
"Tell her it's all right." He released Cara's hair to allow space between them.
"No. Let us go." Reality cascaded back with the coldness of his moving away. What had she done? She brought her elbow down on his collarbone. Hard. A shaft of pain shot up her arm, and her eyes widened. How did that not injure him?
He grinned, amusement softening his hard mouth. Releasing her, he yanked open the passenger side door and lifted her inside, snapping the seat belt before she could blink. Then his face was in hers again. "Undo this belt and I'll bind you."
The door slammed, and he was back in the car before she drew another breath. His words should have frightened her. But instead, fury threatened to explode out of her. She tamped down on it with a scientist's mind--she'd get out of this.
With a screech of tires, he pulled the Hummer into the quiet street. She searched frantically for some type of weapon. Mere minutes had passed since Janie had awoken her--they were taken so quickly, nobody would even know they were gone. She flashed her gaze toward the now silent man. The early light of dawn filtered through the tinted windows and danced across the hard planes of his face. She studied him, searching for a weakness. Any weakness.
"Janie, you'll be safe soon." Kindness wove through his words.
Cara swung her head around. "It's going to be okay, Janie," she whispered to her daughter, fighting tears.
Janie, her blue eyes sparkling, grinned back. "I know, Mama. I knew Talen was coming."
"Yeah. I dreamed about him. But I didn't know when." Grinning, she clutched her worn teddy bear to her chest, snuggling her nose into his fluffy hair.
Cara faced the front, her mind whirling. She was in the middle of an experiment at work--she needed to be there tomorrow. What if she rolled down the window and screamed? Would anybody hear?
"I'm not going to hurt you, Cara." He entered the empty highway.
She worried her lip with her teeth. Miss Kimmie would be the first to know they were gone when Janie didn't show up for preschool tomorrow. She'd call someone, right? Or just assume Janie was home sick with the stomach virus going around the class? "So how about you let us go, um, Talen?" She wondered if he were crazy, if she could somehow reason with him.
He flashed her a glance at the use of his name and heat rushed to her face. "I can't let you go."
Nope, no reasoning with him. "Why not?" She slid her hand down to her belt buckle.
"I wasn't kidding about binding you." His warning rumbled through the small space. She jerked her hand back to her lap. "You're in danger, more than you can understand right now."
Oh, she understood all right. She straightened in her seat when he exited the highway at the edge of Mercy Lake, her safe little town on the outskirts of Boston. Her stomach dropped as she realized there was only one place they could be going. "You're taking us to the private airport?"
"Why?" The exclusive airport was used only for corporate jets and small water planes.
"Because that's where the plane is." His tone didn't invite further discussion.
"I can't fly somewhere in my nightshirt." The comment slipped out before she could stop herself.
He turned in surprise, flashing a smile that did odd things to her belly. Man, she was losing it. "I told you to bring the basket of clothes."
"Listen," she tried reasoning with him again. "Let us go, and we won't tell anybody. I promise."
"I appreciate that," Talen said dryly. "But I told you I can't. You're in danger."
"Right. Danger." Dread pooled in her stomach as they rolled to a stop before a sleek silver jet. He switched off the ignition and silence echoed throughout the space. He turned to her, raising an eyebrow.
"Are we going to have a problem getting on the plane?"
"We are not getting on that plane." She needed to get Janie out of the car so they could run for help. She unsnapped her belt.
A hand on her arm and one at her hip easily lifted her over the console to settle on his lap where her ass briefly rested against the hard ridge of a well-built man. Another smooth motion and they were outside the vehicle with her cradled in his arms. His broad hand had protected her head from the steel carriage, even as she fought his hold.