The war is over. Peace, at last. Cara Kayrs is healed after decades of illness and ready for a break.
Too bad her brooding, alpha vampire husband can't seem to change gears. In their twenty-five years together Talen Kayrs has learned to sense every shiver of her body, to ignite her desire with a word or a look. She would think he could learn she's not some fragile damsel in distress.
But Talen is on edge, watching their backs, treating her like she's made of glass. Like there's something following them, a deadly threat that somehow none of their intelligence has uncovered. It's enough to drive a woman crazy, and Talen has plenty of those tendencies already.
But what's even more maddening is that he seems to be right…
**Previously published in Wicked Burn**
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“Hot and fast from beginning to end.”—Kate Douglas on Fated
“Paranormal romance at its best!”—Cynthia Eden
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“Sizzling sex scenes and a memorable cast.”—Publishers Weekly on Claimed
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About the Author
Growing up amid the glorious backdrops and winter wonderlands of the Pacific Northwest has given Rebecca fantastic scenery and adventures to weave into her stories. She resides in the wild north with her husband, children, and extended family who inspire her every day—or at the very least give her plenty of characters to write about.
Please visit Rebecca at www.rebeccazanetti.com.
Read an Excerpt
A Dark Protectors Novella
By REBECCA ZANETTI
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Rebecca Zanetti
All rights reserved.
Cara Paulsen Kayrs hummed as she finished watering the plants in her spacious kitchen and sprawling living room. She'd settled nicely into the new neighborhood fronting an Idaho lake with her family and friends all around.
Her mate strode in from the back porch. "There's another letter from that university across the country."
She stilled. "I haven't given them an answer yet."
He growled low then ... six and a half feet of pure male, stubborn vampire. "The answer to your teaching botany glasses at a human university is ... no."
She forced a smile. As an empath, she could feel his concern for her down to her bones, but it was time for them to enjoy being alive. "The war is over, and I'd like to get back to work. There are so many uses for simple plants, and it's time we used our advanced technology to help humans."
He lowered his chin in what could only be described as a warning. He'd nearly died not too long ago, but only a thin strip of gray in his thick dark hair showed he'd ever been vulnerable. Corded muscle and masculine strength lined his body, and his rugged face held health and a warrior's experience. Those golden eyes could go as hard as death in an instant if his family was threatened.
He was the biggest, strongest, toughest badass of them all ... and he was all hers. Although he'd lived more than three centuries, the man looked thirty-two. He'd been tense lately — bossier than usual — and she'd had enough. "You can work here, privately and not go public," he said calmly.
Oh, her temper wanted loose and now. "The war is over, and we can't stay shacked up forever." While she appreciated his driving need to keep her safe, she had a lot to contribute to this world, and it was time for her to get started. She was finally healthy. "Why don't you get the car ready and stop bossing me around."
One eyebrow rose in an oddly sexual way. Oh, she'd pay for the comment later, but as long as the night ended in multiple orgasms, it was difficult to really care. "Watch yourself, mate," he rumbled.
Her body quivered head to toe. They'd been mated for more than twenty-five years, and he still had the ability to make her breath catch in her throat. "You can watch me all you want on the road. Go get the car."
He cocked his head then, his gaze thoughtful. "All right. You asked for it." Turning on one combat boot, he loped through the house and out the front door.
She tried to calm her raging hormones. When he got all dominant and sexy, she could barely stand still. But it was time the man stopped treating her like the fragile invalid she'd been for over two decades. She was cured ... and she was healthy. Life was great.
The front door opened, and her daughter, Janie, moved aside as a bundle of energy toddled past her.
"Hope!" Cara set the watering can on the floor and leaned down so the little girl could waddle into her arms. At fourteen months old, the child never stopped moving.
"Cara." Hope patted Cara's cheeks with chubby hands, her deep blue eyes sparkling. "Pretty Cara."
Cara tucked the girl close. No matter how hard any of them tried to get the girl to call them Nana, Papa, Aunt ... she used first names only. "Did Kane have any luck getting her to call him by the right name?"
Janie snorted and shut the door, pushing light brown hair away from her classic face. "No, and he tried with every trick he had. Even gave her cookies."
Cara stood and took Hope with her. "That's hilarious." Kane was Hope's great-uncle and the smartest person on the planet, so when his brother had called him "Fucking Einstein" a month before, Hope had caught on and now called the poor guy "Funkin Eeeenstine." It shouldn't tickle Cara so, but she couldn't help it. "Well, I hope it teaches those guys not to swear around her. She picks everything up."
Janie nodded and set a bag by the door. "I brought that sundress you wanted to borrow for your trip. You packed yet?"
"Yes." Warmth slid through Cara as she sat with the baby on her lap. Hope's brown hair was tied up in pretty green ribbons that matched her sweater. Flowers decorated her jeans, and little sparkly shoes covered her feet. The blue marking winding up her neck showed her to be a prophet declared by fate, but for now, fate could stay out of her life. All of their lives, actually. "Maybe I shouldn't go."
Hope faced her and tapped her cheeks again. "Cara on trip with Tayen. Water."
Cara smiled, her heart full. "Yes. We'll see water."
"You'll only be gone two weeks." Janie ran her hand down faded jeans and crossed to sit on the couch. "The war is over, everyone is healthy, and you and Dad deserve some fun. I promise nothing interesting will happen while you're gone. Plus, it's crucial we get those samples to the lab in Seattle. They have nuclear equipment we don't have here."
"I know." Cara ran through the checklist of the research materials she'd included with the tissue samples. "I'm quite curious what they'll be able to find out about the virus and the cure. I mean, how the cure for the vampire virus might be used to help humans with so many diseases." She studied her daughter. Janie's blue eyes were clear, and a happy glow covered her cheeks. "You're happy."
"I am." Janie returned the smile. She ran her hand down her daughter's back, studying her mother. "How weird is it that we look about the same age?"
"It's like a sci-fi movie." Cara shook her head. She'd mated a vampire, and Janie had mated a demon-vampire, which had changed their human chromosomal pairs to something more ... something immortal. "I freely admit I love not aging. Never understood those old movies where the vampires were all sad and full of self-hatred."
Janie chuckled. "Maybe they were alone and didn't have immortal family all around."
"Good point." Cara leaned in and nuzzled Hope's neck, tickling until the girl giggled. "Plus, in those movies, the vamps sucked blood to survive and couldn't go outside or they'd melt."
"How goofy is that?" Janie stretched her neck. "But the legends have to be built on some reality."
The door opened again, and Talen Kayrs stalked into the room.
"Tayen!" Hope pushed off Cara and toddled toward the massive warrior.
He caught her before she rammed into his legs and lifted her high, his hard eyes softening in a way that just melted Cara's heart. "There's my girl." He tucked her close and rubbed her back.
Delight glowed from her, and she wiggled enthusiastically, patting his chest. "Tayen. Yaaaaaay, Tayen."
Cara started laughing. "Traitor."
Janie grinned and shook her head. "She sure doesn't hide the love, does she?"
"Why should she?" Talen easily held her with one muscled arm and tugged on her hair, not looking anything like a grandfather. "The kid has excellent taste."
"Tayen!" Hope agreed with a vigorous head nod. "Water and Tayen. Lotsa water." She gurgled. "And fire."
Talen glanced down at her. "The forest fires are just about over, sweetheart. The smoke is finally going away." He swung her around, end over end, and she giggled uncontrollably, her legs kicking as she played.
"Thank goodness." Cara looked at the clear day outside. It was late fall, but summer had been dry, and many forest fires had cropped up in Washington and Idaho. While the fires hadn't come close, the smoke had hung over the lake for weeks. It was time to get out of town for some fun.
She stood and walked over to grab the sundress out of the bag. "I'll toss this in, and we're off."
"The Hummer is having electrical problems." Talen settled Hope again and then frowned. "I called Kane to come fix it, but he's in the middle of something. So I'm borrowing Dage's Jeep."
Cara stretched up and kissed Hope's cheek. "I'm ready."
Janie hurried over and hugged her mother. "Have a good time, and good luck on the adventure."
"Thank you," Cara said, anticipation lighting her veins. "We're driving to Seattle to deliver those medical research samples to the lab, and then we're catching the plane to Hawaii for some fun. I've left all the travel information by the fridge, in case you need it."
Janie nodded. "Definitely check in, but don't worry about us. Everything will be great. Bring some macadamia nuts home."
"I promise." Cara settled her palm over her abdomen. The war was over, life was good ... so why was her stomach tingling with butterflies?
What could possibly go wrong?
Janie and Hope left, leaving her alone with her overprotective mate. Perhaps on the trip, they could realistically discuss her research and the benefits of teaching the next generation of humans how to look outside the western medicinal box in healing diseases.
She winked. "Lose the frown, or I'm kicking you right in the shin. Maybe higher."
He leaned in. "Kick me. Please."
Her stomach fluttered. "Don't think I won't."
He smiled then ... all dangerous soldier. "I'm waiting. Kick me, I'll spank you, and then I promise you'll be too damn sore to even think about riding in a car for five hours."
Oh, he wasn't getting his way that easy. She stretched up on her toes and pecked a kiss against his mouth. "Nice try, vampire."
* * *
Talen couldn't shake the itch between his shoulder blades. Taking his mate from the safety of their headquarters didn't set well with him, and his muscles tensed in one long line.
"Would you relax?" she whispered from the passenger seat, her head back on the leather and her eyes closed in pleased abandonment. Her legs were up on the dash, her feet in little sandals that showed off bright pink toenails. Sexy and pink. Her long auburn hair cascaded over her shoulders, and he fought the urge to tug on a strand.
The woman was right. The war had ended, and he really did need to relax. He watched the road outside and yet kept a close eye on his woman out of his peripheral vision. "It occurs to me that you think things have changed."
She opened her eyelids then ... her eyes a stunning blue. "Huh?"
He cleared his throat and made sure her seat belt was firmly around her small body. "The war is over, you're well, and you think things are different." In fact, his woman hadn't been healthy since right after they'd mated, and for years, he'd been more than gentle with her. At the thought that she was whole, finally, his heart started to thrum.
"Of course things are different." She gestured out with one arm. "We're on a road trip, without guards, without death hanging over our heads." Her laugh was throaty and full. "Emma and I are taking a Vegas trip next month for a girls' weekend."
She gaped. "I did not ask permission, Kayrs."
He bit back a wince. Whenever Cara used his last name, he was about to end up in the doghouse. Yet she was no longer vulnerable or weak, and he was finished placating her. "Mate? I have no intention of allowing you to go anywhere for a girls' anything." The second the word allow was out of his mouth, the tension in the car ratcheted up several degrees.
"Oh, you did not," she sputtered, her eyes narrowing.
He sighed and turned to pin her with a look. He'd forgotten her stubbornness in the last difficult years when she'd been fighting a deadly virus that had almost taken her life. Now that she was healthy, memories of their first months together, before she had become infected, filtered through his mind. "I was fairly certain I tamed you way back when," he said thoughtfully.
Red infused her face. "I'm about to kick your ass, Kayrs."
Maybe not. Interesting. At the thought, his entire body tightened, and his cock started to throb. "Cara."
Her shiver enticed him. "What?"
"I strongly advise you not to push me." It was only fair to warn her, and he went on instinct. After nearly dying when the war had ended, he'd been restless since. For so many years, he'd treated his mate with more gentleness than he would've thought possible as she'd endured the virus.
Now that she was healthy, a primal part of him, one much closer to the surface than he liked, wanted to claim her again with all the dominance that was inherent to his species. "Okay?"
She breathed out. "Oh, mate. You're the one who needs to stop pushing."
He reached out, catching the long strands of her hair before she could avoid him. Her eyes widened, and he twisted his wrist with enough pressure to tilt back her head, fighting instincts he'd forgotten he had.
Curiosity and desire spilled from her.
His nostrils flared, catching his mate's scent. It had been too long since they'd both been whole and healthy. He'd forgotten her defiant nature and how much she liked to challenge him. "Maybe this trip was a good idea," he said softly, the beast inside him raging as her lids half-lowered.CHAPTER 2
Several hours into the trip, Cara's first headache pounded in the middle of Washington State. Monstrous steel windmills, dotting the rocky hills, swung their grand arms in the slight wind. The sight was both alien and lonely somehow.
She rubbed her temples. "I think the smoke from the earlier fires is bugging my head."
"I'll need gas soon. We can buy aspirin." Talen kept an eye on the rearview mirror while passing a school bus. "My head hurts a little, too." He grinned. "Maybe we're getting the flu."
She laughed and wrapped her arms around her shins while resting her chin on her knees. "Very funny." They couldn't catch normal illnesses.
At her laugh, appreciation lit his rugged features. Good. He was finally relaxing.
She cleared her throat. "Maybe this is a good time to discuss this way-overprotective attitude of yours and how you need to tone it down now that the war is over."
Talen slowed down until he could pass a bunch of teenagers with inner tubes in a compact red truck. "I understand your need to work, but why in public? One of our laws is staying off the human radar, you know?"
"Yes, but I could teach for a while publicly." Cara turned to look through the rearview mirror at the teens. It was way too cold for inner-tubing, and they should be in school.
"They're fine. Playing hooky, most likely." Talen sped up until the truck was out of sight, easily reading her concerns, as usual.
Smoke filtered through the trees and soon thickened until the sun was an odd red orb through the mist.
Talen punched a bunch of buttons on the dash. "Dage?" Talen asked. "How close are we to forest fires?"
A crackle sounded, and then the King's face took shape in the center consol. "How's the trip?"
"Great," Talen said, squinting. "I'm getting concerned about the fires, though. What can you see?"
"The ones around you have been contained, according to the news." Dage clacked keys in the background.
Talen shook his head. "I don't think the fire is contained. Bring up satellite."
"Just a sec. I have to hack into a different one." More keys clattered. "All right. It appears there are fires to your east and west ... smaller but gathering speed, I think. Stick to the river road you're on, and stay near the water."
"My head is hurting a little, and so is Cara's. Do you see any threats?" Talen asked grimly, his hands tightening on the wheel until his knuckles appeared white.
"I'm not sure. There are several trucks, vans, and campers going in both directions on your road, and nothing stands out," Dage said.
"I'm sure it's just the smoke," Talen said.
Dage chuckled. "You just don't know how to relax. Give it a shot." The screen went black as the king disconnected the call.
"Everyone keeps telling me to relax," Talen muttered.
Yeah. There was a reason for that. Cara hid a smile. "We can take it easy after we deliver these." She looked in the backseat, where the cooler containing the tissue samples was nestled safely. The samples were from people who had taken a mutated virus to negate the immortal mating bond that bound them to just one lover. "I'm curious about these samples. Is it possible to really negate a mating bond of a living couple?"
"No." Talen grinned then, a flash of white against his bronze face. "I don't see what the big deal is. If somebody is your mate, then they're your mate, bond or not. Besides ... we have no proof that a mating bond can be negated when both mates are still alive."
True. The only ones that had been negated were ones in which a mate had died some time ago. "I'm sure there will be a test subject soon," she murmured.
"I doubt it."
"Why not? Humans get divorced all the time. Negating a mating bond is the same thing in the immortal world," she mused.
He shook his head. "Matings are forever, or at least during life. I think the bond is too strong to completely break while both parties are alive."
Perhaps. "Maybe I should give it a shot and see," she teased.
His grin widened. "Try it." The warning rumble of the words belied his smile.
She swallowed. There had to be a quick retort that showed her spirit but didn't push the irritated vampire too far. "Bite me." Nope. That wasn't it.
Excerpted from Talen by REBECCA ZANETTI. Copyright © 2016 Rebecca Zanetti. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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