Embrace of the Damned
A Brotherhood of the Damned Novel
Release Date: May 1, 2012
Enter an exciting and sexy world of strong immortal Viking warriors, sultry witches, and beguiling shamans.
A damned Viking warrior.
Centuries ago Broder Calderson committed murder. As punishment, he was given over to the dominion of Loki, the Trickster God, made part of the Brotherhood of the Damned and condemned to an immortal life of battle against the Blight, blood-drinkers from Hel.
A mysterious woman he can’t resist.
One thousand years to the day he was damned, Loki allows him a woman as reward for his good service and repentance of his crimes. Once Broder sees Jessamine Hamilton, he is overcome with need. But Jessa is no ordinary woman, and the truth of who—and what—she is could have dangerous consequences.
A tormented man she can’t deny.
Though a future together is impossible, the warrior’s touch ignites an irresistible passion in Jessa. But every heated kiss pushes them closer to destruction. Forced to return to the brutality of his Viking past to protect her, will Broder surrender forever to his darkest impulses?
1012 AD, Norway
Other people’s blood seeped into Broder’s wounds, making every slash and scratch on his body burn.
He was alive. He’d survived.
His muscles were weak from disuse, but the drive to live—the drive for revenge—had made him deadly for the time he’d needed to wreak this carnage. Now that it was over, the will to kill leaked slowly from him, not unlike the last decade of his life.
It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore. The moment he’d stepped foot in this enclave his life had been worth nothing. Before then, even….
Ignoring the fiery pain of his injuries, his chest heaving and his eyes wild, Broder turned in a circle, a sharp sword clenched in one sticky hand, an axe in the other, and surveyed the bodies around him. The sight gave him no pleasure, no peace, but he didn’t regret it, even though the act itself was more blur than memory.
He’d delivered retribution.
He barely remembered it. He’d heard tales of men caught up in battle carnage, wild with bloodlust, unknowing of the deeds they committed. Man, woman, child, it mattered not to them, all fell beneath the crazed warrior’s blade. That’s how he’d spent the last five minutes…had it been ten? Or had it been an hour? He wasn’t sure. Images flashed through his head—blood, bone, flesh—the sharp, silver edge of his blade rendering it all into so much meat.
Movement caught his eye. He turned, ready to launch into another attack, and caught the sight of a decapitated body sliding slowly from an ornate gold and green chair to the floor, making a lifeless heap. He relaxed.
It was over. Soon, he, too, would be over.
Blinking barely focused eyes, he lowered his sword and lifted his head, stretching muscles of his body that had long gone unused. He limped to a nearby chair and sat. He needed to leave this place because he didn’t want to die here and he didn’t have much time, but now that the insane rage which had animated his half dead body had ebbed, he could barely move. His nose twitched, stinging from the stench of unwashed body and death.
Slumping against a heap of silken pillows, his blood staining them dark brown, he closed his eyes. Just for a moment. His hands still gripped his weapons, as though secured there for eternity. One wound burned brighter and hotter than the rest. He looked down at his side and examined the crescent-shaped slash.
He wouldn’t survive it.
Every movement made the congealing blood covering him—his own and other men’s—crack like dried mud. The images of what he’d done crowded his mind. It made him sick, but he didn’t want to take it back. He looked around, his lip curling with hatred. If anything, he wanted more.
“Broder Calderson!” His name echoed through the quiet chamber.
In spite of his wounds, Broder leapt to his feet, turned toward the voice, and reflexively threw the ax in his right hand. The man who stood at the entrance of the chamber didn’t move, didn’t even blink as the weapon circled through the air, swooping end over end lazily, as if time had slowed it, the blade headed straight for his forehead.
The ax passed through the man as though he were made of mist.
The man—tall, slender, black hair slicked back from his angular, handsome face—smiled. He swished his forefinger back and forth, grinning. “No, no, Broder. Bad boy.”
Broder frowned at the bizarre language and accent, and backed up, the sword dropping from his hand and clattering to the marble floor. The man wore outlandish clothing, he now noticed.
He looked him up and down. He wore no tunic and his trousers were more than passing strange. There was an odd, sharp cut to his clothing and his shoes were too shiny. Some sort of extra long bit of material that served no purpose hung from his neck. He’d never seen the like of such clothing—or fabric—in all his life. A black swath of some hard material Broder couldn’t identify balanced on the man’s nose and wrapped around the upper part of his face, concealing his eyes.
“What are you?” Broder asked in a voice that hadn’t been used in a very long time. It came out broken and rough.
“Not what, who. You don’t recognize me? I am Loki.” The man walked toward him, odd shoes crunching broken pottery, treading through pools of blood. His strange, shiny footwear never seemed to be affected. His voice held a strong note of derision. “Surely you must know who I am. I am known for the tricks that I play, and I have played many of them.” His voice went serious. “But I am not playing now.”
Of course he knew Loki. Broder felt the blood drain from his face. He’d just tried to kill a god. “Am I dead, then?”
Loki laughed. “Not hardly. Not yet, anyway.” He removed the odd black thing covering the upper part of his face and his cold blue eyes skirted Broder’s body, taking in the parts of him covered with Broder’s own blood. “You won’t be dead for a very, very long time. If ever.”
Broder struggled to make sense out of those words. It was clear to Loki and to himself that he’d be dead in a few hours. It had only been a need for revenge that had kept his body full of life up until now. He’d had his revenge; now it was time to join his loved ones. He welcomed it.
Loki took a step forward, his polished shoe crunching on the remains of an invaluable piece of pottery. “You’ve had a more than a little fun here, I think. Are you thirsty?” He gestured to a half broken pitcher on a nearby table, sitting in a pool of the blood he’d shed. “Need libation, perhaps?”
“It wasn’t…fun.” Broder frowned, trying to translate the odd manner of his speech. “I had reason for this violence.”
“You offend the gods, you ungrateful barbarian!” Loki’s voice boomed from him, echoed into the reaches of Broder’s head, made the blood leak from his ears. Broder swiped at it and stared at the coating on his fingers. “You’ll not avoid reprimand!”
Broder staggered backward, his head and side pounding out an intense rhythm of pain.
“You must be punished for this. You know that, don’t you, Broder?”
Punished? He’d just spent the last ten years of his life in torment. And before that…hadn’t he had enough torment?
“Wah, wah, wah,” Loki sneered. “Don’t think I can’t read your thoughts. If you offend the gods, you suffer for it.” He pointed at him. “And, you sir, have offended most heartily.”
Broder winced, pain flaring through the wound in his side. He just wanted to die. He wanted to collapse to the floor, close his eyes and never wake up. However he had a very bad suspicion his wish would not be granted. There were punishments worse than death. Anyone who believed in the gods knew that much and this was Loki, the most deceitful of all the gods.
Loki held up a hand. In his palm a small blue light sputtered to life and formed the shape of a sword, then narrowed to a sharp, pointed sliver than looked like a narrow spear.
Broder tensed. Surely that supernatural weapon was meant for him.
“I’m impressed you don’t run,” said Loki. “Most of them do.”
He threw the blue sliver at Broder. Even though he moved to avoid it, the sliver found his chest, burying deep like the thinnest dagger made of pure ice. It pierced his heart, spreading agony to every part of him. Freezing and burning in equal turns, it dropped Broder to his knees, snapping his head back, arching his spine. A bellow of torment ripped from his throat.
The sliver formed a cold hollow of nothing in the center of his chest, shearing away all the flickers of humanity he’d managed to hold onto during the last decade. Soon nothing remained.
And nothing truly meant nothing—no warmth, no love…but no fear or anger, either. He breathed into it, relaxing completely for the first time in years. Yet nearly the same moment the pain ebbed, something else rushed in to fill up the peaceful emptiness. Something foreign. Something that didn’t belong there.
Something from Loki.
In the center of his soul a mark of despair burned. He knew without being told that he was Loki’s—his possession—and that could not be a good thing. He’d traded one Hel for another.
Broder pried his gummy, blood crusted eyes open and saw that he’d fallen on his hands and knees to the floor, shards of pottery cutting into his shins and palms. Grunting with effort, holding one arm to his chest as though he could compel the icy sliver and Loki’s mark out of him, he forced himself to look up into the grinning, gloating face of the god.
“You are hereby punished for your crimes, Broder Calderson. Eternally.”
Broder had no doubt of this, but he could barely rouse himself to care.
“Don’t be disheartened,” Loki continued. “I am not an evil god with no sense of the human heart. Exactly one thousand years from now, if you have been a worthy warrior you will have a woman. Not just any woman, the woman of your every desire.”
And then Broder truly knew he was damned.
One thousand years later… to the day.
Jessamine’s boots clicked on the pavement of the parking ramp, echoing through the empty structure. It was late and she was alone. If she’d had any other choice, she would have been home and in bed right now with a good book, rather than walking through this creepy parking garage with every bad movie cliché about such places riffing through her already freaked out mind.
Her totebag, stuffed with all her paperwork, rested over one shoulder. Her hand was secured in her pocket, pepper spray unlocked and at the ready. She didn’t take any chances. Not these days. Life had suddenly grown too unpredictable for that.
Her hands still trembled from what she’d just done. She wasn’t certain she could ever do it again. How she’d managed to do it all still eluded her. She hadn’t received any concrete answers from the risk she’d taken tonight, but sometimes lack of information was meaningful too.
And, wow, she’d taken a huge risk.
Now all she wanted was to get home, sort through the confusing results of the evening and figure out what to do next.
As she rounded one of the thick concrete walls, a man stepped out from near the elevators. Jessa hesitated, watching him carefully, her hand ready on the pepper spray. He was a good looking guy dressed in a black linen shirt, a pair of jeans and black boots. His face had a GQ-handsome quality to it, light blue eyes and well trimmed facial hair around his sensual mouth. His hair, black and slick, was styled to perfection. Her best friend, Lillie, would have swallowed her tongue. Just her type.
Normally she’d think yum. Tonight he set off every warning in her body. He was the type of polished man that usually put a woman at ease, but her mind never strayed from Ted Bundy. He’d been a handsome, polished guy, too.
He watched her with attention beyond that of some guy waiting for an elevator. His fascination with her every move did little to flatter her. She walked past him doing her best to hide her impulse to break into a run.
“Be careful, tonight,” said the man in a rich voice that reminded of her warm chocolate.
She missed a step, tried to smile but was too on edge. “Excuse me?”
He turned toward her. “They know what you are.” He paused. “They’ve been watching you.”
What I am? She pulled up short, stunned by his words. The comment sent a shiver through her, a jolt of fear followed by a sharp jab of anger. “Are you trying to scare me or are you just crazy?”
The edges of the man’s mouth quirked up and he slid his hands into his pockets. “My name is Dmitri. I’m a friend.”
“A friend, sure. The kind of friend who wants to rape and murder me, maybe.” Her hand clenched hard on the pepper spray. If he took one step in her direction, he’d get it full in the face.
For a moment it appeared as though his eyes went completely black. It rocked her back a step. Impossible. “I’m not the one who means you harm. I’m just trying to warn you, Jessa.”
Now she was really scared. How the hell did he know her name?
Jessa said a whole bunch of words she would never normally say and broke into a run, checking over her shoulder constantly to make sure he wasn’t following her.
Ordinarily she would be highly disturbed by an encounter like that, but she would brush off the man’s comments as inconsequential to her life. Just some crazy guy. These days what the man had said made a kind of sense she didn’t want to examine very hard. She had no idea who Dmitri was, but it was possible he was telling the truth.
Maybe they were watching her. Maybe they did know what she was. Maybe they did mean her harm. It wasn’t paranoia if they were really after you, right? She wished she knew who they were.
She wished even more she knew what she was. Her whole life she’d felt out of step with everyone else. Only recently had her differences really taken a turn for the bizarre.
How much strangeness could a woman handle before she went insane? She was afraid she might be about to find out the answer.
When she determined Dmitri wasn’t following, she slowed her pace, rounding the corner that brought her to the lot where she’d parked her car.
She approached her black sedan with a sigh of relief. No echo of a man’s measured footsteps had resounded behind her, no gloved hand had come from behind to cover her mouth and draw her back into the shadows. There was her car, she was safe. Yay. She tried to muster some enthusiasm for that happy news and failed. She was exhausted.
Pulling her keys from her other pocket, she unlocked her doors remotely. Just as she touched the door handle, someone cursed loudly. Her head whipped up and she spotted a man with medium brown hair holding a briefcase on the opposite side of the row of parked cars. He looked harmless, like some accountant or businessman who’d been working late.
In one hand he held a briefcase and he was using the other hand to shade his eyes as he peered into the driver’s side window. He swore again, his voice sounding squeaky and distressed.
She almost ignored the worried man, got into her car and drove away, but she hadn’t been raised that way. “Are you all right, sir?” she called loudly from her safe place beside her car’s driver side door.
The man glanced at her, seeming surprised to find her there. He adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose. “I locked my keys and my cell phone in the car. Stupid,” he muttered. He turned back to the automobile, staring into the window as though he could reach through the glass and grab his stuff. “It’s late, the building is closed and—”
“No problem,” Jessa called to him with a reassuring smile. “I’ve locked my keys in my car before too. I’ll call a locksmith for you. I’ll tell them it’s a green Impala on level three of the Handburg parking garage. They should be here soon, okay?”
She opened her car door, intending to sit down and fish out her phone to make the call, but the man walked over to her instead.
No. He didn’t walk, he ran…or something. Damn, the guy could move fast. One minute he was way over there, now he was right beside her.
She backed away from him, alarmed.
“Wait. That will be expensive. Do you mind if I just call my wife? She’s got an extra key.
He flashed a bland smile at her, a bland smile on a bland face. She looked down and saw the gold wedding band on his left hand wink in the dim light.
“Sure.” She dug into her bag and pulled her cell phone out. “Here you—” The cell phone clattered to the cement as bland suddenly turned brutal. The veneer of nice, harmless man sheared away like an aging patina.
Jessa stepped backward as the man’s thin lips peeled into a gruesome smile, revealing sharp white teeth and…were those…fangs? How could that be?
“Jessamine Amber Hamilton?” Even the man’s voice had changed. He ripped off the glasses and threw them to the pavement.
She shook her head, unwilling to answer, and took another step back. Her fingers closed around her pepper spray. He was between her and her car. That needed to change. Getting to her car meant she made it out of here alive.
Rage blossomed inside her. She just wanted to go home! Jessa stopped retreating. “Get the hell away from me right now.” Her voice came out a whole lot stronger and more assertive than she felt, but she needed to treat this man like the dog he was—and show him who was alpha. If she didn’t act afraid, maybe he’d back off.
The man tipped his head to the side, looking oddly alien. Then he smiled a waaaay creepy smile and said, “No.”
“Fine. You asked for it, asshole.” She pulled the pepper spray from her pocket, aimed it at the man’s face and pulled the trigger. The pepper spray hit him straight in the eyes, but he didn’t flinch. All he did was swipe a hand across his face and leer at her. It was like she’d shot him with a water pistol. Then, if the fangs weren’t weird enough, his eyes bled black…completely black. Hellspawn obsidian black.
Okay, that was not normal.
The smell of the pepper spray stung her nose, made her eyes water. It was potent. Any normal human should be writhing in agony on the floor of the parking garage by now. Why wasn’t he?
The man narrowed his creepy black eyes and smiled, revealing—unmistakably this time—two shiny sharp fangs.
It appeared she had her answer; this thing wasn’t human.
A growl issued from the back of his throat that raised the hair along her nape. She dropped her bag, turned, and ran. He tackled her immediately, rolling her over and looming above her. She fought him—punching, biting, scratching, but his strength was as unnatural as his teeth. And his grip was cold, freezing. Where his skin touched her, she went numb.
His mouth, with those shiny fangs, descended toward her face, icy cold saliva dripping from their knife-like points.
* * * * *
He could feel her.
Her presence burned through every fiber of his body, screaming at him to find her. It had rushed though him the moment that Loki had untwisted the cosmic laws that bound him—unlocked Broder’s ability to be with a woman. His chastity belt. That’s what the Brotherhood of the Damned called it, a darkly comedic term for the magick that kept them from intimate contact with any other person.
You could call Loki many things, but not a liar. At least not this time. It was exactly a thousand years since the day Broder had been taken for the Brotherhood. Just as Loki had promised, he was free—at least for a time—to taste the fruits of which he’d been forbidden.
He could feel her.
From the moment he’d been freed, she pulled him toward her. This was the one woman allowed him in all the world and nothing was going to keep him from her.
He raced his cycle down the rain slicked streets of Washington D.C., the reflection of the lights from the intersections he rode through gleaming on the wet pavement and the ends of his long spelled leather coat flapping behind him.
His blood sung hot with the supernatural scent of her. She wasn’t far, just a few blocks away. His body tightened with need, his heart rushing with adrenaline caused by her nearness. She would be human, that’s always how Loki did it. Not valkyrie, not witch. Human. It complicated things for the Brotherhood and amused Loki, the bastard. He never made things easy.
Of course, a witch, for Broder at least, would be far more complicated.
One thousand years he’d been in the Brotherhood of the Damned. One thousand years of offing Blight, one-by-one, hoping to find that single agent from whom the sliver had been taken that pierced his soul. If he could find that one agent of the Blight, he would be free to die.
Most humans dreamed about immortality, but most in the Brotherhood dreamed of death—of peace, of rest, of change of any kind. Love was just a dream…death, something to strive for.
Immortality for the Brotherhood was hell.
Kill the agent of Blight from whom Loki had extracted the sliver lodged in Broder’s soul and the sliver would die too. The countdown clock of his physical life would resume.
But this. This was a new goal. This was different from the last thousand years of his life. This woman promised warmth, companionship…pleasure. A respite from the endless cycle of killing and death.
He was close now. He gunned the engine of his cycle, ran a red light. The city was empty, winding down into night. To his left was a parking garage. In it was his woman.
Broder gunned the motorcycle inside, his blood a torpedo headed straight for her.