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Surrender to the Chase (Under Realm Assassins #2)
Surrender to the Chase (Under Realm Assassins #2)
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Surrender to the Chase (Under Realm Assassins #2)A year after the tragic death of his close friend and fellow assassin, Ethan Halstead is ready to take up his sniper rifle once more. But his first assignment is nothing he ever expected. Ethan must hunt and retrieve a beautiful, spirited, alluring werewolf.
Knowing no other way to escape an arranged marriage, Fraya flees from her pack. As she contemplates slipping across the border and heading to South America, she is captured by a dangerously seductive vampire who plans on escorting her back to her family. Even as Fraya vows to make Ethan’s mission as difficult as possible, she can’t resist the riotous desire he sparks within her.
But Ethan isn’t the only predator that peruses Fraya. A powerful rival pack’s alpha wants to make her his mate. Will Ethan be able to keep Fraya safe and return her to her pack? Or will he surrender to temptation and claim Fraya as his own?
~ Novella ~
Lightning splintered the sky. Thunder shook the earth beneath his feet. Damp heat thickened the air. Any moment, the winds would kick up and the red hued clouds would release a torrent of rain.
Ethan loved summer storms and treasured Arizona for its monsoon season. It was only during the madness of the storm that he found peace. In those rare, precious moments, the world reflected the chaos that roiled inside him and he felt… as if he belonged.
Closing his eyes, he took in a deep breath and savored the soothing scent of the desert. To his disappointment, he would not be able to appreciate the beauty of nature’s fury. Clearing his mind, Ethan unleashed his senses. His mark was close. He could feel her. Crossing the street, he headed for the quaint coffee shop he frequently sped past. She was here, which meant he could call an end to this pointless job.
Ethan was an assassin, not a damn babysitter. He was an expert tracker and sniper, yet the Under Realm Syndicate had him chasing after a spoiled little she-wolf. He had been tasked with fetching the runaway and returning her to her pack – a complete waste of his time and talents. He couldn’t believe he had let Cole talk him into this. The fact was this case should’ve never made the list. Why the Syndicate decided to get involved was beyond his understanding. This wasn’t a kidnapping or a hostage situation. The female wasn’t a criminal. She wasn’t a threat to the human world or Under Realm society.
His annoyed growl blended with the booming thunder. Cole had insisted Ethan accept this assignment, “You should be grateful the Syndicate is willing to give you a second chance. You’ve been out of practice.”
Who could argue with that logic? Ethan had been off the map for a year. Most within the Syndicate believed he had been killed on his last mission.
I should have been. Shaking his head, he dispelled the thought. He refused to take sober trips down memory lane. He needed to focus on his task.
The aroma of freshly ground coffee was overwhelming. Ethan reigned in his supernatural senses as he stepped inside the shop. The door closed and the torrential rain began to fall. He did a quick, nonchalant sweep of the café, careful not to meet anyone’s gaze. Eye contact encouraged conversation, and he was here on business not pleasure. He would grab the werewolf, take her back home, and detain her until he could make arrangements with her father. Simple.
Ethan walked to the counter. After the blonde and brunette baristas finished arguing over who would help him, he ordered and received a black coffee. The cup had both girl’s names and numbers written on it. He thanked them with a smile. They batted their lashes and insisted he stop by a college party later that night.
Ethan’s shoulders shook with a light laugh. Naïve mortals.
Turning, he headed up the winding iron staircase that led to the second floor loft area. The walls were made almost entirely of glass, providing a glorious view of the storm. Students sat at the tables working on their laptops while groups lounged on the sofas discussing the world of social media.
The delicate scent of wildflowers drifted through the air, drawing his sharp gaze to the far corner. There was nothing remarkable about her presence. She appeared to fit in perfectly with the scene, as if she were just another co-ed. She wore a pair of skinny jeans and a crimson sweatshirt. She sat with her feet tucked under her crisscrossed. Leaning over the table, her long dark brown hair tumbled forward, blocking his view of her face. Ethan noted the worn, tattered condition of the book she read. Her frame was small. She seemed fragile, but he knew better. She was strong, fast, and intelligent. His mark appeared to be ‘normal’ by human standards, but she was the wolf he was looking for.
Hoping everything would go smoothly, he advanced. This was a delicate situation. The female could freak out on him. She could cause a scene, and he loathed drama just as much as he loathed this particular job. It was not a search and rescue mission. No, it was a track-down-a-spoiled-brat-and-take-her-home mission. A simpleton could do it. Why it had to be done was beyond him. At twenty-four, she was an adult. She had a degree in biology and was a werewolf; she was more than capable of taking care of herself.
Who cares? Grab the girl and go.
Ethan quickly reminded himself of the two basic rules: never become personally involved with your mark and strike first, ask questions later – if you cared about asking question at all.
As he approached the woman, he felt a slight tremor in the air. A warning? A threat? Someone was watching them. He set his senses loose once more, scanning the café for the source of the violent energy, but it had vanished just as quickly as it had arrived.
The girl must have felt the glimmer of danger. Her gaze snapped up and met his. Her warm, honey colored eyes were round with surprise. Her tempting red lips parted with a silent gasp. Ethan froze. She was… more than beautiful.
She blinked up at him. Her gaze innocently seductive, her mouth violently tempting, and her wild flower scent was overwhelming. His body reacted instantly. It had been years since he’d felt such a strong, instant attraction.
He watched her lick her lips; lust shot through him like a lightning strike. Oh, yes. The wolf was alluring and, to his surprise, he was disappointed that she was his mark.
“Hi,” she said with a nervous lilt to her voice.
Ethan mentally shook himself and crossed over to stand at the chair opposite her. “Hi,” he replied.
Thunder rumbled; the force shook the glass walls. The girl flinched and her gaze fell from his. For a soundless moment, she sat with her hands clasped in her lap, her head tilted down. The mortals gasped and laughed as another boom shook the windows.
“You may sit,” she said, her voice low, barely audible.
Ethan could smell the fear that sparked within her. Was she frightened of the storm, or what possibly lurked outside? An overwhelming sense of protectiveness settled over him and he frowned. He didn’t like it. He wasn’t the protective type. He was a killer not a savior.
Focus and get this over with.
“Not a fan of thunderstorms?” he asked as he claimed the chair.
She straightened and fixed her gaze on him once more. Her expression was bland, her cute stubborn chin titled up, her shoulders back. She looked regal and refined. Every bit the aristocrat she was.
“I’m accustomed to snow storms.”
“Really? Where are you from?”
“Minnesota,” she answered with a hint of hesitation.
He smiled and was shocked he didn’t have to fake it. “You’re a long way from home.”
She shrugged and returned her attention to her book.
Ethan took a sip of the surprisingly good coffee and relaxed in his seat. He picked up a golf magazine, which rested on the table beside them, and began flipping through the pages. He wasn’t at all interested in golf. Being a vampire, he preferred keeping out of the sun. Although, contrary to popular lore, he wouldn’t burst into flame or turn to ash. He could work on his tan, he just preferred not to.
He casually glanced over at the werewolf and inwardly groaned. She was reading a list of the top ten hot spots in Chile. It appeared she was interested in sunbathing and he couldn’t stop the image of her in a bikini from cropping up in his mind even if he’d wanted to. And he certainly did not want to erase the image.
She sighed, closed the book, and tucked it away in her backpack, which hung off the back of her chair. She took up her latte and settled her gaze on him. Her lips turned up with a sweet smile.
“You don’t strike me as the golfing type.”
He raised a brow and tossed the magazine down on the table between them. “No?”
She shook her head, her long dark curls waving around her shoulders. “Not at all. You look like you’d rather go to a shooting range than work on your golf swing.”
Ethan couldn’t argue with that. He’d had his basement converted into an indoor gun range.
“Very observant,” he said. “What about you? What’s your hobby?”
She bit her bottom lip as she contemplated. Ethan wanted to bite it for her. “Traveling. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. You know, see the world, and experience different cultures.”
“Is that what your trip to Arizona is all about?” he asked.
“More or less,” she answered with a shrug.
“Well, South America is beautiful.”
Her eyes grew wide. She leaned forward, placing her hands on the table. Excitement laced her voice, “You’ve been?”
Ethan shifted closer and reached for her hand. The air trembled with another flicker of danger just before the lights went out. Darkness flooded the café.
His mark shoved away from the table, snatched her backpack, and darted toward the stairs. Ethan was right behind her. The mortals grumbled complaints, some laughed, while others stumbled through the dark.
She was about to reach the exit when the door flew open, crashing against the wall. Humans screamed and shouted in alarm. The girl froze, and Ethan cursed. Clearly, he hadn’t been the only one searching for her. He could sense the alpha’s presence and, judging by his target’s reaction, so could she.
Ethan grabbed her wrist. She swung around. Her fist raised, her honey colored eyes glowed, and her fangs bared. Shadows of a wolf’s fierce visage flickered over the fine features of her face. Her fierce growl vibrated her entire body. Ethan ignored the warning and tugged on her arm, pulling her toward the emergency exit at the back of the coffee shop.
He pushed the door open. His mark tried to twist free of his hold, but he held her firm.
“Let go of me,” she demanded, her voice roughened by her partial transformation.
“Not a chance, sweetheart.”
She growled and fought harder. He wasn’t surprised by her strength and knew she was still holding back. So was he.
Pushing her now soaked and tangled hair from her face, she snarled, “What’s going on?”
“I thought it was obvious,” he said.
“That you’re attempting to kidnap me?”
Ethan shook his head. “No. That you have an alpha hunting your ass.”
Her stare was one of confusion, awe, and horror. She stopped, and he paused. Literally dragging her across the street would draw unwanted attention. He reluctantly released her wrist. She was soft and warm while he was hard and cold. A frown creased his brow when the sharp sense of loss pricked his long dead heart. On some level, he’d enjoyed the feel of her.
She blinked up at him. Her large, honey eyes sparkled with fear. “W-what did you say?”
His chest rose and fell with a heavy sigh. “I’ll explain. For now, come with me.”
She shook her head.
Ethan glanced over his shoulder, scanning the parking lot for any sign of the alpha. He could sense the wolf was close.
“We don’t have much time. We need to go.”
The woman fell back a step and Ethan’s body tensed. His instincts flared. She retreated another step. Would she run? A part of him wished she would. He loved the chase. The hunt. His heart began to pound, his pupils dilated, and his fangs began to sharpen, all in anticipation.
“Don’t,” he warned.
Fraya dodged cars, ignoring their blaring horns. She sped through the abandoned strip mall. Puddles splashed beneath her feet, rain stung her cheeks and blurred her vision. Three… four… five blocks. Terror fueled her. She had to get away. Far away. Now.
God, she had been stupid. She had sensed an ominous, dangerous presence lurking in the shadows for days. Yeah. Stupid. An alpha. Shit. If the werewolf caught her… If he were of a rival pack… She couldn’t think about that. She had to escape the alpha and the smoking hot stranger who had insisted she go with him to lord knew where.
Turning a corner, she sprinted across an empty lot to a vacant park. She slipped past deserted swaying swings. Lighting cracked and thunder shook the ground beneath her feet.
Fraya heard a vicious growl behind her. Her heart painfully pounded against her ribs as she ran faster. She had just reached a clear soccer field when she heard him lunge for her. Fraya swallowed a scream as they crashed to the ground.
He rolled her to her back. Bracing his hands on either side of her head, he held his chest away from her, but trapped her legs with his thighs. He overwhelmed her with his size and power. Strength emanated from him. His once playful green gaze was now cold and sharp. Shadows contorted his handsome face and his fangs… Her breath stilled in her lungs. Her heart stuttered. Pure terror struck her. Vampire!
“Little wolf,” he rasped. “Never run from one such as me.”
The male pinning her down was a vampire. Amongst the Under Realm Society, vampires were believed to be creatures of folklore. Her mother had told her stories of the blood drinkers – secret assassins created by and for the Under Realm Syndicate. They were thought to be unimaginably strong, fast, lethal, cold blooded, indestructible killing machines.
Did the Fates hate her? Had she done something terribly wrong in a previous life? Fraya had thought her world was falling apart, now she realized it was burning and crashing down around her.
The vampire dipped his head down, burying his face in the hollow of her neck. She could feel his cool breath on her throat and, God help her, excitement rushed through her. Closing her eyes, she held her breath, waiting for him to strike. Her heart skipped as she thought about his fangs penetrating her jugular, his lips pressed tightly against her neck as he greedily drained her.
Seconds turned into minutes, his large frame shielding her from the rain. He didn’t touch her. He held his body a fraction of an inch above her, his elbows bent in perfect ninety-degree angles, supporting him. He effortlessly held the position as he took in her scent.
Fraya opened her eyes. Gathering her courage to speak, she nervously licked her lips. The urge to wrap her legs around his hips, grip his shoulders, and pull him against her was maddening. Her body grew hot and her shirt felt tight across her breasts. God, the anticipation was devastating. No! The fear was devastating. She was overcome by terror not lust.
“A−are you going to bite me?” she asked, her voice trembled.
The mysterious vampire brushed his lips over her pulse. The caress was so light she wondered if she had imagined the kiss. Need flooded her, drowning any sense of self-preservation. Dangerous. He was dangerous and so was the alpha. She shook her head, trying to clear her mind of the thick haze of lust.
She felt his lips brush her ear as he said, “Run from me again and I will sink my fangs into your pretty little neck.”
Would his bite bring agonizing pain or blissful euphoria?
He took in one last deep breath, inhaling her scent, before he pushed himself back. He remained on his knees, keeping her trapped beneath him. Their gazes met as lightning splintered the heavens. Fraya was struck speechless as a blistering curse fell from his lips. His piercing green eyes burned with ravenous desire. She knew his gaze mirrored her own. She wanted him. The animal inside her howled, demanding she surrender to this male. She shifted beneath him, barely resisting the urge to arch her back and roll her hips in invitation.
What was happening to her? She was losing her mind. Yes, that must be it. She had been on the run. The constant stress, lack of sleep, and ever-present hunger must be getting to her.
“Why did you chase me?”
“Why did you run from me?” he countered.
Fraya tried to sit up, but he gently pushed her back down. With an irritated sigh she answered, “I wasn’t running from you in particular. I was running from the alpha.”
“Stick with me and you needn’t worry about the alpha.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Really?”
She was skeptical. “Why should I trust you?”
“You can run as far and as fast as you like, but the alpha will eventually track you down. An unmated pureblood female werewolf without her pack,” he shook his head, “sweetheart, you’re fair game.”
Fraya couldn’t argue against that, but she wasn’t in the market for a bodyguard. She needed to travel light and fast. She needed to get to Chile like yesterday and he would just slow her down.
“Thanks for the offer, but I’ll take my chances.”
With a shrug of his large shoulders, he stood. He held out his hand, offering to help her to her feet. She hesitated, staring at his out stretched hand for a moment before she took it. The chilled bite of metal locked around her wrist.
Rage swept through like an inferno. Her lips pulled back, baring her own set of fangs. Her wolf was rising.
“Stay calm,” he said, his voice smooth and way too even.
“What the hell are you doing?” she snarled.
“I politely offered you my protection, but you didn’t want it. Now, I really must insist.”
Fraya’s vision began to turn red. How dare this stranger restrain her? She should rip his throat with her teeth. “Who are you?”
He shook his head. “My name isn’t important, but I’ll be the vampire escorting you home.”
Dread twisted her stomach, forcing bile to rise in her throat. “No. You can’t. I won’t go back!” She fought against the cuff, using all of her strength, but unlike normal steel, the bracelet held true. “Are you working for my father?”
He clasped the other band around his own wrist, binding them together. “I work for no individual man.”
She grabbed his arm. Panic heightened her voice, “I’ll double whatever my father is paying you. I can’t go back. You don’t understand−”
The wind whipped around them, yet he could still smell her fear. With a frown he asked, “You would rather test your luck against the alpha than return home?”
“Please, I can’t go back,” she begged. “I will triple your pay.”
He raised a brow. “Triple?”
He captured her cuffed wrist and pulled her hard against him. Desire crashed over her, robbing her of breath. “Money doesn’t interest me.”
Oh, God. Her pulse kicked up, her heart pounded so fast she could hear it. “What does interest you?”
His alluring lips slowly lifted into a charming smile, which was made sexy by his long lethal fangs. “You’re coming with me, little wolf.”
The roaring engine of the 1970 Camaro filled the silence within the car. Fraya nervously glanced his way. He was soaked through, just like she was. Droplets of rainwater fell from his black hair and slowly slipped down his cheek, over his hard jaw, and onto his shirt. She had the insane desire to follow the trail with her lips, her tongue… His wet clothes revealed every harsh line of his solid body.
Fraya’s gaze fluttered to his hand on the stick shift. He wore an interesting looking ring. Gold, silver, and black strands twisted together, creating a cathedral setting for the sapphire stone, which was overlaid with a strange coat of arms. Leaning toward him, she studied the symbol intently. The ring was familiar… The tiny hairs on the back of her neck rose. Her gaze snapped up. The vampire was watching her. She felt her cheeks burn with a blush. He gave her a wink. Fraya abruptly turned away trying to hide her embarrassment.
The silence remained constant as they continued to drive into the darkness of the night. Fraya couldn’t keep still. Anxiety made her hands tremble causing the cuff around their wrists to rattle. With an exasperated sigh, the vampire took her hand, placed it on the eight ball shifter, and covered her fingers with his own. She tried to pull away, but he had her trapped.
“Can you try to relax?” he asked.
“I might if you tell me where we’re going?”
“And spoil the surprise?”
Her eyes went wide with alarm and he chuckled. She tried to ignore the warmth of his teasing smile. This man could be a killer and she could very likely be his next victim. She shouldn’t find him sexy as hell; she should find him terrifying.
“Does my fear amuse you?” she demanded.
“Not in the least, but you’ve no reason to fear me.”
“Oh, really?” she scoffed. “One, I don’t know you. Two, you’re a vampire.”
Her captor nonchalantly shrugged. Fraya growled low and turned her attention back out the window. She was done conversing with him. It was pointless. He wasn’t going to tell her who he was, where he was taking her, how or when he would be shipping her off to her father, effectively ending her life as she knew it.
She closed her eyes and shivered. She didn’t know whom she feared more now. Her father or the vampire. This male was dangerous. Lethal. Vampires were mysterious creatures, rumored to have been created by the Under Realm Syndicate to eliminate threats to their Society. Fear’s icy grip choked her. Was he an assassin? Did they actually exist? The vampire claimed he would return her to her pack, but there was a chance he could be driving her out to the middle of the desert to…No, don’t think about it.
He couldn’t be trusted, but that didn’t stop hope from fluttering in her chest. Could she convince him not to take her back? The vampire had refused her money, but he seemed… interested in her.
Fraya had little experience with men. She’d had a crush on a boy for a while when she was seventeen. Their love affair hadn’t lasted long. Her father had learned of their relationship and severed ties with his pack. A chill shook her. She couldn’t stand her father, but she would always be grateful that he had stepped in when he had. Lynn Ferugson had become extremely possessive and controlling toward the end of their relationship.
Don’t think about Lynn. There could be another alpha. Father has many enemies.
Fraya blinked in disbelief when they pulled up to a very modern home with sleek lines and large, darkly tinted windows. The vampire hit a button on the visor. The driveway was a steep decline into an underground garage. Fraya’s heart rate spiked as they came to a stop and the ignition shut off.
Without a word or even a glance, the vampire unlocked the cuff then exited the car. Fraya bit into her bottom lip and silently chanted: stay calm. But her nerves weren’t listening to her rational mind. Was her father here? Or was he on his way? If not, when would the vampire be sending her back?
Her soul nearly jumped from her body when he opened her door. For a second he stood, staring down at her. Concern flickered like a shadow over his face. He leaned in and unfastened her seatbelt.
“Will you do me a favor?” His rough voice banished her anxiety, immediately replacing the debilitating emotion with another – desire. He held out his hand. “Please, relax.”
Fraya bit even harder into her bottom lip as she gazed at his out stretched hand. Why was he being nice? And caring? She didn’t like it. She couldn’t like it. The secretive vampire wasn’t to be trusted.
She brushed aside his hand and stood, closing the car door behind her. It slammed harder than she’d intended, but she wouldn’t apologize.
“You’re working for my father and plan on returning me to his pack. Since you’re screwing me over, I won’t do you any favors.”
Did his lips twitch with a smile? “How about doing it for yourself?”
“Sadly, ‘relax’ was deleted from my personal dictionary a long time ago.”
A gasp slammed from her lungs as he pressed her back against the car. Taking her wrist, he brought her hand up and pressed her palm against her chest. She could feel her heart pounding.
He leaned in, caging her. His head dipped down to the hollow of her throat. She swallowed hard and suppressed a longing moan when his breath caressed her sensitive ear lobe.
“You really ought to do yourself the favor and Google the definition. Your pulse: it’s wild. And it makes me crave a taste.”
Against her will, her body arched into him. Her hips pressed forward, her breasts thrust against his chest. Heat rushed through her as she shivered from the contact. Damn it. What was wrong with her?
The vampire released her and stepped away. His expression unreadable, he studied her. Fraya felt her blush burn her cheeks and spread down her neck. God, she must be glowing red.
He turned and headed into the house. Fraya slowly followed.
“He’s not here,” he called over his shoulder as he led the way down a windowless hallway.
Fraya paused. Could the vampire read her mind? No. He couldn’t… Shaking her head, she continued down the hall, which led to an enormous open concept living area. The kitchen was a dream, complete with industrial grade steel appliances and a large island. The dining area was elegant and simple while the living room screamed bachelor pad. A huge black leather sectional faced a TV that was the size of the wall. However, what captured her interest was the picturesque windows. The pool created an oasis, a tranquil scene. Angry storm clouds were rolling in, lightning struck in the distance, and the wind bellowed. She stepped toward the windows, drawn in by the majestic desert.
The vampire came to stand beside her and, in that moment, her fears dissolved. Her anxiety melted away. She wanted him to wrap an arm around her shoulders and pull her close. She wanted him to hold her as the summer storm passed. She wanted this moment of peace to last forever.
Stop acting stupid, she chided herself. She was in trouble and needed to get out. Quickly.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
She nonchalantly shrugged. She was starving, but only a fool admitted weakness to their enemy.
“You’ve been on the road, I doubt you’ve had a decent meal lately.”
“I get by,” she replied.
“A candy bar from a vending machine at a bus depot does not a meal make,” he said with a chuckle.
Fraya bit her lip to stop from smiling. “Hey, some have peanuts, which makes them a good source of protein.”
He laughed, and the sound warmed her heart, easing the worry in her soul.
The vampire isn’t charming, and he doesn’t have a sexy laugh. Oh, yeah, she would keep telling herself that. She’d also tell herself he wasn’t hot, his eyes weren’t gorgeous, and that she didn’t secretly crave to taste his smile.
He grabbed her wrist and gently tugged her toward another hall. “The bathroom is the first door on the right and you may use this bedroom.” He opened the door to the left and stepped aside.
Fraya hugged her backpack to her chest and stepped past him. The guest room was nicely furnished with a queen size bed topped with a white comforter. A single dresser and a small desk with a comfy looking armchair she could curl up and read in completed the room. This certainly beat the train stations and bus stops she had been camping out in. Fraya never stayed at a hotel. She feared hanging out at one place for too long.
One night here will be fine. Besides, I need some time to devise a new exit strategy. She would need to ditch the vamp and somehow make it across multiple boarders if she were ever going to reach Chile. This wasn’t going to be easy.
She dropped her bag on the floor beside the bed and followed him back out into the main living area.
“You’re welcome to use the shower. You’ll find everything you need in there. You can also wash your clothes if you like.”
She glanced down at herself. “If you hadn’t tackled me, I wouldn’t be caked in mud.”
“If you hadn’t run, I wouldn’t have had to tackle you,” he countered.
“I ran because of the alpha.”
He shook his head. “I’m not big on sharing, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve fought my share of renegade alphas.”
When he didn’t continued, she prompted, “And?”
He closed the distanced between them. His eyes locked on hers. Instantly, Fraya’s heart began to pound. Caressing her cheek, he whispered, “They’re all dead.”