Unedited Excerpt from Jared
Copyright © Sarah McCarty 2009
All rights reserved Berkley
A vampire was strongest after feeding, the results holding for
a week or two and then fading over the next few. “Have you been trying to tell me that this is you at your strongest?”
She didn’t lift her head. “Finally, the man catches a clue.”
The muscle in his hand spasmed and she sucked in a whistling breath. That didn’t make sense. He massaged the cramp. “Are you newly turned?”
Her “What makes you say that?” was a vibrating moan.
He controlled the surge of lust the shuddering betrayal inspired, keeping his drawl even, with effort. “My sister-in-law had trouble at ﬁrst.”
“Your brother is married?” He turned his head, and her hair blew across his face. He inhaled the lingering scent of honeysuckle. “You sound shocked.”
She pushed her hair back. This close he could see the black and taupe ﬂecks adding dimension to her brown eyes. He’d always been partial to brown eyes.
“I’ve never met a settling-down vampire.”
“Maybe you just haven’t met the right vamps.” He caught a few strands of hair stuck to her lips and eased them off. Her skin was very smooth but chilled. “And, that doesn’t answer my question.”
She sighed and sat up straight. He missed the warmth of her body, the responsibility of taking her weight. “Yes. It has always been this way.”
“And how long has that been?”
“One hundred nine thousand ﬁve hundred four days.”
He chuckled at the bright way she announced it. “Not that you’ve been counting.”
“My life took a downward turn after that.” She shrugged. “How about you?”
“Slightly less time as a vampire. And being turned deﬁnitely changed my life.”
Those long elegant ﬁngers settled on his arm. “For the good I hope.”
He stopped as he realized it actually hadn’t been bad. He still
had his brothers, still got to work with the horses he loved, and while he’d had to say good-bye to the century and the woman he’d loved, he would have had to do that anyway. Something Allie had been pointing out to him relentlessly for the last six months. She had a real problem with the hostility between he and Caleb and just couldn’t accept that they were comfortable with it. Since the day she’d met his brother, she’d been picking at the fabric of their relationship. She’d be thrilled to know her persistence was paying off. “It stayed pretty even, if you must know the truth. Just a couple kinks in the wire.”
She looked up at him. “What kind of kinks?”
“My brother and I had issues.”
She frowned. “That is not good. Have you settled them?”
“We’re working on it.”
“You have been a vampire for almost as long as I have, and you are just working on it?”
He shrugged, feeling an unwarranted ﬂick of discomfort under her frown. “It was never a priority before.”
“How could it not be?”
He held out his hand. She took it. He pulled her up. “You sound like Allie.”
That cute frown deepened along with her accent. “Who is this Allie?”
The frown cleared. “Then I don’t mind the comparison.”
That piqued his curiosity. “Why not?”
“Because you admire her.”
“What makes you think that?”
“The way your expression softens when you speak of her. Is she a fun person?”
He pulled her to her feet. “She’s a pretty little thing with more courage than one woman should have and a sense of humor that keeps everyone around her laughing.”
“You like her.”
“It’s hard not to.” He bent to pick up his riﬂe. “She makes my brother happy.”
Bark sprayed off the tree above Raisa’s head. A explosion of sound trailed the spray of bark. A force on her arm yanked her down. She fell on her back, landing on a rock, the fall knocking the wind from her. She no sooner got it back than Jared threw himself over her, squashing her ﬂat, his shoulder pressing into her jaw. Above her head, she saw more bark splintered off the tree and heard another explosion. A snowﬂake landed in her eye. She blinked. Realization dawned. “Good God! Someone shoots at us!”
She pushed at Jared’s shoulders. He pushed back. “Stay down, you little fool.”
The next bullet hit lower down the trunk. The next wouldn’t miss. Her pushing became frantic. “The fool in this situation would be the one setting himself up as target practice.”
His arms came under her and then up was down and down up as they rolled into the shadow of the trees. He took the brunt of everything on his elbows and knees sheltering her with his big body as the echo of the gunshot reverberated around then. Before she could catch her breath, Jared half lifted, half tossed her behind a tree. He handed her the riﬂe. As her ﬁngers closed around the stock, he said one word: “Stay.”
And then, with animallike grace, he spun around, fading into the shadows.
She could feel his energy fanning out, encompassing the forest around them, feel his hesitation as he found what he was looking for, felt the tension ﬁne-tune the ﬂow, and then he was heading off, perpendicular to where the shots had come from, easily traceable to her. But then, everyone was easily traceable to her. She had a talent for following energy that others couldn’t see or feel. She sent a thought out on his trail.
His response was short and to the point. Be quiet. And then as
if in apology to the harshness of his order, there came a stroke of calm.
Raisa sighed. He was a very nice man, and if things were different she might have just lingered in his company for the uniqueness of the experience, but Miri was relying on her. Miri, with her incredible strength and absolute belief that her mate could save her from the Sanctuary’s torture if only Raisa could ﬁnd him and let him know she lived.
For a moment, Raisa felt the weight of responsibility weighing her down. She didn’t know anything about being a hero, didn’t know anything about this war she was caught up in. She’d spent the last two hundred of her almost three hundred vampire years experimenting with the changing times and cultures. Relishing the freedom
to learn all that had been denied her as a virtual slave. In between avoiding the lecherous pursuits of the rogue male vampires who saw her as an opportunity to be exploited, that is.
She’d learned very early on that she was different, lacking the skills that put female vampires on an equal footing of sorts with the males. Blood did strengthen her, but just marginally, and every time she drank it she got so sick for so long that she put off doing it until there was no other choice. The best she could make out, she was actually allergic to blood. Animal or human, it made no difference. The more she drank the sicker she got, but if she didn’t drink it at all, she’d die faster. And she hadn’t reached the point where suicide looked good.
She grabbed the riﬂe. With a last glance in the direction Jared had gone, she mouthed a good-bye, and headed down the mountain, taking care to mask her presence. Her muscles were still tired but since “down” was working on a new set of muscles, she made good time. Part of her scanned for other energy, part of her stayed locked to Jared. She just needed to be sure he was alive. She stumbled when his energy cut off. An abrupt cessation of hope.
“No.” She leaned against the tree, sucking air into her lungs only to have it catch on a sob. He couldn’t be dead. He couldn’t.
“I’m not, but in about ﬁve minutes you’re going to wish I was.”
Jared! She spun around. He stood between two towering pine trees, looking as dark and as imposing as the forest as he glared at her. Yanking the riﬂe up, she slammed the stock into her shoulder, hoping he’d believe she would actually shoot him. She couldn’t let him take her away from her mission. The Sanctuary had to believe she was doing what they had ordered her to do. Otherwise, they would kill her, and if she died, so did Miri’s hope of rescue. “Stay back.”
“I don’t think so.” With his hat pulled low over his brow, his eyes still glowing red from the heat of battle, Jared looked every inch the dangerous outlaw he was. “Put the gun down, Raisa.”
“No.” She didn’t ever want to hurt him, but especially when he looked like this, the twilight emphasizing the breadth of his shoulders. The rising moon cast a faint light that glinted off the faded patches on the thighs of his jeans drew her eye to the strong muscles beneath that ﬂexed with the step he took toward her. She tightened her ﬁnger on the trigger. “Don’t make me shoot you, Jared.”
“You won’t shoot me.”
“I won’t like it, but I will.”
Another step. “What makes you think a little bullet’s going to hurt me anyway?”
“Because you brought it to hunt Sanctuary vampires. I guess it must have some efﬁcacy against vampires.”
“Not only pretty, but clever.” Another step. His energy reached out and surrounded hercalm and soothing, beckoning. The bastard. “You can’t trick me.”
His head cocked to the side. “I wasn’t aware that I was trying to. If you pull that trigger, watch the recoil.”
She couldn’t let him come any closer. She searched up and down his big body, looking for a target. His head was out. She could never shoot anyone in the face. That left his torso or his legs. She lowered the muzzle. Over his broad chest, down the center line of his abdomen, hesitating when she got to the waistband of his jeans. Worn almost white, they followed the lines of his narrow hips and strong thighs with loving detail. Jared was a manvampirein peak condition, and it showed in the easy way he moved and in the way the well-honed muscles of his thighs pressed against the pale blue denim of his jeans. She lowered the gun some more, angling over the creases of his jeans until she reached the toes of his scuffed boots. Maybe if she shot his toe, it would slow him down.
“Give it up, Rai. You don’t have it in you to shoot anyone.”
She brought the gun back up just as slowly, counting time in heartbeats, her courage in breaths. She couldn’t afford to be swayed by a handsome face and handsomer manner. She had to get away, ﬁnish what she had started. Locking on Jared’s energy so she’d know if he moved, she closed her eyes and remembered one of the few happy moments of her childhood, before the famine had taken her father and her mother’s laughter. Before hunger had become her companion and loss a constant. Remembered back to when she’d ﬁnally mastered swimming after months of trying. She’d been such a slow learner, but every day when she’d gone out, her mother had given her a hug and encouragement, and on the day she’d ﬁnallyﬁnallypaddled four strokes to shore, her mother had held her face between her hands and whispered, pride in every word, “I told you, Raisa, you can do anything if you want it badly enough.”
With her mother’s words echoing in her head she opened her eyes and stared at a point over Jared’s shoulder. Courage welled with the memory. “You’re wrong. I can do anything.”
Before he could answer, she pulled the trigger.