Embrace of the Damned
New York Times bestselling author Anya Bast introduces her newest paranormal romance, set in the world of Norse mythology…
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?
A.D. 1012, 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 set 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 ax in the other, and surveyed the bodies around him. The sight gave him no pleasure, no peace, but he didn’t regret any of it. He’d do it again if given the chance, 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 was 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 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 that had animated his half-dead body had ebbed, he could barely move. His nose twitched, stinging from the stench of unwashed bodies 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, 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, with 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 strange language and accent and backed up, the sword dropping from his hand and clattering to the marble floor. The man wore outlandish clothing.
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 garments 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 attire—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, strange footwear crunching broken pottery, treading through pools of blood. His strange, shiny shoes 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 more than a little fun here, I think. You must be 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 Broder. “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 that 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 on to during the last decade. Soon nothing remained.
Nothing. And nothing truly meant nothing—no warmth, no love . . . but no fear or anger, either. It was…peaceful. He breathed into it, relaxing completely for the first time in years. Yet at nearly the same moment the pain ebbed, something else rushed in to fill up the serene 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.
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