Authors: Saranna DeWylde
As Alpha of the Alphas, it’s Luka Stanislav’s duty to hunt
down and eliminate rogue werewolves that have been turned into zombies by an
insidious virus. His task becomes infinitely more difficult when alluring Guild
officer Marijka Zolinski arrives to investigate the death of her partner.
An irresistible wave of desire draws him to Marijka, and
their overwhelming passion signals that Luka has found his true mate at last.
But gypsy blood flows hot in her veins—and a bond between wolf and gypsy can
never be. Still, after one night of ecstasy, Luka can’t stop thinking of
claiming Marijka as his own....
CLAIMED BY THE ALPHA
“We’ve got a Guild infestation, Stanislav. What are you going to do about it?” Senator Kenneth Bardot demanded.
Luka shifted the phone with his shoulder—he still had blood on his hands from the most recent den of infected werewolves he’d put down. It clung to his fingers, stained his nails, a scarlet letter of accusation. But he’d had to do it because they’d become like mad dogs.
going to do about it?” He kept his tone carefully modulated, but it was more for his own control than the Aeternali Senator’s comfort. “Bardot, you’re on the Guild Oversight Committee. One would think you could manage to keep your own house clean.” The Guild Oversight Committee was supposed to make sure the supernatural police force continued to protect and serve without abusing their power, but more often than not, it was the Aeternali that abused that power. They disgusted Luka, but dealing with them now was the only way he’d be able to save his people and stop the infection before it was pandemic.
“One would think, Luka. One would most certainly think,” he drawled. “You know how these cops are. One of the female cops is down with Van Brunt’s body now. I want you to take care of it.” The cop had been bitten and there were even odds on whether Van Brunt would stay dead, or rise...infected. There shouldn’t have been anything for this woman to find.
“Where are you on locating Gevaudan and his benefactor? My Beta is still missing and
doesn’t begin to cover my state of mind.” He kept the facade of civility, but the threat was clear. Luka, if properly motivated, could tear Senator Bardot apart like a rag doll. The only thing keeping him from being so motivated was finding Ian Gevaudan, the source of the virus that had already claimed so many of his people.
“These things take time. Finesse. You can’t just barge in and—”
“Oh, but I can.” The growl started low in the back of his throat, almost like a purr. “And I will, if he’s not found.”
“You know Konstantin’s been infected.”
As if that mattered to Luka. If Kon had to be put down, he’d be the one to do it—honorably for his Beta. But Luka believed to his core that the virus affected him differently. He was still the Konstantin he’d entrusted with his life and the lives of their people. “I also know the virus was engineered to bond with his DNA and I know the Aeternali think they have a new weapon. Find him, retrieve him, or I’ll do it and
war be damned
Yes, Luka would go to war. He was ready to do so now, regardless of how the situation played out. The Aeternali might be a council of supernaturals, much like the UN, but they had wronged him, violated those who depended on him.
Luka would not and could not let that go unanswered. Neither would the beast inside of him allow him to do so. Already, his teeth elongated in his mouth, the change hovered so near.
“You may want to rethink that,” Kenneth Bardot said, as if he had some information Luka did not.
“And you may want to start thinking. You ever have to put down your own, Bardot? Noble members of your race who don’t remember who they are, what they are? Instead these members are scrounging in the filth, mindless of everything but the next belly full of flesh? Gnawing on their own bodies with no more viable food sources available to them?”
“Luka, I know this hard for you, but—” His tone changed, softer now.
,” he snarled. “I feel all of their pain, the fear. The black moment of death. But mostly it’s this terrible emptiness, like starving for a thousand years. Every life I end, even as a mercy, pushes me closer to the Abyss. To the dark things you want inside no Alpha of Alphas. I’ll take care of your Guild problem, there’s no love lost there, but you’ve got three days to find my Beta. Or I’ll go to war against Gevaudan, the Aeternali and you. You’re either with me or against me on this one.” It was even odds on what the Senator would say—Luka had yet to determine his motivations for getting involved, but so far, his information had been reliable.
“That’s madness, Stanislav.”
“Madness was signing the Aeternali treaty to begin with.” In exchange for granting the Aeternali certain powers, the treaty was supposed to guarantee peace for his people. It had been a pretty lie. He tossed the phone on the bed and tried again to wipe off the blood that seemed to permanently stain his hands. But it was better that he end their suffering rather than some exterminator. Better the Alpha of Alphas who could bear witness to their indignities and the wrong done to them. Better him who would pass down the memory of the atrocity to be recorded in their histories so it would never be forgotten or hidden with some Aeternali cover-up like this village. After he’d finished exterminating the last of the infected people here, Aynkava would be nothing but dust and ash when he and the rest of the cleanup crew left. Abandoned, the village’s ground would be stained red by the blood that had been spilled there. The Czechoslovakians would never know what happened and it would become fodder for urban legends and stories told to make children quake in their beds rather than the very real horror it was.
Luka cast a glance at the darkening sky. The dens of infected werewolves would be on the hunt again for more meat. Why would the Guild send another investigator when the brass knew about the virus and had signed off on testing? Not for the death of one cop—they were elite forces and as such expendable. The woman who’d been sent must be Van Brunt’s partner. One night, over too many honeyed vodkas, Evan had admitted his investigation was unsanctioned. Luka had done his best to get him to leave, and had finally decided to have him removed forcibly.
But before he could do so, Van Brunt had been ripped apart this morning. Luka didn’t know why the beasts hadn’t consumed him like they did their other kills. He didn’t want to think about what it meant if the virus changed again and the zombie werewolves had become reasoning beings. Ones who had deliberately left him infected to increase their numbers.
Luka didn’t have time to babysit the woman cop—he had people to kill. The infection had to be contained at any cost. Of course, if Evan Van Brunt woke up hungry, the woman would need his help to protect herself.
Leaving the inn, he walked with measured purpose down the aged and cobbled brick roads to where he’d left the body for processing. A sweet scent slammed into him before he even got a glimpse of Van Brunt’s partner.
. Gypsies and wolves were either oil and water, or gasoline and a match.
By the delectable scent of roses and sugar that taunted him, Luka was sure that he and this woman would be more like a nuclear reactor at critical mass. Luka definitely couldn’t afford that kind of distraction.
. His beast roared in his head.
He stopped and closed his eyes. No, not a mate. Not now.
If he couldn’t protect his Beta from the virus, how would he protect anyone else? Especially a Gypsy mate? Rage bubbled under his skin, hot and volcanic, as the beast tried to erupt from inside him. Luka’s iron will locked down the wolf and he swallowed hard, centering himself and focusing on the task at hand.
He reminded himself that she was a Gypsy investigating deaths that appeared to be at the jaws of a werewolf. Gypsy girls were warned from a young age about his kind, about the draw between them. If he showed up all fangs and claws, he’d never be able to protect her because she wouldn’t allow it. She’d stuff him full of silver and probably try to cut off his head.
That, he could get over. The silver and the ax would be uncomfortable, but not like the burning fire of a mate found, but left unclaimed.
Part of him hoped she’d be physically revolting. No mistake, he’d still have to have her, but he’d be able to put it off until the virus had been contained. Then he could seduce her, make her fall in love with him. Gypsies were more like humans requiring such seduction, the building of these emotions like constructing a pyramid, layer by layer. Wolves were much simpler. He recognized his mate. He’d live for her, he’d die for her. Only her. Forever.
Even so, he still hoped her face was unpalatable.
Fate was happy to inform him she had other designs when he rounded the corner.
The woman wasn’t only beautiful, she was a feast for his senses. Everything about her had this sudden hyperclarity, as if the world around her faded to gray and she was the only thing in color.
Her hair was black and thick, glossed with a pretty sheen like a raven’s wing. His fingers already itched to be tangled in it at the nape of her neck, tilting her head back for his kiss. Those red velveteen lips would part with a shuddering exhale, she’d taste like sugar and rain. The ethereal glow unique to Gypsy blood made her flesh look like pristine, white silk and he knew it would be just as soft.
There was an aura of strength about her, though. For all of her softness, the lushness of her body, there was steel in her bones. The mark of the Abyss, the trial she’d faced to become a Guild cop. Necromancers ripped a hole in the world and cadets were flung back into the vast primordial darkness that spawned them all, a place that was equivalent to the mortal Hell. They had to fight their way back. Most failed, but those who succeeded were forever changed. A necessary thing to do the job required of them. It pleased him to sense such power in her. She’d need it to be mated to him. The mark of her people flashed with magical life on the back of her neck.
Obviously intelligent, highly educated, his mate collected samples from the dead man like a forensic tech—inspecting and labeling each item before filing it in its proper place inside a small, leather case she carried with her. Underneath her scent rippled sour currents of fear. She was afraid, but she did what was required of her anyway.
It was inherently wrong that his mate should ever know a single moment of fear. Fury ratcheted up another notch, like mercury in a thermometer.
It will be you she fears if you don’t control yourself.
The mark of her people flashed with magical life on the back of her neck and a string of profanity longer than the village charter flared just under his breath.
This cop wasn’t just any Guild. She wasn’t just any Gypsy.
She was Zoranna’s granddaughter.
In the same way that he was the Alpha of Alphas, the Adam of his kind—Zoranna was the Eve of Gypsies. There was no way she’d allow her granddaughter to be claimed by a wolf. Not even Luka.
Her daughter had been murdered by her wolf lover.
Luka’s ears perked to the chorus of unnatural howls still too far away for anyone to hear but him.
The beasts were coming.
And they were hungry.
Blood never bothered Marijka Zolinski.
It was an intrinsic part of her culture, of stories handed down from Baba Zoranna around a crackling orange fire as it climbed high into the chill night air. A common thread to bind the secret ingredients of spells, curses and wise-woman cures. Blood could stain the ground for all eternity with a rage that anchored the past to the future. Or it could wipe the slate clean, a crimson blessing to wash away sins of the fathers.
No, blood was simply a tool. Like sage, a packet of peacock feathers, or a sacred stone pried from deep within the earth.
She could handle blood. Even if it belonged to her partner, Evan Van Brunt.
Evan had been out of contact for four days. Marijka had accepted he was dead after day one. Guild members lived hard and fast—their flames burned hot, but were extinguished quickly.
By even being at the scene, Marijka broke standard operating procedure, but she was the only Guild officer within two days of travel, and two days was much too long with the full moon occurring tomorrow night. Evan’s body had to be processed before then, or by the Guild’s treaty with the Aeternali, he’d be cursed.
Before his disappearance, he’d forwarded her recon he’d done in Nuremberg, evidence of a village outside of Ostrava where the villagers all suffered from a derivative of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. At first, he’d thought it was Kuru, another form of spongiform encephalopathy—a disease that turned brain matter “spongy” with holes, contracted through cannibalism, but the protein behavior was different. Something similar to undead proteins; the Zombie Virus. Because the villagers were still walking around, functioning. Kuru and CJD were both fatal.
All thoughts of scientific study died when she’d first seen Evan.
The first thing she’d noticed was the stark, white pieces of his skull. The rest of his body had been ravaged—torn apart by animals with unnatural jaws and teeth. His chest cavity had been cracked open, his body gutted from throat to belly. His organs were gone.
Just as her mother’s body had been on that January night so long ago. She fought against the rising tide of memory that was never more than a breath away from her awareness. Marijka breathed in deep, the eucalyptus from the Vicks VapoRub she’d put on comforting her. It calmed her, soothed away the terrors as much as it blocked the stench of decayed and rotting flesh.
Marijka’s gaze was drawn unwillingly up to where Evan’s eyes were wide open and the terror of his last moment was still painted on what was left of his face. She didn’t want to look, afraid she’d see her own terror reflected there.
And it was, but not as she’d feared. It was the loss of him, her own inadequacies—the intrinsic knowing she should have done more for this man who’d been her partner for the last five years. He’d been her partner, her friend, her family—like a brother. Unheard for an outsider—one who was not Gypsy.
He’d died alone, in agony and terror.
“Damn it, Van Brunt,” she cried in a broken whisper. “Why didn’t you wait for me?” Marijka brushed a finger down his ruined cheek. It was the only goodbye she’d give. From here on out, it had to be about the job or she wouldn’t do him or the Guild any good.
She swallowed hard, choked back her bile and looked at him again with the eye of a Gypsy wise woman and then again as the forensics expert she’d become. Some of his wounds healed as she watched. Whatever this was, she couldn’t let him rise.
“Ma’am?” A hard-edged voice startled her from her thoughts.
. She had to be more aware of her surroundings. She fumbled with the samples she’d been collecting and managed to stow them in her bag before she dropped them.
Marijka looked up at the intruder. He was big, like most supernatural males. Marijka couldn’t pin down what race, but he was obviously a leader from the way he carried himself. The yellow illumination of the streetlamp washed over him, accentuating the gold of his hair and the hard planes of his face. His mouth was set in a grim slash and she found his rugged appearance beautiful—like she did the Pyrenees. Harsh, brutal and immovable. His eyes were what captured her—the deep blue-black depths were like the sea off the northern coast of Ireland. Just as cold and black—and they pulled her down into the frigid dark...pierced her, probed her deepest secrets. Held her in thrall.
She erected her mental shields and Marijka pushed back with her own power, ejected him from her consciousness with the force of an army. Those icy eyes widened, but then slanted with surprised pleasure.
“Guild?” he asked, not bothering to apologize for the intrusion.
“Officer Marijka Zolinski. You?”
“Luka Stanislav. Aeternali consultant.”
“The Aeternali is consulting on this?”
He appraised her coolly. “I’m a regular on scene. In this part of the world, any death that’s not obviously human-on-human requires a consultant. Things they would openly mock in the States are accepted here. Like processing his body in accordance with the treaty.”
Marijka knew plenty about what the locals believed. She’d grown up in a Gypsy caravan traveling the world in an enchanted
—a traditional horse-drawn wagon much like a camper. She’d been all over Europe, from the open steppes of Russia to dark forgotten villages in France. And she’d never seen a consultant on any murder she’d investigated. She’d let him sell her that bridge to nowhere, though—it suited her needs to keep him in the dark about her skills. At least until he accessed the Aeternali database. She had to find out who he really was and what he knew about the deaths and the strange virus Evan had talked about.
He was good; she’d give him that. So she made a point of keeping her attention on her job. On what she had to do to keep Evan from the curse. He was a master of manipulation, this Luka. She wouldn’t let him get away with it, though. Marijka had questions and knew he could answer them.
“Since you’re familiar with the practice, maybe you could give me a hand?” She raised a brow.
“Full moon isn’t until tomorrow.”
Marijka debated how much to reveal. “He’s been infected with something unknown. Regeneration is happening fast. Faster than what I’ve seen even with the Zombie Virus.”
“You worried about the ceremony or just getting it done?” Stanislav asked in a brusque tone.
“Getting it done.” It was what Evan would want. He’d never been much on ceremony or tradition. He’d been tapping his foot and inching toward the door with the last Guild member they’d processed together.
The consultant produced a small, black bottle from the folds of his long overcoat and removed the stopper. He splashed what appeared to be oil on Evan’s body with three flicks of his wrist. Supernatural fire incinerated flesh, blood and bone, reaching out in a hungry spiral to destroy any trace of Evan Van Brunt.
A lone wolf howled, his song echoing around them.
Stanislav turned sharply, his stance one of a warrior, and those cold eyes scanned the landscape of the night. “The other officers are gone. Well secured against the beasts. You should go, Officer Marijka Zolinski.”
“I’m not going anywhere until you answer a few questions.”
A chorus of answering howls reverberated in the dark like a choir from hell.
“You should be inside,” he reiterated slowly. His blue-black eyes reflected nothing, only a deeper Abyss, a dark so cold and endless the chill stabbed into her bones with a thousand needles. “They’re coming for him.”
“There’s nothing for them to claim.” Marijka refused to be cowed by him and refused to acknowledge the fear that snapped in electric currents as the howls grew louder. It was a tactic designed to to foster terror and immobilize their prey.
She shuddered involuntarily. Marijka hated werewolves. Their howls terrified her and resurrected memories of her mother’s mutilated body
“Yet still they come,
.” His voice was smooth, like dark chocolate and silk.
Her survival instincts screamed at her to take shelter, but her pride was louder. “And here I stand,” she said, a fiery defiance of him and
burning in her gut.
“Is this really where you want to turn and make your stand? Alone against a rogue pack?”
A pack? She gritted her teeth and blinked hard as she swallowed her fear. “No,” she acknowledged. “But I’m not running.” Marijka had sworn she’d never run from a werewolf. She’d never surrender to her fear and if that meant another officer would be processing her body here where she’d said goodbye to Evan, then so be it.
“No one asked you to run. Only to come to the inn with me where there will be hot vodka with honey, warm cream biscuits with salted butter and where we may talk of the business of the day.” He spoke gently, as if to a wounded beast, his accent more pronounced—his Russian heritage more obvious in his speech patterns.
The words wrapped around her like velvet, soft and seductive, drew quaint images of large fires and soft light, the comfort of tradition, hot food and safety, and slipped inside of her to caress secret desires and guided her to follow his commands. She pushed again with her metal shields, but realized this was no magic, no telepathy. It was the innate power in his voice, the supernatural charisma of an Alpha male.
Marijka wondered again what he was and more importantly, who he was to the Aeternali. He was more than a consultant, more than what he portrayed himself to be. An ageless, eternal power thrummed through him and it resonated with her own.
“And you will answer my questions, Luka Stanislav?” she asked, doubtful. Marijka wasn’t sure she wanted to be in his company. He was dangerous.
“Yes, I will answer your questions. As best as I may.”
“Always a catch with the Aeternali, isn’t there?”
“As there must be,” he admitted with a boyish smirk and halfhearted shrug. When she still hesitated, he spoke again. “A female so lovely shouldn’t be unescorted in Aynkava. Even if you are an officer of the Guild. There are many dangerous males who would have no respect for your title.”
True, but they would respect her Evil Eye and the mark of Baba Zoranna she wore in the tattoo on the back of her neck. There was no power more potent than gypsy magic and she used it with the same precision as she did her 9mm.
“And you? You’re not a dangerous male?” The air around them changed as soon as she spoke...became heavy.
He laughed, the sound rich and decadent. Its resonance sent shivers through her body and centered deep in her core where lust sparked and burned.
. I am.” His cold gaze was suddenly hot, raking over every inch of her as if she belonged to him. “The most dangerous in Aynkava.”
She’d heard those lines before, males puffed up like blowfish on their own reputations. As if she were some mortal woman afraid of the crawling things in the dark and not a cop who’d been into the Abyss and clawed her way out for her Guild badge. Yet, with Luka Stanislav, she believed every word from his granite-carved mouth.
It made her wet.
Marijka knew part of it was the adrenaline, the rush of being alive when surrounded by death and the fear coursing through her veins as the coming pack signaled their descent onto the small village. Her analytical mind told her this was nothing but a chemical reaction, one she could overlook and put from her mind as soon as she parted company with the handsome Luka Stanislav.
But she didn’t want to put it from her head. What Marijka did want was a few hours of mindless pleasure, of touch. Some connection with another living being, even if it were no deeper than a one-time fuck in the upstairs of a quaint country inn with honeyed vodka on her breath.
“If you’re so dangerous, wouldn’t I be better off on my own?” She cast a quick glance over her shoulder and knew there was something there...watching, waiting. Something hungry. Part of her wanted to run, but part of her wanted to stay, too, because leaving with him was a retreat.
“Perhaps. That is your choice to make.” He shrugged again as if it mattered little to him either way, but Marijka watched his eyes flash from frigid indifference to languid heat. “Although I suggest whatever you choose, you do it quickly.”
“The inn,” she blurted before she could stop herself.
He held out her hand to her, his tanned fingers large and broad. “Then take my hand to mark your choice.”
To show those who were watching she was with him. Under his protection. Dear God, who was he that a
of werewolves feared to attack him?
Marijka thrust her hand into his and he led her casually down the cobbled street, as if the beasts slavering for their blood in the dark behind them meant nothing.