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Chapter 1

A D V A N C E D. R E A D I N G. C O P Y. 

Unproofed, unedited edition - August 2023

 

"Don't move. Don't scream...act as if you know me, and all will be well."

Dr. Britt Harmony, engrossed in her thoughts, heard the words, yet their meaning was lost on her. She had an important speech to present. Perhaps the most important of her career. She offered a quick nod to the man hoping he wouldn't realize she had no idea what he'd said. She tried to make a habit of never being rude to people, but she had no time to deal with anyone right now.

She continued striding towards the conference hall; all thought focused on her upcoming speech. She stumbled to a halt as large combat boots came into view. Her gaze traveled up the man blocking her path. A man in a dark gray, long-sleeved Henley, and black cargo pants, a man who unnervingly reminded her of a modern-day highlander.

When she moved to step around him, he slid sideways in front of her. She stopped short as a spark of unease hit her, followed by a snap of desire. 

At the dual hit to her senses, he had her full intention. She gazed upward and took in his sharp, chiseled features, long silver hair twisted at the temples in intricate braids and pulled severely back tied into a leather holder. Her breath hitched as she locked onto his narrowed eyes. Their color, an odd near black, swallowed the pupil with a ring of dark green around the irises. But that wasn't the most bizarre part. No, it wasn't the color of his eyes, but the instant flash of light as their gazes clashed.

A full body flush engulfed her. 

His gaze went from intense to wide-eyed and confused as the corners of his mouth turned downward.

She swore she heard him say, "Tis not possible."

But she didn't have time to figure out or ask what he meant. Her boss was waiting to see how her announcement was received. This was the most important day of her career, and she needed his blessing to proceed with the next phase of her research. This would not be done in her lab, her office, or some centuries-old and dusty library. No, it would need to be in the field where she worked best. If he turned her down, then this was potentially her last day as a fellow at the London conservatory.

Without warning, he pushed up against the wall. Her forehead bounce checked off his shoulder. Britt raised a hand to the bruised area as a thick, muscled arm wound around her waist, and she was pulled into a hard, unyielding body. His heat overwhelmed her senses, and she jerked away from at the close, too intimate contact, "Listen, I think you have me mistaken with someone else. I—"

His large hand pinned her face into the man's massive chest, effectively cutting off her protest.

Shooting pain erupted above her right eye. Britt raised her head to get a closer look at the face of her attacker. But her head throbbed from the impact; her vision blurred she was unable to make out any more details. She needed to escape. Now. Her life depended on it. 

She stomped on the stranger's foot and lifted her leg to knee him in the groin but froze when she noticed a knife in his hand. A very long, very sharp blade that emitted an ethereal glow. Mesmerized more at first by the blade's beauty than by its wicked intent. She shook her head in hopes of regaining her full vision and clearing her thoughts.

Scream. Scream the building down. As she heeded her internal command, she took in a breath to scream for help and inhaled an earthy scent mingled with a bite of the sea. It overwhelmed her and prevented her scream from forming.

His scent imprinted upon her and relaxed her. It was—familiar— yet odd as she was sure she'd never encountered it before today.

Her gaze slammed into his. His eyes were not black as she'd thought, but a deep, dark green, several shades darker than her own pale green. And his expression matched the shock she felt.

Both now frozen, neither one of them seemed able to look away. Seconds ticked by before the wanna-be highlander let loose a growl, its vibration resonated in her core, and her stomach dipped at the tenor of his voice. Confused by her reaction, and his, she was robbed of the opportunity to defend herself as he recovered first and propelled them towards the exit. Britt struggled to find words to make him stop. To make sense of what was happening to her.

She fought the hold he had on her only to be met with an unmovable force. Sure he was MMA big, but she worked out and kept her body in top physical condition. She'd spent most of her life preparing for danger, but until this very moment, she hadn't had to put her years of training to the test. 

Why today of all days? Her chance at the much-needed funding slipped away with each step taken in the opposite direction of the conference room.

"Lass, you need to understand two things straight off. One, I'm stronger than you, and two, your lecturing days are over."

The sound of his voice elicited another spark of awareness. Ignoring her body's reaction, she tested his first theory again and wrenched her arm in the process. Ow! Okay, so he's strong, freakishly so. As for his second point, he couldn't have been more wrong. "You obviously have the wrong person. Perhaps I look like whomever you were searching for, but I can assure you I would remember if we'd met before. I never forget an asshole."

"This is not a case of mistaken identity, Dr. Harmony. You're the senior archeologist for the Ancient Artifact Conservatory of London. You graduated, with honors, in archeology with a minor in mythology from Yale, and you're on your way to convince your boss that you need funding to go back into the field. 

Britt dug in her heels. "How do you--"

"Because it's my job to know. To protect."

"Me?" 

"No. The world."

Her heart skipped, and her body went cold at his words.

She looked the man up and down again. He was straight out of central casting. Someone was pulling a prank on her. Yes, that's what this was. She'd seen signs for a movie audition in the lobby of the hotel. A local production company was seeking an actor to portray the hero—a Highlander. Men had been coming and going wearing kilts of varying types of plaids since she arrived from London yesterday. She'd even been hit on by a few of them in the bar last night. This one was taking his role a bit too seriously. 

Maybe someone had paid him to do this? She wouldn't have put it past Greg, her creep of a coworker, to orchestrate this farce as payback. 'Jealous much' should have been the whiny researcher's middle name. At least he'd chosen a convincing actor. "Look, Mister. I'm not sure how much Greg paid you, but I'll double it if you go back and join your fellow actors. I don't have time to play. I'm the keynote--"

"Lass—" 

"Doctor."

"Lass, I'm no actor, and I've never spoken to or met a man named Greg. Rest assured, every word I've said is truth. Now move." 

He grabbed her above the elbow and propelled her through the milling crowd in the hall outside the main conference room. 

Five minutes. Five minutes until she needed to be at the lectern. Dammit. She was not going to miss her opportunity.

She pulled her arm again, but he would not budge. The man was a solid mass of granite. "Tell me who you are right now, why you're dragging me away from my job, or I will scream my head off."

He ignored her demand and managed to gt them within twenty feet of the main exit. Now in full panic mode, she searched for someone to help her. He pulled her tighter to him, squeezing her. Even if she wanted to scream, she could not take a full breath, and the reality of the situation set in. Oh my god. Oh my god, this is really happening! Britt began wiggling to loosen his hold to no avail.

She took in what air she could and managed to let out a weak sounding, "Help me, please?" Britt moved her head slightly to the right and focused on a group of older women as she tried again to call out. They stared back at her and her kidnapper with some interest but were still too far away to hear her muted pleas.

She felt him run a hand down her arm and then pat her on her head. To anyone paying attention to them, he probably looked as if he was comforting her instead of kidnapping her. The word bounced around in her head. Why would anyone want to kidnap her?

Now steps away from the exit, she noticed a man who equaled him in height standing next to a dirt-covered Land Rover just beyond the revolving doors. He lifted a hand, and her kidnapper returned the signal with a nod.

"Once we're outside, I'll explain further. But right now, I need you to calm down."

"Fuck calm. You're not taking me anywhere."

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