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Authors: Anna Richland

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First to Burn

BOOK: First to Burn
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First to Burn
By Anna Richland

A soldier with secrets

Immortal Viking Wulf Wardsen once battled alongside Beowulf, and now serves in Afghanistan. He’s trusted the mortal men on his elite special operations team to protect his secret, until an explosion lands Wulf in a place more dangerous to him than a battlefield: a medevac helicopter.

A doctor with questions

Army captain Theresa Chiesa follows the rules and expects the same from others, even special forces hotshots like Sergeant Wardsen. She’s determined to discover the secret behind his supernaturally fast healing, and she won’t allow his sexy smile to distract her.

An enemy with nothing to lose

Even as Theresa’s investigation threatens to expose him, Wulf is stirred by her passion. Dreaming of love and a normal life, he wants nothing more than to build a future with her. But the lost Viking relic needed to reverse his immortality is being hunted by another—an ancient enemy who won’t hesitate to hurt Theresa to strike back at Wulf.

Book one of the Immortal Vikings series.

118,000 words

Dear Reader,

Happy 2014! You know, I love futuristic romance, and I swear it wasn’t that long ago that I was reading books in the genre that used years like 2014 and 2015 to indicate a time that seemed really far out. Of course, I suppose I’ll be saying something similar twenty years from now, when it’s 2035. (And isn’t
a weird thought?) As it happens, in the lineup this month we have both a futuristic romance and a hero who travels
the future, and both give a unique look into a future that’s actually a little further out.

I love the premise of Libby Drew’s time-travel male/male romance,
Paradox Lost
, in which a time-travel guide who takes clients to “whenever” must travel
to 2020 and enlist the aid of a PI to find a missing client. And in PJ Schnyder’s
Fighting Kat
, Kat and Rygard go deep undercover, posing as gladiators. In the interstellar arena, it’s all about who’s the strongest predator...

I mentioned futuristic romance, but how about a trip to the past in Jeannie Ruesch’s historical romantic suspense,
Cloaked in Danger.
Aria Whitney’s life has taken her from the sands of Egypt to the ballrooms of London, but when her father goes missing, can the handsome earl with a dark secret help her find him, or will a dangerous scandal threaten both their lives?

Mistress by Magick
, Laura Navarre concludes her fallen angel Magick Trilogy, a riveting historical fantasy romance trilogy set in Tudor times. Also wrapping up a trilogy this month is Fiona Lowe. In
Runaway Groom
, the third book in the Wedding Fever trilogy, can a Harley-riding Aussie guy on the road trip of his life allow an uptight and disgraced lawyer to steal his heart? The first two books,
Saved by the Bride
Picture Perfect Wedding
, are now available, as well.

Debut author Anna Richland delivers
First to Burn
, the first book in her Immortal Vikings series with a hero straight from the time of Beowulf. Wulf Wardsen is an elite soldier whose very existence breaks all the rules—and he’s deep in the military zone of Afghanistan with an army doctor determined to do everything by the book. Meanwhile, Cindy Spencer Pape brings back her very popular steampunk romance series, The Gaslight Chronicles, with the latest installment,

This January, Heather Long delivers the start of a new series of contemporary romances. If you like your romance a little on the crazy, cracktastic side, this book is sure to please. Cinderella had her fairy godmother and Princess Mia had her grandmother, but Alyx—she gets a software magnate who knows that in his world,
Some Like It Royal.
And speaking of cracktastic, Kelsey Browning has another installment in her steamy Texas Nights series. Roxanne Eberly wants nothing more than to make her lingerie store a success. Enter up-and-coming attorney Jamie Wright, who’s all tangled up in Roxanne’s life...and her
Running the Red Light.
If you want to start from the beginning, pick up
Personal Assets!

Mystery fans will be glad to welcome another installment from Jean Harrington in her Murders by Design series. In
Rooms to Die For
, when interior designer Deva Dunne finds a body hanging from a balcony in the gorgeous Naples Design Mall, she soon learns she’s caught up in a mall drug bust gone viral.

We’re thrilled to offer a large lineup of debut authors this month, in addition to Anna Richland. Joining us with books in the new-adult, erotic romance and contemporary genres are a new group of incredibly talented authors we’re proud to welcome to Carina Press. Elia Winters debuts with erotic romance
Purely Professional.
When a journalist explores the submissive side of her sexuality with her Dominant neighbor, she must confront what these encounters mean for her own sexual identity, her career and her budding relationship.

Three debut authors bring new-adult offerings to Carina Press. Danube Adele proves the new-adult genre is more than just contemporary romance in
Quicksilver Dreams.
One moment Taylor was just a regular girl working two jobs to pay her bills, and the next, she was reading minds, dreamwalking and being saved from bad guys by her sexy neighbor, Ryder Langston. In
Tell Me When
by Stina Lindenblatt, college freshman Amber Scott begrudgingly lets Marcus Reid into her life, but she didn’t expect the king of hookups would share his painful past. And Kristine Wyllys brings us the first of two steamy, dark-edged stories full of action, vivid storytelling and emotional intensity. Don’t miss
Wild Ones.

Our last debut author, Rhonda Shaw, caught me by surprise with her book,
The Changeup.
People who know my sports tastes know I don’t normally go in for baseball. And those who know my reading tastes know I don’t usually go for an older heroine/younger man set-up. But Rhonda’s story hooked me from the start and I’m pleased to be releasing her first book this month. I hope you enjoy this contemporary sports romance as much as I did, and perhaps find a new book boyfriend in sweet and sexy pitching phenom Chase Patton!

I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but I will make one—we’ll continue to strive to bring you a variety of fantastic books from authors who deliver stories that you’ll want to talk about. Thank you for joining us for another year of publishing at Carina Press—we’ll do our absolute best to make it an amazing one!

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to
[email protected]
. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press


The cast of characters who help an author with a first novel is immense, but three people have been so important to this journey that I dedicate
First to Burn
to them.

First, my husband. He has supported my pursuit of publication for the last eight years. Once upon a time I shared one of my deepest fantasies with him. I told him that when both children entered school full-time, I intended to reorganize every closet, drawer and cupboard in our house. The obvious disbelief on his face annoyed me, until he explained, “I know you can be very organized, but you’ll have a three-book deal by then and life will be crazier than it is now.”

Second, Brenda Novak. As part of her
Annual Online Auction for Diabetes Research
, she selected
First to Burn
—and me—to mentor in 2010. She invested her time, energy and enthusiasm in a complete stranger, merely because she made a commitment. Brenda taught me to place my characters in their settings, to slow down where necessary and to really look at what my characters saw. As an unpublished writer, I struggled to be as consistent as Brenda, but she never failed. It will require a long career to live up to the example Brenda set.

Third, nothing I have written would be readable without my friend Mary. She’s read
First to Burn
almost as many times as I have, told me straight-out when characters whined or when scenes had no point except cute. I can call her anytime and talk through writing quandaries, or I can say “I have to write” and she’s not insulted. Mary, there should be a commemorative plaque at the housing office where we met!

Chapter One

Wulf clawed a path to consciousness, embracing the grinding pain in his left leg as a sign that he’d emerged from oblivion, until the engine whine and floor vibrations warned him of a problem worse than his injury. He was trapped in the second most dangerous place in Afghanistan for a man like him: a U.S. Army medevac helicopter.

“Easy, Sergeant.” The flight medic who leaned into view squeezed a bag connected to the mask covering Wulf’s mouth. “You’re safe.”

While oxygen inflated Wulf’s lungs, a functioning corner of his brain demanded answers. His commander would never call an evacuation chopper for him, so who else had been hurt? Struggling against the painkillers, he tried to remember everyone’s last positions. Kahananui had been on his right.
He has two little girls.
Five meters ahead, Cruz had taken point. Was it Cruz?
He pays for his mother’s diabetes drugs.

Wulf tried to turn his head and search for his teammates, but he couldn’t move. He tensed his abs and lower back and jerked to lift his shoulders, but again he couldn’t move. The certainty that one of his men needed him struck like a spear between his ribs, but no matter how he strained his arms and chest, he could not move. Not his arms, not his body, and by the gods, not his legs, despite the agony that intensified in his left one as the painkillers faded.

“Stop fighting, Sarge.” The medic was young, mid-twenties at most, but his voice carried over the chopper racket with the confidence shared by those who served in aviation.

Free of morphine fog, Wulf understood he wasn’t paralyzed, only slapped into a neck collar and strapped to a stretcher, complications that, like his injuries, weren’t insurmountable. But his teammates couldn’t conquer wounds so easily. “Whoshhurt?”

“I know it hurts, man. We’re eighteen minutes out from Camp Caddie, so hang on.”

Dammit, the medic didn’t understand him through the oxygen mask. He needed to see
was in this helicopter. Not knowing compressed his chest until he groaned.

“This will help the pain.” One of the man’s hands reached for something outside Wulf’s circle of vision.

He didn’t want the guy to up the intravenous dope before he could discover who’d been hurt. The last thing he remembered was freezing in place when the team’s German shepherd had hunkered in a bomb-alert position in the middle of an apricot orchard.

Like their dog Garbo, they’d stopped. All, that is, except an Afghan training with them who’d been distracted by lighting a cigarette and had moved forward two more paces. The blast had thrown Garbo against a stone wall. Rocks, dirt clods and metal packed around the improvised explosive device had pounded Wulf’s helmet and body armor, mangling his leg.
Fucking smoker.
Could’ve killed us.

This time Wulf spaced his words as carefully as sniper shots. “Who. Else. Hurt.”

The medic’s eyes flickered to the port side of the Black Hawk helicopter. “Two Afghans. At least one’s not going to make it. And your dog.”

Relief that he’d been swept up with an evacuation of Afghan National Army soldiers, not one of his own men, crested with the newest wave of meds. Temporarily woozy, he slurred his next question,
, but this time the medic understood.

“Ear and head lacerations, possible broken leg, but the pooch armor did its job.”

His system processed this smaller dose faster than the earlier morphine, providing only minutes of peace before the torment of growing fresh bone, a torture he imagined to be comparable to a drill bit tunneling through his shin, crested.

Locking his jaw stifled his groan, but barely. He hadn’t endured a lost leg since Antietam. He’d forgotten. “Hurts.”

“More?” The medic calculated with his fingers. “Sergeant, you have more pure in you than Keith Richards.” Eyebrows lost in the top of his helmet, he shook his head. “Can’t believe you’re lucid.”

This agony blended with memories of a September afternoon in high corn, moaning next to other Union volunteers as blood-frenzied flies circled. His pain had been caused by healing. Theirs, by dying. When he’d recovered enough to carry his unit’s drummer off the field, the ten-year-old’s eyes had no longer blinked at the sun. Some hurts were worse than regrowing bones, took longer to mend. At least today he didn’t face such a loss.

Instead, he gritted his teeth, concentrated on the pain of his nails digging into his fisted palms and planned. Without being able to test his strength or see his leg, he wouldn’t know the extent of his progress until the itching started. Didn’t matter. The moment the flight medic transferred him to someone who hadn’t seen his original injury and the straps were unbuckled, he’d walk away. He’d done it other times. He had to be ready because under no circumstances could he end up in the most dangerous place for an immortal soldier: a hospital.

* * *

“A transtibial with hemorrhaging!” The rage in her chief surgeon’s voice as he yelled at someone on the other side of the camouflage netting froze Captain Theresa Chiesa. Past the curtain was Camp Cadwalader’s emergency receiving. On this side, three surgical pods showed no signs of recent patients, and definitely not evidence of a soldier with a below-the-knee amputation and a big bleed. “Are you the one who called that shit in? What were—”

“Yessir, I reported the sergeant’s injuries.”

Whoever the other voice belonged to, he had balls to interrupt Colonel Loughrey. Nobody on the fifty-person combat hospital staff interrupted the boss. Not if they wanted to leave Afghanistan with their army careers intact.

“Well, Tinker Bell, lay off the fucking morphine. Your call mixed up the dead Afghan and a soldier with a two-inch incision on his fucking calf! Our guy didn’t even have a fucking concussion!” Something metallic banged, then crashed to the floor. It wouldn’t be the first time her colonel had kicked a folding chair or a rolling cart. “Wardsen put on his own butterfly strips before he waltzed out.”

Wardsen. That name was familiar. She flicked through the papers in her hand, orphans she’d gathered from random shelves and desks in the medical office. Filing wasn’t an officer’s job, and other doctors actively shirked administrative tasks, but she hated messy documentation. In a place as isolated as Camp Cadwalader, filing and labeling medical records as directed by Army Regulation 40-66 beat watching dust dry. Despite searching for half an hour, she hadn’t found any intake forms, charts, discharge records or follow-up notes to match the two inbound medevac calls about Staff Sergeant Wulf Wardsen, Operational Detachment Alpha-5131, 5th Special Forces Group. It was as if he’d walked off the helicopter into the sunset both times.

“Sir, I assessed him in-flight—” The voice contradicting Colonel Loughrey belonged to a flight medic. She’d wager her silver captain’s bars that the new total of incoming without follow-up was three. What was going on?

“Assessment! Piece of shit. Shitty as a latrine. Shitty as this whole fucking war! Sh-iii-t.” Her commander worked the word. Six months into the hospital team’s yearlong deployment, some doctors had begun smoking to relieve stress. Others had succumbed to profanity, none more than the colonel.

“Sir, I don’t understand.” The medic’s rising voice sounded confused, and she stepped closer to the curtain to listen. “Wardsen’s leg was fully opened. I held the bone—”

“What you held was your own dick.”

Theresa respected the pilots and medics who brought out the wounded—a riskier job than hers. Whatever problem had the boss worked up, she doubted the fault was medevac’s. Three bad calls could only be Special Forces covering for something, or for someone. They might be the toughest guys on the planet, but they shouldn’t be allowed to mess up hardworking troops like this medic.

“I won’t have my staff pulled off other soldiers—ones with real fucking injuries—or the night shift woken up from sleep—for your piece-of-shit calls.”

She evaluated the loose papers in her hand. Her commander was a surgeon, and that meant his picture popped up when someone searched for the word
At the best of times, he detested incomplete data and vague conclusions. Right now she suspected he wouldn’t like anything less than a ticket home.

“Fuck up again and I will personally see you grounded.” Colonel Loughrey would, but not out of vindictiveness. Out of concern that incompetence would kill someone. He printed the name of every soldier they hadn’t saved on an index card he carried inside his helmet. Last week she’d seen him write the first name on the back. He was a good man, and a good leader, but he was wrong to blame the flight medic. Something bigger was going on, something that seemed to have happened before, although she didn’t know what. The name Wardsen was her first clue.

As silently as combat boots allowed, she retreated. She’d meet with the big guy when she had more answers. This afternoon she had only questions.

BOOK: First to Burn
10.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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