Alpha's Promise - Rebecca Zanetti

Chapter One

Across the windy cemetery, beyond the rows of gravestones, a man leaned against a pine tree and watched her. Even at the distance, the deep blue of his eyes cut through the day. He stood to at least two meters, his chest broad, his legs long. His gaze was almost physical and alight with something that caught her by surprise. A rare tingling, one she’d never been able to explain to herself, much less to anybody else, morphed into an instant headache at the base of her neck.

Dr. Promise Williams shivered and broke eye contact to focus in front of her.

Meager September sunlight glinted off the coffin as it was lowered into the wet earth. The clouds had finally parted and stopped dropping rain on the mourners. She closed her umbrella and tucked it into her overlarge bag, wet grass marring her smart boots.

“It was a nice service. Earlier, I mean,” Dr. Mark Brookes said at her side, wiping his thick glasses on a handkerchief. He wore a tailored black suit with a muted tie, his eyes earnest and his thinning hair wet from the earlier rain.

Promise nodded, her stomach aching. The group standing around remained silent with a couple of soft sniffs piercing the quiet. She knew all of the mourners. Six professors, a dean, and two grad students. The earlier service had been packed with students, more faculty, and even the local press. This part of the day was reserved for family.

Dr. Victory Rashad hadn’t had any family. Other than the faculty, of course.

The wind picked up, brushing across Promise’s face. She shivered. Who did she have? If she died tomorrow, who would attend the burial part of her service? Unwittingly, she looked toward the pine tree.

The man was gone.

Not a surprise. While he’d visited the dead, no doubt he’d just looked over at the assembled group in passing. His focus hadn’t been solely on her. She shook her head and tried to dispel the dread she’d been experiencing since the police had found Victory. The woman had been missing for nearly three days before being found. Torn apart.

Who would do such a ghastly thing?

The gears of the lowering device stopped, effectively concluding the burial for the bystanders. “Well.” Mark held out an arm, and she naturally slipped her glove into the crook of his elbow. “Would you like to get something to eat?” He turned and assisted her over the uneven ground to their vehicles, parked on the silent road.

“Thanks, but I’d rather go home.” She’d attended an Irish wake once where the family members drank into the next day, toasting the dead with stories. A wealth of stories, and all told with love and shouts of laughter. What was it about her world that lent itself to quiet services and no humorous anecdotes? “Thank you, though.”

Mark paused at her new compact car and waited for her to unlock the door. “I hadn’t realized you and Victory were close.”

“We weren’t,” Promise said quietly, opening the door. The other professor had joined the physics department at the university during summer semester, and so far, even though the school was a month into fall semester, they’d merely politely greeted each other at department meetings. That was it. Maybe a lunch or two in the cafeteria, but she didn’t remember the details. “Are we, any of us, close with anybody?”

Mark scratched his chin. “I am. Two brothers, both married with kids. In fact, Mike is having a barbecue this Sunday, probably the last one before winter. I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

“I should probably work.” The idea of witnessing a happy family was too much to think about right now. What was wrong with her?

“Okay.” He waited until she’d sat before leaning over the open door. “Two dates, and now I’m not sure what’s going on.” His intelligent brown eyes studied her, while the too-musky scent of his cologne wafted in her face. “I’m thirty-five and don’t have time for games, Promise. Are we going out again or not?”

She forced a smile. “No.” He was a nice man, but she’d rather work with supersymmetry or cosmological inflation than spend time with him. Of course, who wouldn’t? “I think we’re better situated as friends.”

“Well. I do appreciate your honesty.” As he straightened, his tone indicated that he did not, in fact, appreciate the truth. “I’ll see you Monday.” He shut her door with extra force.

Cripes. Maybe the truth had been a mistake and she should’ve worked harder to soften her words.