Chapter Two

Tilje

“Liar. Why not tell him I can read his thoughts when he’s riding me?”

Lovely. As if an insanely hot Olympian—and his impressive erection, jabbing at my back—wasn’t enough of a handful, now my horse is bitching at me. In my head.

Like saddles, reins are for wimps, not Valkyries, so I tighten my grip on her mane as I think at her, “I don’t want to scare the man. Besides, I wasn’t even sure it would work on him. He’s not mortal.” Neither is Thor, and Hulda’s never had any trouble accessing his mind, so yeah, I am a liar.

“I just said you are. And anyone can access Thor’s mind. He’s an idiot,” Hulda snides. “Now maybe warn this male, so he stops thinking of you naked?”

I gasp, and Ares’ arms around me tighten. His long hair tickles my neck. “You okay?” he rasps in my ear.

I nod, even as a shiver rolls down my spine. Like the rest of him, his voice is the epitome of masculinity, and this is coming from someone guarding warriors for a living. I see half-naked males, including gods, grapple on a daily basis, but none of them has had this effect on me. Not even Thor himself.

I’ve seen him before, of course. Reported back on him and his brothers whenever I visited Midgard. But seeing him from afar could never have prepared me for the gravity of his presence. Until a few minutes ago, when I found him crouched outside his workplace and had the chance to watch his muscles rippling beneath his shirt, he was just an amazing looking guy in a family of amazing looking guys.

Then again, everything about this place looked different from afar. I thought denim trousers were comfortable, for example, since mortals like them so much they wear them around the clock. But no. They’re constricting, hot, and at the moment, uncomfortably wet where they press against my mound. Didn’t have to wear them on my previous missions. Then again, those were only about reconnaissance—and maybe sneaking a couple things back home—not retrieval of an Olympian.

I squirm, and Hulda chooses that moment to take off. I fall back against Ares. Skítr. Good thing Odin or Brynhildr couldn’t see me here, or I’d lose my flying rights.

Ares chuckles, and the sound vibrates in my chest. And lower. What is happening to me? This is unsettling. Do my visits to Midgard have an accumulative effect that’s only now kicking in? When Odin began sending me on missions here, he said I was young and would adapt easily. I thought he meant to the different terrain. Couldn’t have been talking about the language, since I was created knowing every dialect ever spoken.

But he must have meant this flash of heat, spreading inside my body. Especially when Ares’ cock presses into me. Yes, I know what a cock is. I also know cruder words for it. Comes with spending the day around dead warriors whose only options for fun are fighting and fucking. Doesn’t mean I have any interest in getting better acquainted with said appendage, though, so I squirm, to get away. The cock follows, and Ares lets out a grunt that sends jolts of fire through my veins.

I know what I’m experiencing. It’s called arousal. I’ve felt it often, when reading the books I’ve smuggled in Valhalla, but never because of a flesh-and-blood male’s proximity.

“Nice.” Hulda’s mental voice is laced with sarcasm I don’t need.

“Shut up,” I hiss under my breath. More loudly, I ask, “How will your brothers know to meet us?”

“I’m calling Hermes now. He’ll gather the rest of them.”

Calling means a different thing in Midgard. They have these things called cellular telephones that connect them over long distances. In Valhalla, we yell.

I expect him to let go of me with one hand, to use said cellular telephone, but he doesn’t. When I turn my head to see what he’s doing, his green eyes are unfocused and his jaw clenched. Is he in pain?

“Are you all right?” I ask. “Do heights bother you?”

Geirdriful told me about warriors with no fear of death, who nevertheless emptied their stomachs when they rode with her, and entered Valhalla pale from terror rather than blood loss.

“Not heights, no,” Ares calls back, his voice almost lost in the wind. “What bothers me is strangers, showing up to trick me and then demanding an audience.”

“Now he’s lying,” Hulda says in my head. “He doesn’t feel bothered; he feels like fuck—”

Will you stop this?” My cheeks are burning. I don’t want to know what Ares feels like, and I never will. I’m not to be tamed by a male. I’d never risk my eternity like that.

“They’re coming.” He sounds pained.

Huh? “You said you’d call one of them. Will you?”

“I did. We are mentally linked.”

Oh. “Is that”—what do they call Midgard here?—“an Earth thing?” Because if it’s the latter, it’s totally unfair. Odin’s the only one in Asgard who can reach the minds of others, though his power is confined in Valhalla.

“It’s an Olympian thing,” Ares says. And doesn’t he sound full of himself? Bet he can’t talk to his horse, though.

Hulda neighs. “That’s a me thing, not a you thing.”

“Yeah, yeah.” I tighten my thighs against her ribs, sensing the tension in her muscles. “We’re about to begin our descent,” I yell, for Ares’ sake.

He says something, but the words are snatched away by the wind, as Hulda more drops than flies down toward our destination. He pulls me closer, until my back is flush against his chest and I can feel every ripple of muscle. His body heat seeps through our clothes, warming me against the night chill.

For the briefest of moments, I’m tempted to lean my head back. Rub my cheek against the stubble on his chin. Cover his hands with mine and—

Odin, this place is messing with me.

Hulda’s front hooves touch the ground, and she trots a few feet, using her wings as windbreakers until she slows to a stop. She tosses back her mane, and I lean forward to caress her elegant neck. “Thank you, old girl.”

Her snort says she doesn’t love the qualifier.

I hop down and hold out my hand, to help Ares dismount. His sneer makes me shove my palm in my pocket and watch as he slides down carefully. Improvement.

“She couldn’t drop us off at the front door?” he grumbles.

I finally look around. We’re on a—what’s the word?—roof terrace, overlooking a hill crested by a chapel. The street below is mostly empty, but someone would notice if two people appeared out of thin air. I’m only invisible when I’m on Hulda.

“This is safer,” I say.

“We’re on top of my building. That means we need help to get in,” he grumbles. He rubs his face with both hands, and when he looks at me again, his expression is a mixture of annoyance and resignation.

The air shimmers, and a blond man so beautiful he’d give Baldr a run for his money materializes beside Ares. Hermes—one of the ascended Olympians. “Love it when I can be of service to you, bro.” His smirk says more than his honey-sweet tone.

“Asshole,” Ares mutters under his breath.

Hermes cups a palm behind his ear. “What was that? You’re grateful I came to your rescue?”

Ares huffs, and Hermes chuckles and turns to me. “And who might you be?” he asks. “I didn’t pick up a mortal signature—not that Ares would have me appear in front of a mortal anyway. Another long-lost sister?”

Before I can answer, Ares barks, “No. She’s a Valkyrie. Now take us inside.”

Hermes is unfazed. “A Valkyrie?” A real smile blossoms on his full lips. “Oh, you’re so screwed, man.” He holds out his hand to me, “I’m Hermes. The family’s heart, mind, and looks.”

Ares rolls his eyes.

“Tilgivelse,” I return the smile. It’s a split-second decision, not to tell him I know who he is. For some reason, I want to make a good impression on Ares, and blurting that I’ve spied on them on occasion won’t cut it. “Tilje, if that’s too much of a mouthful. And that’s Hulda.” I hook a thumb over my shoulder, and mentally tell her to flicker into sight for a split second. Showing off? Maybe. But something inside wants me to rattle Hermes’ confidence, and I do enjoy the startled step back he takes.

Ares grins, and it feels like a pat on the back and a good girl. His approval shouldn’t make me feel warm inside.

“I see the fates are trying door-to-door delivery now. Let’s take this inside.” Smile unwavering, Hermes puts a hand on my shoulder.

The instinct to defend myself kicks in, and my sword is in my palm before he has time to blink, but it’s of no use, as the floor drops from beneath me and I fall back into a soft cushion.

“Careful with that. You’ll lose an eye.” The woman who says this reaches out and plucks my sword from my hand. Skítr. A Valkyrie allows no one to handle her horse or her sword.

But she doesn’t handle my blade. She lays it carefully across my lap and smiles. “Hi. I’m Lena. Athena? I’m new here too, so…”

So…? Why doesn’t she finish that sentence? Why is she here? I told Ares to call his brothers, who are huddled around him on the other side of this spacious hall.

Another woman approaches me, a glass of water in hand. I’ve seen her before, though I don’t know her name. My reports on the brothers have to do with their locations and whether or not they’re involved with someone. By what I glimpsed during my last visit, Hermes is very involved with this one.

“Here. Blinking can be really disorienting at first, but you’ll get used to it,” the woman says.

Blinking? Is that what she calls moving with the speed of thought?

I take the glass, empty it gratefully, and return it to her.

“Joy.” Hermes motions for her to join them.

Lena-slash-Athena sinks into the armchair on my left. “This is so weird. I mean, one day you’re a hairdresser, and the next, you have visions of battles, and your own freaking sister is yelling at you for turning her into a monster a couple hundred lifetimes ago.”

I hold her gaze. “Every time you open your mouth, I have more questions.”

She laughs. “Happens a lot around here. Wait, and you’ll see. Who did you use to be?”

“You make no sense. At all.” I scowl, and she laughs. Seriously, her question is stupid. I’ve always been Tilgivelse, youngest of Odin’s Valkyries and Valhalla’s protectors. Or guards, if you pay any mind to Loki’s ramblings.

 

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