Chapter Fifteen

Ares

Should I have run after her? Hermes would have run after Joy. Denny, if Moira stormed out? Definitely. Even Sei would have stomped all over his pride, rather than let Irine leave.

Me? I’m not like those wimps. I know Tilje will come back. I’m in her system, after last night. Under her skin. In her head. Will hopefully be inside her body soon enough. She’ll be back. She just needs times to work out her insecurities. To allow herself to realize how much she wants me.

She seems to be needing a lot more time than I expected.

The wish-table provides me with a bathtub and my preferred shower gel, and I soak my fully recovered body in the hot, scented water. When the door crashes open, I flex and throw a leg over the lip of the tub.

The soapy foam keeps me from flashing Thor, who’s leaning against the doorway, both eyebrows shooting for his hairline. “You seem to be feeling better,” he says.

Trying to look casual, I let my leg slide back into the water and fold an arm behind my head. “No thanks to you.”

His expression falls. “I didn’t think you could be hurt.”

Yeah, that makes two of us. “Odin should have known, though.” I don’t need to ask why he wouldn’t warn me; I make no effort to hide the suspicion from my voice.

“I asked him about it.” Thor crosses his arms over his chest, the fingers of his left hand dangling mere centimeters from the hilt of his hammer. “He said he knew exactly what would happen.”

Fuck.

“Indeed.”

The water is growing cooler, and I’d like to get out, but Thor keeps watching me with narrowed eyes.

“I am pretty sure he wants you alive,” he says, “but I don’t know why he’d let things go as far as they did.”

Tilje. The answer is painfully obvious. Odin may have warned me about what sleeping with her would cost her, but he wanted her in my bed. Wanted us to get closer. Why? Was she supposed to convince me to let him use me as a puppet? She didn’t even mention his request.

Or maybe last night was a mere first step toward enticing me to do his bidding. How far was she supposed to go? How much did he instruct her to give up? And why warn me that she needed to remain a maiden, to retain her immortality? Was it for her benefit, or to make her seem like a worthier trophy? What kind of man did he take me for, that I’d consider a female’s virginity as somehow adding to her value?

“Well?” Thor asks impatiently. “Any clue as to why he’d do that?”

It takes me a heartbeat to realize he’s referring to the question I’ve already figured out the answer to. I’m not willing to share yet. Thor registers as an ally, but I felt the same about Odin, and I may have been dangerously wrong.

“None.” I shrug nonchalantly, as though I couldn’t care less. “Now, if you don’t mind, I should get out of the water before everything prunes up.”

“Why would I mind?” He frowns.

I huff. “Because you’ll see my dong, and its size may scar you for life.” Yeah, okay, my voice breaks into a chuckle.

He rolls his eyes. “I’ve seen it before, and it’s nothing to write home about.” Still, he snaps his fingers and calls, “Towel,” and one is draped over the edge of the tub.

He’s seen my cock? Did I use to have other… proclivities in my first life? Is that why I didn’t have a female soulmate? Feels wrong that I’d be gay or even bi, though. Preposterous may be a better word for it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against any expression of sexuality that includes consenting adults, but I’ve never felt attracted to males. That I can remember.

Unless the issue is my memory?

My voice wavers a little when I ask, “You and I? We’ve…?”

“Oh yeah, several times.” Thor studies my face, and his eyes widen comically. “Not just the two of us. With at least one female in the middle. I don’t— We’re friends, man.”

Tilje would have loved to be here for this amazingly uncomfortable discussion.

And can I stop thinking of her for a few minutes?

Also, why isn’t she back yet?

I reach for the towel and hold it in front of me as I exit the tub, then wrap it around my hips. One end has dipped in the water, and now it clings to my thighs. I mentally ask the table for clothes from my own closet, and try to forget Thor is still here while I drag my jeans up wet legs and then pull on a crisp white T-shirt.

“Is there something else you need?” I ask Thor as I pull my wet hair back in a ponytail. I’m not putting on socks and boots till I’m completely dry.

He purses his lips and hooks his thumbs in his leather belt, grip always hovering near Mjölnir. “I want to get out of here, and I’m not sure that’s in Odin’s immediate plans.”

“Why leave? Isn’t this place like your version of Heaven?” It’s definitely mine, and Thor’s supposed to be my kind of guy.

He lets out a sound between a groan and a snort. “It was, when I could come and go at will. Maybe while time stood still, and I didn’t realize I was frozen in place. But I’m bored to death, man. It’s the same day, over and over again, only now I know. My evening companion may vary, but there are only so many Valkyries to choose from. And then the day starts the same way, with the same fucking leftover stew. What is it even left over from? We have meat and bread in the evening.” He throws his hands in the air and comes to sit on the bed.

I’m itching to find Tilje, but this male needs me, and my senses scream brother, so I mentally request a cozy leather armchair and sink in it, facing him. “Odin has asked me to help him see outside Valhalla, so he can find out if it’s safe to bring down the time barrier.”

It’s possible I wasn’t supposed to share this info, but Thor seems defeated, rather than surprised.

“It’s another lie,” he whispers so low I barely hear it. “He wants us to believe there’s hope, so we don’t try to break free.”

That would make sense, except— “But he told me, not you. And he was really set on convincing me to let him piggy-back my consciousness.”

Thor growls. He climbs to his feet and prowls the length of the room.

I need to turn my armchair around, so I don’t sprain my neck, following him with my gaze. “I’m going to let him do it,” I say, “but I’m not telling him till tomorrow. I must have one more day.”

“To get under Tilje’s skirts?” He stops his pacing, to waggle his eyebrows at me. His beard doesn’t manage to hide his smirk.

I feel offended on her behalf, but the urge to punch Thor is overtaken by a realization so sudden, it makes my head spin. “You’ve been sleeping with the Valkyries,” I say.

Hands on his hips, he glowers at me. “What else am I supposed to do? The female einherjar are too awestruck around me, and the surviving goddesses are either related to me or afraid of Sif. And it’s not like Valkyries consider it a chore to share my bed. They enjoy it. Even throw contests, to see who’ll get me for the night.”

What. The ever-loving. Fuck? I jump up and get in his face. “Odin said Valkyries who lose their virginity also lose their immortality.”

Thor throws back his head, roaring with laughter. “Valkyries who get married lose their immortality. They’re supposed to remain single. I’m certainly not throwing marriage proposals left and right.” Smugly, he adds, “Only bone-melting orgasms.”

Odin knowingly let me misunderstand that. But if Tilje wasn’t risking eternity, why didn’t she welcome me into her body last night?

The blow to my ego hurts more than getting stabbed did. She wants me—that much is evident every time we’re together—so what’s stopping her? Does she not consider me her equal? Is she following Odin’s orders?

I’ve given her enough time. I’m going to find her, drag her back here by the hair if need be, and find out why she won’t be with me.

With fresh socks and my boots on, I make my way to the door.

“Hey, where are you going?” Thor catches up and clasps my shoulder. “I need your help.”

“And I promise you’ll have it, but not today.” I shake off his hold. The clang of swords calls to my blood. Tilje will be in the sparring grounds. My body and soul know where to find her before my brain realizes where I’m heading.

The crowd blocks my view. I push through the onlookers, toward the center of the circle they’ve formed. Tilje is fighting not one, but three men. My gut tells me to rush to her aid, but a second glance shows her eyes are blazing with glee, not anger, and she’s easily holding her own. Her face set in stone and her braids coiled in tight buns on top of her head, she’s all business. Nothing like the wanton goddess I tasted last night.

Adjusting her grip on her two long swords, she takes a heartbeat to rip her skirt open from the thigh down, allowing for glimpses of her toned legs as she spins and blocks the blades jabbing at her.

She’s poetry in motion, and I’m in love.

Fuck.

I’m in love.

I steal an ax from the einherji to my right, and jump in. I duck under the blade of one of her attackers and kick the second in the knee, relishing the crunch or cartilage before his leg folds the wrong way. Slipping into position beside her, where I should always be, I say, “We need to talk.”

“I’m busy.” She doesn’t spare me a glance, as she thrusts at a newcomer to the fray.

I swerve, turning my back to her, and swing my ax so it plunges into someone’s shoulder. Warm blood sprays my face and gets into my eyes and mouth. Like in my dream, last night. When she saved me. I spit and wipe at my eyes with the back of my hand. Did I hit an artery? No, wait. Yeah… I cleaved the guy’s arm off.

“Sorry, man,” I call out to him.

He waves off my concern with the hand still attached to his body, and kicks at the fallen limb before pointing his spear at me. “It’ll grow back.”

“Why didn’t you sleep with me?” I ask Tilje.

The one-armed man stumbles.

“Not you,” I tell him and angle my head toward Tilje. “Her.”

“Because I didn’t want to die,” she yells back.

The man’s gaze falls to the fly of my jeans.

“Oh for fuck’s sake.” With my free hand, I reach behind me and grab her wrist. “Can’t we go somewhere more quiet and talk?” I think at her. If she doesn’t respond, I’ll repeat it aloud.

All sound ceases, and the field fades from view, as wooden walls replace the einherjar around us. The smells of fresh air and blood is gone too, and I’m not crazy for the stench of horse shit that replaces them.

“The stables,” Tilje stammers. “How’d you do that?”

The bonding is falling into place. “I’m ascending,” I tell her. “And incidentally, you’re my soulmate.”

 

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