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A Fate Inked in Blood: Chapter 33

My stomach rushed to my throat, my eyes going down, down, down to the deadly froth of water and rocks. A scream rose but as it tore from my lips, it was Hlin’s name that came forth.

Magic flooded from my fingertips, first covering Bjorn and then my own body with silver light. A heartbeat later, we struck.

Even with Hlin’s protection, the impact drove the air from my lungs. And there was nothing to fill them as we rose up, then were slammed down into the riverbed again, the water holding us in its perpetual churn. Spinning us around and around until I didn’t know which way was up. My elbows struck rock but instead of the water dragging me upward in its inescapable cycle, Bjorn tightened his grip on me, pulling me along the riverbed.

I needed to breathe.

Desperate, I fought his hold. I needed to reach the surface. Needed a mouthful of air even if it meant the falls dragging me back under a second later.

Bjorn pinned my arms to my ribs, dragging me along the river floor. My eyes dimmed, the pain in my chest demanding air air air.

Then I was surging upward.

Bjorn lifted me above the surface, and I gasped in a precious mouthful as the river tore us downstream and around a bend.

“Get to the bank!” Bjorn shouted. “Swim, Freya!”

Kicking hard, I kept my eyes on the edge of the river, fighting my way through the current. Rocks banged against my legs, bruising and scraping my flesh. I ignored the pain and swam. Finally, coughing and spluttering, I dragged myself onto the bank of the river, every inch of me aching. Only when I was able to breathe again did I round on Bjorn, who was on his hands and knees hacking up half the river. “Have you lost your mind?”

He rolled onto his back, staring at the sky, strands of his dark hair plastered against his face. “Says the woman who tried to throw herself off a cliff.”

My stomach tightened. “I was trying to stop the battle. I was trying to take away their reason to fight.”

“I know what you were trying to do,” he answered. “And it is done.”

Bjorn turned his head to meet my stare. “Everyone saw Tora’s lightning fling us into the water, Freya. Watched us go over a waterfall too high for anyone to survive. They think we’re dead.” A strained grin worked its way onto his face. “But we’re not.”

No, we were not.

Bjorn caught hold of my arms, pulling me on top of him. The heat of his body was welcome after the freezing river, but I forced myself to focus as he said, “Everyone believes we’re dead, Freya, and no one fights to possess the dead. We can leave Skaland without consequence, because Snorri won’t punish Geir or Ingrid for you falling in battle. No one will come hunting for us. We can choose where we go and what we do, and no one, not even the gods, can stop us, because we are the unfated. We make our own destiny. Together.”


My heart skipped, then sped, because this was a future I’d never allowed myself to imagine.

A life with Bjorn, nothing standing between us and no one controlling us. We could live without others trying to use us to further their own ends. Bjorn smiled, and lifting a hand, he tucked a sodden braid behind my ear. “You will have everything I have the power to give, Freya. I swear it.”

Twin tears dripped down my cheeks, splashing against his chest. “But what about avenging your mother?”

What about avenging mine?

A flicker of pain crossed through his eyes, and Bjorn squeezed them shut. But as he reopened them, he said, “No oath is worth your life. No amount of vengeance is worth your happiness. I’ll let the past burn to ash, Freya, because you are my present. My future. My destiny.” He lifted his other hand to cup my face. “I love you.”

And I loved him.

Loved him in a way that defied reason, words not enough to convey the emotion that burned in my heart. A sob tore from my lips and I buried my face in his neck, inhaling him. Drinking him in because he was mine. And we’d never be parted.

“We need to go.” His fingers tangled in my hair. “They’ll break off fighting to search the riverbanks, and there can be no sign we ever escaped the churn of the falls.”

Wiping at my face, I climbed to my feet. Bjorn kept a grip on my hand as he kicked water onto the mud to hide the marks left by our bodies, then led me downstream, our feet splashing in the shallow water. Only once did I look back, my stomach flipping at the sight of the enormous falls, mist rising from the base. He’d willingly taken that plunge, trusted my magic would save us, believed we were strong enough to survive it.

All to save me.

Of their own accord, my eyes focused beyond the falls to the smoke rising above the clifftops. But no lightning flickered, no thunder boomed.

“Harald came for you, not to take Grindill,” Bjorn said. “He’ll abandon the fight to search for us.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes. Don’t forget that I know him well.”

Tension receded from my shoulders. It was over. It was done.

“This way,” he said, gesturing up a narrow stream that flowed into the river. “We’ll be there before nightfall.”

“Where?” I asked, relishing the feel of my hand in his. Never wanting to let him go.

Bjorn only smiled. “You’ll see.”

We walked upstream for hours, the water growing progressively warmer until what flowed over my feet was the temperature of a bath. We spoke little, Bjorn casting the occasional glance skyward where the sun crawled toward dusk. We passed the ruins of a burned-out cabin, the blackened wood being slowly consumed by time and moss. “That was the home where I lived with my mother,” he said. “I haven’t been here since the night it burned.”

I bit my lip, then asked, “What happened?”

He stopped in his tracks, staring at the ruins in silence for long enough that I thought he might not tell me. Then Bjorn said, “We lived here alone. As far away from people as she could have it.”

“Why?” I asked, my pulse thrumming with anticipation, because Bjorn never spoke of his mother.

“Knowing the future is a burden,” he answered, “for it is often full of pain and heartache and loss. Being around people is what causes”—he winced—“caused her gift to show her the future, so she avoided it when possible. Which meant it was just her and me most days.”

“Your father didn’t visit?”

Bjorn’s jaw tightened. “Only when he wished answers from her. My existence was the source of a great deal of conflict between Ylva and him, so he never brought me to Halsar.”

I hesitated, then asked, “Did they not suspect you had god’s blood?”

“My mother knew.” He swallowed. “She forbade me to speak Tyr’s name. One of my earliest memories is of her telling me that to do so would set me on the path to losing those I loved to fire and ash.” He shook his head. “She painted these visions in my head of people screaming, people dying, and everything was always burning.”

It was hard to hear that. Not only because she’d been right, but in the attempt to change the fate she’d foreseen for him, Saga had filled her child’s head with nightmares that I suspected remained even now.

“I was asleep one night,” he continued. “My mother shook me awake and told me to hide, pushing me under some blankets in a chest. Moments later, I heard a man’s voice. Heard him making demands of her. Heard her refusing. Then she screamed.” His throat bobbed as he swallowed hard. “I knew he was hurting her, and though I was afraid, I got out of the chest. I don’t remember saying Tyr’s name, but I must have because a burning axe was suddenly in my hand. I panicked and dropped it, and within seconds the cabin was ablaze. My mother was screaming and struggling with the man, the air so thick with smoke I could barely breathe. Could barely see. And there was no way out.”

My palms slickened with sweat, and I stared at the burned ruins with new horror.

“Out of desperation, I picked up the axe again to try to help her, but the roof collapsed and a beam struck me. The last thing I remember is my mother screaming, and then when I woke again, it was to find myself in Nordeland.”

As the prisoner of his mother’s murderer. “I’m so sorry, Bjorn.”

He gave an abrupt roll of his shoulders, then motioned up the stream. “We should keep moving.”

As the light faded, we reached the source of the warm water. The black mouth of a cave yawned before us, the stream flowing over and through a roughly constructed dam of rocks.

Bjorn led me out onto the banks, ducking into the cave opening before muttering Tyr’s name, his axe flaring to life in his free hand and illuminating the darkness. A gasp pulled from my lips as a large steaming pool was revealed, almost the entirety of the cave flooded. Against one wall was a pile of supplies, as well as char marks on the stone floor in the shape of an axe.

“You’ve been here before?” I bent down to touch the water, which was blissfully hot.

“When I want time alone, I come to this cavern. My mother brought me here often when I was a child, because I was always filthy.” He gestured to the dam. “She built this.”

Not for the first time, I was struck at how vividly he remembered his mother despite her having died when he was a boy. Like her every word had imprinted on his soul.

And he was abandoning his quest to avenge her. Was leaving with me what he truly wanted? Or was he only leaving to save my life?

“Bjorn…” I trailed off, afraid to ask, because what I so desperately wanted was within my grasp and I didn’t want to ruin it by making him question himself. Except I knew that the questions would come, and it was better now than later. “I don’t want you to regret making this choice.”

Didn’t want him to regret choosing me.


I went to the water’s edge, watching the steam eddy and swirl without really seeing it. Instead, visions of our future filled my head, and in them I saw Bjorn growing bitter and angry at having been denied his destiny, endless arguments and nights spent with our backs turned, cold empty space between us. My eyes stung, the grief that rose in my chest as real as if my visions were reality.

The scuff of boot on rock and the swirl of steam told me that he’d come up behind me. His arms wrapped around my waist, pulling me against his chest, his chin brushing my temple. “There is no future where I would regret choosing you.”

I sucked in a ragged breath, but it felt like no air reached my lungs, my heart a riot in my chest as my emotions warred within it.

“I wish I’d realized it sooner.” His breath caught and he swallowed hard, his struggle to say what he wanted to say making me want to hear it all the more. “For nearly all my life, revenge for what was done to my mother was all that mattered to me. It consumed my every waking breath and I refused to allow anything else to matter. Then the most fierce and beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on hit me in the face with a fish and proceeded to wind her way into my heart. To make me want a life ruled by something deeper than hate.”

My mouth curved into a smile, but my heart ached to hear him put voice to what I’d always sensed: the discontent simmering beneath quips and quick smiles, the tension in him that never seemed to ease.

He turned me in his arms, one hand rising to tangle in my mess of braids. “I used to dream only of fire and ash,” he whispered, running a thumb over my cheek as I lifted my face to meet his gaze. “Now when I close my eyes, all I see is your face.”

Tears drenched my cheeks because hearing those words was my dream. Was what my mind had created in the dark hours where I’d allowed it to drift into fantasies that I thought the gods and fate and circumstance would never let me have. It had always been him.

“I love you, Bjorn,” I whispered. “And the only future I wish for is the one with you by my side.”

He let out a shaky breath, tension seeping out of him in a rush, then his mouth was on mine.

I gasped, catching hold of his neck so that I didn’t fall backward, but he’d already taken hold of me. Lifting me even as he kissed me, tongue tasting mine and sending bolts of pleasure down to my already throbbing core. I wrapped my legs around his waist, rubbing myself against him, a moan escaping me as his arm tightened around my hips, dragging me closer.

But not close enough.

I wanted to feel his skin against mine, yet we both still wore sodden clothing and mail. “Off,” I said between kisses, straightening my legs to slide down his body. “I want it all off.”

And lest he miss my meaning, I caught hold of my mail and lifted it over my head, tossing it aside, the tunic and undershirt I wore beneath swiftly following, baring my peaked breasts.

Bjorn growled, his eyes dark as he dropped to his knees, catching the tip of one of my breasts in his mouth. I moaned as he sucked it deep, teeth nipping to the point I couldn’t tell whether it was pleasure or pain, only that my thighs were slick with the need for more.

Not just more of his hands and mouth on me, but mine on him. I wanted to taste that taut tattooed skin, to dig my nails into the hard curve of his muscles, to stroke my palm over his thick cock.

So I pushed him back, stepping down into the pool, the heat of the water stinging my skin as I backed deeper. “It’s hot,” I murmured, reaching down to remove one shoe and then the other, tossing them past Bjorn even as I held him in place with my gaze.

As I took a step deeper, the water rose to just above my hip bones. I unlaced my trousers, pulled them off, and sent them flying onto the bank with a wet slap. Then I leaned backward and pushed with my toes, sending myself floating to the far side of the pool, feeling his eyes on my body. Feeling his desire, the sensation making my sex throb almost painfully with the need to be touched. To be filled. Resting my elbows on a ledge at the far end of the pool, I said, “Coming in?”

Bjorn didn’t answer, and backlit as he was by the burning flame of his axe, I couldn’t see his face. But my answer came as he pulled off his mail, tossing it aside, shirt and boots following. He was all hard lines and thick muscle, shoulders broad and waist tapered, and I held my breath as he slowly unbuckled his belt, anticipation making me clench my thighs together.

He caught his thumbs in the waist of his soaked trousers, dragging them down. My breath caught—

And his axe extinguished, plunging the cave into darkness.

“You arsehole,” I snarled, hearing both Bjorn’s dark laugh and the splash of water as he entered the pool, ripples moving ahead of him to brush my breasts. “I’m starting to question whether you have something to hide. Or rather, a lack of something.”

“We both know that isn’t the case, Born-in-Fire.” His chuckle was closer this time. “Besides, they say anticipation makes all pleasures sweeter.”

“The gods spare me from the ego that comes with a big—” I gasped as his hands caught my waist, pulling me close, the part in question pressing against my stomach.

His teeth caught at my earlobe. “You were saying…”

As though I could remember words as his tongue trailed up the rim of my ear, his cock rubbing against my sex as the current pushed against us. I tilted my head, whimpering as he licked my throat and bit just above my pulse, his fingertips trailing down the inside of my arm with featherlight touches that made me see sparks in the darkness.

But I wanted to see more.

Capturing Bjorn’s lips, I kissed him hard, then bit at his bottom lip until he groaned before pulling back to whisper, “Hlin.”

Magic flowed into me, and I pushed it out of the fingers of my left hand. The silver light illuminated Bjorn’s skin as I traced a finger down the hard muscles of his shoulders, resting my cheek against his collarbone as my eyes followed the light. Drinking in the swell of his biceps, the carved shadows between the muscles of his forearm, and the broad expanse of his palm as he flattened his hand against mine before interlocking our fingers.

I smiled, extinguishing the magic, only to relight it on my other hand. Brushing my lips over his and curving my palm over the roughness of his cheek. Wrapping a stray lock of his black hair around my glowing fingers, painting him in silver light. He didn’t like to cede control, I knew that. Yet I could also see the rapid throb of his pulse in his neck, hear the low groan that tore from his lips as I trailed my fingers down his throat to his chest, feel his cock growing harder still where it rubbed between my thighs.

“Why wouldn’t you ever let me touch you?” I murmured, leaning back to trace my glowing fingertip over the intricate tattoo of runes on his chest. “Didn’t you want me to?”

He made a strangled noise. “Gods, woman. It was for the exact opposite reason to that.” His fingers tightened, digging into the curve of my arse. “Touching you had me on the verge of breaking. Having your hands on me would have snapped my control entirely. And…” He drew in a breath. “I didn’t want to take from you, not knowing if I could return it in equal measure.”

So many of those in my life were content to take and take from me, leaving me a barren well. Bjorn alone had taken nothing, asked for nothing, but given me so much. Around him I felt so full, so alive, and I burned with the need to give all of myself to him. To hold nothing back, not my heart, not my soul, and most definitely not my body. I traced the tattooed lines down his stomach to where my pelvis pressed against him. “And now?”

“All of me is yours, Freya.” His head was tilted back, eyes closed, the light from my magic casting shadows over the chiseled lines of his face. His beauty was as otherworldly as I’d ever seen it, as though it had been Baldur, the loveliest of all gods, who’d gifted him blood rather than the god of war. “It may not be equal measure to your value, but it’s all I have.”

“It’s all I want.” All I could ever dream of.

I caught hold of his face, kissing him fiercely, needing him to feel my words as much as he heard them. Then, loosening my legs’ grip around his waist, I reached between us and took hold of him. Bjorn groaned my name as I stroked him root to tip, and heat that had nothing to do with the hot springs surged in my core. The side of my hand brushed my slick sex as I pumped his length, and I leaned back, pressing into it even as I felt my climax rise.

“I want you in me,” I breathed, but Bjorn caught hold of my wrists, his voice a growl as he said, “I think first I must prove my worth, love.”

In that moment I might have sworn that nothing could stoke my need higher than the way he’d said love, but then Bjorn carried me deeper into the cavern, laying me down on a slope of rock worn smooth by water running from another chamber above. It was nearly hot enough to burn, running in rivulets of fire over my throat and breasts, between my legs, but I barely felt it as Bjorn parted my legs wide, exposing me.

A breath, held too long within my lungs, shuddered free as I gazed at him, large and strong as a god between my thighs, waiting for him to push into me. Waiting for him to claim me as his.

Instead he consumed me.

Bowing his broad shoulders, he bent, rough cheek brushing against the inside of my thigh and making me gasp. He only spread me wider, lowering his head, tongue parting my sex. My back bowed, my legs wrapping around his neck and my hands finding the lip of the basin behind me as I held on.

“I’ve wanted to taste you for so long,” he growled, licking me again. A sob tore from my lips, because the gods strike me down, nothing had ever felt this good. “Do you have any idea the madness it drove me to, sliding my fingers into you that night and feeling how fucking wet you were but not being able to have you on my tongue?”

As though to remind me of that night, he let go of my right knee and slid a finger into me, curving it to stroke my core. “Show me what you wanted to do to me,” I gasped, rocking my hips against his fingers, driving my pleasure higher. “Please.”

He said nothing, only closed his mouth over my clit, tongue circling it with small little swipes. I bucked beneath him like some wild thing possessed, crying out his name as he sucked on me, fingers slick with my wetness as his caresses found a rhythm, stroking me harder. Higher.

I was so close. So close that I wanted to scream. Wanted to beg for more. Wanted—

Bjorn slipped a third finger into me, and my body shattered, release washing over me in a fiery flood that made me cry out, the muscles of my legs contracting, binding him to me. The waves kept coming, like a storm unleashed against a shore, leaving me gasping and spent.

This was how it was supposed to feel. What I’d always dreamed it would be like. Not to be used as a means to an end, but to be worshipped as a woman beloved. To matter to my lover.

Bjorn unhooked my legs from his neck, moving them around his waist so that the water once again poured over me. “You’re so beautiful, Freya,” he whispered. “Like a goddess.”

I opened my eyes, blinking at the brilliance all around me.

Magic poured from my hands where they gripped the edge of the pool above me. It clung to the water as it swirled down, painting my body with rivulets of silver light, spilling over the curve of my hips to fall into the pool below where it spiraled away on the current.

Bjorn bent over me, kissing my lips with such reverence that my heart broke and re-formed. Gods, but I loved him. Wanted him. Couldn’t imagine ever being parted from him, the very thought of it sending a slice of panic through me. I wrapped my arms around his neck, my magic spilling over his skin as I tangled my fingers in his hair, my tongue in his mouth. He tasted of salt, every breath I took filled with the scent of him.

“I want you in me,” I whispered, pressing myself against him, a whimper pulling from my lips as his thick tip entered me. “I want all of you.”

“Not yet,” he murmured, lips tracing fire down my throat even as he slipped a hand between my legs, holding my hips down against the rock, thumb stroking the throbbing knot of my clit. “I want you wet and ready when I take you.”

I moaned as he stroked me, his other hand on my breast, teasing my nipple and sending sparks of pleasure through my body. My breath came in rapid pants, my back arching off the rock, and my muscles clenching around his tip, which teased the inside of me with the promise of more. “I’m no maid,” I hissed, the need to be filled surpassing my need for breath, wild and desperate. “I’m ready.”

“Not ready enough.” His teeth caught the curve of my shoulder and marked me, claiming me as I cried out. “I want you hot and wet and so desperate for my cock in you that you beg for it, Freya.”

All featherlight touch was gone, his thumb rubbing me hard, throbbing pulses spiking down my legs with each stroke. Another climax was rising, my breath rapid pants, the need so intense it bordered on pain. I opened my mouth to scream, Please.

But he already knew what I needed. He always did.

Bjorn’s arm slid under my back, lifting me off the rock and dragging my hips forward as he thrust into me.

A sob wrenched from my lips as he buried himself deep. So long and thick it seemed impossible I could contain him, but my body took him in like the first breath of air after too long under water.

“Gods, you feel good,” he groaned, withdrawing and thrusting into me again, the sensation driving me to the brink. “And you are mine.

I was his.

Every part of me for all of eternity. I clung to his neck as he drove into me again and again, with each stroke the base of him rubbing against the spot his thumb had abandoned. My nails clawed his skin, my heels digging into the hard muscle of his arse as I pulled him into me, my climax teetering on the brink.

Bjorn kissed me, our teeth knocking together with the force of it, his tongue chasing over mine as he plunged into me, breath hot and rapid. Then his hands gripped my hips, nearly pulling me off the rock as he drove deep.

Release surged over me like a storm. Like a tempest that would tear the world apart, my body shuddering as it drowned me in pleasure, dragging me back under each time I broke the surface. Never had I felt anything like it, the sensation washing away sight even as it drowned me in color, my ears filling with the sound of my name on Bjorn’s lips as he climaxed, spilling into me in a flood hotter than the waters we swam in.

He buried his face in my neck, rocking against me, leaving me boneless and spent. “I love you,” I breathed, allowing my magic to dissipate, leaving us wrapped in darkness. “You are all I want.”

Bjorn shuddered, fingers tightening around me. “I’ll kill anyone who tries to take you from me.”

I shouldn’t like it, the violence, but it was men wishing violence upon me who would try to tear us apart, so I relished his words. Relaxed into the protective embrace of them as he lifted me down into the water, holding me close in the darkness.

“How long can we stay here?” I asked, beads of condensed water and sweat running down my cheeks as I nuzzled his throat. Part of me hoped he’d say forever because I never wanted to leave. Never wanted to step outside to face the world, despite the knowledge it was a different world we’d walk toward.

“We should leave in the morning.” He traced his finger over the curve of my hip. “I want to get you out of Skaland.”

“South?” I murmured. “Where it’s warm?”

“Not too far south or I’ll overheat.” He carried me down the length of the pool. “I need to feel the bite of winter for at least part of the year.”

I drowsed against him, thinking of summer lands. Imagining building a home. Having a child. Raising animals and tilling the land. My mind stalled on the last as I tried to imagine Bjorn farming, the vision refusing to manifest. Refusing to give me anything other than images of him running into battle, blazing axe in hand.

It’s only because you’ve never seen that side of him, I told myself. Not that it doesn’t exist.

Bjorn carried me out of the water, a cool night breeze blowing into the chamber and chilling my skin. I shivered as he set me down, the rock cold beneath my bare feet. Still naked, Bjorn left the cave, returning with an armload of branches. Using his usual haphazard method, he dumped the wood on top of his axe and waited for it to light. “Here. It’s a bit soggy, but edible,” he said, handing me some dried meat that had been in his belt pouch, then retrieved my sword and both our mail shirts, which were probably already setting to rust.

“Throw them away.” I rested on my elbow as I watched him work, drinking in the sight of his naked body. “I never want to wear armor again,” I added, full well knowing that wearing it had once been my dream.

Bjorn lifted his face, firelight glinting off his eyes. “We aren’t out of Skaland yet, love. And no matter where we go, there will be dangers we’ll need to protect against. Besides, this mail is worth a small fortune and—” He broke off, giving his head a shake. “You don’t have to wear it, Freya. I’ll pack it away.”

I knew what he’d been about to say. That wealth would no longer be ours for the taking. He was used to being the son of the jarl. To raiding every season to fill his pockets with gold and silver. Neither of which would be possibilities where we planned to go. Which meant that, in many ways, it would be a harder life.

Unease chilled my stomach and I tried to push away the many challenges that would face us in the days to come, the euphoria of finally being together fraying around the edges. I was used to a simple life on the farm, so it would be easy for me to give up the weapons and the fighting, to turn my back on power. Much less easy for him, because he’d been a warrior all his life.

Was that why he didn’t want to give up the armor? Because he couldn’t imagine life as something other than a warrior? Ask him, I told myself. Better to know now than later.

My tongue felt numb and my throat tight as I finally managed to say, “What do you think it will be like?”

He lifted his shoulder in a shrug, then moved to hang up the oiled mail away from the steaming pool. “We’ll want to keep to the wilds until we’re far enough away that no one will recognize us. Even then, we’ll want to keep our magic hidden until we’re out of Skaland and across the sea. They have different gods and magic than ours, and rumors about strangers travel far.”

“I meant,” I swallowed hard, “afterward.”

He had my sword in hand, warped blade half out of the scabbard, but he paused, then sheathed it. “Wherever we end up, whatever we do, all that matters is that I am by your side, Freya.”

I bit the insides of my cheeks because that was no answer to my question, and I instantaneously began to fret that he was withholding his true thoughts because he knew they were different from mine.

The corner of Bjorn’s mouth quirked in a half smile, and setting aside my sword, he rose in a smooth motion, circling the fire. Dropping to his knees, he pressed me onto my back, pulling down my damp cloak to expose my breasts. My nipples instantly peaked and it had nothing to do with the cool air and everything to do with the hungry way his eyes roved over my body.

“You want to know how I see our future?” he murmured, stubble rough against my sensitive skin as he kissed his way from my throat to my navel. “I want to see this body beneath me every night and”—he gave me a dark smile, breath teasing my sex—“every morning. I want to see your face when I make you come each and every time.”

“Bjorn…” I wanted him to be serious, needed him to be, but desire burned hot between my legs as his tongue caressed me, made me forget what I’d asked in the first place.

But rather than bringing me to climax, he moved to lie down at my side, pulling me backward so that he was curled around me. “I see you asleep in my arms in the home I’ve built for you,” he said, breath tickling my ear. “I see you full on game that I’ve hunted for you, baking bread from grain that I’ve grown in our fields after you teach me how, because I don’t know the first fucking thing about growing plants.”

I laughed, but he wasn’t finished.

“I see you fat with our child in your belly.” He kissed my neck. “See you laughing as you run with her in the snow.” His hand curved over my thigh, slipping between my legs. “I see you growing older, silver hair, face marked from smiles rather than worry, more beautiful with every passing day.”

I closed my eyes, drunk on his words, on his touch. “What of Valhalla?”

“I shall earn my place killing the little fucks who come chasing after my daughters, who will certainly inherit their mother’s beauty.” He kissed me. “Though if they inherit her sharp tongue, I won’t have to.”

“Are you sure?” I breathed the words into his mouth between kisses. “Are you sure you want to give up this life?”

“There is no life without you, Freya. So yes, I’m certain.”

I moaned softly as he slipped a finger inside of me, felt his chest heave as he found my wetness, my desire. Thought began to drift as my blood pulsed faster through my veins, his cock hard against my backside as he pleasured me. He’d told me what I needed to know—that he wanted the future I dreamed of for us, and all that was left was for me to trust that he’d never lie to me.

And I did trust him.

More than anyone. Everyone else lied and manipulated and used me to achieve their ends or to protect themselves, leaving me cold and alone, but never Bjorn. He was ever and always the rock at my back. My love. My life.

Twisting in his arms, I straddled him, my knees pressed against the furs as his hands stroked my thighs. Firelight illuminated half his face, the other half shadowed, but all of it so painfully beautiful I thought I might weep. “I love you,” I whispered, leaning forward to kiss him. “I trust you.”

And I wanted him.

The need to be filled throbbed deep in my sex. I rubbed against him, slickening his length, smiling as he groaned my name.

Lifting my hips, I reached between us to take hold of him, stroking his tip against me as he caught hold of my breast. He rolled my nipple between his thumb and index finger, dragging a gasp from my lips as pleasure spiked through me, but then I took hold of his hand and pulled it back to my hip.

Giving him a dark smile, I eased his tip inside me, a thrill running through my veins as his eyes closed, a growl escaping his parted lips. “Gods, woman,” he gasped as I moved up and down, the pleasure on his face doing almost as much to stoke my own desire as the sensation of his cock inside me. “What did I do to deserve this torment?”

“I think you know,” I purred, remembering well how he’d teased me with his fingers. How he’d made me beg for release. “Say please.

“Please,” he groaned. “I need you.”

I should’ve drawn it out. Teased and pleasured him until he broke. But I was through denying myself, so I thrust down, taking him as deep as I could.

A sob ripped from my lips as Bjorn’s back arched, his fingers digging into my hips hard enough to bruise as I lifted myself and thrust down again. And again, my release climbed its way to the surface. My fingers locked around his wrists as I rode him, feeling his eyes on my bouncing breasts, my wet braids slapping my back.

Bjorn moved a hand, his thumb brushing the apex of my sex, but I pulled his hand back to my hip, wanting control.

“Freya,” he gasped even as he obliged me. “You’re going to break me. I can’t—”

I gave a dark laugh because he needed to see that I was his match. That we would be all each other ever needed. That there would never be anyone else.

Reaching behind me, I slipped my hands between his thighs to cup him, stroking and pulling, sweat running in beads down my spine. His teeth were clenched, and I knew he was fighting it, that he didn’t want to concede.

But I would have my way.

So I thrust harder, riding him, my own release on the brink as my name roared from his lips. “Freya!”

His hips thrust up to meet me and I felt the hot flood inside me as he pulsed, the sensation of it tipping me over the edge. Release hammered into me, and I howled his name, my voice echoing through the cave as I ground against him, taking every drop of pleasure from this moment as could be had before collapsing against him.

Our chests heaved, his heart hammering like a drum against my ear as he pressed a hand to my back to hold me against him.

“Every time I think I have your measure, you surprise me,” he murmured. “I hope that never changes.”

I smiled, too breathless for words as he eased me onto the ground, curling around me and pulling my cloak over us before pressing a hand to my stomach and murmuring, “Sleep. Dawn will come soon enough.”

The embers of the fire glowed brilliant reds and oranges, sizzling each time a drop of moisture fell into them, the crackle and hiss lulling me. Wrapped in the arms of the man I loved, I slipped into sleep.


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