Kirsty Dickens looked around the table. As they had over breakfast that morning, the family seemed to be all talking at once. She, on the other hand, had spent the past fifteen or twenty minutes, silently pushing the food around on her plate. The couple of bites that she managed to force down were excellent. On top of everything else, her new mother-in-law was a fantastic cook.
The woman, Petrine, sat at the head of the table, like a queen holding court. To her right sat the man, whom Kirsty supposed, was the woman’s husband. Olav was chatting with Svein, the woman’s oldest son, who sat across from him and to the left of his mother.
Kirsty frowned, whatever they were saying was lost on her. She had always struggled with languages, even the French, which had been mandatory at the private school that her parents had sent her. She certainly had never thought of needing Norwegian. Petrine had noted that all of her boys spoke it as well as English, the local dialect, and a few more languages. These men, who were Kirsty’s new ‘husbands,’ were anything but simple fishermen.
Her husbands? It still boggled her mind. Three days ago, she had taken a train from London to Tilbury, simply to have coffee with this man, whom she had been messaging for months. The man, whom she had met on a social networking site for those interested in BDSM. BDSM? Bondage…discipline…domination…submission…sadism…masochism.
At that moment, those two bites she had forced down seemed like a ton of bricks on her stomach. This whole thing was so out of character with her. The only child of two consultants, she had spent her entire life trying to gain their approval and their love. To be their ‘good girl.’ She had gone to the ‘right’ schools and studied hard. While she might not have been the brightest student, what she lacked in superior intelligence, she made up for in hard work.
She always wondered if that was the problem. If she had been smarter…or prettier, maybe her parents would have been able to love her more? But she had not been. She had been merely average. Well, perhaps not even that, when it came to looks. With her flaming red hair and freckles that covered almost every square inch of her plus-sized body, she was anything but pretty.
She shoved a pea around the plate a bit harder. That was what she did not get…especially after meeting Petrine. She was glad that she had not tried to force that pea down, too, because she feared that she would have choked on it just then. She snuck another glance at the woman.
Not only could the woman cook, raise and educate three amazing sons, and love four men, she had to be stunningly beautiful too. She knew from Bjⱷrn that his mother was in her early sixties, but other than the head full of long silver hair that was not drab grey and a few lines on her forehead and around her eyes and mouth, the woman could pass for at least two decades younger. And the way her svelte body filled out the jeans she wore made Kirsty’s plus-size eighteens see green.
Kirsty still could not believe any of this was happening. How had a brief coffee to get Svein out of her system before she did her best to find another ‘suitable’ man, who would meet her parents’ stringent criteria for future sons-in-law, turned into kidnapped and married? Married to three men? Three brothers? Three very dominant men, who all wanted something very different from her?
She observed them surreptitiously. Svein, she knew he was in his late thirties, but the fine lines in his forehead and around his mouth only enhanced his manly beauty. The plan had been simple: meet this man, whom she thought was the one with whom she had been communicating and sharing her darkest fantasies for months, for coffee. Put her fantasies to rest and get him out of her system.
He did not seem to notice her observing him as he talked with his uncle. Or the man he claimed as his uncle. That was another part of this whole polyamory, though polyandry was the proper term; one woman and three ‘husbands?’ How did he know? Could Olav not be his father instead of merely an uncle? That was one of the questions that Kirsty had not dared to bring up while she and Petrine had their long chat about the ‘facts of life’ as Petrine called it. There had been more than enough to talk about without bringing up something as delicate as paternity.
Kirsty fought back the need to laugh hysterically. It was not every day that you met your mother-in-law. Hell, she had been in a relationship with her ex-boyfriend Raj for six years, and never once met his parents. Of course, looking back, that should have told her something. None of that mattered now, though. In the end, the man had given in to family pressure and married a second cousin from India. Little more than six months later and the newlyweds were already expecting their first child.
But pregnancy was not a line of thought that Kirsty wanted to consider at the moment. Not after having unprotected sex with two of her ‘husbands’ in the past seventy-two hours. She brought the glass of water slowly to her lips as she looked around the room again. As tight as her throat was at the moment, though, it was hard even to swallow a sip of it.
Her husbands? Svein with his dark blond hair, which was heavily laced with the silver of his mother’s, and those piercing blue eyes. He reminded her of Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
In this modern world, she was confident that it was not easy to make a living fishing the northern seas. This man was determined to see that the way of life his family had followed for centuries did not die with them. He was determined to make Njörður’s Captive a success. For him, his brothers, and their sons. She sighed heavily, the sons that he expected her to give him. Give them. But she was not going to think any more about that tonight.
She watched as he chuckled at something his ‘uncle’ said. But that laughter did not make it to those intense eyes. She had noticed that it never really did. Stress thrummed through this man like pressure building in a geyser. The only release, the single safety valve, seemed to be those stolen moments he spent in her bed. Well, more accurately, the control that he took when he bound her in his ropes, trapped her in his web, and used her as he saw fit…as he needed at that moment.
Maybe that should have seemed wrong. She was confident that her feminist mother would call it ‘demeaning.’ But his domination had been what got her into all of this, to begin with. Well, more accurately, her intense and illogical need to surrender control, to submit, to him.
To them, she sighed as she caught ‘baby’ brother’s gaze across the table. He had been talking with his mother. She knew that of all her sons, Petrine was closest to her youngest. Bjⱷrn had been allowed to remain with his mother the longest. Svein had broken tradition and demanded to go to sea when he was just a boy of seven. That still shocked Kirsty, and told her all she needed to know about the man. But Bjⱷrn had been thirteen before he went with his father, uncles, and brothers to sea…and sixteen before he joined them full-time.
He winked at her before turning back to listen to something his mother was saying. If Svein’s eyes were piercingly blue like the skies on a clear day, then Bjⱷrn’s were a deep Kelly green, like the grass. It was another thing he shared with his mother, as was a keen intelligence and love of learning. All of her ‘husbands’ were smart men; she had discovered this already. But Bjⱷrn had a depth of knowledge that enthralled and captivated her.
She blushed as she remembered their first night together…well, their only. She had been determined that this time, she was not going to be ‘used’ by the brothers. That she was going to be the one in charge. That she would ‘show them.’ If they wanted to ‘play,’ then it would be on her terms. She had showered, shaved, and emptied their whole ‘toy box’ onto the bed.
He had come in, his almost white-blond hair darkened from the shower still. He had brought a tray of food and a bottle of wine. He set it down on the table and proceeded without a word to pick up all the toys and place them back in the trunk, which sat at the foot of the bed. He had thrown her his shirt and told her to get dressed that she would not go naked to any other first date.
What a first date it had been too. Over dinner, they had talked and talked and talked. About anything, everything, and nothing. If Svein never laughed, then ‘baby’ brother did so too quickly, perhaps. While the man might look like Thor, the hot Hollywood version, she got the impression he had the soul of Loki. His easy joking manner a mere cover for the darkness that scared even him.
Not that you could tell that now as he talked with his mother. There was nothing ‘baby’ about this man. Not only was he the most massive and most imposing of the three brothers with a mind that belonged more at Cambridge or Oxford than fishing the seas, but the way he could command her body and soul was… She was sure there must be words for it, but she could not think of them at the moment. Hell, just the man’s ‘kisses’ stole your breath away.
She took another sip of the water as she stared across the rim of the glass at the man, who frightened and intrigued her the most. Mikael. The middle brother was unlike either of the other two. His dark blond hair could almost be considered brown. And he hid what she suspected was a face as handsome as baby brother’s behind a beard.
Hiding was what this man did best. Pain mostly: hiding behind it, hiding from it, hell, even hiding from the family that wanted to help. He was undoubtedly hiding from her. She thought of that first night with this man. After her coffee with Svein, he had taken her back to their boat, Njörður’s Captive. The brief tour had ended in his cabin, where things got out of control…fast. She still was not sure how or why.
But she had woken hours later at sea – alone with the three of them. Bjⱷrn had made dinner, and they all sat down to eat it in silence around the table in Svein’s cabin. After a bit, fearing the worst, rape, slavery, murder, she had worked up the nerve to ask what they intended to do with her. Their response had floored her: she would be their wife. Their…plural.
They had even graciously given her the choice of which brother would share the cabin and her bed that night. She had seen the reluctance, that hiding, in Mikael’s face and mistakenly thought she could reason with him, convince him to help her escape.
It had not worked that way, though. While he remained fully clothed, took no pleasure himself, he had shown her that her body could be turned against her. First, he repeatedly pushed her to the very edge of an orgasm and then drew back, denying her release until he had tired of that game and shoved her over the brink into oblivion.
She looked across the large open plan living area where the little girl was lining up her dolls near the fireplace. The child, this man’s daughter, explained so very much about him, about the pain that he hid and was, in turn, hiding behind. He was as much locked inside his own world and mind as was his daughter, whom even after only a few hours, Kirsty very much suspected was like the hundreds of autistic children she had worked with as an Occupational Therapist.
Had…had worked with. Those words still came so fucking hard to her. Even after that ‘facts of life’ talk, after Petrine had entirely given her the choice to return to her job, her old way of life. She felt the tears stinging her eyes. She fully understood how Mikael must feel at times.
She wanted to run. She wanted to hide. While she had turned down Petrine’s offer, had decided as Bjⱷrn pleaded with her to give them a chance, a real chance. Still, her mind and her heart battled at this moment.
“Are you finished, dear?” said the kind voice from just over her shoulder. She had been so caught up in her dark musings that she had not even noticed that Petrine had finished speaking with her youngest son and left her chair.
She fought back the tears as she forced herself to look up into the woman’s face. She could not, though, manage to force words past that lump in her throat. All she could do was a simple nod as the older woman smiled sympathetically and took the plate from her. “You did not eat much. I know our food is a bit different from what you are used to.”
Kirsty shook her head again, “No, it was lovely. Thank you. I am just not very hungry.”
The woman placed a hand upon her shoulder and squeezed softly. The move said precisely what the woman had intended it to, ‘I understand.’ And Kirsty knew that this woman did. She, herself, had once been a captive bride. Taken by four brothers as she hitchhiked across Europe, a free-thinking feminist of the early seventies. But she had come to love them all, accept and even make peace with this unusual way of life. Kirsty just hoped that she had made the right choice today…that she too could do the same.
“Boys, I did not have the time to show your wife, her room before dinner. You do it while Olav and I clean up.”
Kirsty still could not get used to the way this woman called them…boys. Sure, they were her sons. But could she not see that these men were anything but? Perhaps she would not understand until… She frowned and tried once more to push that thought aside.
Svein was the first to speak, “Her room? Mama, you cannot mean…”
The woman held up her hand, “Of course, I do. That room belongs to the bride, not the mother. You know that.”
He shook his head once more, “She can have the guest room. I am sure that Kirsty would not want you to give up your room,” he replied, looking at her.
Kirsty nodded and looked up at the woman, who had been nothing but kind to her. “No, Petrine, Svein is right. I could not take your room.”
The woman laughed, and the years fell away. Kirsty caught a glimpse of the woman that once must have been just as reluctant, as confused and uncertain as she was. “No, sweetie, that bed is too big and lonely for an old woman and her ghosts.”
Her face softened just a bit, and she smiled across the room at the only one of her husband’s remaining, “I won’t hear any more of this. Besides, Olav has invited me to share his cabin.”
Svein frowned at the man across the table as he said something to him, which once more was lost in translation. Kirsty was determined to learn their language, and fast. This was not fair.
She caught Bjⱷrn’s smiling face as he winked at her. Obviously, he did not share his brother’s reluctance. Then again, he never had. It was he who had pushed and prodded both Svein and Mikael into taking a bride in the old way.
Mikael. She looked across the table, where he sat stiffly. Head down as he too pushed food around a practically full plate. She could not help but wonder how this announcement must feel to him. Had Petrine given up her room before? When he brought home his first wife? His legal and monogamous one that voice of doubt whispered in her mind. Was this whole thing a bitter reminder of that failed relationship? Of the woman that he loved who had left, not just him, but their child behind?
As if he sensed her gaze, he looked up. His grey eyes were as cold as the storm clouds that they reminded her of. He held her gaze, but it was his mother to whom he spoke, “I need to give Monica her bath and put her to bed, Mama. I am sure that Svein and Bjⱷrn can manage without me.”
Kirsty felt those tears stinging her eyes again at this man’s clear rejection. Why should it matter? Bjⱷrn made it abundantly clear that she was his choice. Even though she still had trouble believing that a man, who looked like him, would ever give someone like her a second glance. When they were together, when he looked at her that way, she had no doubts that he meant it.
And Svein, though he did not, might not ever, reveal as much of himself as ‘baby’ brother, when she looked into his eyes as he tied her with his rope, commanded her obedience, as he buried himself deep inside of her, she knew. This man, too, wanted her, needed her.
So with two men, two amazing lovers, what did a girl have to complain about? Two husbands were, after all, twice the average. Well, at once anyway. So, what did it matter if Mikael hid from her?
She swallowed her pain as that other tiny voice, the one that she had spent a lifetime ignoring, the one that had brought her to this place replied, ‘Because even if he does not want you, he needs you…even more than his daughter does.’
It was Kirsty that wanted to hide once more from the truth of those words and others that Petrine had shared with her while they talked this afternoon. Words of her being the one truly in control and how important it was that she use that control wisely and justly. This man might not be easy to love like Bjⱷrn. She might not feel the same need that she did with Svein. But he was her husband just as much. And that was a scary thought.
She was not sure what she would or could have said as she dropped his gaze before he could see the tears gathering in her eyes. But she did not have to worry about it as Petrine reached across the table and took his plate too.
“Your father and I can manage our grand-daughter for one more night. Your wife needs you right now more than your child.”
Kirsty saw the storm clouds darken even more in those eyes, feared the thunder and lightning that was to burst. But once more, it was Olav, who said something. She knew not what, damn them all. Mikael was not pleased, his face was just as tight, but he nodded and pushed back his chair to stand.
It was not just Mikael, though. Suddenly they all seemed to retreat into their thoughts, concerns, and hopes. The room froze. Silence reigned. She was not sure for how long they all stood there, just staring at one another.
She would not fathom a guess at what was in each of their minds. For her, it was the finality of it. Her room. Her husbands. And all that went with that which kept her silently frozen to that spot next to her chair.
Petrine was the first to break it with her hands fisted onto that tiny waist. “Jesus Christ, what are you waiting for?” She shook her head and grabbed Kirsty’s hand, practically dragging her across the room to the stairs.
She gave none of them any choice but to follow her. Kirsty frowned as she wondered: had she ever really had a choice either? Sure Bjⱷrn and this woman had offered them to her, but had Fate? Had there been choices or merely illusions of them? She caught Bjⱷrn’s smiling face and thought what a great quandary to share with this man the next time she ‘called’ him to her bed.
But that would not be this night. His tiredness, after last night’s watch and the previous one in her bed, beat at her. And while she might have liked to think that she could take him into her arms and hold him while he drifted off to sleep, this thing between them was too new, too intense for her to delude herself like that. No, it was best if he slept alone this night.
As they reached the top of the landing, which branched out on either side to form a U-shaped hallway, Kirsty noticed that once more, Mikael held back, brought up the rear, stayed on the periphery of even his own family. Even Svein was filled with more trepidation than joy at the prospect of installing her in this place of honor as the ‘wife.’
She sighed and would have withdrawn further herself, but the woman’s firm hold on her hand pulled her forward, forced her to face…What she was uncertain, as the woman began speaking again.
“That is the bathroom,” Petrine said as she waved at the first door on the right-hand side of the hallway. “Svein and Olav remodeled in there a couple of years ago. So, while it still has my bear claw tub, it also has a shower.”
Bjⱷrn leaned in and brushed the side of her face as he whispered, “Mama is understating things. It is a full-size wet room. And I, for one, cannot wait to see how wet I can get you in there.”
Kirsty caught her breath and blushed as his words sent tingles down her spine to pool between her legs, which suddenly did feel rather damp at the image of the two of them in the shower.
She did not have time to indulge any further, though, as her mother-in-law continued, “The room next to it is the guest room and at the end of the hall is the nursery where Monica stays. When the boys were younger, both of those rooms were theirs.”
Kirsty still found it difficult to imagine what this woman’s life must have been like then. Three boisterous sons, though Kirsty doubted that Svein had ever been a child. Four husbands to love…and all the responsibilities that went with that. And a town full of people who gossiped and talked about you behind your back. It was all overwhelming.
The woman waved to the other side of the hall briefly, “Those are the boy rooms. I will let them show you later.”
Then she was off again, dragging Kirsty behind her to the heavy wooden door that loomed straight ahead at the top of the stairs. She pushed it open and stood back, waiting for Kirsty to enter first. She froze just inside the room. It was like stepping back in time.
The unmissable centerpiece was the massive bed that stood straight ahead against the wall. It was remarkable not just for its size, but because of the ornate carvings on the four massive posters which stood like centennials at each corner of it. They practically reached the ceiling, almost eight feet tall. Each dark stained wood and intricately sculpted figure seemed to bring alive this family’s Norse heritage. Halfway up on each, through the nose of a laughing image that she suspected, was meant to be Loki was a large metal ring.
The headboard was a good five feet high. It curved, rose, and fell like gentle waves. But at the zenith of that center wave rose the face of another god. And another thick metal ring through its nose as well.
The footboard was not as impressive. Though the bed was two, perhaps close to three feet off of the floor, the mattress rose just above the carved wooden design. There were wooden rails across the top, also decorated with the images. Thick, dark red curtains hung from the ones on the side and at the foot of the bed. Though they were drawn back now, and secured with a thick rope through those metal rings.
Only the brightly colored and obviously handmade quilt that covered it softened its impact. The quilt was a patchwork of tiny squares in shades of red and dark pink that formed a pattern of interlocking concentric circles against a white background. The thing looked so beautifully crafted that Kirsty felt it belonged more in a museum than upon a bed.
Kirsty sighed, if this woman’s words that afternoon had not been daunting enough, she would have been just as confounded by the sight of this bed. Her bed. And it was she who would be expected to choose now. She, who would ‘call’ them, her husbands, to it. It was a responsibility that she was not sure she was ready for as she eyed Loki’s laughing face.
She swallowed back that fear and forced herself to listen as Petrine walked across the room to the other significant piece of furniture. A huge matching wardrobe loomed almost to ceiling on the wall to the left. It, too, was stained that same dark color and marked with those same wooden carvings. Those metal rings also hung ornately from the snarling dog figures at either end of its curving top. And an even larger one from Loki’s laughing face that was centered between them. The thing was almost as imposing as the bed had been.
“I did not know your style, but I have bought a few things for you off the Internet. Mostly jeans, t-shirts, and a few girly things,” Petrine winked at her. “You can pick out what you want or need and order them yourself later.”
Bjⱷrn shook his head as he stepped up behind her, wrapping his arm about her shoulder and drawing her against him, “I will select her clothes.”
Svein stepped up on her other side and wrapped his arm about her waist. His hand rested on the curve of her hip, “And I, her undergarments.”
Petrine laughed, and the sound echoed around the room with its dark paneled walls that seemed even darker since there was not a single window in the room. The only light was the soft glow from the hurricane glass orbs on either side of the door.
Kirsty noted that Mikael had stationed himself there by the open door. Ready for a quick escape, perhaps? He leaned against the wall, one foot resting against it as he crossed his arms over his chest. Flanked as she was on either side by Bjⱷrn and Svein, Kirsty could not understand why his absence bothered her so much. He stared at the dark wood flooring that was softened by thick rugs, which also appeared hand-woven.
The only other furnishing in the room was a massive captain’s chair in the corner of the room closest to the door and a trunk against the wall by the bed. The damned thing looked surprisingly real. Much more realistic than the props in Hollywood pirate movies. Its heavy lid was closed, and an ancient lock hung from the center.
Overall, the room reminded her of the time that she had gone with her school on a tour of the Tower of London. The White Tower in particular. It had once stood not as one of the world’s most infamous prisons but rather as the stronghold of William the Conquer. She remembered the King’s chambers on that tour – and the Queens. While these walls were wooden and not great blocks of Norman stone, it was no less austere.
She remembered, too, from that trip, the story of how the King would call for his queen. Except in this world, it was the queen who did the calling. And she was now that Queen. She shivered at the thought.
Bjⱷrn’s hand on her shoulder gave a gentle squeeze, and she looked up into those tired green eyes. She knew he meant to reassure her as his mother had tried to that afternoon. But the stiff way that Svein stood at her other side and, especially the thunder clouds that she felt rolling off of Mikael from across the room, was anything but.
Petrine closed the wardrobe door and walked over to her. She held out both her hands, and Kirsty took them as her mother-in-law drew her away from both Svein and Bjⱷrn. The older woman smiled at her reassuringly.
Her words were anything but what Kirsty wanted to hear at that moment, “So, dear, who?”
Kirsty shook her head, hoping perhaps she had not heard this woman, whom she thought was her ally, correctly.
Svein took a step towards them, “Mama, Kirsten is tired. The journey, being at sea, she was not born to it. All of this is a bit to take in…overwhelming. She might prefer to be alone this night.” He stared directly at Bjⱷrn when he spoke again, “I am sure that none of us will object.”
Petrine stared her son down, “Exactly, Svein. All of this is overwhelming, and I know that better than any of you. The one thing that your wife does not need this night is to be left all alone in that big bed with her thoughts, her worries, and her fears.”
She turned back to Kirsty, though she recognized the wisdom in the older woman’s words, her eyes that were so much like Bjⱷrn’s bore into her soul as she demanded once more, “Who, Kirsty? Who shares your bed this night?”
“I will,” Bjⱷrn stepped forward.
As much as Kirsty wanted, perhaps even needed, the comfort this man alone could offer her. She saw again how tired he was. She could not allow him to sacrifice another night of sleep to be that solace in her storm. She shook her head and said, “No. You need to sleep.”
He crossed the room and took both her hands in his. He brought them to his lips with a smile, “It will be fine. I think I can make the sacrifice, just this once,” he teased.
But she was not fooled as she shook her head once more, “Tomorrow.” She stood on tiptoe to brush a kiss on his handsome cheek, “And you better be rested. I am looking forward to more of your excellent…conversation,” she teased him.
He frowned at her reply but nodded his head. She looked at Svein, but he had shared her bed last night. And his mood at the moment was not much better than Mikael’s.
Mikael. He leaned silently against the wall still. She was not sure he had moved at all during the whole ‘tour.’ His dark head down, his eyes fixed on the floor, his body stiff, it was clear that he was uncomfortable with all of this. But beyond that, she had no idea what she had done, why he objected so strenuously to her presence in this room, or how to reach him.
But he was her husband too. And she remembered Petrine’s words that afternoon. “Not all are as easy to love, but sometimes it is one’s who make it hardest, who need it the most.” Kirsty remembered, too, how this man had tagged so protectively after his daughter as she ran about the playground that morning. She remembered the pained look upon his face when the child had jerked away from his touch. Yes, sometimes, they did need it the most.
“Mikael, I chose Mikael,” she was surprised at how strong her voice sounded. But she was not prepared for the dark scowl upon Bjⱷrn’s face or even the slight stiffening in Svein’s stance. But it was brief as if he quickly caught himself before he could betray anymore of his feelings.
Even more, she was not prepared for how quickly Mikael pushed himself off that wall and crossed the room to stand in front of her.
“What?” He shook his head and frowned, “No, my daughter needs me. I need to bath her and put her to bed. I have been away from her long enough.”
Petrine stepped between them, “We can look after Monica one more night, Mikael. Right now, your wife needs you more than your child,” his mother reminded him once more.
Her son looked as if he would argue with her, then he stared at Kirsty, and her heart stopped at the dark clouds that were no longer grey but black now. They promised not just a thunderstorm, but a tornado was brewing in this man’s soul. She opened her mouth, was about to take it all back. Try and reassure this woman that she could survive one night alone in this bed. As imposing as it was, it could not come anywhere near to the look on his face.
Petrine put her hands on Kirsty’s shoulders and drew her into an embrace, “Good night, dear,” was what she said aloud. But as she pulled her close for a kiss on the cheek, she whispered, “I knew you were the One. As wise as you are beautiful.”
The woman stepped back and motioned for Svein and Bjⱷrn to precede her from the room. It was Svein, though, who surprised her by pausing just inside the doorway. He turned and stared first at her and then at his brother, “We are just down the hall,….if you need us.”
Petrine put a hand on her eldest’s shoulder and smiled at Mikael, “I am sure that everything will be just fine. Good night, both of you,” she said with a smile as she drew that heavy door closed.
There was a finality to the click as she released the handle and left Kirsty standing alone at the foot of that colossal bed facing her husband. A man that she could tell wanted to be anywhere else but in this room with her right now.