This was the hard part. It always was. Since the moment, his daughter had been born at least. Mikael hated the ‘good-byes’ that came with this job. But this morning, he had more reason than ever to hate them. Watching as she tucked the blanket about Monica, he drew them both tighter into his embrace as if he could memorize the feel of them against his body. His wife and his child. He frowned.
Fuck! His children? Damn it; the thought had not even occurred to him last night. As much as he had promised himself, he would not; he had entered the ‘sperm wars’ with his brothers. As much as he loved her, and he knew he did, even if he could not yet bring himself to say those words to her, this one still bothered him.
A part of him had always wondered, been concerned that he was somehow to blame for Monica’s condition. After learning about Kirsty’s job, he had even read a couple of articles online about autism. Several postulated a link to genetics, and in particular, to the father. That ate away at what might otherwise be happiness.
He knew she loved Monica. For the first time since his daughter began acting differently, he was confident that together they would find a way to reach her. Hell, they already were.
But what if? He did not, could not even go there. Not now. Not with this gods be damned surprise trip already looming over him. But he knew too; it was something he needed to consider. Perhaps even something they should talk about, she of all people would know more.
And if? As much as he loved his daughter, as he loved Kirsty, was he prepared to vacate the field? To only welcome nephews and nieces, to never share that physical bond with her? He remembered how beautiful Greta had been when she carried Monica. How hot the thought of Kirsty’s body ripening with a child, even if it was not his, had made him.
He smiled, perhaps he should add pregnant and lactating women to his fucking fetish list. Thinking of how ripe her tits would get as her tummy grew larger and larger, he felt his cock harden. How the fuck was that even possible after last night and this morning? But it did. Yes, he had to add that to his fetish list.
He would have a few days to play it all over in his head. Come to a decision, perhaps do a bit more research. But right now, he had something else to do as he stopped their little band. Their small family just inside the tree range that partially blocked the view from the boat.
“Why are we stopping here?” she asked as he turned her in his arms.
“We say our farewells here, elskling. Baby brother is having enough trouble with the jealousies that he never saw our fathers fight through. And you look enough like a woman, who has been well-loved all night as it is. I will not make this harder for him by hearing what I have to say to you now,” he said as he bent and brushed a kiss over her lips.
He sighed as her free hand came up to caress his beard; he might have found another damned one to add to that list. Fuck it; she was his biggest fetish. “I have said this before… jeg beklager, I am sorry. We had agreed to give you more time before we went to sea. And I know you do not want to hear this, but my brother is just running scared.”
He turned his face into that hand and pressed a kiss to her palm. “If you had the patience and wisdom to see through my walls, I am pleading with you to give to Svein too. What you see as rejecting you, I understand as the fear that it is, elskling.”
He ran his fingers across the corner of the pure white bandage that covered his mark upon her. “Just as this is my promise to you, know that I will do all in my power to help him see that. To know that lov…”
He stuttered over those words. He had been so fucking determined not to use them. Not yet. But what other words were there? What could even come close to what they had shared? He sighed as he shook his head in surrender, “That loving you is worth the risk.”
She nodded her head as those blue eyes clouded over once more, “I will try. That is all I can promise. It is just that…”
She stammered as she jostled his daughter, their daughter on her hip. “Just that I could always see glimpses with you. When you were with her, when the bad boy fell away, I could almost see your pain hanging like a cloud over you.”
He saw a tear trail down her cheek, “He won’t let me in. I tried. Honest, I did. He won’t bend.” Her voice was thick as he brushed the tear away.
He drew them closer and placed a kiss on their heads. First, his little girl’s light brown curls then her waves of flames.
“Take care of her…and of you. No dropping. If you feel at all low, teary, go to Mama. She knows how to handle things. She will listen, make you her teas, and probably feed you another of those trashy romance novels that the two of you seem to like so damned much.”
She chuckled, “I would not knock those damned books if I were you. They got me interested in kink,” her cheeks flamed that tell-tale scarlet as she stammered. “A few of them even got me hot for the idea of brothers.”
His mouth dropped open, “Holy fuck! You’re joking, right?” His shock was so genuine that he had been unable even to filter his language in front of his child. Who would have thought that women’s romances could be so kinky?
She shook her head, “Nope, you ought to see a couple of the chapters in Raquel Graffen’s books. She may not use words as dirty as you do, but the meaning is the same.”
She stood on tiptoes as she whispered so that his daughter did not hear, “Chapter 10 of My Brother’s Keeper – if you dare. I think you might find the menage action in that one quite erotic. And if you are talking to Bjⱷrn anyway…” her voice trailed off as she drew back with a secretive smile on her face.
Had his wife just suggested what he thought she was? Sure, they all knew that eventually, their marriage included that kind of sharing too. But that was down the line, once things were more settled. They were more secure in this situation. Was Kirsty suggesting that she was ready for that already?
He did not have the time to ask as Monica began to fidget, and his parents appeared from behind him. Damn, he had lots to think about on this trip. A few days might not be enough for it all. Especially to come to terms with the idea of watching his bratty baby brother make love to the woman he loved. They loved, he corrected himself. They all loved, he added as they broke through the trees into the clearing.
One look at his brothers’ faces told him, this trip was not going to be a pleasant one. Which of his brothers was in a more foul mood he could not be sure? And though he understood how both of them felt, even though he shared Bjⱷrn’s jealousy, and had known first hand Svein’s fear, still he could not help but smile with her arm wrapped tightly about his waist and his daughter cradled in her arms.
Bjⱷrn scowled as the small band cleared the trees. Seeing the woman, who had born, educated, and raised him, on the arm of his uncle was an all too real reminder that nothing he thought he knew was real. But the sight of his brother with his arm wrapped so protectively around the woman he had chosen, the one he loved, his wife was even worse.
The deepest pain, though, was the look on her face. He knew that fucking look. He had seen it before…when she looked at him. The fact that it was his brother on the receiving end of it this time felt like a bad vampire movie where they ripped the beating heart from the creature, yet still, it lived. That was how he felt in that moment – dead inside, ice-cold, and full of rage.
The smug look on his eldest brother’s face as they finished storing away supplies for this trip only made things worse. Salt in the wound was too mild a comparison; rubbing alcohol was more accurate.
“Short trip? Sure, you do not wish to keep him from her for longer?” Svein goaded the bull.
Bjⱷrn dropped the toolbox that he was carrying…on his brother’s foot. “Sorry about that,” he half-smiled.
Svein cried out on pain and stared at him with both hands fisted at his side. But the group was on board the ship before his brother could say or do anything. And both their attentions were drawn to her. Bjⱷrn swore under his breath. If what he had seen as they came out of the woods was not bad enough, she fucking glowed with their niece in her arms and their brother wrapped like a security blanket about both of them.
“You are late,” his eldest brother rebuked Mikael.
Mikael ignored the remark and kissed his daughter. Bjⱷrn knew that leaving the child always tore him up. He supposed he should be glad, they all should be, that this time at least she had Kirsty.
When his brother turned and kissed their wife, Bjⱷrn wished he had not been so rash with the toolbox. Mikael made a much better target than Svein. He strained to hear the exchange between them, but only caught “Remember what I said.”
She bit her lower lip and tried to smile as she nodded, “Yes, Sir. I will try.”
“That’s my good girl.”
Bjⱷrn’s hands fisted at his side as he fought for control. Then Kirsty handed his niece to her father and turned to him.
She stepped away from Mikael and Monica as Olav went to find Svein, and his mother said something to his brother. He swallowed the lump that threatened to cut off his airway as she stepped closer to him. She stopped just in front of him. Her hand reached for his as she laced her fingers through his and gave him a gentle squeeze.
“Promise me that you will be careful, please?”
He saw the tears that she was fighting back, and his heart melted a bit. The anger and tension drained away some. How could he possibly be upset? Not with her anyway.
And with his brother? How could he begrudge Mikael any happiness and comfort that she might offer him after all he had been through? He felt like a selfish bastard at the moment, but he could not deny he was still jealous.
“I promise,” he replied as he brushed the hair back from her face as the wind whipped it about them. He reached up to draw her coat closed tighter about her when he noticed the white bandage peeking from beneath the edge of her top.
He frowned, “You had an accident? What happened? Are you okay?”
She laughed and shook her head, “I am just fine. It was no accident at all. And do you really want to know?”
He frowned and exhaled loudly. He could guess. Hell, there was no need to guess. His brother’s gods be damned knife. “I kill him,” he whispered.
“No, no, you won’t. It is a little thing called consent, and Mikael had mine. Just as much as you always do.” She sighed as she stepped closer. Her hand came up to caress his cheek lightly as she turned his gaze back from glaring at his brother’s back to her.
Those blue eyes shone with love, and it was him she was looking at now. “I know this is not easy for you. Hell, it is not easy for me, either.”
She shook her head as she continued, “The idea of loving three men might seem hot when Raquel Graffen writes about, but the reality is much fucking harder. Each of you is so different.”
She pressed against him and held his gaze as she brushed her lips against his, “And how I love you is different too. Yes, I know you may not want to hear that, especially right now. But, my love, you need to.”
She kissed him softly, tenderly, and slowly this time. “You need to know this too. How I feel for Mikael does not in any way change how I feel about you. I love you. I love you for choosing me. I love how you are always so fucking open and honest with me. I love you for…”
She stopped, and he saw the tears slipping down her cheeks. He heard the catch in her voice as she whispered, “I don’t need any fucking reason. I love you, Bjⱷrn. And I always will.”
Her admission made him feel even more like the fool he was acting. “I’m sorry. I know it is not supposed to be this way. I should be happy that you have won Mikael over, not so fucking jealous I want to strangle him. And I guess some part of me is. My brother has had it tough the past few years. If you can heal some of that…”
He sighed, “But damn it, why is this so much harder than I thought it would be?” he cursed himself once more.
Her hand on his cheek soothed, comforted, and offered him mercy, “Because you are human. Maybe this whole poly thing was never as easy as it seems in those damned books. Maybe it is not supposed to be. I can empathize with how you feel my love because oddly enough, I think I would rip out any woman’s eyes that even dared look at you…sister or not.”
“Promise me one more thing, please?” she pleaded with those eyes as well as her words.
He nodded his head, “You know I will…whatever it is. I can’t deny you anything.”
She smiled and caressed his cheek some more, “Talk to Mikael. See if the two of you can work this out. It is just as hard for him, you know. Maybe worse. I don’t get the feeling his ex was much of a prize,” she chuckled at the obvious.
He joined her in the mirth, “If you only knew. Greta was in a league all her own. Just about the complete opposite of you, sweetheart.” He wrapped his arm about her waist and drew her tight against his body.
Last night had been hell. Laying in his bed alone, wanting to hold her, love her, knowing that it was his brother, who was doing just that. He had barely slept. “You have my word on it.”
She beamed up at him, “Thank you, my love. Oh, and you may want to discuss that orgasm training shit too.”
He frowned, “Why? Why would I do that?”
She stood on her tiptoes and whispered in his ear, “Because your brother stumbled upon certain words. You did not tell me that they would work with anyone else.”
His frown deepened, “Because I did not realize they would either.” This latest was less than pleasing, another layer to his demons.
“Well, they do. At least with Mikael,” she replied as she looked over to where Svein and Olav stood talking.
Bjⱷrn noticed it was her that held his eldest brother’s attention. His countenance was as dark and brooding as the sea and storm that raged about them this morning. And just as foreboding, as Svein said something to their uncle and walked towards them.
His instinct, everything inside of him, demanded that he pull her tighter, hold her closer, and protect her. But he was coming to realize that was not his right, not as it might have been, not with them – his brothers. As hard as it was, he forced his hand to loosen their hold about her waist as Svein approached them.
“What, Kirsten? No good-bye for me?” his words were colder than the wind that whipped about them.
Why did it fucking bother him, so gods be damned much? Svein knew she was angry with him. Hell, he probably deserved it. This trip. What happened on the boat yesterday, almost exactly where she stood now, wrapped in his fucking baby brother’s protective embrace. And dozens of other reasons.
He had screwed it all up. And he still was. But with jealousy and… Fear, yes, fucking fear coursing like the tide through him, he was powerless to do anything else.
She had been right. Why did the woman always have to be? But the fucking truth was that as much as Bjⱷrn wanted to claim her as his choice – he had been the one. He had made that final call. He could have allowed her to leave that café, walked her back to the train, and seen her on her way back to the life she had known.
But he had not. Why? Why had he not? He shook his head, of course, he had wanted her. More even when he saw the way that her cheeks flamed such a pretty pink at every reminder and innuendo of the intimacies of the emails and messages they had shared. And her laughter had wrapped about his gut, excited him even as it calmed and soothed his demons, worries of a lifetime.
The truth was that from the moment he had touched her, he was lost. There was no SatNav for this one; not even the stars could guide him as they once had his ancestors. He was alone in this boat, floating aimlessly, and lost. Totally lost.
And when she skewered him with that look, he almost wanted to turn and run. “Good-bye, Svein,” she replied coldly.
Had he expected anything else? Oh, no doubt, he hoped. But he should know by now, hopes and dreams were not real. No, reality was the things you could control.
And whether she ever fucking looked at him the way that she did at Bjⱷrn or now Mikael, it did not fucking matter. She was still his wife. His. And that meant he controlled her every fucking bit as much as either of those two little shits did. That was his right too. Whether she fucking liked it or not.
He did not even bother stepping closer, whispering into her ear, seeking privacy. No, instead, he issued this command publicly. “The plug. Two hours every day. You will wear it, Kirsten.”
She squared her shoulders, pushed away from his baby brother, and raised to her full height as she took a step closer to him. She looked over to where his mother now held his niece, and some unspoken message seemed to transpire between the women as his mother nodded slowly and turned with the child to leave the ship. He saw his mother shake her silver head as she carried the child away.
When they were safely back on land and far enough that they would not hear, she took another step closer, poked her finger in his chest, and lifted that beautiful face that was brimming with rage and anger, “Fuck you, Svein. No. There you have it. No. Submission is mine to give, not yours to take.”
He had heard the expression ‘seeing red’ but never in his life had he understood it. Not until that moment. Not until a scarlet haze blurred his vision. Everything and everyone else floated away like jetsam in the tides. Like flotsam that tangled in their nets to be carelessly discarded.
“You want to talk about mine? What is mine to take? Let me tell you, sweetheart. You. Are. Mine. As fucking much as you are baby brothers. Or Mikael’s. That’s how this works. We are a fucking package deal. You don’t get to fucking pick and choose. Not like you fucking think you do. Oh sure, maybe you can play those silly fucking games about who you call to your bed.”
He speared his brothers with a look that dared them to interfere as he wrapped his arm about her waist like a vice and drew her against his body. He was hard as a diamond, and he did not give a gods be damned if she or they knew it. “Do you think that is going to stop me, sweet little wife? My wife too.”
“While we are gone, you fucking think about that. Because I think yesterday damned well showed you that I’m not your lovesick little puppy to do with as you fucking please. Or your wounded bad boy? Notice…bad ‘boy.’ I am nobody’s boy or puppy.”
“And maybe that is your fucking problem, that I am a man. A man and a Dom that won’t be wrapped around that fucking dainty little finger of yours. That won’t play by your fucking rules.”
“That’s it though, sweetheart, submission, true fucking submission means that you don’t make the fucking rules…I do. I. Do.”
He did not give her the chance to say another word as he captured her, as wholly and entirely as he had that first day upon this boat. His territory, she was in his domain now, not that fucking monstrosity that passed as her bedroom and dungeon.
His lips crushed hers, every bit as much as he wanted to break her defiance. His tongue breached and dueled with hers. They warred for dominance, but he knew something that in her innocence, she did not. Dominance was something you were born with, every bit as much as submission was. And as much as she might want to fight it, nature itself had set those roles. He would win because it was who he was.
In the end, he did. Whether it was a minute or ten, he did not know or care as he felt her melt into him. As her tongue ceased to battle and instead entwined with his in sweet surrender that took his breath away. He wanted to say to hell with it all, carry her below to his bed, and show her once more just what surrender felt like.
But what would that prove? That he needed her. Just as much as his brothers. And he was not giving her that power over him. Instead, he broke the kiss and released her so quickly that she would have stumbled and fallen if Mikael’s arms had not caught her. But that too only enraged him.
“You will wear the plug two hours each and every day until we return, dear wife. Do not test me on this one.”
She glared at him, opened her mouth to say something, except Mikael spun her in his arms to face him. “You will do as he says. As we say. Do you understand us, Kirsty?”
She opened her mouth once more as if to argue with Mikael too. Svein saw her look to Bjⱷrn. But with a sigh, even his baby brother only nodded his head. Those incredibly expressive blue oceans swam in tears as she looked from one to the other of them as if seeking a buoy in a turbulent sea. In the end, she dropped her eyes and whispered, “Yes, Sirs.”
“Good girl,” Mikael rewarded her with a smile that Svein was in no mood to relinquish. “Remember what I said, yes?”
She nodded and stood on her tiptoes as she brushed a brief kiss to his brother’s lips, “I will try. I promise. Be safe and come home to us.”
Then she turned to Bjⱷrn and repeated the process, “You remember what you promised me. Please be safe,” she smiled with genuine affection at his baby brother, and his stomach tightened into knots more restrictive than he had ever used or would dare to with her. “Stay out of trouble.”
She rose and brushed a kiss across his lips too. As she drew back, her voice dropped lower, and he strained to hear what secrets she shared with Bjⱷrn over the wind that was beginning to hollow then. He was less than pleased at what he heard, “I love you.”
He had seen and heard quite enough as he turned to head up to the control room. But a small hand on his arm stopped him. “Who is leaving without saying good-bye to whom, Svein?”
He sighed and shook his head, “Ha det, Kirsten.” He was not sure what to do. After what had just happened, he knew even less where he stood with this woman. He certainly did not dare kiss her farewell.
As she accused, take what she had so freely given his brothers. Instead, he stood there, staring at the deck of the boat that he would have until days ago sworn was the only thing besides his family that mattered in this whole fucked up world.
When he felt her body press a bit tighter against his, he looked up in shock. She pressed a kiss to his lips too. Perhaps not as sincere or as long as she had to his brothers, but even he admitted that it was more than he deserved at the moment. “Be safe. Ha det, Svein.”
He sighed and replied, “Good-bye, Kirsten.” There was no doubt that his wife was learning their language amazingly quickly.
He could not stand to watch as she walked away. He feared if he did, he would chase after her. Make a complete fool of himself, the same way his love-besotted brothers seemed to be.
And this woman had given no real sign that was what she wanted…not with him anyway. No, he would not risk her rejection. He could not. He turned and pulled away from her hand that still rested on his arm and fled, retreated, to what he knew. This boat, the sea. Rán, the only mistress that had ever lasted long with him.
Kirsty stared out at the water that was every bit as turbulent as her mind. The storm that had been just beginning when they left yesterday morning was now raging in full force. Winds howled a perfect song to match her dark mood. The rains pounded so fiercely that she could feel them stinging her face and hands as she struggled to keep her hood on her head. Yes, her mood was as dark as this day.
She still was not sure how she had managed to survive last night. The whole day actually. Without them, the Holding had been unbelievably quiet. Even Monica’s usually rambunctious behavior seemed dampened by some unknown force. The child had spent most of the day playing alone near the flames in the fireplace downstairs. Kirsty had curled up on the sofa and alternated watching the child with reading the latest of Raquel Graffen’s books.
She chuckled, the woman made all of this seem as easy as Petrine’s well-meaning advice. Her mother-in-law had tried to engage her in conversation, but Kirsty was not ready to talk about things that she had not fully come to terms with.
Svein’s words…and his mother’s…had haunted her day. Could she? Was it as simple as he said? A package deal that she needed to accept him as he was? Give up all hope of reaching him, or sharing with him the true intimacies that she did with his brothers? Could she do that even?
The truth was that her times with Svein were every bit as satisfying sexually as Mikael or Bjⱷrn. If she were honest more intense at moments, his assertions about experience were much too close to the truth sometimes. But while they were just as satisfying, they left her feeling dirty. Used. Whether as a sub, his whore, or especially nothing more than an incubator for his child.
She felt the hot tears spill over her cheeks then. That was not helping either. After a horrible night of first dallying in Monica’s room, until she knew she was keeping her daughter awake, even then, she could not face that room alone. She had thought about going back downstairs, perhaps sleeping on the couch, but what if Monica needed her in the night? Even with the app on her iPad, it was not the same as being able to hear the child’s screams.
She chuckled, perhaps some part of her even had hoped for the girl’s nightmares. They would be a distraction from her own. Except her dreams had not waited for sleep to consume her. Worries had plagued her day. What if something happened to one of them? Even Svein. Being so far away, there was nothing she could do to help. As if she could, even if she were there.
She had tried lying down in her bed, but that had ended tearfully with memories and thoughts of all that had happened there the past few days. Days…fucking days! How could her whole damned life have been upended and turned on its head in a matter of days? It still boggled her mind.
Love. The idea that she could come to love not one but two men in such a short time had plagued her thoughts as well. Until she had realized, she was half in love with them before she had met Svein. That line of thinking had sent her scurrying to her inbox, and all those hundreds of emails, chat transcripts, and the challenges. She swallowed just thinking about how easily they had gained her obedience, her submission.
She had re-read many of them. She had been right. She easily recognized which man had written each one. Except for…those messages. The challenges. Some were brief, terse like Svein. Others, dark and demanding as her bad boy. And some…deep, intensely personal yet every bit as commanding and controlling, perhaps even more so. How had she never seen it before? The differences?
Yet, she had obeyed them all – without question. Just as she obeyed them today, she shifted uncomfortably at the reminder of the plug in her ass pressing against the cold, wet wood of the dock. She wanted to be angry at them all.
Maybe a tiny bit of her was. Not so much at Mikael, he had made his position clear to her. He was determined to be that bridge between her and his eldest brother.
Her anger with Svein was easily justified. What surprised her more was that she could also feel compassion for him.
Perhaps Mikael had gotten inside her head just a bit with this one. She could certainly understand how overwhelming it all felt. Her own emotions were on the roller coaster ride of a lifetime. Even more so now.
But Bjⱷrn? His nod might have seemed reluctant, but the truth was that in the end, he too had nodded. He had given his assent and support to his brothers in the battle, not to her. That hurt. More than a bit. The fact that they had had no time to discuss that before he left only made it worse. Much worse. She was left alone with her thoughts to try and make sense of it all.
Her only solace had been the brief video chat that she had shared with Mikael shortly after Monica went to bed. He had called to see how they were doing. Bjⱷrn was on watch, he said. Svein, of course, was locked tightly in his cabin as usual.
After her assurances that all was well with Monica, he had been much more concerned with her. Had she dropped? Was she absolutely sure? He knew that this was not easy for her. He was so incredibly proud of her for how she handled the good-byes. He thanked and praised her for how hard she had tried with Svein.
She could tell, though, that he was tired. They had been up half the night before. Tomorrow it would be Bjⱷrn, who called he assured her. If she needed them, she was to message, no matter what.
Maybe that was what she should have done this morning. Instead, she had cried alone in that vast bed as the cramps hit her, doubling her in pain. But what confused her most was that it was not the excruciating physical pain that hurt her most but the ache in her heart. The knowledge that this time at least there would be no baby.
She shook her head as her hands covered her lower abdomen. The pain was pretty much gone. The tablets she had taken took care of that. But not even the last hour, standing here and staring out to sea after them, had begun to lighten the ache in her chest. She cursed herself for being silly. She should be glad, she told herself. It was too soon. She needed time to adjust to this life, this place, them.
Still, none of that filled the ache in her heart. She had been broody for the last year, ever since her twenty-fifth birthday party, her desire for a baby had intensified. She had flitted about the pub that night from one group of friends to the next. Some, of course, were young, single, and getting more than a bit loud and drunk. But it was the married couples and especially the babies that drew her most.
After that, she had begun to drop subtle and perhaps not so subtle hints to Raj about possibly taking things to the logical conclusion. Getting married and starting a family. The man had taken the suggestion – just not with her. Of that, she was grateful.
But the past six months of her ruminations about wasted time, giving her youth to a man that had never loved her, worse yet that she had never loved, they had eaten at her as that ache, and need grew with every wedding and baby shower she attended. Every Christening. Every time she visited another friend in the hospital, glowing and basking in new motherhood.
She wanted that. A child. A family. And yes, there was no doubt that she had those feelings for Monica. It had been more comfortable to love the child than it was her father and uncles, and that had been surprisingly easy.
Still, she wanted, almost needed, the whole package…pregnancy. She blushed at the memory of Mikael’s very naughty fantasy about drinking milk from her breasts as he rubbed her fecund belly and fucked her slowly. Oh, he could sometimes be such a naughty boy. But she wanted it all…beginning to end.
Once more, she assured herself that it was too soon. Despite the tales of unplanned pregnancy, it took most couples months or even a year or more to conceive. She frowned as her friend Roz came to mind. At thirty-seven, the woman had been trying for almost a decade, drugs, surgeries, even IVF. Nothing.
Kirsty sighed as a new worry mounted atop her others. What if she too could not conceive? Her cycles, after all, had never been entirely regular. She could be anywhere from twenty-one days to sometimes as much as two or three months between them. Her GP had assured her that while it might take a bit longer, she should be able to conceive naturally without a problem. But what if like Roz she could not?
She swallowed back the foul taste in her mouth. She supposed that would put quite a damper on Svein. She started to laugh hysterically. Not because it was funny, but because the very thought hurt more than those first cramps had.
The vice around her heart tightened even more as a future stretched out in front of her. No sons or even more daughters. No Kelly green eyes that could be laughing one moment and intensely dark the next. No, steel grey ones of anger or determination, no molten silver of passion and love either.
Would Svein insist on ‘divorce’ the way that Roz’s husband was? It would not even be as complicated for them. Simply drop her back in Tilbury as quickly as he had stolen her. No courts, no fights, no houses, property, and alimony. Just a final good-bye. But more permanent…Farvel. Farewell. She could hardly breathe at the very thought of it.
Then she felt a soft arm about her shoulders. “We have been looking for you,” smiled Petrine.
“Do you need me? Is Monica alright?”
“No, everything is fine. I, we were just worried about you. I know how hard this all is. I really do. I wish I could tell you it gets better, but it never does. Not even when it is your sons and not your husbands. It is still hard. You just learn to manage, I suppose,” replied her mother-in-law.
Kirsty nodded as she stared out at the rolling waves of the sea. Her mind seemed fixated on the worst. How would she manage if something happened to Bjⱷrn or Mikael the way it had this woman’s Lars? Could she survive with the same grace and dignity? Even Svein…yes, damn the man, even him. At least, Rachel had had her sons to comfort her, Kirsty would not have even that not now.
“Are you dropping again, sweetie?” the woman asked as she squeezed her shoulders tighter.
She shook her head, “No, I don’t think so. Nothing so dramatic, just plain old PMS.” She tried to smile, but her earlier thoughts came back to haunt her. What if she never had sons to see off? She felt herself losing the battle with the tears once more.
“Oh, sweetie, I know. Honest, I do. I understand that one too.” The older woman wrapped her in another of those uncomfortable, comforting hugs. She held her for a long moment before drawing back. “I have just the thing. Cherry Garcia ice cream and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”
Petrine chuckled as she led her away from the pier, “Cheating little bitch, she could have handled it. It would have been way more fun if she had just left those other six snooty little bitches in town. She was already doing the hard part of the job. Cooking, cleaning, and getting those men in line.”
“Oh, wait until you see Monica. My grand-daughter might not be able to talk, but she knows every word to ‘Sobbin’ Women.’”
Even as Kirsty looked over at the turbulent seas that seemed to have swallowed them into its darkness, she could not help but smile as she imagined the child singing along. She frowned, why had she not thought of it before. Of course, the way that the child had hummed along with the songs on her tablet. That was the answer – music.
If only it were all as easy. If only reaching him was as simple as it had been with Bjⱷrn, Mikael, or Monica. If only, he would bend…just a bit.
Bjⱷrn was putting finishing touches on the stew he had made for their dinner. It was nothing fancy, not his best cooking. Then again, without her to impress what was the point. He was so busy just trying to focus on not burning the damned thing that he did not even hear him come until he cleared his throat.
“What is for dinner?” asked Mikael.
His brother chuckled, “Of course, what else.”
Bjⱷrn twirled around to face him, the spoon in one hand, the other already fisted and ready to go. “Make your own damned dinner then, Mikael.”
His brother held up both hands in surrender, “I was not complaining. You know that you get stuck with this damned job most of the time because you do it better than either I or gods forbid it, Svein.” He chuckled, “The man sets even the microwave smoking.”
Bjⱷrn shook his head. The truth was that it was not cooking or the menu that was bothering him. It was her. And them. Sharing his wife with his brothers was not as easy as he thought it would be.
“I’m not sure which is worse, how he treats her like something just to be used or you. You love her, don’t you?”
His brother nodded, “Yes, probably just as much as you do. And it is not any easier for me.” He chuckled and shook his head, “Maybe harder after…” His brother’s voice trailed off.
Bjⱷrn nodded; there was no need for Mikael to continue. They both knew what he meant – after Greta’s betrayal. Once more, he was left feeling like the most selfish shit in the world. He ought to be happy that she could put the smile back on Mikael’s face, not green with envy. “So, what the fuck are we going to do about it?”
His brother sighed and crossed the room, taking bowls from the cabinet and ladling up the stew. “I’ll do the dishes since you cooked,” Mikael offered as he handed him the other bowl and motioned for them to sit down. “She asked me to talk to you.”
“Yeah, she asked me too.”
“What do you say, baby brother? Truce?” Mikael said as he extended his hand across the table.
Bjⱷrn shook his head. What choice did he have? Despite everything he had learned the past couple of days, the secrets they had kept from him, he loved his family.
Especially, this brother, who had always been there for him. He smiled as he remembered that fort that was falling down now but still managed to withstand the storm. That was them…their fucked-up family. They would find a way somehow to get through this one too, just as they had with Greta.
Perhaps just as his father and uncles had with their mother. Who was he to judge what they had done to hold onto the woman they loved? He knew already that there was nothing, absolutely nothing that he would not do to hold onto her.
“Truce,” he said as he clasped his brother’s hand tightly across their plates.
When they let go, Mikael picked up his spoon with a smile as he brought it towards his mouth, “So, what is this fucked up shit with ‘my sweet Freya’?”
Bjⱷrn laughed and felt the tension break for the first time in… A very long time.
Perhaps not since the night that Greta had tried to seduce him. His brother’s wife…the other one. While he was not about to reveal that betrayal to the man, not now that his brother was finally beginning to heal, he was thankful that Kirsty had done this – for them. Brought his brother back to them. His niece too. And for the first time since he had seen their small family slipping from those woods, he did not feel like an outsider looking in.
Svein stood just outside the galley doorway listening to them talk and laugh. His brothers it seemed had put away their differences. He should be glad since that would make his job much more manageable, except that he knew they would now be united – against him.
He frowned as he thought about yesterday morning on the boat. The way that Mikael and even reluctantly Bjⱷrn had backed him with her. He was not sure whether he was grateful or resentful. He did not need their support to correct their wife. He had just as much right as they did to set rules for her.
Yet again, he stood on the outside, looking in. He had done it his whole life, it seemed. But then maybe that was his choice too. He had been the one that begged, pleaded, and almost demanded that he be allowed to go to sea with his uncles when he was a mere child of seven. Had it been some misguided attempt to replace the father he had never known? He was not sure. Who knew what things little boys thought?
No, he had never felt particularly close to his brothers. Mikael was barely walking when he had finally won the argument with Stig, convincing the man to take him with them on the next trip. The conditions had been harsh, as harsh as the man who set them. He was to do his work, pull his weight on the boat, not get into the adults’ way, and oh yes, he could not fall behind with the studies his mother sent for him. He had met them all and never once since then had Njörður’s Captive been to sea without him.
As for Bjⱷrn? At twelve, Svein had always thought of himself as more of a man than a child then. He had no time or patience for little red balls of smelly human mess that did nothing but cried and pooed. He left that to Mikael.
Maybe the truth was that he was even jealous of the little shit, who had been claimed by the man whom he had always considered his father. Surrogate though that was. But now Stig had a son, a real son. Maybe it was the way that everything changed in his world after that bawling bundle messed it all up? He was not sure; he only knew he had especially resented Bjⱷrn.
But never more than now. Her. Because of her. He hated the way that she looked at ‘pretty’ boy. He especially hated those words that had haunted his dreams last night as he lay in the bed where he had first taken her.
He had taken her first. Damn it; she was right…he had chosen her. But baby brother would never see that, never admit it. And the fact that she never looked like that around him, never said those soft words to him…only made it worse. “Damn her,” he cursed as he slipped inside.
They both stopped laughing as they looked up at him, “Don’t let me disturb this meeting of fittestyrt, the pussy-whipped club. I’ll get my dinner and take it back up to the deck.”
Mikael shook his head as he took both of their plates to the sink, “Don’t worry. I will go up now. You stay and enjoy your dinner.”
Svein looked at the glare in Bjⱷrn’s eyes. It was clear the idea was as appealing to his brother as it was to him. “No, I don’t mind. You two have much more to talk about, and I don’t want to intrude,” he said as he spooned the stew into the bowl and turned to leave.
He paused in the doorway. “And don’t fucking do that again — either of you. I don’t need or want your help to keep my sub in line. I can manage her just fine without you.”
Mikael joined his eldest brother in the control room. He observed Svein’s profile for a long moment. He had spent a whole fucking lifetime envying the man it seemed. Always trying to break out of his shadow. Whether it was being a better seaman so that his father and uncles would notice or his failed marriage, he had wanted to be different, more than his brother.
Perhaps for the first time, though, he saw this man for what he was. Svein was far more cut off from anyone or anything, except this boat than he had ever been. If he had built defenses around his heart after Greta, his brother’s rivaled the Great Wall of China.
No one had ever breached it either. If he had fortified his heart after all that his first wife had done, why had Svein? To his knowledge, no one had ever broken Svein’s. No, the man had always specifically chosen women, subs, who would pose no real threat to it. Why?
“Why? Why were all your subs always married, Svein?”
His brother turned slowly from the sea to face him. Mikael knew it was a trick of the low light on the ship and the darkness into which the boat floated, but for a moment, his brother’s blue eyes shone too bright. As if…
His voice was rough when he spoke. “It just made things simpler. I knew that most of them would never think about trading their cushy upper-middle-class lifestyles for the tiny bit of excitement that a rough fisherman could give them in the bedroom. I never worried about them wanting anything more than I could give them.”
“Still, why? Why did you never want more? Someone to love, someone that loves you?” Mikael pushed and probed.
His brother stared back out to sea silently for so long that Mikael believed he had chosen to ignore the question, that it would remain a mystery. He began to check logbooks and instruments, ready to take over for the night. When his brother’s answer finally came, it took him as much by surprise as the words themselves.
“What do I have to offer anyone honestly? This life? Look at how fucked up it is. We spend more time at sea than we do at home. Even though they need us, the whole fucking village is talking behind our backs. Hell, our own fucking family propositioned her on the very first day.”
Mikael especially did not want any reminder of their distant cousins and rivals. He had more than enough reason to hate Nils and his four brothers.
“If that isn’t bad enough, all the fucking what-ifs that we deal with every damned time we go to sea. Hell, when your fucking birth is a reminder of those…” Svein shrugged as his voice trailed off even lower after a moment. “I guess when you are born an orphan, those things just seem more real.”
Mikael shook his head after a moment, “An orphan? You have always been this family’s fucking golden boy. Hell, ask baby brother what it is like growing up in your shadow. His own damned father always comparing him to Svein. I have spent most of my damned life just trying to step out of your shadow.”
“But no more, big brother. You are the biggest fool of us all. Pushing her away. At least I had an excuse. After Greta…well considering everything she did. I had a reason for the walls I built.”
“But you? You let a man that has been dead longer than you have been alive blind you to the fucking truth. Not just with her either…with us too. You never let us in, even when we try. No wonder she wants to give up.”
He saw his brother’s shoulders slump then as he turned away and walked towards the doorway. “Let her. It is probably for the best. That way, if anything did…” He paused at the top of the steps. “At least this way, she won’t waste any tears on me.”
“You are wrong about that too, big brother. She would cry just as hard for you as she would for Bjⱷrn or me.”
He chuckled sardonically, “Probably more because she would blame herself for never being able to reach you, never being able to make you happy, make you love her. But you see, I know the fucking truth – you do. You love her just as much as we do. And that fucking scares the great Captain Ahab more than any whale ever could.”
“You go, run, and hide. Just like you have for a lifetime. But hear me now. We won’t let you hurt her, keep pushing her away, the way you have all of us. She deserves more than that.”
He sighed, “You do too, big brother. You deserve the happiness she offers. Find a way…fight your way back to us. I know how fucking hard that is. I do, I promise. But I also know how fucking worth it, it is. How worth it, she is.”
Svein did not even bother turning back to face him as he stepped down, “Fittestyrt – pussy whipped. She has both of you pussy whipped already. Well, I am not like you or your father. I won’t let any woman have that power over me. Not ever.”
“You think you are so much like him, don’t you? More like him than his own son. Well, big brother, maybe you are. Just as big a fool as the man, who died without ever really telling our mother how much she meant to him. Do you want to be like that? Vitun kätyri. Then you are a fucking fool.”
“Måtte din veike sjel lide i Helheims evige Flammer,” Svein’s curse floated up to him as the man fled into the darkness.
Mikael turned back to look at the windshield as the wind drove massive drops of rain into it. Spattered them against it faster than the wipers could clear it away. This night he would be piloting more by the instruments than by sight. Maybe that was appropriate too. It was undoubtedly the way that he would have to play this between them.
Protecting her and bringing his brother into the fold had never seemed more opposing forces than they did just then. He sighed and prayed to Vör, the goddess of wisdom, to help him navigate these seas that were far rougher than any other he had faced.
While he was at it, he might as well send one to his other favorite goddess, Freya. “Damn, baby brother, I have to give it to you on this one,” he smiled as he guided their boat in the dark night and deep waters.
Kirsty reached for the box of tissues that Petrine had brought along with the laptop, ice cream, and Monica. She had been right. The child knew the words to not only ‘Sobbin’ Women’ but most of the other songs as well. She had a lovely voice too. She had even managed to untie one of the ropes and use it as a microphone of sorts.
She looked over at the small sleeping form at the foot of her too-big bed. She had covered her in one of the extra quilts after the child had finally succumbed to exhaustion just after ‘Lonesome Polecat.’ She had no intention of moving the child tonight. The truth was that she was not as worried about waking her as much as she longed for the company.
Musicals…she made a note to find and buy as many as she could. Beginning with her favorite, The Sound of Music. ‘These are a few of my favorite things’ was already beginning to drown out the rich, deep bass of Howard Keel singing ‘When You’re in Love.’
That was what had set the trail of tears lose with her. The final scene in the movie when he was finally united with his wife and new baby. After distancing himself from her, them, and his brothers. It hit just a bit too close to home.
That soft smile lit her mother-in-law’s still beautiful face from within, “You see it too, don’t you, sweetie?”
Petrine brushed a tear away, “I knew you would. Just give my son some more time and patience. He will come around. It is just hard for men like that to admit it.”
She inhaled deeply and got that far-off sad look once more, “Sometimes a lifetime.”
Kirsty reached for the woman’s hand with her own and squeezed it gently. Rachel gave her a half-smile, but it was the deep voice from the doorway as Olav cleared his throat that drew both their attention.
“Excuse me. I don’t mean to interrupt anything.” He laughed, and those eyes twinkled from grey to silver just as his son’s did. “Why am I lying? Hell, yes, I meant to interrupt. I am stealing my wife back for the rest of the night.”
Rachel shook her head, “What makes you think you can break up girls’ night, old man?”
He crossed the room with a look that though the face might be older, more lined, Kirsty recognized meant just one thing…business. He bent and whispered something in Rachel’s ear, and the woman nodded, dropped her green eyes, and whispered, “Yes, Sir.”
She lifted her face that once more shone from within with radiance, “I am calling it a night, dear. The Old Man made me an offer I cannot refuse. Do you need our help getting Monica back to her room?”
She shook her head, “No, leave her. I would like the company.”
Rachel smiled and squeezed her hand a bit more, “I understand. Well, we will leave you two for now then. Just think about the movie for a bit, dear. I know it is not as easy to see, but he loves you too. I promise you he does.”
“I promise,” Kirsty issued another vow. The second in two days. Did Svein realize that his family had his back? Would he appreciate it if he knew? Probably not. But then again, maybe that did not matter, not yet anyway. “Thank you.”
The older couple slipped from the room, leaving just the sleeping child and her thoughts to keep her company. Why were those thoughts occupied so completely by him?
Her room – he had not been in her bedroom. Not since that first night. Not as the one she chose. It had always been his cabin on the boat, his terms. Maybe when he got home, she would have to change that.
She fell asleep in that colossal bed, which had welcomed dozens of brides over the centuries, where perhaps hundreds of babies had been born. But it was a deep bass and powerful alto duet of ‘When You’re In Love’ to which she drifted off to slumber.
She would not give up; she had come too far. She would find a way with him also. Her track record with seducing husbands was pretty good after all, two for two. And somehow, Svein would be no different.
“After all, tomorrow is another day.”