Kirsty stood on the deck, looking out at the shoreline as it came into view. She was fully dressed for the first time in three days. In her own clothes: jumper, mini-skirt, and tights as well as boots and coat. When she woke, she had discovered them on the table, folded and freshly washed. It was another reminder of how big a day this was.
She watched the faint land in the distance grow closer. It was still too far away for her to tell much about it. What would it be like? What did it hold for her? She shivered as much in apprehension as the cold winds that whipped about her, lifting a fine spray that caressed her cheeks as he had last night.
The guys were all busy. She had no real idea doing what, but she could tell from their faces that now was not a good time to disturb them. Which meant it was the perfect time to observe them. Bjⱷrn was doing something with ropes. She chuckled; she usually did not connect the two. Ropes meant Svein, who she assumed was busy above deck with other things at the moment.
She rubbed her wrists slowly; even though you could barely notice anything, she could almost still feel them. She had woken alone in his bed, untied. How did the man do that without waking her? But he had, and honestly, she wished he hadn’t. When she woke alone, she had felt, well, alone. As she had not since…
Since they took you, kidnapped you. Spirited you away from everything you knew. She would not say ‘loved,’ that would be a lie. But it had been her life, damn it. Some part of her still screamed that they had no right.
While the other part, crossed her arms and laughed, whispering ‘like your pathetic existence was half as good as falling asleep in their arms for the past three nights.’ She shook her head at that voice. The big question was: which could she trust? Her head…or her heart? She wished she knew.
She frowned as Mikael walked over to Bjⱷrn. She could not hear what they were saying; the wind and waves were so loud on deck. But she could see from the dark scowls on both their faces that it was not good. When Mikael took the rope and began re-doing the work that Bjⱷrn had just finished, she feared that they would come to blows. She fought the sudden and irrational need to insert herself between the two brothers. After a moment, Bjⱷrn turned his back and walked to the stairs that led to the deck where she assumed Svein was.
She sighed as she watched Mikael wrapping and twining the rope. He worked with such ferocity. She could almost feel the anger boiling and churning inside of him, just like the waves that beat at the sides of the boat as it sliced through them.
Bjⱷrn had told her very little, said he felt it best if Mikael told her in his own time. But he had shared that his middle brother had been married before: a real marriage, at least the legal, monogamous kind. He told her too that Mikael had a child, a little girl that lived with them. That fact, combined with his attitude, told her that things had not ended well with his ex.
She supposed that she would be meeting his child in a couple of hours along with their uncle and mother. This mysterious Petrine, a woman that had adapted to their way of life, had come to love four men, lost them one by one. A woman, who had raised three such…
She sought for adjectives to describe the brothers. Strong for certain…and, not just their physical prowess. Each had a depth of intelligence and character that intrigued her, though each was unique. Of course, she knew that each of the three claimed different fathers.
She bit her lower lip again as the thought, which she had been trying to keep at bay, came crashing in once more. How did they know? Did they? Really? The coppery taste of blood mixed with the smell of seawater as she fought back the tears. Damn them, damn them all. She was crying…again.
Even if she could come to love three men, and the past couple of days, she had begun to believe that was more feasible than she would have imagined. The hard truth was that they would never be accepted. ‘Be honest,’ said that little voice, ‘The problem is your parents, your friends. You cannot imagine explaining any of this to them. Let alone; oh, by the way, I am not sure exactly who the father of your grandchild is.’ She shivered against the cold or perhaps against the truth.
“Cold,” his voice and warm breath caressed her cheek even as his hand on her shoulders rubbed them, spreading the warmth. ‘But what kind?’ teased that voice in her head.
“A bit,” she half-lied. “Where are we? How much longer?”
Bjⱷrn looked out over the waters. His face was drawn, there were dark circles beneath those Kelly green eyes, and while he was still almost breathtakingly beautiful, she was worried about him. She knew that he had been up most of last night with the watch. She blushed, part of it was how little sleep he had gotten with her the night before that. But still…
He smiled as he wrapped his arms around her and drew her against his body. “We are just entering the island chain, still in the Baltic Sea. Another hour or so, and we shall make Fjorthen. It is a small town just a few hundred people, not at all your London. We will dock and unload there. Svein spoke to Olav this morning, so I am sure that he and Mama will bring Monica to meet us there. They will not be able to wait to meet you.”
She nodded, uncertain of what to say or even what to think. It was not every day you met your ‘in-laws.’ What would they think of her? What was this woman like? Kirsty admitted she was more than a bit intimidated at the prospects. Except for Mikael, who said very little, she knew that both Svein and Bjⱷrn respected and adored the woman. She seemed almost a legend, and Kirsty knew those were big shoes to be filled.
“And the Holding?” she questioned, sticking to safer grounds.
That smile seemed to light his handsome face from within, “Not sure how long it will take to unload everything. But we will be home for dinner this evening. Mama is counting on that already,” he laughed.
She thought about her mother, tried to remember a single dinner that she had made for her. She could not. It was the housekeeper and nanny’s responsibility to see to such things. If not, then it had been takeaway or a restaurant. How different this woman sounded from Nancy Dickens.
She could almost see the tight way that her mother’s face would scrunch up in obvious distaste if Kirsty were to introduce her to even one of these rough fishermen, let alone as her ‘husband’…and ‘husbands’ was more than she could consider. She found herself back where she began that morning…what was she doing here? With these men, these strangers?
“I have something for you,” he said as he turned her in his arms. He opened his thick jacket and pulled out her tablet. She had been too caught up this morning in her musings even to miss it. “I have connected you to the satellite that we use on the boat and at home. Your 3G won’t cut it.”
She nodded as she remembered trying to get a signal that first morning so she could alert someone to what had happened to her. And now? Bjⱷrn had just handed that power to her.
“Yes, I know,” he said as if he could read her thoughts. His fingers beneath her chin lifted her face until she was staring into those green eyes once more. “You could have us arrested. I know that. And right now, Mikael would kill me if he knew what I have just done. Svein would shake his head.”
He caressed her bottom lip, “But you gave me your word that you would not run, that you would give us a chance. A few emails right now might make that easier. If you…”
He leaned slowly down and brushed his lips so softly, so briefly, so sweetly against hers that she was reminded of the beating wings of a butterfly. “I trust you to make the right decision. I am trusting you with my life. My brothers’ lives. And my niece’s future.”
Without another word, he released her and turned back to where Mikael was still working. His brother did not look any happier to see that Bjⱷrn was back. But he shrugged and handed him another length of rope as he continued his earlier task.
She stared at the tablet in her hand. It suddenly felt as if it had just been pulled hot from the blacksmith’s forge. It burned as his words weighed upon her. How could he? How dare he? She did not want that kind of responsibility. She had never asked for any of this.
It was hers, nonetheless. And the very thought of any of them taken away in handcuffs, let alone all of them…sat on her stomach like an undercooked Doner kebab after a night of binge drinking in uni. Was it all just some warped Stockholm Syndrome? Identifying with her captors to keep herself alive.
But staying alive was not the issue. She believed what they said: they posed no danger to her life anyway. Her life? Staying alive? Had she ever really been alive? Until she stepped through that turnstile. Until his hands on her pulled her through was more like it. She had lived more in the past three days than she had in twenty-six years.
It seemed she had some thinking to do.
She sighed with a final glance at the brothers. She had not seen Svein since she fell asleep in his arms last night. That was probably a good thing too. The man was hiding, but as she took the stairs down to the cabin that had been hers for three days, the cabin that belonged to the man, she could not judge him. She was hiding too.
She crawled back into the bed; the smell of sex most definitely still lingered. She blushed as her Internet browser confirmed Bjⱷrn’s words. She opened her emails. Nothing important: social network notices mostly, dumb pics with even dumber sayings, too many drunken pub ones of friends from uni, and even more cute kid ones from her friends, who had taken a different path.
One caught her attention. She refused to open it as tears once more filled her eyes. She hit the compose button and began the message to her supervisor. Though Roz was more than just that; the woman was perhaps her only real friend. She wrote and re-wrote it half a dozen times. In the end, she had settled for simple as she requested a three-month leave of absence for personal reasons. Nothing more.
But that unopened notice to the social media site reminded her that her email would need no further explanation. Roz had practically hovered since Raj had come in with the grainy photograph. If she were honest, it was his announcement that had convinced her to accept Svein’s invitation to coffee.
Her lip was sore and getting more sore by the moment as she chewed upon it. Her hand went to her lower abdomen. Not that she wished that it was she who carried Raj’s child. As she had told them, the hardest part of her break-up was realizing that she had wasted so many years on a man that she did not and never could love. No, that was not it. Although admittedly, his news had taken her aback so quickly after his wedding.
The mouse hovered over the send button as the fingers of her other hand trembled. Was this the right path for her? It seemed so. Phantasmagorical was the only word she could think of in the end. Kidnapped. ‘Married?’ To three men. Even possibly pregnant with no way of knowing which of her lovers fathered the child. Her mind screamed at the incongruence with everything she had ever known. And her heart pushed the send button on the email.
That left her two more to write. Her biggest dilemma was her cat. A cat? That was all that tied her to the city in which she had lived for a lifetime? She explained to her flatmates that she needed a break and had decided to extend her visit to her friend’s indefinitely. She thought about asking them to hold her room for her, but the truth was…
The truth was that no matter what happens, you can never really go back there. She inhaled as the heaviness of that life weighed upon her. The tears were flowing now as she asked them instead if they could look after Little Miss until she could make other arrangements. But she knew that would not be a problem as the cat had long ago become more shared property than the larger container of milk that they kept in the fridge instead of purchasing three pint ones.
Her parents? That was a bit more difficult. She thought about putting it off for a while. Now that work knew what had become of her, they would have no reason to inform her parents. She was confident that her roommates would not bother to. Her monthly brunch with them had been just last Sunday, so she had almost three weeks before they would even notice she was gone. Maybe she should just let it go for now?
But what was the point of delaying it? She knew they would be disappointed in her for ‘acting so illogically,’ ‘not considering how this might affect your future,’ and a half dozen other maxims including just ‘keeping a stiff upper lip’ about Raj’s impending fatherhood. They would never understand. They had never understood her.
When it came, it was blessedly simple. Terse, her mother would claim. “I have taken a three-month sabbatical to travel. I will be in touch.” She forced her fingers to hit the send button on this one too before she turned off her tablet and set it aside.
She drew her knees up to her chin and wrapped her arms about herself. The tears became a flood as twenty-six years of emptiness, loneliness, shallowness, trying to be what everyone else wanted her to be, sprang forth like pus from a pimple when it finally popped.
She did not know how long she cried like that; she only knew that at some point, she lay down on the bed and grabbed the pillow. Holding it against her, she inhaled. She could still smell him…them. Three husbands…and she was crying all alone. About par for the course with her life…with men.
Mikael watched the woman sleep. Kirsty. His wife. The word tasted bitter in his mouth. Though he was committed for his daughter’s sake, he did not like any of this. It was the absolute last thing he wanted.
Greta’s hateful words during that final argument haunted him most nights. To know that his wife, the woman he had broken with tradition for, had attempted to seduce his brothers. If he had not been able to keep his wife’s love in a monogamous relationship, how the hell would he do so in this warped thing that passed for marriage in their family?
‘You don’t want or need her love,’ shouted that voice in his head. But the throbbing in his jeans and the tightness in his chest when he noticed how swollen her eyes were, called that voice a liar.
He shook his head. Baby brother needed his head examined, and his ass kicked for this one. The risks that they were taking. Him most of all…prison, missing his daughter grow up.
And why? Why would super hunk want to share a wife when he could have any of hundreds of women in any of the ports they visited? It was not like he was damaged goods with baggage that no woman would want.
Mikael knew he should be grateful. This arrangement could provide him what he wanted most: a mother for Monica and to be left the fuck alone. Now that she realized she could not manipulate him, he was sure that was the last time he would be called to her bed. Didn’t last night prove that? Wasn’t Svein her choice? Let his brothers have all the fun. As long as she was good to Monica, what did he care? ‘Liar’ that quieter voice accused. He had gotten good at ignoring it.
He just wished this particular conversation was over with. Explaining his daughter to this woman was not something he relished. But Monica’s unusual behaviors would be enough of a shock, though he did hope that her work would prepare her for some of that. But to spring his child upon her without any warning was too much.
When Bjⱷrn had said he would go below and warn her that they would be making port shortly, Mikael had insisted that he would do it. Bjⱷrn had not been happy with that suggestion. It was as if now that she was here; his baby brother wanted to shut him out of this relationship altogether. Again that voice demanded, ‘but isn’t that what you want?’
He sighed; right now, he wanted out of here. But that was not an option — any more than letting this woman go. ‘Would you want to?’ It tormented him with images of her blue eyes wide with trepidation and with excitement. He had thrown his worst, his darkest, at her, and she had taken it all. And come like a very good girl all over his face. He licked his lips as if he could still taste her, though he knew he could not. Despite everything he wanted to…again.
Damn, this was getting him nowhere, he thought as he reached out and gently shook her shoulder, “Time to wake up.”
She stretched, and it reminded him of his mother’s plump black Tomcat, Noir. But when he saw just how red and swollen her eyes were, his need to take Bjⱷrn to the ‘fighting field,’ the place where brothers settled differences with fists if necessary. It was far enough from the houses that his mother would not hear them until it was too late. Right now, he wanted to pummel his baby brother’s face until he was not quite so handsome.
What had he been thinking? Kidnapping a woman from her home, her family, her job? He shook his head; she was no free-spirited hippie hitchhiking her way across Europe, seeking out adventure and free love. And he knew from experience, just how hard ‘city girls’ found the isolation and quiet of Fjorthen and especially of the Holding.
For a couple of heartbeats, he considered finding some way to help her escape, being that weak link that she had thought him that first night. But it was too late for that. She was theirs now. Theirs to keep – as best they could anyway.
She rubbed those eyes with the back of her hand as she sat up. “Are we there then?”
He nodded, “Yes, Bjⱷrn and Svein will be tying up the boat shortly.”
He knew that he must do this, but all of the words he had practiced while lying awake in his bunk last night simply vanished. He could not remember a single one of them. And he was left staring at her, thinking how beautiful she looked when she first woke up. He had missed that her first night with him, them.
Though he had lain awake for hours, holding her while she slept and remembering that cry. He was not sure that he had ever felt as much a man as he did knowing that he had made this woman cry out like that. But it was best if he put all of that behind him, it would not be happening anytime soon. ‘It could if you bent a little, stopped pushing her away,’ lied that voice.
But Mikael ignored that voice, again. He had come here with a purpose, and whether he remembered the ‘right’ words that he had practiced so long or not, it still had to be done. His mother, father, and daughter were probably waiting on the dock right this moment. “There is something I need to talk with you about.”
She nodded her head as she sat up. He had forgotten that Bjⱷrn said to take the woman tea. He could not even remember how his brother said to make it. But he could see that without it, she was having trouble waking up. Or maybe she does not want to? Perhaps she kept hoping that this is all a nightmare? But there was nothing to be done about it now. They were stuck…both of them.
“My daughter will be there to meet us when we arrive.” There, it was out. Not the pretty words that he had practiced, but since when was the truth pretty.
He was not sure what reaction he had expected, but the shrug of her shoulders and slow nod of her head was not it. “Bjⱷrn mentioned you had a child,” was her response when it finally came.
Mikael flexed his fingers at his side, imagining that they were wrapped tightly around his baby brother’s neck. His voice was tight when he finally managed to speak, “He had no right.”
She shrugged again, but this time, she reached out her hand towards him. He jerked back before she could touch him. Somehow, though it made no sense and was not fair, he felt as betrayed by her as he did Bjⱷrn.
“We were only talking about life on the Holding. I think he was trying to make me feel more comfortable.”
‘Feel more comfortable,’ it was something that had not been his priority during their time together. Maybe it should have been. They had just told her what her future held, what their way of life was like. She must have been frightened, full of questions.
And what had he done? Slapped cuffs on her, cut off the only clothes she wore, run his knife all over her body, cut her, tasted her blood, and edged her until she went crazy out of her mind before he finally gave her the orgasm her body needed.
And he wondered why his wife had left him? He was a jerk – which was why this would never work either. Not between them anyway, not with him, not what he wanted deep inside, what he would not even admit to himself.
He shook himself; there was no use thinking about things that could never be. Better to focus upon what was, “What did he tell you?”
“Nothing much. Just that you had been married before. That you had a little girl that lived with you.”
Those big expressive eyes searched his face, seemed to plead with him, “Honestly, Bjⱷrn meant no harm. He said that you would tell me what you wanted me to know when the time was right.”
Mikael flexed his fingers again, “Yeah, well, he should have listened to his own words and kept his damned mouth shut.”
She came to her knees. Between her height and the raised bed, they were almost eye to eye. Her hands fisted on her hips, “Yeah, well, we were just talking. Conversation. Do you know what that is? It was not like we did a whole lot of talking when…”
He loved the way that her cheeks could flame almost as red as her hair. His arm went about her waist and drew her against his body. He was hard in an instant.
“Conversation takes two, sweetheart. I don’t remember you being able to put two syllables together at all. If I remember the only words in your vocabulary were ‘no’ and ‘YES.’” His emphasis on that final word had those cheeks flaming even more.
He was not sure what would have happened then had the deep cough from the doorway not interrupted them. “Sorry to ‘disturb’ you, but we are docked. Unless you want Mama in this cabin that smells of sex, we need to get her on deck.”
Mikael wanted to knock the dark scowl off his brother’s face, shove his smug words down his throat one at a time. But he knew that his baby brother was right. Their mother would not wait to meet this woman, their wife. He sighed; he hoped this went better than the first meeting with Greta. He nodded as he released the woman.
Bjⱷrn reached out to her with a smile and took her hand. Damn, his brother, he even brought it to his lips and kissed the back of it, “I can’t wait for you to meet Mama. She is going to love you.”
Mikael stepped aside as his brother drew the woman off the bed and down the hall. He followed slowly. He had no choice. His mother would read too much into his absence if he were not there. But his brother’s words ate at him… ‘going to love you.’ Petrine had never really liked Greta. Oh, she tried, but he could tell. Maybe that should have said something to him?
Not that it mattered now. The past was the past. The problem was, as he watched his brother beam as he presented his wife to their mother, the future was just as bleak. He was locked on the outside, looking in. Pushed to the side with their wife and stuck in the middle…again.