Kirsty stared at the man in front of her, and the ridiculous biscuit that he held out. As if sweetbreads could make kidnapping and rape alright somehow. She was not sure whether she should laugh or scream down the whole damned place. She went with the logical choice as her cries rent the crisp air of the tiny cabin.
She tossed and tugged at the bonds which held her hands above her head. While they were looser than she remembered, they were still secure. There was no way she could get out of them without help. She turned back to the young man with the ‘cookie.’ She tried very hard to remember which he was, Mikael or Bjⱷrn. Then again, did it matter?
All that really mattered was getting off this fucking ship as quickly as possible. While she knew that she should go directly to the police and report him for kidnap and rape, honestly, she was not sure that had the strength to face that whole ordeal. For her parents and friends to find out the truth about her little fantasies? She swallowed back self-loathing that had brought her to this point. That had blinded her to the dangers she was taking.
But she would deal with guilt later. Right now, she needed to get the fuck off this boat – before it sailed. Oh my god, it could not be? She had only been on the riverboats that took tourists up and down the Thames once or twice. But the to and fro sway of the ship seemed more pronounced than it had been before she… Well, when she first came on board. But that would mean? And her screams did not seem to bother the man. Was that because he knew that no one could hear them?
The man nodded as he looked at her, still holding that damned biscuit like it was some supreme peace offering. “Yes, we are headed home now, Kirsty. Njörður’s Captive is far enough out to sea now that no one can hear your screams.” He stretched and reached above her to untie her hands, “And there is nowhere that you can run.”
Kirsty stared at the young man as she tried to assimilate his words. He was the youngest of the three. And honestly, the best looking though he lacked that brooding darkness that was so enticing in Svein. This one smiled easily, perhaps too quickly. As if the smile could hide the tears, she shook her head, wondering where that idea had come from.
She had always been able to read people. Almost know what they were thinking and feeling before they knew themselves. It was a valuable tool when you worked all day with autistic children, many of whom were still non-verbal.
So, why had she not known with Svein? She frowned, or maybe she had, as she thought about the need to run at the train station and looking back just one last time. But she had ignored her gut instincts and look where that got her.
Where did that get her? Her frown deepened. What did he want with her? He had already – they had. Stop being polite, Kirsty, she chided herself. He had already raped her. Although to be fair, had he? She had… She shook herself, okay, girl, admit it – that was the best-damned sex of your life. Maybe even better than the shit that you cannot get enough of in those dirty books of yours.
She snuck another glance at the man crouched next to her. She had to force her brain away from memories of her favorite book about Texas oil baron brothers who shared a bride. That was fiction; she reminded herself. That sort of thing did not happen in real life. Sure, there were some religions where men had more than one wife, and that was crazy enough. But men were way too territorial and possessive to share a single woman, even with their brothers.
But he might know what Svein planned to do with her? If she played her cards right, he might even be sympathetic to her. Help her to escape when they finally reached…wherever it was they were going. She searched her mind as she tried to remember what Svein had told her about his home. But as she rifled through her memory banks, she realized too late that it was precious little.
Even if or when she was discovered missing, there would be very little information for the police. She had always prided herself on being intelligent, a good judge of character. So, how the hell had she ended up in this position? Kidnapped and…taken? She could live with that word.
The only way to find out was obvious, “What does your brother want with me?” she could not even meet his eyes, which looked almost as green as grass.
“We will talk about that when Svein and Mikael arrive. Until then, can I get you something to drink? The bathroom is over there,” he said as he waved his hand towards a small door at the foot of the bed. Where Svein had stood as he knotted her legs together as if he had been doing it all his life. How many other women had his brother kidnapped? Were these men serial rapist, or worse?
She felt panic begin to rise until she could barely breathe. The room started to spin as images sprang to mind of her body lifeless and tossed over the side of the boat – never to be found. Her parents would be… She wanted to say devastated, but that was not their way. They would mourn the loss of their only child with the same polite reserve with which they lived and worked. Then they would move on. Patients to see, papers to write, parties to attend.
The hard truth, Kirsty was forced to face, was that her life was expendable. Her friends would be upset, but they would marry and have children; perhaps one of them would even remember to name a daughter after the woman they had once known.
Her clients at the clinic would miss her. Probably more than anyone else, since forming the types of bonds that she had with some of them took years. But she saw them for an hour a week, sometimes less. They would get another therapist who would eventually replace her in their hearts and minds. The truth was that even if he had not moved onto the arranged marriage with his cousin, Raj would have been no better.
Kirsty stood and rushed towards the tiny door, throwing it open, and then slamming it shut again just as quickly. Space was tight…barely a meter square for a shower, toilet, lavatory, and mirror. She stared at the woman in the mirror. The naked woman. Had she ever gotten completely naked with Raj in all their years as friends and lovers? She could not remember even once.
But she had with him. With Svein. Then she had just pranced naked in front of his brother.
This situation was bizarre. What the hell had she been thinking? The truth was that she was not. She had not been thinking in months. She had lost herself in the strange world of feelings. Emotions that she had been taught from the cradle to suppress. She had allowed them to overrule her mind and her morals. She had followed her heart…and look where it had gotten her.
There was a soft tap at the door, “I will leave a towel on the bed while I get you something more substantial to eat and drink. We can talk more when my brothers get here, but maybe you will feel better after a shower?”
Feel better? No, she seriously doubted she would ‘feel’ better, but a shower might give her the chance to calm down, for her to think and reason her way out of this disastrous situation. She turned the water on and waited for a moment until gentle steam filled the tiny cubicle. She stepped beneath the pounding spray of the water and just stood there, allowing it to wash over her for a long moment. She felt boxed in on all sides. How did he even fit in here?
Her nipples hardened, and she cursed her own body. Even after everything that had happened, the man still made her ache for things she could never have. And having tasted just how sweet those things could be only made matters worse – much worse. Her body screamed in pain at the bruises and marks from the rope.
So, why did it feel so damned good? What was wrong with her? Hell, she had even read the scientific papers on the subject – a cross-wiring in the brain between the pleasure and pain centers. But that did not explain how easily he could manipulate her body and even her mind. Seriously, what was wrong with her?
She would have years to pursue that answer in therapy, but first, she had to figure out a way out of this place, off this boat, and back home. As soon as possible. Maybe she could convince them to turn the ship around? They could not be that far from shore, right? If she assured them that she would not press charges, would not tell anyone what had happened, maybe?
The knock on the door was more forceful this time. “Come out, woman. You cannot hide in there all night. We talk now,” the voice was deeper, gruffer. She recognized it immediately.
She debated what to do. But he was right, every moment she spent hiding in here took her further and further from home. Better she faced him now, confronted this situation, and convinced him to take her back. She turned off the water and opened the door just a crack. “The towel, please.”
He filled the doorway. She could not see past the man. His shoulders were so broad that they reminded her of the Greek myth of Atlas. Yes, this man carried the weight of the world upon those shoulders. That was what was behind the sadness in those icy blue eyes, not coldness but the opposite – the burden of love. He felt the weight of those duties every bit as much as Atlas had.
Despite everything, she found herself wanting to reach out, to soothe the worry lines that caressed his forehead, wanting to take even a small bit of that weight off those board shoulders. Because Kirsty could see the truth – even shoulders that broad could not hold the whole world all alone – not forever anyway.
She shook her head. Stockholm syndrome, she told herself. But her logic argued that it was much too soon for her to be empathizing with her captors. And they were her captors; she reminded herself firmly. She needed to remember that.
That smiling face appeared over his brother’s broad shoulders, and once more, she was uncertain whether to laugh or cry.
He pressed a bundle into her hand. In addition to a towel there was a shirt folded on top of it, “It may be a bit big, but I thought you would rather wear one of my shirts than just the towel,” he blushed like a sheepish little boy, and her heart skipped a bit. She would need to keep her guard up around this one just as much. Until she got out of here and away from them.
She nodded her head and whispered polite words of thanks, though that seemed odd given the situation. She closed the door and quickly dried off. She was surprised at how large the shirt was on her. She was not a little girl; zaftig, curvy, big and beautiful, plus size, whatever the politically correct term of the moment was. But this thing swallowed her whole. The soft warmth of the flannel material and the crisp, clean smell of man was doing strange things to her.
“They are the enemy,” she reminded herself as she looked in the mirror. What she saw there frightened her. Yes, the deep purple of the bruises peeked from the unbuttoned top of the shirt, and the red circles about her wrists reminded her that ropes were no longer just a fantasy.
But it was the soft blush in her cheeks, which made her look alive and almost beautiful even, that scared her the most. This creature reminded Kirsty of the tales of mermaids and sirens that called to men and entranced them with their sensuality. She shook her head; that could not be right. Then who was that woman in the mirror?
She ran her fingers through her wet hair. It smelled of him, perhaps even more now. His shampoo had been all that she could find. She tried to put her hair into some sort of order, but in the end, she gave up and plaited it into a single long strand. She had a brush and some clips in her purse, she would secure the ends in a bit. For now, the dampness would hold it in place, mostly anyway.
She sighed as she looked back in the mirror at that creature. Well-loved? Was this what those authors meant when they described the disheveled heroine like that? Admittedly, she had never…Well, obviously, she had. That was the whole purpose of those books, after all, pornography for women. After the break up with Raj, she had read and often taken care of herself before bedtime.
But even her wildest fantasy paled in comparison with what had happened in that cabin earlier. Was that why she was so reluctant to go back out there? To face him? Face them all, it seemed. She sighed even heavier; she could not delay it forever, though. Her hand tentatively reached for the doorknob. She willed herself to turn it and push.
She stepped into the cabin that burst to overflow with masculinity. Three huge giants that did their Viking ancestors proud. All of them different but oddly the same. Shades and shadows of the same man, but as unique as their fingerprints…individuals. She shook her head as she tried to overcome the odd sensation.
Safety? Belonging? But that made absolutely no fucking sense. The very fact that Kirsty cursed, even in her thoughts, told her how desperate she was becoming. She looked around the small cabin, searching perhaps for some magical means of escape. But there was none.
She was relieved that someone had taken the time to straighten the bed. Its crisp white duvet was pulled up to the edge of the over-sized pillows. But what was even stranger was the small table that was probably meant more as a desk was laid out with plates, bowls, and silverware. She noticed that the beautiful arctic wildflowers that Svein had brought her had even found a home in a vase in the center of it. Small folding chairs that she thought she remembered seeing in the galley were arranged around the table.
“I will be back in a moment with the stew,” smiled the youngest. She shook her head as she stared after his retreating back. She turned to the other two men whose silent facades reminded her of storm clouds on the horizon. Dark and brooding. That was undoubtedly Svein.
And the other man was almost a copy of him. Except this one hid even the simplest of emotions behind a thick beard. She noticed that in the light of the cabin, his hair was a darker blonde than either of his brothers’, almost brown. His beard was a shade darker even than his hair, and it was highlighted with a tinge of ginger. Not as red as her hair, of course, more an auburn. A grizzly bear then. Not a polar bear. And one that was hurt and hiding. That would make him more dangerous because he would come out fighting, thinking he had nothing to lose.
Kirsty shook her head. She was never sure where this stuff came from. These silly little voices in her head that whispered to her the deepest darkest secrets of man. She had lived with it for a lifetime. At first, she had thought that it was something that everyone just knew. But by the time she was in secondary school, she had learned never to reveal all that she knew about the minds and hearts of others.
She walked past Svein. It was impossible not to brush against him in the confined space, and she cursed her body that came alive at the memory of this man’s touch. But she was determined not to let him know that, though the smile that curved upon those firm lips told her perhaps she had been a bit tardy with her stiff upper lip. Let him enjoy the small victory; it would be his last.
The younger man came back into the room carrying a large wooden tray laden with fresh bread, butter, cheese, and a stew that smelled more delicious than Kirsty could remember having in a very long time.
“It is not fancy, but I hope you like it,” he uttered with a smile as he ladled a big spoonful into the bowl in front of her. He broke off a piece of the bread and put it on the small plate. Then he held out the tray for her to take butter and cheese.
She lifted the knife and for a split second thought to perhaps use it to threaten the men. But she doubted that she would have the nerve actually to use it. And even if she did manage to escape, where would she go? They were out to sea. She had no idea how far from land. Or even which direction to swim. In the freezing cold waters of the English Channel? It would be suicide, and as bad as the situation might appear, Kirsty was not that kind of drama queen.
Instead, she cut a couple of slices of what appeared to be creamy cheddar cheese and a bit of butter that she spread on her bread. When she finished, the younger man handed the whole tray to Svein, who merely smiled at her and replied, “Wise decision, Kirsten,” as he began to fill his bowl and plate.
The men passed the food around as if eating dinner in silence with a half-naked woman was an everyday occurrence with them. Maybe it was? After all, Kirsty was coming to realize just how little she knew about this man. Of course, she had come to that realization a bit too late.
She took a bite of the stew. It indeed was as delicious as it smelled, but she was not in the mood for idle polite conversation, so she was not going to say that. Instead, she ate in silence. She might need her strength. As she finished the last bite of her stew, she sat back in the chair and looked around the table at the brothers.
Svein she knew the most about, or she thought she did anyway. How much of those messages were the truth was anyone’s guess at this point. She should have thought more about that before agreeing to this crazy meet for coffee plan.
She tried with all her might to remember; she thought that the middle brother was Mikael. That would make ‘Happy’ as she had nicknamed the youngest, Bjⱷrn. She supposed she could called the middle one ‘Grumpy;’ it certainly fit his dour expression. Svein defied description, and she kept coming back to that image of Atlas with shoulders stooped under the heavy strain of his load.
But she had had enough of analyzing and empathizing with these men. It was time she found out what they wanted with her. And a full frontal assault was as good a method as any. “So, what do you plan to do with me?” She asked calmly as she brought a glass of wine to her lips.
“You are to be our bride,” said Svein equally as calmly as he brought another spoon of stew to his mouth without so much as even glancing up at her.
Wine spewed across the small table and caught the man right in the eye as she choked and sputtered, trying to catch her breathe. Happy tried patting her on the back though it felt more like pounding her to a pulp. And Grumpy just stared at his plate as if he wanted to be anywhere else but here at the moment.
Kirsty was confident that she must have heard them wrong. This had to be a joke, right? She must have left her e-reader lying around the flat open at some point. Her roommates? Would they take a practical joke this far? But what else could it be?
They had seen the type of stories that she was reading and perhaps thought to teach her a lesson? But that seemed more like something her parents would do. They were always one for ‘natural consequences’ and ‘learn your lesson, young lady.’
It made no sense. When she finally cleared her airway and could breathe again, she looked up at Svein, who had wiped his face clean and returned to his meal as if nothing had happened.
“You’re kidding? This is one of those practical joke telly shows, right?” She stared around the cabin looking for hidden cameras, “You are all actors, and one of my friends is going to jump out and say…got you…any moment, right?” She pleaded, but for the life of her, she could not see cameras, and none of her friends appeared.
Svein just shook his head, “You may choose who sleeps in here with you tonight…if you wish.”
Kirsty’s mouth dropped open. The idea was utterly preposterous. ‘Our bride.’ The words ricocheted inside her brain. She looked around the small cabin once more for hidden cameras. There were none.
She had read this scene before, a half dozen times or more. Damn, Raquel Graffen. Though she knew that logically she could not blame the writer for her own folly. But this was her life, not a chapter in some super hot erotic romance. And in the real world, brothers did not share a wife.
She rifled through the various scenarios from those books, trying to come up with the best plan of action in this situation. She had tried screaming, and that had gotten her nowhere. She was definitely not the fainting type. Well, what happened earlier was not really fainting. Was it?
Fighting? But what were her chances? Three against one? And while she could have held her own, or perhaps even won, against a smaller man like Raj, all three of them were considerably larger and more robust than she was.
She looked around the room for a weapon. But other than the butter knife next to her plate, she saw none. She considered throwing the damned thing, but even then, the best she could hope for was a minor injury to one of them. That did not seem the best course of action.
That left reasoning. But she had been trying to be reasonable for the past half an hour. It was not going so well with these men. Perhaps she would do better one-on-one. If she could negotiate with just one, maybe she could gain an ally. Divide and conquer. It seemed the best plan.
But which one? Who was the weakest link? She looked from brother to brother.
Svein was enjoying his tea as if the intimacy they had shared that afternoon was nothing more than a casual fuck. As if sharing a woman with his brothers was as commonplace as a pipe after dinner for her father. Happy was clearing the table but kept glancing at her with those green eyes that seemed to plead with her like a puppy dog; pick me, pick me. And Grumpy was shoving his chair back from the table, ready to abandon them all and this lunacy.
“I pick him then,” Kirsty pouted as she pointed to Mikael, or Grumpy as she had so accurately nicknamed him.
Svein nodded to Happy, who at the moment looked anything but, as he slammed dishes onto the tray. “Very well, then. Bjⱷrn and I will say god natt, good night. We shall see you in the morrow.” He practically dragged the younger man out of the room as she turned to face the man she had chosen, the man she knew least wanted anything to do with this whole thing.
But what she saw behind that thick beard was a mouth set in resolve and grey eyes as dark as storm clouds that brokered no arguments. Maybe Happy would have been a better choice, she thought as she stood up and began to inch towards the bed.
Svein watched as Bjⱷrn slammed the tray down on the counter. The dishes clattered, and he feared that more than one broke in the tussle. “It was like she knew,” he muttered.
Bjⱷrn spun on him. His cheeks glistened with red anger, “Of course, she fucking knew. She knows us all; better probably than we know each other. Better maybe than we know ourselves. Don’t you get that! That is what it takes to be ‘the One.’ Damn it,” he cursed as he threw a glass against the opposite wall.
Svein watched his youngest brother. Where had that happy little kid gone? The one that made them all laugh with his jokes and pranks. He wished that he could do that now for the man before him. But he barely knew how to laugh himself. Let alone make another do so. “Do not fret. I spoke to him. He will not let us down,” he tried to sound more confident than he felt at that moment.
Bjⱷrn shook his head, “Of course, he won’t. Because while you and I might want, might long for her, he needs her in a way that neither of us ever will. Monica needs her. And Mikael knows that.”
He sighed, and his broad shoulders slumped, his head banged against the cupboard in front of him, “But that does not make it any easier. She should have been mine. She is mine.”
Svein could see his brother’s fingers curled into the shiny metal of the sink until he feared that he would dent it. “Yes, Bjⱷrn. She is yours. Your choice. But she is also mine.”
He turned and looked at the closed door at the end of the hallway, “And she is Mikael’s too. Let us just hope that he has the courage to see that.” He slapped his younger brother on the back.
It was going to be a long night. A very long night. He just hoped like hell that his brother thought to use the damned gag ball in the toy box at the end of the berth. Because the idea of sleeping in the crew quarters with an angry Bjⱷrn while he listened to her sweet cries of pain and pleasure was not one, he wanted to consider at the moment.
Not when he could picture in intimate detail what those intense blue eyes looked like as she soared to the heavens and gave her body so fucking freely. “Fuck, this was a bad idea,” he cursed as he stripped his shirt off and tossed it on the floor. He climbed into the bottom bunk and brought a pillow over his head to muffle whatever sounds came.