Chapter 5 – Múspellsheimr or Niflheimr?

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Kirsty leaned her head into her palms. She was so tired that she was tempted actually to lay it on her desk for a brief nap. If she did though, she feared she might be late for her final appointment of the day. Of the week. It gave new meaning to TGIF. Even better, this weekend was not the perfunctory Sunday brunch with her parents. Which meant she could relax, perhaps have a lie-in.

This was not just physical exhaustion. It seemed all she had done for the past five months was work, care for Monica, eat, and sleep. Hell, too many nights, she fell asleep in the tiny bed next to her step-daughter. Bjⱷrn would wake her when he retired for the night. She was so tired that their sex life had become a once-a-week thing – if she were lucky.

And Mikael? She lost the battle as tears spilled from the corners of her eyes. Once. Only once in those five months they had been back in London had she seen him. Then it was just for one night. He was gone before she even woke the next morning.

She was confident it was more of Svein’s vengeance being pelted upon her. She chuckled sardonically as she looked around the almost vacant office. It was ironic that she had actually needed her job back.

Her shoulders slumped under the weight of it. ‘Temporary.’ ‘Just a few weeks until he cools off.’ Mikael had promised her that day as he argued with Bjⱷrn about the decision for them to return to her old life.

Bjⱷrn had been as much against coming back here as she was, but Mikael insisted that it was for the best. That a few weeks without her was all it would take to make Svein see how foolish he was being. Bjⱷrn had countered that the Holding was their home as much as it was his oldest brother’s. He was not going to let the man run him off.

Kirsty remembered only sketches of the argument between the brothers as she spent most of it with her head buried in Petrine’s shoulders as she cried her very soul out. In the end, Petrine and Olaf had sided with Mikael.

‘Breath,’ she reminded herself at the stabbing pain that was as fresh as it was that day. Though Petrine insisted that it was for her benefit, Kirsty found it hard not to feel rejected and betrayed by the woman that had been more of a mother to her than the one who had given birth to her.

She had failed. Again. She had not been able to do the one thing they all needed most – bring the disparate brothers together. And in the process, she had lost not one but two husbands, a mother, and the only place that had ever felt like home to her.

“Are you alright, sweetie?” came the smooth Caribbean accent from over her shoulder.

Kirsty brushed the back of her hands across her eyes and forced a smile as she turned to greet Roz, her boss and perhaps the only true friend she had here. “I’m fine. Just updating a few records,” she lied as she pointed to the laptop screen that was primarily open for show.

The woman shook her head, and the tight curls bounced about her round face with its light coffee coloring. “You always were a crappy liar, suga.” Her smile was as forced as Kirsty’s own.

If not for the woman’s own problems, Kirsty would be tempted to confide in Roz. Her friend had never hidden the fact that she lived an alternative lifestyle that included BDSM and polyamory. So, it would seem natural, except that after over fifteen years of marriage, a bitter divorce was consuming her friend’s every waking moment.

Still, Kirsty was not certain just how helpful her friend’s advice would be. After all, Roz’s husband had left her for ‘their’ sub. A young woman that was pregnant with the man’s first child. After Roz had spent close to a decade trying to conceive and so many rounds of IVF that she had lost count, not to mention a couple of miscarriages along that rocky road. No, explaining three ‘husbands’ to the woman was perhaps not the best idea right now.

“How are you doing?” Kirsty tried to divert attention away from her situation.

Roz shook her head and smiled, “I’s just fine, suga. Gots me the bestest solicitor that money can’t buy. If that slimy, weaselly little fuck wants his precious son to be legitimate and heir to all dat money and title, it gonna cost him. Big time!”

The woman’s smile and words might have been brave, but Kirsty saw through them. She remembered holding the woman’s hand through more than one of those tense waits for the results of the latest IVF. She knew the hurt and betrayal that were lurking beneath the anger. And that was what worried her. What would happen when the anger dissipated and her friend was left with nothing but fifteen years of trying to please a man that she never could?

Kirsty sighed as she shook her head. Not that she knew anything about men that you could never please. That you could never reach. Never make them genuinely love you.

Roz lowered her voice to a whisper. “You get Mister Hunky to watch that little darlin’ of ya’lls, and we will go out for drinks. Cry in our beers. Then you can damned well tell me, why the fuck you ain’t happy with a stud like that in your bed?”

Kirsty winced as her stomach turned at the mention of beer. She had never been one to drink the stuff, but lately, she had been battling a stomach bug that she must have picked up from one of her clients or perhaps Monica brought home from school.  

She nodded and smiled as she picked up a few things she had laid out earlier for this final session. “Speaking of which, I better get to my final session so I won’t be late picking her up from school.”

Roz paused, “I mean it, suga. I am here when you need to talk. Your friend. Not your supervisor.” She winked, “And you still have not told me about Mister Deep and Sexy on the phone. Don’t bother lying either. Bjⱷrn’s accent is barely noticeable. He sounds more American than anything, so I know it wasn’t him.”

“But I figure it won’t take more than a couple of drinks to get the whole story of how one man is screaming down the phone at me that ‘his wife’ won’t be needing the job and two days later you show up here with another one on your arm claiming to be your husband,” she winked. “Oh, I just bet this one is gonna be good, darlin’.”

Bjⱷrn stared out the window, watching the people several stories below scurry about like ants. Not a single head up. Not a single smile among them. So many fucking people.

He ran his fingers through his long hair that was pulled back in a ponytail with the ends tucked inside the collar of his shirt. ‘For propriety’s sake,’ his manager said. The truth was that his choice of hairstyle was just another thing that made him an outcast here.

But they needed him. His coding skills, though primarily self-taught, were superior to even those of men, who had been at this firm since the beginning. And his facility with languages? That was the icing on the cake. Rich, red velvet icing at that. The two combined to both make him virtually indispensable and a highly paid team leader.

The only problem was the company he worked for. Designing applications that allowed people to gamble away vast amounts of money legally was not Bjⱷrn’s idea of ‘gainful’ employment.

But when Mikael had insisted he take Kirsty and even Monica back to England while he ‘worked’ on Svein, Bjⱷrn was not about to leave the breadwinning up to their wife. Or take handouts from his brother. Sure, maybe he should have held out a bit longer, given his network of online hacker buddies a few more days to come up with something else.

The other truth was…he would not have been happy with any of them. He was a fisherman. Born and bred. He might enjoy toying with computers, like figuring out pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, but it was the smell of the sea, the wind on his face, the roll of the waves beneath his feet that he longed for.

The problem was…he could not support a wife and child on what he could make as a mere crew member on someone else’s boat. What’s more, he would be gone for long periods of time. And neither Kirsty nor Monica were adjusting well to London.

He sighed, and his shoulders slumped, “Neither are you.”

He toyed with the idea of messaging Mikael once more, but he knew that would only shift the heavy burden from his shoulders to his brother’s. That was not fair. The man had lost more in this whole debacle than anyone. The wife he had just come to love was bad enough, but his decision to selflessly send his little girl with them so that she could continue to bond with Kirsty and make progress – well, Bjⱷrn was not sure that he could be so self-sacrificing if their roles were reversed.

But what was supposed to have been just a few weeks had turned into five months. With no end in sight. Not that that should surprise him. Svein was nothing if not stubborn. He should have stood his ground. Even against his mother and uncle. They did not belong here — any of them. The Holding was their home too.

It was too late, though. They were stuck in a city of over eight million people. Eight million tiny piss ants coming and going to work and school without purpose other than it was what was expected of them. They had signed a year’s lease on a tiny two-bedroom flat in Kirsty’s old neighborhood. It cost a small fortune each month, and Monica’s room was barely more substantial than a closet. Hell, there was more room on Njörður’s Captive than in their flat.

He hated his job…defrauding decent, working people for the benefit of a few wealthy schmucks, taking advantage of their weakness, and playing upon unrealistic dreams of the ‘big’ win that never came. Even Kirsty did not seem to be enjoying the job that she once spoke so passionately about. And Monica? Was it his imagination, or was his niece once more slipping deeper and deeper into her little world?

And there was fuck all he could do about it. Trapped. Totally and utterly trapped in the modern definition of success. A good job. A good neighborhood. A good school. And none of it made any of them happy.

Especially his wife.

He could almost hear his uncle as they sat at the airport in Oslo, waiting for their plane to depart. He was giving Mikael as much time as possible to say his farewells to Kirsty and his daughter. Their mother had insisted on staying behind to see if she could talk some sense into her eldest son. So, he and his uncle sat alone, waiting for time to pass.

“Being everything she needs won’t be easy,” the man had said in a low voice as he stared at his son and granddaughter.

Bjⱷrn sighed then, wondering for the first time…was this all his fault? Had he somehow or the other wished this fate upon them? Had the gods in Asgard looked down upon them that night and seen the jealousy in his heart? Was this their punishment for him? It was the question he could not seem to shake.

If the punishment was only his, he could manage. But why did his wife and Monica have to suffer too? What had they ever done to deserve this exile? Exile? Yes, that was the word. He felt like he was in exile for his sins. Punished for his jealousy and arrogance.

To make matters worse, he was exiled from her even. Oh sure, they shared the same bed. He fell asleep next to her and woke up beside her every single morning. But not only was their sex life almost non-existent and play a thing of the past, even the communication, but their long talks were also a thing of the past. She was just too tired from working and caring for Monica. She had also been losing weight and not in the right way either. She barely ate.

Of course, there was another explanation, as well. Depression. Lower libido, lethargy, and lack of appetite. It all fit perfectly.

So, what are you going to do about it, buddy?

He had another conference call in five minutes. This one with a potential new client in China of all places. But first, he would see to this issue. He began by pulling up his web browser. He had not been on that site in months. Not since they had captured her. What was the point of going on the BDSM social network when you had what you wanted?

It only took him a moment to find what he was looking for. He had been right. Maybe this was just what they needed. A lazy summer Sunday looking over kinky items for sale, perhaps even a bit of play at the after-party? He frowned at the thought of putting her on display the way that he once had all those subs he had casually topped in the clubs. Maybe not.

He was not sure what made him do it, but before he signed off, he did a quick check of Svein’s profile. Damn, the fucking bastard. He had friended over a dozen new subs, and his history showed several comments on their pictures. So, much for Mikael’s theory about their brother just needing time to miss Kirsty. The man was replacing her. Bjⱷrn was not sure where that left them. Any of them, but he would deal with that later.

For now, he had another text to send as he messaged the young student, who they had found to care for Monica on rare occasions, such as their monthly brunch with the snobbish and uptight bitch that Kirsty called her mother. Of course, her father tagged along too, but from the first moment they met, Bjⱷrn had known where Kirsty got her submissive nature. Male subs, though, had never been among his favorite people, and her father was no exception. Thankfully, it was a couple of more weeks before that torture routine.

He smiled as the carer responded quickly that, of course, she could make it this Sunday.  All the pieces seemed to be falling right into place. Maybe this was what they needed to shake them out of this.

And if not? Well, he still voted for teaching Svein a thing or two about manners. And he would not be caught unaware by another sucker punch next time. One thing was for certain…they could not keep on like this. None of them.

Mikael stared at the dark screen of the tablet through eyes clouded with tears. This was always the hardest part. After Kirsty and Monica ended the video call, those moments were his darkest when all the doubts assailed him.

Had he been wrong? It certainly seemed that way. Weeks had turned into months, and not only had Svein not broken, the man had not even bent. Not the least little bit. Just the opposite, in fact. The merry whistling from his brother’s open cabin down the hall as the man got ready to go out for a night at the same club where he had first met Greta did nothing to assuage his mind.

The fact that he was dragging their young cousin, whom Svein had hired to replace Bjⱷrn, also bothered him. Mikael was still uncomfortable with the young man, who had once happily participated in the heckling that had so upset Kirsty.

Although the kid was good at his job and mainly kept to himself, Mikael always felt a bit uneasy with the distant relation, more like second or third cousins how many times removed. The animosity between their families went back centuries and still burned brightly.

Still, he knew they were lucky to have acquired Karl during one of those rare moments of in-fighting between brothers. Or perhaps not so rare – at least not in their family. He looked up as Svein’s form filled the doorway.

“Join us.”

Mikael fought back anger at the ease with which his brother issued the order as if his marriage was as easily discarded as Svein had. The role of peacemaker increasingly ate at his sanity. He shook his head and simply replied, “No, thanks.”

Svein studied him for a long moment as if he might say something more, but in the end, he shrugged and sighed. “Come on then, Karl. Grab the floggers that I loaned you. Never can tell if you might get the chance to practice on something other than old pillows tonight.”

Mikael bit back a quick retort about the kid’s lack of skill, even on those pillows. If he had to take a guess, their ‘cousin’ would be more comfortable on the other end of those floggers, but he was not going to mention that to his older brother. The young man was getting an education he would never have back home, that was for sure. It was up to Karl to decide what he wanted to do with that knowledge and the opportunities that came with it.

He felt the needs of his nature rising inside of him. But it was at least another two weeks before they would be back in England, and he was confident that Svein would have another excuse for why they could not stay in port overnight. This time though Mikael was determined, he would see his wife and little girl. If Njörður’s Captive had to sail without him, he was going to London.

He would feel her soft skin beneath his tawse and knife. He would smell her intoxicating scent. He would hear her soft cries and deep moans as he inflicted the pain that they both craved. He would hold her curvy body against his…all fucking night this time. And when the morning came? What then?

He honestly was not sure anymore. His plan had not worked out for any of them. Least of all, their wife. The dark circles beneath those blue eyes, the even starker paleness of her skin, and how the pounds seemed to be dropping from her were all worrisome. It was this exact type of pain that he had sought to save her from by sending them back to London. But even that had failed.

It was time for a new plan. Mikael just was not sure what it was. Other than holding her in his arms again. Loving her and never again letting her go. Martyr was not a role that suited him any better than peacemaker was. His fists itched to connect with his brother’s jaw again. To make him pay for these months of pain and loneliness.

But the only one he could really blame was himself. He was the one who had sent them away. His wife and daughter. That pain was so much worse than anything he had ever known. Not even Greta’s betrayal and abandonment came close to this depth of need. Yes, it was past time that they came home – and soon.

Svein looked across the darkened room as the young man chatted with a group of Dommes. While Karl held the floggers that had been Stig’s birthday present to Bjⱷrn, it was clear that the kid had no idea or even inclination what to do with the damned things. The way that the leather-clad barracudas were encircling his cousin like he was fresh prey turned his stomach. But if that was the man’s cup of tea, who was he to judge?

Cup of tea? Fuck, since when did a simple beverage have to remind him of her. He sighed as he reached down for his toy bag. The fifth club he had been to in as many weeks. This plan was not working any better at erasing her from his mind than weeks of back-breaking work had. Or hours spent chatting to subs online.

Oh, there were plenty of willing subs around. There always were. But his usual appetite for the easy married woman had been abandoned from the beginning. The only married woman that he wanted was the one married to him. He had tried other newbies, but none had the same deadly combination of natural submissiveness and a quick mind.

Who are you kidding, old man? She is the only woman you want. Hell, honestly, the only one you ever really have. All the others were just things to be used to relieve your bodily needs. But you pushed her away. You blew it. Mister Cool Dom was anything but with the only sub that ever mattered.

And there was not a damned thing he could do about it. He had blown it, not once, but twice. And even if he could, by some miracle, worm his way into her too kind heart. And that was a possibility. There was no way that either of his brothers would let him anywhere near the woman they loved.

All that Mikael had sacrificed, the morose way the man sulked about the boat, it was a near-constant indictment of him, his choices, his mistakes…and what they cost them all. Hell, even their mother was retreating into the safety of that shell she had created after Bjⱷrn’s birth. Not even her wildflowers seemed to cheer her this year.

He sighed. He would have a word with Mikael when he got back. Perhaps his brother would allow him to resume work on the cabin at the back of the Holding that Mikael had begun in an attempt to please that conceited cunt of an ex-wife. If he finished it, well, maybe, perhaps Mikael could convince Bjⱷrn to bring her back home.

As hard as it would be, seeing her, knowing that she was happy with them, that he could never have any part of it. Well, as hard as that would be, could it be any more complicated than this? He probably deserved the punishment – a lifetime of being close to the one thing he loved and could never have. But it was for sure that Mikael did not. His mother did not.

And them? What if they were happy in London? After all, she had been planning to go back there when he discovered her duplicity. And Bjⱷrn? His baby brother had a mind that was more geared towards business and studies than simple fishing anyway.

It probably suited the kid to have her primarily to himself anyway. Oh sure, Mikael might still pine for the woman, but with his rare visits and only those nightly video calls that he thought no one knew about, he was hardly a threat to Bjⱷrn’s relationship with Kirsty.

The truth was they were probably delighted with things just like they were. He sure as hell was not, though. Maybe he could bribe Bjⱷrn to bring her back with promises of adopting some of those fancy ideas of his about how best to maximize their profits by selling their premium catch direct to higher-end restaurants. It was worth a try, at least.

He shouldered his toy bag as a pretty young sub approached him with her eyes downcast. She was curvy in all the right places, and that only further reminded him of her. But her worldly appraisal of his assets in the tight leather pants turned his stomach. And the whiny purr in her German accent when she spoke was the death knell.

“I am sorry. I was just leaving,” Svein brushed past her. He considered gathering his young cousin, but perhaps the man would have more fun on his own. Be freer to explore his natural tendencies, whatever those were. Maybe he would find something he liked here.

It was inevitable that he had not. No, the truth was that only one woman had ever dared to break through his icy veneer. And he had run her off.

What did you wear to an ‘Alternative Market’? Kirsty rummaged through her closet as she listened to the shower run down the hall.

A part of her was excited that Bjⱷrn had taken the time and effort to plan this ‘date,’ as he called it. But the idea of a whole building full of kinky items for sale, hundreds of Doms and subs, and goddess only knew what else was a bit daunting. Especially as they had not been very kinky lately.

Sure, on the increasingly rare occasions that they did make love, Bjⱷrn was still very much the Master. His kisses always stole her breath as they had that first night alone in Svein’s cabin. He even whispered, ‘Cum for me, my sweet Freya.’ But the floggers had hung practically unused in the closet next to her corsets and mini-skirt.

Corsets and mini-skirt? Of course! She reached for them towards the back. Her fingers brushed the black one that had been their first gift to her. The one that had been in her bag when she first met Svein in Tilbury. Her throat tightened, and her eyes clouded over as they always did when she thought of him. The one that she could not reach.

She pulled it from the closet along with the blue jean mini-skirt that she had worn that day. Of course, she would not need to wear thick tights this time. Bare legs would be fine since it was unseasonably warm for early June in London.

Or maybe a pair of hold-ups. Black to match the corset? She would take her blue jean jacket as much to cover up the excess of bare skin and cleavage as the warmth it would provide if they did decide to stay for the ‘after-party,’ whatever that was.

She poked her head out to check on Monica, who was still playing quietly on the couch with her tablet. Kirsty knew the thing could keep the child engrossed for hours, so she was judicious about how she used it, much preferring to spend pleasant days like this at the park down the street.

But that task would fall to Georgia today. The young teaching student that they had found through their advertisement at the local university. The girl was such a blessing. They used her once or twice a week to pick Monica up at school and take her to the park or soft play center so that she could rest, clean, or make dinner.

She smiled at the thought of the occasional special time online with Mikael, Georgia also provided. Though that too was never enough. It seemed strange that the husband she was not with showed more interest in her as a sub than the one who shared her bed.

But she knew that Bjⱷrn had other things on his mind lately. His job was more stressful than Njörður and Ran had been. She sighed as she stepped into the skirt and pulled it up her legs. None of them were happy here though they were all trying.

She frowned at the massive gap at the top of the skirt. The damned thing had always been tight, but not like this. She shook her head. She would have sworn she was losing weight, not gaining it. But that gap clearly said otherwise as she laid back on the bed to try and force the zipper up.

Five minutes later, she was almost in tears and her fingers hurt, and not the good kind of pain either. She reached for the corset. Maybe if she put it on first and laced it up. Well, once Bjⱷrn tightened the strings. Surely then, she could manage to get the skirt buttoned and zipped. Surely.

Even that was a struggle, though, as she completely unlaced the strings at the back, as far as they would go. She first tried pulling it over her head with the metal hooks on the front still closed, but it seemed she had gained weight…in her tits too. She did not mind that much, but it certainly was throwing a spanner in the works with this outfit.

“What are you doing?” he asked from the doorway.

Damn, did the man have to look so fucking delicious standing there with only a towel wrapped about his tiny waist, all those muscles in his chest and arms bulging like one of the models on the covers of her books, and all that long blond hair dripping water onto the bare wood floors?

“Damn it, Bjⱷrn! You’re getting the floor wet,” she complained as she unhooked the clasps determinedly. She would get into this damned thing. There was no way she was going anywhere with Thor. Not unless she looked as sexy as she could possibly pull off.

He frowned and crossed those arms over his chest. Damn, the man! Those muscles that still glistened and beaded with water flexed and wiggled even more sexily. She spread the corset out on the bed as she lay back onto it. “Get over here and use those damned muscles for something useful, why don’t you?”

“You are about to earn a punishment, young lady, if you keep speaking to me in that tone.” A dark scowl crossed his face as he joined her on the bed. “Do you have any idea how much like your fucking mother you sound?”

Those words hit her harder than a cane ever could as tears burst forth that she had barely contained since the whole debacle with the skirt. It was a flash flood that, once released, seemed impossible to quell.

Bjⱷrn shook his head and gathered her in those strong arms. He gently rocked her back and forth for several long moments. He even smiled and gently shooed Monica back to the living room when she came to investigate the noise.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered in her ear as he brushed the hair back from her face as the worst of the tears abated and a nasty case of hiccups began.

She shook her head, “No, you’re right. I’m the one that should be sorry.” She hiccupped as she buried her face in his shoulder. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I just wanted to look pretty for you today and not embarrass you. Well, any more than being with the fat chick will anyway.

“But I can’t even get this damned skirt to zip or the corset over my tits. I thought I had been losing weight, but I guess I have been gaining it.” Her words sprang forth as unfiltered as her tears had.

He hugged her tighter and kissed the tip of her nose. “First of all, you should know by now that I think you are beautiful. Just the way you are, Kirsty.”

He paused for a moment, “You said you can’t get the skirt to button or the corset over your boobs?” His hands reached up and weighed her tits as he frowned deeper. If that was not bad enough, they then made a rather thorough investigation of her tummy, something that always embarrassed her.

“Fuck!” he cursed as he looked up. “When was your last period?”

His words barely registered at first. Then like that light bulb, it dawned on her what he was saying. It took her a moment to think. Her periods were never completely regular anyway, but she kept track of them on an app on her phone. That was on a table in the living room, though. “Right after Mikael visited, I think,” she frowned.

That would be close to three months. A bit long, even for her, but she had gone longer once or twice. But still? She swallowed as she stared into his Kelly green eyes, “Do you think?”

His face was a blank mask as he nodded. “Yeah, yeah, I do, Kirsty. In fact, I don’t know why I did not think of it sooner. I guess I have just been so stupidly busy with work and shit that I did not notice what I should have.” He sighed as he drew her back against his chest, “I’m sorry, princess. Will you forgive me?”

Kirsty brushed a strand of wet hair back from his face and placed a soft kiss on his mouth, “Nothing to forgive, my love. I know that you have been stressed at work. I understand. It’s fine.”

He shook his head, “No, no, it’s not, sweetheart. It’s a job. That’s all it is — a paycheck. You and Monica are what is important. I had forgotten that but no more. I promise.”

She smiled and hugged him without words for a moment. He was right. They had both lost their way since coming back to this place. Life was just so much simpler on the Holding. The sea, Njörður, and Ran might be brutal masters, but not as demanding as modernity in many ways.

But maybe, if he was right, perhaps if she was… Pregnant? She could barely think the word. “You really think I could be?” She dared not utter it.

“You have been losing weight, Kirsty. I noticed it a couple of weeks ago. I was going to say something because I was worried you have not been eating enough, but I just never got around to it. Like I have not gotten around to a lot of things lately.” His hand that had not left her belly slowly inched upwards once more until his thumb brushed softly across her nipple.

She sucked in a deep breath at the intensity of it. “Oh yeah, those are even more sensitive than usual,” Bjⱷrn whispered as his hand cupped her full breast and lifted it to his lips.

Her hands clutched his shoulders tightly as her eyes closed. Kirsty threw back her head with a loud moan as he suckled her nipple deep into his scalding hot mouth. His teeth scored her tender flesh, and she felt the orgasm explode out of nowhere.

His other hand pried her thighs apart as his fingers found her wet center. She felt the world shift beneath her as those fingers found that tiny bundle of nerve endings that always took her there. She would have to change the sheets, but she did not give a damn, as she felt the tsunami of juices explode from her cunt and drench his hand and arm. He moaned around her nipple as she rubbed her ass against his hard cock.

She had not been this hot and horny since…

But where it might have gone, they would never know as a tiny voice from down the hall called out, “Mommy?”

Tears and laughter joined with softer kisses as Bjⱷrn slipped his hand from between her thighs. “I will see to our little girl while you get dressed. But no tight skirts or corsets. Not until we know for sure, understood?”

“Yes, Master,” the words that had been decidedly missing from their lives for months just slipped so naturally from her lips then.

He bent and kissed her softly before adjusting the towel. “Good girl. And we will finish this later.” He disappeared down the hall with a smile.

He had said, ‘our little girl.’ Did he realize that? And now perhaps a baby too? Maybe things would be alright after all?

Bjⱷrn watched his wife chat with her friend, Roz, as they examined candles meant not for incense but wax play. The idea of his wife’s pale skin marked in patterns of bright red and purple was not something he would have thought appealed to him, but surprisingly it did. Perhaps he would find a few moments alone later to pick up a few of the candles.

Kirsty smiled and nodded her head at something the woman said. It should have been no surprise that Roz would be in attendance and one of the volunteers at the monthly event, which attracted hundreds or the way this place was filling up thousands of people. He lifted his glass of juice to his lips as he observed them.

Why had he not seen it sooner? After another bout of tears, she had finally decided upon the bright blue sundress that was among his favorites. The coloring suited her, bringing out the blond highlights in her red hair and making her alabaster skin glow. She was most definitely glowing today as her laughter carried over the crowd to his ears.

Bjⱷrn frowned at the other woman. He had never been particularly close friends with any female Dommes, but then again, Roz identified as a switch. Though since the demise of her marriage and betrayal of her poly family, she had not felt comfortable in the submissive role.

Well, except for the time when she had drunkenly propositioned Mikael when he visited. Not that either of them had told Kirsty about the incident. It was not the woman’s fault, after all. How was she to know that the ‘brother-in-law’ was part of a poly marriage? He shook his head at another of the lies, which seemed to weave the complicated web of their lives in this place.

If she was pregnant? And he was almost sure that she was. Well, that only tied them further to this place. He would not risk her life and health or the baby by taking them back to the isolated Holding, over a hundred miles from modern hospitals and the care that they would need.

Once the baby was born? His mind filled with images of green trees, wildflowers, the gentle sound of the fjord lapping at the rocks on the shore, and the fresh, crisp smells of it all. Old wooden forts and modern playsets. Quiet with only the sound of birds interrupting your slumber. Even the icy white of its harsh winters held a beauty all their own with the green and blue skies of the Northern lights and nights that lasted for months.

And the sea! He had been born to it. Saltwater mixed with Viking blood coursed through his veins. As hard as he was finding it adjusting to this strange world, it was not a place he wanted his child raised.

His child, he sighed. He was still coming to terms with that. Though they had all accepted and loved Monica as their own, it was not their way. Children for all the macho claiming crap that his mother and wife detested were a communal thing. It had been natural for his father to step into that role with Svein. As natural as he was finding it with his niece.

But if his wife’s dates were correct, then this baby was clearly his child. His and his alone. That thought should make him happy. Fill him with some sense of he-man pride. But just as his uncle had warned, the sole responsibilities weighed heavy upon his shoulders.

He wished Mikael or even Olaf were here to talk with. He could use their advice and insight. Sure, he would video call his brother tonight as he did most nights after she fell asleep. But should he say anything? Would it just cause more jealousy and resentment? The man had sacrificed so much already. Would the knowledge that their wife carried his child only make those sacrifices more profound? Maybe he would wait. Just until they knew for sure.

He was so lost in his thoughts that he did not even notice her approach the table where he sat. “How interesting running into you here, Bjⱷrn.” Her thick accent darkened his mind just as her tall form cast its shadow over him and the table where he sat.

If things had not been dark enough, this certainly was not a good omen. “I could say the same thing about you, Greta.”

The woman did not wait for an invitation, sliding into the booth next to him, saddling up as close as she possibly could until her small breast practically brushed his arm. “Are Mikael and Svein lurking about somewhere then? I did not think your stays in England extended to London and events such as this. Then again, I never truly understood much of what you all did beyond the smell of fish.”

And whose fault was that? Bjⱷrn bit back the retort to the woman that had almost destroyed his brother. His family. He glanced across the room to see that his wife’s back was still turned. He just wanted to get her gone before Kirsty returned. Greta was a complication they did not need. “I live here now,” was all he said.

She smiled and reached one of her red talons across, covering his hand with it until he drew back in disgust. The action turned his stomach and reminded him of another time, another night. When she had slipped inside his room and into his bed…naked. When that same hand had….

He jerked his hand back, sending his glass of juice careening across the table and landing on the floor with a loud crash. He looked up into the storm clouds of his wife’s pretty face as she quickly crossed the few feet to their table. “Kirsty, I can explain,” he fumbled.

The woman turned, and her scowl clearly said that she dismissed his wife as any threat to her plans. “Greta, may I introduce my wife, Kirsty. Kirsty, Greta.” Bjⱷrn made introductions that he wished he did not have to.

His wife shook her head, “Greta? Don’t you mean Gee?”

Bjⱷrn shrugged his shoulders at the name his former sister-in-law had adopted after leaving her husband and child for the world of run-ways and high-fashion. It did not matter to him how famous she became or how rich. She was still an ugly, hateful, and devious lying cunt as far as he was concerned.

“Oh, Bjⱷrn, you are joking, yes? This provincial creature? Your wife? How quaint? We both know you could have done so much better. I told you before, just say the word, I have contacts that could make you the next top male model. You could make more money off those golden blond looks of yours than your brother will make in a lifetime of fishing…or even your tinkering with those computers,” the woman rambled on, but he was only half-listening.

His eyes were glued to the tears that he saw gathering in his wife’s blue ones. That made him angry. Truly angry as he rarely allowed himself to be. All he wanted to do was hurt her. Hurt this woman, who had done so much damage to all the people he cared about. And still was.

He wanted to wrap his hands around her throat and strangle her. But not the intimate breath play that he shared with his wife. No, the mindless violence that had almost taken the life of a distant relation, who had been several years older than his tender six or perhaps seven.

The red haze of violence that had sent two others to the hospital that day before his brothers had arrived to save him. Even then, he had been big for his age. That was why his cousins had attacked him in mass. They had merely meant to taunt him, calling him ‘mammadalt.’ Perhaps push him around a bit, a few bruises.

They had gotten much more than they bargained for. Bjⱷrn had never raised his hand to a woman in anger and would not now. Even as much as the bitch deserved just that. He chuckled; as sickly masochistic as she was, the cunt would probably get off to a real beating too.

While he might not stoop to hitting a woman, there were other ways of inflicting pain — perhaps more useful ways of punishing a masochist.

“Yes, well, Greta, you should be more appreciative of my wife’s quaint and provincial talents since she is raising your daughter. Of course, you would not know that since you have not bothered to stay in touch with Mikael or your child.” He forced a smile he did not feel as he looked her in those ice-cold blue eyes that had made her famous. They were not nearly as cold as this woman’s heart.

How anyone could think she was beautiful was beyond him? “You are welcome to visit Monica sometime…if you can fit your daughter into your busy schedule.” He was pleased to see that his retort had managed to score at least a bit as the woman drew back and looked around the packed room.

“Yes, well, I am not sure how long I will be in London. I have a shoot this week. But then I have been invited to holiday on the French Riviera by a Saudi prince,” she waved her hand at a tall, slender man across the room. “It was nice running into you anyway. Please do give what I said some thought. It seems such a shame to deny the world such masculine beauty.”

She stood up and allowed her eyes to scan his wife from the top of her head to her sandaled feet. Her scowl did nothing to make her more attractive as she brushed dismissively past Kirsty. “I am sure someone like you was born to motherhood more than I ever was. Too bad you did not end up with the right brother.”

She shook her dyed blond tresses as her vitriol spewed forth. “I am sure that Mikael would have welcomed your homely mothering skills for the child. Or maybe Svein? He always was a cold fish. But with hips like those, you would certainly fulfill that man’s fantasy of the perfect breeding sow. But Bjⱷrn is clearly out of your league, darling.” Her laughter followed the woman as she walked away without so much as asking about her daughter or taking their number.

Bjⱷrn stared frozen in time after her for a long moment as the power of his anger ebbed and flowed like that Norse blood in his veins. He wanted to go after her, wanted to poke and prod at the tiny wounds his harsh words had inflicted until they were the gaping, festering holes that had almost consumed his brother for over two years.

But he knew he could not afford the luxury. It was more important that he soothe things with their wife. Not just for his sake, but Mikael’s as well. He forced a reassuring smile and looked up as the first tears spilled from his wife’s eyes. He held out his hand and tried to stand up. “Please, Kirsty. Please, I can explain,” he begged as she shook her head and ran crying towards the bathrooms.

He stared after her as he finally managed to get to his feet while dabbing the spilled juice from his slacks. His movement was quelled by the hand planted firmly on his chest. “I think you have done quite enough, stud muffin. Let me handle this one,” Roz said.

Bjⱷrn would have sworn there was not a submissive bone in his body, but the explicit authority and demanding tone the woman employed stopped him in his tracks. “Yes, Ma’am.” He muttered as he felt all hope that things might work out draining from him.

His shoulders slumped. “I love her, you know,” he muttered like a little boy making excuses when he dropped his mother’s favorite rose pot.

The woman smiled and placed a hand on his shoulder, “I know you do, kiddo. But it ain’t always easy for women like us to accept that love. Not with women like that lauding it over us and reminding us how unworthy we are,” she sighed. “Leave it to me. I’ll see what I can do, suga. It’s for damned sure that girl deserves some love and happiness in her life.”

Kirsty huddled against the wall, trying to stifle the worst of the tears. It seemed all that she did was cry anyway. Now, this. Her.

The mysterious Greta had been an unseen demon in her life, especially between her and Mikael. If that was not enough, the woman turned out to be the fucking hottest supermodel in the whole damned world. You could not go to a single newsstand without seeing at least one and usually two or three magazines with that striking face and perfect size zero body.

Of course, none of them had bothered to tell her that her predecessor was Miss Perfect. Lying bastards. All of them. Not a single one had had the balls to tell her the truth, but now she knew. Now she knew.

And there was absolutely nothing she could do about it! She certainly would not reject the precious little girl that the woman had born and then abandoned. It was not Monica’s fault that she had the world’s best DNA.

And them?  Well, there was not a damned thing she could do to hurt Svein. That always had been beyond her abilities to reach Mister Cool. But Mikael? A few nights without her answering his video calls would serve the coward right.

Bjⱷrn? That was just it. What was up with him? Why had he not told her before this? Maybe the way that woman was all over him. She might have been his former sister-in-law, but Kirsty would have sworn the woman was coming on to him?

“Kirsty Elizabeth Montgomery Dickens! I know you are in here. You have until the count of three to come out, or I start kicking these doors in. One stall at a time.” Kirsty had to chuckle through the tears because she could see Roz doing just that.

“Don’t do that,” she hiccupped as she tentatively opened the door a crack. “I’m coming out. Just give me a minute.”

“Sixty seconds and no more. Fifty-nine. Fifty-eight. Fifty-seven. Fifty-six. Fifty-five.”

Kirsty chuckled as she reached for the tissue and tore off a massive chunk of it, swiping at her eyes that she knew were red and swollen. “Oh, what’s the use anyway?” In disgust, she threw the tissue into the loo and flushed.

“Forty-three. Forty-two,” she ran straight in the welcoming bosom of her friend. Roz shook her head and licked her fingers, brushing them over her cheek. “It’s no use.” Her friend confirmed as she dragged her to the bank of sinks against the wall.

She pulled a handful of rough paper that passed for hand towels from the holder on the wall and soaked them in running water before turning back to Kirsty. “Here, suga, hold these over your eyes for a couple of minutes. That should take some of the redness and swelling out of those pretty eyes. And some of the dark smudges from your cheeks.”

Roz wrapped her arms about her and just held her for those long moments. It was not quite Petrine’s comforting maternal warmth. Still, it was certainly more than she would have ever gotten from Nancy Dickens, who would have probably launched into one of her tirades about it being her fault for allowing her weight to get out of control, to begin with.

Though Kirsty never could figure out exactly what her mother was talking about. When had she ‘allowed’ her weight to do anything? She could not remember a single photo of herself as anything other than a chubby cherub with flaming red hair and freckles. Even as a little girl. If DNA had anything to do with it, at least that was not something she would have to worry about with Monica.

She lowered the paper towels and stared at the disheveled reflection in the mirror. She wanted to burst into tears again, but Roz squeezed her shoulders, and their eyes met in the mirror. “Stop it, hunny. Stop it, right now. I can see those little wheels turning in that brilliant mind of yours. But this time, you are wrong.”

Roz spun her around until she was staring into the warm brown depths of her friend’s eyes and not mere reflections of them. Kirsty could see the gold and green flecks in them that added the warmth and sparkle that matched Roz’s personality. Well, the old Roz anyway, but that seemed to be who she was dealing with at the moment.

“You listen to me, girly. From the moment I met that man, I knew he loved you. Do you hear me, child? He loves you. Your husband is head over heels, madly, passionately in love with your ass. And ex-girlfriend or not, that is not changing. Hell, I had to Dom the hottie to keep him from following you in here.”

Kirsty had to chuckle at the thought, “You didn’t?”

Roz smiled, “Oh, yes, I did, suga. Poor boy, I don’t think he knew what hit him.”

Roz reached for some dry towels and began to dry Kirsty’s cheeks, taking the last dark mascara smudges with it. “If you want your revenge, maybe you should take a turn on the other end of that pretty new flogger he picked up from Jack today.”

“New flogger? Bjⱷrn bought a new flogger?”

Roz chuckled, “Little pain slut, are we?” She shook her head, “I should have guessed. But yes, why do you think he had me take you to the workshop on Topping from the Bottom? He needed to talk to Jack.”

Kirsty smiled – a new flogger? Maybe Bjⱷrn still had more interest in her than she thought. “Thuddy or stingy?”

Roz shook her head, and her thick curls bounced about her face. “Stingy, super stingy actually, but you don’t get off that easily, young lady. Did you hear me? Your husband loves you.”

“So, I expect you to square those shoulders, hold that head up high, and shake that sweet ass when we walk out of here. You will not give a woman like that the pleasure of knowing she got to you, do you understand me? If you do, I promise you – I will punish you. And my punishments aren’t as much fun as stud muffins. I have a three-month backlog of client reports that need filing,” she threatened.

“You wouldn’t?”

“Try me, suga. I don’t usually make a habit of domming another man’s property, but that one is so besotted that I doubt he could punish your little ass no matter how much you needed it. And you do for this one, sweetie.”

“Who was she to him anyway? His ex-girlfriend? I didn’t catch much of what was said cause I was too worried about you.” Roz adjusted the straps of her sundress and pinched her cheeks for color.

“She’s Monica’s mother. Mikael’s ex-wife.”

“Wow. Didn’t know you was traveling in such high company.” She shook her head, “Just that the man didn’t seem the type to be fooled so easily by a bit of pretty meat, but then too I only met him the once. Maybe that explains it?”

Kirsty shook her head, “Explains what?”

“Oh, nothing you need to worry about, suga. But if she is nothing more than a former sister-in-law, why should that bother you so damned much? Yeah, she did seem a tad ‘friendly’ for an in-law, but it was apparent even to me that Bjⱷrn was not interested in whatever the woman was offering. Seems to me that anything else is between her and Mikael?”

Kirsty sighed; this was her opportunity. Her chance to explain it all to Roz. To come clean about the poly, just as their surprise appearance here today had outed their interest in BDSM. There was little doubt that her friend would understand. She opened her mouth to begin just as the door swung inwards and her entourage of the beautiful people took over the whole space.

Her smile was icy cold and stretched the skin tight over her angular cheeks, making her slightly garish. Perhaps that was why in all those photographs you never actually saw her smiling? Or maybe it was something deeper?

Kirsty studied her for a long moment. They were about the same height, just shy of six feet. But unlike her body with its generous curves, Greta or Gee or whatever she called herself was so thin that you could see the bones in her cheeks, arms, and shoulders. While Kirsty’s skin was naturally pale to match her red hair and freckles, this woman was pasty and sickly beneath thick layers of makeup.

Their eyes met, and for a heartbeat, Kirsty would have sworn that she saw the pain in those icy waters. But then the woman spoke, “Sorry if we disturbed anything.” Her smile said that she knew precisely what Kirsty had been doing in the loo and took pleasure in her pain.

Kirsty inhaled deeply. Roz was right about one thing. She would not give this woman any more pleasure. She smiled more bravely than she felt, “No, it is fine. We were just finishing up. I have not been feeling well lately. But I’m sure you remember how tough those first few months of a pregnancy can be?”

Kirsty whispered a prayer under her breathe to Freya for forgiveness at the way she stretched the truth. She smiled at the shocked look on her rival’s face. “Monica needs a little brother or sister after all.”

It took the woman a bit longer to recover as Kirsty studied her reflection in the mirror for a moment before picking up her bag and smiling at Roz. “You mean cousin, of course.”

Kirsty smiled as she brushed shoulders with the supermodel as she opened the bathroom door, “Do I?” She begged further forgiveness from her goddess for the outright lie that scored a direct hit as what little color the woman did have drained entirely from her cheeks.

“Please do drop your card by the table later. I am sure that Monica would love to see her Mummy again after all these years.” She drove the dagger deeper. She just kept walking as Roz had said with head high and shoulders squared.

Bjⱷrn squeezed in the tight space in the dimly lit corridor, looking over his wife’s shoulder at the shiny metal butt plug with the large, fake red ruby at the end. He shrugged as he reached around her to caress the end. “It has possibilities. The red against your creamy skin would look nice.”

He loved the way that her cheeks flamed an equally deep shade of the color as she dropped her eyes, but he was not so fond of how her elbow felt to his solar plexus. “Aww, what was that for?” he teased.

He knew that of her cadre of acquaintances, only Roz could be considered a real friend. He frowned, so why had his wife not confided the truth in even this woman? She was as out of the closet with both polyamory and her interest in BDSM.

Yet in all these months, all the dinners, all the girls’ night movies that he knew was an attempt to distract her friend and lighten her dark mood as her divorce drug on and on, Kirsty could not tell him there was not a single opportunity to come clean about their lifestyle.

Hell, Mikael’s visit would have been a good chance. Though his brother had smiled and held out his hand in greeting to Roz, Bjⱷrn had caught the deep pain in his eyes at the words, ‘my brother-in-law.’

It was one thing to hide the truth from her parents. Though he would so love to tell them, if for no other reason than to see the look on her mother’s face. If the woman had so much trouble accepting her daughter’s relationship with one long-haired computer geek and business executive, he would love to see her deal with three Nordic fishermen. The thought brought a cheeky grin to his face.

That smile faded fast, though, when he considered the possibility that Kirsty had not told her friend the truth because she was ashamed of them. Was it possible that some of her mother’s prejudices had worn off on their wife?

It was not something he would have thought possible, but he admitted they had grown further and further apart the past months here. He was not even sure he knew her at all anymore. Maybe he never had? Maybe there was a grain of truth in Svein’s accusation that they had been nothing more than a holiday fantasy for her?

“Hey, earth to stud muffin. Move those tight buns, boy.”

Bjⱷrn was not entirely sure he liked Roz sometimes. Well, not the woman. That side of her. He had never had any trouble showing courtesy to other Doms and even Dommes in clubs like this one. And while he might not always understand or appreciate some of the things that happened between his brothers and their wife, especially Mikael’s sadistic shit, he had dealt with his jealousies. But sometimes Roz’s Domme side bordered upon rude. 

Of course, the woman was a switch. Maybe it was more show since she was feeling vulnerable and used right now? Perhaps she just needed a stronger Dom to put her in her place? Not that he was interested, any more than Mikael had been. No, their sometimes bratty wife was more than sub enough for them. But he would not mind being around to see the woman on the other end of a flogger someday.

Nonetheless, he followed them to the next stall as they listened to the man’s spiel about his antique Violet wands. He watched as the man held the glass appliance over his arm and electricity arced in a display of pretty lights, yellow, pink, and of course the violet for which it was named.

“So, do I have any volunteers?” the man held out the wand.

“Oh, me, me,” his wife bounced up and down like their little girl did when you signed and mentioned the word park.

He reached out a restraining hand, though, “No.” He watched the storm clouds gather in her face. He knew that she was still angry with him about Greta. A part of him could even understand. She felt betrayed that none of them had mentioned since leaving the Holding the woman had become some kind of model.

But what she did not seem to get was that it simply was not as significant to them as it was to her. So what if the woman made her money, appearing half nude on the cover of magazines? She was still the cold-hearted bitch that had betrayed Mikael, tried to seduce him, and abandoned her child. What was so fucking beautiful about a woman like that?

He was confident that this only added fuel to her fires, but he doused those quickly as he leaned in and whispered. “I do not want hundreds of volts of electricity coursing through your body. Not until we know for sure if you are pregnant, Kirsty.”

She nodded her head slowly as her hand went protectively to her stomach. “Yes, Sir,” she whispered though a bit petulantly.

“I will bring you back next month and buy you the damned thing if you aren’t, I promise.” Bjⱷrn tried to mend some bridges with her.

She shook her head, “No, it is all right. I understand, and you’re right, of course. I would not take the risk, not if….”

The other woman turned to them, “So, it wasn’t just something you said to get back at that bitch? You’re really pregnant?”

“Shhh, Roz,” Kirsty admonished as her friend gripped her in a tight embrace then suddenly released her.

“Oh, sorry, sweetie,” she gleamed. “How far along are you?”

“We don’t know for certain yet,” his wife said quietly as she looked down at the floor. “I really should not have said what I did like that.”

He was lost, but something told him that more had happened in that bathroom than he knew about. But now was not the time to discuss it. Though there never seemed to be time anymore to discuss anything.

Their lives were on autopilot. Get up, get ready, long commute on the train while being meticulously careful not to make eye contact or smile, work, work, work, then more train, followed by dinner, television, or more work before dropping exhausted into bed. Too tired to do anything more than pull her into his arms and inhale her soft scent as he drifted off to sleep. This place, this life drained you like the most strenuous day at sea; the most violent storm never could.

He missed the sea. He missed his brothers. His mother. The Holding. Hell, he missed his wife most of all, and he held her in his arms every night. Or the shell of the woman he had thought he knew. He sighed and followed along behind them as the women moved on to the next stall. Just as he would move on tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, through the humdrum existence that had become their lives.

Kirsty blushed; this was a bad idea. How had she let Roz convince her to do this? She clutched the thin wrap as tightly about her curves as she could. “I think I should just get back into my clothes and go home,” she pleaded with her friend.

“Don’t be silly. You know you want to feel that new flogger on your back, sweetie,” Roz teased.

She admitted the idea did have merits. She could count on one hand and have fingers left over the number of times she and Bjⱷrn had played since they moved back here. She could not even remember how long it had been.

Part of it was that there was no room in their tiny flat, unlike her bedroom on the Holding. Swinging floggers took a bit of space, and the couple of times that Bjⱷrn had tried, it was difficult for him to get a good rhythm going. While the basic padded St. Andrews Cross at the after-party lacked the ornate style of the furnishings in her bedroom, it would undoubtedly work better than the makeshift way that he had strung the rope over the pole in their closet.

But still, there were hundreds of people out there. Most of them thin…fashionable…perfect. Worst yet, SHE was out there. Parading around in nothing but a thong. With her flawless, apple size breasts. Her perfect long legs without a single dimple or sign of cellulite. Her tiny, little, tight ass.

And worst of all, her perfectly flat tummy. Even after pregnancy, not a single stretch mark and certainly no sign of a muffin top that so many women complained they could never seem to lose. Hell, she had a whole fucking cake worth of it…and she had never even been pregnant.

She touched her round tummy, not that she would mind. Not a thousand muffins. Not if she were pregnant. A baby. Her own baby. With Bjⱷrn. Not that it could change how she felt about Monica, nothing ever could. But as she had said to that woman, a baby brother or sister would just make things….

She sighed; who was she kidding? A baby could not make any of this better. She felt the tears gathering again as they approached the small crowd gathered around the cross. She fought panic and the need to turn and flee as fast as she could when she saw the perfect form strapped to it at the moment.

She would have done just that except for the firm hand at the small of her back as Roz whispered, “Head high and shoulders back. Remember, you have two things that she never will. Her child and that man’s love. And if you don’t believe that, look at his face, sweetie.”

Kirsty swallowed as she forced her eyes to do just that. He looked a bit sheepish. She could almost imagine him as the little boy with his hand caught in the cookie jar. She sighed; Roz was right, of course. None of this was his fault. How was he to know that woman would be here today any more than she had known her friend would be? And he had not fallen for the woman’s sweet innuendos. In fact, he had been almost as vitriolic as she had been.

He held out his hand as Roz pushed her the couple of feet towards her husband. Bjⱷrn brought her fingers to his lips and brushed a kiss across the back of her hand. “You look lovely, Kirsty.”

She studied the wooden floor as she mumbled, “Thank you, Bjⱷrn.”

“Oh, come on, you two, you’d think this was your first date or something. Hell, I’d think with a body like his, you’d have demanded to see it naked by now, especially when it comes to baby-making time,” her friend said a tad too loudly.

“Fuck,” Bjⱷrn cursed. “The baby? Maybe we should not….”

Kirsty nodded her head as she looked up at him, grasping at any excuse she could to run from this spectacle. “Of course, the baby….”

“Oh, do not worry about that, dearie,” crooned the thickly accented feminine voice.

Kirsty looked over Bjⱷrn’s shoulder to see her rival donning a black silk robe over her naked and now pink skin. “Mikael and I played regularly throughout my pregnancy with no effects on the child. And as I am sure you know by now, he is much more sadistic than baby brother ever could be.”

She squared her shoulders at the woman’s words that were laden with so many insults to all of them – Mikael, Bjⱷrn, herself, but there was one she would not tolerate. “Monica. Your daughter has a name…in case you have forgotten it.” She turned and brushed a kiss over Bjⱷrn’s lips as she tenderly caressed his cheeks. “We can’t let her win,” she whispered against his lips.

He smiled and nodded as he bowed courtly at the waist, “After you, my darling wife.” He held out his hand as he helped her up to the wooden X-shaped structure. He bent to secure the leather straps about her ankles.

Kirsty leaned her head against the padded wooden crossbar that provided additional stability for the structure and offered comfort for the sub. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. She tried hard to focus. To get into that headspace.

Still, the idea of being put on display like this before so many people. Even though the sarong style wrap that Roz had loaned her covered far more than Greta’s thong did, she felt exposed. The material was thin, almost transparent, and it hung and clung to all her curves. Curves? Nice way of saying…your fat ass.

Her breath caught as she felt his hands begin to slowly caress up her calves, “Open wider for me, sweetheart.” His voice was low and hypnotic as his other hand grasped her ankle and moved it closer to the wooden bar.

She felt her heart skip a beat, and it had nothing to do this time with the anxiety she felt at being so exposed to all those people – and everything to do with him. Her husband. And she felt closer to him at that moment than she had in months. All of the rest began to disappear as she felt those hands secure the other ankle.

Her eyes opened widely as his hands once more began to caress her legs, except this time, it was not just her calves as his fingers danced along her inner thigh. She held her breath as they went higher and higher. He would not dare. Not in front of so many prying eyes. But he did as they slipped between her legs and caressed her sensitive cleft from her clit back to ass.

He tapped it lightly. “Good girl,” he whispered when he felt the hard red glass end of the butt plug that he had bought for her.

She jumped as she felt his hand make contact with her bottom, driving the plug deeper inside her ass. She could not stifle the moan as Bjⱷrn’s other hand landed on the other cheek. She felt her body crushed against the soft firmness of the cross as he slid his body slowly up hers.

“Fuck, all the gods in Asgard, do you know how good you smell, sweetheart? I had almost forgotten how sweet your pussy is when you get turned on. Damn it, I wish there were not so many people around. I want to tongue your sweet cunt so fucking much,” he pushed his hard cock against her ass.

The plug became almost an extension of his cock as it gently fucked her ass, rubbing against her g-spot from the other side. She bit her lip and reminded herself. “You do not have permission to come,” his deep whisper matched her thoughts.

“Yes, Sir,” she slithered between him and the cold, firm padding, turned on as she had not been in months, even more so knowing that her relief would have to wait. She felt the fur-lined leather cuff tighten about her wrist.

“I think she is warmed up enough. Other people are waiting, you know,” the cold, masculine posh British accent interrupted. Kirsty could not help but turn her head to see the older man in black leather with his arm draped over her shoulder. She stiffened at the look of triumph and disgust on the woman’s face.

“You are the one, who said we couldn’t let her win, my love,” he whispered as he secured the cuff around her other wrist. His hands slowly caressed and kneaded her tense shoulders, brushing back from her shoulder the thick braid that she had woven. His teeth nipped that sweet spot where her shoulder met her neck.

“Good girl,” he said as she pushed back against his cock and moaned. His fingers raked across her shoulder slowly, crisscrossing her skin and raising blood to the surface.

“Please, Bjⱷrn,” she pleaded as she felt the wet begin to soak her knickers. She jumped when his teeth sank painfully deep into the same spot he had so tenderly nipped before. “Oh….”

His hand made contact hard with her bum, “Please who?”

Kirsty stifled the giggle. His teasing might have put her in a hopeful mood at the moment, but she dared not spoil it with a real punishment. “Please, Master.”

His tongue licked an oval on her shoulder before he placed a single soft kiss in the center, “Do not forget again.”

She whimpered when she felt him move away, the fresh air caressed her back, but it was not his touch. Then she felt the sweet caress, “Thor,” she sighed.

He began as he usually did with a series of lighter blows that built in intensity. Kirsty leaned against the wooden structure and allowed the erotic play of the falls upon her skin to clear her mind. There was no real pain, merely deep pressure like a masseuse kneading tight muscles. She lost track of time as the blows fell. Minutes turned to hours, then mere seconds. It was not subspace, but she skirted its edges.

His nails scraped across her skin, and she moaned, her body pushed back to rub against his. “Good girl, I was beginning to wonder if you were still with me, sweetheart.” She felt the warmth of his lips near her ear. “It has been too long since I had you on the end of my floggers if Thor alone can do this to you. Can you manage Hermóður, my love?”

“Yes, oh please. Please, Master,” she pleaded for the stingy flogger that was her favorite of the sons of Odin.

He kissed the spot at the very center between her shoulder blades. Then he was gone again. She felt alone and bereft, as she had since coming back to this place. She whimpered.

It turned to a moan as the first blow landed on the exact spot that his lips had blessed. She felt the thicker, stiffer leather bite into her skin, and she embraced the pain. She welcomed it. Her body craved and pleaded for as much as he could give.

She felt the blows, each of them individually, as they melded together into one. Some moments she wrapped her arms tighter about the wood, and others she danced upon her toes as it sank deeper and deeper into her flesh as her soul sank deeper and deeper into the pain that he gave her.

Just when she would have slipped into the abyss of light, embraced the peace, and disconnected from all else, it stopped. She did not even have the energy to open her eyes to see why. “Bjⱷrn?” she called out in confusion.

She could feel the wet of his perspiration as his lips once more tenderly administered to her tender flesh, “I am here, sweetheart.” His hands caressed up and down her arms as he kissed across her back.

“So fucking beautiful.” For a moment, she almost believed it was her that he spoke of. But it must be the pattern of raised pink lines that crisscrossed her back like an intricate lattice works upon some ancient temple. “How are you doing?”

“Gooood,” she slurred the word, but she did not care at that point. She had long since forgotten that they had an audience even.

“Would you care to meet Týr.? The god of war. I picked him up for you today.” Bjⱷrn leaned his head between her shoulders, and the wetness stung and soothed her skin at the same time.

“Yes, yes, please, Master,” she pleaded.

His hands caressed slowly down her arms from her fingertips that were raised high above her head, “No tingling?”

She chuckled, “Oh, loads of tingles, Sir, but only the good kind.”

His fingers slid slowly down her arms across her shoulders and down her back. Then they detoured as he reached around her body. He cupped a breast in each hand and kneaded it softly. His thumbs brushed the peaks as her body rubbed against his like a kitten pleading to be pet.

She whimpered when he abandoned them, his hands instead lovingly exploring her stomach, “Only a taste, my love. I know how very much you want it, but until we are certain. Until I do some research. I am sorry, but I will not risk it. Not you, or our baby.”

She nodded and forced her eyes to open by sheer will. She turned her head just enough to see him. His face had never been more beautiful. Maybe the woman had a point. Perhaps such sheer masculine beauty should be shared, but at the moment, she was enjoying having it all to herself. “I understand. I would not want to risk our baby either.”

He smiled and bent to kiss her lips, “Thank you, my love. I know what you are sacrificing.”

“Sacrificing? No…your baby is so much more precious than a mere taste of heaven.”

“Asgard, woman,” he teased as his hand connected with her bottom. “I will not have you polluting the little Viking warrior with this heaven shit.”

She chuckled, “You just remember that they counted shieldmaidens among those warriors.”

“Oh, how can I possibly forget when I’m married to you?” he teased as he stepped back. “Ready, my love.”

She turned her head back and rested it against the padding once more as she whispered, “Yes, Master.”

She could not stop the scream that erupted at the first blow. It stung worse than Mikael’s tawse on her bare, wet cunt. She sucked in the air deeply as she tried to gather her composure and brace for the next one.

“Hlín, my love?” She smiled at how worried he sounded.

“No, Master. A bit more, please.”

There was a long pause, and she thought perhaps he would deny her. “Ten. No more. And you will count. That way, I know you are not getting spacey on me, understood?”

Once more, she had to stifle a laugh, oh, her sweet, gentle giant. “Yes, Master.”

But when the next blow came, she quickly reassessed her assessment of his sweetness. It felt as if the flogger had bitten into her flesh so deeply that he had opened it. It was the very type of pain that she craved and adored. The kind that could so easily send her to subspace, but since that sweet escape was off-limits this time, it just plain hurt. “One,” she whimpered. “Thank you, Sir.”

The next hurt even worse as her fingers buried into the pleather padding covering the cross. “Two, Sir.”

The third had her dancing on both toes and pleading, “Three, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”

She screamed out as four landed between her shoulder blades. Before the number could pass her lips, she felt Bjⱷrn’s body brace hers.

He did not bother unbuckling the leather straps about her wrists. Instead, he merely released the D-clamps that held them to the cross. His hands rubbed her arms firmly, bringing blood back into them rapidly.

“Just when the show was getting good too. The little sub wimps out. Oh, wait, it was the Dom who wimped out,” that posh Etonian accent broke through the fog.

Bjⱷrn turned his head, though his body still bracketed and protected hers, taking the brunt of her not so unsubstantial weight. “This is no fucking show for your pleasure or anyone else’s. Have you forgotten that Safe comes first? Safe. Sane. And consensual. Or are you that stupid and selfish that the safety of your sub comes after your perverse need to inflict pain?”

“I’ll have you know, young man, that I was a Master while you were still in diapers.” Was it her imagination through the hazy fog of pain, or did the man’s voice rise an octave?

“You’ve really come up in this world, haven’t you, Greta? Pompous old men suit you so well,” Bjⱷrn turned his back to them dismissively.

What happened next, she was not sure. The room seemed to break into applause. Though her brain was too muddled to tell for whom the crowd cheered.

Suddenly, a bottle of water was pressed to her lips. “Drink this, suga,” intoned Roz’s soothing voice as she opened her eyes to stare into her friend’s smiling face.

She wanted to say ‘thank you,’ ask what was happening, where was Bjⱷrn. Then she felt strong hands about her ankles, releasing the cuffs there as well. Then there was a soft blanket about her body. Its warmth was comforting, but it chafed against her raw skin.

“I’m sorry, my love,” he whispered as he drew her body protectively against his.

Why was he apologizing? What had he done? She stumbled a bit for a moment, but there was no danger of her falling. Not with Bjⱷrn on one side and Roz on the other.

As they made their way forward and the crowd parted for them to pass, she stepped forward. “You never did have Mikael’s penchant for pain and blood, but what you do with those floggers is true art.” She stared at Kirsty as that pretty face contorted into a mask of hatred, envy, and disgust. She tried to push something into the pocket on Bjⱷrn’s trousers, but it looked more like she was trying to….

Kirsty’s stomach rolled at the very thought of it. She pushed Bjⱷrn aside and raced back towards the bathroom. Once or twice, she would have stumbled and fallen if Roz had not managed to stay right by her side every step of the way.

She barely made the stall as the limited contents of her stomach exploded from her open lips. Roz’s arms wrapped about her shoulders as hers encircled the porcelain seat. Even when the last of what little she had eaten and drank that day filled the bowl. Her body was still trembling with the spasms as she dry-heaved over and over until she practically collapsed into her arms.

The rest just sort of blurred. How she got from the stall and out through the packed room to the taxi that miraculously appeared was beyond her. The next thing she remembered was Bjⱷrn passing her off to Roz’s arms as he reached into his pocket to pay the man.

It fell on the floor then. The glossy, black and red business card embossed with the golden letter ‘G.’ The whole fucking world knew that trademark. She gathered all her strength and pulled the handle on the door as it swung open into the cooler night air. She shivered as it hit her sensitive skin, but she did not have the energy to both grasp the blanket about her shoulders and make a run for the front door of their building.

She chose to make a run for it. Wasn’t that the story of her life? Always running? She made it through the lobby. She did not bother waiting for the lift as she took the stairs the three flights to their flat. She was winded and on the verge of another bout though she was not sure whether it was tears or vomiting as she pounded on the flat door.

Georgia opened the door, but Kirsty did not give her the chance to speak as she pushed past her and even her little girl in a rush for the loo once more.

How had she not noticed the resemblance before? The woman’s child was as breathtakingly beautiful as she was. But her pulchritude was not marred with hubris and greed. It was pure. And if she had anything to say about it, it would remain that way.

In the end, it was both. Crying and vomiting simultaneously was more of an art form than people realized as her arms cradled her head. She did not know how long she sat there on the cold floor before Roz appeared. Her friend ran a tub of warm water that stung her back but soothed and calmed her taut nerves.

She must have dozed off in the tub because when she opened her eyes, it was his face she saw sitting on the loo watching her with a worried look. “I’m sorry. Going there was a bad idea.” Bjⱷrn spread out an extra-large bath sheet, lifted her to her feet, and enveloped her in its warmth.

She just nodded. She did not have the energy to argue at the moment. She just wanted bed and sleep. She would deal with everything else tomorrow.

Bjⱷrn crawled into bed next to his wife. He reached for her as he always did, but she moved away. He was not certain if she was asleep or still awake. But after over an hour of video chat with Mikael and their mother, he was in no mood for an argument with her. He thought about forcing the issue, about moving closer to her or merely pulling her into his arms even if she fought him. He ached for the comfort that he found only in her arms. He was so tired. Bone fucking tired. He needed her so badly.

But he could not risk rejection. Not from her. Not now. So, he turned on his side and faced the other wall. His back to the very thing that he needed more than air or water. His wife. But he was not even sure that she was. Not by the standards of this fucked up place for sure.

His eyes stung as he fought back the tears in the dark. What if she was pregnant? What then? This was no place to raise a child. No fucking way for them to live. He could barely breathe; his chest hurt so badly. What was to become of them? Any of them? Even his mother looked thinner, paler, even older. For the first time in his life, the woman looked her six decades.

And Mikael? If Greta had nearly destroyed him, this was going to finish the job. He would have done anything to spare his brother the pain of that conversation, but he could not. Greta’s appearance in their life complicated an already impossible situation.

One that none of them had a solution for. In the end, they had agreed to talk again. Once they knew for sure. Fuck! He had meant to pick up a pregnancy test from the store, but it was too late now. He knew it was only one more day, but every day in this place seemed like another in purgatory.

Not purgatory. Múspellsheimr, with its lakes of fire, made the Christian hell look like a day in the park. Or perhaps Niflheimr with its cold, dark barrenness?

Neither was a place he wanted to bring another child into. But he was almost certain it was too late to worry about that now. Hell, he would have sworn he could feel the child move when he touched her stomach while she was on that damned St. Andrews Cross. But he knew that was not possible. Not physically, anyway. It was much, much too soon for that.

Kirsty pinched her eyes shut tighter and pretended she was asleep. Maybe he would just go away? As much as she longed for the comfort of his strong arms around her right now, she was too confused. Too hurt. She needed time. Needed to figure a few things out. Needed to get her head on straight.

Her hand cocooned her tummy. Was it possible? Of course, it was. Months of unprotected sex made it not only possible but likely that she would fall pregnant. But the very thing that she had prayed and pleaded with the goddess for once now seemed….

Frightening. That was the word. She was scared. Petrified actually. So much had changed. They had changed. And as much as she wanted a baby, the timing just seemed off.

Hell, it even seemed wrong somehow that there was no doubt this child was Bjⱷrn’s. That should have been reassuring, especially here. Though they were brothers, what if the baby had been Mikael’s and inherited his darker coloring or Svein’s with those icy blue eyes? How would they have explained those subtle differences…especially to her mother?

No, she should be grateful. Not this strange longing. Wistfulness that this child would have no part of Mikael. The man was such an amazing dad. And Svein? Could she even begrudge the man the son he had waited a lifetime for?

Who knew maybe all this concern was for nothing? Perhaps it was just a false alarm? But as bad as the timing was, that thought brought no comfort. No, even if the timing sucked. She still wanted a baby. That much was certain.

Probably the only thing that was, in this new fucked up life they lived. She felt the tears slipping from her eyes onto her pillow and fought to hold back the flood that she was sure would wake him as she cried herself to sleep. In the bed next to the man she loved. Yet all alone.

Just as she had lived her whole life until the moment that he had taken her arm and drawn her through the turnstile at that train station in Tilbury. Svein. The first one that had captured her heart…and the only one whose heart she could never hold.

He sat, staring at the sky. It was not fully daylight. But there was still more than enough light left to work. Even this late at night as he drove the nail deeper into the board. But it did nothing to relieve the frustration and anger that seemed ready to boil over at any moment like a pot on his mother’s stove.

If winter was eternal darkness, then summer was perpetual light. Except he had chased away the only light that had ever dared to shine in his world. He had let fear of the raw emotions that were so fucking new to him control him. He, who had prided himself on his control, had lost it the only time that mattered. That was no fucking kind of Dom. Man. Or husband.

So the gods had condemned him to this barren existence of Niflheimr. With its dark coldness, which was still probably more than he deserved. Maybe he would rename this cabin that. The sooner he finished it, the better.

The screen had been dark for half an hour at least. His mother, whom they had both felt the need to include on this one, had long since disappeared. She had hugged his shoulders and kissed the top of his head. “We’ll figure something out, Mikael. We’ll bring them home somehow. I promise,” but the raw pain in her voice offered scant reassurance.

A baby? He knew he should be happy for his baby brother. And he was.

For all the reminder of that vicious bitch that this call had brought forth, he could never hate the woman completely. She had given him the one thing that meant more to him than anything else in this world — his little girl.

Well, more than just about anything. He would certainly not want to have to choose between them.

His wife. But was she anymore? The words, ‘my brother-in-law,’ brought an ache to his chest as deep as it had that day. Not my husband. No, that honor was his baby brother’s. He was just the brother-in-law. And whose fault was that?

His own stupid fault.

Now, this! A baby that would only bind her closer to Bjⱷrn. He felt everything he loved and wanted slipping through his fingers. It hurt so much he could not even bring himself to get up and move the few feet to his bed. Instead, he simply leaned his head on his arms as the tears began to hit the dark screen. Tears that had never spilled, even when Greta abandoned them.

But not even the light still streaming through the window could not brighten this darkness. Like the molten fires of Múspellsheimr, Ragnarök had come, and his Asgard had fallen, a broken, burning mess all about him.

She greeted the dawn atop the outcropping of rock that had always been the perch she had climbed to await their return. When CBs and sea-to-land radios were the only options in the days before the internet, how many times had she climbed the cliffs and looked out to sea for any sign of them?

Her whole body shook as the tears spilled down her weathered cheeks. She had thought it was a good omen that the girl had taken to this very spot just as she had as a new bride. But once more, she had chosen to see history through the rose-colored lenses of an old woman.

And for the first time, that was how she felt. Like an old woman.

Lars…the love of her youth. A man she had barely come to know before he was jerked from her embrace by that bastard Njörður and cold, heartless bitch Rán.

Andres…the first, the hook they had used to lure her to them. Her pain had driven him to the bottle. And that had killed him too.


“Damn you, damn you to Helveti,” she cried to winds. “Why must he be so much like you? Why couldn’t he have opened himself even just a little bit to her? Why couldn’t he love her back even just a bit? That was all it would have taken. If he had bent, even a little, she would have met him more than halfway.”

“Like you did all of us, woman?” She turned to see him standing there. She held out her hand. Without a word, he came to her. Wrapping her in the safety of his strong arms as even more tears flowed. Enough to fill the oceans afresh. Was there some hidden meaning that those tears were as salty as the seas that called them? Her husbands. Her sons.

“And the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons,” she whispered as she swiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

“Don’t be quoting your grandparents’ silly religion now, woman.” He kissed her tenderly, but even after four decades, the fires still burned brightly, and that tenderness soon fanned the flames of passion until they were both breathless.

“We converted your Christian ass to the one true faith long ago, Rachel. So, remember the goddess you serve now. Remember, you are the daughter of Freyja. Love. Fertility. And battle. The first…well, we have always had in abundance, woman,” he laced his arthritic fingers through hers and brought them to his lips.

He rubbed them against his thick beard until she giggled like the girl she had been when he first laid eyes on her. And he swore that she was more beautiful than she had been even then – if that was possible. “And if I overheard correctly, it seems the second is working out too.”

“I don’t know whether to hope she is or isn’t,” she sighed heavily.

“Yes, you do, woman. A baby is always welcome in this family. And like you told our boy, we will figure this out somehow. We always have — generations upon generations. Our way is never easy. You know that.”

He bent until they were eye-to-eye, “Which is why she is also the goddess of battle, woman. So, what are we going to do to bring them home where they belong?”

“You men, what would you do without us shieldmaidens?”

He chuckled, “Probably kill each other. But right now, woman, I am more interested in showing you what we do with our shieldmaidens.”

She laughed, and the sound rang across the fjord like the sweetest song he had ever heard or ever would, “Dirty old man.”

He stood up and held out his hand, “Then take a shower with me, old woman. I’ll wash your back if you wash mine.”

Her hands found the front of his jeans. Her fingers wrapped about him, “I much prefer washing the front.”

He caressed her lower lip with his thumb until they parted, “Yes, well, it is the inspections afterward that I like best.”

He wrapped his arm about her and stared out to sea for a moment. He added his prayers to hers that they would find a way to mend the divide, to make their family whole again. Because missing his baby girl and seeing his wife and son in this kind of pain was tearing him apart. As much as watching his brothers self-destruct had.

But this time, he would not watch helplessly. No, if he had to take that boy to the fighting fields himself, it was time this family learned to work together. To honestly share all that it had. What it meant to be brothers…real brothers.

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