November 2017 Newsletter
“I’m not hungry,” she told the persistent Protector. Earlier the man had actually come to her and asked if she’d “used the bathroom in the last three hours.”
What kind of question was that? And why was he so concerned?
Of course, with him staring down at her with those big green eyes, she’d finally gotten up to use the toilet, only to discover she really did have to urinate. Then she’d heard not-a-funny-as-he-thinks-he-is Gundo remark, “We may have to get that one a diaper to prevent accidents.”
But, Jace was forced to admit, she did like working around the Protectors. Unlike her sister-Crows whom she loved so dearly, the Protectors were wonderfully, unabashedly, almost obsessively quiet.
Not one of them was an actor or a musician or a model or a superstar with an entourage. They were all lawyers, social workers, judges, police detectives. They took the ideal of justice very seriously and tried, in their own Viking way, to give back to the community.
She admired that even while knowing she could never do it herself. Their jobs required too much time talking to people. Listening to them. Dealing with them. Since she was a child, there was nothing Jace hated more.
Much to her grandmother’s great annoyance, Jace would often disappear with a pile of books and a candy bar, forcing the entire family to come looking for her. She was often found up in trees, under the house, in the backseat of someone’s car, or in the attic of a family member. Any place she could find peace and solitude was where one could find Jacinda Berisha.
But that idyllic life had ended when her mother had come for her. When she’d taken her to the cult, where peace and solitude were not allowed. Alone time meant introspective thoughts that, even at a young age, Jace knew would lead to life outside the cult. Something the Great Prophet of the time would never allow. So, for sixteen years, Jace never had any time to herself except when she was studying or searching out proof to back up the current Great Prophet’s claims about the end of the world.
Then she’d become a Crow and all that had changed. True, in the beginning, the Crows tried to make her feel welcome. Tried to get her to join in. But, eventually, they realized that she didn’t want any of that. She mostly wanted to be left alone, and when she didn’t, she’d let them know. Much to her surprise at the time, the Crows were fine with that.
Until Rachel, for some unknown reason, had decided to make Jace her personal pet project.
Maybe she was hoping to show Skuld that she would be a good leader, but from what Jace had seen of other Crow leaders she’d met, including Chloe, they didn’t have to show anything. They just were and Skuld knew it.
The problem with Rachel, though, was that she was painfully hardheaded. Explaining to her that none of this would help her or Jace was just a waste of breath. She believed exactly what she wanted to believe until proven wrong. And it was hard to prove that being left alone was in a person’s best interest. It was human nature to assume that everyone wanted to be part of a pack. That everyone wanted tons of friends, popularity, and things to do on a Saturday night.
In Rachel’s mind, Jace was just a tragically shy girl who would get her rage under control once she went barhopping a few times with “her girls.”
Jace realized the Protector hadn’t walked away and she glared up at him. “I said I wasn’t hungry.”
“I’m not offering you food,” he replied. Although he didn’t sound angry, more amused.
“Then what do you want?”
“For you to leave.”
“Huh? Why?” She rushed to explain what she’d been doing all day, pointing at the computer they’d given her. “I already have the first two boxes of books listed with title, author, and basic theme. I haven’t gotten to the other boxes, but I will soon and—”
“Jace, I’m not firing you.”
“No. I’m telling you to get out because we don’t allow non-Protectors in the library when we’re not here.”
“Where are you going?”
“On a job.”
“In the daytime?” she asked, shocked. Did Tyr protect his warriors in the day? Why didn’t Skuld do that for her Crows?
But instead of answering her, the Protector grabbed the back of her seat and turned the entire thing around so that she was facing the big, floor-to-ceiling, UV-protected windows. It was dark outside.
“Yeah.” He turned the chair back, the scraping noise of the non-wheeled legs making her wince, and stepped beside her. “We’ve got work to do. We are nocturnal, after all.”
Eriksen was wearing the typical Protector fighting outfit. A white, sleeveless hoodie T-shirt, revealing his god’s rune branded onto his left upper bicep; blue jeans; thick work boots. Like the Ravens, he carried no weapons. Unlike the Ravens, the Protectors didn’t turn everything around them into weapons. Their hands and feet did enough damage on their own.
“And, unfortunately,” he went on, “I can’t have you stay while I’m not here since you’re my responsibility.”
“If you suddenly snap and destroy all the books, that’ll be on me.”
“Most say if I suddenly snap and kill everyone in the room.”
“We care more about the books.”
So did Jace.
“Okay. So you want me back tomorrow?”
“I’m sorry, did you think you were done? Because the guys already have a list going.”
“A list? For what?”
“The jobs they want you on after this. Nedolf is a public defender and he has several clients for whom English is a second language, and for some reason he doesn’t trust the current translator he’s working with. Sevald has been working with several Eastern European countries on some political issues, but his Polish and Ukrainian are sketchy at best, and he’s afraid he’s pissing people off.”
“He probably is.”
“Yeah. Then there’s Fredgeir—”
“Who wants a better name than Fredgeir?”
“No. He needs you to—”
“Forget it. Forget it.” She waved her hands to stop him. “Forget I asked.”
“You don’t want to be involved?”
“I didn’t say that. I just mean . . . I can only deal with one stress at a time and I’m pretty into these books right now. They’re my whole focus at the moment.”
“Good. Because that’s exactly what I want and the reason I started the list. I love my brothers, but one must get control of them from the very beginning or risk panic and whining. I hate the whining.”
He smiled and Jace thought about looking at something else in the room. He was just so . . . handsome. But then she couldn’t think of a reason to look away. Her divorce had been final for ages, her lawyer getting it through the system as fast as humanly possible along with a permanent protection order against her ex.
But as Jace gazed into this particular handsome face, she began to worry. So she asked, “You don’t pity me, do you?”
The smile faded. “Why would you ask me that?”
She scrunched up her nose a bit. “The cult thing.”
“Oh.” He thought a moment and she appreciated he didn’t reply with an immediate—and most likely bullshit—“No, no. Of course not. No!”
After several seconds, he replied, “I was surprised you told us about it. Because it’s clearly something you don’t discuss. Otherwise, it would have been fodder for the other Clans long before now.” He thought a little more. “But . . . I am glad that you trusted us enough to tell us about it. Still . . . in answer to your question, no. I don’t pity you. But I must admit, my heart did break a little for the girl you once were. And that your freedom was taken from you without your consent.”
Jace was shocked at such a thoughtful and caring answer. Not only did she appreciate it, but she adored the way he didn’t just react. Crows and Ravens were all about just reacting.
“Thank you,” she said. “I appreciate that.”
“Of course. But if those people bother you again, let us know. We have connections with the police, politicians, everyone. You don’t have to fight them alone.”
Jace had to smile. “I’m a Crow. I never fight alone.”
“True. But you don’t have to physically fight them either. So if you’d rather take a more rational approach . . . the Protectors are here for you. I’m here for you.”
Jace got the feeling he was trying to tell her something beyond what his words were saying, but before she could reason it out, a banging at the windows startled them both and they looked to see Stieg Engstrom standing on the other side of the glass, glaring.
“Do I need to kill him?” Eriksen asked.
“No, no.” She quickly shoved her few things into her backpack. “I’m sure he’s here for me.”
“He couldn’t come to the front door like a normal person?”
“Stieg? No. He rarely does what normal people do.”
Jace slung the backpack over her shoulder and motioned to Stieg. “Front door!” she yelled at him. “Go to the front door!”
“Are you sure you’ll be all right with him?” Eriksen asked after Stieg slowly moved away, his glare locked on the Protector.
“I’ll be fine with him, though I doubt you would. He’s not a Protector fan.”
“You two together?”
“We’ll be together in the car.”
Eriksen frowned in confusion, then said, “No. Are you two together? Like dating. Or something.”
Jace laughed. “There’s no one in the world who would let that happen.”
Ski opened the door and allowed Jace to walk out. As he did so, he made sure to keep his gaze fastened on the Raven glaring at him.
Actually, they glared at each other.
There was simply no love lost between Ravens and Protectors. They tolerated each other the way cats and dogs tolerated each other, which was to say not at all unless they were in a situation that required it.
“Why are you here?” Jace asked the big, slow-witted Raven.
“Kera asked me to pick you up.” Still the Raven stared at Ski. “I can’t believe they let you come here and stay here . . . alone. With them.”
“Are you just going to keep staring at him?” she asked Engstrom.
He finally looked down at her. “Whose side are you on?”
“Can we just go?” she asked, walking toward the car. “And I’m driving myself here tomorrow.”
“Do you even have a license?” Engstrom asked, still staring at Ski.
“Ski, you ready?” Gundo asked from behind him.
So, Ski turned just his head around so that he could look at his friend. He heard the Raven growl.
“Fuck! I hate when you bastards do that.”
Ski swung his head back. “Then fucking leave, Raven.”
“With pleasure,” he shot back, arms thrown wide in obvious challenge as he walked backward toward the car.
Jace tossed her backpack into the car, then returned to grab the Raven by the back of his neck.
“In the car! Jeez!”
She pushed the Raven toward the vehicle and waved at Ski and Gundo. “See you tomorrow.”
They waved back and watched her get in the car and drive off with the Raven, the pair bickering the entire way.
“They dating?” Gundo asked.
“She says no.”
“Good. Because you like her.”
Ski nodded “I do.” He faced his friend. “I don’t think she gets that, though.”
“Oh no. She doesn’t get it at all.”
“Why do you always have to be a dick to them?” Jace asked Stieg. “Can’t you be nice? For once?”
She let out a sigh and stared out the window.
“And I don’t know why you’re being so bitchy to me. It’s not like he was any friendlier.”
“That’s not the point. You’re on their territory and you bang on the window like a mental patient!”
“I did that to protect you.”
“Protect me from what?”
“He was giving you ‘the look’.”
“The look? What look?”
“The I-want-you-to-be-my-concubine look. Like he would have been more than happy to toss your chunky ass over his shoulder and carry you off to his pompous, book-lined Viking boat.”
“My ass is not chunky.”
“Well, it ain’t small.”
Jace pressed her fists against her forehead. “Explain to me again why we’re friends?”
Stieg shrugged. “You’re one of the few people I get along with.”
“And that doesn’t tell you something?”