The Unyielding Excerpt
Stieg stared down at the man holding a handkerchief to his broken nose. “Have you decided that life’s not worth living?”
“She attacked us.”
“You were stalking her. You’re lucky that all that happened to you was that birds shit on the roof of your car.”
“What?” He turned to see that a load of bird shit now decorated their immaculately cleaned, four-door, late-model sedan. “Oh, come on!”
“Be grateful. They could have pecked your eyes out.”
“Stieg?” Mr. Matucka called out from his store front. “Everything okay?”
Matucka had been great to Stieg since he’d moved in. Probably because when Stieg went into his general store, he didn’t just buy one quart of milk, but four quarts of milk, a few pounds of fruit, an entire display box of candy, a case or two of beer…you know, staple supplies.
“Everything is fine, Mr. Matucka. Thanks.”
“Okay. Let me know if that changes.”
Stieg waited the few seconds until the old man went back into his store before he asked, “Want to explain to me why you are here?”
When neither man answered right away, Stieg pulled his phone from the back pocket of his jeans. “Fine. I’ll just call Chloe Wong and let her know the Vatican was coming after one of her sister-Crows.”
“If we were going after her,” the driver snapped through the broken passenger-side window, “we’d have sent the nuns.”
The driver was right. The Vatican never would have sent these honorable men if they wanted the Crows challenged—they would have sent the Sisters of St. Mary Magdalene Convent of All Saints. Or, as the Clans knew them, the Chosen Warriors of God.
It was because of the bloody and brutal War of the Sisters that the Nine Clans had agreed to a truce with the Vatican. But that truce had been signed centuries ago. The Crows had only joined the Nine recently. So, as far as the Vatican was concerned, the Crows were still a dangerous enemy with a vicious past.
“Then what do you want?”
“We were asked to check on her. Make sure she’s safe.”
Stieg started laughing, something even he admitted he rarely did.
“I’m not lying,” the man argued, defensive. “We were asked to ensure she was still breathing.”
“You want me to believe that someone’s not only coming after a Crow…but Erin Amsel? Seriously?” He laughed more. He couldn’t help it!
That was like someone saying they were purposely trying to enrage Jace. No one purposely enraged Jace. No one who wanted to live anyway.
“Why would anyone tell you to check on Erin Amsel?”
“We don’t ask why. We just do.”
“How sad for you,” Stieg said sincerely.
“You can keep your pity, pagan. You people have brought us all to the brink of End Times with your dead religion and you have the nerve to—”
Stieg stepped into the man, towering over him, cutting off his next words. He briefly wondered if this was what it was like for the monks that met the first Vikings on the shores of English land. “We ain’t that dead. Not yet, priest. And we can take care of our own.”
“Your own? You still call the Crows ‘slave.’”
“Not to their faces.”
“You want us gone, we’re gone. But do yourself a favor, pagan. Keep an eye on your friend. For her sake as well as the sake of the world.”
Erin looked up from her phone when Stieg walked back into his apartment. “Hey, we got new Crows at the House. Twins. Weird, huh? We’ve never had twins before.” She glanced off. “Wonder how they died.”
Stieg stood in the doorway, staring at her.
“What?” She rolled her eyes. “What did those priests say? They started it,” she quickly accused…again. “I was just walking your goat. And your goat needs a name. Something cute…but regal.” She thought a moment. “Daphne.” Erin nodded. “We’ll call her Daphne.”
“I’m not calling her Daphne.”
“What’s wrong with Daphne? It’s a perfectly—”
“Hilda? What kind of name is Hilda?”
Stieg closed the door and moved toward her. “A good Norse name.”
“Is there such a thing?”
He stood in front of her…still bare chested. Only among the Nine had she seen men so cut. Not just their abs either, but their shoulders, arms, and God, their necks. Thick like the base of ancient tree trunks. She could hang off that man’s neck like a monkey and be perfectly happy.
The damn thing was distracting. Stieg Engstrom was distracting.
Erin had never noticed that before. Yet as he stood so close, she couldn’t ignore it now. Heat came off him in soothing waves while his dark grey eyes glared at her.
“You need to tell me what you did,” Stieg ordered.
“And you’ll need to be way more specific than that.”
“Who were you following last night? And why?”
Not in the mood to answer—because she knew it would get right back to her sister-Crows—Erin tried to step around Stieg, but he blocked her with his big body and stopped her from moving by placing his arms on either side of her, hands gripping the kitchen bar behind her.
“You’ve got the Vatican keeping an eye on you. The priests don’t normally do that because they know better. So you need to talk to me.”
“Actually,” Erin said, “I don’t. That is the beauty of being me.”
“You’re hiding something.”
Stieg leaned in closer, their faces nearly touching. “Tell me,” he ordered.
Erin couldn’t help but smirk a little. “Make me.”
Stieg’s frown deepened and she thought for sure that he was going to kiss her.
“Come on, Amsel,” he abruptly whined, eyes rolling in his head. “I don’t want to fight you.” He glanced at Hilda. “Not in front of the goat.”
“Not in front of the…”
Disgusted, Erin pushed her way out of Stieg’s hold. “I’m canceling breakfast. I need to get back to the house. Meet the new girls. Now, before I go, we need to get our stories straight.”
“Our stories? About what?”
“About what I was doing here last night.”
“Hiding from the truth and lying to your friends?”
“Are you going to be a dick about this?”
“Only if I need to be. And since you’re not telling me the truth…”
Sighing, Erin looked at her phone again and found the app to call her favorite car service.
“I’m leaving,” she said once the app told her the car was on its way.
“I can take you back.”
“No thanks.” She headed toward the door. “But heads up, I’m telling everybody we slept together.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because you’re my alibi for last night and no one would believe I was just hanging out with you.”
“You tell them that, and it will not go well for you.”
Erin stopped at the door, her hand on the knob. She looked back at Stieg. “Why would you say that?”
“Because you’re you.”
Now a little insulted, Erin faced him. “What does that mean?”
“You tell everybody you slept with me, they’ll just think you took advantage. That will not go well for you. Trust me on this.”
“Are you high?”
“Honest.” When Erin just gawked at him, Stieg explained, “I’m the former street kid who is considered sensitive because of my tough upbringing and abusive father. You’re the Crow that every Clan male is warned to avoid. You tell your sisters that you slept with me, and it will not go well for you.”
She laughed right in his face. “Okay. You believe that.” Rolling her eyes, she walked out the door.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you!” Stieg yelled after her.