The Unleashing Excerpt
Erin led the girls through Raven territory until she spotted the small wood house buried deep on the outskirts. But as she neared it, she sensed something sidling up behind her.
With a grin, she planted her feet, and turned at the waist. She struck out with both fists—and was expertly blocked.
That was the thing about Crows fighting against Ravens. It was kind of like fighting a larger twin. In nature the birds were not that different and Odin had created the Ravens for no other reason than to be able to stand toe-to-toe with or against the Crows.
Hundreds of years later, things hadn’t changed much between them.
“What do you want, Amsel?” Stieg Engstrom barked down at Erin.
“Just here to see your smiling face.”
“I don’t smile.”
“And doesn’t that make you sad?”
Engstrom really didn’t smile. Ever. He was like a big, angry oak. Tall. Wide. Cranky. He wasn’t always angry, but he was never what one would call happy either. Or amused. Or anything on what Erin would call the “Enjoyment Spectrum.”
Which was what made torturing him so much fun for her.
“We’re here to see Rundstöm for some trading.” She pointed at Kera as she approached them. “We have a new girl.”
Engstrom glanced at Watson, did a weird little double take, then nodded. “Oh. Yeah. Stay here. I’ll get him.”
Watson watched Engstrom walk off. “Is there a reason we can’t go to the man’s house ourselves?”
“Rundstöm? You don’t want to sneak up on Rundstöm.”
“It’s not really sneaking, is it? It’s morning. Not too early. He apparently has a business.”
“Rundstöm is a little—”
“Crazy,” Annalisa tossed in. “No one fucks with Rundstöm. Even the gods, who pretty much fuck with everybody, never fuck with Rundstöm. Because he’s crazy. And he comes from a long line of crazy.”
“When people say he’ll take the skin off your back . . . they mean literally. Because he comes from a long line of skin-removing Vikings and that’s what they do.”
“How does he run a business if you’re all afraid of him?”
“His stuff is great,” Erin stated matter-of-factly.
The giant who’d gone off to retrieve the “scary” Rundstöm walked back out of the house, followed by another giant who had to dip down a bit to clear his own doorway.
He was a dark version of Giant Number One. Black hair that nearly touched his shoulders, a dark brown beard that covered the lower half of his face. He wore dark green jeans, a black, worn T-shirt, and thick black work boots.
“Now,” Erin softly explained, “the thing to remember with Rundstöm is no sudden movements. No loud noises. Don’t do anything that might freak him out. Just smile—but don’t bare your teeth when you do—and let me do the talking. He tolerates me.”
But to be honest, Kera could barely hear the directions. Her heart was beating too fast. And tears began to well in her usually dry eyes—a “flaw” that used to bother her ex-husband. Her lack of tears over anything.
What choice did she have, though? When she was looking at the man who’d saved her life?
So, ignoring all of Erin’s warnings, Kera charged over to Giant Number Two and threw herself right into his arms.
Vig Rundstöm wrapped his arms around Kera Watson’s perfect, perfect body and held her tight.
Tighter than he probably should. He couldn’t help himself, though. She was alive.
Alive and well and in his arms. Hugging him back, and whispering, “Thank you!” over and over against his ear.
Kera finally pulled back a bit, her hands reaching up to grasp his face. She smiled and he saw tears in her eyes.
“I—” she began.
“So you two know each other?” Erin Amsel asked, the Crows having sidled their way up alongside them to get a closer look.
Kera blinked and immediately replied, “He’s a customer.”
“Yeah.” She looked back at Amsel and the other Crows. “A favorite customer. Used to come into the coffee shop I worked at. I always called him ‘four bear claws and a black coffee.’”
Vig felt Kera’s body tighten. “Yeah,” she barked back. “Really.”
“And you greet all your favorite customers with your legs around their waist?”
Kera unwrapped those legs from Vig—something he was not happy about—dropped to the ground, and turned to face Amsel.
“No,” Kera replied. “Sometimes I just get on my knees and give ’em blow jobs in an alley.”
“Did you learn that in the Marines, too?” Amsel asked.
A direct hit that Vig knew would turn ugly. He was already reaching for Kera as Stieg was going for Amsel. But Maeve beat them all, stepping between the two women and holding up her phone.
“I put my symptoms in . . . cancer. I have cancer.”
“You,” Amsel said, “do not have cancer. And,” she added, “if you keep talking about cancer you’re gonna eventually get it!”
“Are you wishing cancer on me?”
“No. But now that you mention it . . .”
With a noise of disgust, Kera grabbed Vig’s hand and led him back into his house, closing the door behind them.
She relaxed against the door and let out a relieved sigh. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Kera announced, “but all I want to do is beat that redhead. Beat her and beat her and beat her until she stops squawking at me.”
Vig nodded. “That’s not surprising. You’re trying to get used to the new and improved you. It’ll take time for your body to adjust.”
Kera didn’t seem to care about any of that.
“Vig. Vig Rundstöm. And all I did was ask a god a favor. But trust me, if you weren’t already worthy, Skuld would have completely ignored me. You’re here, Kera, because Skuld thought you deserved to be.”
“Put it any way you want. You saved my life.”
“I couldn’t. It was too late for that.” When Kera shook her head, he explained, “Kera, you weren’t already dying. You were on your last breath. Your soul was transitioning from this world to the next when Skuld took it. So I didn’t save your life. I just gave you a shot at a second one. A brand-new life as a Daughter of Skuld. As a Crow.”