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Nordic Fairies - The novel

 

 

Nordic Fairies

By Saga Berg

 

 

Disclaimers and Copyright

 

This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places or incidents are product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons is entirely coincidental.

 

1st Edition

Copyright 2016 by Saga Berg

All rights reserved

 

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing by the author Saga Berg, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

www.sagaberg.com

 

 

Shakespir Edition

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Svala froze. This was it.

Viggo Storm sat between his two co-stars, behind a desk at the end of the mall. The line of fans waiting to get their pictures autographed stretched so far it would take hours for the end of the line to reach him.

Despite the multiple no pictures signs placed along the line, the herd of teenage girls snapped pictures with their Smartphone’s every chance they got. Svala observed the young actors up front. Viggo’s female co-star, Amanda Jones, was beautiful with her raven black hair and spotless complexion. The other male co-star with his crew-cut anonymous hair color and predictable good looks made no lasting impression next to Viggo. Then again, it wasn’t a fair comparison. The boy was undoubtedly a mortal.

“I can’t believe we finally get to meet Viggo Storm.” Megan shifted her feet and glanced past the crowd. “Do you think they’ll throw me out if I try to kiss him?”

“So worth it if they do,” said Sarah with a mischievous smile.

At his movie premiere the night before, Viggo had been impossible to get close to as he was constantly surrounded by security guards and journalists. One girl tried. She managed to get past two dark suits, but as she was about to throw her arms around the handsome young actor she was caught and escorted her out of the theatre. After her stunt, no one dared to get close to him.

“Oh God, there he is!” Sarah clasped the glossy promotional picture in her hand so hard it wrinkled. It looked like she would pass out. Megan stared at Viggo and gasped.

Svala clutched her picture with both hands, no longer sure she wanted to know what she had come to find out.

Viggo offered the girl in front of him a half-hearted smile and handed her the signed picture. His clear blue eyes, typical of all the Nordic Fairies, flickered over the mall. Svala ducked behind the girl in front of her while Megan, Jen and Sarah stepped out from the line and tip-toed for a better view. A girl in front of them wore eight inch heels and wobbled to the side while attempting to peek over the crowd.

Viggo continued scanning the mall area. His eyes narrowed as he peered over the crowd until his male co-star nudged him. He ran a hand through his chestnut-colored hair and forced a smile to the girl standing in front of him. She handed him a picture.

Sarah consulted her watch. “I’ll absolutely die if I don’t get up there before they close the line. I’ve already practiced what to say. Do you want to hear?”

The girls nodded with enthusiasm and moved forward as the line progressed. Sarah presented her speech, Svala tried to focus on her words, but her thoughts drifted to the consequences of failure. She glanced at the entrance. There was still time to leave, but if she did, it might be years before she found out what was going on, and by then it might be too late.

“Amanda Jones is so lucky.” Sarah studied Viggo’s female co-star with a pout. “It’s unfair. She’s not even that pretty.”

“Oh, really?” Jen crossed her arms over her chest and lifted a single eyebrow in doubt.

Svala chose to not get involved. The thought of Amanda Jones made her insides turn, and the dark thoughts it provoked were not suitable for a Liosálfar.

“I’m entitled to my opinion, and I don’t think she’s pretty.” Sarah tried to sound confident but fiddled with her hair, pulling a strand of her blonde bob hair cut behind her ear.

“Viggo seems to think she is,” said Jen.

“That’s just a rumor. They’re pretending to be together. It’s a publicity stunt.” Sarah rolled her eyes as if they were stupid for not getting it.

Svala glanced at Amanda Jones. The actress leaned over the table and signed a picture with slow, methodic strokes. Her long, straight hair fell over her arm and onto the desk. Black and shiny it gleamed in the bright spotlight. When she handed back the photo, she tossed back her hair and smiled, exposing a row of perfect white teeth. Her delicate features made her look like a porcelain doll. She was stunning.

Eight weeks had passed since Svala ”won” the tickets to the premiere of Moonlight in Venice. The movie was a success before it premiered, thanks to Viggo Storm in the leading role as Colin Hunter, the rich heir who falls in love with the wrong girl. Your standard love story. Suffice it to say it wasn’t the plot which made teenage girls go into a frenzy every time someone mentioned the movie.

The seventeen-year-old wonder boy, with his intense blue eyes and contrasting dark hair, appeared out of nowhere. After a small but significant role in a prime-time TV show, his popularity had sky-rocketed overnight. Svala wasn’t supposed to have any contact with him until the High Council decided she could. It was always a struggle but this was the first time she kept running into his smiling face on the front page of magazines or up on a billboards. Not to mention the Viggo Storm mania that took place on social media. Now he sat only a few feet away, behind a herd of girls who had come for the sole purpose of meeting him. In that respect, Svala was no exception.

“God, look at him.” Sarah gaped. “I didn’t think it possible to be that gorgeous.”

Svala studied Viggo in silence. Her heart pounded. Viggo searched the room again and most of the girls stretched and tried to catch his attention. He lowered his gaze, a line crossing his forehead. Svala’s heart continued to race, and her nausea intensified. Maybe not knowing was better after all.

“I honestly thought they’d tampered with his pictures. I didn’t think his eyes were actually that blue. Like, where did he come from?” Jen said.

“I’ve read he’s Swedish,” Megan said.

“He’s said that?” Svala asked too quickly.

“Yeah, in an interview … In Cosmo, I think.” Megan pondered.

“Your family is Swedish too, aren’t they?” Sarah asked.

“Yeah, way back though,” Svala said.

“Maybe you’re related then. Like a hundred years back in time or so.” Jen grinned.

“Yeah. Maybe.”

A hundred years back in time equaled an eternity for her friends but was only a fraction of her life. She smiled to herself and glanced at Viggo. The temptation to tell mortals the truth never arose, but she sometimes wondered how they would react if she did.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

10th Century

Birka, Sweden

 

Svala was fourteen years of age when Trym, her Liosálfar mentor, came to her the first time in the 10th century. It was a warm summer day in July, she sat on a large rock by the surf in the Swedish village of Birka, crying. Her long blonde hair covered her face. The sun had warmed the earth for weeks and the hard rocks almost burned her delicate skin. She endured the pain as this was the only place where no one would look for her.

Her father had left for another long trip out at sea, but not before he forbade her to meet that boy ever again. That boy who was only one year older and perfect for her.

“You cry because you are honest.”

Trym’s voice had been unexpected, his words even more so. Svala wiped her face with the back of her hand, a cool and salty wind breezed through her hair as she looked up. A stranger stood on a rock a few feet away. The waves lulled gently against the rocks by the surf with a low whisking sound. Svala eased back and pursed her lips together, not sure of the stranger’s intentions.

“Your father would never know if you met the boy while he’s gone, and yet you cry because you know you won’t disobey.”

His strange insight into her life made her tears subside. She opened her mouth to speak but not a sound came out. Instead, she stared at him. Something about him made her calm. He was tall, wearing the traditional brown Viking attire but with a long silvery cloak over his shoulders. It was out of place, almost regal. She should be terrified. Strange men approaching young women like this usually meant trouble, yet she felt perfectly safe in his presence.

Behind him in the distance, sailed her father’s symmetrical ship with the impressive white sail raised to the wind and the dragon shaped bow and stern perfectly visible against the blue sky. It would be months, possibly even years before it returned, before her father would be able to check in on her.

“I’ve been looking for you, Svala.”

“How do you know my name?”

Trym squinted at the sun before he knelt beside her. When he studied her the light reflected off the water and onto his face. His skin was smooth and perfect; his blond hair fell like silk over his intense blue eyes.

“Do you want to be with this boy for eternity?”

She frowned.

“Do you love this boy?” He rephrased.

She nodded.

“You’re only fourteen. How do you know this?”

She studied her hands and thought about it. How could you put words to something which could not be described?

“I don’t know. I just feel it.”

Trym smiled, like her answer pleased him. “I have an offer for you, Svala. I think you’ll like it.”

Svala never hesitated nor did she ever regret her decision. Trym told her what he was and what she would become if she agreed to his terms. She hadn’t grasped the whole concept at first, only the simplified version. Nordic Fairies divided into light and dark; Liosálfar and Döckálfar. Trym recruited her on behalf of the Liosálfar, the light fairies. Given her honesty and pure heart, he considered her the perfect candidate. She was to help keep the balance in the mortal world; do good and uphold a sense of honesty.

Her incentive was Viggo. He had gone through the test and agreed to the same deal. His Liosálfar mentor was a fae named Alva.

From that day, Svala’s life always started at the age of fourteen, Viggo’s at fifteen, and continued for as long as the High Council decided. They aged, like any other mortal, but rarely reached old age before their lives started over. In the beginning of each life, Viggo and Svala were kept apart, forbidden to meet. They were driven by a need to unite, but if they initiated their relationship before they finalized their assignments there would be consequences, maybe even punishment. Only when they had proven themselves worthy, could they be together for whatever period of time the High Council decided.

Their time together usually lasted for years, on rare occasions months, once only a few weeks. They always remembered their past lives and experiences, but no mortal ever remembered them.

“Everything needs to be earned and should never be taken for granted,” Trym often reminded her.

She lived with Trym until she fulfilled her assignments. He took orders from the High Council, and made sure Svala didn’t connect with Viggo before it was time.

“Why would we be punished for our love, and what would happen if we failed?”

“You must focus on the assignments. That is what’s most important. If we don’t try to make this world a better place, the balance is lost. The Döckálfar might take over,” Trym explained.

“And what will happen if we disobey?”

“Then you risk losing each other forever.” He must have picked up on her terrified expression because he put a hand on her shoulder and added. “Don’t worry. You’ll soon find the time apart a small price to pay for eternal love.”

Today, it had been two years since Svala had last seen Viggo. Their previous assignment took over six years to accomplish, yet their union had lasted only three weeks before they’d been torn apart. It felt like they’d been apart for a decade.

 

***

 

A few months back, in present time

Washington D.C.

 

Several months before Svala stood in line at the mall waiting to meet Viggo, she slouched on the beige Lawson style couch in their living room back in Washington D.C. She dug her spoon into an almost empty container of Haägen Dazs Cookies and Cream while zapping through channels. She was just about to give and turn off the TV when Viggo appeared on the screen. Svala froze with her hand clutching the remote control. For a moment she forgot how to breathe. The blob of ice cream she’d scooped up slowly slid off the spoon and back into the box.

Her gaze fixed on the screen while she shouted out in a high-pitched, panicked voice, “Trym!”

Trym emerged from the kitchen, wearing a blue apron and clutching two potholders in his hands. He opened his mouth to speak but as he saw Viggo on the screen the words got stuck in his throat. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped while the color drained from his face. He sat down on the couch, his gaze never leaving the TV screen.

Together they watched in tense silence as Viggo walked over a tiled Italian terrace and up to a large swimming pool. The turquoise water glimmered in the sun and in the background stood an impressive white mansion fronted by several cast stone balconies with balustrade and newel piers.

“My God, what is he doing?” Trym asked.

Svala stared at the screen, her lips still parted. “I don’t understand. What’s he doing? What does this mean?”

Trym let his fingers linger over his lips as Viggo removed his white cotton shirt. The tattoo on his tanned left shoulder blade confirmed it was indeed Viggo. The wind caught hold of his short brown hair, and something deep inside Svala ached to reach out and run her hands through the soft strands. She eased closer to the TV.

“I don’t know what this means,” Trym said. “He has to know we’ll see this. I can’t imagine the High Council have approved it. They would have informed me.”

“Shouldn’t we do something?”

The remains of the ice cream had turned into a slow moving liquid at the bottom of the carton, and the cold box left her hand numb. Svala placed it on the coffee table but never lost sight of the screen.

“We have to find out what this means,” Trym said, a worried frown on his face. “And we have to be careful while doing so. If he’s not trying to get your attention someone else is.”

”The Döckálfar?” Svala tore her gaze from Viggo and her eyes widened in fear. ”You think they’ve gotten to him?”

”I don’t know.” Trym observed the screen, lips pressed tightly together. ”Let’s hope not.”

 

They waited patiently for Viggo’s next public appearance, the movie premiere. Once the release date was announced, Trym made the necessary arrangements and bought them tickets to attend. No one would suspect four sixteen-year-old girls going to the premiere of a movie most teenage girls were dying to see.

 

***

 

Svala packed for their trip. A red suitcase lay open on her bed, clothes spread all over the room, on the bed, over the armchair and hanging from the closet door.

“I know it’s difficult, but try to stay out of his sight. The more you find out without contacting him, the better,” Trym said.

She ran her fingers over a red dress with a low back she planned to wear to the premiere. Feeling the smooth fabric under her hand, she sighed. “That’s asking a lot.”

“I know, but you must.”

“Would you? I mean if it was…” She trailed off, feeling bad for bringing it up.

Trym said nothing. He pressed his lips together, avoided her gaze and reached for her dress. “I would suggest you wear something less… eye catching.” He moved the red dress to the side and pulled out a black Filippa K with clean straight lines, typical of Scandinavian design. “And dye your hair. Dark.”

“How dark?” She didn’t want to meet his gaze again, too upset with him for pointing out what she already knew.

“Just dark.”

Svala grabbed the end of her thick, blonde hair and groaned. She didn’t mind going dark, but Viggo would not be searching for a brunette.

“Can I trust you?” Trym leaned against the white bed frame and offered his most intense look.

She nodded but her gaze drifted towards the red dress, the one that would make Viggo notice her the second she stepped into the movie theatre.

Trym sighed. “You have to be stronger than this. You know that.”

She managed another nod. Her eyes welled up and Trym looked helpless. His shoulders slouched, and his gaze never settled. She knew he only wanted to protect her from what he had been forced to go through. She was being unfair.

“You can trust me. I’m sorry, I…” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I just miss him so much.”

 

***

 

They flew up to New York for the premiere. Trym told her friends’ parents he would accompany them and make sure they returned safe. To Svala’s friends, Trym was her uncle who raised her since her parents died in an accident when she was five. They’d used that version the last two hundred years so it was well rehearsed. Trym was too young to be her father and too old to be anything else.

In the taxi from La Guardia airport to their hotel in central Manhattan, Jen turned to Trym.“Mr. Linné, do we have to go back to the hotel right after the movie, or can we stay out longer?”

“I’m afraid I promised your parents I’d have you back in bed by eleven. I won’t be able to go with you to the premiere, so I trust you do as I say.” Trym let his gaze wander over Svala. She gazed out the window, hiding her tense expression.

Trym wasn’t her uncle, but until she reunited with Viggo he still decided what she was allowed to do.

“But what if there is a party after?” Sarah asked. “Could we go?”

“No.” Trym eased the rejection with a smile. “I need you to come straight back to the hotel.”

“But what if we get to meet Viggo Storm in person?” Sarah insisted.

Svala bit her tongue and evaded Trym’s worried gaze.

“Then definitely no,” he said.

Sarah’s smile grew stiff, as if she tried to pretend she wasn’t disappointed. Trym was usually more easygoing than the other parents; he didn’t give them a hard time for coming home late or going to parties. That was only because he didn’t think of Svala as a teenage girl and sometimes forgot her friends were.

Svala glanced out over the New York skyline when the cab closed in. The city held so many memories, good and bad. This was where she and Viggo first arrived when they moved to the States during World War I, and where she’d lived most of her lives. If Viggo expected her to seek him out, he’d know this was where she’d come looking for him.

 

***

 

They stayed at Park Hyatt in the balcony suite. Trym said it would make the pretense of a prize more credible if anyone was paying attention. Svala was unsure if by anyone he meant anyone from the High Council or the Döckálfar community but knew better than to ask if Trym didn’t provide the information on his own.

When the other girls unpacked in their rooms, Trym took Svala aside. “Are you sure you can handle this?” he asked. ”You don’t seem focused.”

Her mood shifted the moment they entered the city and she wasn’t very good at hiding it.

“You need to find out what’s going on. And you don’t approach him unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“I know what to do.” Her response came out more annoyed than she intended.

Trym leaned closer and lowered his voice. “If he’s only trying to meet you, you have to be stronger. You have to walk away. If the Döckálfar is using him as bait to have you break the rules you might never get to see him again. You understand that, don’t you?”

“You don’t have to keep telling me. I know.”

Trym stepped back, crossed his arms over his chest and sighed. “I know you do, but I don’t think you know what it actually means. If he’s been compromised by the Döckálfar, and if we don’t handle this right, we might not only lose him, we might lose him to them. I don’t think the balance would ever be restored.”

“I know. Why do you think I’m so nervous? What if I’m not strong enough to resist him and we…” She closed her eyes.

“Just try to remember what’s at stake. Never let that thought out of your head. Because you will lose him forever if you break the rules, there is no question about it. Especially not after what the two of you did.”

Svala held her arms crossed over her chest, her lips in a tight line, her shoulders drawn up. A light tap on the door interrupted their conversation. It was Jen.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt.” Her gaze flickered between the two of them.

Svala relaxed her shoulders and smiled at her friend, trying to prevent all of her fears from mirroring in her eyes. She had hundreds of years of practice trying to pretend she was a normal teenager. This should not be so difficult.

 

 

Chapter 3

 

With time to spare before the premiere, Svala and her friends headed out for a day in New York. After two hours of shopping, followed by a stroll down Broadway, they ended up at Dean & DeLuca. Svala ordered a tall Cappuccino and a chocolate-chip cookie, then took the seat next to Sarah by the window. Outside, people hurried past with their suit cases and Starbucks cups, missing the whole point of living. It always surprised her with how little time they had to live their lives.

While she listened to her friends’ expectations on the upcoming evening, Svala watched a middle aged lady in a red coat rush down the street. The woman’s hair was short and blonde and the tight fitting coat with a matching belt and large black buttons made her stand out in the crowd. She thought of her. She could be one of the people walking by, and Svala wouldn’t even know it. Life could be so cruel.

“I wonder how close we can get to him.” Jen pushed her long brown hair from her face.

The lady outside answered her cell phone as she crossed the street, then disappeared down the stairs to the subway station.

Sarah placed her blue cup on the black table and pursed her freshly glossed lips together. Her short bob hair cut framed her slender face and her brown eyes sparkled with excitement. “What if…” She bit her lip with a concentrated frown. “What if I tripped and fell on him. Then he’d have to catch me and fall desperately in love with me.” She met the others’ doubtful expressions. “That could happen.”

“How could that happen?” Jen’s tone of voice indicated Sarah was in fact an idiot.

Svala stayed silent through her friends conversation, and her thoughts drifted to the last time she had been with Viggo, two years ago. At the time, she appeared to be twenty years old, but in reality she was closer to nine hundred. Three weeks earlier they’d reunited after they’d finished a six year long assignment. Usually, their time apart was much shorter. At one time, it had taken only three months to get back together, though normally it took between one to three years. Six years was a long time to wait to be with the one you loved and three weeks not nearly enough to satisfy their need.

This time, Svala moved to Viggo’s life. He lived in Los Angles during their six years apart, finishing his Masters Degree in Economics. Svala spent her six years working with environmental issues in the Antarctic, and didn’t mind moving from the cold to sunny Los Angeles to be with the man she loved.

She remembered that last morning together when Viggo stepped out from the large tiled shower in their Hollywood mansion. Steam filled the room along with a fresh scent of shampoo and soap.

Svala stood by the sink, finished brushing her teeth and met Viggo’s gaze in the foggy mirror in front of her. He held her gaze and reached for a white cotton towel, perfectly folded on a shelf beside the shower. He ran it swiftly over his face and hair before he wrapped it around his waist.

“Do you want to get married this time?” he asked.

Svala placed her electric toothbrush on the white marble sink, then met his reflection in the mirror again and smiled. His eyes shifted to a lighter shade of blue and his smile warmed her heart.

“What?” he asked amused.

Water dripped from his hair onto his shoulder. She admired the view, completely content just to have him there.

“Nothing.”

Viggo walked up and wrapped his strong arms around her small frame. The back of her thin silk robe, turquoise with a Japanese print, clung to his wet chest. Svala closed her eyes as his lips pressed against her neck and his hands slid in underneath her robe.

“I love you,” he whispered and inhaled her scent in one sharp breath.

She leaned her head against his shoulder and his unshaven cheek brushed against her smooth skin. He kissed the tip of her nose and placed a hand on her hip. She turned, tip toed, and circled his neck with both arms, locking her hands in place behind his head. The movement made her robe slide slightly ajar and Viggo glanced down with a shy smile. “I think I’m going to have to stay home today after all.”

She chuckled and he pulled her closer. His body was firm, the hair in the back of his neck still wet, dripping onto her hands.

“You’ve been away from work for almost three weeks. If you don’t go back soon, they might fire you.”

He nodded and rested his forehead against hers. “I know, it’s just… Six years is a long time.” Clasping her face in both hands, he tilted her head back. “I’m terrified they’ll make us start over too soon.”

She released her hands from behind his neck to caress his face. His bristles scraped against her hand. “I’m sure they’ll give us enough time to compensate. We’ve learned our lesson.”

He pulled her into a kiss. Soft yet determined, his tongue found hers. She kissed him back, and allowed him to push her against the sink. She didn’t want him to leave either, but they had to live their lives like normal people now. They had to be responsible.

She placed a hand on his chest and broke the kiss. He eased back and tucked away a blonde string of hair from her face. In this life, she had cut her hair just above her shoulders.

“Promise we’ll still be here in the end of the day.” he said.

She stood on her toes and planted a soft kiss on his lips. “I promise.”

He lingered on her lips, then pulled away and turned to the sink. Svala tied her robe, catching him watching her with a shy smile. She tip toed to give him a last kiss then walked toward the door that lead out to the master bedroom.

“You never answered my question,” Viggo said

She turned and met his gaze. “What question?”

“Will you marry me?”

She smiled and met his beautiful eyes. “Of course, honey. Always.”

 

 

“Aren’t you going to eat that?”

Svala snapped out of her day dreaming as Jen pointed at the chocolate chip cookie on her plate. Svala held her Cappuccino clutched in both hands on the table, the cup full, the content lukewarm. She released the cup and pushed the cookie toward Jen. “No, go ahead.”

Jen shook her head. “Uh-uh. I need to look gorgeous in my new dress tonight. There is simply no room for dessert.”

Svala consulted her watch. Four hours until the premiere. Her heart skipped a beat.

“We should head back to the hotel, get some rest.” Sarah collected her shopping bags under the table.

Jen glanced at the clock on the wall. “Yeah, we should get some sleep. There is only so much make-up can accomplish.”

Out in the street a warm wind swept past her. Steam poured out from under the ground and dissolved in the sky. The humid air mixed with exhaust made it difficult to breathe.

The sun had come out from behind the clouds so the girls took off their summer jackets and tucked them into their shopping bags. After a short debate whether or not they had time for more shopping they agreed it was better to go back to the hotel and relax.

Svala lingered at the end of the group. With hours to spare, she had time to do something she’d been itching to do ever since they arrived in New York. The girls walked along Broadway Street and Svala followed behind for a few minutes before she made up her mind, and stopped.

“Listen guys, you go ahead back to the hotel. I have something I need to do.”

The girls stopped short in the middle of the crowded sidewalk. Sarah’s brows shot up, and the other two girls mirrored her expression. Svala wanted to kick herself for being so impatient. She should have waited and snuck out when they didn’t notice.

“What?” Megan asked when Svala didn’t elaborate.

Lying had never been her strong suit so she told them the truth, thinking they wouldn’t be interested in coming along anyway. “I found this shop on the internet. I wanted to check it out.”

“What kind of shop?”

“It’s a shop that sells gemstones. You don’t have to come with me. Go back. Get your beauty sleep. I don’t mind going on my own.”

“Gemstones?” Sarah frowned as if Svala’d suggested they’d go and buy drugs.

Svala hid her annoyance over the condescending tone in Sarah’s voice with a smile. “Yeah.” She shrugged, like she realized it was a stupid thing to take an interest in. “But seriously, you don’t have to come with me.”

Jen consulted her wristwatch. “We still have a couple of hours. You shouldn’t have to go alone.” She looked at the others.

“Of course. We’ll come with you.” Sarah agreed.

 

 

The silver bell at the top of the door chimed when the four girls entered the small shop in Brooklyn. A comforting scent of incense met them inside. Svala’s friends inspected the place with forced smiles, their discomfort shining through.

Along one of the walls stood a long table with small wooden boxes filled to the brim with different gemstones. A large round table was placed in the middle of the room. It held similar boxes filled with silver ornaments. Necklaces and earrings hung from tiny wooden constructions that resembled miniature leafless trees.

The middle-aged woman behind the register read from a thick leader bound book when the girls came inside. At the sight of costumers, she removed a pair of black-framed reading glasses, and closed her book. “Welcome. Please let me know if you need any help.”

Svala nodded a silent thanks, willed herself to focus her attention elsewhere, and went over to the display by the window. The woman placed her book on the counter, and studied Svala.

Fairies remembered everything from every life they lived, but the people in their lives didn’t always. To them, it was sometimes as if they’d never existed. And if they did remember them, they could never be recognized. Even so, the woman kept studying Svala, like she was trying to place her.

Svala walked over to the gemstones by the window and focused on breathing calm. Her hands trembled. This had been a bad idea from the start.

Her friends remained quiet. They walked over to the table with the silver necklaces, pretending to take an interest. Svala ignored their silent ridicule as they picked up a pair of earrings and exchanged looks of amusement. In a way, it was a good thing they came along. It prevented Svala from initiating contact.

A bright amber necklace caught Svala’s eye. The sun outside the window reflected against the necklace’s heart and made it glimmer in a familiar way. Svala reached out and ran her finger over the smooth surface. As a child, she thought amber the prettiest thing in the world. Her mother had a necklace made of this particular gemstone, though much smaller.

She removed the jewelry from the stand and let it weigh in her hand. “How much for this?”

The woman walked out from behind the register. Her heels clicked against the wooden floor and the heavy set of necklaces around her neck clattered to the beat of her heals.

“There is something special about amber, isn’t there?” The woman’s blue eyes lit up. She had been stunning in her younger days, and still had an elegant charm about her. The lines on her face and the streaks of grey in her blonde hair only emphasized her beauty.

“It’s always been my favorite,” Svala said.

Their eyes met, and the woman tilted her head to the side. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but you aren’t one of those teen celebrities, are you?” Her smile grew hesitant.

Svala bit her lower lip. Her friends caught the odd question and listened in.

“No.” Svala shook her head.

The woman kept observing her, obviously not convinced. “It’s so strange, I could have sworn I’d seen you somewhere. Are you from around here?”

“No.”

A moment of silence passed, their eyes met again. Svala examined the necklace mostly to focus on something other than the woman’s eyes and the urge to throw her arms around her. She wanted to tell her how much she missed her and how sorry she was for the life she had to live because of them.

“I’ll take this.” She closed her hand around the amber stone.

The woman studied her a while longer. “Good choice,” she said, then walked across the room toward the register.

Svala’s friends eyed each other as she followed the woman, necklace in hand. The woman reached under the counter and retrieved a small paper box. She placed the box on the counter, paused again and shook her head. “Don’t you just hate it when you can’t place people? You’re the second one today.”

A chill went through Svala.

“The last one was a boy, a very handsome boy. Must have thought I was checking him out the way I stared at him, trying to place him. He bought an amber necklace too. Isn’t that funny?” She reached for Svala’s hand gripping the necklace.

Svala couldn’t move.

“The necklace, dear.”

Svala reached out and handed her the gemstone.

The woman let the necklace fall into a paper box. “That’s why I asked you if you were a celebrity. Turned out, he was some big movie star. I’d probably seen his face on TV. Now, what was his name again?” She gazed up at the ceiling trying to remember, but fell short, and turned toward a door in the back. “Emma, what was the name of the boy who came in before, the movie star?”

A girl appeared in the doorway. “Is he back?” She scanned the shop, eyes large with expectation.

The girl’s raven black hair contrasted her eyes, an unnatural shade of blue, like the sky on a clear summer day. Svala couldn’t tear her eyes off her.

“No sweetie, he’s not back. What was his name?”

Mom!” Emma rolled her eyes. “I told you, it was Viggo Storm.”

 

 

Chapter 4

 

“Viggo Storm was here?” Sarah approached the register, the other two girls in tow.

“Yeah, like an hour ago.” Emma beamed.

Svala couldn’t breathe. She shouldn’t be this surprised to find out. After all, she was here too, wasn’t she?

“How was he?” Megan inspected the shop like she hoped he was still hiding out in there.

“Oh, he was ever so charming,” the woman said. “Kind hearted. Not at all like I would imagine a big movie star. He seemed almost modest. And he was very interested in the neighborhood and this shop. He knew a lot about gemstones too, about their origins. Did you know for instance that amber was once used in folk medicine and thought to have healing powers?”

“He told me I was beautiful. That I reminded him of someone he knew.” Emma burst with pride. “Didn’t he mom?”

The woman smiled at her daughter, and nodded.

“Did he say anything else?” Svala asked, hoping he’d left some kind of message for her.

“Well, he did say something strange. Before he left, he told me to take good care of my loved ones when they needed me and then…” She trailed out like she doubted her own memory. “Then he told me to trust my heart to do the right thing.” She frowned, then smiled. “I thought that a bit odd, don’t you?”

Svala’s friends avoided looking at each other but pursed their lips together in doubt. Svala met the woman’s blue eyes again and forced a smile.

 

***

 

Later, when the girls prepared for their big night, Trym took Svala aside to talk.

“Search for Alva. If she’s there, she’ll be able to fill you in. I tried to get a hold of her. I don’t understand why she’s not responding.”

Trym and Alva weren’t supposed to stay in contact during Svala and Viggo’s assignments either, but they had ways of contacting each other if needed. The fact that Alva didn’t respond unsettled her.

“What if she’s not there?”

“Then you observe. Read his face, try to determine if he’s being monitored by anyone, but keep your distance. Don’t let him or anyone catch you. If the Döckálfar is involved, you can’t let them see who you are.”

Svala fastened a pin on her black dress and studied herself in the full-length mirror. Her deep-blue eyes against the auburn colored hair was almost as eye catching as the red dress she’d left at home. She reached for her brown contact lenses.

“If you feel tempted to approach him, think of the consequences.”

Svala blinked three times then studied herself in the mirror and straightened out her dress. Her heart pounded.

“If you are the slightest bit unsure, don’t do anything at all. If you can’t control it, leave.”

Adjusting the pin again she inhaled and closed her eyes. She had to be strong, for everyone.

 

***

 

The red carpet outside the movie theatre continued onto the street. Beautiful men and women in designer outfits posed in front of the photographers. A group of security guards stood in front of a golden fence. Behind the fence hundreds of teenage girls crowded together, waiting for a glimpse of their idol.

“I feel like a celebrity.” Sarah beamed when a guard let them inside.

The flashing lights from the cameras subsided while they strolled down the red carpet toward the entrance. Sarah stopped and turned to the photographers with a deliberate pose. She placed her hand steady on her hip, her head held high. The flashes momentarily intensified. For all they knew, she could be the next YouTube phenomena.

Svala took the opportunity to scan the place for Alva. As far as she could tell there was no sign of Liosálfar or Döckálfar presence. The only other immortal she noticed was a vampire. He’d spotted her instantly of course and stared at her from where he stood next to the large movie poster up by the entrance. He puffed on his cigarette and grinned, deliberately exposing his fangs as the smoke seeped out between his lips. Svala reached up to touch her silver pin. Most vampires knew better than to harm them in public.

When the photographers lost interest in Sarah, Megan grabbed Sarah’s arm and pointed at a blonde girl further down the red carpet. A sparkling dress barely covered the girl’s slim body and she stood impressively steady in a pair of black eleven inch heals with red soles. “Isn’t that…?” Megan narrowed her eyes and leaned closer.

“Oh my God, I think it is.” Sarah gasped and tried to see pass the photographers crowding around the woman.

“Seriously.” Jen rolled her eyes, and continued toward the entrance. Her long, high pony tail was neatly placed over her left shoulder, falling down over the front of her olive green dress. “Try to act like you’re not complete idiots.” She reached out for Svala. “Come on, let’s go inside and search for Viggo.”

Jen had just finished her sentence when a white Bentley limousine pulled up outside the theater. All the photographers turned to the car and a sea of flashes lit up the night sky. The limo stood there for a couple of seconds, the flashes subsided, and all the teenage girls waiting outside moved in for a better view.

When the door opened Amanda Jones was the first to get out. The flashes from the cameras increased in intensity. Amanda’s long red dress flooded over her perfect body, her black hair tucked up in an impressive knot on the back of her head. Her lips were painted as red as her dress and her eyes sparkled with excitement. She smiled to the cameras as if she loved the attention.

After Amanda, followed Viggo. He wore a black tailor made tuxedo which made him look several years older than he was. The last time Svala’d seen in him in a tuxedo was at their last wedding. She’d walked towards him, barefoot, wearing a white dress on a beach in Florida. That was over fifteen years ago. The distance between them now was almost the same as then and every part of her urged to be near him.

They were always drawn to each other, but this was different. An uncontrolled need rose inside of her and she didn’t know how to control it. Her stomach turned to knots. She gasped for air and focused hard to control the natural urge to run up to him.

A bright spotlight was aimed at the two movie stars. Viggo squinted and gazed over the crowd, then reached for his co-star. Their hands intertwined and the camera flashes intensified yet again. Svala stared at their hands, a stab to her chest. The need to walk up to him intensified. But he wasn’t supposed to see her, not like this, not now. She gathered all of her self control and stepped back where the shadow from a ticket booth disguised her face.

The girls on the street behind the fence screamed Viggo’s name. Viggo acknowledged their presence for two seconds and the girls screamed straight out like they had gone mad. The short attention increased the volume of their admiration for a long while after and the guards were kept busy preventing some girls from climbing the fence.

Amanda leaned against Viggo’s frame and whispered something into his ear. When their eyes met they smiled, and then both turned back to the cameras. Viggo met the flashes with a weightless gaze, his posture completely relaxed as if he was unaffected by the attention and unaware of Svala’s presence.

Slowly, and as if controlled by someone else, Svala stepped out from the shadow. Viggo abandoned the cameras and his entire presence shifted. His posture perked and he scanned the place with a focused gaze. As the spotlight blinded him he squinted again and when their eyes met, Svala wasn’t sure he had seen her with the light straight in his eyes. But she’d looked into his eyes, and she was no longer sure she could do this.

 

 

Chapter 5

 

A group of security guards cleared the way for Viggo and Amanda when they walked the red carpet. Occasionally, the couple stopped, allowed more pictures to be taken, or for journalists to ask questions. Their hands remained intertwined.

Svala’d eased back into the shadow. Her gaze fixed on their hands and something stabbed her heart. It was too much. She tore her gaze away and searched the crowd for Alva again. She wasn’t there. No one from their world was there. Even the vampire had left.

Viggo abandoned the cameras and the journalists to look around the crowd again. Svala wondered if he’d seen her, or if he at least had sensed her. She felt him so strongly it almost took over everything else, but she was aware of his presence. He might not be aware of her.

“Come on, Svala. Let’s get over to the other side. We’ll see them better from over there.” Jen reached for her. Sarah and Megan were already heading over.

Svala moved further back, glancing over at Viggo and Amanda with the lump still in her stomach. She could couldn’t risk them seeing her.

“Actually, I need to go to the lady’s room.”

Jen frowned. “Are you serious? Now? We might not get another chance to see him up close.”

“I’ll be right back. Go ahead. I’ll look for you.”

With her friends gone, Svala took the time to study Viggo’s face. He scanned the crowd, eyes narrowed, as if worried about something. That didn’t help her much. He would be worried regardless of his reasons for being there.

She longed to go up to him, put her hand on his hip and lean into whisper how much she missed him. She hadn’t been there in their Hollywood Mansion in the end of the day. They never did get married in their last life. Seconds after she turned around in the steamy bathroom the room had flashed like it always did when they started over, and she had ended up somewhere else. She didn’t walk into their bedroom and she didn’t get to feel his breath on her skin again. Instead she ended up in another room, in another house, in Washington D.C. She was fourteen years old and starting all over without him.

Viggo’s hand tightened the grip on Amanda’s and Svala blinked back the tears. Crying in a public place would draw too much attention. She had to control her feelings. She blinked again, excessively this time, but the tears won. Frustrated over her inability to control her emotions, she hurried inside the theatre and continued towards the lady’s room.

Once the door closed behind her, the heartache subsided. She leaned against the door with a deep sigh, then realized she was not alone.

At the end of the long sink a woman applied more lipstick to her already ruby-red lips, another fixed her hair in place with a comb, and a third observed her own cleavage from the side, pushing her breasts together with a firm grip. They all registered Svala’s presence, but then continued with what they had been doing.

Svala kept her head down and walked up to the sink. She dug into her purse for her lip gloss, pretending to have come in to fix her makeup, just like the others. She leaned over the sink, closer to the mirror, and lifted the brush to her lips. The spotlight from the upper edge mirror fell on her face, exposing her perfect fairy skin. She froze with the pink brush inches from her lips and her eyes widened. One contact had disappeared and she stared into one brown and one blue eye.

The woman beside her stopped fixing her hair, and studied her for a good long while. Svala eased back from the mirror, away from the light. She lowered her head, and removed the other contact. Different colored eyes would draw even more attention than her unnatural blue eyes.

The woman faced her, and placed a hand on her skinny hip. She lifted her chin to study Svala closer. “Are you someone’s daughter?” she asked.

Svala knew that by someone she meant someone important, but couldn’t stop herself from the obvious answer. “Well, yes, of course. Aren’t you?”

The woman smirked, but let her gaze linger. Then her smirk grew uncertain, her lips twitched at the corner. Svala’s cocky reply didn’t rule out the possibility she was someone important.

Further down the powder room, the woman with the lipstick leaned back. She glanced over at them with an amused smile. The third woman offered them a quick bored look, like she didn’t care either way.

Svala opened her bag and dropped her lip gloss back inside. The woman still studied her and it made her nervous.

“Look, I’m no one important. I won the ticket.” She tried to keep her voice calm.

The woman stared at Svala. Her lips pressed into a thin line and her eyes narrowed, like she was insulted by Svala’s nonchalance. Then, something changed in her eyes and her gaze shifted from annoyed to intrigued.

“Your eyes…” She leaned closer. “And your skin… You look like…”

Svala lowered her gaze in a beat.

“Are you related to Viggo Storm?”

Svala chortled. “I wish.” She tapped her fingers against her purse. “Or not, you know.” She rolled her eyes and raised her shoulders in feigned insecurity.

When the woman didn’t reply, Svala changed her tactic. “I have to…” She nodded toward the door. “My friends are waiting.”

The women in the bathroom scrutinized her as she scurried out, almost tripping over her own feet. Her heart drummed so hard it resonated in her head. She had to focus on why she was there.

The theatre was crowded. She couldn’t find her friends but spotted Viggo and Amanda by one of the large movie posters, talking to a journalist. On the poster, Viggo held Amanda in his arms to a background of a Venice setting, gazing longingly into her eyes. Rather tacky and predictable, Svala thought, with self-noted jealousy.

Her friends were probably somewhere in the crowd closer to Viggo, which meant she had to stay away from them. She should try to position herself behind him, the best way to avoid being seen. To get there, she would have to go across the room, and pass him. Since Viggo was occupied with the journalist, that shouldn’t be a problem.

If Alva or someone else didn’t show up soon, she didn’t know what she was supposed to do. With all these cameras and journalists around, making contact with Viggo would be too risky. She should stick around and observe until everyone was inside watching the movie, then she could sneak out.

Grabbing her bag with a firm grip, she walked out into the light. She kept her eyes on Viggo, and headed for the back of the room. A row of benches stretched along the wall back there. At the end of the row, the light had gone out, offering the perfect hiding place. She picked up her pace and walked until Viggo was dangerously close. With a turn of his head he would easily spot her. Determined to make it past him, she held her breath and took a long stride toward the benches. That was when she fell.

Somewhere in mid-fall, she realized what was happening. Her foot caught in a soda container carelessly tossed on the floor, and she lost balance. People around her yelped in surprise as they witnessed her fall. The loud murmur in the theater ceased, and garments rustled as everyone who hadn’t seen her at first, turned to watch the scene. When she landed on the ground she dropped her purse and braced herself against the hard floor with both hands.

A man in a tuxedo quickly came to her aid. He knelt down and offered a hand. “Are you okay, Miss?” he asked.

“Thanks. I’m fine.” She reached for her bag while the man still held her arm.

“Are you sure?”

Her eyes flickered over the floor, then stopped when she sensed Viggo watching her. Looking up, she meet his gaze. He stood only a few feet away, staring straight at her. She stopped breathing, and without noticing, her eyes welled up again. The moment felt like minutes but if she had counted the seconds, she would have stopped at three. Three seconds, then Viggo broke eye contact and continued his discussion with the journalist in front of him. Svala stared at him in shock. His gaze had been blank and uninterested, annoyed even. Like she was nothing but another screaming girl, desperate for his attention.

The man kneeling at her side studied her with concern. “Miss, are you sure you’re okay? You look pale.”

“I’m fine,” she managed through a strained breath.

Viggo didn’t turn to look at her again. Instead, he put his arm around Amanda and pulled her closer.

 

 

Chapter 6

 

Svala left the theatre in tears after her embarrassing fall and texted her friends she was feeling sick and had to leave. Back in the hotel room, she sat with Trym on the edge of the bed, her eyes swollen, her gaze distant. “He didn’t recognize me. Why didn’t he recognize me?”

Trym put one arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. “I don’t know, sweetie.” He kissed her temple. “Maybe he did. Maybe he only pretended not to for the same reason you didn’t approach him.”

“No, he looked straight at me, and he was…” She stared into the distance. “There was nothing there. Nothing.”

Trym hugged her tight. His silence worried her as he usually knew the right thing to say.

“Do you think they got to him? Could they have erased me from his memory?”

Trym stroked her hair. “It’ll do you no good, thinking like that.”

She grew silent. He hadn’t answered her question.

“Was this how it was with the two of you? Did Alrik forget who you were before? Did you ever meet after…”

Their eyes met. Trym offered a meek smile, then continued stroking her hair. “No.” His voice was firm. “That was different.”

She studied him, hoping to understand what went through his mind. Trym was the only one she knew who lost someone he loved to the Döckálfar.

“You would tell me, wouldn’t you? If you knew they could erase his memory, you would say so. Wouldn’t you?” she asked.

“Of course.” He leaned in and kissed her forehead. “Try not to worry. We’ll figure out what’s going on. I mean you haven’t done anything you are not supposed to do, right? There is no reason for them to punish you.”

Svala shook her head but avoided the nightstand where she’d placed the box with the amber necklace. “No. Of course not.” She swallowed hard.

“Good. Then you have nothing to worry about.”

Trym rose and walked toward the door. For a second, Svala considered telling him she had gone to see her, but quickly decided against it. He had always been against them seeking her out, and he was obliged to report it to the powers that be if she told him.

“Trym?”

He stopped. “Yes?”

“What do we do now?”

When their eyes met, Svala could have sworn Trym saw right through her. That he knew she’d broken the rules by seeking out the one person they were forbidden to go after without approval from the High Council.

Trym reached up to rub his chin. “There is an autograph signing tomorrow at the mall. I’ll reschedule our flights.”

“What am I going to do there?”

If Viggo didn’t recognize her, or didn’t want to see her, what would it accomplish to seek him out again?

“Try again,” he said. “That is what we do, isn’t it? Try to get close enough to see if there is any change, anything that would indicate he’s shifted sides. If anyone can see it, it’s you.”

 

***

 

The line at the shopping mall moved. They passed a beauty store and the scent of perfume intensified. At least it was better than the stench from the food court. Sarah leaned against a sturdy advertisement sign from H&M showing a skinny woman in a red bikini smiling on a beach.

“This is going to take forever,” she sighed.

Svala agreed. They’d waited in line for over one hour, and they had hardly moved. She looked at the table up front. Viggo was bored and impatient. To those who didn’t know him he probably gave a different impression, but she could tell. He didn’t want to be here.

“If we don’t make it, I might have to hurt someone,” Jen muttered.

A group of eleven tween girls ahead of them sulked as they were forced to abandon the line. They walked over to a lady waiting by the Gucci store. One of the girls whined and told the woman she was being ”completely unfair”. The woman glanced at her wrist watch and shook her head, then urged the girls to move along.

The line moved.

Viggo signed another picture, smiled at another girl and tapped his fingers against the desk. He didn’t seem to care that everyone was looking at him, but he’d always been good at blocking out attention. After signing another picture, he dropped the pen onto the table and flexed his hand. Before he grabbed it again, his hand went up to his neckline. Svala’s heart stopped beating for a few seconds as he grabbed for a tie that wasn’t there. When realization hit him, he smiled to himself and let his hand fall down over his chest.

Svala’s heart beat faster.

That had been their sign when he needed her to rescue him out of a social situation. He’d touch the bow of his tie, as if adjusting it, or let his hand smooth over the length of it. Whenever he did that, Svala would come and request his attention elsewhere, thus getting him out of the situation without being rude. It had been especially useful in their life before last when Viggo had run for office and their attendance to dull functions and fund-raising events had seen no end.

Svala smiled. Even if he didn’t recognize her, there was still hope. He remembered something.

Two hours later, they reached the end of the line. Svala urged her friends to go ahead so she could jot down a message on her hand: “Please nod if you recognize me. I’m worried about you.”

Sarah stood in front of Viggo when Svala faced the table. She’d forgotten her speech and stared at Viggo with wide eyes. When he handed her the picture she yelped, but didn’t move along. A security guard nudged her and told her to step aside for the next girl, Megan.

Svala faced Amanda Jones, Viggo’s new girlfriend. Up close she was even more stunning. Her smile however, less honest than it had appeared further back in the line. Svala handed Amanda the promotional picture. Amanda signed it and offered Svala the same trained smile she’d given the other girls. Beside Svala, Megan lingered with Viggo.

“Move along, miss.” The security guard shoved Megan to the side.

One step to the left and Svala finally faced him. She met his calm blue eyes, but his smile didn’t differ from the one he’d offered all the girls before her. She handed him the picture, and her hand trembled while it hovered in the air in front of him.

Viggo looked at her hand, paused for a moment to read, then sighed annoyed and grabbed the picture with some force. She pulled back her hand and waited while he signed the photograph. Slower than before? She couldn’t tell, she was too nervous, too anxious to get his nod of recognition.

The pen ended in a perfect ‘m’. He slid the picture across the table, rather than picking it up and handing it to her, like he had with everyone else. He didn’t look at her. He didn’t even offer her the mandatory smile or the nod she expected. Instead, he leaned back and waited for her to pick up the picture. She waited. He looked past her out over the crowded mall, like he still sought someone out there.

“Miss.” A security guard put his hand on her arm. “Move along.”

 

 

Chapter 7

 

 

10th Century

Birka

 

“Don’t lift your elbow.” Trym positioned himself behind her and angled her elbow to the ground.

The autumn leaves in the forest rustled when the wind passed through. From the hill at the top of the forest they could see the ocean and better part of Birka. The air was fresh back in this century, the scents of the earth much more present.

Svala’s eyes narrowed as she focused on the target ahead, a circle carved into a large tree. Her thick blonde braid fell over her shoulder, her fingers cramped around the bow. “Like this?”

“Better.” Trym stepped back. “Now focus.”

She drew the bow string and released the arrow. It hurled through the air and missed the target by several feet before disappearing into the bushes. Svala moaned and lowered her bow. “I’m never going to hit it.”

“Not with that attitude.” Trym agreed. He walked up to her, grabbed another handmade arrow from the leather pouch and handed it to her. “Again. And focus.”

She didn’t accept the arrow. “I’m focusing, but I don’t see the point to this.”

“The point is to focus, and get better.”

“But we’re not supposed to hurt anyone. Shouldn’t I learn to focus by doing something else?”

“You have to be able to defend yourself. You have to learn independence. But if you don’t learn how to hit the target you will increase the risk of killing your perpetrator, and that would be bad.” He offered her the arrow once more.

Svala accepted it with a sigh. “It’s not like I’ll carry this bow and arrow around everywhere I go. Wouldn’t it be more useful to learn how to throw a knife?”

Trym smiled, an evident gleam in his eyes. “Good thinking. One does not have to rule out the other. We’ll practice that next week.”

“Great,” she muttered and positioned the arrow against the bow.

Her next attempt missed the target as well. She wanted to throw the bow on the ground, but figured Trym would not approve of such an outburst. Instead, she turned to him, her patience running out. “You told me I’d get to be with Viggo if I joined the Loissifar.”

“Liosálfar,” Trym corrected.

She took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds, annoyed with Trym’s calm. “So, where is he?”

“I told you it would take time. You have to learn how to be patient. You have to accept waiting. And most importantly, you have to put the balance before everything. Even your love for Viggo.”

Svala pressed her lips together. Three months had passed already, and all she’d done was train on how to focus and be patient.

“But how long will I have to wait?”

“Until you fulfill your assignment.”

“Which is what exactly?”

He smiled but didn’t answer her question. Later she learned her first assignment had been patience, a lesson she relearned with each and every life. In some lives patience came easier, in others it felt like she’d never learned it at all, like she was still standing on that hill, missing the target.

 

 

Chapter 8

 

Present Time

Washington D.C.

Trym and Svala went back to Washington empty handed and resigned. They didn’t hear from Viggo or Alva and The High Council gave them nothing to go on. They weren’t supposed to question The High Council, but even Trym grew impatient by their silence. He didn’t say it out loud, but Svala knew him and she could tell he was worried.

 

 

Three weeks later

“Shut up, it’s about to start!” Sarah aimed the remote at the TV and blared the volume.

Jen and Megan continued talking over the theme song bursting out of the speakers. Sarah glared at them with an exaggerated sigh, and Jen paused in mid-conversation to smirk, and threw a pillow at her. It flew across the living room and hit Sarah straight in the face with a muffled thud. The precision made Megan double over laughing. Sarah threw the pillow back at them with a scowl.

They sat in Svala’s and Trym’s living room. The live interview with Viggo Storm was about to air. After the announcement in the last episode of Interview that Viggo Storm would be the next week’s guest in the studio the girls counted the days, and lately, the hours.

The show started. Svala leaned forward in her arm chair and bit her nails. Jen and Megan continued their conversation throughout the intro, but as Viggo’s face filled up the screen they both fell quiet. The intro music faded into the background. Megan leaned against the armrest and clutched her hands over her lips. Sarah edged so far out on her seat, if she inched any further she would fall off.

Viggo’s blue eyes met the four girls in the living room and Svala’s friends whimpered. The camera shifted and the interviewer’s bleached smile and tanned face met them instead. David Mathews had once been a teen movie star himself, but turned to entertainment journalism after a long list of bad casting choices followed by an even longer list of nasty reviews. Now, in his thirties, David Mathews was more famous as a host than he had ever been as a movie star.

Mathews gestured toward Viggo. “I would like to welcome Mr. Viggo Storm to the show.”

The studio audience’s loud applauds and whistles thundered through the speakers in their small living room, and Sarah lowered the volume. The camera focused on Viggo. He rubbed his left thigh with the palm of his hand in a nervous gesture, still smiling. While the audience cheered, the camera cut to the interviewer. He shifted his gaze between Viggo and the audience, strained amusement all over his face.

“You’re quite the popular guy.” His comment made the audience scream louder.

Mathews shook his head and struggled to keep a straight face. Viggo shrugged, like he didn’t know what to do about the commotion. He was uncomfortable but hid it well.

“Okay, settle down.” Mathews raised his hand toward his audience until the cheers subsided.

Silent expectation replaced the noisy admiration. Mathews wiped the amused smile off his face and turned to his guest. “Welcome, Viggo. It’s nice to have you here.”

“Thanks, David. It’s nice to be here.”

The audience roared again. Mathews shook his head and lifted his hand to his lips, to hide the smile, then motioned for the audience to stop cheering. When they continued screaming, he nodded to his crew behind the scene. The camera cut to Viggo, then to both of them. The cheers subsided.

Mathews leaned back in his seat. “That’s some welcome. I imagine it hasn’t always been like this.”

“No, not quite.”

Mathews studied Viggo with interest before he continued. “It’s remarkable. A year ago, no one knew who you were and now this.” He motioned to the audience. ”How does that feel?”

“A bit strange, I’ll admit.”

“I bet it does.” Mathews consulted his notes. “You were a high school student when they discovered you, and now you’re here, a big movie star. How would you say your life has changed?”

Viggo smiled. “Where do I start?”

Before running for office in the nineties, he trained to meet the media. In comparison, this was nothing. The whole interview meant to boost his popularity, not question his motives.

“My life has changed dramatically, of course. People recognize me on the street and I receive a lot more mail than I did before.”

The audience laughed.

“But as a person, I haven’t changed all that much. I’m still me.” He massaged the end of his ring finger where his wedding band used to be.

Svala touched her own finger and held her breath. He had to give her something, any sign that he hadn’t forgotten her. But he released his finger and ran a hand through his hair, his blue eyes revealing nothing.

Mathews flipped through his notes. “I have some questions from our viewers. Let’s see, there is one that came up a lot… There it is. Are your eyes really that blue or do you wear contacts?”

Mathews asked a series of similar questions and Viggo answered with ease and confidence. To Megan and Jen’s annoyance, Sarah guessed the answers out loud before Viggo spoke. She read everything she could find on Viggo and to her defense she nailed most of the answers. It was unsettling to have another girl know this much about her eternal.

“Could you just shut it?” Jen spat and threw another pillow Sarah’s way.

Sarah caught it in mid-air, eyes narrowed, but as Mathews continued reading his viewer questions, she returned to the TV.

“Now, this is one we’re all curious to find out. Are you currently dating Amanda Jones?”

Svala held her breath.

Viggo avoided the camera and reached out for a sip of water. He leaned back, his gaze never settling. “Yes.”

Sarah snorted. Svala’s stomach dropped and her body went cold. Why was he dating another girl. They weren’t allowed to do that.

The studio audience silenced with obvious disappointment. Mathews fingered his ear piece and leaned forward, eyes narrow. “I’m getting information there might be another girl in your life as well.”

Viggo’s brows drew together.

“Someone who made a lasting impression?” Mathews hinted.

Viggo slowly shook his head and shrugged. Svala eased closer to the screen. What was this guy up to?

“Okay, let’s refresh your memory.” Mathews nodded to his crew. “Mark, run the tape.”

The big screen behind Viggo and Mathews, previously showing the Interview logotype, shifted to the scene from Viggo’s first TV appearance. The footage filled the screen in their living room.

In the scene, Viggo walked over a tiled terrace, up to a large pool where he stopped, and removed his shirt. The studio audience roared, drowning out his first line. He stood by the pool with his back to the camera, looking at the girl floating on a red air mattress. The image froze and zoomed in on Viggo’s shoulder blade, and his tattoo. The initial blurred image cleared up, and her name filled up the entire screen.

Svala couldn’t breathe. The camera cut to Viggo in the studio. The color drained from his face.

Mathews leaned forward. “Who’s Freja?”

 

 

Chapter 9

 

1965

Hampton

 

In 1965, Svala and Viggo lived in a large white Costal house on the beach in Hampton. They had been together for six years.

One Saturday morning, while Viggo was downstairs in his studio painting, Svala woke up nauseous. She sat by the edge of their large wicker framed bed, staring down at the walnut hardware floor for a few seconds before she had to make an acute run to the bathroom. She stumbled out of bed and ran the last few feet. Hunched over the toilet seat, sitting on the cold black and white tiles, she convulsed and emptied her stomach. When she leaned back to gather herself vertigo replaced the nausea and she clutched the seat with both hands, inhaling in one slow breath.

She only had one glass of wine the night before and hadn’t eaten anything unusual. When her balance returned, she moved over to the sink and splashed her face with cold water. A pale reflection met her in the mirror and long strands of blonde hair fell over her shoulders. She collected them into a ponytail and reached for her toothbrush.

Downstairs in their kitchen, Viggo had left a half-full pot of coffee for her. The kitchen, which combined with the living room, showed no trace of the sixties, neither did the rest of the house. The house’s entire interior was inspired by 1920’s designer Syrie Maugham; primarily white surfaces with accents of color. It reminded them both of a time when they had both been happier, before the war, before that lesson of patience turned into actual torture.

A faint scent of fried eggs and bacon lingered in the air, mixing with java. The combination re-triggered her nausea. She grabbed the back of the white, scalloped-patterned couch in the living room and fought her repulsion. A few slow breaths and she straightened up, heading for the coffee. She didn’t make it past the kitchen island before she had to run to the downstairs bathroom and repeat her morning activity.

She skipped the coffee, grabbed her calendar and went out to the porch facing the ocean. They’d painted the porch white as soon as they moved in and bought white wicker furniture with navy blue cushions. Wrapping her cream colored cardigan tightly around her she sat down in the large wicker armchair, opened the book and started counting. Backwards, then forward. Once, twice, then two more times to be sure. She paused and gazed out over the ocean. The waves slowly rolled onto the beach, creating that soothing ripple she and Viggo associated with their hometown Birka. Staring out into the distance, she didn’t notice Viggo walk out onto the porch.

“You don’t want breakfast?” he asked.

She flinched at the sound of his voice. He wiped his hands on his jeans; leaving stains of cerulean on the washed-out denim. His white tank top was smeared with paint in various colors, his hair, slightly longer than usual, stood on end. He walked up to her.

“I’ll wait.” She closed her calendar. “How’s it going?”

“I don’t know. I thought you could take a look.” He knelt down in front of her and leaned in for a kiss, careful not to stain her clothes.

Her hands entangled his soft hair and she lingered on his lips before easing back. “Give me a minute.”

The breeze from the ocean brought a faint scent of algae over the porch. She fought the repellence it provoked.

Viggo gazed out over the ocean, his arm against her lap, Svala’s hand still in his hair. “Alva called this morning. She told me Haldur and Ingrid reunited. They’re in sync with us. I thought we could invite them here.”

She closed her eyes, swallowed hard and nodded. “Yeah, that would be great.” Despite her efforts, her voice came out strained.

His brows furrowed. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” She shook her head and smiled.

His face tensed, his eyes searching hers. She reached out and caressed his cheek.

“It’s nothing. I’m just nauseous. It’ll pass.”

His blue eyes filled with concern. She grabbed his chin and leaned in for another kiss. “I want to see your painting,” she whispered against his lips.

 

***

 

Two weeks later, Svala went to the doctor for a checkup.

“Congratulations, Mrs. Storm. You’re pregnant!”

She stared at him from where she sat on the hard gurney. The white sterile room appeared smaller, like the walls were closing in on her. This had to be some kind of a cruel joke.

“That’s impossible. I can’t get pregnant. I’m…” She stopped herself and the doctor waited for her continue. “Sterile,” she managed.

He removed his stethoscope and placed it on his desk. “Well, congratulations all the more then, because you are indeed pregnant.”

Thoughts crowded her head when she drove back to the house. As far as she knew, no other Liosálfar had given birth to a child before. Every Liosálfar she’d ever met was born mortal, like herself. Even Trym and Alva. She didn’t think it possible with all the things to consider. What would happen to the child when they started over? Would it disappear, or worse, would it be left behind? What happened if they started over while she was still pregnant? Would she end up a fourteen-year old pregnant virgin or would the fetus disappear?

When she pulled up her light blue VW Beetle in their driveway, she didn’t even remember the drive home. She clutched the steering wheel, took a deep breath and gathered her thoughts before she stepped out onto the gravel pathway outside their house.

Trym and his lover, Alrik, were at the house when she came home. She hung her white coat in the hallway and took pause before walking into the kitchen. It was best if she didn’t say anything yet. Trym had a responsibility to report everything to the High Council, and she wasn’t ready to find out what they’d do.

When she came into the kitchen, Viggo reached for another mug from the cupboard above the sink. “Was everything okay?” he asked.

Viggo, Trym and Alrik stood around the kitchen island. Alrik lowered his cup of coffee, exchanging a worried look with Trym.

“I’ve been to the doctor. Only a check up, I’m fine.” She walked up, her black and white Spectator pumps making her feel taller next to him.

Alrik reached out, put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her in. She moved her arm around his waist and leaned her head against him. Unlike most of the older Liosálfar generation, Alrik no longer had a protégé to look after and spent most his time with Trym and Svala. If Trym was the one who was suppose to keep her in control, Alrik was the fun uncle who let her get away with murder.

Viggo poured a cup of coffee and slid it across the kitchen island. “Didn’t the doctor find anything?”

“No.” She accepted the coffee and avoided his gaze. “Nothing wrong with me.”

“Well, something’s wrong. You’ve been throwing up for weeks.” Viggo gestured to Trym. “We get sick like everyone else, right? I mean, we’ve all had the occasional cold, or stomach flu. We could contract cancer or any other deadly disease as likely as Mrs. Rowan next door.”

“Yeah, technically, but it’s very uncommon. It’s practically unheard of,” Trym said.

Viggo turned to the sink to rinse out some dishes piling up. Alrik’s grip around Svala’s waist tightened and she could tell how Trym and Alrik avoided looking at each other.

“What?” she asked.

Alrik leaned in to kiss her forehead. “Nothing.” He smiled, but his eyes didn’t follow. “If the doctor said you’re fine, you’re fine.”

The blood drained from her face. Alrik’s smile wavered.

“You have nothing to worry about.” He rubbed her arm. “After what they put you through in your last life you’re up for compensation, not punishment, right? They’re not going to screw up twice.”

Viggo’s shoulders tensed up at the mention of their last life. It lasted over the second World War and they’d been kept apart for more years than they’d ever been apart before. Viggo still refused to talk about what had happened to him while he’d been captured.

She pushed back the awful memories of a time she rather soon forget and considered the odds of something bad happening to them again. This had to be a compensation, the High Council did owe them.

Viggo dried the wet dishes with a white kitchen cloth. The first couple of years in this life he’d been unable to relax, always on edge, always ready to defend himself. He still woke her up with terrible nightmares and he was constantly on guard but he hid it better as time passed. Between the painting, the peaceful ocean and the comfort of their love, he healed, little by little. But Svala doubted he’d ever be the same again.

Viggo placed the last plate on the kitchen island and offered her comforting smile. She held his gaze and felt the first flutter of excitement in her stomach. This was good news, it had to be. It was the perfect gift to Viggo after everything he’d been through and she couldn’t wait to tell him. It made sense they’d grant them this and a child was always a blessing. Maybe it was the one thing that could heal him.

 

 

Chapter 10

 

 

Present Time

Washington D.C

 

Back in the living room in Washington D.C, Svala held her breath while everyone awaited Viggo’s answer. As Mathews eased forward in his chair, her three friends stayed silent.

After a moment of stale staring, Viggo lowered his gaze. When he returned to the camera his eyes had completely lost their glimmer. Svala swallowed back a lump in her throat. He remembered.

“That’s personal.” Viggo’s face tensed.

Svala closed her eyes. She couldn’t stand to see the pain in his eyes.

“What do you mean?” Mathews asked.

Viggo grew silent again, as did the entire studio while waiting for him to elaborate. Mathews eased closer and let the uncomfortable silence linger. A staring contest began. Mathews held out for a few seconds longer than Svala anticipated.

“Seems like it concerns something painful.” Mathews tilted his head to the side, pursing his lips together. “Wouldn’t you much rather tell us than have us speculate? You know how viscous rumors can be.”

Svala bit her tongue, wanting to hurt the guy for toying with Viggo’s emotions. Some journalists had no class.

Viggo’s eyes darted back and forward as Mathews’ words sank in. His hand moved up to his neckline, and he kept it against the bare skin above the black v-necked shirt for a moment before letting it fall down into his lap.

Viggo fixed his gaze on his hands, his voice low. “She was someone I lost. Someone I loved very much.”

A whimper spread through the audience and Svala’s friends joined in. Svala fought the sickening feeling of having their trauma broadcasted like this.

Trym stood in the door opening behind them. His hand cupped his mouth, his shoulders slumped and his eyes fixed on the screen. When he caught Svala looking at him he straightened up and forced a smile, but not before she’d caught the tears welling up in his eyes.

 

 

***

 

1966

Hampton

 

Svala gave birth to Freja the summer of 1966. The little girl came out healthy with ten toes and ten fingers. According to Viggo, Trym and Alrik paced the floor in the hospital waiting room during Svala’s four-hour labor.

“I don’t know what they expected to come out. I’ve never seen Trym so pale.” Viggo reached out and let Freja grab his finger with her tiny hand. He studied his daughter as she lay on her back in their bed, gazing up at him. She was beautiful with all the Liosálfar characteristics already in place. Intense blue eyes, skin that practically glowed and such delicate features she almost looked unreal.

Svala stood over by the white dresser watching them. A warmth spread inside of her and she savored the moment. She never thought she would experience anything like this.

Viggo shook his head slowly in disbelief. “She’s so beautiful. I’ve only known her a couple of days and I already love her so much.”

Svala walked up to the bed. Viggo reached out to circle her waist, and pulled her against him on the bed. They sat together, watching their daughter in stunned silence.

Half an hour later, Svala headed downstairs but stopped in the middle of the stairs when she overheard Trym and Alrik arguing.

“Why do you have to assume this is a bad thing? This could just as well be a compensation for the hell they put them through. It doesn’t have to be a punishment. It’s a child for God’s sake!” Trym had trouble keeping his voice down.

Svala frowned and slowly sat on the dark wooden stairs. She tried to breathe as silently as possible. Trym wasn’t the type to get easily upset and he never discussed The High Council like this in front of her or Viggo.

“It’s not meant for us to have children,” Alrik hissed.

“For us?”

Svala detected the ridicule in Trym’s voice. She wrapped her arms around her knees and leaned in closer.

“You know what I mean!” Alrik snorted. “It’s not fair to us, and it’s not fair to the child!”

“You don’t know that. For all we know they could get a full life. They can move on to their next assignment when they’re eighty and Freja will be an adult, believing her parents died of old age. That has to be their intention. It’s the only reasonable explanation.”

“And what about their last life? How do you explain that?” Alrik spoke through clenched teeth. “Does that prove they care about what’s right? Or what’s fair? And how can we even know this isn’t something the Döckálfar have arranged. Another sick mind game to get us just where they want us. I don’t trust it and neither should you.”

Svala eased in closer, eager to hear Trym’s response. The old wood in the stairs creaked and silence filled the room downstairs. She held her breath as she stood, clasping the banister. Now she would have to make her presence known or they’d know she’d been listening in on their conversation.

Both men smiled at her when she came into view. She smiled back, her eyes darting from Trym to Alrik.

”Is everything OK?” she asked.

”Of course.” Alrik walked up to her, his green eyes filled with worry. ”Shouldn’t you be resting though?”

”I’m fine.” She assured.

She was happier than she had been in centuries, and she didn’t want their argument to ruin the tingling sensation throughout her all body, like a bliss that had no intention of ending. Trym was right, they did deserve it. They’d had enough pain and heart ache in their last life. This couldn’t be anything else than a reward for what they were put through.

She never asked about the argument, too eager to believe they were rewarded for past injustices. She didn’t want any other explanation.

***

 

1966-1971

 

Freja had her father’s eyes and her mother’s hair. Like most parents they thought her the prettiest child to ever have been born. They experienced her firsts with constant gratitude, her first laughter, her first step. Her first words.

About seven months after Freja was born, Viggo sat with her in his lap on a red blanket on the kitchen floor. Svala stood by the sink, cleaning up after dinner as Freja entertained her father. She tried to grab his nose and laughed in delight when Viggo pretended to bite her hand.

”Dada.” Freja reached for his nose once more

Viggo’s eyes widened in excitement. “Honey, did you hear that?”

Svala dropped the sponge into the foamy water and joined Viggo and their daughter on the floor. She reached out to run her hand over her daughter’s blonde hair. “Did you say Daddy, sweetheart?”

Viggo grinned. “She did, didn’t she?”

Svala nodded and her heart swelled. The light was back in his eyes, she never thought it would return.

He grabbed his daughter and lifted her over his head until the little girl wheezed with laughter. When he lowered her again, she reached for his nose repeating her first word. Viggo stared at her with a spontaneous laughter, his eyes sparkling with joy.

The years passed and they grew comfortable. They didn’t consider the consequences or reason why they had been granted a child. They became parents who loved their child, like any other married couple.

Viggo painted pictures of them. Either separately or together, and Svala told him they would soon have to buy a bigger place to fit all the paintings. Trym often told them it was a waste of canvas and income as Viggo never sold a single painting.

“What do you say about giving this one to Trym for his birthday?” Viggo held up one of his early paintings. The canvas portrayed Svala out on the porch in a blue dress. She held her new born baby in her arms, her hair covering half her face.

“I’ve always liked that one.” Svala sat down next to her daughter by the table and handed her a fork.

“You want to keep it?” Viggo asked.

“No. It’s a good idea. Might shut him up for a while.”

Freja inspected the art work and frowned. At five she was a hard critic of her father’s work. “You use too much blue, Dad,” she said.

Viggo tried to hold back a smile. “Really? You think so?”

Freja nodded with conviction.

He turned the painting to study it and sighed as he considered the criticism. Freja waited for her father’s response with anticipation, her tiny hands clasping the back of her chair.

“You’re right. You’re absolutely right, honey,” he said.

Freja turned back to the table. Her shoulders drew back, her chin tilted up and a proud smile on her pretty face. Svala and Viggo shared a smile.

“I have to go into town to buy more paint. Do you need anything?” Viggo put down the painting and leaned it against the wall.

“No, not that I can think of.”

Freja abandoned her lunch, turning to her father. “I want to come too.”

“You have to finish your lunch,” Svala said. “Daddy will be back in an hour.”

“But I want to go too,” Freja whined and presented her best pout.

Viggo walked up to the table and ran his hand over his daughter’s hair. “You have to eat, honey, how else will you grow?”

“Please, Daddy?” Her face contorted into a grimace, her lower lip shivering with the threat of tears.

Viggo suppressed another smile and leaned in to kiss her forehead. “I’ll be back in an hour, sweetie.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.” He kissed her again. “And you have to stay here and take care of your mom for me. You think you can do that?”

She nodded but held a confrontational stance, her eyes narrow, shifting to Svala as if she doubted her mother needed to be taken care of.

The little girl sulked when her father left. She had entered the phase where her father was her whole world and her mother the one competing for his attention. It frustrated Svala at moments like this but most of the time she found it endearing.

“Freja, please eat your meatballs.” Svala nodded to her plate.

“I’m not hungry.” Freja crossed her arms over her chest, pressing her chin down. Her blonde pony tail bounced against the back of her white dress.

Svala stifled another sigh. Sometimes she lost her patience.

“Freja, please.”

“I’m not hungry!”

The girl was so stubborn and Svala had no idea where she got it from. She had no idea how she’d been as a child and no one to ask. Moments like these, she missed her mother and her sisters.

“Fine.” She grabbed the plate and rose. “Then there will be no ice cream later.”

“But, Mom!”

Svala put the plate in the sink more forcefully than she intended, disappointed with herself for posing the threat. The constant struggle to make the child eat anything other than sweets overwhelmed her sometimes and she knew she had to be stronger than this. Exhaling deeply, Svala calmed herself and prepared to act like a responsible parent.

The sky outside the window had changed from blue to grey within minutes and more clouds moved in from the city. A strong wind rattled the large oak tree in their back garden and Freja’s red swing was set in motion. The one thing she didn’t like about living by the ocean were the storms. Those times the soothing rhythms of the waves rolling up on shore transformed into a thundering monster that crept closer and closer to their house.

Tiny rain drops pattered the window. She reached in and closed it with a shudder, hoping Viggo would return before the weather got too bad.

“Mom?” Freja’s voice came out pitiful when Svala kept her back against her for too long.

She turned around and her daughter’s large blue eyes made her heart melt. She sometimes wondered if she was too hard on her. It was hard to know as she had been raised in such a different time when children weren’t children in the sense they were now.

The room flashed, as if someone snapped a picture and first she thought it was the weather outside. When the room flashed again, it stayed bright for too long and she understood what was happening. She panicked.

“No!”

The room flashed once more. Svala headed toward her daughter. If she could just get her arms around her in time maybe Freja would shift with her. Another flash blinded her momentarily and when her vision returned she was only inches from grabbing her daughter. The last thing she saw before the room shifted was her daughter’s terrified gaze.

 

 

 

Chapter 11

 

1971

New Haven

 

The Hampton kitchen transformed into a small, bright room. Pink wallpaper, a bed in one corner, a desk in the other; a typical teenage room. There was no sign of Freja anywhere. She glanced down at her young, fourteen year old body, and the panic rose.

“No!” She shook her head. “No!”

“Svala!”

Trym stood in the hallway outside, pale and out of breath. He wore a black motorcycle gear with the label Triumph printed in big white letters on his back, the helmet tucked under his arm, his hair a tangled mess. Under normal circumstance, she would have laughed about it. Once in 1563 she shifted while horseback riding and the bizarre experience stayed with her a long time after.

“Is she with you?” he asked.

Svala shook her head, staring at him without seeing him.

“Was she with you when you shifted?”

“She was right in front of me.” Svala drew a sharp breath and grabbed her chest. “She was sitting right in front of me. Oh my God…”

Trym rubbed his face with his free hand and sighed. “We’ll figure this out. We just need to calm down. I’ll contact the High Council. I’m sure they’ve kept her safe.”

“We have to go back.” She grabbed the door frame and pushed past him. “We have to go back right now.”

“Wait!” He grabbed her arm. “Just wait.”

She snatched back. “No! I’m not going to wait! We have to get there now! She’s there all alone, she’s scared and she needs me.”

“We don’t even know where we are!” Trym raised his voice. “We need to calm down and figure this out. I’ll contact them—”

Svala shook her head. ”No. I’m going to get her.”

Trym reached out and fixed her face between his hands, holding her still. “Hear me out. I’ll contact them and…”

“No! They’re the ones who did this! I will not sit around waiting for them to tell us what to do. I’m going, with or without you.”

She pried his hands from her face and ran over to the nearest window, hoping for some sign of their location. Their house was one of ten on a street filled with perfectly mowed lawns behind picket fences. Generous flowerbeds with large roses followed the front facade of each house. They could be anywhere.

A black Mercedes Roadster stood parked in their driveway. Svala trotted down the stairs and ended up in a large living room designed with contemporary furniture. Trym followed close behind asking her to slow down. She ignored him and moved past the pink swivel tub chairs and continued through a large colorful kitchen before she ended up in the entrance hall.

Trym stopped in the doorway as she searched the drawers of a brown mid-Century Credenza. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Looking for the car keys.”

In the corner of the drawer a three-star Mercedes logo glimmered. She grabbed the key ring tight in her hand.

Trym reached out for the key but she held it behind her back.

“You’re fourteen years old. You can’t drive.”

“I don’t care. I’m going.”

She waited him out. His breath uneven, his face tensed. Svala’s lips tightened as she grew more impatient. She would not give him more time to consider it.

Trym caved. “Okay, I’ll drive you. But you do as I tell you.”

 

 

The shift had transported them to Fair Haven, a small town in New England, and the drive to Hampton took over six hours. It was three a.m when they pulled up outside their old beach house. The kitchen light was on, the rest of the house pitch dark.

Svala flung the car door open before they came to a full stop and stumbled out in the sand without closing the door. Trym called for her to slow down and, but she ignored him and ran up the stairs where she threw the front door open with force. The glass window inside the door rattled when it slammed against the wall.

The moonlight shed some light into the hallway. In the corner over by the stairs, markings of Freja’s growth cluttered the white door seal with dates and years neatly written over each line. Her doll sat on the bench next to the large mirror where Freja used to parade around in Svala’s heals and pearls.

Svala charged inside, her heart pounded, her hands trembled with fear and anticipation. All their furniture was still there, that had to be a good sign.

“Freja! Honey, Mommy’s here!” Her voice broke. “Freja!”

She stormed through the large hallway and into the combined living room then further into kitchen, where she stopped. Alva, Viggo’s mentor, stood by the window. When she turned, her blonde thick braid slid over her shoulder. Viggo sat on the dark hardwood floor by the kitchen island, his face buried in his hands. When Svala resumed walking past the living room couch he looked up. He was only a teenager now too and she couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen him so young. It was the boy she had once fallen desperately in love with so many years ago. Their eyes met and her tears streamed down her cheeks at the sight of his swollen red eyes. His gaze was completely bereft of hope.

“Where is she?” Her voice pitched.

Trym came up behind her. Viggo closed his eyes and shook his head, unable to fight the tears. Alva turned back to the window but not before her eyes welled up too. Svala walked swiftly up to Viggo and knelt before him.

“Where is she?” She placed a hand on his thigh.

Viggo reached out and pulled her into his arms, burying his face in the nape of her neck, crying even harder against her. His body trembled, and she wrapped her arms tight around him.

“Honey, where is she?” Panic filled her voice.

“She was gone when we arrived,” Alva said calm.

Viggo drew a sharp breath and tightened his grip around her. Svala reached up to caress the hair on the back of his head.

Trym’s Motorcycle boots clunked against the hardwood floor. He stopped as he reached the kitchen area.

“Do you know where she is?” he asked.

Alva’s strained sigh told Svala the information would displease them.

“I talked to them. They said she’s safe.”

Svala closed her eyes and pressed her face against Viggo’s shoulder.

“What does that mean?” Trym raised his voice.

“I asked. They wouldn’t say. They told me to let it go.”

“Let it go?” Trym scoffed.

Viggo eased back and Svala leaned away to study him. His soft face was marked with sorrow but when he glared at Alva his gaze darkened.

Alva’s face softened. She tilted her head to the side. “Viggo, I’m sorry. I don’t want to hurt you, but we have to follow orders. You know that.”

“I don’t care about their fucking orders.” The muscles in his face twitched.

Svala reached up and touched his cheek. His eyes flickered with insecurity when he looked at her. “We’ll find her. Promise me we’ll find her,” he said.

She stroked his soft teenage cheek. Yesterday, it had been rough with bristles.

“We’ll find her,” she whispered.

“You will do no such thing!” Alva’s voice was firm.

Trym stayed silent. Svala and Viggo shared a look of determination. There was nothing anyone could do or say to change their minds. Nothing would prevent them from trying to find their daughter.

 

 

Chapter 12

 

 

Present Time

Washington D.C.

 

Sarah played with the straw in her soda, her eyes shifting sideways. “I think she was his mother.”

The high school cafeteria was noisier than usual. The heavy scent of fried food and gravy lingered in the stale air. Air conditioning could not have been a priority during the recent renovations.

Svala and her friends sat at their usual table in the end of the room by a window facing the school yard. Jen’s boyfriend, Noah, and his friends joined them. The boys discussed last night’s game and the fact that audience attendance had been exceptionally low.

“Who?” Jen followed Sarah’s gaze.

“Freja.” Sarah leaned in over the table, looking very serious. “I think Freja was Viggo’s mother.”

Noah and the other guys groaned and rolled their eyes. Svala sighed and poked around in her mashed potatoes. She wished people would stop speculating. It was already all over Social Media after the show last night. There were even polls floating around on Facebook: vote A for sister, B for mother and C for ex-lover.

“No way.” Megan shook her head. “If it had been his mother, or his sister, he would have said so. It’s so obviously an ex-lover. Why else would he hide it?”

Jayden eased closer to Svala and dropped his voice. “Please, tell me you’re not obsessed with that idiot too.”

She forced a smile and shook her head, not sure why she still cared what Jayden thought of her. She shouldn’t even be hanging out with him. Three months before Viggo made his first public appearance she and Jayden had engaged in some innocent flirting. For some reason he reminded her of Viggo with the same strong features, similar dark hair and blue eyes. He even laughed the same way.

The whole thing had been harmless until the two of them ended up making out at a party. She’d been drinking, and lost her judgment. When his lips landed on hers, she’d closed her eyes and imagined it was Viggo. When Jayden tried pushing his hand into her jeans, she’d pulled away, embarrassed and filled with remorse. She’d never gone that far with any other guy except Viggo. The teenage hormones and sexual frustration had taken over. She’d been avoiding him ever since but her lack of attention only fueled his interest in her.

Her friends continued speculating about Freja and Svala blocked out their conversation, focusing on the background noise in the messy cafeteria. Every time she closed her eyes the image of her daughter’s terrified gaze returned and she relived the pain of that day. The public display did not help.

Sarah argued her case while Megan and Jen stood united. Sarah could be so stupid sometimes. She didn’t understand when they wound her up. Svala pushed away her hard plastic tray, the plate half full. A group of girls took a seat by the end of their long table. Their chairs scraped loud against the floor when they pulled them out at the same time.

Jayden observed her. She pretended she didn’t notice him. When her cell phone buzzed in her pocket, she saw the perfect excuse to ignore him. She hauled up the phone. An unknown number sent a text.

I’m so sorry, I didn’t know they would bring that up.

She stared at the display, her breath caught in her throat. The loud commotion in the cafeteria faded to the background along with her friends’ voices. It was like she’d stepped into a vacuum. She didn’t know how long she sat there, staring at the phone before Sarah insisted on her attention.

“Svala?”

She looked up, disoriented. Her friends studied her, eyebrows raised.

“What?” She managed gasping, out of breath.

“What do you think?” Sarah asked.

“About what?”

“About Freja. Who do you think she is?”

“I don’t know….” She locked her phone and pushed it into her pocket. “I need to make a phone call. I’ll meet you outside before class, okay?”

 

 

Svala walked outside. Her hands trembled when she unlocked the phone and pushed to call the number showing on the display. As she walked over the lawn and continued into the parking lot she surveyed her surroundings to secure no one was around. It took five rings before Viggo answered.

“You shouldn’t be calling.” Was the first thing he said.

A door closed behind him with a muffled thud.

”Viggo?” she whispered. Her voice barely held.

”Yes?”

The softness of his voice made her cry. She faced away from the school building, scared someone would see her and come out to check on her.

”Don’t cry, honey,” Viggo whispered. ”You know I can’t stand to see you cry.”

”You can’t see me,” she whispered.

”You know what I mean.”

Svala wiped the tears from her face and walked further out on the parking lot. She stopped behind a row of cars parked at the end of the lot. Her head was spinning, her legs grew weak.

“God, I miss you so much,” he whispered.

She leaned against a lamppost and tried to slow her breath along with her heart beat. Relief mixed with an uncontrollable need to be with him, her heart swelled like it was about to explode.

“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I knew you would be watching that interview. I never considered they’d bring her up,” Viggo said.

She nodded into the phone even though he couldn’t see. The relief of knowing he was still hers lifted a huge weight of her chest.

”Viggo, what’s going on? Why didn’t you acknowledge me in New York? What are you up to?”

He fell silent. Svala surveyed the parking lot, afraid someone would come out and overhear her.

”I was protecting you.” He kept his voice low.

”From who?”

He didn’t answer.

”From the Döckálfar?” she asked.

”I can’t tell you.”

”Viggo, what’s going on?” She lowered her voice and her heartbeat raced inside her chest.

”I can’t tell you.” He repeated.

”You have to.”

”I don’t want to risk your safety. Just trust me.”

She paused, not one bit secure about what was going on.

”Why can’t you trust me instead?” she asked.

”I do.”

She waited for him to continue.

“Listen, honey, even if I wanted to, I can’t tell you everything. Not only because I’m not allowed to, but because we’re not sure what’s going on yet. We suspect something’s not right.”

Her hand tightened around the phone, her entire body turned rigid. “We?”

He paused. “Alva and I.”

She was even more confused now than she was before. Viggo had a tendency to get emotionally involved to the point where he had trouble seeing things for what they were. “What do you mean? What’s not right?”

He took his time before he responded. “Haven’t you noticed things have been off the last century?”

“Off? What do you mean off?” she asked.

“The rhythm. Our lives. Even the missions have been different. Things haven’t made sense.”

“Well, things change. We know that better than anyone,” she said.

He sighed in frustration. “No, it’s something else. First the war, then losing her, waiting for each other for so many years and then starting over too quickly. Alrik disappearing. The Döckálfar are up to something. They have to be behind it. I have to find out what’s going on. I have to fix it.”

He never told her what happened during the war, all those years apart. She had no idea where he’d been. All she knew was that the Döckálfar were behind it, and he’d never been able to let it go. Her heart stopped. The thought that entered her mind seemed unimaginable.

Her voice trembled. “What are you saying? Have you involved yourself with them somehow?”

He silenced.

“Are you out of your mind?” She raised her voice. “What are you thinking?”

”Shh,” he reminded her.

”Viggo, you’re scaring me,” she whispered. ”Please, stop this. It’s not worth it. We already lost her, we lost Alrik. I don’t want to lose you too.”

”I’m being careful.”

She snapped. “What? Making movies? Being all over the Internet for the world to see you? You’re all everybody is talking about. Did you really have to go and become a movie star in order to find out the truth?”

“It wasn’t my first choice, believe me. I needed the access.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Is this your assignment? Becoming a movie star?”

Since no one told them about the nature of their assignments they usually didn’t understand what it was about until it was over; sometimes not even then. Sometimes they never knew what they had accomplished. But Viggo had to have clearance from The High Council to go into the public light like this.

“Not really.”

“What do you mean not really?”

“I can’t say.”

“Why?”

He squirmed. “I can’t tell you.”

“What do you mean? You don’t trust me enough to tell me?”

No,” he objected as if it was ridiculous to suggest such a thing. “It’s not that, it’s…”

She waited.

“It’s because of a lot of things. Trym for one.”

Her brows shot up, her posture straightening. “What? Trym? What about Trym?”

“We don’t know if we can trust him.”

“Bullshit!” She remembered to keep her voice down but spoke through clenched teeth. “It’s Trym. Of course you can trust him. What are you saying? That he’s with them?”

Viggo sighed out loud. “Not him, but someone he loves.”

She shook her head. “Trym would never betray us. He had the chance once to go over to their side and he didn’t take it. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I hope I’m wrong. I do, but until I know, it would be wise if you didn’t mention this to him.”

She didn’t answer.

”Can you promise me that?” he prompted.

”I promise I won’t tell him,” she said. ”But I’m not happy about it.”

The wind blew straight into the phone, and she moved to shield herself. Viggo didn’t say a word.

“You still there?” she asked.

“I’m here.”

“About Freja, you should say something about it. Tell them she was your mother, or your sister. I don’t want to listen to people speculating about it.”

“I know. I just…” He sighed. “I was so upset about the whole thing, I didn’t want to give them anything.”

She nodded. That was how he dealt with anger. He could be so stubborn.

“I told you, you shouldn’t have gotten that tattoo,” she said.

“I know.”

“It was a stupid decision….”

“I know. That doesn’t help much now, does it?”

She didn’ t mean to place guilt and hated when they fought, but she had a point. No one supported that decision -- least of all Trym and Alva.

“So, have you found anything yet?” she asked.

He lowered his voice. “Not yet.”

She took pause, not sure she should ask. “Vig, I….” Her heart pounded.

“What, honey?” his voice softened

“Are you and Amanda…”

Viggo waited for her to finish but she couldn’t.

“I love you,” he whispered.

She nodded and fought back the tears. “So you’re not…”

“I love you,” he repeated.

She took a deep breath. The tears won.

“Listen honey, I have to go. It’s not safe.” Viggo spoke softly. “I’ll try and contact you when I can.”

When the call ended, she stared at the phone for five long minutes before returning to the main building.

 

 

Chapter 13

 

Present Time

Washington D.C

 

After her phone call with Viggo, Svala’s couldn’t focus. She paid no attention during class and spent the remaining hours of school obsessing over the nature of Viggo’s relationship with Amanda Jones. Up until the interview last night, she’d disregarded the relationship as a rumor. After the interview, she still convinced herself it was a PR stunt. But as he didn’t deny it, she didn’t know what to believe.

She came home from school and hurried past the kitchen where Trym was loading groceries into the fridge. She picked up her pace and headed for the stairs, pretending she didn’t see him follow her into the living room.

“Svala!” Trym called out.

His footsteps closed in behind her.

“Can we talk?”

She stopped but didn’t turn. “About what?”

His silence crept in under her skin. She waited for a moment, then grabbed the rail and took one step up the stairs. “I have homework.”

“Have you talked to Viggo?”

She stopped again and clasped the rail hard.

“No.” She lied, afraid to turn and show her face.

“Do you promise?”

She sighed, audibly. “Why do you ask, if you don’t believe me?”

“I’m trying to protect you. You know that. You know what will happen if you break the rules…”

She swirled around. “No. I don’t. I know something will happen because you keep telling me but I have no idea what.”

Trym slouched. “Svala…”

“No. Don’t ‘Svala’ me, I’m sick of this! They took my child away from me, they kept us apart for six years and gave us three lousy weeks together. They keep toying with us. I don’t know what could possibly be worse than this!”

“You can lose him.”

She bit her tongue before she said something that would reveal she had been in contact with him.

“Svala, please.”

She took two steps up the stairs.

“I don’t want you to go through what I went through,” Trym said.

She stopped again, and turned abruptly. “And what exactly was that? What exactly happened to Alrik?”

Their eyes met for a second. Trym evaded her gaze but she kept staring at him, challenging him. He said nothing.

“I thought so.” She shook her head, then hurried up the stairs.

 

***

 

1971

New Haven

 

Alrik and Trym fought constantly after they lost Freja. Svala escaped to her room on the second floor in their house in New Haven, blocking their yelling out with Cat Stevens or Led Zeppelin, depending on the volume of their arguments.

The fights usually ended with someone leaving the house in anger. A door slammed shut, and silence replaced the shouting. When that happened, Svala further increased the volume of her music, detesting the silence even more.

One time after a fight, Alrik came to her room. He knocked softly on her door and waited for a few seconds before he entered. Svala sat on her bed, The First Cut is the Deepest bursting out of the speakers, creating a slight vibration in the floor. Alrik walked up to her record player, lowered the volume, then frowned and shook his head at the cover of a Led Zeppelin album leaned against the bookshelf.

“You do realize there is no stairway to heaven, don’t you?” He offered a lopsided smiled.

Svala stared into space. Fighting the tears proved futile. Alrik pressed his lips together and walked up to her bed. He sat down next to her and pulled her into his arms. She abandoned her closed up position and welcomed the warmth of his embrace.

“At some point you have to stop crying, sweetie.” He pressed his lips against her hair line.

Alrik always sided with her. On a normal day, his comfort and support eased her pain. During this time, nothing did.

He tucked back her hair and let it fall over her back, then rested his chin on the top of her head. “It’s not fair,” he whispered.

She let him hold her for a while, then eased back. “Why are we being punished? What did we do?”

“I don’t know. They refuse to talk to me.” He offered a mirthless smile. “Same old same old.”

Four hundred years ago, Alrik had a protégé too but was disqualified as mentor as he ‘did not abide by the rules’. He never talked about it, and Svala showed respect by not asking.

“What are you two fighting about?” she asked instead.

He reached out to caress her cheek. “Nothing.” His green eyes wavered.

Most of the older Liosálfar had blue eyes. Green was uncommon.

“Alrik…”

He sighed. “We’re in disagreement.”

“Well, obviously.” She pursed her lips, waiting.

Alrik eased away, and his eyes lacked their usual energy. “I think he should be fighting harder.”

“He’s not?” Her voice pitched.

Alrik bit his lip and lingered before he answered. “He’s doing what he can, following protocol. He’s too afraid to do anything else.”

“Why?”

“He’s afraid he’ll lose you, or that you’ll lose Viggo if he pushes too hard.”

Her eyes widened and Alrik’s gaze changed. He arched his brows and nodded slowly.

“Yeah, maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s not worth risking all and losing all,” he said.

Her body went cold. She stared at him in horror. He took her hand in his and added. “Don’t worry, sweetie. Lucky for you, I’m not in charge.”

 

***

 

1972

New Haven

 

Svala and Viggo waited one year to be together. When they reunited, Svala was fifteen, Viggo sixteen. For appearance they had to stay under supervision until Svala turned eighteen. This made searching for Freja far more difficult.

In the early seventies, tracking people was complicated -- tracking children, even more so. Without the internet there was no way to gather information for someone who was not of age. Going through regular channels required identification. Even then it was tricky to get anything released.

Trym and Alva refused to help, so they turned to Alrik.

They ambushed him in the laundry room one day when Trym was out. The rhythmic buzz of the tumble dryer shifting their clothes around had to suffice to drown out their voices in case Trym returned. Alrik folded the last turtle neck shirt when they came inside.

He offered an apologetic smile even before they said anything and once they’d presented their request he backed up against the counter and pushed his hands into his pockets. His shoulders slumped. “I want to help you, but I can’t.”

“Please,” Svala begged.

Viggo ran a hand through his hair with a frustrated sigh. He shook his head and tightened his lips as if to tell Svala he’d already suspected they’d get nowhere with Alrik.

Alrik’s gaze shifted between the two of them. “I’m sorry. I promised Trym I wouldn’t get involved. If I did, and they found out, things could get ugly. You could lose each other. Is that what you want?”

“We want our daughter back.” Viggo sneered. “That’s what we want.”

“I’m sorry. I wish I could help you, but my hands are tied.”

 

***

 

Svala and Viggo drove to their old house in Hampton. A married couple with two children, lived there now. The mantelpiece was cluttered with framed pictures of the whole family on various vacation trips, or posing for a Christmas picture. On the side table stood head shot photos of a little boy and girl, smiling happily into the camera.

The woman, Mrs. Wilson, invited them in for coffee under the pretense they came searching for a previous owner.

“We bought this house from an old lady. I should have her number somewhere,” Mrs. Wilson said.

They sat in the kitchen, waiting for the pot of coffee to brew. The gurgling of the machine broke through the silence as Mrs. Wilson rummaged around in a drawer. In the background, the waves rolled onto the shore in soothing strokes. The sound enhanced Svala’s anxiety.

“I was sure I put it in here.” Mrs. Wilson lifted a paper and shook her head, then put a hand on her hip and pursed her lips.

The kitchen, along with the rest of the house, had been remodeled to more contemporary standards. They sat on uncomfortable wooden chairs around a brown, round dinner table, surrounded by the kitchen’s new and hideous orange cabinet doors. The wallpaper matched the cabinets in color with traces of orange in the otherwise brown and yellow flowers. Nothing connected to Svala’s memory of the place she’d last seen her daughter.

The Wilsons had even painted the facade of the house from modest grey to a bright yellow color. The markings of Freja’s height in the hallway were gone, probably removed with a fresh layer of paint. She hated what they had done to their home, the place where they had been so happy raising their daughter.

The new kitchen table stood in the exact spot Freja sat when it shifted. Svala had trouble hiding her resentment to the nice lady, who in all fairness could not be blamed for anything. She must have failed to hide her feelings as Viggo smiled and reached under the table for her hand, squeezing it tight.

“Do you know how long the previous owner lived here?” he asked.

“No, I’m afraid not.” Mrs. Wilson closed the drawer, her gaze clouded. “I might have left the number in the study, though. I’ll go look.”

Left alone in the kitchen, they both exhaled. Viggo squeezed her hand again, lifting it to his lips. “We’ll find her. I promise.”

“Then what?” Svala asked. “What do we do when we find her?”

He let go of her hand. “Well, at least we’ll know what happened to her.”

Mrs. Wilson found the number to the previous owner, a Mrs. Gerda Johansson.

Outside, Svala gazed up at the house and shook her head, her lips pressing tight together. ”Our beautiful house. They’ve ruined it.”

Viggo nodded and gazed up at the yellow house. It looked more like something out of Pippi Longstocking than the home they’d grown to love.

They went over to Mrs. Rowan next door, relieved to find she was still alive and well. She invited them in for tea and biscuits.

“The previous owner only lived there for a couple of months,” Mrs. Rowan said. “Before that a lovely young couple and their daughter lived there. They died in a tragic accident. I hope that’s not who you’re looking for.”

They sat out on the veranda facing the ocean. Svala remembered the flower print on the cushions in the antique wicker furniture. Freja loved coming here, as Mrs. Rowan never had a shortage of cookies.

”They were such a beautiful couple.” She smiled at them. ”Like the two of you.” Mrs. Rowan put down her cup of tea; it clinked when it met the glass table. ”The father used to come over and help me if I needed anything done around the house. I didn’t even have to ask, he’d just come by and offer to help. He’d bring his little girl. She loved her father that one. Adored him. And she was such a wonderful little girl. Stubborn, but polite. I used to watch them from out here. They’d often sit out on their porch, the three of them, enjoying each other’s company like they didn’t need anything else. I’ve ever met a happier family.” She trailed off and her gaze went distant. ”Curious, I can’t seem to remember their names, or how long they lived there.”

“How did they die?” Svala’s asked.

Mrs. Rowan pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, giving it some thought. “I think a car accident, but again, my memory is not what it used to be.”

“All three?” Viggo’s eyes widened.

“No. Only the parents.” She reached out for the blue ceramic pot on the table. “More tea?” she asked.

Svala shook her head and raised her hand. “What happened to the daughter?” Her hand trembled when she lowered it. She never expected to get this much information.

“Well, social services took care of her, I guess. She had no relatives. There was an uncle but I suspect he was not an appropriate candidate to care for the child. He had a male companion, if you know what I mean. Now, what was his name again…”

After their visit to Mrs. Rowan they sat in their car for several minutes outside their old house without turning the key. Svala considered everything that could have happened to their daughter. How did someone recover from such a tragic event so early in life? What happened to her and where was she now?

“They told her we’re dead.” Svala stared out over the ocean. “She watched me vanish before her eyes and then they told a five-year old her parents died. And they let social services take her.”

“We don’t know if that is what happened. Mrs. Rowan is old. She could hardly remember anything.”

“She could hardly remember anything because that is how it’s programmed! We sat right in front of her, she talked about us and she didn’t even recognize us!”

“Well, this is not the first time that’s happened. We know how it works. They’re not supposed to recognize us.” Viggo reached for the ignition. “We should follow up with our only lead.”

He started the car and pulled on to the main road. Svala gazed out the window, only now realizing one thing she had chosen to ignore. Freja wouldn’t recognize them either.

 

 

Chapter 14

 

Present Time

Washington D.C.

 

Svala sat on Sarah’s bed and gawked at the adjoining wall. It was covered with pictures of Viggo, mostly posters and magazine cut-outs. The signed image from New York broke the messy pattern of overlapping images cluttering the wall. Placed in a gold-colored frame, it centered the wall of worship.

Sarah came out from her walk-in closet wearing the fifth dress change in less than twenty minutes. Svala tore her gaze from the images of Viggo while Sarah studied her own back in the full length mirror next to the closet.

“How does this look?” she asked. The green, short dress barely covered essential parts of her body.

Svala concealed her impatience with a smile. “It looks fine.”

“Better than the red?”

Svala nodded, not recalling there had been a red. She fingered her iPhone. The first text from Viggo had been the last, and she didn’t dare to text or call him back again. She shouldn’t even have saved his number in case Trym checked up on her.

Sarah scrutinized herself over in the mirror, smoothed her hands over her hips and bit her lower lip with indecision. “I don’t know…”

The boredom of waiting made Svala open the old text message from Viggo to stare at it for the hundredth time. “We’re just going out for coffee, you know,” she mumbled.

Sarah lifted her hands to pull back her hair but stopped in mid action. Svala looked up from her text. Sarah bit her lip again, then pressed a hand to her stomach and walked toward Svala. “Okay, you have to promise not to tell anyone.”

Svala lowered her phone. “What?”

“Okay, listen.” Sarah moved a few steps closer, her face flush, eyes glittering. “I saw something on Twitter this morning. Viggo Storm moved to D.C this weekend.”

Sarah’s smile widened while the blood drained from Svala’s face.

“A few others confirmed it, writing they’d seen him in various places around town.” She bounced from foot to foot with a muffled whimper.

“He moved to Washington?” Svala asked.

Sarah stopped bouncing and clasped her hands together. “Yeah, isn’t that amazing? Now there is a real chance I’ll run into him, and that means I have to look my best. Like, always.”

Svala bit her tongue and forced a smile. Sarah swirled around and went back to the mirror next to her closet.

“I’m changing into the red. I’ve read somewhere that he likes red and this is no time to be modest,” she said.

While Sarah disappeared into the closet again, Svala gave in and texted Viggo.

Did you move to Washington?

Three minutes passed without a reply. Sarah came out from the closet, adjusting her cleavage. She stopped in front of the mirror and studied herself from every angle. Obviously not happy with her appearance, she adjusted her bra again and checked herself over in the mirror once more before satisfied with the result. “Come on. Let’s go look for Viggo Storm.”

 

 

Svala checked her phone every other minute on their way to the coffee shop but Viggo hadn’t returned her text. Sarah was preoccupied searching the crowd in hopes of spotting Viggo on the street, and didn’t even notice Svala’s obsession with her phone.

It was Saturday afternoon and the streets were crowded. Even if Viggo walked past them, they would probably miss him in the sea of faces. Regardless, the whole thing was ridiculous. Unless Viggo was following Svala around, it was unlikely he would show up where they were.

The thought made Svala slow down and glance over her shoulder.

“What?” Sarah stopped, grabbed Svala’s arm and followed her gaze. “Did you see him?”

A couple of feet behind, a guy wearing sun glasses and a blue sweater with the hood pulled over his head slowed down. He lowered his head but Svala had already caught the visible parts of his face and she certainly didn’t have to look twice. She lied through a smile.

“No. Let’s hurry before Jen and Megan get tired of waiting.”

 

 

The coffee shop was crowded. A murmur of voices and clattering dishes filled the room and then the whirr from the frothing machine cut through the buzz. Svala gazed through the full-length windows but no longer spotted Viggo in the crowd outside.

“I see Jen and Megan. They’re sitting with Jayden and Noah over there.” Sarah pointed toward a table by the windows facing the street.

Reluctantly, Svala followed Sarah over to their friends, keeping an eye out for Viggo. Jayden searched Svala’s attention as they approached in and slid further in on the black couch to make room. Svala forced a smile as she met his gaze, willing herself to stop looking for Viggo before anyone caught on.

Jen eyed Sarah with a cocked eyebrow. “What are you all dressed up for?”

“No reason.” Sarah smirked, then made a quick survey of the room.

The general customer group in the coffee shop consisted of teenagers, mostly girls. A group of girls from their school waved a friendly hello before returning to their conversation in the end of the room. By the table next to them sat four girls, all staring into their iPhones, not talking to each other at all.

Jayden patted the empty space next to him. “Hey, Svala. You can sit here.”

Behind her, Viggo walked through the double doors and into the coffee shop. She didn’t have to turn around, she felt his presence throughout her entire body, like a heat wave surging through her. Even so, she glanced his way, to make sure. He shot her a quick glance, his hoodie up and his sun glasses still on. Her heart raced.

“Svala?” Jayden asked again.

Her face was flush when she met his gaze. “Yeah, I…” Her eyes darted back to Viggo.

Viggo stayed undetected by anyone else but she recognized every little movement he made, the way he walked up to the counter, the way he reached up and scratched his neck once he stopped and waited for her to come to him. She knew every bit of him as well as she knew herself and she ached to go up to him and have him put his arms around her. She needed to feel him so much it was all she could think of.

Giving in to that urge would be disastrous on so many levels, so instead, she focused on resisting him, eased out of her jacket and sat next to Jayden.

The black leather imitation in the seating squeaked when she moved. Viggo tensed and crossed his arms over his chest. She fixed her gaze on Jen, but kept an eye on Viggo from the corner of her eye.

Sarah seated herself next to Megan and peered out over the room. “Where is the waitress?”

“They’re understaffed. You have to go up to the counter to order. It takes forever to get anything,” Megan said.

“I’ll do it.” Svala stood up so fast she knocked over the menu on the table.

They all gawked at her in surprise. She forced a smile and leaned in to readjust the menu, trying not to stare in Viggo’s direction.

She had to pass three rows of tables between the window seats and the counter. The scent of freshly brewed coffee and milled beans filled the room. A waitress came out from behind the counter to clean the abandoned tables and make room for more customers. She sighed and pushed past a group of girls with her black plastic tray lifted over her head. Like all the waitresses, she wore a short plaid skirt and a tight white t-shirt along with a pair of comfortable white sneakers. Svala stopped and waited for her to pass, fiddling impatient with her bracelet as the girl took forever to get out of the way.

Viggo stood by the end of the empty counter. Behind it, a girl was preparing the espresso machine for her next order. She pushed a button and the steamer made three short whizzing noises, like it was about to give up on her.

“Damn!” The waitress mumbled under her breath, then motioned with one hand toward Viggo without turning. “I’ll be with you in a moment.”

“Take your time,” Viggo said.

Svala leaned against the counter next to him. Their arms brushed up against each other and Svala’s lips unconsciously parted with a quiet gasp. Viggo angled his head slightly toward her, his voice above a whisper. “I was going to tell you.”

“When?”

He didn’t answer. Svala glanced back at her friends. Jayden observed Svala closely while Sarah waved her hands dramatically in the air as she talked. Noah stared down into his phone and sighed.

“Have you been following me?” she asked.

“Yes, but only today.” He smiled shyly.

When she didn’t say anything, he gently pushed against her. Her stomach fluttered and heart beat escalated.

“Why did you move here?” she whispered.

He exhaled, lowered his gaze and lingered for five seconds before he answered. “I found out where you lived…”

She swallowed hard. “Vig, you shouldn’t have done that.”

“I know, I…” He paused, then drew a sharp breath and gently touched the inside of her hand with the tip of his fingers.

She gasped as the touch trigged a jolt of electricity through her entire body. Some dirty dishes on the counter next to her rattled gently against the cold metallic surface as her heart raced.

The waitress turned to them, and Svala pulled back. The dishes stopped moving on the counter as the young girl wiped her hands on her apron and pulled out her notebook from her green apron, unaware of what had happened. Viggo nodded for her to attend to Svala first and they both stood silent while the girl jotted down their orders and went back to the machine.

“So, are you going to tell me about Amanda?” Svala asked.

His voice grew serious. “There’s nothing to tell.”

Her lips pursed into a thin line. “What, are you afraid I’ll blow up this place if I find out what’s going on?”

”No, it’s nothing like that.”

”Why are you dating her? What does that have to do with anything?”

“I can’t tell you.”

She snorted, annoyed with his secrecy. ”Sure sounds like you’re cheating on me.”

”Please, Svala. Let’s not do this. This is not why I looked you up.”

”Then why did you? We’re not supposed to do this. If they find out…”

”They won’t.” He cut her off. ”I’m being careful. I only wanted to see you.”

She wished he would remove those sunglasses so she could see his eyes.

He smiled, the warm adoring smile he always offered her when she caught him studying her. ”God, you’re so beautiful. I miss you so much,” he whispered.

His words made it difficult to control her need to touch him and it scared her how little self control she had when it came to him. ”This is dangerous, Vig.” She scanned their surroundings. ”We shouldn’t be seeing each other like this.”

”I know.” He nodded. ”I needed to ask you…” He lowered his head and sighed.

”What?” Her heart almost stopped.

”It’s stupid, I…” He paused and inhaled deeply. ”When we talked, I told you I loved you.”

She nodded, not sure what he was getting at.

”You didn’t say it back.”

She frowned.

”I know, I’m stupid, but it freaked me out. With everything I put you through in New York, not making you secure about us, and then that guy bringing up Freja, your worries about Amanda, I just…” He shook his head, smiling. ”I needed to hear you say it. With everything else going on, I just needed to hear it.”

”You could have called.” She pointed out.

He nodded. ”I guess.”

”This is dangerous.”

If the touch of his fingertips against her hand made her lose her control like that, she feared what would happen if she put words on how she felt about him when she wanted him this much.

Viggo bit down on his lip, waiting.

Before she had time to say anything at all, Jayden came up behind her, put his hands on her hips and leaned into rest his chin on her shoulder. He pressed his body tight against her.

“You need help?” he asked.

Viggo tensed, and even behind those sunglasses she could tell his gaze was fixed on Jayden’s hand on her hip.

“No, thanks. I got it.” She tried to ease away but Jayden had locked her between his body and the counter.

A vein in Viggo’s temples twitched, his jaws clenched. When Jayden pushed one hand down Svala’s front pocket Viggo’s face reddened.

“I thought we could talk,” Jayden whispered into her ear.

“Okay, sure.” She wanted to push him away but didn’t want to make a scene. “I’ll be back with you guys in a minute.”

Viggo’s hand curled into a fist at his side. His body shook with obvious restrain.

“Not here. What are you doing after?” Jayden brushed his lips against her ear.

She tilted her head away from him. “I… I… have plans.”

Jayden sighed and took half a step back. “Is it just me, or have you been avoiding me since we…”

“No.” She interrupted.

Viggo froze, then breathed audibly through his nose. A glass jar filled with almond biscotti slid straight off the counter and down on the tiled floor where it smashed into a thousand pieces. The waitress leapt back at the sudden crash then frowned as she measured the distance between her nearest customers and the location of the shattered jar.

Jayden shuffled back at the crash too and stared at the waitress with his lips parted in surprise. Svala closed her eyes and sighed inwardly. Jayden reached for her again but she moved out of his way, raising her hands to show him she didn’t want to be touched.

“Just go back to the table. I’ll be there in a moment.” She forced a smile, to make up for the obvious irritation in her voice.

Jayden eyed her oddly, then offered a resigned smile and went back to the others.

The waitress ordered one of the younger girls to clean up the mess and as soon as Jayden was out of range, Viggo spoke through clenched teeth. “Ever since you what?”

She turned away, ashamed.

“Ever since you what?” He leaned his arm on the counter and leaned closer, looking directly at her behind his sunglasses.

“Nothing,” she whispered. “It’s not what you think.”

“Did you sleep with that guy?” His voice was strained.

“No! God, no! It was nothing like that. I’d been drinking, he kissed me, I pushed him away. That’s all.”

That was all but it still wasn’t the truth. She hated lying to him, but she couldn’t send him to Amanda knowing she’d been flirting with some other guy, or that it had taken over one minute before she indeed pushed him away.

Viggo stepped back from the counter, his face flush. “He took advantage of you?” He glanced back at Jayden.

“No, honey, it doesn’t matter. Don’t do anything stupid and expose yourself. You should leave before anyone sees you.”

His breath slowed. He stepped back to the counter. “If I see him near you again, I will hurt him.”

She clamped her lips together, preventing a smile. They weren’t supposed to hurt people.

“Does that mean you’ll keep stalking me?” she asked.

His face softened. “I don’t like that guy,” he said.

“I don’t like Amanda,” she sneered.

He paused, and moved closer. “Let’s go some place we can talk in private. Where we can’t be found out.”

“Viggo, no.” She shook her head, knowing very well what that would lead to.

“Just for a minute. We could meet up in the restroom. No one would find out.”

She grew light-headed imagining his hands on her body, his lips against hers.

“It’s too risky.”

The waitress placed her order on the counter in front of Svala. “There you go. Two cortados.” She reached back and then placed another in front of Viggo. “And one coffee. Are you paying together or separately?”

Viggo reached for his wallet. “I got it.”

Svala fidgeted with a napkin on the counter and waited for the waitress to leave before she spoke again. “You should go. It’s only a matter of time before my friends will recognize you.”

“Come on, honey.” He leaned in closer. “Just a minute. One minute won’t matter.”

“I can’t. I can’t control these damn teenage hormones, and by the looks of it, neither can you.”

He reached out and stroke the end of her sweater between his thumb and index finger. His hand grazed against her stomach. She whimpered.

“Please,” he whispered.

She closed her eyes, believing for a moment they could handle one minute, one kiss, if they focused. They had before, and they knew what was at stake. They wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize their future together. One kiss didn’t matter.

Viggo shifted his hand to her hip and Svala’s eyes flung open at the touch. She gasped, now glad she couldn’t see his eyes behind those sunglasses.

“No.” She pulled away. “It’s too risky. Please just leave.” And with that, she walked back to her table.

 

 

Chapter 15

 

1972

New York

 

The previous owner of their Hampton beach house, Gerda Johansson, resided in an impressive penthouse apartment in New York.

“Viggo, Svala. I wish we could have met under better circumstances,” she said as she opened the door.

Viggo and Svala exchanged a look of surprise. They hadn’t introduced themselves yet. But then again, Gerda was no longer an old lady as Mrs. Wilson had claimed. The woman who opened the door was young, presumably in her early twenties. Her blue eyes, blonde hair, and perfect skin was a dead giveaway. She invited them in.

The large living room held an amazing view over Central Park. Gerda politely offered them coffee which they declined. Meeting other Liosálfar was usually warm and pleasant, but Gerda had trouble hiding her reluctance to their presence.

“I trust Trym and Alva already told you to leave it be.” Gerda’s slim body almost disappeared in the large purple arm chair. She wore a white Chanel suit contrasted by a black shirt underneath.

Viggo straightened beside Svala on the couch. “She’s our daughter,” he said.

Gerda studied him for a few seconds, her eyes flickering over his face and down over his body. A subtle smile passed her lips, then disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Svala reached over and placed her hand on Viggo’s thigh, uncomfortable with an elder Liosálfar staring at her husband like that.

”How are Alrik and Trym these days?” Gerda sipped on her coffee. ”I haven’t seen them in ages.”

”They’re fine,” Svala answered cold.

”Tell me, was it Alrik who provided you with my contact information?” She placed her Royal Copenhagen cup on the round antique table and tilted her head to the side. ”I can’t imagine it was Trym.”

”It was neither.” Viggo kept his gaze calm.

”Oh?” She moved back slightly, increasing her personal space. It was obvious she didn’t believe them.

”We got your number from the current house owner in Hampton,” Svala explained. The last thing she wanted was for Alrik or Trym to get into trouble over their recklessness. ”We asked Alrik, but he refused to help us.”

Gerda tilted her head to the side with a smile that slowly built. She crossed her arms over her chest and raised her shoulders. ”Well, I suppose he feels he’s done enough damage to last him a life time.”

Svala offered a fake smile and maintained an even tone. ”I imagine that is a matter of perspective.”

Gerda studied them both, then leaned back in her chair. No one spoke. Svala and Viggo didn’t dare to say anything else that could compromise Alrik and Trym.

The older Liosálfar leaned forward again. “Out of respect to Trym, I won’t report your visit. But only if you promise to stop searching for her.”

“Why?” Viggo asked.

“Because that is what they decided.”

Viggo raised his voice slightly. “So you know what happened to her. Where is she? What have you done to her?”

Gerda paused while holding his gaze, then rose. “It’s better if you leave now.”

Svala stood too. Her shoulders curled and her voice wavered with desperation. “He didn’t mean to… We only want to know she’s okay. Can’t you at least tell us that?”

The wooden clock on the wall ticked through the silence that followed. Gerda walked out from the sitting area and gestured toward the hallway “As I said. I think it’s better if you leave.”

“Please,” Svala said. “We need to know she’s okay.”

Gerda’s eyes narrowed. “But you already know that, don’t you? It’s obvious that knowing more will not stifle your determination to find her. Now you have to decide if you care about Trym and what might happen to him if you continue to disobey his direct orders. Selfishness is not a Liosálfar trait.”

”Neither is refusing to help those in need when you are able to do so,” Viggo said.

They went home, resigned, and out of hope. No matter how much they wanted to find Freja, they had exhausted all their resources. Another three years passed before they located her.

 

***

 

1975

New Haven

 

With no more leads to follow and nowhere to start searching, Svala and Viggo went on with their lives. They bought a house in New Haven to stay close to Trym and Alrik and tried their best to move on.

One afternoon, Svala went through the mail in the kitchen when she spotted a large brown envelope. She put aside the bills and tore open the tattered package. A picture of Freja fell out; she was ten, dressed in a school uniform and waiting by a bus stop. A back pack hung precariously over one shoulder as she gazed out over the road. Svala grabbed the picture with both hands and gasped, glad she was already sitting down.

“Honey!” She shouted into the house, reached for the envelope and poured the rest of the contents all over the kitchen table.

It was all there, all they needed; a copy of Freja’s birth certificate, reports of her time in foster care, her new adoptive parents’ name and address, school records and grade cards covered the kitchen table. Svala clasped her mouth with one hand, stifling another gasp.

Viggo found her crying with panic short gasps. “What’s wrong, honey?” He kneeled beside her.

“Look.” She lifted five sheets towards him, not sure which one to start with. “It’s her, it’s all her.”

Viggo grabbed the picture of Freja, and his gaze fixed on her face. “Who sent these?” He reached out into the pile and grabbed the thick padded envelope.

While Viggo flipped the envelope over in his hand, Svala searched for the latest school records.

Viggo pulled out a chair and sat, his eyes stirring over the empty back of the envelope. “There is no return address. Who could have sent this? And why now?”

Svala handed him a paper. “She’s in New York. She’s there right now. At that school.” She pointed at the logo at the top. “We have to go there, before someone finds out we have this.”

 

 

***

 

The longest drive of their life ensued. They hadn’t discussed what to do if they found her, their shared understanding needed no words.

School was still in session when they drove up and parked on the street right outside. They held their breathes as they stared up at the tall auburn building with its double arched windows. Neither one of them dared to believe Freja was actually inside.

Svala pulled down the sun blind to access the mirror. To herself she appeared exactly the same she’d done back then, the same she’d always looked, but she wouldn’t to Freja. She put on the same lipstick she used to wear in the late 60’s and dabbed some more perfume on her neck.

”I should have gotten a haircut. My hair is too long. She won’t remember me like this.” She pulled it back from her face, considering if she should wear it up.

Viggo placed a gentle hand on her lap and leaned in to kiss her temple. ”You look fine. She’ll be fine.”

Svala clasped her purse and stared out at the school building. ”What if we scare her?”

”Hey!” Viggo placed a hand on her chin and forced her to gaze into his calm blue eyes. Her eyes stirred so he placed both hands on each side of her face and smiled. ”Relax, honey. We’ll be fine. She’ll know it’s us. She has to.”

After the bell rang it took another five minutes before the first children left the school building. Svala and Viggo stepped out of the car and crossed the street. Viggo reached for her hand and squeezed it tight. Svala’s gaze was fixes on the school and when Freja finally walked through the heavy double doors of the main building, Svala squeezed Viggo’s hand back so tight she must have cut off his blood circulation.

Their daughter was beautiful. Her long, blonde hair was pulled from her face with a blue head band that matched her eyes. She walked next to another girl, talking and laughing. A boy jogged down the stairs behind her and reached out to pull her hair as he passed. Freja told him off, shifting her hair to the other side, out of his reach. Her friend offered support, sticking out her tongue, but the boy ignored her, his attention still on Freja. Svala smiled but Viggo stared at the scene, not amused.

Svala stopped and placed her hand on his chest. “Stay here, honey. I’ll go talk to her. We don’t want to scare her.”

He nodded, but kept his eyes on Freja, his face tense.

The autumn leaves whirled around Svala’s brown t-form platform shoes and the wind caught her olive green skirt so strong she had to hold it down. When Svala closed in on the stairs, Freja spotted her. She smiled and fought the tears as Freja tilted her head to the side and crumpled her face, as if trying to place her.

“Freja?” she said.

Freja walked down the last steps and nodded slowly. Her friend studied Svala too and followed after Freja.

“Do you recognize me?” Svala kneeled to face her daughter. The urge to reach out and touch her was overwhelming, but she fought it.

“I don’t know.” Freja narrowed her eyes. “I think I do, but I don’t know from where.” She lifted her gaze and stared at Viggo for a few seconds. “I recognize him too.”

Svala glanced at Viggo. He approached with caution, and Svala reached out for him before turning to Freja.

“We’re family.” She clasped Viggo’s hand.

Freja’s brows drew together. “What do you mean?”

Svala hesitated. With the age difference, she couldn’t claim to be Freja’s mother. “I’m your aunt. Your mother was my sister.”

Freja took a step back. “My mother is dead.”

Viggo squeezed Svala’s hand.

“I know.” Svala forced a smile while the tears burned under her eyelashes. Her voice broke. “But we’re here.”

Freja’s friend tugged her shirt. “We should go. We’ll miss the bus.”

Freja stepped back, but lingered.

“Freja, come on!” The girl studied Svala and Viggo with a suspicious frown.

“We’ll drive you home if you want,” Svala said. “We just want to talk to you. Is that okay?”

Freja observed Viggo. Her friend grabbed her arm but she didn’t move. She studied her father with a curious expression. Viggo squeezed Svala’s hand again, hard.

“Okay.” Freja nodded, eyes still on Viggo.

Her friend left, but kept looking over her shoulder until she crossed the yard and disappeared around the corner. Viggo let go of Svala’s hand and knelt in front of his daughter. The gravel crunched under his sneakers. “Look at you, you’ve grown so much.”

“Did you know my parents too?” Freja asked.

He nodded. “And I knew you. When you were a baby. Do you remember that?”

She shook her head.

Svala knelt too. “What do you remember, sweetie?”

“I remember… “ She focused, eyes narrow. “I remember the ocean.”

“That’s right.” Viggo smiled. “You lived by the ocean. What else do you remember?”

“The smell of paint.” She searched Viggo’s gaze for approval.

He smiled wider, and nodded.

Freja agreed to come with them, and go for a ride. Svala sensed she understood what that meant, but that she didn’t mind. She followed them to the car, and slid into the backseat without questioning it.

Out on the school yard, Freja’s friend returned with an older woman. The girl pointed at Viggo and Svala, and the woman walked briskly in their direction. Viggo opened the front door and got in, Svala joined Freja in the backseat.

Svala and Viggo’s eyes met in agreement in the rearview mirror. Svala reached over and secured her daughter’s seat belt. “We’re going for a ride, okay sweetie?”

“Okay.” Freja studied her with interest.

Viggo pulled out from the curb so abruptly, Svala knocked her head against the front seat. The woman outside ran the last few feet to the sidewalk and shouted for them to stop. Viggo pushed the gas pedal hard and the wheels screeched against the asphalt, leaving marks as the car accelerated.

“It’s okay.” Svala reached out and grabbed Freja’s hand. “You don’t have to be afraid.”

Freja watched the woman running down the street, still shouting for them to stop. People on the sidewalk stopped walking and gazed after the speeding car. One man waved for them to slow down, but Viggo kept driving faster and faster.

He reached a junction and made the mistake of checking the rearview mirror again. The crash was sudden; they never had time to register it. A black SUV hit them from the side, and their Volvo spun out of control. Viggo hit the brakes, and when the car jerked to a stop, he catapulted through the windshield and flew several feet in the air before landing on the road. Svala smacked against the front seat and then the back window, breaking her neck instantly.

Death meant starting over.

 

***

 

Present Time

Washington D.C

 

Svala left the coffee shop, half regretting she didn’t follow Viggo into the restroom. Her friends went downtown to catch a movie, but she needed to be alone, and took the first bus home.

Trym was out. She opened the freezer and searched for comfort food when a hard knock on the front door made her jerk back. She leaned against the cold freezer and closed her eyes. He made resisting him into an impossible task.

She considered staying where she was, but didn’t want him thinking she’d ignored him, so she walked into the hallway, but stopped a few feet from the door.

“Vig, please leave. Don’t make this harder than it is.” She slouched against the wall.

“It’s not Viggo.”

Svala snapped to attention and straightened up. She hadn’t heard that voice in years. Her heart pounded. She hurried up to the door, unlocked it, and swung it open.

She gasped. “Alrik?”

“Hi, sweetheart.”

She stared at his familiar face, then peeked over his shoulder. “What are you doing here?”

He took a moment to study her before he spoke. “I’ve come to tell you the truth.”

 

 

Chapter 16

 

Svala stood in the doorway and stared at Alrik with her mouth agape. A car passed on the silent, empty street, and Alrik glanced around uneasily. “May I come in?” he asked.

Svala exhaled in one exasperated breath and moved aside. “Of course.”

Alrik stepped inside and scanned the bright, meticulously designed hallway with a melancholy smile. Trym’s windbreaker hung next to him. He stopped to finger the material between his thumb and index finger, then paused to inhale with audible strain. When he released the fabric, he drew another sharp breath and closed his eyes.

“How is he?” he asked.

Svala’s breath hitched as she struggled against her tears. “We miss you.”

Their eyes met. He looked the same, his dark hair contrasting his green eyes, that kind beautiful face that still haunted her dreams. Silence passed between them, then Alrik reached out, pulled her into his arms and held her tight. She clung to him with an involuntary whimper, no longer able to prevent the tears from flowing. His scent filled her with familiar safety and comfort, and forced her emotions to surface.

Thirty years had passed since the last time she’d seen him.

 

***

 

1975

Miami

 

After their deaths in the car accident, Svala and Viggo started over. They spent two years apart, four together. Despite repeated warnings, they returned to New York to search for Freja. Freja’s adoptive parents informed them about a tragic kidnapping, ending in a violent car accident in which their little girl had been killed. For years, Viggo and Svala believed they’d caused their own daughter’s death.

Svala once asked Alrik about the envelope, but he confirmed nothing. He didn’t have to. She couldn’t think of anyone else brave enough to have send it.

“I would never blame you for what happened, if that’s what you’re worried about. The accident was our fault,” she’d told him.

They sat on their terrace by the pool in Coral Gables one Sunday morning, waiting for Trym to come out with coffee. A warm, humid wind swept by them, blowing sun bleached strands of blonde hair into Svala’s face. Alrik lowered the Miami Herald and gazed across the table with a strained expression. “I know you wouldn’t, but I didn’t send the information,” he said.

Svala removed the strings of hair from her face, gazed up at the clear blue sky and narrowed her eyes, then winked at him. “Right. Of course you didn’t.”

Alrik frowned and returned to his newspaper. “Besides, what happened wasn’t your fault. They had no right to take her from you in the first place,” he said.

Trym and Alrik didn’t fight as much in this life, but they were different, reserved somehow.

They’d always had this incredible connection, and they always complemented each other perfectly in their extreme differences. Alrik was the only one who could make Trym take chances, dare to do things he normally wouldn’t do, and Trym only had to look at Alrik a certain way, eyebrows raised, eyes calm and Alrik stopped himself from doing things he wasn’t supposed to do. Mostly anyway.

Alrik wasn’t afraid to express how he felt about Trym. He would put his arms around him and tell him how much he loved him, wherever, whenever. Trym rarely expressed his feelings for Alrik out loud but Svala often thought the way Trym observed Alrik spoke volumes. He would get this dreamy look in his eyes, a look that was always accompanied by a secretive smile, and his blue eyes lit up so bright he’d expose his origin to anyone who paid attention.

”Why don’t you ever tell him you love him?” Svala once dared to ask at a party in 1885.

”Who says I don’t?” Trym met Alrik’s gaze across the crowded ballroom and the two men shared a smile. Trym continued to study Alrik and Svala couldn’t blame him. The black three piece suite with the poplin waistcoat was a good look on him.

”Well, do you?” She insisted.

Alrik gestured a silent plea for help as he had been stranded alone with Lady Anne, the one person Trym had warned him not to get stuck with. Trym laughed softly and shook his head, indicating Alrik would have to get himself out of the situation.

The soft light from the candle light reflected on Trym’s perfect skin.

”Do you think I don’t love him?” he kept his eyes on Alrik.

”I know you do.”

”Then don’t you think he does too?” Trym winked at her, then leaned in and kissed her cheek.

Svala smiled, surprised at the action and reached out to take his glass of Champagne. ”I believe you’ve had enough of this.”

Trym’s smile widened. He put his arm around her waist. Alrik nodded repeatedly to Lady Anne’s tedious monologue while searching Trym’s attention with growing desperation.

”Aren’t you going to help him out?” she asked.

Trym shook his head. ”Then he’ll never learn to listen.” He leaned in closer and dropped his voice to above a whisper. ”Besides, I want to see his reaction when she grabs his ass.”

Trym and Alrik always included her in their inside jokes and often asked her to settle their private arguments. She’d always been a natural part of their relationship, not exactly a daughter, but something very close to it. Since Freja disappeared, things had changed between them and they no longer included her in their life the way they’d used to. They exchanged secret glances when they thought she wouldn’t notice and sometimes when she walked into a room, they silenced. This happened so many times, Svala could no longer discard it as paranoia.

One morning when they came back from their run they both stopped in mid-conversation as they entered the kitchen. Svala stood by the counter, busy making pancakes. She bit her tongue at first, thinking it was best to let it slide, but all this secrecy was killing her. She had had enough of it. She placed a hand on her hip. “Okay, enough with this already. What’s going on with you two? Why do you always stop talking as soon as I’m around?”

Alrik shrugged. “We do? Haven’t thought of it.” He searched Trym’s gaze for confirmation.

Trym shook his head. “I can’t recall that we do. I’m sorry if you feel that way.” He reached for his bottle of water on the kitchen counter and Svala watched him take a sip, waiting for recognition to pass between the two men. They avoided eye contact.

She grabbed the balloon whisk in a tight grip and stirred her batter with renewed intensity. “It doesn’t make me uncomfortable. It worries me.” She stopped whisking to glare at them. “I think I liked it better when you fought.”

Alrik offered an amused smile. “You have nothing to worry about, sweetie. Just wait and see. When you and Viggo have been together for almost two thousand years, you’ll go through some awkward phases too. Then you’ll understand.”

The last time Svala’d saw Alrik and Trym together she knew something was wrong. She’d visited a neighbor and came home late. Her new shoes caused blisters, so she’d taken them off half-way home. The asphalt was still warm from the sun and she couldn’t wait to get inside and cool herself off on the cold marble floor.

Trym and Alrik stood in the kitchen talking. They hadn’t heard her silent footsteps as she tiptoed across the back terrace, shoes dangling from one hand.

The light was on, and as she came closer she saw Trym crying. He stood with his back against the kitchen counter, his hands covering his face, his body shaking slightly. She stopped, held her breath and moved further away from the terrace lighting. Trym rarely cried, in fact, she couldn’t remember ever having seen him express his feelings like this. She eased into the shadow of a palm tree and watched them.

Alrik walked up to Trym and pried his hands from his face, pulling him into his embrace. Trym’s arms circled Alrik’s body in a desperate motion, muscles flexing as he held him. He buried his face in the nape of Alrik’s neck.

“I can’t let you do it,” Trym said.

“I have to.” Alrik stroked Trym’s neck in a soothing motion.

“No you don’t. That’s bullshit! You don’t have to do anything.”

Alrik eased away and clasped Trym’s face in both hands, forcing him to meet his gaze. “I promise I’ll do whatever is necessary to return to you. You know that.”

Trym shook his head, squeezing his eyes shut. “Don’t do this. Please, think about it.”

“I have thought about it.”

“Then think about it some more!” Trym opened his eyes, his face tense. “Let me talk to them.”

Alrik shook his head. “No. It’s too dangerous. You’re too important. I don’t want you getting involved.”

“I’m already involved!” Trym raised his voice, and attempted to get away from Alrik.

Alrik clasped his face tighter, holding him in place. “But they don’t know that. They think it’s me. Let them.”

They grew silent. Svala held her breath again, afraid they’d hear her. She secured the grip of her shoes as Alrik wiped a tear from Trym’s face and leaned into kiss him. “I promise I’ll do what I can to come back to you,” he whispered.

“Don’t leave,” Trym said.

“I have to.”

The next morning, Alrik was gone, and to this day, Trym refused to talk about what had happened.

 

***

 

Present Time

Washington

 

Alrik and Svala went into the spacious living room. Svala wiped the tears from her face with the back of her hand. “Trym isn’t home, but he’ll be back soon. He’ll be so glad to see you.”

Alrik’s smile grew solemn. He paused beside the beige couch and ran his hand over the back. The straight lined design made little room for speculations on who had decorated the room. His shoulders slumped. “I’ll be gone before he comes home.”

“Why?” Confusion deepened the line on her forehead.

Alrik paused for a few seconds before he spoke. “Because I didn’t come for him. It’s better if I’m gone when he returns.”

Desperation entered her voice, but translated into annoyance. “Then why did you come if not for him?”

His gaze lingered, his green eyes deep in thought. Svala’s frown changed into a wavering smile, an attempt to apologize for her harsh reaction. She didn’t want him to leave.

Alrik smiled with a sad expression in his eyes. “Look at you. My beautiful girl,” he said.

Svala’s eyes welled up again. She tried to stifle her emotions, but failed and her tears caused Alrik’s eyes to fill with remorse. She pushed back the next set of tears, but her voice still broke. “Why can’t you stay?”

“Because it isn’t safe for you. If they find out I’m here you’ll be in trouble, and that’s the last thing I want.” His gaze darted toward the windows, eyes narrowed. Then he moved over to stand next to an armchair where he was better hidden. He glanced at his watch.

Svala walked up to him. He reached for her hand. “I don’t have much time. I’m sorry I have to rush this. It’s important you know one thing. I never sent you that envelope. Trym did.”

“Trym? But he…”

“I know. It’s not his style. And by no surprise they suspected me.” He shook his head, as if it still annoyed him the High Council had such little faith in him. ”Trym didn’t want me to take the blame, but I couldn’t see the point in telling them the truth. They’d only assume Trym was protecting me. And Trym is too important to the balance, it wasn’t worth risking him being punished, being stained. I took the bullet, and Trym was furious with me. You know how he is. Even when he’d broken the law, he insisted on following protocol. Eventually, I talked some sense into him, made him see the importance of him being spot free and eventually he accepted it. That’s when the Döckálfar contacted me.”

She pressed her hand against her chest and drew a sharp breath. She had wanted to find out what happened for so long. ”What did they want?”

”To make me an offer.” His voice was flat, almost detached.

She reached out and took his hand. He forced a smile.

“That’s why I’m here. Because of Viggo. I believe they’ve made him an offer too. You have to make sure he doesn’t switch sides. He’s on a dangerous path, involving himself with the Döckálfar too much. He doesn’t understand what he’s up against.”

Svala’s worry shifted focus. “What do you mean?”

Alrik pressed his lips together in hesitation before he continued. “I never intended to switch sides. I only wanted to find out what’s going on. After the war, and after what happened with Freja, I knew something wasn’t right. I intended to stay with them long enough to find out, and then return, but they lured me in with lies and false promises. They make it impossible not to switch sides when they’re done with you. They make you feel like you don’t have any other choice.”

The blood drained from Svala’s face. “You think Viggo…?”

Alrik placed his hand on her arm. “I know he hasn’t yet, but I’ve heard things, and it’s in their plan. It has been for years. This goes back to what happened to him during the Second World War. Did he ever tell you anything about the time he was missing?”

Svala shook her head, tears burning under her eyelashes. “He always avoided the subject. I tried to force it out of him once, but he became furious and told me he didn’t want me asking anymore. He told me I was better off not knowing. The Nazis captured him, that’s all I know.”

Alrik slid his hand off her arm. “They don’t trust me enough to say anything, but from what I’ve heard, the Döckálfar captured him. They held him during all those years. You see, something happened during the First World War that allowed them to gain more power. That’s the reason for the Second World War and why it happened so close after the first.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you remember what happened back around the time when I switched sides?” he asked.

“Yes.” She nodded, her lips pursed together. “Trym was a wreck.”

Alrik sighed and nodded. “Well, I meant more worldly things. Like the fact that the Iran-Iraq War started.”

Svala frowned. “What do you mean? Was that connected to you switching sides?”

“Every time one of us switches sides, something really bad happens in the world.”

“Every time? I thought you were the only one.”

“Yeah, that’s what The High Council want you to believe. It’s uncommon, but it happens. I think the person switching sides during the First World War tipped the scale in Döckálfar’s favor. Somehow, they control more of what happens in the world, and even when we start over. And the more Liosálfar who switch sides, the more powerful they get, the more they can control. Right now, they’re after Viggo, and they’re going full force.”

The front door handle pressed down and the door clicked open. Svala jerked back. She’d been so captivated by the information she hadn’t even heard Trym’s car pull up to the driveway. Alrik froze. He stood so still he had to be holding his breath as Trym’s voice called into the house. “Svala? Are you home?”

 

 

Chapter 17

 

Present Time

Washington

 

Alrik stared at the door, like frozen in place. When Trym came into view, he fixed his gaze on him and his eyes softened. Svala’s heart resonated in her head. She didn’t care if this was a bad idea, or if it would throw off the balance, she longed for Trym to see him.

Trym stopped in the doorway. “Hey, what’s going on?” he asked.

Svala smiled, and her eyes welled up.

Trym’s brows furrowed as he walked swiftly across the room, his voice thick with concern. “What’s wrong? What happened?” He reached for her, and Svala flinched back slightly. Alrik stood right in front of them in plain view. She turned to him slowly and opened her mouth to speak.

“He can’t see me,” Alrik said before she had the chance to make a sound. “That’s my punishment.”

Svala’s mouth remained open. She yelped unintentionally, and blinked away a tear, confident her heart broke.

Trym walked between her and Alrik, placed his hand on her arm, and urged her to turn. “Svala, what’s wrong? Talk to me.”

She gasped for air.

“Don’t tell him. Not knowing is better.” Alrik couldn’t keep his eyes off Trym. Despite the sadness clouding his eyes, his skin started to glow as he watched him.

Trym reached out and clasped Svala’s face between both hands, his eyes stirring with worry as he tried to make her focus on him. “Svala? Sweetie, what’s wrong.”

She forced a smile. “I’m fine. I’m sorry. Something just came over me. This thing with Viggo…”

Trym pulled her into his arms and held her tight. Svala met Alrik’s gaze over Trym’s shoulder, and his pained expression hit her like a slap in the face. His lips pinched together tight and he stared at the two of them as if willing the tears in his eyes to disappear. It struck her this probably wasn’t the first time Alrik seen Trym since he left.

“It’s going to be okay.” Trym kissed her temple as he eased away. “We’ll find out what’s going on, and make sure everything is okay, I promise.”

Her breath caught in her throat again. She closed her eyes and nodded. Trym cupped her face and kissed her forehead. “I love you,” he whispered.

The tears burned behind her closed eyes. “I love you too, Trym.” Her voice broke.

Trym’s hand lingered on her face. “Hey, let’s go make dinner. It’ll help you get your mind off it all.”

She nodded again. “Yeah. Just give me a minute, I’ll be right there.”

When Trym left, Svala exhaled in a long shuddering breath and covered her mouth with her hand. “We should tell him,” she whispered.

Alrik stayed silent. Her hand slid off her face. “This is not okay.” She fought the tears, in a futile attempt to regain control of her emotions.

“I want to spare him. It’s better that he doesn’t know. Think about it. How would you feel if you knew Viggo was here, but you couldn’t see him? Couldn’t touch him. Ever?”

“Is that what is going to happen if he switches sides?” Her eyes widened in horror.

Alrik nodded slowly, and Svala grew nauseous. Of all the horrible things she’d ever imagined, this would never have occurred to her.

“What can I do?” she whispered.

He placed his other hand on her shoulder, and leaned closer. “You have to do everything in your power to make sure Viggo doesn’t change sides. They’ll start by ruining things for you. Don’t let them, even if it’s difficult. And most importantly…”

Trym called from the kitchen. “Svala? You okay?”

“Yeah, I’ll be right there!”

Alrik inched closer and dropped his voice. “Whatever happens, if you’re unable to prevent him from switching sides, you can’t follow him. You understand? If they get both of you…” He shook his head. “If you can’t stop him, you’ll have to let him go.”

 

***

 

The following morning, Svala reached for her phone on the nightstand, annoyed someone was calling this early on a Sunday. Fractions of her dream still lingered in her mind. Viggo’s face nuzzled into the nape of her neck, his strong arms around her body. She wanted to fall asleep again, before she lost the sensation of his skin against hers.

She flipped the phone over in her hand. The display lit up the dark room and she exhaled in a gasp as she recognized his number. She clicked to answer, killing the loud, shrill ring tone, then waited and listened for any signs of Trym outside her door. The house remained silent.

“Svala?” Viggo called out.

She lifted the phone to her ear. “I’m here. I just…” She paused, thinking she’d heard footsteps in the hallway.

“Did I wake you?” Viggo asked.

“No,” she answered distracted, but returned the attention to the call when she concluded Trym was still asleep. “I mean yes. Why are you calling this early?”

“I have good news.”

She sat and shifted the phone to her left ear while leaning over to turn on the light on her nightstand. “About what?”

“They’ve granted us permission to be together.”

“Oh my God, that’s great! Since when?” She pushed away her covers and got out of bed. The cold hardwood floor met her bare feet as she hurried over to the window, lightness filling her with each step. Now they didn’t have to be scared of risking their relationship and she couldn’t wait to find out what his assignment had been. Most of all, she ached to be with him.

“About an hour ago,” Viggo said.

She pulled the curtain aside. The darkness settling over the garden made it impossible to see anything at all. “Are you outside. I can’t see you?”

“No. I’m not.”

She paused and frowned at the short tone of his voice. “You’ve known for an hour and you’re not even on your way over?”

“Well, no.” He paused. “It’s not official yet.”

She let the curtain fall back into place, and struggled to keep her voice down. “Not official?”

“Well, I still have to follow through on this assignment. We can’t go public because I’ll blow my cover, and…” He paused.

She waited, her body going numb as he didn’t answer. “And what?”

“And Trym doesn’t know.”

“Come again?”

“Please, don’t freak out. I know you trust him, and I hope you’re right to do so, but they don’t want him involved. This is a delicate situation.”

“What does that even mean?” She hadn’t intended to raise her voice, and glanced up at the door with a grimace, hoping she hadn’t woken Trym.

“It means The High Council can’t afford the risk of us meeting up without their permission, and with recent developments, they see a substantial risk of that happening. If Trym finds out, he’ll start asking questions, and they want to keep him in the dark until they know for sure they can trust him. I wish I could explain more, but I can’t.”

Svala’s jaw dropped, and a strained chortle escaped her. She clasped the phone hard and tried to compose herself.

“You still there?” Viggo asked.

“Yeah, I’m here.” She closed her eyes and breathed through her nose to stifle her annoyance. “So let me get this right. You want to meet up with me somewhere, have sex, then have you go back to Amanda?”

“Do you have to make it sound like that?”

She snapped. “I’m not making it sound like that. It’s exactly like that, isn’t it?”

Viggo grew silent. She heard him breathe.

“I don’t know, Vig. This doesn’t seem right.”

He sighed again. “Come on, honey… I need you.”

His comment gave her pause.

“How exactly did you obtain this information?” she asked.

“Alva told me.”

She pressed her lips together. “And she told you to tell me not to tell Trym.”

“Yes.”

Another moment of silence passed between them.

“What are you getting at?” Viggo asked.

She hesitated at first, but decided on the truth. “Viggo, I love you, and there is nothing I want more than to be with you, but you’ve spent a substantial amount of time with them. And that scares me.”

“You think I’m lying to you?” The disappointment in his voice stabbed her heart.

“No, honey. I don’t think you’re lying. I…” She sighed and tried to find the right words. “I think we should wait. Until it’s official.”

Viggo inhaled sharply. “But we don’t have to wait! That’s just crazy.”

His harsh tone made her flinch. She stayed silent.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” He paused. “Honey, please consider it.”

His voice betrayed him. Seeing her, meeting her before their time to be together must have triggered him. It triggered her too, but she contained the emotion better than he did. He needed her far beyond the sexual encounter he proposed, and it scared her. It meant he wasn’t thinking straight, that he wasn’t balanced.

“Viggo, I’m worried about you.”

He didn’t want to listen, he was too determined to meet her. “I’ll get a hotel room. I have a number to a place I used to stay at somewhere…” He spoke fast, as if worried she would interrupt. Papers shuffled in the background. Svala closed her eyes.

“Or maybe I should get a second apartment. It’ll make it easier to meet up regularly, so it might be a better option…”

“Vig.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Let’s start with the hotel room. It’s going to take too much time getting an apartment.”

“Viggo, stop!”

He silenced, and she could feel his disappointment from the other side.

“Don’t tell me you don’t want to,” he whispered.

She swallowed. “I need some time to think about it, that’s all.”

“Okay.” A chair squeaked in the background. “That’s fine. I understand.”

She paused. “And I would feel more comfortable if I heard it from Alva.”

Too many seconds passed before he spoke. “She’s not here.”

Svala’s body stiffened. “What do you mean, she’s not there?”

“She’s away. She’ll be back in a week.”

“Away doing what?”

“I don’t know. She didn’t say.”

She heard him rub his face, something he often did when he was frustrated.

“Honey, please,” he whispered. “Don’t make me wait another week.”

She closed her eyes, feeling like a monster for hurting him in case she was wrong. “I have to go, honey. Trym is up. Let’s talk later.”

She hung up. Seconds after, when silence settled, the conversation caught up with her. Alrik’s visit scared her, but this conversation terrified her.

 

 

Chapter 18

 

Viggo stared at the display for over a minute before he put the phone aside and went into the kitchen. The sun wasn’t even up. He should have waited another two hours before calling her, or better yet, he should have told her in person. For the last three hundred years, Trym went running every Sunday morning before breakfast. He should have waited outside their house until Trym left. An hour alone with her would have been enough to get through to her.

He brewed a pot of coffee and fought the panic that accompanied his fear of losing her. It was a useless exercise. Every second he didn’t fight it, the pain resurfaced, adding pressure to his chest. He groaned in frustration and placed both hands on the counter, leaning against the surface.

“No wonder she’s suspicious. I’m acting like an idiot,” he muttered.

His actions so far did nothing to prove himself to her and he knew what she was thinking. Which questions she asked herself. She was right to assume he had been compromised by the Döckálfar. It was a logical assumption. Too bad his own logic didn’t stand a chance when his emotions blindsided him.

He should have included her more from the start, and he should have told her about what happened during the war.

 

***

 

1944

Germany

 

Viggo sat curled on the bunk bed in the corner of his cell. The year was 1944, or so he figured. He’d been locked up in the dark for so long, he’d lost track of time.

German soldiers captured him during a salvage mission. It didn’t take long before a high-ranked officer, a Döckálfar known as Loke, figured out what Viggo was. He transferred Viggo to an isolated cell in the bunker, far from the other prisoners. That was about two years ago.

Viggo leaned against the grimy brick wall behind his bunk and closed his eyes. His thoughts drifted to Svala. It killed him not knowing what they’d told her, or what she’d gone through. Was she safe? He wondered if the U.S. had been affected by the war, or even if it still raged outside the prison walls.

On the day they parted, Svala had cried uncontrollably. They stood in the bedroom of their New York apartment saying their goodbyes before Viggo had to leave for Europe. She promised to stop crying, and said she didn’t want him to remember her like that, but she couldn’t make herself stop.

She ran her fingers over the thick fabric of his green uniform. “I’m sorry. Just give me a minute.”

They’d spent the last few hours in bed and had just gotten dressed.

“It’s okay, honey.” He wiped the tears from her face and placed a soft kiss on her lips. “Think of it this way. If I die, we start over. You will see me again. Not everyone is that lucky.”

“I know. I just hate prolonging our time apart, and I hate that you have to go there when we just reunited. Nothing in this make any sense.”

She was right. They weren’t allowed to kill anyone which from one perspective made going to war rather pointless. Their job during war was to save as many innocents as possible and try their best to restore the balance. That wasn’t always the easiest task, especially not when you were in the trenches, bullets flying over your head and everyone expected you to shoot back at the enemy. In the First World War, Viggo’d been ridiculed for being such a terrible shot.

He grabbed Svala’s waist and pulled her closer. Her soft lips met his with desperate need and her arms encircled his neck, urging him to deepen the kiss. He lifted his right arm behind her to glance at his wristwatch. Svala reached back to force his arm back down, and he smiled against her lips.

She eased away to roam her hands down the front of his uniform, then back up, closing one hand around the top button of his suit jacket. She pulled until the button came undone, and continued down to the next. He grabbed her hand in a soft, gentle movement. It trembled in his grip, and their eyes met. “I’m late,” he whispered.

She reached up and gently touched his face with her free hand. “Then be late. Be too late.”

Streaks of mascara streamed from her eyes and down her cheeks. She was still the most beautiful girl in the world.

“I can’t.” He leaned in, offering one last kiss. “I love you, but I have to go.”

 

***

 

Sitting in his narrow, hot cell, he wished he’d fought harder against enlistment, stayed with her and been late. Too late.

The bunker’s thick iron door squeaked open, and daylight flooded the corridor outside his cell. Fresh air flooded in, taking the edge of the rotten stench he’ d grown used to. Viggo squinted and rose from his bunk, but kept a safe distance from the bars. Someone shuffled down the stairs. Two sets of footsteps -- one wearing heavy boots and determined, one barefoot and struggling.

Bewegen!” A soldier shouted.

The prisoner was dragged down the stone stairs with a muffled scream. Within seconds, a soldier came into view. He held a girl by the roots of her dark hair and tugged violently, even though she offered him no resistance. The girl sobbed and begged him to stop, her thin, white dress torn and smeared with dirt and blood. The blood trailed down her legs, and half her face was covered by her hair, disguising her identity. The solider smiled, exposing a row of yellow teeth, like he took pleasure in his job description.

Loke came down the stairs behind them. He took his time, then walked across the cold stone floor with a slow, confident stride.

He stopped two feet from Viggo’s cell. Strands of blond hair stuck out under the military cap, but the visor shielded his eyes. The German uniform snug his muscular body as if it tailor-made, the right side of his suit jacket decorated with shiny, polished honorary medals. Ironic as the Döckálfar had no honor worth mentioning.

Loke stepped closer and surveyed the dirty cell with a smug grin. “I brought you a present,” he said.

Viggo swallowed his repulsion, unsure where this would lead. The soldier tugged on the girl’s hair again and she drew a sharp breath. Loke nodded to the soldier next to him and the man dragged the girl along by the hair. Viggo backed away and the solider hauled up a set of keys from his front pocket, opened the cell with one hand, then shoved the girl inside. When he slammed the door shut, the metallic bars echoed down the corridor.

The girl stumbled over her feet, and Viggo reached out to catch her. He grabbed her left arm and her right hand landed flat on his naked chest. Once she regained balance she pulled away, as if she’d been burned. She cowered into a corner.

“Aren’t you going to thank me?” Loke stood two inches taller than Viggo and his eyes sparkled with excitement. “I imagine it’s been a while.”

Viggo crossed his arms over his chest. “What are you up to? You must realize I won’t hurt her. What’s this about?”

Loke scoffed. “God, you’re paranoid.” He mirrored Viggo’s position and puffed up his chest. “It’s a gift. I’ve even tried her out myself.” He glimpsed at the solider and chuckled. “Hell, we all did.”

The girl slid down the wall, and pulled her knees to her chest, hiding her face. Her body quivered. Viggo’s stomach turned. He closed his eyes to compose himself as an angry outburst wouldn’t help.

“I figure I’ll let her go when you’re done with her,” Loke said. “No one would want her after that. That is, of course, if you accept my gift. If you don’t, we’ll take her back. To be honest, we did have a really good time with her.” He reached into his front pocket and retrieved a cigarette.

Viggo struggled to keep his anger under control. “I don’t understand what you’re trying to prove.”

Loke lit the cigarette and peered at the girl through the pluming smoke as it slowly crept toward the ceiling. He made a nonchalant circular gesture with his hand. “Well, if you don’t want her, we’ll take her back. No big deal.”

He nodded to the solider, who stepped up to the cell again. The key-chain dangled from the man’s hand. It rattled as he spun it around, once, twice, all the while observing the girl with a crooked smile.

She met the soldier’s gaze and started hyperventilating. With a persistent shake of her head, she rose from her hunched position and retreated further back into the cell toward the bunk.

Viggo raised his hand. “Wait!”

Loke sucked hard on his cigarette with a pleased grin. “That was fast.”

“I’ll consider it,” Viggo lied, anxious about where this would lead.

Loke grinned again. “Sure, fine, whatever. I’ll return in the morning. If you haven’t reached a decision by then, I’m taking her back.”

When Loke and the soldier left, the girl pressed herself against the wall in the farthest corner of the cell, peeking out from under a tangled mass of hair. A small barred window, located at the top of one wall, let some daylight into his cell, but didn’t allow Viggo to discern any details of her face.

He backed up and lifted his hand in a submissive gesture. “I’m not going to hurt you. You don’t have to be afraid.”

Her body trembled, and Viggo had no idea what to do with her. No matter how he acted, the girl would be subjected to more abuse. He wasn’t allowed to inflict pain on others, nor did he wish to. The torture he’d been subjected to during his imprisonment faded against the emotional conflict he now faced.

Viggo leaned up against the wall, inhaling deeply. The girl never took her eyes off him. “Take the bunk. I’m going to sit over here, okay?”

Her eyes darted to the bed next to her. There was not much else to offer in the damp, dirty cell.

She moved over to the bunk and sat with caution, her eyes still on him. Her dress slid up over her leg, right where the sun fell from the window, exposing a deep cut on the inside of her thigh. Viggo’s gaze fixed on the fresh wound, and she pushed the dirty garment over her leg, then moved up on the bed, away from the light.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” He closed his eyes, not sure if he should leave it alone. He couldn’t. “I know I promised not to touch you, but you should let me look at that cut.”

She pulled her legs closer against her body and shook her head.

“I’m not going to hurt you. I’m a doctor, and that cut needs to be taken care of. If you get an infection in here…”

She stopped shaking her head. He paused, not sure what her reaction meant. “Maybe you could clean it yourself. Why don’t you throw me that shirt?” He nodded to his once white shirt hanging over the side of the bed.

She hesitated at first, but reached over and clutched the fabric in both hands before throwing it across the cell. Viggo caught the shirt in mid-air. He ripped out two pieces of cloth and rose. The girl’s shoulders tensed. She tried to back further up on the bed, but met resistance in the wall.

“I’m just going to give these to you. I’m not going to touch you.” He walked slowly toward her. She sat still, holding her breath. “Soak this one in water then try to clean the wound as much as possible.” He placed one piece of fabric on the bed next to her. “Then wrap this around it when you’re done.” He let the other fall down on the bed, and stepped away.

She waited until he returned to his corner, then picked up the first cloth, eyeing him with suspicion.

“I won’t look.” He turned around.

The bed squeaked. Seconds later water splattered against the steal faucet. The girl drew a sharp breath and whimpered. Her tortured moans made him wince, so he closed his eyes, and thought of Svala.

 

***

 

The girl stirred in her sleep. The light from the moon fell through the small window above but didn’t offer him much of a visual of her. Her tousled hair fell over her face, and from his position in the corner, Viggo discerned only her silhouette and the constant movement from her restless sleep.

Her dress slid up over her legs as she moved. The improvised bandage around her thigh had slid down to uncover the wound. She tied it too loose. A thin, helpless voice interrupted her moans. She begged to be released, or for an end to it all.

Viggo squeezed his eyes shut and sighed deep in frustration. In the morning, Loke would return for her. His stomach turned at the thought, and he couldn’t help but think about Svala. What if they had gotten her too? What if they hurt her? The thought alone closed his breathing.

 

***

 

As promised, Loke came for the girl in the morning. She cried and pleaded for release, and Loke asked if Viggo would reconsider.

“You know I can’t.”

The girl reached out, begging for help. Viggo couldn’t meet her gaze.

“Then this is on your hands, Storm.” Loke sneered and nodded to the soldier to get the girl.

Two days later, they returned her to him. She acted with less reserve, but kept her distance. In the morning, a soldier came to take her back again. This routine continued for weeks. With time, as they dropped her off, she didn’t run into a corner. Instead, she stayed close, and observed Viggo with restrained interest behind her long, dark hair.

“I’m giving you one last chance,” Loke said. “You can either save this girl, or let her suffer more torture.”

Viggo stared at the cement floor, jaw clenched. Loke chuckled, and the girl moved behind Viggo, shielding herself from the men behind the bars.

When left alone, Viggo faced her. She studied him through the darkness. She’d never allowed him this close before.

“You okay?” he asked.

She nodded, and reached out to touch his cheek. He flinched, but didn’t move away. Her unwashed hair hung in strands over her dirty face as her fingertips met his soft fairy skin. She sighed and let her hand fall off his face. “You’re going to let them take me again, aren’t you?”

He didn’t know what to tell her. Saving her meant breaking Liosálfar law. Even if he would be able to justify the action, he couldn’t do that. Not to her, and definitely not to Svala.

“I’m sorry, I can’t do what they…” He closed his eyes, unable to finish the sentence.

A breeze swept in from the barred window at the top of the cell. Dressed in the shirt he’d torn when she first came to him, he shivered. Unbuttoned, and with the entire back ripped open, the garment didn’t provide much protection.

Her hand landed gently on his exposed chest, and his eyes flung open. With her face inches from his, her breath brushed against his cheek. She closed her eyes and knitted her brows. The shiver of her lips revealed her repulsion to her own request. “Please. Just do it! They’ll never let me go if you don’t.”

Viggo grabbed her wrist in a gentle grip and pried her hand away from his chest. “I can’t.”

Her eyes opened. She eased away and the light from the window fell over her eyes. Unnaturally blue and intense, they stared into his own. Viggo’s breath caught in his throat. He released her hand as if burned, and stumbled backward, raising his hand to ward her off.

Unless you knew what to look for, the physical appearance between Liosálfar and Döckálfar didn’t differ much. They all came from the same place. In later years, most Döckálfar would choose to alter their appearance to avoid resembling the Liosálfar. They would wear contact lenses, color their hair black, or anything else they could do to set themselves apart. However, in the 1940’s there wasn’t much they could do to differentiate themselves.

The girl stepped forward. “I thought you were supposed to help people.”

“You?” Viggo’s eyes narrowed. He increased the distance between them until his back pressed against the cold, hard bars.

The girl followed. “Please!”

“Stay away!” Viggo raised his voice.

She stopped, glanced up at the window, then back at him. She lowered her voice. “Please, you have to listen.”

“This is a set up!” Viggo scanned the room. “You’re one of them.”

The darkness in the cell had made it difficult to see any details of her face, and he hadn’t been close enough to notice her eyes before. He hadn’t even thought to look.

“No.” She shook her head. “I wasn’t supposed to show you. Please, keep your voice down. You have to listen.”

Her eyes stirred, but he didn’t buy the act. The Döckálfar, notorious for their betrayal, would later become skilled actors when the financial benefits and power in the industry served their interests.

“You have to help me.” Her voice broke.

Viggo shook his head. “Forget it. We have no obligation to help you. I’m not falling for this. It was all an act. The cuts, the blood, everything.”

“But that’s where you’re wrong!” She failed to keep her voice down and her tears soaked her dirty face. “It’s not an act. It’s all real.” She raised her arm and took a step closer.

Viggo tried to move away but paused at the sight of a fresh open wound on her arm. Her body shook visibly as pushed her arm into the light and exposed the full injury on her pale skin. “Do you think I agreed to this? Do you think I want this?”

Their eyes met. If this was a lie, she delivered a skilled performance, he’d give her that.

“Please,” she whispered. “You have to help me.”

He swallowed hard. She lowered her arm.

“Even if I wanted to help you, I can’t. Not without breaking the law and being punished for it. Surely, you understand I’m not willing to risk that for one of you.”

She hung her head and closed her eyes. “Of course. I don’t know what I expected…” She walked over to the bed. Her torn dress revealed the gashes and bruises on her back, like someone had whipped her repeatedly. The dress, soaked in her blood, clung to the open wounds.

She climbed up on the bed and sat with her eyes focused on her hands. Viggo took one careful step away from the bars. “Why are they doing this to you?” he asked.

Her lips pursed together. “I wasn’t as careful about breaking the law as you are.” She looked up. “I guess that means I should better understand your reluctance, right?”

“This is punishment?” Viggo asked.

“Well, yeah. What did you think? That I get off on this?” She smirked.

“What did you do?”

She went silent, avoiding his gaze. Outside, someone shouted in German, and shots fired. The girl flinched and closed her eyes again. Viggo studied her, not sure what to believe.

“When will they stop punishing you?” he asked.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. When it’s no longer interesting? We’re not like you. We don’t have your rules. This might go on for decades, centuries even. It’s impossible to say.”

“How long has it been going on?”

“I don’t know. About, twenty years or so.” She heaved herself further up on the bed and winced at the pain in her body.

He didn’t trust her, but it hurt him to see anyone suffer like this. “Maybe we could tell them I did what they want me to do. They don’t have to know.”

She scoffed. “You mean lie to them? Are you insane? Do you think that would help me?”

“I don’t know what else to offer. I won’t risk losing my wife for you. Doesn’t matter what you say.”

The girl bit the inside of her cheek and peered at him. “You’re married?”

“Yes.” His tone didn’t invite further inquiry.

“I’ve heard about this, that your lot is always so damn faithful. I didn’t believe that was true. Doesn’t that get boring?”

He didn’t answer.

“What’s her name?”

His face tensed. He would not discuss Svala with a Döckálfar.

The girl sighed out loud, as if his distrust was misplaced. She then studied him with a curious smile and tilted her head to the side. “It might take a while, but I will prove to you that you can trust me. I don’t care if it takes years, or even decades. I felt it the first time they threw me into your cell, and I’m confident I’m right.”

“Right about what?” he asked.

“That you’re the one who will save me.”

 

***

 

Present Time

Washington

 

The door bell in Viggo’s apartment interrupted the silence. He placed his cup of coffee on the counter and consulted his watch. It was still early in the morning, and only a handful of people knew where he lived.

He shuffled out of the kitchen and through the large hallway until he reached the front door. Spying through the peephole he released a heavy sigh and rested his forehead against the door. The bell rang again, followed by a hard knock that echoed in his head. He caved and opened.

“Amanda.” His voice was stripped of emotion.

She smiled and raised a brown paper bag into the air. “I brought soup.”

“Soup?” He frowned.

“Yeah, you said over the phone you weren’t well.” She lowered the bag, hesitant.

He forced a smile. “You flew all the way to Washington this early to give me soup?”

She tilted her head to the side. “Well, the soup is a pretense of course. I wanted to see you. I arrived late last night.”

He pursed his lips together and nodded.

“May I come in?” she asked.

Viggo stepped aside and gestured into the apartment. When Amanda passed him she leaned in for a kiss. He evaded the sign of affection and her lips landed on his cheek. She eased away with a strained smile, and pressed her lips into a thin line. With a firm grip of the brown paper bag, she sauntered into his apartment, heading toward the kitchen. He followed, reluctant.

“Vig, honey, you really need someone to help you decorate this place.” She put the bag on the kitchen table and pulled out a plastic container.

He leaned against the doorframe, his shoulders drawn together, his hands shoved into his jeans pockets. “Yeah, I don’t know if I’m staying that long.”

She paused, and approached the sink. “I hope you have something to serve this in. Wouldn’t want you eating out of the box.” She opened one of the cupboards over the counter.

“Amanda, what are you doing here?”

Her hand slid off the cupboard handle. She stood with her back facing him. Her shoulders rose and fell from a deep sigh.

“I told you. I need space,” he said.

Her head bobbed in recognition. “I know, but I was worried. I wanted to check up on you.” She turned, the box of soup still clasped in her hand. “I appreciate what you’re doing for me, and I know it took you a long time to reach this point. I also know you didn’t have to, but this thing with you needing space. It’s…”

He didn’t budge, his eyes still emotionless.

“It doesn’t look good,” she said.

He scoffed, unintentionally.

“I’m sorry, but in case you haven’t noticed, the whole world is watching us. If it came out that you moved here without me, and they found out…”

Viggo straightened up and pulled his hands out of his pockets. “I don’t know what you want me to say. I’ve told you how I feel. Things became too intense. I need time alone. You’re reading too much into it.”

Tears welled her eyes and her vulnerability caught him off guard, as her self-control usually defined her. He still didn’t trust her.

“It feels like everything is about to fall apart,” she said.

“It’s not,” he assured.

She placed the container on the counter and wiped her hands on her jeans. “I hope you mean that, Vig.”

“I do.”

Her face relaxed. Viggo tensed, sensing she would approach him.

“I talked to my agent. She told me it would be a good idea if I stayed here. We don’t have to share a bedroom. I promise to give you space. I mean no one needs to know what’s going on behind locked doors, but it would help if people thought I lived here, too.”

He stayed silent. She sighed. “Vig, I know where you stand, and I don’t want to pressure you, but we need to consider this. Everything we do is a matter of public interest. I know you don’t want the negative attention either.”

He met her gaze with a strained smile. “Of course not.”

“Good. I’m glad you agree, because we also need to give the media something positive to focus on, and as it turns out, I have a great idea.”

 

 

Chapter 19

 

Jen came over to Svala’s house that Sunday. They stayed in Svala’s room, listening to music, discussing recent events. Svala couldn’t decide if she enjoyed the company, or if she preferred solitude. So far, at least Jen kept her mind off Viggo.

Music burst out from the speakers, some new indie group all her friends obsessed about. Jen laid on the floor, on her back, her legs resting vertically up on the drawers of Svala’s desk. She tilted her head backward to study Svala who sat across from her on the floor, leaned up against the bed. “I need to ask you something.”

Svala picked up the remote control next to her, grateful for an excuse to lower the volume.

“Are you like seeing someone?” Jen asked.

“What?” Svala grimaced and put the remote back on the floor. “No, of course not.” She reached out and fiddled with her iPhone, circling it around on the floor by the edges.

“Jayden thinks you are,” Jen said. “In fact, it was all he could talk about yesterday.”

“Oh.” Svala pursed her lips together. “Well, I’m not.”

Jen turned around to lie on her stomach. She pushed her long brown hair from one side to the other, letting it fall over her shoulder, then rested her chin in her hand, studying Svala. “Well, you’ve been acting rather strange lately. What’s going on with you?”

Svala shrugged. “Nothing.”

Jen studied her for a few more seconds, then lowered her gaze and tugged at a loose thread at the end of her sleeve. “So, why are you not into Jayden? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but he’s really cute.”

Svala stopped playing with the iPhone and pretended to give Jen’s question some serious thought. “I don’t know. I guess he’s just not my type,” she said.

“Then who is? Oh, don’t tell me.” She grimaced, and contorted her voice to sound like a child. “Viggo Storm?”

Svala played along and smirked. “Yeah, you caught me. I’m saving myself for Viggo Storm.”

Jen chuckled and rolled her eyes. “God, Sarah’s so stupid. She actually believes she’s going to end up with him. I mean, seriously, get a grip on reality for once. We’re never getting close enough to try. It’s embarrassing, the way she talks about it. Like she really believes it.”

Svala studied her hands and forced a smile. “Well, she’s committed to the idea. I’ll give her that.”

“She should be committed for her idea. That’s the problem.” Jen shook her head. “You know what she said to me at the movies yesterday? She said she’d never consider dating someone like Noah. I mean, what’s up with that?”

“Well, maybe she meant he isn’t her type.” Svala didn’t understand the need to talk about those who weren’t there to defend themselves.

“No, that’s not what she meant. It was the way she said it. Like he wouldn’t be good enough for her. Mind you, at least I have a boyfriend. She’s pathetic, running after someone she can’t have.” Jen grunted in over exaggerated annoyance, then laughed at herself. “Sorry, I get so annoyed with her sometimes.”

Svala smiled.

“That’s why I prefer you. You’re so much more mature than Sarah and Megan. They can be such children. You’re never like that.”

The comment made Svala squirm. It wasn’t a fair comparison, as she was a thousand years old.

“I know it’s your decision, but please reconsider about Jayden. He’s a great guy, and according to Noah, he really likes you. He talks about you, like, all the time. He actually said that you’re so pretty, that he’s not sure you’re even human.” She chuckled.

“Really?” Svala forced another smile.

“Yeah, isn’t that sweet?” Jen pouted her lips excessively. “All I’m saying is, consider it. We could double date. That would be awesome. And let’s face it, it’s not like we’re ever going to get close to the likes of Viggo Storm.”

 

***

 

An hour later, Viggo sent the first of many text messages to follow. I don’t mean to pressure you into a decision, but I want you to know that I miss you.

Jen, busy reading a magazine, didn’t pay Svala’s activities any attention. Svala quickly typed her answer. I miss you too, honey. Just give me some time.

The communication continued throughout the week. Every time Svala came out from class and checked her phone, a new message awaited her. As the week progressed, the information became more detailed and alluring.

I’m currently obsessing over that soft spot behind your ear… She stopped at the edge of the lockers and typed in: Stop thinking about it then, and fought the need to smile all the way over to her friends.

On Thursday, the texts increased in number. The phone buzzed several times between classes. Once, when she kept Megan company outside during a longer break the familiar buzz went off in her pocket. In a crowd of nosy people and cigarette smoke, she resisted the urge to check her phone. After three minutes she caved, and pulled out the phone from her pocket, persuading herself she needed to check her e-mail. While she was at it, she might as well look at the text. I can’t imagine you’ve forgotten, but I like you in red.

Svala bit her lip and couldn’t help but smile again, even though she still doubted Viggo’s agenda, his attempted flirting was rather cute. She hurried to type her answer. I haven’t forgotten. Please stop texting me, honey. Someone’s going to catch us. She pushed the phone back into her pocket, cheeks flushed.

Then the texts stopped for a while and it wasn’t until the next day during lunch break, while Svala and her friends sat in the cafeteria, her phone buzzed on the table. She quickly picked it up before anyone else could see the message. Remember that time on the beach?

The memory made her cheeks bright red. She crossed her legs and locked the phone. The image of sand sticking to their naked bodies flashed before her eyes. Viggo’s strong arms around her body, urging her closer, the shape of his shoulders above her in the backlight from the moon. She closed her eyes, trying to rid herself of the image.

“You okay?” Jen asked.

Svala cleared her throat, unsure if her voice held. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

Jayden lifted a green pea with his fork and let it fall back onto his plate with a sulk. “Who’s sending all the texts?” he asked, not lifting his gaze.

“What texts?” Svala asked.

All her friends turned to her. She frowned at first, then pretended to catch on. “Oh, that. It’s nothing. It’s only Trym. He has a new phone and he’s learned how to text. The guy’s a dinosaur. He takes to new technology like oil takes on water but when he does get it, he gets a bit obsessive.”

Jayden eyed her with suspicion. He didn’t buy it.

Megan chuckled. “He’s not that old.”

No, only two thousand and three hundred years.

“Trym’s actually kind of cute,” Megan said.

Svala winced, the appropriate response, and clasped her phone hard in her hand, discreetly turning it off to avoid any more questions. She met Jayden’s gaze across the table, and smiled.

 

***

 

Later that day, when she switched the phone back on, a few more texts from Viggo buzzed in. She didn’t reply, and by evening, he stopped. She waited until the next morning before she texted him, asking him to meet her somewhere public where they could talk. The reply took longer than she anticipated. Viggo suggested a Japanese restaurant downtown, and asked her to meet him there in two hours.

 

***

 

She arrived at the restaurant before lunch. With a deep breath, she pushed the heavy oak door open and stepped inside. A scent of vinegar and fresh fish permeated the room. The place was almost empty, only two men in dark suits sat by the bar talking in low voices. They didn’t acknowledge her presence.

Japanese folk music played in the background. A large art piece, built like a waterfall, covered the wall to her right. The purl of water cut through the music with a soothing ripple.

A woman wearing a traditional Japanese kimono approached her, and bowed her head. Svala bowed back. “I’m meeting someone,” she said.

Further down, the Shoji screens to one of the private rooms slid open. A tall man in a black suit and an earpiece stepped out from the room. Svala bit her lip, surprised Viggo brought security. The man waved for her to come over. “Miss, over here.”

Svala bowed to the woman once more before she walked past her. The guard guided her into the private room. Inside, a girl sat on the floor by a table. With her head bowed, and her gaze focused on the table, her face was hidden. A red scarf covered her hair. She was alone.

“I’m sorry, this must be…”

The girl revealed her face, and Svala’s heart skipped a beat.

“No, you’re in the right place. I’m glad you could make it, Svala.” Amanda Jones’ smile met her with evident dislike.

 

 

Chapter 20

 

Svala turned at the door, but the security guard blocked the exit. He gestured toward the table where Amanda sat. Svala pleaded with him with her eyes, silently begging for escape. The man evaded her gaze, and his blank, emotionless stare indicated any further attempts to appeal to his compassion would be futile.

Amanda motioned with her hand to the other side of the table. “Take off your shoes and have a seat,” she said.

Svala didn’t move. “What do you want?”

“I want to talk.”

“About what?”

Amanda sighed, and her lips tightened in annoyance. “Please, have a seat.”

Out of options, Svala removed her shoes and stepped up on the oak elevation in the center of the room. Amanda studied her as Svala hesitated before seating herself on the opposite side of the low table.

The guard stepped outside and slid the door shut. Neither Amanda nor Svala said a word. Amanda removed the scarf and folded it neatly on the table, exposing her long, black hair. She stared at her veil with strained composure. “You’ve been communicating with my boyfriend.” Her lips tightened. “I want to know why.”

“I…” Svala stared at Amanda’s brown eyes, and a strange chill went through her.

The actress waited, face tense, eyes narrow. Svala lowered her gaze. Her heart pounded so hard she was sure Amanda could hear it.

“Are you denying it? Because obviously, I’ve seen your text messages, so there is no point in lying.”

Svala closed her eyes. How could Viggo be so careless and leave his phone for her to find? This was bad.

“Well?” Amanda insisted.

“We haven’t done anything. We only talk.” Svala kept her eyes trained on the table. “We’re friends.”

Amanda snorted. “Friends? Friends don’t write the things the two of you write.”

Svala didn’t know how to respond, so she stayed silent. Amanda breathed through her nose in short, frustrated breaths. “I should have known. Ever since the premiere in New York he’s hardly touched me. I should have known he was sleeping with someone else.”

Svala snapped to attention. Someone else? The words hit her like a slap in the face. Amanda stared out into the distance, eyes glossy. “What do you mean?” Svala asked.

Amanda’s delicate face contorted into a grimace. “What do I mean?” She scoffed and her jaw dropped open in awe. “I mean that you’ve been sleeping with my boyfriend, and now you’re caught.”

Svala’s insides trembled. Amanda’s accusation indicated something unthinkable. Viggo couldn’t have slept with her, could he?

Amanda’s eyes remained cold. “I demand you stop seeing him! If I find another text message on his phone, I’m going to make your life very unpleasant. Do you understand?”

Stuck on the image of Amanda and Viggo in bed, Svala’s gaze lingered in the distance. Her lack of reaction to the threat must have angered Amanda as she raised her voice. “Stay away from my fiancé, you hear me!”

Svala flinched and met Amanda’s gaze. Out of breath, she managed, “Your fiancé?”

Amanda eased back, and the tension in her face faded. Svala’s gaze shifted to her hand. How could she have missed that giant diamond ring at the end of Amanda’s perfectly manicured finger? Amanda quickly shoved her hand under the table. “Forget I said that. It’s not official yet. I would appreciate if you kept it to yourself.”

The blood drained from Svala’s face. Engaged? How could he not have said?

“I take it he didn’t tell you?” Amanda said.

Svala shook her head, and fought against the tears. A moment of strained silence followed. Amanda’s face softened, like the information put her mind at ease. “Listen.” She leaned in over the table. “I get that he needed to get it out of his system, and I understand it’s easy for someone like you to get swept up in the moment. I mean, he’s convincing, and he sure knows his way around the bedroom.” A secretive smile lingered on Amanda’s perfect face.

Svala couldn’t breathe. Her eyes welled up with the confirmation of Viggo’s betrayal.

“I’m willing to put this behind me if you promise to stay away. We don’t need the media to be all over this, do we?” When Svala didn’t answer, Amanda continued. “Look, I’m sorry you had to find out like this. I understand you feel like you’ve been used, and maybe I’m stupid for still wanting to be with him, but I love him, and I know he loves me. I’m willing to set aside this minor indiscretion.”

 

***

 

Svala left the restaurant and walked through the city without direction. First when a man stopped her on the street, offering her drugs for a bargain, she realized she’d walked too far, and headed back home. She locked herself in her room, and crawled into bed. Exhausted, she closed her eyes and inhaled sharply, but the pain didn’t leave. Instead, a pressure rose in her chest. She gasped for air, unable to stop the tears from streaming down her cheeks, leaving wet marks on the bed cover.

Viggo couldn’t have slept with Amanda, could he? He couldn’t have betrayed her, there was no way. But Amanda Jones had no reason to lie? As far as Amanda was concerned, Viggo belonged to her.

Engaged. The word throbbed in her head. Her body went numb. She stared up at the ceiling for hours, unable to do anything else. Her phone rang a few times. She ignored the persistent caller without checking the display.

After two hours, someone knocked on her door. In absence of an answer, the handle pressed down, meeting resistance. Jen’s voice filled with worry. “Svala?” She knocked again.

Svala groaned and closed her eyes. She had no patience for her friend’s problems, and didn’t care about being a good Liosálfar. She wanted to be left alone.

“Hey, come on. Let me in?”

Svala sighed. Deep. It took a substantial amount of willpower to force herself out of bed. Jen’s pitiful pout met her outside. She was alone, and the expression on Svala’s face made Jen reach out for her, insisting on a hug.

“There was a guy, wasn’t there?” She stroked Svala’s hair.

Svala pulled away, avoiding Jen’s gaze. “Yeah, there was a guy.”

Jen put her arm around Svala’s shoulder, guided her back into the room, and closed the door. “It’s okay, you don’t have to explain.” She rubbed Svala’s arm and released her.

Relieved, Svala went over to sit on the bed. Her friends were usually nosier than this. Jen sat beside her and studied her hands. “I haven’t told Megan and Sarah about this, but I lost my virginity to a real jerk too.”

Svala played along and pretended the information caught her interest. She preferred if Jen made her own assumptions, rather than ask questions Svala wouldn’t be able to answer.

“It happened last summer, when we went to Hawaii. I feel so stupid. I should have seen it coming a mile away. There was this guy, he worked at the hotel. He was so gorgeous and flirty. Then, once he got what he wanted, he blew me off. Such a jerk. I spent the rest of the vacation in the hotel room, crying. I told my mom I was sick.”

“I’m sorry,” Svala said.

“Yeah.” Jen shrugged. “I’ve beaten myself up over being so stupid, for not reading the signs, but it’s so easy to get swept away, isn’t it?”

Svala nodded and Jen put her arm around her shoulders again. The idea of Svala sharing the same experience seemed to please her. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” she said.

Entertaining Jen’s misconception was a form of lying, and even as an acceptable Liosálfar lie, it made Svala uncomfortable. “I just want to forget the whole thing,” she said.

Jen retrieved her arm, feigning a smile. “Of course.”

Svala acted oblivious to Jen’s disappointment, well aware of her friend’s lingering gaze and the anticipation behind it. She wanted Svala to share her story too. When Svala remained silent, Jen eased away. “You know what we should do?” she said.

“No, what?”

“We should go to that party at Aaron’s place. I know it’s probably pretty lame, but I could call Noah, ask him to bring Jayden. Maybe that will help get your mind off things?”

“I don’t know…” Svala grimaced.

Jen shook her head. “It’s not up for debate. Trust me, I know what you need. You need a pretty boy who likes you. I promise you’ll feel much better if you go.”

“I’m not up for it.”

“Well, you can’t sit and dwell over that guy, it’s not healthy. Come on.” Jen rose and grabbed Svala’s arm to drag her out of bed. ”Let’s go make you inhumanly pretty.”

 

***

 

In the bathroom, half an hour later, Svala’s phone buzzed on the sink. She lowered the lip gloss and picked up the phone, hands trembling. A new number showed up on her display. I’ve lost my phone. Sorry, for not keeping in touch. This is my new number. Let me know you’re okay. I miss you.

Svala erased the message. She didn’t want to talk to him. She needed time to calm down and rationalize her thoughts. Besides, this was not a conversation she wanted to have over the phone. If she was about to confront him, she had to see his reaction.

 

***

 

Svala and Jen arrived at the party late. Aaron Miller’s house, too small for an open invitation policy, was already crowded with kids from their high school. Jen grabbed Svala’s hand and pushed past a group of girls loitering in the hallway. “Let’s try to find Noah and Jayden. Did you hear from Sarah and Megan yet?” she asked.

“They should be around somewhere,” Svala said, and dodged a guy tripping over an umbrella in the hallway. He splashed beer out of his cup onto the floor but continued on as if nothing happened.

Loud music thundered from the speakers in the living room. The floor vibrated from the hyphenate bass and three girls danced next to the stereo. The Millers’ liquor cabinet gaped open, and several bottles stood empty on the living room table. A few feet away, Noah pushed past the crowd to get to his girlfriend. “Hey!” He grabbed Jen’s waist, pulling her in.

They met in a provocative kiss, more for show than affection. Jayden came up from behind Noah, his gaze trained on Svala. She nodded and smiled, but stayed where she was. Jayden pushed past the kissing couple to get to her. “Hi,” he said, biting his lower lip with a shy smile. His strong aftershave tickled her nose. She stifled the need to sneeze and eased away. He tried so hard to get her attention, and she didn’t know how to handle it.

He searched her gaze. “You okay?”

“Yeah, thanks, I’m fine,” she lied.

“Are you sure? You look gloomy.”

“I’m sure.” She forced a smile.

Less than an hour after arrival, Viggo sent another text, telling her he was worried. She erased the message and accepted Jayden’s offer for another drink. When Jayden pushed through the crowd toward the kitchen, Jen leaned in with a worried frown. She dropped her voice, “Maybe you should slow down. That’s your third refill since we arrived.”

Svala glanced over the living room, avoiding Jen’s gaze. “I can handle it.”

Jen eased closer and lowered her voice. “Is he the one who keeps texting you?”

Svala inhaled sharply, her gaze still evasive. “Yeah.”

“Maybe you should talk to him, hear what he has to say. He’s obviously sorry. If he’s trying to contact you, he can’t be that bad.”

The second Jen finished her sentence, Viggo called. Svala clutched the phone in her hand and stared at the display for a few seconds, then lowered it to her side. Jen nodded for her to pick up. Reluctant, Svala clicked to answer, her tone intentionally harsh. “What do you want?” She nodded to Jen, indicating she would go outside for some privacy.

“What’s wrong? Why are you ignoring me?” Viggo asked.

She pushed past the crowd to get to the back door, and winced when she walked through a cloud of cigarette smoke. “Because I don’t want to talk to you.”

“What? Why not?” Viggo coaxed.

She pushed open the sliding glass doors and stepped into the cold December evening. Viggo remained silent on the other end. An icy wind swept through the garden and Svala rubbed her naked arm with her free hand in an attempt to generate heat.

“Honey, did something happen?” Viggo asked.

She shuddered, but didn’t answer.

“Are you upset with me?”

“You shouldn’t be contacting me,” she said.

“Why not? I told you it’s perfectly safe.”

She exhaled through her nose.

“You still don’t believe me?” he asked.

She remained silent.

“I can’t believe you’d think I’d lie to you. I…” He sighed in frustration. “I don’t know what else to say to make you believe me.”

Her disappointment morphed into anger and something inside her snapped. She tensed as the cold wind grabbed her hair, blowing it into her face and she could no longer hold back her resentment. “Well, maybe you could start by ending your engagement to Amanda Jones.”

 

 

Chapter 21

 

Present Time

Washington

 

Another cold wind went right through Svala, biting her skin. Her suspicion grew while she waited for Viggo’s answer. A chair squeaked in the background. “How do you know about that?” he asked.

Her chest tightened. “So it’s true?”

“It’s not what it sounds like. How in God’s name did you find out?”

“Does that really matter? God, Viggo! Why are you doing this to me? How can you possibly think I want to meet up with you after this?”

“I can explain. It’s not what you think.”

The sliding doors behind her pushed open and Jayden walked out to the garden holding up two drinks. “Hey, there you are. I’ve been looking all over for you.” He shuddered. “Jesus, it’s cold out here.”

Svala smiled to mask her heart breaking. “Yeah, I just need a minute. I have to finish this call.”

“Who’s that?” Viggo asked.

Jayden walked up to her. “Do you want me to get your jacket?”

She shook her head. “I’ll only be a minute.”

“Svala?” Viggo said.

“Hey, let me at least lend you my hoodie.” Jayden knelt to place the drinks on the tiles between the house and the lawn, then rose and removed his hoodie. “Here.” He draped it over her shoulders.

“Thanks.”

The soft material oozed of his cologne.

“Svala?” Viggo repeated.

Jayden stepped back. “I’ll leave your drink, if that’s okay?”

“Is that the guy from the coffee shop?” Viggo asked.

She nodded to Jayden. “Yeah, sure. I’ll come look for you when I’m done.”

“Svala?” Viggo failed to keep his voice down and repeated her name in a hissed whisper. “Svala?”

Jayden’s eyes sparkled. “I’ll be waiting.” He retrieved his drink from the ground, then studied her with another pleased smile before he turned back inside. Viggo called for her attention. “Seriously, what the hell are you doing?” He paced. The floor squeaked at one spot he kept returning to. “Svala, talk to me!”

When Jayden closed the door, she returned to the phone call. “I don’t want to talk to you.”

She shouldn’t have brought up the engagement or Amanda Jones.

“What does that mean? And what are you doing with that guy?” Viggo’s breath came out strained.

“I’m not doing anything with him. I don’t want to talk about this over the phone, but you need to explain to me what’s going on. I won’t accept this secrecy anymore. I demand to know.”

“Tell me where to meet you and I’ll go there now.”

“Not tonight. Tomorrow. Tonight I plan to have a drink and not think about you at all.”

He paused. “With that guy?”

“Yeah. With that guy. Now, how does that make you feel?”

She regretted it the moment it came out.

He breathed through the silence. The chair squeaked again, and when he spoke, his voice didn’t hold. “Like you tore my heart straight out of my chest.”

She closed her eyes. What if she was wrong. What if Amanda lied about them being intimate. “I’m not with him. I’m at a party. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply, I only…” She paused. “I’ll call you tomorrow, okay? Keep an eye on your phone.”

“Why not tonight?”

“Because I need to calm down. I need to be rational when I meet you. I’m too upset right now.”

“Upset about what? The engagement? It doesn’t mean anything.”

“Viggo, please. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

 

***

 

Two hours later, the party had died. Sarah for one had passed out on the couch, next to a large stain of spilled beer. Her pink top had slid up over her stomach, her matching lipstick smeared at the edge of her lips. Jen leaned in over the couch and gently slapped her face. “Sarah, wake up!”

Sarah moaned and cracked opened one eyes, then closed it again.

“We should take a picture of her, upload it to Instagram and tag Viggo Storm,” Jen smirked.

Sarah’s eyes fluttered. She was about to object, but probably lacked the energy and simply groaned, eyes still closed.

“We can’t let her go home like this. Her parents will kill her,” Jen said.

“She can stay at my place. Trym won’t mind.”

Aaron’s house was close to Svala’s but helping Sarah walk all the way home took almost an hour.

“Did you work things out with that guy?” Jen asked.

“Not really.”

Sarah moaned, and used what little power she had left to resist walking any further. “I’m gonna be sick.” She moaned.

Jen sighed. “Not again.”

They held their friend in a steady grip, waiting for her to throw up. Svala used her free hand to push the hair from Sarah’s face. Sarah gasped. They waited for a while longer until Jen could no longer hide her annoyance. “Are you going to throw up or not?”

“I don’t know.” Sarah burped. “Maybe not.”

They continued supporting her along the side of the road. All the passing houses were dark. Somewhere further down the street, a girl tiptoed over her lawn and glanced up at the second floor, while rummaging around in her bag.

“Does this mean you’re giving Jayden a chance?” Jen asked.

Svala steadied Sarah more securely under her arm. “It means I’m staying away from guys for a while.”

When they arrived at the house, Jen sighed with relief. ”Thank God, I thought my arm would fall off before we arrived.”

Sarah mumbled something about water and Svala reached into her purse. She closed her hand around the cold metallic set of keys.

”Svala!” She jerked at the hushed voice coming from within the garden.

It took only seconds to recognize his voice. She sighed and closed her eyes while Jen squinted toward his location. ”What are you doing here?” she asked, trying to keep her voice down.

“I need to talk to you,” Viggo whispered.

He stood hidden behind a large pine tree.

“Go home!” Svala hissed.

“Is that him?” Jen stood on her toes, as if it would enable her to see through the darkness. Through her efforts of trying to spot Viggo, Jen lost her grip on Sarah, and their joined support around their friend failed them. Before Sarah fell on her face to the ground, Svala grabbed her tighter and pulled her back up. Jen snapped to attention and quickly came to her aid. “Sorry.” She winced. ”I got her.”

“I’m not leaving until you talk to me,” Viggo said.

Svala sighed. She handed Jen the keys. “Will you manage to get her inside on your own?” she asked.

Jen stared past Svala into the darkness and nodded distracted. She reached out for the keys, gaze still trained into the dark. When Svala placed the cold key chain in her hand, Jen’s eyes widened. “What do I tell Trym?” she asked.

“Nothing, he’s probably asleep.” Svala released Sarah with caution. “You have her?”

Jen nodded, but kept looking into Viggo’s direction, squinting.

Svala made sure Jen was inside before she approached him. She dragged him further in behind the pine tree, evaded his attempt to grab her waist and struggled to keep her voice down. “Are you crazy? What are you doing? What if Trym sees you.”

“I needed to see you.”

“I told you I would call tomorrow!”

“I couldn’t wait. I couldn’t sleep knowing you were mad at me, or knowing you were with that guy…” He reached for her again.

She moved away. “Oh, please! I’m not the one who is engaged to someone else.”

“It’s not what you think. If you’d let me explain. There are some things I have to do to make it look believable. If they don’t buy it, if they understand what I’m up to, it’s all over. Obviously, I’m not going to marry her. I shouldn’t have to tell you that.”

Her chest tightened, and her throat clogged. “What things?”

His eyebrows drew together in confusion. She swallowed, and focused to control her emotions, but her voice revealed her tears. “What things do you have to do?”

“Oh, honey.” He reached for her again, this time she let him.

He grabbed her waist in a tight grip and pulled her close. Their thick winter coats ruffled, and worked as a barrier between their bodies. He leaned in and his lips landed on hers. She whimpered, but despite her efforts to resist him, her lips moved with his. He circled his arms around her and tightened his grip. Her body pressed against him and his strong arms around her turned her legs into Jell-O, even through the layer of clothing.

After a moment, he paused to clutch her face between his hands, his lips brushing against hers as he spoke. “I love you.”

The cool winter air condensed from their breathing, and his warm, soft lips heated her. She met his eyes, and her heart swelled. Without thought, she reached up, caressed his face and leaned in for another kiss, clinging to him with desperate need. His thumb smoothed over her cheek as he deepened the kiss. Electricity jolted between them, and when he groaned softly into her mouth, Svala wanted to tear off that annoying jacket and feel his skin against hers.

They jerked apart when the back door slammed open with force.

“What the hell!” Trym strode across the lawn, eyes raging.

His hair stood on end, his striped pajama pants and thin white t-shirt probably not providing enough protection against the cold. When he reached them, he grabbed Svala’s arm, and dragged her several feet away from Viggo. Then he took three threatening steps towards Viggo. Viggo backed up against the large pine tree, raising his hands in defense. “Hey, take it easy.”

“What do you think you’re doing?” Trym barked.

Svala glanced up at the window to her room on the second floor. The light was on, and Jen stood by the window, peering out.

“Relax, Trym!” Viggo kept his hands in the air. “I’m here to talk.”

Trym snorted and crossed his arms over his chest. He didn’t even shudder from the cold. “Okay, great. Let’s hear it then. What the hell are you up to?” he asked.

The light in Svala’s room switched off, and seconds after, Jen’s shadow appeared in the window. Svala placed a hand on Trym’s arm and lowered her voice. “Listen, guys. This is not the best place to do this.” She nodded toward the house. ”Someone’s watching.”

Trym glanced up at the house, his jaw clenched. Viggo’s shoulders slumped. He glanced at Svala with a regretful smile. She stepped closer to him, but Trym raised his hand in warning. “Svala, go into the house. Distract your friends. I’m going to talk to Viggo.”

“But, Trym…”

He looked straight at her. “Now!”

She glanced at Viggo. “Can I at least…?”

“No!” Trym’s gaze was cold. “Go inside, now!”

 

***

 

Trym said nothing about the incident the following morning. He’d made breakfast, and offered Jen and Sarah a polite good morning when they came into the kitchen, but ignored Svala. She eyed him, but knew better than to challenge him.

One glance at the eggs and bacon on the table, and Sarah turned green. “I don’t mean to be rude, Trym, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to eat anything.”

Trym’s smile was strained. “That’s okay, Sarah. Would you like some tea instead?”

“Yeah, tea would be nice. Thanks.”

Trym picked up the car keys from the counter and avoided Svala’s gaze. “Svala, be a good host and make your friend some tea. I’m heading out.”

“Where to?” she asked.

He still didn’t meet her gaze. “Just out.”

When he’d left, Svala walked over to the counter and reached for the teapot, considering of a polite way to ask her friends to leave. Sarah seated herself by the table, placed her elbows on the solid oak surface, and covered her face in her hands. “It’s so bright in here, and this chair is so uncomfortable,” she whined.

Svala tightened the grip around the teapot’s handle and made an effort to contain her annoyance. “Then go into the living room,” she said.

Sarah moaned again, as if oblivious to the harsh tone in Svala’s voice. She sighed audibly, and slid off the chair, then trudged out of the kitchen, massaging her temples on the way. “Get me an aspirin too,” she mumbled as she disappeared out through the door.

With Sarah gone, Jen went up to place her hand on Svala’s shoulder. “Are you okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Svala moved away from Jen and went over to the sink.

Jen leaned against the counter, and studied her. “I had no idea Trym was this strict about dating. I’m sorry. If I’d known, I’d come up with a better lie, but he woke up and asked where you were and I…”

“It’s okay. You didn’t know.”

Jen had apologized a hundred times already, and Svala couldn’t take one more conversation about it. She didn’t want to hear how it was all Sarah’s fault for tripping in the hallway, waking Trym.

“Will you see him again?” Jen asked.

“I don’t know.”

The TV switched on in the living room. Sarah surfed through the channels, and the constant clicking annoyed Svala further.

Jen observed her. “Do you love him?”

Svala closed her eyes, fighting the urge to snap and ask her friend to leave it alone. “I don’t want to talk about it.” She reached over the sink, turned on the tap and filled the teapot.

“Hey! Guys, come in here for a second!” Sarah shouted from the living room.

Jen rolled her eyes. “What now?”

“Hurry! It’s about Viggo!”

Svala turned off the tap and half-ran out to the living room, the teapot still clutched in her hand. She stopped at the edge of the couch and stared at the screen. Jen came up from behind, eyeing Svala, confused. Svala ignored her friend’s frown, busy gaping at the image that met her.

Sarah straightened up on the couch and eased closer to the TV. “Isn’t that the woman from the gem store in New York?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Svala answered, out of breath.

“That’s odd.” Jen circled the armchair and sat next to Sarah on the couch. She clutched her hands in front of her lips and watched the screen.

Freja and a blonde girl sat in the studio of a popular Sunday morning show. The blonde girl next to Freja was Emma, Freja’s child. She must have dyed her hair black when they met her in New York, because Svala recognized those fairy blue eyes in an instant. It struck her how strange it was that the girl’s mortal father hadn’t influenced the intensity of her eyes.

Svala stared at her daughter and grandchild, confident her heart stopped beating. She waved her free hand to Sarah. “Turn up the volume.”

The interviewer, a middle-aged woman in a navy-blue suit dress and a stylish almond bob hair cut, smiled to Freja and Emma before turning to the camera. “This is truly an amazing story. For those of you who just joined in, this is Freja Storm and her daughter, Emma. They watched the recent interview with Viggo Storm and discovered something a bit out of the ordinary. Why don’t you tell us?”

Freja nodded to her daughter, encouraging her to tell the story.

“Well, I had a reaction to his tattoo since it was Mom’s name, and since our last name is also Storm.” Emma searched her mother’s gaze for approval, and Freja offered a calm, motivating nod. “Then I remembered this painting we have. It’s been in our living room for as long as I remember. I wasn’t sure, so I went to look, and it was signed by Viggo Storm.”

The interviewer beamed. “That’s quite a coincidence. Could we get a shot of the painting?” She gestured to her crew.

The screen shifted to the image of a painting. Svala clasped her mouth with her free hand, the other still clutching the teapot in a tight grip. The wide-screen TV filled up with the painting of Svala holding her newborn baby in her arms. The same painting Viggo showed her right before they lost Freja in their Hampton kitchen in the early seventies.

“Do you know who the woman and the baby are?” the interviewer asked.

The screen split into two, the painting on one side, and the studio on the other. Freja’s face came into focus.

“I’m not sure,” Freja said. “Someone sent it to me anonymously before Emma was born. It came with a note, stating the painting was connected to my family somehow. My parents died when I was little, so this is pretty much all I’ve had. I always hoped it was my mother and me, but now I’m not sure at all.”

The screen returned to show the whole studio. The interviewer eased closer to Freja in her red arm chair and made intense eye contact with her. “Are you the Freja Viggo Storm refers to in his tattoo?”

“No, Goodness no. I couldn’t’ be, could I? And he couldn’t have painted this. I’ve had the painting since before he was even born.”

“But you think there is a connection?” the reporter urged.

“Well, Emma does.” Freja reached out to caress her daughter’s hair. “To be honest, I was never able to read the first name properly, but who knows, maybe there is a connection. I have no idea if there even is a Viggo Storm in our family tree.”

The interviewer nodded, and continued. “I understand that you’ve contacted him?”

“Yes, Emma wrote him a letter a while back.”

“No reply yet?” she asked. Her eyes sparkled, like she could hardly contain herself.

“No.” Freja smiled, as if she didn’t expect there to be one. “But we understand that he’s busy, and as I said, there might not be a connection at all.”

“You know what, Ms. Storm? We have a surprise for you. We contacted Viggo Storm’s agent last night, and this morning, Viggo Storm confirmed this painting is indeed connected to his family, and that he would love to meet you.”

Emma clasped her open mouth with both hands and stifled a whimper as she turned to her mother. Freja reacted with calm. She registered Emma’s joy with a pleased expression, but behind her blue eyes, Svala picked up hesitation and doubt.

Sarah and Jen jerked back a loud bang. Svala kept staring at the screen, not even aware the teapot had slipped out of her hand until the water splashed over her feet and the entire living room floor.

 

 

Chapter 22

 

Three months later

Washington

 

Jen nudged Svala’s side. “Oh, she’s got to be joking!”

Emma Storm walked through the front door of their high school building, Viggo in tow.

After the TV interview with Freja and Emma, the articles on Viggo Storm’s relationship with his long-lost relatives poured in. Somehow, Viggo must have fabricated a family history. According to media, Viggo, a poor orphan with no family, had been delighted to meet Freja, who turned out to be his father’s cousin, thus making Emma his second cousin. Articles said that the Viggo Storm who painted the picture was Viggo’s and Emma’s great grandfather, Freja’s grandfather. Viggo claimed the Freja of his tattoo to be his much older sister who died along with his parents when he was a child.

When Viggo learned about Freja’s and Emma’s financial status, he offered to buy them a house in Washington D.C, and enrolled Emma in Svala’s school. To no surprise, his kind and generous actions boosted his popularity further.

Svala met Viggo’s gaze over the herd of girls running up for a closer look. She hadn’t talked to him since that night in the garden. Trym still refused to tell her what the two of them had discussed. He’d also confiscated her phone and kept a close watch over all her activities, making any attempt to contact Viggo an impossible task.

Jen shook her head. “She’s bringing him to show off. It’s pathetic. She won’t get any real friends that way.”

Viggo’s gaze never left Svala’s. Her knees buckled as he reached up to scratch his neck, with a hesitant smile. She turned her back to him, cheeks burning. One glance at those hands and she remembered exactly how they felt against her body.

Sarah disappeared into the crowd of girls pushing to get closer to Viggo. In the corner of her eye, Svala registered Viggo’s security guards stepping in between Viggo and the group of girls. Emma held her head high and scanned the gathering as if she caused the attention.

Jen rolled her eyes while Svala fixed her gaze on a piece of gum wedged in between two lockers, just to keep herself from looking at Viggo. She knew what he was up to. He wanted to give her a chance to get to know Emma. He hoped if Emma started Svala’s school, they would become friends. The thought brought her over thirty years back in time.

 

***

 

1980

Miami

 

One hot summer evening in 1980, Svala and Viggo came home to their beach house in Miami after a campaign party in South Beach. Svala was nineteen, Viggo twenty. They had been united for three years.

The hopeless situation with Freja triggered Viggo’s interest in politics. In this life, he only tested the water. It would take another twenty years and two lives before he ran for office.

Svala welcomed the air conditioning in the spacious hallway of their big house. It was different from their house in Hampton. Bigger, made of stone, and contemporary decorated with no traces of the past.

The humidity outside had made her red dress cling to her body. She stepped out of her black pumps, and smiled with a relieved sigh when the cold marble floor met her bare feet.

”God, that feels nice.” She smiled. ”I miss when all shoes were flat and made of leather. For both men and women.”

He chuckled and leaned in to kiss her neck. ”Yeah, but do you also miss having to make fire using two pieces of wood and hunt your own food?”

”Sometimes.” She nodded. ”Life was much simpler then.”

They continued into the kitchen. In the darkness surrounding the house it was impossible to discern the ocean through the large panorama windows covering both walls. Only the soothing ripple of waves rolling onto the beach confirmed the location of their house.

Viggo opened the fridge. “Do you want some water?”

“No thanks.” Svala heaved herself up on the kitchen island, dangling her sore feet in the cool air. “I wouldn’t mind new feet, though.”

Viggo grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge. ”Careful, they’ll have us start over if you keep talking like that.”

He was stunning in that tuxedo, even more so with the bow tie undone. With a quick glance at her feet, he smiled, then placed the bottle next to her. He reached for her foot. “Come here,” he said.

Their eyes met. Svala slid closer to him, moving the bottle of water to the side. His strong, skilled hands found the right spot on her sensitive foot, adding pressure.

She closed her eyes and moaned through a smile. “Oh, that’s nice.”

Viggo massaged her foot from heel to toe, then moved up to grab her ankle. He pulled her sideways, and positioned himself between her legs.

“That’s what happens when you dance with everyone except your husband all night.” He teased and leaned in for a kiss.

She grinned. “What can I say, Mr. Storm, my dance card was full.”

“I noticed.” His arms circled her waist, and he ran his fingertips up the sensitive skin on her back.

Her dress was draped open, all the way down to her lower back, held up by two thin shoulder straps. It was a gift from Viggo before the party. She wore her blonde hair up in a classic French Twist, exposing her tanned neck and shoulders.

Viggo placed a soft kiss in the nape of her neck. “I worried for a moment you wouldn’t come home with me,” he mumbled.

She eased away and raised an eyebrow. “Really? Who would I be running away with?”

“I don’t know. You and Chairman Roberts looked awfully cozy out there on the dance floor.”

Her eyes narrowed. “You noticed, huh?”

He grinned and moved in to kiss her lips. “Yeah, I noticed.”

She slapped his chest, playfully. “So why didn’t you cut in?”

“I think you handled the situation fine by yourself.” He moved his lips against hers, slow and seductive. “Though, for the record, I’m always watching, and I’m always ready to step in.”

“Is that so?” She wrapped her legs around his waist, locking them behind him.

“Oh, definitely.” With his next kiss, he pushed her against the counter.

Her back hovered over the cool granite surface. Svala slid her arms around Viggo’s neck and urged him closer. He deepened the kiss and moved one hand to her thigh pushing her red dress up over her legs. Svala paused and eased away. “Here?” she asked.

He reached in under her dress and hooked two fingers around the strap of her underwear. With one skilled movement, he peeled them off and tossed them to the floor. “Here,” he confirmed with a wicked smile.

Svala inhaled sharply and met his gaze. She clasped his face, pulled him in and bit down gently on his lower lip. Sometimes she had no patience for foreplay, like she couldn’t stand to wait for him. He read her intention, and removed his tuxedo jacket in one swift movement.

As the jacket descended to the marble floor, the room flashed.

“Oh, no!” Svala moaned. “Please, no.” She met his gaze.

He sighed and pulled her closer.

“If we hurry…” she whispered.

He kissed her with a deep groan. “There’s not time, honey. I’m sorry.”

The room flashed again. She clung to him, kissing him with desperation. Her tears mixed with the familiar taste of him.

“This isn’t fair,” she whispered.

Another flash lit up the kitchen.

“I love you,” Viggo whispered.

Then everything shifted.

 

***

 

Seconds later

New York

 

Svala ended up in New York, fourteen years old and starting as a freshman in high school. The High Council didn’t give her any time to recover. Ten minutes after the room shifted, Trym informed her she was late for her first day of school.

Face flushed, and tired from starting a whole new day over, Svala rushed through the corridor of her new school and searched for her classroom. When she found it, she snuck inside and hoped her late arrival would go unnoticed. The teacher, a middle-aged man in a tweed suit was already busy calling attendance. When she entered, he looked straight at her. “Welcome, miss?”

His elevated voice caused everyone to look up.

Svala blushed. “Stor… uh, Linné. Svala Linné, sir.”

He made a mark in his notes. “Try to be on time in the future, Ms. Linné.”

“Of course. Sorry, Sir.” She slid into her seat, ignoring the glances from her new classmates.

The teacher returned to his list. “Rodman, Wendy.”

“Here.” A girl called out.

“Smith, Jason.”

“Here.”

“Storm, Freja.”

“Here.”

Svala turned. In the back of the classroom sat a girl with long blonde hair, the exact same color as her own. When the girl caught Svala staring, she looked up, and Svala met her bright blue eyes across the classroom. Shocked, Svala returned to the blackboard and quickly did the math in her head. Freja would be fourteen, exactly her age.

It couldn’t be though. Their daughter was dead. Her adoptive parents told them she’d died in that car accident. It couldn’t be her.

Svala stared in shock at the blackboard throughout the hour. She didn’t dare to look at the girl again, but could sense Freja’s curiosity. When class ended, Svala stayed in her seat until everyone left the room. Freja walked past with another intriguing glance her way. Their eyes met fleetingly before Freja disappeared out into the corridor. Svala could have sworn Freja recognized her.

Svala grabbed her books and hurried after, but stopped when she entered the crowded hallway. She didn’t know what to say to her, nor what she was allowed to do. Outside the classroom, Freja met Svala’s gaze across the hallway again and there was no longer any doubt. This girl was their daughter. Svala broke eye contact with a sudden need to sit.

She walked, searching for any place where she could take five minutes and calm down. Her thoughts didn’t settle, but rather crowded her mind, making her dizzy. Why would The High Council keep Freja from them for so long, only to do this? Why would they lie about her death? This couldn’t be a coincidence, they made very few mistakes. There had to be a purpose. She grasped the wall for support and tried to focus.

Two senior girls eyed her as they walked past. Svala consulted her watch. Confusion and shock aside, she was exhausted, and possibly still intoxicated from the champagne at the party. She hadn’t slept in almost twenty hours. Surely, Trym would allow her to skip one day of school under the circumstances.

Svala scanned the corridor, trying to figure out the quickest way to the exit. She pushed herself from the wall and tucked the books tighter under her arm before turning the corner.

All she registered before she collided with someone rounding the corner was a pair of washed-out jeans and white sneakers. Her books fell to the floor with a clattering thud. She knelt and reached for the closest one, still distracted by Freja’s reappearance.

The guy knelt beside her and reached for a book. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you,” he said.

That voice. Those hands. She froze with her hand on the geography book and inhaled his scent. When she stared into his familiar blue eyes her breath caught in her throat. He stared back at her, equally surprised to see her. Students hurried past them, their footsteps and voices drowning into the background.

He smiled, a wide, beautiful smile. ”Hi there. How are your feet?”

She smiled, then chuckled and moved her hand over his on the book still on the floor. “Viggo..” She shook her head. ”You’ll never believe who I just met.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 23

 

1980

New York

 

“Psst.”

Svala’s shoes squeaked against the grey vinyl floor when she stopped in the empty high school hallway. Viggo peered out from the janitor’s supply room, nodding for her to come inside. Her pulse raced as she gazed down both lengths of the corridor, and approached him.

The door closed behind her. When Viggo grabbed her waist and pulled her close, her adrenaline rushed. His lips met hers, desperate and eager. She moaned and clung to him, surprised by her lack of self-control.

“I’m late for class,” she whispered, but accepted his next kiss without objection.

Viggo pushed her against the wall and slid one hand under her blouse, cupping her b-cup outside the pink cotton bra. With a gentle squeeze, he chuckled into the kiss. She pulled away with a frown. “I’m only fourteen.”

Viggo grinned and kissed her again. “You’re perfect,” he whispered against her lips, his other hand running up her neck until it intertwined into her long blonde hair. “You’re always perfect.”

When their lips met again, she remembered where they’d left off in their previous life, on the kitchen counter in Miami. Her nerve endings stirred and she heard herself groan as he deepened the kiss. He grabbed her waist, about to lift her up against the wall when he knocked over a tin bucket on the shelf. They paused, mid kiss, keeping their lips locked as the bucket clunked onto the floor. A bottle of chlorine followed the bucket with a few bouncing thuds. Viggo winced and stopped the bottle with his foot before it slammed into the door. They stayed still and listened for a few seconds, but resumed kissing when the corridor outside stayed silent.

“We’re not supposed to do this,” she whispered.

He pulled her closer. “I know. So tell me to stop.”

She chuckled and he abandoned her lips to trail a row of kisses down her neck. Svala tilted her head back against the wall, her fingers buried in the soft mass of his thick brown hair. He pushed the sweater down over her shoulder and his slow, affectionate kisses against her skin sent shivers through her body.

Then he paused and peered up, his lips still pressed against her shoulder. “How bad would it be if I made love to you right now?”

She reached out to caress his cheek and discerned his clear blue eyes in the darkness. “Pretty bad.”

”How in their right mind could they let teenage me meet teenage you just hours after we had been interrupted in that kitchen?” he whispered with a frustrated sigh.

His lips lingered on her shoulder before he pulled away with a deep, collecting breath. With his hands clutching her waist, he leaned his forehead against her shoulder, and inhaled swiftly. “What did Trym say?”

Svala placed a hand on his chest, adding gentle pressure. “That I should stay away from you.”

He glanced down at her half-hearted attempt to keep him at a distance and offered a lopsided smile. “Well, you’re doing a great job, honey.”

She chuckled and met his gaze. “What did Alva say?”

He snickered. “Oh, she said go for it.”

She slapped his chest and frowned. “You’re funny.”

“And you’re adorable at fourteen. I’d almost forgotten.”

Svala wrinkled her nose but accepted his next kiss without complaint. She could stand in there all day, kissing him, but it posed too big of a risk and she already wanted more. She pulled away. “What did she say about Freja?”

Viggo’s eyes shifted and his grip on her waist loosened. “She didn’t know. She asked The High Council, but they didn’t tell her much.” He pushed a strand of hair from her face. “What did Trym say?”

She shook her head. “Same thing. He told me to be careful, but that they didn’t give any restrictions on how to communicate with her.”

Footsteps clomped the hallway outside, someone running late to class. They paused and listened as the steps faded down towards the science lab.

“Does she recognize you?” Viggo asked.

Svala ran a finger over the neon colored print on his T-shirt. “I don’t know. She looks at me like she’s not sure. I can tell she wants to ask.”

“Yeah, she’s been looking at me too.” He nodded.

She fought the urge to smile.

He frowned. “What?”

“Nothing.”

He stared at her, urging her to explain.

“You should probably be careful with that,” she said.

His frown deepened, and Svala arched her brows until his frown morphed into a grimace. “Oh, come on! She recognizes me. Seriously, don’t even go there.” He shuddered.

“I’m just saying. Be careful.” She ran her index finger around the edges of his T-shirt print, avoiding his gaze. “Some of the girls talked about you this morning. They think you’re gorgeous.” She rolled her eyes.

Viggo grinned amused and Svala stopped trailing her fingers over the print and lowered her hand.

“Hey.” He placed two fingers under her chin and forced her to look up. The humor in his voice annoyed her. “Do I detect jealousy?”

No.” She evaded his gaze. “I just didn’t like it, that’s all.” Her gaze shifted back to him, her own insecurity surprising her. “Is it always like that for you?”

He said nothing. Instead, he held her gaze until she no longer wavered, and then he kissed her. She blushed and answered with more hesitation than before. Her jealousy was childish, but those girls had ogled him like they wanted to tear his clothes off right there in the hallway. Normally, if anyone paid him too much attention, she’d discretely flash her wedding ring, and most women backed away. Most women. This situation rendered her powerless.

Viggo clutched her face in both hands and smoothed her cheekbones with his thumbs. “Don’t worry, honey. I always save myself for you.”

 

***

 

Present time

Washington D.C.

 

Svala thought of those words when she studied Viggo across the hallway in her current high school. He caught her staring over the herd of girls surrounding him and Emma. The moment their eyes met, Svala turned away. She had to get away from him or she might act on the temptation to walk over and claim him, mark him as hers. The urge to do just that clouded her judgment.

She hurried to class where their teacher, Mr. Weston, pushed the black-framed glasses up the bridge of his nose and scanned the half-empty classroom through a frown. “Is there a flu going around?” he asked.

“No,” Jayden smirked. “Only a storm rising.”

A chuckle spread through the room, and Jen offered Jayden an approving grin. Svala smiled to herself. For years, Alrik and Trym made that joke every time she and Viggo reunited, though with a different subtext. Viggo always hated it.

Mr. Weston gazed out the window and squinted at the sun. He raised his eyebrow at the sight of the clear blue sky and shook his head in confusion. Then he returned to his students. “Very well. Let’s get started.”

After class, Svala found Freja waiting outside the principal’s office, alone. The hallway was nearly empty, and Svala’s repeated glances made Freja look up. Her eyes narrowed at first, then she seemed to recognize Svala, and smiled.

Jen and Noah stood by the lockers, arguing over the coming weekend’s activities while waiting for Jayden to return from the restroom. Svala seized the moment, abandoned her friends, and approach her daughter.

Freja eyed her, like she couldn’t place her, then lifted a finger when Svala closed in. “You were in my gem store in New York, right?”

“Yeah.” Svala nodded with a smile of relief.

Freja offered another warm smile. “I thought I recognized you. What a wonderful coincidence. Do you go to school here?”

Svala nodded again, unsure of what to say. She hadn’t thought this through. Freja studied her through a moment of awkward silence. “I see that you’re wearing the necklace you bought. It suits you.” She looked at the amber jewelry resting against Svala’s red shirt.

“Thanks.” Svala touched the gemstone in a nervous gesture, her hands sweating. “I didn’t mean to disturb, I recognized you, so I only wanted to come over and say hi…”

“Oh, don’t be silly. You’re not disturbing.” Freja adjusted the strap from her purse further up on her shoulder. “I’m waiting for my daughter and Viggo. Emma, my daughter, is getting the grand tour around the school, and I offered to wait here. Didn’t want to slow them down.” She pointed to her leg. “Old injury that’s acting up again.”

Svala’s heart sank, and her voice pitched. “What injury?”

Freja flinched back slightly. Svala cleared her throat and hurried to smooth over her reaction. “I’m sorry. That’s none of my business.”

The frown on Freja’s face dissolved, and instead, a slow smile built on her face. Freja reminded Svala of herself, on those few occasions she’d lived a life over the age of forty.

Freja studied Svala, head tilted to the side, as if the recognition was mutual. “It’s okay; I fell down some stairs once.” A quick, almost undetectable waver of insecurity passed over Freja’s blue eyes. “A long time ago.”

Svala nodded, and tried to appear unaffected while the questions rang in her head. Why did she lie? What happened to her?

“I’m sorry to hear that.” She shifted her eyes to Freja’s leg, and her stomach tightened.

Freja shrugged and pressed her lips together. She glanced down the hallway, before returning to Svala. “Is this a good school?”

“Yeah, I think it is.” Svala tried not to stare at her daughter’s leg again. “We have some really good teachers, I’m sure your daughter will like it here.”

Freja’s brows shot up, as if she doubted Svala’s assumption. Svala masked her puzzled reaction with another smile, but had no time to consider Freja’s reaction as Viggo rounded the corner up ahead. Two security guards and a small group of girls followed in his wake. When he caught sight of Svala, he quickened his steps, and his eyes sparkled with excitement. The closer he came, the harder Svala’s heart pounded.

When he reached them, he addressed Freja, but glanced at Svala with obvious anticipation. “They’re showing Emma the gym and are heading into the locker rooms. I thought I’d come back and check up on you.”

Freja nodded. Viggo’s gaze shifted to Svala again and their eyes locked, neither one of them able to break eye contact. Freja glanced from Viggo to Svala and a shy smile lingered at the corner of her lips. “I’m sorry, this is…” She trailed off and looked at Svala. “I’m afraid I don’t know your name, dear.”

Svala tore her gaze from Viggo and looked at their daughter. “Svala,” she said. “My name is Svala.”

Freja gestured a hand toward her, looking at Viggo, but quickly lowered it and turned her attention back to Svala, eyes narrowed. “That’s funny. Why do I recognize that name? It’s very unusual.”

Svala shrugged and shook her head. Viggo studied her with a crooked smile. She met his gaze again and couldn’t stop a smile from surfacing too.

“So, Viggo, this is Svala,” she said. “She came into my store a while back. I believe it was the same day you came by, before we knew who you were.”

Viggo extended his hand to Svala, their eyes locked. She accepted his strong hand shake and his energy surged through her, filling her with an immediate need to be with him. Judging from the longing in his eyes, he shared the emotion.

“Nice to meet you, Svala.” He held on to her hand, his eyes never leaving hers.

She swallowed hard and retrieved her hand, legs weakened. “Nice to meet you too,” she managed.

 

 

Chapter 24

 

1980

New York

 

Freja had grown into a straightforward and self-confident teenager with a direct approach to life. Instantly drawn to Svala, it didn’t take long before the two girls became close friends.

Viggo watched them from a distance, and Svala often caught him smiling as they passed him in the school hallway. He never approached them together, but interrogated Svala when she was alone and no one would see them talking.

One day, he waited for her outside the school library. He stood leaned up against the brick wall, pretending to read from a book. Every now and then he glanced up, meeting Svala’s gaze through the tall glass door. Freja stood by the counter, sorting through some books for a history assignment on World War II. Svala excused herself and snuck out to talk to him.

“What’s she like?” Viggo asked, his gaze trained in the early edition of Hjalmar Söderberg’s Doctor Glas. He wore stonewashed jeans and a navy blue hoodie, unzipped, with the hood pulled over his head. A turquoise T-shirt peeked out underneath. He looked so different from a few weeks ago in Miami, dressed in that tuxedo.

“She’s amazing.” Svala stared at Viggo’s laid back outfit. The high school version of him intrigued her.

Freja waited by the receptionist desk as the librarian went through her pile of books. Viggo glanced at their daughter through the glass doors, and smiled. “She’s beautiful.”

When Freja searched for Svala, Viggo swiftly returned to his book, his smile lingering. Svala waved to their daughter, and as Freja found her, relief fell over her face. Then she rolled her eyes and nodded at the old librarian, who took her time with the tall stack of books.

“I want to know everything about her,” he whispered. “Can we meet up after school and talk?”

“Yes, but we have to be careful. Trym is watching me like a hawk.”

“Tell me about it. Alva interrogates me every day. It’s scary how easily she can tell when I’m lying.”

“Well, you shouldn’t be lying to her,” she said.

Freja stuffed the books into her backpack and headed for the exit. Svala cleared her throat to let Viggo know she was on her way. He straightened, and stole a quick glance at their daughter over his shoulder. “I’ll wait outside after school. Follow me and we’ll pick some place at random.”

 

***

 

Svala followed Viggo to a coffee shop downtown as soon as the school day ended. The place was crowded with customers and she wished he’d picked someplace more secluded, as she recognized several kids from their school. She walked down to the end of the aisle and slid into the booth across from him. He leaned over the white plastic table and reached out to clutch her hands between his. She closed her eyes, welcoming the warmth rushing through her by his touch. When she opened her eyes, she met his smile. “Fifteen minutes, then I have to leave,” she whispered.

He nodded and pulled one of her hands to his lips, kissing it before he released her. “Tell me everything you know about her.”

She pushed her long, blonde hair behind her ear and leaned closer. “She’s lived in New York her whole life. She told me her parents died when she was five, and she doesn’t remember us at all. It’s difficult to talk about it. I think my questions frustrate her since she can’t remember.”

He fidgeted with a blue napkin on the table, his face tensed. “How are her adoptive parents?”

“From what I can tell, they’re decent people. She seems happy, but she did mention once that she’s been with her current family since we died.”

Viggo snorted and released the napkin. “So, they lied to us when we came to see them after the accident. They told us she was dead.”

She nodded. “Seems like it.”

He tightened his fist. “You think that’s a decent thing to do?”

“No.” She reached for his hand again, forcing him to loosen his fist. “But we did kidnap her, so it’s not strange for them to be careful when we came asking about her years later. From everything she’s told me, they seem to treat her right.”

Viggo drew a strained breath. “Seem to? Is that good enough for you?”

She squeezed his hand. “Honey, she’s confident and strong. If they treated her wrong, she wouldn’t be the person she is today. I know it’s not right, I know she should have lived with us, but under the circumstances we should be grateful. She’s had a good life.”

His gaze remained vacant. He sighed and covered his lips with one hand. She squeezed his other hand tight, drawing his attention. “She reminds me so much of you.”

He leaned closer, and the blank look in his eyes slowly faded. “Really? How so?”

She intertwined her fingers with his, holding his gaze. “Her smile is exactly like yours, and sometimes, when she’s lost in thought, she looks so much like you, it scares me.”

Viggo’s eyes glittered with an inner light and his shoulders relaxed. “What does she like to do? Does she have any hobbies?”

She studied his hand with a shy smile. “She likes to paint. She told me the smell of paint gives her a sense of security.”

They shared a smile.

 

***

 

Another two months passed before Viggo dared to approach his daughter. Svala stood in the cafeteria line when he slid his tray next to hers on the cold metal bars. Freja had already left to secure a table.

He lowered his voice along with his gaze. “Anything new?”

The noisy cafeteria drowned out their conversation. Svala forced herself to focus straight ahead and not on his beautiful hands resting against the plastic tray. “Why don’t you come and sit with us? Talk to her yourself.”

They fell silent as the woman behind the counter asked if Svala wanted mashed potatoes with her fried fish. She reached out her plate with a short nod. Viggo fiddled with his tray. “You think it would be okay if I did?”

“I think it would be fine.”

Freja studied him when they approached her table. She glanced at Svala with interest, eyebrows slightly raised. Svala placed her tray on the table then motioned toward Viggo. “Freja, this is Viggo. He’s an old friend of mine. Is it okay if he joins us?”

Freja observed her father, her lips slightly parted. When he met her gaze, her cheeks switched color. “Of course,” she said.

Freja’s eyes sparkled as Viggo took the seat across from them. He couldn’t take his eyes off his daughter and even if he picked up on her reaction, he couldn’t have read it the same way Svala did.

“Nice to meet you… Freja, was it?” he said.

Freja nodded, and kept staring at him, her cheeks still flush. “Yeah.”

He met his daughter’s gaze across the table once more, and she glanced down at her plate with a shy smile. He observed her, but seemed oblivious to her infatuation.

“So, do you like it here?” he asked.

Freja blushed harder. She glanced at Svala, then turned to him and frowned, as if she didn’t understand the question.

“At this school,” he clarified.

“Yeah.” She nodded quickly.

All through lunch, Svala considered ways to divert any romantic feelings Freja might be developing toward Viggo, without losing their friendship. She’d often heard young girls fell for men who reminded them of their fathers, but this was ridiculous. During the painful twenty minutes they sat in the cafeteria, Viggo answered each love sick glance his daughter offered with his irresistible smile.

 

***

 

Present time

Washington D.C.

 

Freja glanced from Svala to Viggo in the corridor outside the principal’s office, smiling as if she picked up on the attraction between them.

“It’s funny,” she said. “Svala bought the same necklace you did in New York. Look, she’s even wearing it now.”

He glanced at her necklace before resuming eye contact. “It suits you.”

Freja shifted on her feet, as if thinking about stepping aside to give them some privacy. Students crowded the hallway around them, but the security guards kept everyone at a distance.

“We’re heading out for lunch. You’re welcome to join us if you want,” Freja said.

Svala looked at her daughter, surprised by the offer. “Uh.” She glanced at Viggo. He smiled. “I don’t want to impose.”

“You wouldn’t,” he hurried. “I insist.”

Before she had time to respond, Emma returned and squeezed in between Svala and Viggo, blocking Svala’s view of him. The young girl tossed back her hair, and her blonde strands whipped against Svala’s face. Unaware, or at least unconcerned of her action, Emma reached out to grab Viggo’s arm. “Sorry, it took a little longer than expected, but I met some friends. Is it okay if they join us for lunch?”

He nodded slowly, searching Svala’s gaze over Emma’s shoulder. “Of course. I’ll call and change the reservations, it shouldn’t be a problem. Should we leave?”

Emma nodded, took a step back and accidentally bumped her head into Svala’s face as she did. Svala’s lip cracked open and she tasted blood. With a muffled whimper, Emma reached around to massage the sore spot on her head where Svala’s teeth made an impact, then glared at Svala, her face contracted into a grimace. “Hey! Watch where you’re going, bitch!”

Svala touched her throbbing, broken lip as her jaw dropped open. Viggo’s eyes widened and Svala could tell he was fighting the urge to discipline her.

“Emma!” Freja warned.

Emma threw her hands in the air in a defensive gesture. “What? It’s not my fault. If these people weren’t so damn desperate to get close to him, this would never have happened.”

“Emma!” Freja’s warning grew harsh. “Apologize right this second.”

Emma crossed her arms over her chest and studied Svala with a condescending smirk. “No.”

“Emma!” Freja repeated.

“What? She’s the one who should apologize to me.” Emma drew her shoulders back and lifted her chin.

“Go and wait by the car, Emma!” Freja ordered.

“What did I do?”

Freja stared at her daughter. “Now!”

Svala wiped her broken lip with the back of her hand. She tried to hide the damage but only succeeded in smearing blood over her pale skin and exposing the injury further. Viggo didn’t tear his eyes off her and his worried gaze would have people talk.

Emma tugged at Viggo’s shirt with a pout, demanding his attention. “Will you walk me there?”

Viggo tore his gaze from Svala for one second, his voice strained. “No, you go ahead. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Emma offered Svala a quick glance, eyes narrowed, before she left.

Viggo reached out and placed his hand on Svala’s arm. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” She kept her hand over her bleeding lip so he wouldn’t see the blood still pouring out.

“I’m so sorry.” Freja fumbled in her purse to get a napkin, handing it to Svala. “I’ll talk to her. Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Thanks. I’m fine.” She accepted the napkin and pressed it against her lip. “I’ll just need to get some ice, I’ll be fine. You go ahead and have your lunch before you lose your table. I think I’ll pass on the offer. Thanks anyway.”

Freja shook her head and released a long low sigh. “I don’t know what’s wrong with that girl. Sometimes she acts so much like her father, it scares me.”

Svala locked eyes with Viggo and shared his thoughts. Her father? That didn’t sound very good?

“I promise I’ll talk to her. Again, I’m so sorry.”

 

 

Chapter 25

 

Present time

Washington

 

Emma’s bad manners had surprised Viggo from the first day he met her. He’d excused her behavior though, due to their unusual situation and her admiration of him as a celebrity. Past year’s experience had dampened his reactions to how teenage girls acted around him, and more than that, when it came to Emma, he didn’t want to see it. He wanted his grandchild to be perfect. But what happened in the school hallway earlier made her behavior harder to ignore, and he simply couldn’t accept Emma’s treatment of Svala.

During lunch, while Emma’s friends took the opportunity to interrogate him about his personal life, curious to know more about his tattoo and his relationship with Amanda Jones, Freja stayed silent, watching him with her calm blue eyes. There were moments he could swear she recognized him from her past, but she never said. Even if she did recall him, she probably didn’t trust her own memories.

When they arrived back at school, Viggo pulled up outside the building, relieved to get rid of the girls and all their questions. He switched off the engine. “Emma, could I have a word with you before you leave?”

When the door closed behind Emma’s new friends Viggo turned in the driver’s seat to face her. “Could you do me a favor, Em?”

Emma leaned forward against the black leather seat, eyes sparkling. “Of course.”

“Could you apologize to the girl you bumped into earlier today in the hallway?”

Emma’s smile vanished, and instead, a grimace formed on her pretty face. She opened her mouth to speak, but closed it again. Freja glanced at Viggo, with a grateful but slightly apprehensive expression.

“Please,” Viggo added.

“But, why?” Emma frowned.

Freja closed her eyes, as if Emma’s response disappointed, but didn’t surprise her.

“Well, you were a bit rude to her,” Viggo said.

“But she interfered. She had no right being there in the first place.”

Freja reached out and placed a gentle hand on her daughter’s arm. “Emma, she didn’t interfere. I was talking to her. In fact, both Viggo and I were, and Viggo’s right, you were rude to her. You should apologize.”

Emma frowned again and glared at her mother. She seemed even less eager to do as they said now when Freja interfered. “I don’t see how it matters. She’s a nobody. She probably knocked her face into my head to get your attention. You shouldn’t encourage that kind of behavior, Viggo.”

Viggo struggled to keep his cool. “I doubt she did it on purpose.”

“You’d be surprised what some people would do to get your attention.”

He forced a smile. “Well, nonetheless, I’d be grateful if you did this for me.”

Emma sighed. “I don’t understand what good it’ll do, but sure. If you really want me to.”

“You promise?”

She smiled. “I promise.”

 

 

Freja studied Viggo as he pulled out from the curb. Emma stood on the sidewalk in her tight blue miniskirt and white tank top, waving after them.

“She won’t do it,” Freja said.

“She won’t do what?”

“Apologize.”

Viggo glanced at her. “But she promised she would.”

Liosálfar didn’t lie, unless they really had to.

Freja smiled. “How in God’s name did someone like you turn out like this?” she asked.

“Like what?”

“You have such faith in people. Considering your background and the way people act around you, I never would have guessed.”

He smiled. “You mean to say you don’t have faith in people?”

She shook her head, lips pursed. “I lost my faith in people a long time ago. They call that life experience.”

Viggo silenced as guilt stabbed him. She hadn’t forgotten.

“At Emma’s age, I thought I could save the world. I guess young people today are much more realistic that way.” She paused and cringed. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply anything. For some reason you strike me as older. Or more mature anyway.”

He smiled.

The traffic light up ahead switched to red. Viggo slowed the car to a stop and glanced at her, not sure if he crossed the line by asking, but too curious not to. “You mentioned earlier that Emma reminded you of her father. What did you mean by that?”

Freja’s face tensed. She stared out the side window. “I shouldn’t have said that. I try to stay positive about him, for Emma’s sake. A girl needs a father, regardless of the situation.”

Her comment did nothing to settle neither his guilt nor his worry, but he feared asking more questions would appear suspicious. Freja fingered the strap of her purse as the traffic light shifted. He turned left, and bit his tongue to prevent himself from asking about Emma’s father. They drove in silence as it started to rain. The raindrops drummed on the roof of the black Mercedes, creating a soothing rattle in the silence.

“Can I give you some friendly advice?” Freja asked.

“Of course.”

Despite his acceptance, she waited before she spoke. “It’s never too late to change your mind about something, no matter how scary it seems. Sometimes you realize you’re about to make a mistake, but you go through with it anyway because you think it’s too late to change your mind. It’s not. It’s never too late to do the right thing.”

He smiled, despite the nausea her statement triggered. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know how her life had been with the way she talked, or how much their mistakes had formed her, but he couldn’t let this opportunity pass him by. If he didn’t ask now, he might never get the chance again.

“Is that what happened with Emma’s father?”

She shrugged and looked out the window again. “It’s never just one thing, is it? It’s the little choices we make that lead up to the bigger ones. The ones that change your life. We all focus too much on the bigger picture, but it’s the small choices that make all the difference in the end.”

Viggo frowned. She hadn’t answered his question. “I’m not sure I follow. Are you referring to something specific?”

Freja shook her head. “I’m sorry. It’s none of my business.”

They’d reached another traffic light. Viggo stopped the car and clutched the wheel hard. “Please, I don’t mind.”

She hesitated. “I don’t know.” Another longer pause followed. “This is probably completely out of line, but there was something about the way you looked at that girl earlier today, the blonde. Something in your eyes, I’ve never seen you light up like that.” When he didn’t respond to her comment she grimaced, as if she thought herself silly. “I’m sorry, this really is none of my business.”

“No, do continue.”

She paused for a long time, still frowning. “I don’t know. I just picked up this intense energy field between you. I can’t explain it. It was something in the way you looked at each other. She was different. Not like those other girls, the ones who joined us for lunch. They look at you as an object they want to possess, but this girl… her interest in you seemed…well, honest. Did you not feel it?”

He smiled. “Maybe a little.”

“So I’m not imagining? There was an attraction?”

“Well, it’s difficult not to look at someone that pretty.” He ignored her accurate analysis.

The traffic light shifted to green. He placed the car in gear and pushed the gas pedal. Freja lowered her gaze and he could tell there was more before she even opened her mouth to speak.

“Amanda is pretty too,” she said.

He stayed silent, already aware of the point she was about to make. Part of him felt proud his daughter was so perceptive.

“Funny how I’ve never seen you look at her the same way.”

He fought a smile, amused that Freja tried to match make her own parents without even knowing it.

“Then, again, it’s none of my business.” She stared straight ahead, but offered another quick glance. “We all have to make our own mistakes.”

He seized the opportunity. “Are you talking about Amanda, or Emma’s father?”

Freja stayed silent for a while. The wiper blades swept the rain off the windshield, and Viggo waited for her response. She sighed. “I shouldn’t have said anything. I’m sorry. Sometimes I talk without thinking things through. It’s presumptuous of me to assume you’re anything like me. We’re not even that closely related.”

”No, please. Feel free. I don’t mind.”

She paused before she continued. “Your relationship with Amanda reminds me of my relationship with Emma’s father. I never once felt for him what I sensed between you and that girl and I never thought to question why.”

“But now you know?”

“Well, yes. He’s an idiot,” she smiled.

Viggo smiled too, to be polite, but wasn’t satisfied with the answer. What did that mean? Did he hurt her? Did he cheat on her? Or did they simply not love each other?

“I don’t know Amanda that well. I’m sure she’s lovely once you get to know her.” Freja’s tone of voice told him she didn’t believe her own words. “Besides, you seem too secure in yourself to make the same mistakes I did. I shouldn’t have brought it up and I shouldn’t have compared the two situations. They’re probably very different.”

“How so?”

“Well, for one, you’re much more confident than I was. You believe in yourself.”

He shifted the position of his hands on the steering wheel. “You don’t strike me as someone with a low self-esteem.”

“Not anymore. But I went through some things in my youth that made me doubt myself. Made me question my own value, and it took a long time and a lot of heartache before I came out the other side.”

Viggo tightened his grip on the steering wheel and forced a smile. It had taken thirty years to stop thinking about that day, but one mention of it send him back in time and he remembered every detail of what happened. He never could shake those words or the look in her eyes.

 

 

Chapter 26

 

Present Time

Washington

 

 

Emma passed Svala in the hallway and Svala’s attempted smile wavered at the sight of her granddaughter’s condescending smirk. A group of girls followed behind her and Emma thrust out her chest with pride.

“Seriously, what’s her problem?” Jen glowered as the young girl sauntered down the hallway, head held high.

Svala stared after her grandchild with a distant gaze, unable to keep her disappointment at bay. Jen nudged her side. “Hey. Don’t take it personally. She’s a spoiled little brat. You just happened to stand in her way.”

Svala shook her head. “I just wish there was something I could do about it.”

“Why? She’s obviously a bitch. The best thing you can do is to ignore her.”

Jen leaned closer and dropped her voice. “But forget about her. When are you going to tell me what you and Viggo talked about?”

“I didn’t talk to him. I talked to Freja.” Svala’s voice pitched and her blood pressure raised.

Jen eased back and arched one brow. “Looked like you talked to him.”

“Well, I didn’t. Freja only introduced me to him. That’s all.”

“And?” Jen insisted.

Svala shrugged. “And nothing. He said hi, I shook his hand, then Emma interrupted us. That was it.”

Jen leaned against the locker and searched her gaze. “Really?”

“Really.” She avoided her friend’s stare.

“Come on, you have to give me more than that.”

“Well, that’s all there is.”

Further down the corridor, Emma and her friends stopped to whisper and giggle as a girl passed them. Svala sighed and stifled the need to approach her granddaughter and ask why she acted the way she did. She couldn’t wrap her mind around it. It wasn’t like a Liosálfar to behave like Emma. The girl was so different from how her mother had been at that age. Something wasn’t right.

 

***

 

1983

New York

 

Freja placed the hair brush on Svala’s white IKEA dresser and studied her reflection in the mirror. “Do you think Viggo wants to come along to the movies?” she asked.

Svala watched as Freja pulled at her long blonde hair and angled her head from side to side. “Uhm, I don’t know. He might be busy tonight.” She tried to sound casual. “Why do you ask?”

Freja’s pale cheeks reddened. She lowered her gaze and moved away from the mirror. “No reason.”

Ever since Svala introduced the two of them, Freja had swooned over Viggo like a love-sick puppy. When Svala brought it up, Viggo said she read too much into it, that what she picked up was no different from the connection she too had with their daughter. He told her she was paranoid and if Freja had any romantic interest in him, he’d know. Sometimes he could be so blind.

Freja reached over and touched the gem stone necklace on Svala’s dresser. “Did you notice how Lori was all over him today?”

Svala shook her head. “No, I didn’t notice.”

That was a lie. She’d picked up on every single movement, every glance that girl offered Viggo. How she bit her lower lip and smiled under those long eye lashes, like the two of them shared a secret. The seductive manner in which she leaned in to read from his book, gently placing her hand on the small of his back, letting her blonde hair intentionally fall against his shoulder. Mostly she’d picked up on how Viggo had done nothing to stop her.

“What? We were reading.” Was his defense when she questioned their interaction earlier that day.

She’d grabbed his arm and pulled him aside in the corridor, away from prying eyes, lowering her voice with restrain. “Does reading require touching each other?”

A deep weighted sigh escaped him. “Oh come on, she leaned against me. You have to stop this, honey. First Freja, now Lori. You’re getting paranoid, and there is no reason for it.”

Freja placed the amber stone against the palm of her hand and looked into its glowing center with a soft expression. “Would you mind if I borrowed this?”

“No, of course not.” A warmth spread through her body. Sometimes she couldn’t tear her eyes off their daughter, and it pleased her when she took an interest in her heritage without even knowing it. “You can keep it if you want.”

“No, I couldn’t.” Freja placed the jewelry back onto the dresser. “You love that necklace, you wear it all the time.”

“True, but if you wore it, I would get to see it more often.” Svala rose, took the necklace off the dresser, and handed it to Freja. “Please, I insist.”

Freja accepted the gift with a shy smile, staring at the stone as if she detected something magical in it. Even as a child, she’d been mesmerized by Svala’s amber jewelry.

With the necklace secured in her hand, Freja met Svala’s gaze. “Why are you so nice to me?”

Svala reached out to touch her daughter’s hair. The two of them were so much alike, people often mistook them for twins. “You’re my best friend; I’d do anything for you.”

Freja smiled. “Really?”

“Really.”

Freja closed her hand around the amber stone and shifted her gaze to the floor. Svala’s hand fell back to her side. “Something wrong?” she asked.

With lips pressed together, Freja shook her head and met Svala’s gaze again. “No, it’s just… “ She frowned. “Never mind.”

“No, what were you going to say?”

“I don’t know. It’s so strange. This. Us. Sometimes I feel like I’ve known you before, like we’re linked somehow.” Her shoulders slumped and she shifted her gaze to the floor again with another frown. “I know, it’s stupid.”

Svala reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder. “No, it’s not. I feel the same way.”

Their eyes met again. “You do?” A smile slowly resurfaced on Freja’s face.

Svala nodded. “Yeah, I do.”

 

***

 

Svala returned from the movies later in the evening to find Trym sorting through their bills by the kitchen table. When she came into view, he glanced at the large, oval clock on the wall. “You’re home early.”

“Yeah. Freja kept talking about Viggo. She wants me to include him more when we do things. I couldn’t come up with any more excuses as to why he can’t come along so I told her I wasn’t well. We have to do something about this, Trym. We have to find a way to divert her feelings.” She rubbed her temple as a headache built.

He leaned back in his chair. “I’m sure it’ll blow over on its own. Give it some time.”

She shook her head. “No, I don’t think it will. It’s been two years now. If anything, it’s getting worse. She never says it straight out, she’s so careful.”

He placed his pen on the table and leaned forward. “Well, you know she has abandonment issues, she told you. It’s not so strange after what she’s been through. She’s probably terrified to put herself in a situation where she would risk rejection.”

The refrigerator hummed through a moment of silence and Trym’s intention to help only added to her guilt. Their daughter was scarred because of them.

He searched her gaze. “You’re doing great. She trusts you, and she’s so relaxed around you. Whatever happened in the past you’ve been given a chance to build her up again, show her she can trust people.”

Svala forced a smile and nodded. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. It’s just… I don’t understand this at all. Is she one of us, or will she grow old and die never to be reborn? It would be so much easier if I knew. If I could tell her what she is. She has the heart of a Liosálfar, why won’t they officially turn her? She’s already sixteen years old.”

He exhaled audibly. “I don’t know, sweetie. Every time I bring it up with the High Council, they avoid answering my questions.”

Frustrated and hungry, Svala walked over and opened the pantry. In the back of one shelf stood a box of Twinkies, right behind Trym’s Wasa crisp bread. She grabbed the box and turned it over in her hand. “Did you buy these?”

Trym lowered the pen again, and a line formed between his eyebrows as he stared at the item in her hand. “Yeah.” His gaze grew distant.

“Really?” She walked over and took the seat across from him, placing the box in front of her on the kitchen table.

With his gaze trained on the box, Trym leaned back on his chair and grazed his lips with his index finger while she pulled one package out of the box. “It’s the strangest thing, actually. The last five times I’ve been to the store a packet of Twinkies ended up in my basket, and I can’t for the life of me remember putting it there. I’ve put it back on the shelf every time, but this last time I figured I’d buy them to see if it would stop.” He shook his head.

Svala fingered the end of the wrappers with a subtle smile. “That’s not so strange.”

Their eyes met across the table but the second her expression grew serious, he evaded her gaze. “It’s not, Trym. You miss him. That’s perfectly natural. What’s not natural is pretending everything is normal when it’s not. Maybe you need to talk about it.”

He shook his head. “No.”

“Why not?”

He avoided her question, nodded to the Twinkie and lifted a single eyebrow. “You’re not seriously thinking about eating that, are you?”

She smiled. “Maybe we should save them, until he comes back.”

Trym pressed his lips together, frowned, and returned to sorting his bills. “Yeah, maybe.”

It never occurred to Svala until after Alrik’s visit, that it wasn’t Trym’s subconscious that insisted on placing the Twinkies in his grocery cart. It was Alrik, trying to tell Trym he was still around, keeping an eye on them.

Svala released the Twinkie and bit down on her lower lip. “I should probably just confront her. Ask her straight out. She’s been tip toeing around the subject, asking if he’s taking anyone special to the prom.”

“Right, the prom.” Trym simpered. “You’re not going to the prom, just so we’re clear.”

“What? Why?” Her voice pitched. She didn’t care about the prom as such, but she and Viggo had already talked about how special it would be to finally go together. “I need to keep an eye on Freja,” she argued.

“And Viggo, right?” Trym shook his head. “No. Definitely no.”

“But he already asked, and I already accepted. Wouldn’t that be breaking a promise?” She met his gaze with mischief. “You always taught me never to break a promise.”

He held her gaze and she could have sworn a smile lingered at the corner of his lips.

“We promise to behave.” She leaned in over the table with a pout. “Please, Trym.”

Trym sighed and pressed his lips together. “I’ll think about it, but I won’t promise you anything I won’t be able to keep.”

 

 

Chapter 27

 

1983

New York

 

The classic 1940’s design in Trym and Svala’s living room calmed Viggo as he stepped inside. Those floral wallpapers in muted green made him feel at ease. Trym was nothing if not consistent.

Svala motioned to the beige velvet couch in the middle of the room. She’d invited Viggo over earlier that day, insisting they talk.

“Honey, you better sit down for this,” she said.

Viggo frowned. “Why?”

Trym stood by the cream colored bookshelf a few feet away, arms crossed over his chest. Judging by the strained expression on his face, Viggo couldn’t tell if he was upset or amused, or both.

Svala reached out and offered Viggo’s hand a light squeeze. “Just sit down, honey.”

Trym’s gaze followed the movement of their hands, but he made no attempt to prevent the interaction. Viggo was surprised Trym allowed him over in the first place, and when Svala called, he’d assumed she’d be alone. Their odd behavior made his stomach tighten.

“Did something happen? Is this about Freja?” he asked.

Svala held onto his hand and urged him to sit on the couch. He obliged, but his patience was running out. “What’s going on?” He shifted his gaze to Trym. “Can someone please tell me already?”

Trym cleared his throat and looked down at his feet. The silence lingered, so Viggo turned to Svala, annoyed. “Could you spit it out already?”

Svala studied him in silence, as if considering a good way to present the information. “I talked to Freja the other day. We talked about the prom and things like that.” She paused and took a deep breath before she continued. “She finally confessed she’s in love with you.”

Viggo stared at her for a good long while, then shook his head slowly. Svala had argued Freja’s romantic interest in him for two years but he didn’t see it, and Freja’d never said anything to confirm it. Besides, his daughter was different, she didn’t care about boys like that.

”No,” he said, as if it was up to him to decide.

Svala placed her other hand on top of his, clutching it between both of hers. The color drained from Viggo’s face as her words slowly registered.

“No.” He repeated.

“I know it’s awkward, Vig, but I did warn you. You’re always so nice to her, and you’re… well, you’re very attractive…”

Viggo’s head throbbed as fragments of his conversations with Freja over the years revisited him. How much was he to blame for her infatuation? Had he encouraged her? He winced when he considered some of the things he’d said to her, and how she’d reacted. He never once interpreted it as romantic interest.

“What do we do?” His voice didn’t hold.

Svala pressed her lips together and lingered before she spoke. “I’m afraid there is more.”

”There’s more?”

She nodded, and he was amazed over her calm.

“She wants you to ask her to the prom,” Svala said.

Viggo’s heart beat slowed; he’d expected something far worse than that. “So? That’s not so bad. I could do that.”

“No.” Svala shook her head.

“Why not? It’s only a dance. If it’ll make her happy, I don’t see the problem.”

“Come on honey, you can’t do that. You’ll get her hopes up and then she’ll think there is something wrong with her when she finds out you’re not interested. What will you do when she tries to kiss you?”

“She wouldn’t do that. She’s not like that.”

Svala sighed.

“She’s not.”

She held his gaze. “I don’t know if I should tell you this…”

“Tell me what?”

“Well.” She squeezed his hand tighter. “Don’t freak out, but when she told me all this, she confessed that she’s hoping for something more to happen. On prom night.”

Viggo didn’t follow. “What do you mean?”

“Something she wants to lose.”

“Lose? Why would she want to lose something?”

Trym sighed and rolled his eyes.

Svala’s shoulders tensed, and for the first time since she started sharing the news she seemed uncomfortable. “Her virginity. She’s hoping you’ll…take it.”

Viggo stood swiftly and raised his voice. “She’s hoping for what?” He searched Trym’s gaze for support but Trym kept avoiding his gaze. “She’s sixteen years old. She shouldn’t be thinking about having sex.”

Svala got up and placed her hand on his arm. “To be fair, I was only fourteen when you wanted to sleep with me in the school supply room two years ago.”

Trym finally snapped to attention. “Excuse me?”

Svala raised her hand toward him, an annoyed frown on her face. Trym kept silent, but his face stayed tensed with disapproval.

“We have to do something about this,” Viggo urged.

“I agree.” She nodded. “We have to find a way to avoid her getting hurt. We’ve thought of something that might help.”

Viggo felt dizzy, his daughter’s sexual intention on a bad loop in his head.

”Actually, it was Trym’s idea.” Svala motioned toward Trym. ”He’s got a lot of experience on how to handle similar situation. Or maybe not similar but…” She could hardly meet Viggo’s gaze. ”Do you remember that woman who fell in love with him when we first came to America? She was so sweet and she’d lost her entire family on that boat ride. She was so fragile and he didn’t want to hurt her by turning her down but he couldn’t be with her so he managed to get out of it without hurting her.”

Viggo stared over at Trym and then to Svala, stating the obvious. ”Trym’s gay.”

”Yes.” Svala nodded. ”Exactly.”

With all the thoughts running through his mind it took him a while to catch on. ”Oh.”

”I know it’s a lie, but she’s so scared of being rejected. If she thinks you don’t like her she’ll think there is something wrong with her, but if she thinks you’re gay…” She turned to Trym. ”Right, Trym?”

Trym nodded. ”Yeah. You have to lie to her anyway. You can’t tell her the real reason, so you might as well give her a reason that won’t make her feel rejected.”

”Yeah.” Viggo agreed. ”That would work.”

Svala smiled and squeezed his hand. ”And we have to be careful. She can’t find out we lied. It has to be convincing.”

Viggo stared out in the distance, considering their suggestion. ”Yeah, I can do that.” He turned to Trym. ”Or what do you say? Could I pass for gay?”

Trym’s brows shot up. ”Pass for gay? What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Svala couldn’t hide her smile.

Trym shook his head. ”Pass for gay,” he muttered. ”I tell you what you’d pass for. You’d pass for a complete idiot. That’s what you’d pass for.”

 

 

***

 

Two months later

 

 

Viggo slumped down on the bench in the middle of the locker room after football practice, exhausted and out of breath. The clang of metal doors opening and slamming shut mixed with body spray hissing out of cans and shoes scuffing against the vinyl floor. The spray mixed with a stifling stench of sweat and the shampoo scented steam seeped out from adjoining showers.

When Viggo leaned forward, sweat dripped from his forehead and on to his white shorts. He tore off his shirt to wipe his face and flinched when two strong hands grabbed his shoulders from behind in a steady grip. “Hey, Storm!”

Brian Dillon, the school quarter back, climbed over to straddle the bench beside Viggo. The boy grinned wide and as he ran a hand through his dark hair, Viggo lowered the white shirt from his face and forced a smile. He didn’t care for this guy. Brian did nothing but brag about his sexual conquests.

“Hey, Brian. What’s up?”

Brian pursed his lips and tilted his head to the side. “We should get a limo.” He nodded slowly, eyes narrow, as if this had been a difficult decision.

Viggo frowned. “For what?”

Brian gestured with his hands in the air. “For the prom, of course.”

“I’m sorry, I already have a date.” Viggo snickered.

Two guys behind them chuckled. Brian grimaced at the two boys then leaned closer to Viggo with a smirk. “Funny. Didn’t know you were such a comedian, Storm. That’s not what I meant, though. I heard you’re taking Svala.”

Viggo nodded and the excited glimmer in Brian’s eyes made his stomach drop. “Yeah. Still don’t understand why I have to rent a limo with you, though.”

Brian wriggled his eyebrows with a wicked smile. “Because I’m taking Freja. Where one goes, the other follows. We have a much better chance if we join forces.”

Viggo’s stared into Brian’s smiling face, controlling the urge to place is fist in the middle of it. “Better chance of what?”

Brian’s smile morphed into a grin. “Well, of getting laid of course. What other reason to go to the prom?” He leaned closer. “Now, Freja won’t be difficult to persuade, it’s in her eyes, she’s ready to pop, but you might need some help with Svala. That one clearly needs some work.” He leaned back with a pleased expression. “So, what do you say? Limo? If we take turns, it’ll spare us the cost of a hotel room.”

 

***

 

Viggo hurried down the corridor and grabbed Svala’s arm before she disappeared into the restroom. “We need to talk,” he said in a hushed whisper.

She followed him to a more secluded area of the hallway, her eyes stirring with worry. “What’s wrong?”

He scanned the hallway and pulled Svala closer as a group of students walked past them.

“What’s happened, Viggo? You’re scaring me,” Svala whispered.

He struggled to keep his voice down. “Brian Dillon is taking Freja to the prom.” His body shook, all his self-control exhausted from avoiding to run his fist through Brian’s smug face in the locker room.

Svala nodded. “I know. She told me this morning. She’s really happy about it. What’s the problem?”

“The problem?” He failed to keep his voice down and some girls standing further down the corridor silenced and glanced their way. Viggo leaned in closer and whispered with strain. “He intends to sleep with her.”

Svala’s calm expression aggravated him further. She glanced around the hallway before she met his gaze. “Honey, I know you don’t want to hear this, but I don’t think she’ll mind. She likes him and she’s sixteen years old. She’s ready.”

He tensed. “Not with this guy.”

“You’ll feel that way regardless of who it is.”

“No.” He shook his head.

She stared him down.

“Well, maybe I will, but this is not about that. Brian will sleep with her and then toss her to the side. He’ll make her feel worthless.”

“You don’t know that.” She smiled. “Relax. She’s over the moon about it. She’s finally over the fact that you’re gay and she told me Brian was her next-best choice. I don’t want her to be disappointed all over again.”

“Why can’t she go with someone else? Like Peter Riley.”

Svala grimaced. “Peter Riley?”

“Yes, what’s wrong with him?”

She chuckled and shook her head. “Sweetie, you’re going to have to accept this.”

He crossed his arms over his chest, furious with her for not siding with him on this serious matter. “I won’t. I want you to talk to her. I want you to tell her Brian is no good for her. She’ll listen to you.”

Her smile faded. “I won’t do that, Vig. I’ll talk to her about being safe and careful, but I won’t tell her that.”

“Then I will.” He prepared to leave.

Svala grabbed his arm in a tight grip and pulled him back. “Viggo!” She walked around to face him, her voice firm. “Viggo, don’t.”

“I won’t allow her to do this,” he hissed.

“What? Is that what you plan to tell her? That you won’t allow her?”

He didn’t know how to respond.

Svala grabbed his hand. “Listen, all we can do is to be there for her, but she has to make her own decisions. And let’s face it, you won’t be able to keep track of everyone she sleeps with for the rest of her life.”

 

 

Chapter 28

 

1983

New York

 

Viggo stood in the hallway outside Svala’s apartment dressed in a tuxedo, waiting for someone to open the door. When Trym finally did, he opened it just a sliver, looked him up and down, then closed the door in his face.

Viggo frowned and raised his hand to knock again, but before he had the chance, Trym reopened the door with a welcoming wide grin. “I’m joking.” He reached out for him. “Come on in. She’s almost done.”

Viggo sneered and stepped inside. “Very funny, Trym. Did anyone ever tell you your sense of humor gets worse with each passing decade?”

Trym chuckled and leaned against the wainscot wall in the spacious foyer. Not counting a side table with a matching mirror above, the black and white Victorian tiles were stripped of furniture.

“Well, you’re taking my little girl to the prom. I’ve seen the movies, I know how that ends,” Trym said.

Viggo glared at him. “Seriously, Trym. I know the deal. Hands off. You don’t have to remind me.”

Trym opened his mouth to speak, but Viggo cut him off. “Please. I don’t need to hear it.”

Trym’s grin widened and he opened his mouth to speak but closed it again as Svala rounded the corner and came into the hallway. She wore a long strapless dress and the smooth lust-red material hugged her soft curves and swirled around her legs as she closed in. Viggo swallowed. Hard.

“Look at you. You look exactly like you did when where we left off.” She glanced him up and down where he stood in the classic black tuxedo. When she reached up to caress his face, Viggo flinched and stepped back, bumping into the front door. He glanced at Trym for an expected outburst.

What is he still grinning about?

Svala’s smile widened. “You don’t know?”

Viggo flinched and tried to back away as her fingertips moved over his cheek. “Know what?” He shifted his gaze to Trym, still waiting for him to go off.

Trym shrugged. “I tried to tell him.”

“Tell me what?”

Svala beamed. “We’re allowed to be together. They informed us an hour ago. Didn’t Alva tell you?”

As the words settled, Viggo relaxed his shoulders and met Svala’s excited smile with one of his own. He moved in and grabbed her waist with both hands. “I left our apartment two hours ago to arrange the limo. I had no idea.”

She wrapped her arms around his neck and smiled wider as she tip-toed in her high heels. Her red lipstick smeared his lips, and he pulled her closer, deepening the kiss.

“Well, don’t mind me,” Trym muttered.

Viggo paused long enough to manage a, “Shut up, Trym.” Then pulled Svala into another kiss. After a while he glanced at his watch behind her back, and Svala pulled away. “Yeah, what time is it?” Her eyes shifted to his watch.

Trym crossed his arms over his chest. “Well, there’s no time for that, if that’s what you mean. You have to leave in less than ten minutes, and I hope for your sake he’s not that fast.”

Viggo glared at Trym again but his annoyance vanished with the humor in Trym’s eyes. He turned back to Svala. Her skin glowed and her eyes sparkled. He’d say she’d never been more beautiful, but that would be a lie.

“This is going to be a long evening,” he said.

“I know, but we can’t let Freja see us. She’ll be devastated.” She leaned in for a quick kiss. “I need to get my purse.”

“Okay.” He grabbed her waist, preventing her from leaving.

“Now,” she said, accepting his next kiss without resistance.

“Mhm.” He clasped her face with both hands to deepen the kiss.

“Do you want me to get the purse?” Trym asked.

Svala pulled away, her eyes sparkling. “No, I got it.” She pried her way out of Viggo’s hands and met his eyes with mischief. “Stay here and cool off. You’re supposed to be gay, remember?”

“Right.” Viggo closed his eyes, and inhaled deeply. When he reopened one eye he caught the perfect slope of her back as she moved down the hallway. He bit down on his lower lip with a frustrated whimper. “I’m gay, I’m gay, I’m gay.”

Trym chuckled and straightened up. “Then why are you staring at her?” he asked.

Viggo looked after Svala, a pained expression on his face. “Oh, shut up, Trym.”

 

***

 

Tacky paper decorations and balloons in different neon colors cluttered the hotel ballroom. The large area filled with students dressed in various creations, each more eye catching than the next. Svala’s classic long red evening gown stood out among the mini-skirt variations of ruffles and neon. Freja wore a cyan colored dress, much too short and too low cut for Viggo’s approval.

“If Brian doesn’t stop looking at her like that, I’ll punch him straight in the face. I don’t care about the consequences.”

They waited for the principal, up on stage, to finish his speech. Svala, who stood in front of Viggo, reached behind her back and found his hand. With her head tilted lightly against his shoulder she smiled. “Actually, you’re the one who keeps staring. You’re giving her mixed signals. You have to relax and trust her.”

His face tightened. It was Brian he didn’t trust, not Freja. He detested the guy’s hands on his daughter’s waist, the way they wandered up and intentionally brushed against her breast. How his eyes stayed constantly trained to the cleavage of her dress, and that self-satisfied grin of his when he caught Viggo looking, letting him know exactly what he planned on doing to his daughter once the evening came to an end.

Viggo tried to control his emotions. He glanced at Brian, who’d just moved his hand too close to his daughter’s rear.

“Then again, the way you’re eye-balling Brian, she might worry you want to steal her date.” Svala pointed out.

“You’re not funny.” Viggo forced himself to look the other way.

Svala’s smile stole his focus. Her entire presence glowed, and he couldn’t wait for this evening to be over so he could go back to the apartment and make love to her. He scanned the ballroom to make sure no one paid attention, then slid his hand down her back side, over her hip where he paused to squeeze with a mischievous grin.

“Hey!” She warned, but allowed his hand to remain.

They glanced at Freja and Brian, who both focused on the speech. Viggo leaned in, placing his lips inches from Svala’s ear. “You’re killing me in that dress.”

She drew a sharp breath and closed her eyes. “Viggo, stop.”

Her smile didn’t convince him, so he squeezed again, his lips close to her ear. She gasped.

“I want you,” he whispered.

Svala grabbed his arm for support and swallowed hard. “Viggo, if you don’t stop, I’ll end up losing my virginity in one of the bathroom stalls, and that is not what I had in mind.”

 

***

 

By the end of the evening, Viggo asked Freja to dance. Svala shook her head in a silent warning, but he paid her no mind as he led Freja to the middle of the dance floor, relieved to get her away from Brian’s wandering hands.

“Are you having a good time?” he asked.

Freja leaned back in his arms and nodded with a brilliant smile. He didn’t care what Svala said, Freja’s smile was her mother’s and not his. Viggo couldn’t take his eyes off her, and as their eye contact lingered, Freja’s expression grew curious.

The band played a slowed down version of Cindy Lauper’s Time after Time. With his arms around his daughter and her head against his chest, Viggo fought the urge to stroke her hair.

“It’s strange,” she said. “I feel so safe around you. I don’t know why.”

He smiled, not sure how to respond.

“I’m sorry.” Freja wrinkled her nose, and her body tensed. “I didn’t mean to… I know that you’re…” She trailed off. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize.” He gave into the urge and moved his hand over her long blonde hair. “I’m glad you feel that way.”

She relaxed and wrapped her arms tighter around him. Viggo met Svala’s gaze across the ballroom. She leaned against a parlor under a cluster of balloons, watching them with a weightless gaze.

“Do you feel the same about Brian?” he asked.

Freja paused, as if to consider it. “No. That’s different.”

“What do you mean?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I can’t explain it. I’ve had this feeling about you since I first met you. I can’t say what it is, but there is something about you that makes me calm.”

“So you’re not calm around Brian?” He was pushing it, but he couldn’t let go.

“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.” She leaned back. “Why do you ask?”

Their eyes met, hers curious, his worried.

“What?” she urged.

“I only want you to be careful. Brian might not be all you want him to be. You shouldn’t do anything you might regret.”

She frowned and her body grew rigid. “What do you mean? Did Svala say something?”

“No. But Brian’s said some things…” Her eyes widened and he feared he’d gone too far. “You’re way too special for someone who might not fully appreciate you.”

She smiled and evaded his gaze. “You really think so?”

He nodded.

Freja blushed, then looked at him again. “You’re sweet. Too bad you’re…you know.” Her brows arched up.

It was his turn to avoid her gaze. “Yeah.”

Freja placed her cheek against his chest again, but the song was about to end. Brian watched them from the edge of the dance floor, waiting for Freja to return. His gaze held a focused, flinty stare, and Viggo’s stomach twisted. There had to be something he could do to prevent her from sleeping with this jerk.

“Could you promise me something, Freja?” he asked.

“Depends on what it is.”

Her response made him smile. The music faded into the next song, and Freja eased out of his embrace, gazed up, and waited.

“Promise me you won’t lose your virginity to that guy in the backseat of a limo.”

She grinned and nodded. “I promise.”

 

 

Chapter 29

 

Present time.

Washington D.C.

 

Emma sauntered down the school hallway in a tight red mini skirt and black tank top, head held high. The usual group of girls followed behind her like faithful servants. Svala watched her from the lockers. She didn’t know what surprised her more, that the girls were so easily manipulated, or that Emma thrived on the false attention. Not one of those girls had a genuine interest in being Emma’s friend. She had to be aware of that.

A few feet from Svala, a girl stood gathering her books. While passing, Emma grabbed the girl’s locker door and gave it a light push. Startled, the girl dropped all her books to the floor. Her face reddened as she kneeled and scrabbled for them.

“Freak!” Emma smirked, and glanced over her shoulder to catch the approval from the other girls.

Svala’s stomach sank and her chest tightened as she witnessed her grandchild’s behavior. She hesitated, pinching her lower lip while observing Emma from a distance. She should probably stay out of it, Emma already disliked her. But she couldn’t ignore it, not from a part Liosálfar or anyone else. Before she had time to change her mind she thrust out her chest and walked straight out to the hallway to intercept Emma.

Emma stopped and gasped, as if she couldn’t believe the audacity of Svala’s intrusion. “What do you want?” She placed a hand on her hip.

“You should apologize to that girl and help her get her books,” Svala said.

Emma sneered and turned to her friends. They stared at Svala, eyes widened, as if Svala had lost her mind.

“And who are you? My mother?” Emma stepped aside to get past, but Svala moved to stand in her way.

“Please,” she insisted.

Emma’s jaw dropped. She glanced back at her friends again. “Seriously. What’s your problem?” Her gaze flickered, making it impossible for Svala to establish eye contact.

“I don’t like the way you’re acting. There’s no reason for it. Why are you doing things like that?” Svala nodded toward the girl, who clutched her books against her chest, cheeks still flush.

Emma leered, then eased closer until her face was only inches from Svala’s, dropping her voice so only Svala could hear. “Because I can.” She moved aside and her self-confident smirk lingered as she bumped into Svala’s shoulder with a little more force than necessary, moving her out of the way. She continued her swagger down the hallway, and some of the other girls in Emma’s wake intentionally bumped into Svala as they passed, mimicking Emma’s smug expression.

“What the hell are you doing?” Sarah hissed behind her. “Why did you have to go and do that for?”

Svala kept her back against Sarah. “Because she was mean.”

“So?”

She ignored Sarah’s annoyed frown and walked over to the lockers where the rest of her friends waited. Jen offered an impressed, approving smile while Jayden and Noah exchanged a look of surprise. Megan played with a strand of her hair, her gaze darting between Sarah and Svala.

Sarah’s face twisted into a grimace. “She already dislikes you, now you’ll never have a chance to become her friend. Why the hell would you do something so stupid?”

”Why on earth would anyone want to be that girl’s friend?” Jen’s voice pitched. ”Did you not just see what happened, what she did?”

”Big deal.” Sarah rolled her eyes. ”It was harmless.”

Jen snorted and shook her head in disbelief. ”The only reason you care is because you think you’ll get to meet Viggo Storm if you become her friend.”

Sarah’s eyes narrowed and her lips tightened telling the others Jen had hit the nail on the head. Jen smirked. “Now, what I’d like to know is why you declined the offer to have lunch with Viggo Storm the other day, Svala.”

They had been over this already. Macy Thomas claimed to have overheard their conversation in the hallway, though at this point several versions circulated the school. Emma told everyone Svala had begged to come along and that Viggo, being such a nice guy, didn’t want to turn her down. In this version, Emma eventually saved the day and told Svala she was out of line for asking, thus saving poor Viggo from an uncomfortable situation.

“That thing has already been blown out of proportion. It’s best if I don’t entertain any more rumors,” Svala said.

Jayden studied her but avoided eye contact.

“Well, did you beg to come along or not?” Sarah asked.

Svala sighed, and met Emma’s gaze at the end of the corridor. The girl offered a nasty smirk before she disappeared around the corner. It hurt to see her grandchild dislike her so.

“Are you deaf? She doesn’t want to talk about it,” Jen snapped.

“Hey,” Sarah said. “I think it’s interesting to know if she did. She keeps pretending she isn’t even interested in him. A good friend would be honest. Unless she has an agenda of her own.”

Svala sighed and opened her locker. People could talk all they wanted. Rumors annoyed her but seldom upset her. What bothered her was her grandchild’s odd behavior. Something wasn’t right. As half Liosálfar, Emma shouldn’t be acting this way. If only she could get to Viggo and find out what he knew.

 

***

 

Trym sat in his study when Svala came home from school that day. She planned to walk past his door with every intention to continue their ongoing charade where both pretended nothing was wrong. As she passed, she caught a glimpse of hi sitting by his desk. She changed her mind about ignoring him, and went into his office.

Engrossed in something on his laptop, Trym didn’t look up when she came into view. She crossed her arms over her chest, leaned against the doorframe. Trym’s office was so organized and tidy she usually stayed out for the fear of knocking something down. He’d been meticulous like that ever since she first met him over a thousand years ago and even more so since Alrik disappeared on them.

She stayed in the doorway and waited for him to notice her but he didn’t look up.

“We need to talk,” she said.

Trym looked up, briefly. He focused back on the screen and lifted a finger. “Just give me a minute, I’ll be right with you.”

Svala sighed, audible. Trym looked up again, eyebrows raised, but returned to his screen, clicked a few times on his mouse and lingered on the screen before he addressed her again. “What’s going on?” he smiled.

A snort escaped her. “Seriously, we’re doing this?”

Trym leaned back in his large leather chair, confusion all over his face. “Doing what?”

“This thing where you pretend everything is normal. Well, it’s not and I won’t do this anymore. I want you to give me my phone. I have to call Viggo.”

Trym’s expression wavered between a frown and a smile. “Excuse me?”

She extended her hand. “Give me the damn phone, Trym. I’m sick of this game. I have to call him and find out what’s going on.”

The black leather squeaked as Trym rose. He circled the desk. Svala waited, her hand still outstretched, but her eyes betrayed her insecurity. He leaned against the massive oak surface and rubbed his chin. “You expect me to give you the phone when you admit you’ll use it to call him?”

“Yes.”

Trym studied her, eyes narrow. “What is this about, Svala?”

She lowered her hand through a sigh. “I have to know what is going on. You won’t tell me anything about what you know, or what you and Viggo talked about in the garden that night. I can’t stand not knowing anything. I’m going out of my mind.”

“Sweetie, I’m only trying to protect you.”

She snorted, and as Trym shifted his feet in silence she prepared to storm out of there and up to her room and slam her door shut. An appropriate teenage reaction to his treatment of her. She was almost out the door when he broke the silence.

“I told him to stop.”

She paused. She hadn’t expected him to answer.

“I told him he’s gambling with the most valuable thing he has, and that nothing could possibly be worth it.”

She met his gaze.

“I told him to stop. Whatever it is he’s doing, before he loses you.”

Trym extended his arm and Svala walked up to him. She accepted his embrace, surprised as Trym wasn’t usually someone who wanted to hug. She wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed her cheek against his familiar chest. Trym rested his chin on the top of her head, one arm around her small frame. He tightened the grip around her as he spoke. “I told him he can’t begin to imagine how much it will hurt to lose you, and that if he misses you now because of three years apart, it’s nothing compared to how much he’ll miss you when he can never get you back.”

Svala’s throat tightened. Trym never talked about losing Alrik and it killed her to think about what she knew about him. Trym eased away and offered a meek smile. “Then I told him I’d hurt him if he ever forced you to go through what I’ve been through.”

“Trym…”

Trym put both arms around her and pulled her in again. It was ridiculous he should have to comfort her under the circumstances.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

He kissed her temple. “Don’t be sorry, be smart.”

She leaned back with a confused frown. He smiled. “You’re the strong one, and you know it. You’ve always been the strong one. You can’t give in to temptation. I know you miss him. Believe me, I know, but you have to fight it. No matter what.”

Her face twisted into a grimace. He was wrong. She wasn’t strong, not like him.

“I would never do anything to hurt you,” Trym said. “I know it’s difficult to understand sometimes, but I’m only trying to do what’s best for you.”

She closed her eyes and thought of everything she hadn’t told him. About Viggo’s suspicion, the envelope, visiting Freja in New York. Meeting Alrik. She couldn’t carry all of it inside of her anymore. “Trym, I need to tell you something.”

Their eyes met. Trym nodded, urging her to continue.

“I went to see Freja when we were in New York for the premiere”

He held her gaze for a few seconds, then offered a firm nod. ”Yeah, I did too.”

That was unexpected.

“Why?” she asked.

He paused and stepped back to lean against the desk. “I wanted to make sure she was okay. I’ve checked up on her over the years. Made sure she was taken care of, financially. I’m sorry I never told you, it’s just…I knew I could look her up without anyone suspecting anything. I knew I was the only one who could.”

“Did you send her the painting?”

A subtle smile surfaced on his face and his gaze grew distant. “Yeah. I found it on a flea market in the late eighties. I couldn’t believe it. I went down to Hampton one weekend, and there it stood, leaned up against a wall. I kept it in storage for years before I sent it to her. I never dreamed…”

Svala reached up and caressed his cheek. “Thank you.”

He met her gaze. “For what?”

“For looking out for her.”

He shook his head. “I’m afraid I might have done more harm than good over the years.”

She thought of the envelope, then the car accident and shook her head. “No. You did everything right.”

His gaze grew distant. “I don’t know. Most of the time I felt so helpless. She never remembered me, and the small glimpses into her life triggered more questions than answers. I could make sure she had enough money to get by, but I couldn’t interfere in her life, or her decisions.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I read too much into what I saw over the years. That incident after the prom was always in the back of my head. I always feared it would influence her relationship with men. I don’t think my impressions were too accurate. Sometimes when you look too hard you end up seeing things that aren’t really there.”

The color drained from Svala’s face. “What did you see?”

He shook his head. “Nothing. Forget I said anything. It’s probably nothing to worry about.”

“Tell me, Trym.”

He lingered again. “Well, there was this one time, during the mid-nineties. She lived in a collective in Brooklyn. This was before she had Emma.” He paused. “I answered to an advertisement for a couch, and she invited me up to look at it. Someone called for her assistance in the kitchen, and she left me alone in the living room. One of the bedroom doors stood ajar and there was a guy in there. He was in bed reading, but the way he flipped the pages of his magazine it looked like he was passing time, waiting for someone to return. I don’t think he saw me, but when the sun came in through the window, I noticed his eyes. He was a Döckálfar.”

Svala covered her mouth with a hand and her stomach dropped. “Was he there for her?”

“I don’t know. There were at least ten people living there, running all over the place. Naturally, my mind went there too, but he could have been there for someone else. She wouldn’t fall for one of them. She was always too honest and pure for that.”

Svala grabbed Trym’s arm as vertigo grabbed her.

“Sweetie, what’s wrong?”

Her heartbeat resonated in her ears. Trym clasped her cheek with one hand, forcing her to focus. “Svala?”

Svala’s lips trembled, and the color drained from her face. “Trym, would it be possible for a Liosálfar and Döckálfar to have a child together?”

 

 

Chapter 30

 

1983

New York

 

The morning after the prom, when Svala and Viggo finally made it out of Svala’s bedroom and into the kitchen, Trym sat by the kitchen table, reading The New York Times. He glanced up and shook his head through a smile. “Sleep well?” he asked, and returned to his paper.

Svala and Viggo shared a smile.

“Yeah, thanks for the sweatpants and T-shirt, Trym.”

“Don’t mention it.” Trym flipped a page, glanced up and smiled again. ”There’s fresh blueberries and everything else you need on the counter.” He nodded to the wooden surface next to them.

Viggo leaned over to study the items lined up in on the counter in a meticulous line. “Perfect.” He clasped Svala’s face between both hands and planted a kiss on her lips and moved over to the counter. “I have improved my recipe this time. Prepare to be dazzled.”

Svala walked over to open the fridge. “You always say that.”

“And I’m always right, am I not?”

She grabbed the carton of milk next to the orange juice and glanced at Trym. He arched his brows to indicate Viggo had a point, and the glimmer in his eyes warmed her heart. It was such a long time since she’d seen him happy. She only wished Alrik could have shared the moment with them. Their pancake tradition the morning after they reunited had included him for so long. It wasn’t the same without him.

Viggo reached for the stainless steel bowl on the counter and nodded toward each item lined up in front of him, as if making sure everything was in place. “You really did consider everything this time, Trym.”

Trym flipped to another page in his paper. “Oh, don’t worry, Vig. I’m sure I forgot something as usual. Then again, I don’t know if it’s entirely my fault, you do keep changing the recipe.”

Svala and Trym shared a restrained smile as Viggo reached for the measuring cup next to the bowl. “I guarantee you these will be the best blueberry pancakes you’ve ever eaten,” he said.

Svala placed her hand on the small of his back and Viggo moved his left arm around her waist, pulling her close. She wrapped both arms around him and leaned her head against his chest, watching him work. He whisked the batter, then cracked one egg open against the edge of the bowl with the use of one hand. She closed her eyes, sighed content, and listened to his steady heartbeat.

While Viggo whisked away, the door bell rang through the apartment. Trym offered to open, leaving them alone in the kitchen. The second he’d disappeared out the door, Viggo offered Svala a wicked smile. He pushed the bowl to the side and she chuckled when he grabbed her waist, lifted her onto the sink and pushed her legs apart so he could position himself between them.

She smiled into the kiss. “Trym will be back any second,” she said.

“I know.” The flour on his hands rubbed off on her face and powdered down on her t-shirt. He pulled her closer and deepened the kiss, cupping her breast outside the soft fabric with another wicked smile. She grinned and answered the kiss with a slow seductive movement.

Trym called out for them in the hallway.

“Ignore him.” Viggo pulled her closer and moved his hands into her hair.

She followed the slow movement of his lips, and even though something registered in the back of her head, Viggo’s lips held her complete attention. She slid a hand under the hem of his T-shirt, and up over his chest.

“Oh my God!”

Freja’s voice made them pause in mid-kiss. She stood in the doorway with one hand clasped over her mouth. When their eyes met, Freja backed up, tears welling her big blue eyes. Trym appeared behind her, shoulder’s slouching, a resigned look on his face. He pressed his lips together and shook his head, as if to indicate he’d tried to warn them.

The first tear rolled down their daughter’s cheek, and her voice came out just above a whisper. “You lied to me.”

“No.” Svala slid down from the sink and approached her.

“How could you? I trusted you.” Her face twisted into a grimace.

“Freja, it’s not what it looks like.” Svala reached for her but Freja took another step back and raised a hand in the air. “Don’t!”

Viggo walked up behind Svala. “Freja, please let us explain.”

Freja’s lower lip quivered when she met his gaze. “Am I that repellent to you that you have to lie about being gay?”

“No.” Viggo walked pass Svala and tried to reach for her too, but she moved away and bumped into Trym as she did. Trym placed a hand on her shoulder, and Freja flinched, as if she’d been burned. He removed his hand, slowly, a worried look on his face.

“Freja?” Trym faced her. ”Did something happen?”

Freja grimaced again, and the tears streamed down her face. Judging from her swollen eyes, she’d been crying already before she came over. Svala and Viggo exchanged a worried gaze.

“Freja, did something happen?” Viggo repeated.

She covered her face in her hands and her silent tears escalated into panicked gasps. Trym placed a gentle hand on her arm. “Freja, you have to tell us?”

She struggled against him at first, then glanced at him through a crack between her fingers and accepted his open arms. She clung to him and sobbed against his shoulder, her body shaking uncontrollably. Trym met Svala’s gaze over Freja’s shoulder with a helpless expression. “Hey, calm down,” he whispered and stroked her hair. “It’s okay.”

Svala approached them and reached out for her daughter. “Freja, tell us what happened?”

Freja’s shoulder’s tensed and Svala retrieved her hand, a painful lump in her throat.

“Freja?” Viggo’s voice broke.

Her strained breathing prevented her from speaking. Trym gently pried her out of his embrace and clasped her face in both hands, forcing her to look at him. “Did someone hurt you?”

She nodded, and closed her eyes tight along with a pained grimace. Svala’s stomach dropped, and the color drained from Viggo’s face. He took a deep, strained breath, as if he needed to gather the strength to ask. “Was it Brian?”

She nodded again, eyes still closed.

Nausea washed over Svala at the implication. She covered her mouth with one hand but couldn’t prevent the tears from surfacing. The muscles in Viggo’s face twitched, his gaze turned hard and distant.

Trym allowed her to seek comfort in his arms again and Freja’s sobbing echoed in the silent kitchen.

“We have to go to the police. You have to report him,” Viggo said.

She shook her head and her sobs subsided into short strained breaths.

“You can’t let him get away with this.”

She shook her head again, determined. “No, it was my own fault.”

What?” Viggo asked. “What are you saying?”

“It was. I told him I wanted to and then, when we were in the backseat of the limo, I changed my mind. I didn’t want to do it there and…” She closed her eyes, and the tears streamed again. “He said I’d already agreed and that I couldn’t back out. He said it wasn’t honest of me to lead him on like that and then take it back, so I went along with it. I didn’t struggle. I can’t report him if I didn’t struggle.”

Viggo’s blue eyes darkened in anger and when Freja opened hers to look at him, she flinched. Svala placed a hand on Viggo’s arm, in an attempt to calm him, and Freja’s swollen eyes narrowed in disgust when her hand fixated on Svala’s hand. She look up and met her mother’s gaze. “It’s your fault,” she said and moved away from Trym.

Svala’s throat tightened.

“You knew he liked me. I’ve seen the looks you’ve given him when he’s been nice to me. You lied and told me he was gay because you didn’t want the competition,” she continued.

“No, Freja, it’s not like that at all.” Svala reached for her again, but Freja snatched back. “Don’t touch me!” she hissed.

“Freja, please, just listen.”

“No! I never want to talk to you for as long as I live. You’re selfish and mean, and I hate you!”

Viggo’s face filled with concern. “Freja, you don’t mean that,” he said.

“I do. I hate her.” She reached for him, grabbed his arm and looked straight into his eyes. “I told her I liked you, and she used that information to sabotage our chances to be together so she could keep you to herself. I know you like me, I feel it. That’s why you told me not to go with Brian last night, isn’t it? If she hadn’t lied to us, you would have taken me to the prom instead of her and none of this would have happened.”

“Freja, it’s not like that. You have it all wrong,” he said.

Her brows drew together. “What do you mean? You don’t like me?”

“Of course I do. You’re the most amazing girl I’ve ever met, but I don’t like you in that way.”

Her eyes welled again. “That doesn’t make any sense. Either you like me or you don’t.” She glanced Svala. “Do you like her that way?”

Viggo remained silent and Svala didn’t know what to say either. Freja stepped back, distancing herself from them both. “How long has this been going on between you? Have the two of you been making fun of me behind my back? Did you lead me on so you could laugh about how stupid I was for thinking you liked me?”

“God, no!” Viggo reached for her again but she backed away.

“Freja, you got it all wrong,” Svala said. “Please stay. Let’s have some breakfast and talk about it. We never meant to hurt you.”

Freja stared at Svala, her face red, her eyes flinty. She pressed her lips together and shook her head. “No. I don’t want to talk to either of you, ever again.”

 

 

Chapter 31

 

Germany

1945

 

The humid air in Viggo’s cell hung heavy in the summer afternoon. He sat on his bunk in a lotus position and flinched as the door to the bunker yanked open, slamming hard against the stone wall. Loke sauntered down the stairs, followed by a soldier and the Döckálfar girl. Viggo got up, but kept his distance. The girl searched his gaze.

Days had gone by since that last time they’d brought her there, when she’d revealed who she really was. She was in even worse shape now with bruises covering most part of her body, her dark hair so matted and dirty she would probably have to shave it off. Her ribs showed where the dress was torn and even her face showed signs of starvations.

They’d cut back on Viggo’s food too. If what they served could even pass as food. Most of the time it there were traces of mold in his dinners, and the meat was usually rotten. Viggo often complemented starving to death, but he didn’t know what would happen to the balance if such actions would be considered as suicide.

Loke walked up to the bars and fished a red handkerchief out of his front suit pocket. He placed it over his nose to filter out the stench. “I’ll make you a deal,” he said.

“What makes you think I’m interested in making a deal with you?” Viggo asked.

Loke held Viggo’s gaze for a full five seconds, still smiling. “It’s not a matter of interest. It’s a matter of choice.”

Viggo frowned. He was pretty sure he didn’t want to know what that meant.

“I’m offering you the opportunity to join us,” Loke said and lowered the handkerchief from his face.

Viggo chortled but as Loke’s smile didn’t waver, his faded. “What? You’re serious?”

“Dead serious.”

Viggo glanced at the girl and her eyes filled with expectation. Her anticipation and Loke’s calm worried him.

“It doesn’t matter. I would never join you.” Viggo stated calm.

Loke studied him and leaned back with a cocky smile and offered a crisp nod. “I must say, Storm, I admire your stubbornness, Storm. I do hope it’s worth it. I hope your cause is worth the sacrifices made in your name.”

“What are you…”

Viggo stopped talking as Loke pulled out his gun, raised it toward the girl and placed the cold barrel against her forehead. Before Viggo had a chance to react, Loke pulled the trigger. It was over in seconds. The bullet went off with a deafening pop and went straight through the girl’s head, between her eyes. The shocked expression stuck to her face as she fell, the scent of gunpowder filled the small space.

A cloud of dust rose and settled around her bruised body when she hit the hard, dirty floor. Her eyes remained open and her hand fell limb over the soldier’s feet. The man stepped aside and kicked her hand away with a bothered grimace. Loke waited for Viggo’s reaction, gun still raised in the air, and Viggo blinked as he fought against revealing his surprise.

“See, that was your choice,” Loke gestured with the gun toward the dead body.

My choice?”

Loke put the gun back in his holster and nodded. “Of course. You had the chance to save her, and you didn’t. You’re the one who let an innocent girl die because you chose to do nothing.”

His comment proved he had no idea the girl revealed to Viggo she was a Döckálfar. She would start her life over somewhere else, hopefully somewhere better. Viggo’s gaze darted from the girl to Loke, not sure how to play this, or what the game was really about. It still didn’t make sense that Loke would kill one of his own.

Loke approached the cell. “You see, Storm, you can’t win. Sooner or later, I’ll break you down, and your choice will be inevitable.”

Viggo remained calm, strengthened by his knowledge. “I don’t see how. You’ve tried everything you can think of and I’m still not the least bit tempted to join you.”

“Tempted?” Loke laughed and shook his head. “Your lot… You really have no idea do you? Don’t worry, though. In time, you’ll see. Because let’s face it, time is all we have.”

 

***

 

Present time

Washington D.C.

 

The spotlight blinded Viggo as the technician adjusted it towards the lavender love seat in the studio. A man rushed up, secured the microphone on Viggo’s shirt and stole a glance at Amanda’s long slender legs before he departed. The network’s attempt to create a cozy home-like atmosphere did nothing to relieve the tension in Viggo’s shoulders. Amanda leaned in closer to him on the love seat and placed a hand on his arm. “Relax, honey. There’s nothing to be nervous about.”

He offered a strained smile. With the microphone on, and the audience seated, he couldn’t speak his mind. Besides, she already knew. He’d been furious when she’d told him about the public announcement of their engagement. She’d argued it was “good for publicity.”

“Besides, if we cancel the interview, they’ll know something isn’t right, and everything we’ve worked for will be ruined,” she’d said.

She was right, but her tactics proved her true nature. He wished he could have called Svala to warn her, tell her why he agreed to do this, and that she had no reason to worry. But even if he could reach her, he couldn’t tell her without risking everything he’d worked for.

The interviewer greeted them before she took her seat. “This is not live, so if you think of something you’d like to share when we’re done, we can add on afterwards.” She smiled and placed a hand on Viggo’s arm. “Try to relax and have fun.”

Amanda reached out to clasp his hand. The oversized diamond on her engagement ring sparkled in the studio light. She’d bought it herself and when Viggo commented on the size, telling her it was unsuitable, she’d smiled and told him ‘size mattered’.

Viggo didn’t say much during the interview. Amanda answered the questions on how they met, making stupid references to the actual events. “Before I met Viggo, it felt like I had been locked up in a cell for centuries.” She met Viggo’s gaze with amusement. “I just died when I saw him.”

The interviewer looked at him. “Was it the same for you? Love at first sight.”

He inhaled, and tried to act comfortable. “Well, we met under special circumstances.”

The woman leaned closer, and urged him to continue. He didn’t know how to elaborate without having to lie, and Svala would be watching this later in the evening. As much as lying would be beneficial to his cause, it would also hurt her.

“Maybe not first sight.” He snickered.

Amanda playfully slapped his arm and grinned. “He’s such a comedian. That’s another thing I love about him. He always makes me laugh.” She grinned but clutched his arm tighter in warning. He forced a smile back, but refused to hold her gaze any longer.

It went on like that. The interviewer asked her questions, Amanda made an effort to make them look like star crossed lovers and Viggo stayed silent through most of the interview. Whenever he did say something, it was to have Svala understand there was no truth in what Amanda said, and Amanda constantly made it sound like what he said was some internal joke between the two of them.

The interviewer glanced at her notes. “You’re very young to get married. One might wonder if there is some other reason urging your decision?”

Amanda crossed her legs and fingered the hem of her skirt. Her eyes flickered over the room with a nervous smile, and her reaction no doubt fed the interviewer’s assumption of a shotgun wedding. Viggo clenched his jaw. “No, there’s no other reason,” he said, his voice flat.

The interviewer searched Amanda’s gaze. She shook her head, then glanced at Viggo, a secret smile forming on her lips. She returned to the interviewer. “No, no other reason,” she said and pressed her lips together, trying to hide another smile.

 

 

After the interview, Viggo and Amanda went to their dressing room. He closed the door behind him and tried to keep his voice down. “What the hell are you doing?”

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

“You know very well what I mean. What was that? You intentionally let her believe you’re pregnant to have them speculate and write about us again. You know Svala will watch this and I’ve told you, I won’t do this if it hurts her.”

She leaned closer to the mirror over the makeup table and removed her earrings. “Well, sometimes you have to hurt people in order to get what you want. You’re focusing on details. I’m only doing what is in the best interest of our assignment.”

He raised his voice, furious over her nonchalance. “How is pretending you’re pregnant in the best interest of our assignment?”

Amanda sighed and faced him. “I know you’re focused on your own agenda, but you know as well as I do you won’t get what you want unless I get what I want first.”

He stared at her. “That doesn’t answer my question.”

A soft knock on the door interrupted their conversation.

“Viggo, can I come in?” It was Emma.

He stared at Amanda, lips tightened, then opened the door. Emma peeked inside. “My dad is here, he wanted to say hi. Is that okay?”

Viggo forced a smile, still furious with Amanda for disrespecting his wishes, but curious about finally meeting the man who fathered his grandchild. He opened the door wider. “Of course.”

A tall blond man stepped into view, and the blood drained from Viggo’s face the second he passed the threshold. Loke’s smug grin met Viggo’s widened eyes with unbridled triumph. Over by the mirror, Amanda drew an unexpected sharp breath. Loke glanced at her with an amused look before he extended his hand to Viggo. “Hi Viggo, I’m Emma’s father. It’s so nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Viggo swallowed hard, unsure how to act. Emma frowned, confused, as Viggo didn’t accept the hand shake. Noting her worry, Viggo lifted his arm and squeezed his former tormentor’s hand, unable to fake a smile or utter a word. An uncomfortable silence lingered.

Loke released Viggo’s hand and turned to Amanda. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. I only wanted to say hi and congratulate you on the engagement.”

Amanda’s smile came out more like a grimace. She glanced at Viggo, her panic shining through her usual calm exterior.

Loke couldn’t contain his enjoyment. “I must say, you two make an excellent couple.”

No one said a word. Emma squirmed, uncomfortable, and Amanda didn’t move an inch. The hatred build inside of Viggo as the pieces fell into place and he had to fight to keep his rage under control.

”I watched the interview,” Loke interrupted the silence. ”Sounds like you’ve been through a lot together. The way you talked made it sound like you’ve known each other for centuries.” He smiled at Amanda, his narrow eyes filled with judgment.

”We haven’t,” she hurried to say, her face ash grey.

Loke nodded, but more as to let her know he didn’t believe her than to confirm that he understood.

Viggo wanted to scream but he couldn’t even speak. It was too much to take in, too much to process. The promise Loke made in that cell had not been a joke and it was worse than Viggo could ever have imagined. While he’d spent the time since they last met trying to find their daughter, his enemy had been two steps ahead of him.

Loke stared straight at Viggo. The man’s confidence and triumphant smile crept in under his skin and rather than subsided, the anger build stronger inside of him. When he imagined Loke with his daughter he tightened his fist at his side and tried to push back his rage before he lost control and acted on his deep resentment.

His phone buzzed on the dresser beside him, interrupting his thoughts. Relieved over the distraction and the chance to get away, he excused himself and went over to check the display. Svala’s number filled the screen and his heart skipped a beat. He quickly clicked to answer. “Viggo.” His voice didn’t hold.

Svala sobbed through a strained breath. “You have to come over,” she said.

Behind him, Amanda stared at Loke as if afraid he’d vanish and reappear somewhere unexpected if she lost sight of him. Viggo glanced at them both. They mustn’t find out who’d called.

“Viggo, are you there?” Svala asked.

“Yeah, hang on for a second.” Viggo lowered the phone and pressed it to his chest. “I have to take this, it’s my agent.”

“Are you leaving?” Amanda’s eyes widened.

Viggo nodded, then headed for the door, the phone still clutched against his chest. “I’ll be right back.”

He pushed past Loke to get into the hallway, and walked further down where they wouldn’t be able to hear him. He lifted the phone to his ear, his hands shaking. “What’s wrong?”

“You have to come over, Vig. I need you.” Svala sobbed.

“Of course. Tell me what happened.”

She breathed rapidly through the tears. “It’s Trym. He’s gone. I don’t know what to do. Please, come. Hurry.”

“I’m on my way.”

 

 

 

Chapter 32

 

Present Time

Washington D.C.

 

 

Before she opened the front door, Svala wiped tears off her face with the back of her hand. Viggo stood outside in the pouring rain, his wet, black T-shirt clinging to his body, water dripping from his hair and chin.

The sky behind him was a blanket of grey, and the open door invited a crisp scent of rain into the house. Their eyes met, and despite her attempts to stifle her emotions, her eyes welled with tears again. Viggo pulled her into his arms, his wet shirt soaking her thin, white blouse.

“Hey, don’t cry,” he whispered and pressed his lips against her hairline. His right hand clutched the back of her neck through her long hair.

Svala clung to him, and allowed the tears to come. He kissed her temple, then hugged her closer. Through a gasp, she wrapped her arms tight around his waist, and buried her face against his wet shirt. “Trym’s gone,” she sobbed.

“What do you mean he’s gone?”

“I came back from school on Tuesday and he wasn’t here. I figured he’d come back, but he never did. I tried to call, but his cell phone is disconnected. It’s been two days now.” She eased back to look at him. “This is not like him, he wouldn’t just leave. Something must have happened. You have to help me find him, Vig.”

“Of course.” He shifted his gaze to the floor, avoiding her gaze.

Svala leaned further away with a frown. “He didn’t join them, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“No, but you’re thinking it.”

Viggo sighed and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. He still didn’t meet her gaze. “Let’s not jump to any conclusions. Have you gone through his things?”

She nodded. “I turned his room and office upside down. I found my cell phone, but other than that only bills and paperwork.”

He nodded. “Okay, why don’t I help you look again.”

A mess of papers spread across the big oak desk and across the entire floor in Trym’s office. Svala’d pulled out all the drawers, and emptied them throughout the room, creating a chaotic mess. Viggo smiled. “Well, let’s hope he won’t come home until we’ve cleaned up this mess.”

Not amused by his comment, Svala stepped into the room and walked over to the desk. She moved some papers around and revealed Trym’s laptop underneath. His brown leather bag hung over the office chair. Viggo’s smile quickly faded when his eyes darted between the two items.

Trym wouldn’t leave without either.

“I can’t find anything in here.” Svala continued to shift papers around on the desk without looking at them. “I don’t understand why he didn’t leave a message.” Her breath quickened, and her tears resurfaced. “He always leaves a message, even if he’s going to the store, but there’s nothing here. Nothing…” A paper slid out of her hand and sailed down onto the desk.

Viggo walked across the room and reached for her. “Honey.”

She shuffled through another pile, her hands trembling. “Why wouldn’t he leave a note? Why would he leave me, Vig? He knows I don’t have anyone else.”

“Hey, sweetie, calm down.” He closed his hand gently around her wrist, preventing her from digging through the mess again.

Svala closed her eyes tight, and her face tensed in frustration. “Where is he?”

Viggo pulled her back into his arms. “I don’t know, honey, but we’ll find him. Try to relax. You won’t find anything if you panic. I won’t leave your side until we know what’s going on.”

With his strong arms wrapped around her body, she inhaled in one deep breath. His scent calmed her. Viggo leaned against the desk behind him and shifted on his feet. He stroke her back and the movement generated an electric jolt that spread straight through her body. Her tears stopped, like turning off a tap, and she became instantly aware of his fingertips brushing against the back of her neck, now causing goose bumps. She moved against him and he froze, his reaction instant.

“Honey?” His voice broke.

Svala eased back to look at him, her lips slightly parted. Viggo paused for two seconds, then gently clutched the left side of her face with one hand and pressed his lips hard against hers. Her salty tears mixed with the taste of his cold, wet lips and she didn’t object when he grabbed her waist to lift her up on the desk.

Papers and books plummeted to the floor around them. Viggo ripped open her damp cotton blouse in one swift movement, and the tiny, white buttons popped out and bounced off the desk onto the papers and books on the floor. She reached for the end of his leather belt and tugged, her kiss growing desperate.

Viggo used his free hand to help her unbuckle the belt, his other hand moving in under her skirt, grabbing her underwear. Svala whimpered against his lips when he tore them off. She tried to pull him closer but he eased away.

“You have to tell me. You have to give me your permission,” he whispered through a heavy breath.

His belt hung heavy to the sides of his jeans. Svala moved forward and nudged his lips gently while she tugged hard on the denim fabric of his pants. The top button came undone. She pulled back, and met his gaze, her lips wet from his kiss. There was no need to tell him anything.

He grabbed her hips and slid her out onto the edge of the desk while she fumbled with the remaining buttons on his jeans. The initial pain when he entered her faded so quickly she hardly registered it at all this time. A haze of built up emotions blurred out everything around them, all she was aware of was him.

Afterwards, they stayed together, breathing heavily. Viggo kissed her lips, softly, and stroked the hair from her face as their breath mixed. “I’m sorry.” He kissed her face, and trailed his lips over her cheeks, up to her temple. “I’m so sorry, honey.”

Her breath caught in her throat. Why would he apologize? Had they not been allowed to? She closed her eyes, but couldn’t make herself push him away. “Oh my God, what have we done?” she gasped.

He paused with his lips pressed against her temple, then eased back to look at her. “What do you mean what have we done?”

She drew a breath and released it. “You’re apologizing. I take it we weren’t allowed to do this.”

Viggo’s frown morphed into a grin. “That’s not why I’m sorry.”

“Then why are you?” Her voice came out more defensive than she intended.

“Because you lost your virginity on Trym’s desk.” He nodded to the mess of papers she sat on.

Svala paused, and when she realized what he meant, she chuckled and leaned her forehead against his chest.

“I believe I made you a promise regarding location after that time in the barn…” He reached up to stroke her hair

She nodded and eased back, recalling a hot summer night back in Sweden, year 1873. “It’s fine. You’re forgiven.” She kissed him though a smile, then leaned back again. ”Are you sure we’re safe?”

“I’m sure.”

She studied him closer, and something unusual caught her eye. The rain dripped from his hair and down into his eyes, leaving black streaks on his cheeks. She reached out to touch his face. “Are you wearing make up?”

He shifted his gaze to the desk and nodded. “Yeah, I had an interview.”

“What kind of interview?”

“Just an interview.” He evaded her gaze.

Svala wrinkled her brow. “What? Did something happen? Is this about Freja?”

He offered a strained smile and shook his head. “No, not at all. Only a promotion thing. It’s nothing you need to worry about right now.” He reached out and caressed her cheek. “Hey, have you been able to sleep at all these past couple of days?”

“Not really.”

“Why don’t you go and rest? I’ll look through these papers, try to clean this place up and make you some dinner. How does that sound?”

She smiled. “Like you’re the kind of guy I could marry.”

 

***

 

Svala awoke to the familiar scent of tomato, sage and basil. She went into the kitchen where Viggo finished doing the dishes while a Bolognese simmered in a pot on the stove.

“How long did I sleep?” she asked.

He turned by the large Gaggenau stove, placed the white dishcloth on the granite counter and studied her through a pleased smile. He’d changed into one of Trym’s sweatpants and T-shirts and in that moment, seeing him there, she remembered their Hampton kitchen and how happy they’d all been back then.

“Almost two hours. How are you feeling?”

“I don’t know.” She ran a hand through her hair, still disoriented by sleep. “Did you find anything?”

He shook his head. “Sorry, still nothing. But we will. Don’t worry.”

She closed her eyes, resigned. He walked up and pulled her close, kissing the top of her head. She wrapped her arms around him and welcomed the security of his arms. His presence always calmed her.

“Will you stay with me?” she asked.

“Of course.” His grip around her tightened and she sensed his relief.

The cell phone buzzed in his pocket, but he let it ring. Svala glanced down. “Aren’t you gonna get that?”

He shook his head, his lips twisting into a tight line. “I’ll turn it off.”

“But what if it’s Freja? Or Alva. Maybe Alva knows something about what happened to Trym.”

The phone stopped buzzing. Viggo reached down to fish it out of his pocket, and Svala caught the information on the display. He had twenty-three missed calls, twenty-two from Amanda and one from Emma. Svala’s heart twisted as Viggo searched his contact list for Alva’s number. Amanda’s name appeared right below, and Svala didn’t want to show him how much it hurt her to see it there. She untangled herself from his embrace. “I’ll be in the other room while you talk to her.”

“Honey, don’t.” He reached for her. “Please, you have nothing to worry about.”

“I know.” She pressed her lips together, attempting a smile.

“Do you?”

She evaded his gaze. “Call Alva. We need to focus on finding Trym. We’ll deal with that later.”

Viggo sighed as she left the kitchen. She went in to the living room where she passed the TV, about to head back into Trym’s office. When she passed the couch, she stopped. According to Alrik, bad things happened in the world when one of them changed sides. If Trym had done the unthinkable, maybe there was something on the news to indicate it.

She sat on the couch and switched on the TV, zapping through the channels to get to the news. Before she reached the News Channel, a studio interview filled the screen. Amanda and Viggo sat close together in a lavender love seats, smiling to the camera. Svala froze with the remote control still aimed toward the TV, her heart dropping.

Amanda clutched Viggo’s arm and leaned against him, her wedding ring sparkling in the studio light. The couple shared a smile, and on the bottom of the screen the rolling text read: Breaking News! Viggo Storm and Amanda Jones Announce their Engagement. Svala lowered the remote control and held her breath.

“Was it the same for you? Love at first sight?” the interviewer asked Viggo.

A secretive smile tugged at Amanda’s lips, as though she and Viggo shared a secret. Viggo placed his hand on top of Amanda’s and offered a smile in return. “Well, we met under special circumstances.”

Svala’s heart dropped into her stomach as Viggo and Amanda cracked private jokes in front of the camera. When Amanda exclaimed that Viggo’s sense of humor made her love him even more, Svala grew nauseous.

“You’re very young to get married. One might wonder if there is some other reason than the fact that you’re much in love?” the interviewer asked.

Amanda crossed her long, slender legs and fingered the hem of her black skirt. Her brown eyes flickered over the room.

“No, there is no other reason,” Viggo said quickly.

“I talked to Alva, she…” Viggo trailed out when he came in to the room.

Svala stared at the screen, unable to look at him. “Maybe you should leave,” she said calmer than she felt.

“No.” He walked up to sit next to her, pointing to the TV. “That is not what it looks like.”

“Is she pregnant?” The words stuck in her throat.

“No.” He reached for her hand but she pulled away. “She’s not pregnant, and I’m not marrying her.”

“But you’re sleeping with her?”

“No. Definitely not. My God, you have to believe me, I would never do that to you. I’m doing this for us.”

For them? She frowned and eased away from him.

“I wish I could tell you, but if I do it will all have been for nothing, and we’re so close now.” He reached out to touch her cheek, but she pulled away. “Honey, please trust me. You’re the only one I want.”

She glanced at the screen where Amanda clutched Viggo’s arm in a tight grip. Viggo took the remote out of Svala’s hand and switched off the TV. Svala closed her eyes and tried to sort through her thoughts. He’d never given her a reason to distrust him before, but this was too much.

“I need to know why you’re doing this. I have to know what’s going on.”

He sighed.

“Please,” she said. ”Why would you ever agree to something like that.” She nodded to the TV.

He grimaced. “I can’t tell you. I want to, but I can’t. You just have to trust me.”

“Why? Give me one reason why I should trust you?”

He leaned back and lingered for a few seconds before he answered. “Because I’ve never lied to you, and if I told you now, I’d put you in danger too.”

 

 

Chapter 33

 

1970

Hampton

 

 

Viggo had drowsed off to the sound of the waves rolling into shore. He startled awake when two cold, wet hands landed on his face. Water dripped onto his cheeks and when he opened his eyes he stared up into his daughter’s smiling face.

”Daddy, I found a really big shell!” Freja said.

He sat, still disoriented from the abrupt awakening. ”Wow, can I see it?”

She reached him the shell with a satisfied smile and awaited his praise.

Viggo studied the shell from every angle, as if it was a rare diamond and he was trying to figure out if it’s worth. Svala kneeled beside him and tried to hide her grin. Freja stared at him, impatient.

”This.” Viggo shook his head, pretending to be in awe. ”This is a magical shell.”

Freja offered her mother a wide grin and her eyes sparkled.

”It is?” She reached for her shell.

”Pure magic.” Viggo returned the shell into her tiny hand.

She studied the shell with a slow disbelieving shake of her head. ”Magic,” she whispered and studied the shell for a while longer before realization hit her. She looked at her parents, handed Viggo the shell again and reached for her blue spade. ”I’m going to look for more.”

When she ran down to the surf, Svala leaned in and studied the shell in Viggo’s hand. ”Magic, huh?”

”Come on.” He smiled. ”She loves it, and she’s going to find out who she is one day anyway. What’s the harm.”

”You know she’s going to stare at that shell for the rest of the week, waiting for the magic to start,” Svala said.

”Then I’ll make it glow and levitate.” He shrugged.

”Vig!” Svala’s eyes widened. She surveyed the beach as if someone was actually listening in on their conversation. ”You can’t do that. We’re not supposed to.”

He moved in closer, running his hand up her leg. ”Why not, I make you glow all the time,” he whispered with a devilish smile.

”That’s different,” she whispered, face flush.” That’s just the two of us.”

He loved that he could still make her blush.

She consulted her watch. “I have to go back to the house and call Trym. I promised Freja she could roast marshmallows after dinner, and I forgot to buy some. I want to catch him before he leaves for the store.”

Viggo nodded, then glanced out toward the surf where Freja sat hunched in her red bathing suit, searching for more magic shells in the sand. “We’ll be with you in a moment,” he said.

Svala leaned in for a kiss, then grabbed the sides of Viggo’s sun glasses, and pulled them down far enough to see his eyes. “Promise me you won’t buy her ice cream as soon as I’ve left.”

He smiled. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You do realize you’re buying her love with sugar, don’t you?”

“What, and you’re not, Mrs. Marshmallows?” He mocked.

She attempted a smirk, but it transformed into a grin. “Come on, Vig, let me be the good one for a change. If you give her ice cream she won’t eat anything tonight, and I’ll have to cut back on the marshmallows I promised her. She already likes you more as it is.”

Viggo placed his hand on Svala’s cheek, smoothed a thumb over her soft skin and shook his head. “Impossible.”

Freja did like him better, but it was just a phase, and mostly because Svala implemented more discipline. Viggo had a tendency to cave. One look from those big blue eyes and their little girl played him like a fiddle.

“Just promise,” Svala insisted.

“I promise.” He leaned in for another kiss, and Svala’s white cotton dress flapped around her body with the next ocean breeze. “No ice cream.” He smiled.

When Svala walked back to their house, Viggo watched their daughter run around in the surf. She collected her shells in a red bucket and studied each finding carefully, before deciding it worthy of her collection. Viggo had promised to help decorate a picture frame he’d already painted purple at her request.

Fifteen minutes later, Freja dug into the pearl-white sand and pulled up a large shell. She washed it in the incoming wave and held it up against the sun, then turned to Viggo with a delighted smile. Viggo gave her a thumbs up, then glanced at his watch. It was time to head back and help Svala prepare for the evening barbecue.

“She’s beautiful, your daughter.”

A tall, dark-haired woman wearing a turquoise bathing suit, a matching sarong and large, round sun glasses stood next to him.

“Excuse me, do I know you?” Viggo got up.

The woman removed her sun glasses. Viggo straightened up and stepped back. It was the Döckálfar girl from the war. “You?” He glanced quickly at Freja who paid no attention to them, then increased the distance between him and the woman. “What do you want?” he asked.

“I just want to talk.”

“I have nothing to say to you.” He gathered Freja’s red plastic bucket along with her other toys and loaded the bag hanging from her stroller.

“Well, I have something to say to you, something important.”

Viggo ignored her. He raised his hand in the air, ready to call on Freja.

“It’s about your daughter.”

He lowered his hand and gazed at the woman. “Excuse me?”

“I thought you might want to know that they’ll take her from you, and if you want to keep her, you might want to listen to what I have to say.”

“Why should I believe anything you have to say?”

The woman shrugged. “It can’t hurt to listen, right?”

Freja studied them from the surf.

“Sweetie, it’s time to go home!” Viggo called out.

Freja gazed out over the ocean, her silky blonde hair dancing around her sun-kissed face.

“I can help you,” the woman said.

“Freja!” Viggo shouted.

Freja grabbed her bucket in a tight grip and ran toward her father, the thick, white sand slowing her down. “Can’t we stay for a little while longer?” She showed him the content in her bucket. “I need more.”

“We’ll come down again tomorrow, sweetie. There is no time to make the frame before dinner anyway.”

Freja glanced at the woman, her eyes sparkling with interest.

“Hi, Freja. I’m Amanda, I’m a friend of your father’s.” Amanda approached Freja, and extended her hand. Freja reached out to accept the hand shake, but Viggo stepped between and grabbed his daughter before their hands met. He swept Freja into his arms, eyes narrow. “Don’t touch my daughter!”

Freja’s arms circled Viggo’s neck and her smile faded. She studied her father, confused. The unexpected reaction must have scared her as he never raised his voice around her. Viggo stroked his daughter’s hair and kissed her cheek. He shouldn’t have lost his temper around her. “Let’s go home to Mom, sweetie.”

Freja nodded, and shifted her gaze to the woman. Viggo moved Freja to one side and grabbed the stroller with his free hand. As he tried to walk away, the stroller stuck in the sand, and he had to lift it up on the wooden path behind the beach. He increased his pace as soon as the stroller moved smoothly over the wooden boards.

Amanda scurried after, her sandals flopping against her heels as she ran to catch up. Her voice turned desperate. “You should listen to what I have to say.”

“I told you, I’m not interested. Now, leave us alone!”

She continued to follow them, and opened her yellow clutch bag while she walked. “Fine, but at least take my card, in case you’ll change your mind. This is where you can reach me.” She handed him a business card.

He kept walking, ignoring her attempts to make him take the card.

“Viggo, I really recommend that we talk. It’s important.”

He stopped, reached out and snatched the card out of her hand. She smiled. He held her gaze as he squeezed the card in his hand, then tossed it to the ground before he walked away.

“Don’t do this, Viggo. You’ll only regret it!” she shouted after him.

Freja rested her head on her father’s shoulder, facing Amanda while he kept walking.

 

 

1979

Miami

 

Viggo knocked his tequila shot back, set it on the counter and nodded to the bartender behind the bar on Oceans Drive. The young woman hesitated, then reached for the bottle on the counter and filled his glass.

“Maybe you should slow down,” she said.

He drained his shot and slammed it back down, nodding for her to fill up again. She held the bottle to her chest and pressed her lips together. “I’ll give you another one, if you tell me why you’re working so hard on tomorrow’s hangover.”

A woman took the seat next to him and searched for Viggo’s attention. He ignored her, glared at the bartender and leaned back on the bar stool. “I don’t see how that is any of your business.”

The bartender shrugged and clutched the bottle tighter against her chest. The woman next to him frowned and turned to the guy sitting on her left. Viggo sighed, realizing his behavior was inappropriate. He ran a hand through his hair. “I had an argument with my wife.”

“About?”

He pointed to his glass. She filled it up. He drank.

“About our daughter.”

The girl smiled and leaned her elbows on the desk. Her thick black braid fell down in her generous cleavage, giving Viggo a much better view than he needed. “You have a daughter? How old is she?”

Viggo clutched the glass, and his gaze grew distant. “Had. I had a daughter. She was killed in a car accident.”

The woman leaned back from the counter, her smile fading. “Oh, I’m sorry.”

He nodded to her bottle. She studied him with evident pity as she refilled his glass. “So, what were you arguing about? You and your wife.”

Viggo drained the glass and closed his eyes to regain his focus. “She thinks it’s for the best if we put it behind us, and move on.”

“And you don’t?”

He shook his head. “I don’t ever want to forget her.”

The bartender nodded, as if she understood. Viggo pushed his glass toward her.

“I think you’ve had enough.” She stashed the bottle under the counter. “Besides, it’s not alcohol you need.”

“Then what do I need?” he asked annoyed.

The girl pulled up her shirt. A tattoo of an angel hovering in the air decorated her lower back. Viggo leaned closer, his vision slightly blurred.

“What? You suggest I pray?” he asked. “No offense, but I don’t think it’ll help me much. Besides, angels don’t have any real power, they just…” He trailed out before he said too much.

She pulled down her sweater and wrinkled her nose. “Not prayer, genius. Get a tattoo. That way you’ll always remember your daughter. I inked this after my grandmother died. She collected figurines of angels. I thought it was fitting, she being up there and all.”

Viggo bit his lower lip. His head spun. The bartender walked over to another customer and Viggo felt a head ache coming on. He sighed, not ready to go back home to Svala yet.

When the bartender returned, Viggo grabbed his wallet on the counter and gave the woman a generous tip before sliding off the chair. He leaned against the bar, nodding to the small of her back. “So, where do I go if I want to get me one of those?”

 

***

 

The tattoo artist placed plastic film against Freja’s name now permanently inked onto Viggo’s shoulder blade. The guy secured the plastic with some tape tight against Viggo’s skin, then ran his hand over his shoulder. “I’m serious man, I’ve never seen such smooth skin in my life.” He added the last tape to the plastic and let his hand linger. “Do you like shower in lotion or something?”

Viggo retrieved his sweater off the chair and pulled it over his head. The guy raised his hands into the air and rose. “Hey, I’m not gay or anything. I’m just curious.”

“How much do I owe you?” Viggo reached for his wallet in his back pocket.

The time it took to ink Freja’s name into his skin killed his buzz and clouded his decision of getting the tattoo. Svala would not approve.

He stumbled out into the humid Miami night and checked the time. It was late, and Svala would be worried. He hated himself for doing this to her, but her suggestion hurt him. How could she suggest they put Freja behind them? She was the best thing that ever happened to them. He didn’t care how much it hurt to think about her, he never wanted to forget about her.

“That will never come off, you know.”

The darkness shielded the woman’s face, but Viggo recognized her voice instantly. Without a word, he walked the other direction, and Amanda’s high heels clattered against the pavement as she followed him. “I warned you this would happen, I said you would lose her but you wouldn’t listen.”

Viggo stopped. He glared at her. Her long dark hair was pulled back in a high pony tail; she wore heavy make-up and the tight, short outfit made her look like a prostitute.

“That only suggests you had something to do with it, so leave me the hell alone. I want nothing to do with your kind.”

“I had nothing to do with it. My kind, yes, but not me personally. In fact, I tried to stop it.”

“What do you mean?”

She narrowed the distance between them and Viggo stepped back.

“I want to tell you, but I need something in return,” she said.

Viggo snorted. “Forget it.” He resumed walking.

Amanda followed. “How do you know you won’t want it, if you don’t hear me out?”

“I just do.”

She came up by his side even though her nine inch heels made it difficult for her to keep up with him. “You know that man, the one who kept you imprisoned, the one who shot me. He’s the one behind it.”

Viggo ignored her and kept walking.

“He’s using your daughter to get to you, don’t you see that? Freja was your strongest link. After the war, your High Council needed something to make sure you wouldn’t change sides, so they gave you a child. We can’t separate a couple with a child, it’s not allowed. But Loke found a way to use it against you, he gained enough power to control the shifts and he knew you would break their laws in your attempt to find her. Now all bets are off and you’re at risk. You have to listen to me.”

“You’re lying.”

“How can you say that? I was right about them taking her, wasn’t I? Why wouldn’t I be right about this?”

“Because we’re the only ones who ever had a child. How can there be a law for something that doesn’t exist?”

Amanda slowed down. “Is that what they’ve told you?”

Viggo stopped. “No, that is the truth.”

“How do you know?”

“Because they told us.”

“So you don’t know,” she said.

Viggo’s head throbbed, he wasn’t up for this. He refused to be pulled into their lies. “Leave me alone. I want nothing to do with you.” He resumed walking again.

Amanda stayed in her spot and waited for a while before she spoke. “Your daughter is still alive. I can show you, but you have to give me something in return.”

Viggo paused at first, but changed his mind and kept walking. Attractive lies would not fool him.

 

 

Chapter 34

 

Present Time

Washington D.C.

 

Svala reached over to the nightstand to kill her alarm. Viggo grunted, half-awake, and pulled her closer.

“Stay,” he whispered.

“I can’t. I have school.”

He kissed her neck. “You don’t have to go.”

Despite their argument the evening before, they’d made love several times during the night. She had no power to resist him, and with Trym gone, she needed the comfort of his presence. More than that she needed to claim him, a part of her she wasn’t proud of. The jealousy over Amanda consumed her and darkened her thoughts.

“Yeah, I do.” The white covers rustled as she struggled against his embrace.

He tightened his grip and locked her against him. “Don’t.” His breath brushed against her skin. “Please stay. I can’t stand it when you’re upset with me.”

Svala closed her eyes. “Viggo, please. Let me go.”

His grip around her tightened. He buried his face in the nape of her neck. “Why don’t you trust me?”

She frowned. “Because you’re keeping things from me, and because you’re engaged to another woman.”

He exhaled, and pressed his lips against her shoulder. “Why do you have to make this so difficult?”

I’m making things difficult?” She pushed him away.

He reached for her. “Honey…”

“Don’t!” she warned and swung her feet over the bed. “I’m sorry Viggo, but if you intend to stay engaged to that woman, I don’t want you here. You might as well leave. I’ll search for Trym on my own.” She grabbed her pink robe from the armchair next to her, wrapped it around her with force, and walked out.

When she reached the kitchen, she heard him trotting down the stairs. He came up from behind her, but she ignored him and grabbed the kettle on the counter next to the sink. He kept his distance.

“I thought we were fine,” he said.

Svala turned on the tap full force, her back to him. The jealousy still built inside of her, like a darkness she could neither control nor contain.

“Come on.” He walked up and placed his hand on her shoulder. “I’m doing this for us.”

She moved away and turned off the tap. “I’m sorry if I have a hard time buying into that. Besides, I can’t deal with this right now. I have to focus on finding Trym, and you’re not helping.”

“Then tell me what to do.”

She faced him. “OK, I’ll tell you what to do. Either tell me what’s going on, or leave. It’s one or the other.”

Viggo ran a hand through his hair. “I can’t do that.”

“Which part?”

“Either part.” He stepped closer and pried the kettle out of her hand, placed it on the counter and grabbed her waist.

His lips melted her defenses, and her body responded to him against her better judgment. She kissed him back at first, then gathered herself, and pulled away. She placed her right hand on his chest. “No, Viggo! I can’t be with you until you tell me what’s going on.”

He tilted his forehead against her shoulder, tightening his grip of her waist. “Don’t you think I would tell you if I could?”

She didn’t hug him back, and her arms hung limp at her sides. “It’s not a difficult decision, Vig. You either tell me or you leave.”

“I can’t leave you, Svala,” he whispered, and the trace of desperation in his voice made her waver for a moment. “I can’t stand being away from you.”

“So tell me.”

He sighed in frustration. “Honey, please. I need you to trust me on this.”

She pushed him away. “Trust is not given, Vig, it’s earned, and if you can’t explain to me why you’re engaged to another woman, I can’t trust you.”

 

***

 

She arrived at school late and in a terrible mood, trying her best to hide it. She’d told Viggo she wanted him gone when she came home. He wouldn’t disrespect her by staying, unless he was ready to tell her, and the numerous text messages offered no such promise. Only apologies as to why he couldn’t, and pleas for her to reconsider and let him stay.

She managed to keep her emotions bottled up during the morning, but during lunch, Jen challenged her patience.

“So, Sarah, did you watch the interview with Viggo and Amanda yesterday?” Jen glanced at Svala, as if they’d planned this conversation together.

Sarah pursed her lips together and refused to meet Jen’s gaze.

“It was so romantic, wasn’t it?” Jen said. “Love at first sight. Don’t you think that’s romantic, Svala?”

Svala shrugged and bit her tongue so hard she almost drew blood.

Even Emma appeared displeased today. She sat at the end of the cafeteria with her friends, poking around in her food with a pout. When she caught Svala looking, she offered a nasty smirk. Svala held her gaze, calm but sad, hoping it would make Emma understand she wanted to be her friend. Her attempt only appeared to annoy Emma further as the young girl narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest.

“I think she is pregnant. Can you imagine what a beautiful child the two of them would have?” Jen continued to pester Sarah, and by default, Svala.

Svala’s phone buzzed in her pocket. Probably another text message text from Viggo. She ignored it.

“I thought Viggo looked uncomfortable,” Sarah said. “It’s not going to happen.”

“Who cares.” Jayden tossed his napkin over his plate. “Noah, let’s get out of here. I’m confident if I hear another word about Viggo Storm, I’ll shoot myself.” He glanced at Svala as he stood.

Noah rose and grabbed his tray. Jen smiled at her boyfriend, but he ignored her and followed Jayden out of the cafeteria. When the boys had left, Jen gawked at Svala. “What’s wrong with you today? You’re all moody.”

“Nothing’s wrong. I’m just tired.” She couldn’t keep the annoyance out of her voice.

Jen leaned over the table. “Don’t look now, but little Miss Storm is eye-balling you.”

“I know.” Svala pushed away her tray with a quick glance Emma’s way. She hadn’t touched her food.

“I guess that means we won’t be invited to her party. What a pity.” Jen smirked.

“Party?” Sarah’s voice pitched. “What party?”

“Oh, just a party,” Jen said. “I overheard her talking before. Apparently, her father’s rich, he’s throwing her a Sweet Sixteen party in two months.”

“Her father?” Svala asked.

“Yeah, that’s what she said. Strange, I thought they were poor. Didn’t Viggo like buy them a house because they couldn’t afford one?”

“Yeah.” Sarah glanced at Emma, her mouth slightly open. “He did.”

Her father is rich. The Döckálfar are generally wealthy… No. Not Freja, she couldn’t have been that gullible. She was always much too pure for them.

“Looks like Freja’s quite the gold digger,” Jen said, and the condescending tone in her voice made Svala snap.

“You don’t know that! You don’t know what happened between them. Maybe he’s an idiot. Maybe he cheated on her. Or maybe he hurt her. Maybe he hurt Emma and that’s why she’s acting the way she does. There is probably an explanation for it all. You don’t know anything so stop making things up!”

Jen, Sarah and Megan gaped at Svala. Jen closed her mouth, and her brows furrowed. “Yeah… maybe… Seriously, what’s wrong, Svala? Is this about that guy again?”

“What guy?” Sarah made a face, as if she had the right to know.

“No one.” Jen waved her hand at her and leaned over the table, lowering her voice. “You need to talk to Trym. I’m sure if you told him, he’d understand and let you see him. You obviously care more than you let on. You’re not yourself. And you have to eat.” She nodded to the untouched bowl of tomato soup in front of Svala. “This isn’t like you.”

Svala bit her tongue again so she wouldn’t point out how neither of them knew what she was like at all. How much their meaningless bickering bored her, and how they had no idea what she was going through. The jealousy from last night still lingered inside her, and made room for a darkness to grow. The unfamiliar feeling scared her. Liosálfar were not allowed to set their personal feelings ahead of anything else, and they certainly shouldn’t be thinking about physically hurting mortals.

“Svala?” Jen reached out to touch her hand.

Svala closed her eyes in an attempt to calm herself, but it was too much all at once. The pressure built inside her and she couldn’t control her emotions. At the same time as the lukewarm content splattered all over her face, screams erupted throughout the cafeteria. She flung her eyes open, and her friends stared back at her with shocked expressions, tomato soup dripping from their hair and faces. A red blob of soup dripped from her own hair down to her jeans. She reached up and felt her face and her fingers were smudged with red soup. The entire cafeteria had silenced, and Svala slowly looked around. All over, people’s lunches had exploded and splattered onto their faces.

At the end of the cafeteria, Emma stared at Svala, tomato soup dripping from her blonde strands down to her white tank top. She continued staring at Svala, as if she realized she’d been the cause of it all and knew what she was.

 

 

Chapter 35

 

 

The glossy magazine hit the kitchen table with a slap. Amanda jerked at the unexpected action, her eyes darting to the magazine cover. When her eyes landed on the romantic cover of her and Viggo her expression calmed. She took a sip from her coffee. “Where were you tonight?” she asked calm.

Viggo pointed to the magazine headline Amanda Jones and Viggo Storm Expecting? His eyes met hers, hard and cold. “We need to sort this out.”

“Oh, relax, honey.” Amanda placed her cup next to the magazine and studied the flattering studio image of the two of them in a warm embrace. “They just need something to write about.”

Viggo leaned closer until his face was inches from hers. “What the hell are you up to?”

Amanda’s smile didn’t waver. She glanced at the magazine, then at Viggo. “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”

“Which is what exactly?” He tried to read her, but as usual, she gave him nothing.

She stood, walked past him to get to the counter, and took her time refilling her coffee. Viggo waited, his stomach tightening. Moments like this he didn’t doubt his decision. He was confident he’d made the wrong one.

She stared out the window. “If they believe we’re expecting a child, they’ll have no choice.”

The comment did nothing to soothe him. Amanda faced him, her calm smile adding to his concern. “I told you this already, a child binds you together. They couldn’t separate you and Svala while you had Freja. They couldn’t separate you while you were apart from her either. Not until she chose to disconnect herself from you.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying, if they believe we’re expecting a child, they can’t keep me from switching to your side. It’ll be enough to show our love is true, and they’ll have no right to keep us apart. A child is proof of that.”

“Don’t they’d need proof that you’re actually pregnant?”

“Not if you confirm it.” She held his gaze. “But you’d have to lie to the High Council as well.”

“No. Never.”

“Come on, Vig. Think about it, don’t be selfish. If we succeed, if I’m able to switch over to your side, it would change everything. No one has ever done that before. It would restore the balance, maybe even change it for the better. And don’t forget, you’ll get whatever you want, whatever that is. Don’t be stupid. This is what we’ve worked for, and we’re so close.”

 

***

 

1999

New York

 

“Mr. Storm, Mrs. Storm, how nice to meet you again.” Senator Marsh crossed the spacious hallway in the 5th Avenue apartment, to get to them. He shook Viggo’s hand with a firm grip and offered Svala a light hug. Viggo snuck one arm around his wife’s waist, placing his hand gently on her hip. “Thanks for inviting us, senator.”

“Of course, it’s my pleasure.” The older man rubbed his white beard and leaned in with a mischievous smile. “To be perfectly honest, Mr. Storm, my wife insisted I should. She’s followed your career for a long time. I’m afraid she’s become quite the admirer. I hope there’s no need for me to worry.” He chuckled.

Viggo smiled and tightened his grip around Svala. The place was crowded with important people, all there to support the campaign. No one was invited by chance.

The senator scanned the room, glancing past women in expensive designer dresses and their husbands all wearing tailor-made tuxedos. “She should be around here somewhere. I promised to introduce you. Would you mind waiting while I go and find her?” the senator asked, and before Svala and Viggo had the chance to answer, he’d disappeared into the crowd.

“I’ve told you. You should talk more to the wives. The wives always like you,” Svala said.

“I know, I just don’t like it ever since…” He grimaced.

“Oh, come on, Vig. One woman gave you an inappropriate suggestion. You have to let it go.”

“How can you say that? She nearly ruined my career with her accusations. Trust me, I’m well aware of the power these women have, and they’re not used to people saying no.”

She sighed. “Well, you shouldn’t judge all of these women because of one person’s actions. Besides, I doubt the senator’s wife is anything like that. You should ask her to dance. Charm her.” She winked.

He leaned in for a kiss, letting his lips linger as he spoke. “I’ll dance with her, but I’m saving my charm for you.”

Svala caressed his cheek during their brief kiss. His eyes ran down her black strapless cocktail dress. Her long blonde hair gathered into a smooth knot on her head, exposing her slender neck. She was stunning.

“Thank you for waiting.” The senator returned with a woman by his side.

The woman, difficult to miss in her tight, navy-blue evening gown and contrasting long, copper-red hair, flashed them a smile. At first, Viggo didn’t react, then he met her gaze. He stared at her, and his smile faded. She might have colored her hair and put on green contacts, but he recognized that face.

“Let me introduce you to my wife, Amanda. Amanda, this is Viggo Storm and his lovely wife, Svala.”

Amanda extended her hand. Viggo accepted the hand shake and forced a smile. “Pleasure.”

She scrutinized Svala from head to toe. Viggo tensed, worried what she might say. Svala offered Amanda her hand in greeting, and Amanda glanced quickly at Viggo, a subtle smile on her red lips.

“Nice to meet you, Mrs. March,” Svala said.

“Oh, the pleasure is all mine.” Amanda glanced at Viggo again, a glimmer in her eyes. “I’ve looked forward to meeting you for some time. I’ve heard a lot about both of you, and I have so many questions.”

Viggo clutched Svala’s hip so hard she frowned. He faked another smile and loosened his grip.

“Would you mind terribly if I borrowed your husband for a while?” Amanda asked.

“No, of course not.” Svala placed one hand on Viggo’s chest and offered him an encouraging nod before returning to Amanda. “He’s all yours.”

 

 

Viggo and Amanda walked to the mahogany bar at the end of the room where Amanda waved for the bartender to get them two dry martinis. She smirked. “I’d ask you if you were allowed to drink, but I figured after the last time we met in Miami, there are no such restrictions for your lot.”

Viggo glared at her. “What will it take for you to understand I have no interest in talking to you?”

She ignored his comment. Her gaze fell on Svala and the senator, both engaged in a conversation by the balcony. “Your wife is beautiful.” Her expression turned playful. “I wonder though, how’s the sex? I imagine it gets pretty boring after a thousand years with the same person.”

Viggo’s jaw clenched. “Say what you came to say so I can leave.”

The bartender placed two dry martinis on the counter. Amanda handed Viggo one and took a silent sip from the other while scanning the room.

“I find it interesting that everything I told you came true, and yet, you’re not the least bit interested to know what else I have to say.”

He shrugged. “For all I know, you’re behind it all.”

She placed her drink on the bar and studied him with interest. “Okay, I’m going to get right to the point this time. I want to make a deal with you.”

“Not interested.” He placed his drink on the bar, ready to leave.

She latched onto his arm, her grip firm but discreet. “Hear me out.”

Viggo tensed, but didn’t struggle against her. She released him. He leaned against the bar and Amanda traced the foot of her glass with her fingertips, taking her time before she spoke. “I want to make a deal with you that will benefit us both. I’ll get something I’ve wanted for a while, and if you agree to my terms, and we succeed, you get one wish. Anything you want in the whole world.”

Viggo’s eyes narrowed in doubt. “Granted by who?”

“Your High Council.”

He scoffed. “They don’t grant wishes. It doesn’t work like that.”

“Of course it does. You just have to find the right incentive.”

“Which is?”

“To get one of us to change over to your side.”

He studied her to see if she was joking, but her eyes never wavered. He edged closer and lowered his voice. “From what I understand, that is impossible.”

“It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible.”

“What would be required?”

Amanda glanced around the room, before she continued. “We would have to convince my side of our love. If one of us falls in love with one of you, and those feelings are answered…”

Viggo lifted his hand to interrupt her. “Wait a minute. I don’t want you to join us, I want Alrik back.”

“Well, then that could be your wish. Or if you wanted your daughter back. It’s your choice.”

A snort escaped him. “Forget it. I’m not pretending to be in love with you for anything. I’m not buying this.” He prepared to leave again.

“Your wish could also be to be with your wife without interruptions.”

His hand lingered on the martini glass as he met her steady green eyes. She didn’t flinch. Instead, she stepped closer, looked around them, and dropped her voice. “As I said, if we succeed, your wish can be anything you want.”

He held her gaze. “I don’t trust you.”

“You don’t have to trust me. They’ll tell you. I’ve already been in contact with them. Everything is set up. They know as well as I do, if they manage to get one of us over to your side, the balance will be restored. Our side won’t be able to control the shifts anymore. They’re waiting for you to accept the offer. But it has to be your choice. No one can force you. That’s why they’re willing to offer the generous incentive.”

Svala and the senator floated across the dance floor in a waltz. When Viggo met Svala’s gaze, she nodded to him over the senator’s shoulder, urging him to ask Amanda to dance. He ignored her request. “Okay, so let’s say you’re telling the truth. Why would you want to switch sides in the first place? You’ve made it perfectly clear you don’t approve of our ways.”

Her voice dropped and her cheeks flushed. “You saw how they treated me. My kind have no respect for me. I’m willing to accept some minor boredom for the promise of safety.”

Viggo motioned toward the fancy ball room. “You seem to be doing fine now.”

She eyed the senator, lips pressed together. “Yeah, seems like it, doesn’t it?”

Viggo followed her gaze and nodded slowly. “Of course. You’re using the senator for personal gain. Why am I not surprised?”

“It’s not my choice. I either do as they say, or suffer the consequences. You know very well what that means. I can’t live under those circumstances. Regardless of what you may think, I don’t enjoy using people.”

Her green eyes remained steady and no matter how much he tried to read her, he couldn’t discern any dishonesty in what she told him.

“I still don’t trust you. And The High Council would never consider letting you be a part of our community. You won’t fit in. You can’t be trusted.”

Her calm expression changed. She pursed her lips together, shifted her gaze to the floor and forced a smile. Her eyes betrayed her. His comment hurt her, and for the first time during their conversation, he was intrigued.

She leaned closer, and her eyes flickered over the room as if worried someone would overhear. “That’s the thing. This wouldn’t be possible with just any of us. But I’m not just one of them, I’m only half Döckálfar. My father was Liosálfar.”

 

 

Chapter 36

 

Present Time

Washington D.C.

 

Two weeks after the incident in the cafeteria, Svala sat in the school library searching for information from World War II. With her limited knowledge of Viggo’s whereabouts during the war, she doubted she’d find anything of value, but she had to do something. She was certain what happened to Viggo during the war was connected to their current situation and hoped it could explain what happened with Freja, why Alrik changed sides and why Trym disappeared.

Aside from the occasional Döckálfar appearing in pictures wearing SS uniforms, she found nothing that could pin the Döckálfar to any of these occurrences. Their involvement in the war was obvious. The Döckálfar made such good Nazis, praying on people’s fears, completely focused on preserving their race. She sighed and closed her eyes. This was no good. She needed more to go on. Maybe she’d missed something? If she could only find somewhere to start, remember something she had overlooked.

 

 

****

 

1942

New York

 

“Do you want coffee?” Trym asked.

Svala shook her head and squeezed the white napkin on the large oak table in Trym and Alrik’s apartment. Her gaze darted between the two men, and panic entered her voice. “We have to go and find him. It’s been five months and we haven’t heard anything. I know he’s alive, otherwise we wouldn’t still be here. We would have started over.”

Trym and Alrik exchanged a look, as if they’d anticipated her request, and talked about how to handle the situation.

“It’s too dangerous. Besides, where would we start looking?” Trym asked. “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.”

The snow fell silent over the white covered streets outside the window. The winter had only started and it was already colder than normal. Svala stared at Trym, her eyes welling with tears. “What else am I going to do?”

 

 

Berlin

 

The next day, Svala, Trym, Alrik and Alva traveled to Europe. When they arrived in Berlin, they immediately spotted the first Döckálfar, a German soldier of high rank. He ordered a group of people into the back of a van.

“It’s not safe for us here.” Alva adjusted the grey scarf around Svala’s head to cover her up.

“No.” Alrik pulled down Svala’s scarf in one swift movement. “That makes it look like you’re hiding something. If anything, your appearance is what keeps you safe. We only need to stay away from them.” He nodded to the soldier disappearing into the passenger seat further down the crowded street.

When they reached Belle-Alliance-Platz, Alrik and Alva surveyed the area while Trym placed his hand on the back of the Berolina Statue. He closed his eyes and concentrated until the area around his hand glowed in gold and a door appeared on the smooth surface. The construction work equipment around the statue offered some cover as they opened the door and stepped straight into an elevator.

Several feet down, the elevator doors opened to a large, empty, waiting room. It looked like a long corridor with four doors on either side. The black and white tiled floor resembled a chess board and the walls, covered in walnut panel, melted in with the doors. A large clock with numerals hung at the end of the room.

Alrik’s footsteps echoed when he walked across the room, up to the only furniture in sight, a massive oak desk positioned in the far end of the room.

“Where could they be?” Svala’s voice bounced off the walls.

The second door to their right squeaked half open and they all flinched. A tall blond man in his forties appeared in the crack. At the sight of them, the initial tension left his face and he opened the door wider. “Trym, Alva, Svala.” He smiled with relief. “By Thor, am I glad to see you.” He walked out to the room and noticed Alrik by the desk. “Alrik.” His smile morphed into a pleased grin as he walked up and offered Alrik a hug. “How are you my old friend?”

“Fine. I’m fine, thanks.” Alrik eased away and glanced around the empty room. “What’s going on, Karl? Where is everybody?”

Karl ran a hand through his thick hair and sighed. His eyes flickered over the large, empty, room. “Yeah, it’s been crazy for a while. Everyone is out trying to reduce as much damage as possible. I’m so glad they sent you. We can really use your help.”

Alrik and Trym exchanged a worried look, and Trym slowly approached them, his voice hesitant. “We weren’t sent by The High Council, Karl.”

“Oh.” A line formed between the man’s eyebrows. “So you’re volunteering?”

Alrik shook his head. “No, not really. We came searching for Viggo. They sent him to represent us in the war, and we haven’t heard from him in months.”

“I see.” Karl’s shoulders dropped, and disappointment clouded his blue eyes.

“But hey, if you need help, we’ll stay. I don’t understand why the High Council didn’t suggest it already.” Trym glanced at Alrik, who offered a subtle, approving nod in return.

“I guess they’re nervous about sending too many of us here with all the Döckálfar involved. Something’s not right. We’re getting reports from all over, it’s absolute chaos. We’re trying to figure out how they managed to influence things so successfully.” Karl’s gaze darted to Svala, as if he’d said too much in front of her. “But never mind that.” He reached his hand toward her. “Why don’t we step into my office and see if we can find out what happened to Viggo shall we?”

Inside the large, dark office, Karl walked over to his desk. He sat and gestured to a side table by the door, filled with water and fresh fruit. “Please, help yourselves while I search for what I have on Viggo. Do you know where he was stationed last?”

“He was originally stationed in France.” Svala walked up to the desk, her heart pounding in her chest. “Last I heard, he headed toward Germany though. That was five months ago.”

Karl offered a reassuring smile but the worried line across his forehead had returned. He reached for a thick leather-bound book on the left side of the desk. “I take it you already tried the High Council?”

“Yes, but they can’t sense him,” Trym said.

“Yes, we’ve had a lot of that going around.” Karl opened his book. “That’s why we try to keep track of our people manually. I’m sure we’ll be able to find him. We have a great system worked out.”

Svala held her breath while Karl flipped through the thick, hand written pages, trailing his finger down the side of each page. Alrik walked up to stand by Svala’s side, reaching for her hand. Trym and Alva kept to the background.

“Looks like he made it across the border.” Karl said mostly too himself and flipped another page. After turning five more pages without any further information to report, he pressed his lips together and flipped back, tracing his finger much slower up and down the pages. “I’m sorry, that’s the last information I can find on him.”

“What does that mean?” Svala stepped forward.

Her hand slid out of Alrik’s and he gently reached out and placed his hand on her tense shoulder instead.

“It can mean a number of things, but my guess is he’s been captured. If he died, you would have started over.”

Desperation took over. “So, if I walk out on the street, and get myself shot…”

“Svala!” Trym raised his voice.

Embarrassed over speaking such thoughts out loud, Svala glanced down at her hands. Alrik squeezed her shoulder, getting her attention. “We’ll find him,” he assured and turned to Trym, offering a nod, as if asking him to let her outburst slide.

Karl closed his book and rose. He circled the desk, walked up to Svala and stroked her arm in a comforting gesture. “I understand your frustration, Svala, and I know you would never do that. So I’ll forget you said it, okay?” He nodded at Trym, as if this was a personal favor.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” She couldn’t meet his gaze.

“I know. I understand, but no matter how hard it gets, you have to remember that suicide will only result in more pain, and not only for you. You can’t run away from the things that need to happen. It will happen whether you want them to or not.”

She nodded, but stared down at the cold tiles.

Karl motioned with his hands around the room. “As you can see we’re severely understaffed, but we’ll do what we can to help you. As always. It’s more important now than ever that we continue as usual.”

The elevator doors signaled and opened outside in the waiting room. High heels clattered against the tiles and closed in on them. When the door to Karl’s office opened, a blonde woman in her mid-twenties came inside. She wore a nurse uniform with a matching hat and her pinched expression was replaced with a smile when she met Svala’s gaze across the room. “Oh my God! Svala! What a wonderful surprise.” She briskly walked up and embraced Svala. “It’s good to see you. It’s been so long.”

“It’s good to see you too, Ingrid.” Svala’s attempted cheerfulness failed. Ingrid stepped back and clasped Svala’s hand. “How are things?”

“It’s been better.” Svala forced a smile.

Ingrid nodded a respectful greeting to the older Liosálfar in Svala’s company before returning her attention to Svala. “Where’s Viggo? I thought you were stationed in the U.S. Haven’t you reunited yet?”

“He was called in.”

Ingrid squeezed her hand with a reassuring smile but didn’t meet Svala’s gaze. “I’m sure he’s fine.”

The following moment of silence unsettled Svala. Ingrid released her hand and glanced at Karl. Karl cleared his throat and avoided her gaze, consulting his watch. “Why don’t you girls go out and have a cup of coffee? Catch up. Give us a chance to sort out the details of your transferee.”

 

 

***

 

Ingrid and Svala found a small coffee shop down the street. The room was sparsely decorated with only a few tables and a register covering almost en entire wall. Ingrid surveyed the facility then walked up to the man behind the counter and ordered them each a cup of coffee. As Svala watched her sort out the payment, she realized she would have to brush up on her German if she wanted to find Viggo.

Svala gazed out into the street and frowned at her first sip of coffee. “I’d forgotten the German coffee is as weak as American.”

“Yeah, it doesn’t help that everything is rationed either. Like we’re back a hundred years in time.” Ingrid placed the white porcelain cup on the wobbly round table. “When did you hear from Viggo last?”

“Five months ago. What about Haldur?”

“Last week.”

Svala smiled. “That’s good. Where is he stationed?”

“France.” Ingrid studied her with concern. “I’m sure Viggo is all right. Sometimes they can’t get to a post office for months. I’m sure you’ll hear from him soon.”

Two women came into the establishment. Ingrid studied them carefully, then offered Svala a subtle head shake, signaling they posed no danger. She leaned in and placed her hand on Svala’s arm. “Don’t worry. I’m sure he’s fine.”

“Yeah, I don’t know. I have this bad feeling. I know it’s ridiculous, but it’s almost as if I can sense what he’s going through.”

Ingrid leaned back with a frown. “What do you mean?”

Svala’s gaze grew distant. “I don’t know. I’m probably imagining, it’s just…” Svala scanned the place, then leaned in and dropped her voice above a whisper. “Have you ever sensed Haldur. I mean, what he’s going through.”

Ingrid shook her head slowly. “No. What do you mean?”

She hesitated, then leaned closer. “It happened once about two hundred years ago. I woke to the sensation of water on my skin even though I was in my bed, completely dry. After a while, it felt like the water filled my lungs, and I couldn’t breathe. Then, the next thing I knew, we started over, I ended up somewhere else, fourteen years old. When we reunited, Viggo told me he’d drowned that night. He’d been held under water by a group of men who ambushed him and stole his money.”

Ingrid’s complexion turned paler than usual. “And what are you sensing now?”

Svala fingered her cup and stared at the table. “I awake in the middle of the night with excruciating pain, like someone branded me with burning metal. Or I’m cold, freezing, and no matter how many blankets I put on I can’t get warm. Sometimes, I wake up, choking, like I’ve been held under water…” She closed her eyes. She’d never told anyone about this before, and saying it out loud made her stomach turn. She understood what it meant.

Ingrid’s eyes widened before she composed herself and smiled. She brushed her hands over her skirt, as if removing crumbs of bread even though they hadn’t eaten anything. “You’re imagining it. I’m sure he’s fine.” She avoided Svala’s searching gaze. ”You’re just worried. Our minds play trick on us when we’re worried.”

The two women who came in earlier took a seat several tables away, and the man behind the counter disappeared to the back room. Ingrid looked out the window, her stare vacant.

“You know something about this. I can tell,” Svala said.

Ingrid feigned confusion. “About Viggo? Don’t you think I would tell you if I did?”

“Not about Viggo, but about what’s going on. Karl said the Döckálfar are involved, that they’re up to something. You know what it is, don’t you?”

Ingrid bit her lower lip and surveyed the place before she leaned in, dropping her voice. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but Karl suspects the Döckálfar are trying to convert our kind. That they’re trying to gain more power. I don’t see how though.”

“Can they do that?” Svala asked.

“We don’t know. It’s only speculation, and I’m not supposed to talk about it. Please don’t repeat this to Trym. You know how he is when it comes to rules and regulations. Karl is not supposed to discuss it with me at all. And I shouldn’t be repeating it. We don’t know anything yet and speculations causes more harm than good.”

“But you think Viggo might have converted? That’s why things haven’t changed?”

“No. Not Viggo. Not in a million years. He loves you too much, Svala. You must never doubt that.”

 

***

 

Svala spent the next fourteen years in Europe, searching for Viggo. She never found him, nor did she get any confirmations to the Döckálfar’s involvement in his disappearance. Svala and Viggo reunited in their next life in 1959. By then they’d been apart for a total of seventeen years. At the time, Svala lived in New York, and Viggo came to her on the day of their reunion.

She opened the door to the apartment and started crying the second she fell into his arms. He held her so tight she could hardly breathe.

“I missed you so much,” he whispered into her neck. “I’m so sorry, honey.”

She leaned back and looked into his familiar blue eyes as he wiped the tears from her face. “What happened? Where were you?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Let’s not talk about it.”

She frowned. “But…”

“I was captured,” he said quickly, and avoided her gaze.

“By who?”

“By the Germans.”

“The Germans? But they kept you so long after the war. I don’t understand.”

He leaned in to kiss her, then rested his forehead against hers while clutching her face in his hands. “Do we have to do this right now?”

She exhaled, audibly, and shook her head.

Every time she brought it up, he came up with some excuse not to answer her questions. When she pushed too hard for answers, he became upset, and they ended up arguing about it.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” He once said, and it was the straightest answer she ever got from him. “I want to put it behind me. Please stop asking me about it. It doesn’t matter.”

Eventually, she did stop asking him. After a while, it didn’t seem important anymore and after Freja, it faded further and further away. Until now.

 

***

 

Present Time

Washington D.C.

 

She switched off the computer and left the library. This was useless. If she hadn’t been able to find out what happened during the last seventy years, a random Internet search wouldn’t help her.

With a heavy sigh, she headed for the lockers, hoping she wasn’t too late to her next class. The hallway was more or less empty. She checked the time, it was five past and she considered skipping the rest of the day and go home to search for answers. As she rounded a corner she bumped into Emma. For once, her grandchild was alone.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you. I didn’t mean to….” Svala stopped talking as Emma studied her through narrow eyes.

Emma lingered, as if running into Svala had been intentional. She studied Svala up and down, and when their eyes met, her lips pressed into a tight line. “Who are you?” she asked.

“Excuse me? What do you…?” Svala frowned.

“You’re not human, are you?” Emma interrupted.

Svala chortled in a nervous, surprised, reaction. “What?”

Emma scanned the hallway, as if making sure they were alone. Her voice dropped. “The thing that happened in the cafeteria, all that food exploding. It was you, wasn’t it?”

“I don’t know what you’re…”

“You’re a witch.” Emma cut her off again, her eyes narrowed in disgust. “Don’t try to deny it. I’ve seen it before.”

“You’ve seen what before?” Svala dropped her voice, her heart beating faster.

Liosálfar had powers, but weren’t allowed to use them. Döckálfar rules were less restrictive, or they didn’t care as much for rules as the Liosálfar. But witches? Witches were something completely different.

“That’s why you managed to get Viggo to notice you. You put a spell on him, didn’t you?”

“What do you mean, you’ve seen it before? What have you seen?” Svala insisted.

Emma scanned the hallway again, this time as if searching for something. Her gaze fixed on the potted flower on the window pane. “I can prove it,” she mumbled and headed toward the plant.

“What are you doing?” Svala followed, hesitant.

Emma grabbed the red flower in the white porcelain pot and backed away.

“Emma, what are you doing?”

Hesitation passed over Emma’s blue eyes but was quickly replaced with determination. She stared at Svala with anticipation, then lunged the pot into the air, straight at her.

 

 

Chapter 37

 

“Freja, what a pleasant surprise. Come on in.” Viggo gestured into the apartment.

Freja’s cheeks were flushed, her breathing strained. She clutched her black purse and peeked over his shoulder, her eyes never settling. “Am I interrupting?” she asked.

“No. Of course not. I’m alone. Amanda is in New York.” His brows drew together. “What’s wrong?”

She sighed and stepped inside. “It’s Emma. I received a call from the school Principal. She’s been in a fight.” She avoided his gaze, and her lips tightened.

“A fight?” Viggo asked.

Freja closed her eyes and nodded through another sigh. “I know you probably don’t believe me with the way she’s been acting, but she’s never gotten into fights before. It’s not like her.”

“I believe you.”

She met his gaze, and studied him as if she was trying to figure him out. “You actually mean that, don’t you?”

“Of course.”

She paused, then lowered her gaze again. “You’re way too good to us. We don’t deserve this, I don’t want to take advantage of you, I…”

“You’re not.” He cut her off. “You’re family. Tell me what you want me to do, I really don’t mind.”

She grimaced in hesitation. “I hate to do this, but I could really use your help. Would you mind talking to the Principal for me? I have to sign the lease agreement for my new shop here in Washington. I can’t miss the appointment or I might lose the spot.” She placed a gentle hand on his arm. “Please, say no if you don’t want to go.”

Viggo opened his mouth to answer her but stopped when Freja closed her eyes tight, leaned against the door and put her hand on her forehead. When her knees buckled, he reached out to grab her before she fell.

“Hey!” He tightened his grip around her, and Freja steadied herself against him, her eyes still closed. “What’s wrong, Freja? Do you need to sit?”

She nodded, out of breath. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize.” He reached around her waist, and guided her into the living room, where he helped her to the couch. He kneeled in front of her, and caressed her cheek through a worried smile. Freja kept her eyes closed but placed her hand on top of his in a moment of tense silence. The ashen color on her face and her obvious exhaustion stabbed into his heart.

“I’ll get you some water.”

In the kitchen, he leaned against the wall and struggled with a storm of emotion the event stirred inside him. One day their daughter would be gone. She would live her entire life never knowing how much they loved her, and long after she died he and Svala would still be here, living their lives over and over, always remembering her. It wasn’t fair. They’d done too much good throughout their lives to be put through this.

When Viggo came back to the living room, the color had returned to Freja’s cheeks. He placed the glass of water on the coffee table and sat next to her. “Maybe you should slow down,” he suggested. “There will be other locations, and you know you don’t have to worry. I’ll take care of you and Emma until you’re back on your feet.”

She shook her head. “I don’t want you to. You’ve already done enough.”

“Not if you’re feeling this way. Then I obviously haven’t.” He took the glass of water and handed it to her. “Here. Drink. I’ll go and take care of Emma, and I suggest you stay here. Lie down and relax. Stop worrying. Everything will work out fine.”

“No.” She shook her head again, but accepted the glass of water. “I have to do this. I cannot allow myself to break down every time he shows up in our lives.”

Viggo’s stomach dropped. He stopped breathing as Freja took a sip of water. She placed the glass on the table, and leaned back, fidgeting with her bracelets. The amber stones clicked together.

“What did he do to you?” Viggo asked.

Her hand tightened around the bracelets, and she avoided meeting his gaze. “It’s in the past. Not worth mentioning.”

“Well, obviously it’s still bothering you. Maybe you need to talk about it.”

Her face tensed, then she relaxed and released the bracelets. “He tried to get full custody over Emma a few years ago, and he almost succeeded. It was only due to some kind of miracle he didn’t win. An anonymous source mailed me information that helped my case. Information that proved he wasn’t suitable to be awarded full custody. I’m not sure I’ll be as lucky the next time he tries it. He’ll come prepared, and I can’t let him take care of Emma. I just can’t. If he intends to try that again, I have to be able to prove I can take care of Emma on my own. That’s why I have to sign the contract. I can’t afford to wait.”

“Why can’t you let him take care of Emma? What did he do?”

She shook her head. “I’d rather not talk about it.”

He looked at her until she met his gaze, her smile resigned. “Let’s just say he’s not a very good person.”

Viggo nodded and lowered his voice. “Did he ever physically hurt you?”

Freja squirmed and fingered her bracelet again. “As I said, I’d rather not talk about it.”

Viggo’s chest tightened. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know exactly what that meant or what Loke had done to his daughter and granddaughter. Maybe sometimes, it was better not knowing.

He reached for Freja’s hand and squeezed it tight. “Stay here. I’ll go take care of Emma. If you lose the deal, we’ll find a new location, a better one, and I’ll make sure you get it.”

 

 

Chapter 38

 

Jen and Sarah kept Svala company on the uncomfortable chairs outside the Principal’s office. Emma sat on the opposite side of the narrow room, one friend on either side. She glared at Svala, as if she was the cause of them ending up in there. The second hand ticking on the big oval clock cut through the silence in the room

When the door jerked open, and Viggo entered, Svala flinched. She’d expected Freja, not him. He met her gaze and held it for far too long. Emma rose from the hardwood chair and walked straight up to him, feigning tears as she spoke. “Thank God you’re here.” She wrapped her arms around him, shifting his attention to her. “She attacked me, I had to defend myself.”

“She didn’t touch you!” Jen’s eyes glared. “You threw a pot at her, you psychopath.”

Viggo looked at Svala and pried Emma’s arms off him. “Let’s not toss accusations around. I’m sure we can sort this out peacefully.” He nodded to Svala. “Are you okay?”

Svala’s head throbbed and the swollen area on the left side of her face would soon turn black and blue. She’d managed to slow down the impact of the pot hurtling toward her, but reacted too late and it had knocked her down.

When Svala didn’t answer Viggo’s question, the other girls in the room eyed each other oddly. He ignored them and walked up to Svala, knelt before her and reached out to touch her face. “Did someone look at that?”

Their eyes met again, and Svala grimaced when he reached the sensitive spot on her face.

“It’s fine,” she said and pulled away.

He retrieved his hand but still looked at her, his eyes stirring with worry.

The Principal, Mr. Grant, came out from his office. He leaned against the door frame, scanning the room. Viggo rose to face him, and Mr. Grant’s eyes narrowed, as if he tried to place him. Then he nodded with a strained smile of recognition and turned to Svala, obviously unimpressed by Viggo’s presence. “Miss Linné, I can’t seem to get a hold of your uncle, his cell phone is switched off. Do you know if there is another number where I can reach him?”

“Uhm… no, I’m sorry. I don’t. He might be in a meeting, though. Maybe you could try later?”

Mr. Grant sighed and glanced at the clock on the wall. “Isn’t there someone else we could call?”

She shook her head. Besides Trym and Viggo, she had no one.

“I’ll wait a couple of minutes, see if he calls me back, otherwise we’ll have to do this without him. I have a few things to take care of. I’ll be with you shortly.” He disappeared back into his office and closed the door.

Emma groaned and slumped down on her chair again. “How long do we have to wait? This is so stupid.”

“I don’t understand why you’re in such a hurry to get in there. You do understand you’ll be expelled for what you did, don’t you?” Jen sneered.

Emma gaped, as if she couldn’t believe what Jen said.

“I’m sure it won’t have to come to that,” Svala said, before Emma had time to respond. “I’m sure it was a mistake.”

“A mistake?” Jen coaxed. “You’re not serious are you? You’re going to let her get away with this?”

Viggo glanced at Jen, a worried frown on his face.

Sarah eased closer to her friends, her eyes darting to Viggo as she spoke. “Oh come on, Jen. I’m with Svala on this. It was a mistake. Why make such a big deal out of it?”

Viggo’s gaze shifted to Svala. She stared straight past him. The clock ticked on, and just as the silence turned its peak of uncomfortable the door to the waiting room swung open.

A tall blond man in an Armani suit stepped inside. As he came into view, Viggo’s eyes narrowed and Svala’s breath caught in her throat.

“Emma!” The man’s harsh voice contrasted with his delicate features. “What is this I hear about a fight?”

Emma rose quickly, but stayed where she was. “I didn’t start it, Dad, I promise.”

Svala’s stomach dropped. She’d been right, Emma’s father was a Döckálfar, and judging from Emma’s slouching position, and downcast gaze, she was terrified of him. The man offered Viggo a nod. “What has been said?”

The muscles in Viggo’s face twitched. “We haven’t been told anything yet.” He stepped sideways, blocking the man’s view of Svala.

“Then what are we waiting for?” The man straightened out his sleeve and glanced at his gold watch. “I have a meeting to get back to.”

“Her stupid uncle can’t be reached,” Emma mumbled, still staring at the floor.

For a second, Svala detected a smile behind the man’s serious blue eyes. He looked past Viggo, and when he caught sight of Svala she could’ve sworn he fought against a satisfied grin. Viggo’s entire posture tensed.

“That doesn’t look very good, Miss.” He reached out for her. “Mind if take a look?”

Viggo intercepted him, speaking through clenched teeth. “She’s fine.”

This time, the man didn’t hide his smile. Instead, he met Viggo’s cold stare with sparkling eyes. “Relax, Vig. I’m only trying to make the best of the situation. Looks like our Emma wasn’t able to control her rage.” He met Svala’s gaze over Viggo’s shoulder. “I’m sorry about that, Miss. I’ll make sure she’ll be properly punished for it.”

Emma closed her eyes and swallowed.

“But I was thinking, maybe there is a chance we could settle this without involving the school?” He continued.

“Fat chance.” Jen snorted.

The Döckálfar’s eyes darkened when he looked at Jen. Svala placed her hand on Jen’s thigh and searched the man’s gaze to divert his attention from her friend. “Actually, that might be a good idea.”

The darkness in his eyes faded. He stared straight into Svala’s eyes and a chill went through her entire body. “Great.” When he smiled this time, he could have passed for a regular guy and not the monster she knew him to be. “Maybe we don’t need all these people here, though.” He motioned toward the four girls who weren’t involved in the conflict. “Do you girls mind offering us some privacy?”

“What? And let the three of you gang up on Svala? I don’t think so.” Jen crossed her arms over her chest, offering a challenging stare.

He ignored her. “We’re not going to gang up on anyone. We’ll settle this peacefully. Right, Viggo?”

Viggo didn’t answer. He glared at the man, as if they had unresolved issues. Svala’s mouth dried, and nausea twisted in her gut as she considered the possibilities of how Viggo and this Döckálfar knew each other. Emma said nothing. She stared at the floor, her gaze empty.

“Emma, why don’t you and your friends go outside? Maybe the young lady will be more comfortable if you’re not here,” the man said.

Emma and her friends left, but Jen and Sarah insisted on staying. Emma’s father didn’t seem too pleased about it. He closed the door behind his daughter and walked up to Svala. Viggo watched him like a hawk.

“I want to start by apologizing for my daughter’s behavior. She has a terrible temper. I have no idea where she gets it from.”

Viggo and Svala exchanged a glance and Emma’s father seemed amused.

“Her mother’s always been somewhat of a hippy, believing in gem stones and all that nonsense.” He glanced at Viggo as if anticipating a reaction, but turned back to Svala when he got none. “At any rate, I would very much appreciate if we could settle this without involving the school.”

“Give us one good reason why she should do that?” asked Jen.

The man pressed his lips together in annoyance, but ignored Jen’s comment and stayed with Svala. “I’m sure I can find some way to compensate you for the trouble. Both you and your uncle.”

His next smile rid her of all doubt. This man was responsible for Trym’s disappearance. He had to be. He held her gaze, calm and confident, a subtle trace of victory lingering behind his eyes.

“Why don’t you come by my place this weekend and we can discuss it further,” he said. ”I’m sure I’ll be able to answer all questions you might have.”

Svala swallowed hard and glanced at Viggo, who stood behind Emma’s father. Viggo shook his head in warning, jaw clenched. She looked straight at the Döckálfar, trying to remain calm. “Okay. Give me the time and place and I’ll be there.”

Viggo stepped forward. He stared at Svala, shaking his head, no longer trying to be discreet. He opened his mouth to speak, but said nothing as Jen and Sarah exchanged an odd look.

Emma’s father smiled and reached into his back pocket to get his wallet. Viggo mouthed a clear “don’t” behind him. Svala ignored him, and her two friends frowned and glanced at each other again. She accepted the business card and smiled at the man in front of her. “Looking forward to it.”

As soon as Loke disappeared out the door, Viggo approached Svala. ”Can I have a word with you alone?” he asked.

Svala got up and reached for her backpack. Jen and Sarah exchanged a confused look as Svala completely ignored Viggo’s request.

”Please. It’s important,” he insisted.

”I’m busy.” She avoided his gaze and threw Loke’s business card into her bag.

Viggo’s face reddened. He glanced at her friends. For once, Svala appreciated their presence as it prevented Viggo from speaking his mind.

”I would strongly advice you from going there alone.” Viggo obviously couldn’t let it go despite the mortal audience.

Svala looked at him, the warning in her eyes clear. ”I don’t see how that is any of your business.”

”It’s dangerous.”

He didn’t even try to hide his concern and a stab of guilt went through her heart. But maybe this was the only way she could make him tell her what had happened back then and what he was up to now.

”As I said. It’s none of your business.”

 

***

 

She went straight home. Her head throbbed. She went into the bathroom to get an aspirin when someone knocked on the door. By no surprise she found Viggo outside.

Svala sighed and kept the door open just a crack. “What are you doing here, Viggo? I made it clear I don’t want you involved.”

“I don’t care. I won’t allow you to go there on your own.” He tried to get inside but Svala raised her hand to prevent him, her eyes narrowing in annoyance. “You won’t allow me? Oh. OK, then.” She grabbed the handle to shut the door in his face but Viggo placed his palm on the surface, preventing her. “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.”

“Of course I don’t. Because you won’t tell me.”

He stared at her. “Let me come inside.”

“No!”

“I won’t leave. Do you want me standing here outside your house all night?”

His gaze didn’t waver. Svala glanced down the street. Nora Stevens lived a few houses away and she wasn’t exactly known for her discretion. If she saw Viggo standing outside their house it would be announced on Social Media within seconds. Svala opened the door wider with a scowl, but left him standing and walked into the living room.

Viggo walked after her, his voice desperate. “Please don’t go to his place. You have no idea what he’s capable of.”

“He has Trym. What choice do I have? I have to go there.”

Viggo spoke through his teeth with forced restraint. “You don’t know that he has Trym. The man’s a liar. Maybe that’s exactly what he wants you to believe. It’s the only reason he could get you to come.”

Svala turned to face him in the middle of the living room. “And maybe I’m right. Maybe he does have Trym. I’ll never find out if I don’t go.”

Viggo reached for her. “Then at least bring someone with you.”

She moved away. “No, it’s better if I go alone. He’s not going to tell me anything if I bring company. He wants me to come alone.”

Viggo rubbed his face through a frustrated groan, then gestured in the air. “Don’t you understand why he wants you to do that? Doesn’t that tell you something isn’t right?”

Svala turned her back on him again. “He can’t do anything to me.” She walked up to the couch, not sure where she was going. She needed to distance herself from him or he might talk her out of going there.

Viggo followed after. “Why not? You think he has Trym, don’t you? Why would you be untouchable if he can get to Trym?”

Svala leaned against the back of the couch and crossed her arms over her chest. “And to you?” she nodded toward him. “Did he get to you too?”

The sun shone through the windows, over his face, and it dawned on her how tired he looked. Svala raised her eyebrows with a glassy stare. “Honey, why can’t you tell me what I’m up against? Tell me why I shouldn’t go. What did he do to you?”

Viggo closed his eyes momentarily, and spoke just above a whisper. “You already know why you shouldn’t go. He’s a Döckálfar.”

She waited, but when he didn’t elaborate, she took a step forward, letting her arms fall by her sides. “There is more to it, isn’t there? You know something you’re not telling me about him, don’t you?”

Their eyes met and his shoulders dropped. “I’ve met him before, yes.”

She walked closer. “During the war?”

He didn’t reply. He could be so stubborn. Her compassion conflicted with annoyance and her voice came out harsher than she intended. “Tell me, Viggo. At least let me know if you met him before we had Freja. Or was it random he happened to meet her and father our grandchild?”

His gaze flickered. “Don’t put that on me, that is not my fault!”

His reaction caught her off guard. She pressed her palms against her thighs, calming her voice. “I’m not saying it is, but when you don’t say anything at all you leave it open for speculation and you must realize right now I’m thinking the worst.”

Viggo rubbed his face again. “Why can’t you trust me, honey? Why can’t you wait and let me handle it? Let me go there. Let me find out if he’s captured Trym.”

“Why? So you can come back and lie to me? Or refuse to tell me what’s going on? It’s been over seventy years Vig, and you still won’t tell me what happened to you during the war. Isn’t it about time you do?”

A set of keys falling to the floor in the hallway interrupted them. Svala and Viggo both gazed into the dark hallway. Someone stood by the dresser.

“Oh, shit!” Svala blurted when the voyeur stepped into the light.

Jen stared back at them, eyes wide, mouth agape.

 

 

 

Chapter 39

 

Jen stood in the semi-dark hallway as if frozen in place. The ticking of the Grandfather clock grew louder in the silence and Svala’s panic escalated.

She attempted to read her friend’s expression, but failed. Jen stared back at Svala. Her wide eyes and slightly parted lips made it difficult to determine if she was terrified or intrigued.

“I’m sorry,” she stuttered. Her gaze darted from Svala to Viggo. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. The door was open and I…” She closed her eyes tight through an exasperated breath. “I don’t know what I…”

Svala glanced worried at Viggo then walked towards her friend.

“Jen, how long have you been standing there? What did you hear?” she asked. She barely kept her voice from pitching, revealing her panic.

Jen opened her eyes and her wide-eyed gaze fixed on Viggo. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but not a sound passed her lips.

Svala glanced back at Viggo and the tense expression on his face remained. She extended her hand toward Jen in a slow, gentle gesture. “Jen, what exactly did you hear?” She spoke calm, terrified Jen would turn and run away at the first sudden movement.

Jen’s cheeks paled. She glanced at Svala’s hand, but didn’t accept it. Instead she clasped her forehead. “I don’t know, but I must have misheard,” she said.

Her hand dropped from her forehead to her side and her smile wavered. “I thought you said you had Freja, and that something happened seventy years ago… but that would be impossible. Right?”

Svala and Viggo exchanged another worried look. This wasn’t the first time a mortal figured out they were different and history taught her the exposure rarely ended well.

Right, Svala?” Jen repeated with emphasis.

Svala opened her mouth, trying to think on her feet but couldn’t come up with one single thing to explain what Jen heard.

Jen’s uneven breathing broke through the silence. When neither Svala nor Viggo said anything, she took a step back, eyes still wide, body tensed, as if preparing for flight.

Viggo reached out to Jen, eyeing Svala with concern as he did.

“Maybe you should sit,” he suggested.

Jen’s eyes flickered with hesitation.

”You know you can trust me, right?” Svala added, terrified one wrong move would have her run for the door.

Jen nodded slowly and came out from the dark hallway, into the bright living room.

“Come, have a seat.” Viggo motioned to the couch, keeping a distance.

Jen observed them when she walked up and sat on the couch in the middle of the room.

“Do you want something to drink?” Viggo asked.

Jen stared at Viggo but didn’t answer his question. After a moment of silence, she looked at Svala.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

Svala struggled to come up with a lie Jen would accept, but her mind drew blank. The frustration building inside of her because of the situation with Amanda and Loke made it even more difficult to think.

When Svala didn’t answer her question, Jen turned to Viggo. “How could you have been in a war seventy years ago? And how can Freja be your daughter? It’s impossible.”

Viggo nodded for Svala to step in. Svala took her time but eventually went up and sat next to Jen on the couch. She reached out and placed a gentle hand on Jen’s thigh.

“Jen, you can’t tell anybody about this. You have to promise me that,” she said

“Tell them about what? What’s going on, Svala?” Jen’s gaze darted to Viggo.

“I can’t say.” Svala remained calm.

Jen’s gaze moved between Svala and Viggo. She froze for a second, then eased away from Svala, her lips trembling. “You’re not human, are you?”

Jen edged further away, her breath now bursting in and out. She moved far out to the edge of the grey couch, the fear in her eyes now blatant.

“Jen…” Svala lifted her hand and gestured that she wouldn’t touch her again.

“Are you vampires?” Jen asked and clasped her chest with one hand, eyes growing larger. Then she glanced quickly at Viggo, lips parted. “Is that why your skin is so pale? Oh my God, you are, aren’t you?”

Viggo winced and Svala shot him a warning glance. This wasn’t the time for him to go off over his issues with vampires.

Svala remained composed, meeting Jen’s gaze with a steady look meant to calm her, ensure they meant her no harm. Liosálfar eyes had a calming effect on humans. Jen’s shoulders dropped and her breathing slowed. With lingering hesitation, she eased closer to Svala and reached out to touch her skin. Her lips parted in a terrified yet intrigued expression.

“No,” Svala said. “We’re not vampires.”

Jen studied Svala’s soft skin, like she expected to find the answer there.

“Then what are you?” she asked.

Viggo shook his head and sighed. “Well, if we were vampires, it might have been a good idea for you to attempt getting out of here. Not stay around and cuddle us.”

Svala shot him another warning glance.

“Just saying. This stupid romanticizing of monsters, it’s going to get people killed.”

“What does he mean?” Jen’s eyes widened even more. “Vampires exist?”

“Viggo, why don’t you go out in the kitchen and make us some tea.” Svala tried to control her annoyance. “You’re not helping.”

Viggo stared at her, jaw clenched. ”You and I are not done talking,” he said.

“Yes, we are.”

Svala turned down Viggo’s gaze and focused on Jen. Her friend’s enlarged brown eyes bordered between fascination and fear.

“I’m not going anywhere unless you promise me we’ll continue discussing this madness you’re getting yourself into.” Viggo insisted.

Svala sighed in annoyance. “Go and make us some tea, Vig.” She pressed her lips into a thin line, trying to contain her emotions. “Or, I could always demand you to leave.”

Viggo fell quiet, then sighed in resignation.

“I’ll go make some tea,” he mumbled.

When Viggo walked into the kitchen, Jen studied him with the look of someone trying to figure out a complicated math problem.

“Wait a minute…” Her eyes sparkled with excitement. “Viggo Storm is that guy? The guy you’ve been seeing”

Svala fought the urge to roll her eyes. Only a mortal teenager of today would think this a subject worth mentioning under the circumstances. She thought of a way to describe their relationship that would have Jen understand who Viggo really was.

“Viggo is my eternal,” she said.

Jen’s eyes met Svala’s in astonishment. “What are you?” she asked.

“Well, we’re not vampires.” Svala attempted to lighten the mood with a smile.

“Angels?” Jen tried.

Svala paused, glanced down at her hands and inhaled. “Jen, you have to promise to keep this to yourself.” She met Jen’s gaze anew. “Not just to protect us, but to protect yourself as well.”

The fear returned to Jen’s eyes. “What do you mean?”

“The last time a mortal found out about us, he ended up getting killed.”

“So, you’re admitting you’re not human?” Jen interrupted.

Svala smoothed her hand over the soft fabric of the couch, taking a moment to collect her thoughts before she nodded.

“And you’re not a vampire, or an angel?”

“No.”

“Werewolf?” Jen’s raised eyebrow indicated she didn’t think it likely.

“No.” Svala’s lip curled up.

Werewolves differed a lot from fairies with their rough and often dark features.

“A witch?” A smile lingered at the corner of Jen’s lip. “That’s it, isn’t it? You made the explosion in the cafeteria, didn’t you? That’s what you are. You’re a witch.”

“What explosion?”

Svala cringed at the sound of Viggo’s voice. She’d hoped he wouldn’t have to find out about that.

“Nothing.” She fingered the hem of her sleeve. “I don’t imagine the tea is done already.”

Viggo walked into the center of the room. “What explosion, Svala?” he asked.

“It’s nothing.”

“You used your powers, didn’t you? And now you’re off to meet up with him? Are you insane?”

“I didn’t use my powers. It was an accident.” She raised her voice, knowing very well it only weakened her case.

Viggo remained calm. “That only implies you couldn’t control your emotions.”

She met his gaze, her eyes hard and cold. “And whose fault is that?” she asked.

Viggo maintained eye contact, his jaw set. He offered a curt nod, as if it settled the argument.

“You’re not going,” he said.

“That’s not for you to decide.” Svala’s cheeks flushed from the effort of suppressing her emotions. “I experienced a small moment of emotional instability. It won’t happen again.”

“It means you’re vulnerable. An easy target. No doubt, he sensed your imbalance.”

“I said it won’t happen again, now let it go.”

She turned her back on him, but Viggo appeared determined to pursue the argument, even in front of Jen.

He walked around to face her.

“Why would you need to keep it from me if it was nothing?” he asked.

She stood. “Oh, do you really want to get into that discussion after what you’ve done? I’m not the one keeping secrets.”

The silence lingered. Jen remained still, observing them both with her lips parted in obvious fascination.

Svala and Viggo stared at each other as if willing the other to cave.

“Let me go instead,” Viggo said.

“No.” She tightened her hand into a fist, annoyed over his distrust.

“If you go, I’ll never get the answers I need. You’re going to have to trust me to handle it,” she said.

Viggo’s shoulders slumped in resignation.

“Isn’t there anything I can do to change your mind?”

She shook her head.

“Where are you going, Svala?” Jen asked. “What are you talking about? Are there, like, witch hunters after you?”

Svala tried to keep the annoyance out of her voice. “We’re not witches, Jen.”

“Then what are you?”

Viggo reached out to take Svala’s hand, his eyes pleading for her to side with him.

“Don’t do it, honey,” he pleaded.

“We’re fairies,” Svala said, staring into Viggo’s blue eyes.

“Fairies?” Jen’s said with disappointment in her voice. “What do fairies do?”

Viggo squeezed Svala’s hand, and a subtle smile surfaced. “We eat people who ask too many questions,” he said.

“Viggo!” Svala warned, but couldn’t keep from smiling.

She looked at Jen. “We don’t harm anyone. At least our kind of fairies doesn’t hurt anyone.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t tell you, I’m sorry. I don’t want you to get involved any more than you already are. You must promise, for your own sake as much as ours, not to tell anyone of this.”

Jen still stared at them, lips slightly parted, forehead wrinkled. She obviously didn’t grasping the whole point of fairies.

Viggo ignored Jen and tugged at Svala’s hand. “Please don’t go.” He pleaded.

“I have to.”

He shook his head. “You’re so damn stubborn. Isn’t there anything I can say to change your mind?”

Svala reached out to caress his cheek. “You’re going to have to trust me.”

 

 

Chapter 40

 

Svala waited in the oversized hallway of Loke’s mansion. The mortal who opened the door had disappeared into the house, leaving her alone.

She glanced around the room, confident she was watched, perhaps even recorded. She’d never been inside a Döckálfar home before and part of her was intrigued.

The white Italian tiles had been polished so hard she could almost see her reflection in them. Aside from a few black podiums randomly placed along the walls, carrying impressive flower arrangements, the enormous area held no furniture. Only the black, velvet drapes that hung heavy around the floor to ceiling windows gave texture to the stale room. An impressive rounded stairway with black marble steps led to the second floor.

After a five-minute wait, one of the downstairs doors opened and Loke appeared in the doorway. He smiled wide and extended both hands towards her as he approached.

“Svala, so good to see you.” He clasped her hand between his as he leaned in to kiss her cheek.

She refused to flinch, accepted his greeting but didn’t smile back.

“Let’s go into my office.” He gestured toward a door to their right.

Svala’s heels echoed against the hard floor as they walked across the room. She clutched the cream-colored coat hanging over her arm. Loke’s servant had offered to take it but she declined, anticipating the need to make a quick, unexpected exit.

As Loke held the door open for her, her heart raced, and for the first time since arriving she recognized how dangerous this visit was.

Once inside the office, Loke walked up to a large black desk and motioned to the chair on the other side.

“Please, have a seat,” he said with another smile. “Would you like something to drink?”

“No thanks.”

Svala walked up and sat, pretending she had no interest in looking around while discreetly taking in the details of the room.

The desk held a meticulous order, much like Trym’s. Similar to the hallway, the office was sparsely decorated. The hardwood floor was dark, almost black. A black leather couch and matching armchairs stood over by the other end of the room. Behind the couch, a large window offered a panoramic view of the English garden outside. Heavy, black drapes, exactly like the ones in the entrance, hung from each side of the window, adding another dark ambiance to the room.

Loke studied her, still smiling.

“I must say, I’m impressed by you, Svala. Much more so than I’m with Viggo,” he mused.

She didn’t reply. Trym often said the Döckálfar could be charming when it served their purposes, and she wouldn’t fall for it.

“Why don’t we get to the point? You know why I’m here,” she said.

His smile widened. “Yes. To the point. I like that. You’re here about Trym. I’ll get to it shortly.”

“I’m not interested in discussing anything else. Either you tell me where Trym is, or I leave.”

Loke couldn’t hide his amusement and studied her for a good long while before he reached down and opened a drawer to his desk. He pulled out a thick, padded envelope and placed it in front of her on the desk.

“Why don’t you start by opening this?” he said.

Svala slowly reached out and accepted the envelope. The excited sparkle in Loke’s eyes made her stomach drop.

She tore it open and pulled out a stack of photographs, unable to hold back a surprised gasp.

In her hand, she held an old black and white picture of Viggo standing in a cell, wearing what was left of a tattered military uniform from the Second World War. In front of him stood a girl with dark, tasseled hair and a white, torn dress. The girl caressed his cheek, and by the looks of it, they were about to kiss.

Svala’s stomach turned.

“Have a look at the next one.” Loke nodded to the stack of photographs, eyes steady with anticipation.

Her hands trembled as she moved over to the next picture. It showed a close-up of the girl’s face.

“Oh my God!” Her breath hitched.

Loke leaned over the desk.

“Viggo met Amanda during the war. They spent years alone together in that cell.”

He paused to study her before he continued. “They fell in love.”

Svala shook her head. “No, Viggo would never…”

“Why don’t you look through the rest of the photographs, Svala? You’ll see they’ve stayed in contact over the years.”

She flipped through the stack. Two pictures from the beach in Hampton. One of Amanda and Viggo talking by Freja’s stroller, another of Amanda kneeled down in the sand, reaching for Freja. Reaching for her daughter. Anger rose inside of her.

Another picture was from Miami; Viggo and Amanda walking down the street together in the middle of the night, talking. A few more from the nineties, in New York. The two of them talking by the bar at Senator Marsh’s party.

Svala closed her eyes as it dawned on her. She’d met Amanda too. That’s why Viggo acted so strange the evening after that party.

“What does this mean?” she asked, and pressed her lips into a tight line, not prepared to show Loke how much these images effected to her.

“Viggo seems to believe Amanda will switch over to your side. He believes he can save her, but Amanda has not been entirely honest with him. It’s more likely Viggo who will have to change sides for this union to work.”

“You’re making it sound like he wants to be with her. He would never do that to me.”

“He’s in love with her.” Loke stated, nodding to the pictures in her hand. “I might have been the one who placed her in that cell, but I did not control his feelings for her.”

She fought the tears. “I don’t believe you.”

Loke paused and leaned back in his chair. He knitted his hands together, and the confidence in his eyes unsettled her.

“What has Viggo told you? What is his explanation for getting engaged to Amanda?” he asked.

She stayed silent.

He nodded slowly as if her silence told him all he needed to know.

“I only thought you should have all the information before we went on to the next order of business,” he said.

Trym.

“I know it’s easy for you to think I’ve captured Trym, and I don’t blame you. I would have assumed the same.”

Svala stared at the latest picture of Viggo and Amanda with an empty expression as Loke reached out and pushed a button on the control panel on his desk.

A wall to her left opened up to reveal a large TV screen that covered the entire wall. The screen switched on. It showed a sparsely decorated apartment. Trym lay on his back in a bed, staring up at the ceiling. Alrik lay on his side next to Trym, studying him close.

Svala clasped the pile of photographs in her hands at the sight of them.

“Where are they? Where are you keeping them?” she asked.

“I’m not keeping them anywhere.”

He remained calm, watching her with a steady gaze.

“Given the chance, Trym simply chose to be with Alrik. Surely you can relate to that.”

On the screen, Trym checked his wristwatch and rubbed his face through a sigh. Alrik lay on the bed next to him, sadness clouding his green eyes.

Loke studied Svala, as if waiting for her reaction.

“Why are you filming them?” she asked.

Her eyes never left the screen. She hadn’t seen the two of them together in over thirty years.

“We keep track of all of our new recruits. Make sure they do what they’re supposed to do.”

Trym got off the bed without looking at Alrik. Alrik sat and reached for Trym, a resigned expression on his face. When Trym walked into an adjoining room, Loke reached out and switched off the screen.

It occurred to her, Loke didn’t know Alrik came to visit her. He wasn’t aware she knew Alrik was invisible to Trym and that Trym probably wasn’t even aware of his presence in that apartment.

“Why are you showing me this?” she asked.

“Because you can still save him.”

She frowned. “Why would you care about that?”

“I don’t.” Loke smiled. “That’s not my agenda.”

“Then what is your agenda?”

“You.”

Svala’s brows drew together. “Me? I don’t understand.”

Loke rested his elbows against the desk and met her eyes with an unnerving calm. “I want you, Svala.”

“You want me?” Her frown grew deeper. “For what?”

“Well, for one you’re the purest Liosálfar I’ve ever met. If I convince you to shift to our side, it would be highly appreciated by my superiors. And second…”

He paused, and held her gaze as if to make sure he had her full attention.

“You’re the only one of your kind who’s conceived a child. I’ve only ever succeeded at procreating when I impregnated Freja, and had Emma. But as Freja is mortal, Emma is an imperfect result.”

Svala recoiled and evaded his gaze. His insult to Emma disgusted her, as did his proposal.

“I know what you’re thinking. You’ll never agree to any of this, and as you know, I can’t force you. It has to be your choice,” he said.

“Then why bother bringing it up?”

If her repulsed expression didn’t reveal how she felt, her disgust was clarified by the tone of her voice.

“If you chose to shift over to our side, to have my child, I make sure Viggo and Trym stay on your side. I have the power to do that.”

“But you said Trym has already made his decision.”

“It hasn’t yet been approved.”

Svala’s lips tightened in disbelief. “Why would you trade one of us when you can have two?” she asked.

“I need to give you an incentive, something that is important to you, and you’re the only one who can provide me with what I need.”

“A child?”

“Yes.”

“And what makes you think I would make a selfish decision like that when the outcome would affect the balance?” she asked.

“If you don’t, the union might not be yours and mine, but it will still happen.”

She glanced down at the pictures in her hand and swallowed hard. “Amanda and Viggo.”

He nodded.

Svala closed her eyes, feeling nauseous.

“We’re not capable of love, Svala. Amanda’s only interest in Viggo is the power he’ll give her if he provides her with a child. That’s her agenda. That’s why she’s trying to make it appear like she’s already pregnant. If The High Council believe Viggo and Amanda are expecting a child, their union is not negotiable, it’s mandatory. They cannot be separated. If Viggo confirms the pregnancy, it will no longer be a matter of choice for him. He’ll have to shift.”

“How do I know you’re not lying to get what you want? How do I know you won’t get both me and Viggo by deceiving us both?”

“You don’t. I can’t force you to believe me. I’m only presenting the evidence.” He nodded at the pictures in her lap. “As I said, the decision has to be yours.”

She closed her eyes in an attempt to calm her emotions.

“No matter what I decide, Viggo and I will be separated?” she asked.

Loke sighed, and evaded answering her question at first.

“Yes,” he finally confirmed.

“And you expect me to trust you more than I trust him? You expect me to make a decision where I know I’ll end up losing him?”

Loke’s face tensed in obvious disappointment but he forced a smile to linger.

“You impress me, Svala. I hope you realize you only enforce my desire to have you by my side,” he said.

“And I hope you realize that will never happen.” She offered him a strained smile.

Silence filled the room. Loke held her gaze, and Svala felt him invade her mind. He plunged into her head and stole the thoughts she desperately tried to suppress.

She stood, and as the pictures in her lap fell to the floor the link between them broke.

“How dare you!” She gasped.

His smile turned genuine. “You doubt him. You doubted him before you came here,” he said.

“I trust him more than anything. And I trust Trym would never switch over to your side for anything. You’re nothing but a liar!”

The tears burned behind her eyes but she wouldn’t give Loke the satisfaction of exposing her emotions further.

“I won’t betray either of them. Especially not for you.”

She clasped her coat in a firm grip and prepared to leave.

Loke stood and quickly circled the desk. He reached out, as if to stop her. “Wait!” he called out.

Svala stepped back, afraid any sudden movement on her part would have her end up behind locked doors like Trym.

“I’ll give you Alrik as well,” Loke said.

She pressed her lips together. Her palms started to sweat, and her breathing came out heavy.

“If you do as I say, Trym and Alrik can get back together. I’ll give you Alrik too.”

 

 

 

Chapter 41

 

A scent of soap and shampoo seeped out from the bathroom and into the bedroom. Alrik stood leaned against the wall, watching Trym pull a navy-blue T-shirt over his head as the metal door to their prison opened.

When Loke stepped inside the small room, he met Alrik’s gaze briefly, then directed his attention to Trym.

Their prison held one bedroom, and a bathroom and resembled a studio apartment rather than an actual prison. This setting most likely served to give Trym a false sense of security, to raise the hope that something good was to be expected.

Being locked up in a confined space together, without Trym being aware of his presence, was pure torture.

The door closed behind Loke with a muffled thud. Trym’s shoulders tensed. He backed away, his blue eyes cold and suspicious.

Loke leaned against the cold metallic surface, a smug grin on his face.

“I just had the most interesting visit,” he said.

Trym remained silent and held Loke’s gaze with evident contempt. Few Liosálfar would dare challenge a Döckálfar of Loke’s rank, but Trym had strength beyond most Liosálfar.

“She’s remarkable. Your girl,” Loke said.

Trym swallowed hard, but remained silent.

“You won’t be able to break him,” Alrik said. “He’s stronger than you are. And so is she.”

Despite Loke’s obvious efforts to appear confident, a muscle in his left temple twitched, indicating the effect Alrik’s words had on him.

Even so, he ignored Alrik, inhaled slowly, and focused on Trym. He moved away from the door and approached Trym with a slow, confident stride.

“She’s actually considering the possibility of switching over to our side to save you and Viggo.”

“She would never do that,” Trym said, his voice calm.

Loke smiled, then nodded and bowed his head slightly, as if to acknowledge defeat.

“I guess I can’t fool you. You know your girl well and you’re right of course. She didn’t accept those terms. It took a bit more bargaining to get her to agree…”

“Svala wouldn’t change over to your side for anything,” Trym interrupted. “She would never sacrifice the balance for her own selfish needs.”

Loke chuckled and studied Trym with feigned amusement. Alrik knew Loke well enough to understand that Trym’s confidence bothered the hell out of him.

“You’re right again, and I’ll admit her cooperation took more effort than I anticipated, but everyone can be persuaded. It’s only a matter of presenting the right incentive,” Loke said.

The satisfied tone in Loke’s voice made Alrik’s throat close. Loke was a master at manipulations. Alrik moved out from the bed and walked over to where Loke and Trym stood.

“He’ll never buy your lies,” Alrik said.

Loke continued to ignore him, and instead offered Trym another warm smile, as if their conversation was of a pleasant nature.

“There is nothing you could’ve offered Svala that would have her consider…” Trym started.

“I offered to give you Alrik.” Loke interrupted and glanced over at Alrik to catch his reaction.

Alrik stopped breathing.

Trym’s eyes flickered over his capturer, his certainty obviously compromised as well.

Trym shook his head. “She would never accept that.” This time, his voice wavered.

“What? An unselfish act of sacrificing herself to save you, Alrik and Viggo? See you reunited with Alrik? Surely you brought her up to do whatever is in the best interest of the balance and to act with an unselfish agenda. Saving the three of you by sacrificing herself is not a selfish action, and it would also help restore the balance.”

Trym crossed his arms over his chest. “You’re bluffing. Besides, I need not be saved. I have no intention of switching sides.”

“Well, she doesn’t know that, does she?” Loke arched his brows.

Trym scoffed. “So you lied to her but expect me to believe you’re telling me the truth?”

Loke shrugged. “I don’t care what you believe, I’m only here to present an offer and show you the alternatives. Whatever you believe is irrelevant. What’s relevant is that your little girl is out there right now, considering giving herself to me to save you. Once she’s made that choice, I can either accept it or decline it. But you have the power to save her regardless of all that. You can prevent her from switching to our side, if you agree to take her place that is.”

Trym crossed his arms over his chest, his eyes vacant, as if he considered Loke’s proposal.

Alrik stepped forward.

“Don’t do it, Trym!” he pleaded.

“Your life for hers,” Loke added.

“And what about Alrik and Viggo? If I agree to this, will you leave them alone too? Will you return Alrik to our side?” Trym asked.

“Trym, don’t! He’s lying. He only needs your consent. He’s playing you both.” Alrik’s frustration grew with the helplessness of his situation.

Loke gestured with his hands in the air. “If that’s what it takes,” he said.

Trym rubbed his elbows and clenched his jaw. A deep line formed on his forehead. “That sounds like an awfully good deal for the Liosálfar, so what’s in it for you?”

“I’d get you,” Loke said as if further explanation had no value.

The doubtful frown on Trym’s face deepened.

Loke kept smiling.

“You’re far more powerful than any of them, including Alrik. We both know Alrik is a lesser Liosálfar than you. He doesn’t follow your orders. He even lost his protégé because he doesn’t play by your rules. Getting him to our side didn’t help me much. He was more like us than you from the start.”

“Alrik is nothing like you!”

For the first time since Loke locked them up in this room, Trym lost his patience.

“What he did, he did because he believes in something greater than himself. You do only what serves your own purpose. What did you offer him to switch sides anyway? Did you trick him, like you’re trying to trick me? Make it impossible for him to do anything but agree?”

Loke studied Trym throughout his outburst. He showed no emotion and his silence and detached expression unnerved Alrik.

When Trym stopped talking, Loke stared at him with indifference for a good long while. Then he walked over to the dresser where he stopped, and picked up a framed picture of Svala, placed there before their arrival. No doubt, a reminder of what was at stake.

“After Svala and Viggo kidnapped Freja, and thereby broke the rules, we had a chance to set the punishment.” He placed the frame back on the dresser but studied it for a few more seconds.

“Our intention was to separate Viggo and Svala, so they would have to spend the rest of eternity apart. My superiors believed the experiment would eventually make them vulnerable and easy to lure over to our side with the promise of a reunion. When Alrik came to us, trying to bargain for Freja, we seized the opportunity to get a much older Liosálfar to join us right away instead of waiting for decades, maybe even centuries to get two Liosálfar of a lower rank. So we offered Alrik the opportunity to switch to our side, and in return, Svala and Viggo could stay together. We also agreed to reintroduce Freja into their lives.”

Alrik raised his voice even though Trym couldn’t hear him. “You offered to give them Freja and the only thing you did was help alienate her from them by putting them through that horrible high school experiment!”

You made sure they ended up in high school together?” Trym asked.

“Yes, but what they did with it was out of my hands.”

“You set it up to fail, and you know it,” Alrik said and breathed heavily through his nose. “And then you used Freja’s vulnerability to get her to fall in love with you. You’re nothing but a monster who preys on the weak.”

Loke moved to block Alrik’s view of Trym. “You know as well as I do that I can’t offer promises unless I intend to keep my word.” He smiled.

“No, but you’re twisting your word around. You make sure things go the way you want them to.” Alrik continued to raise his voice, even though Trym still couldn’t hear him.

“And you’d leave Svala and Viggo alone if I agreed to do this?” Trym asked.

“You have my word.”

“Don’t listen to him, Trym. He’s manipulating you.” Alrik’s voice trembled with restrained anger.

“Surely you realize I don’t believe a word you’re telling me,” Trym said. “If you were interested in making a fair deal, you wouldn’t keep me locked up, unable to contact both Svala and The High Council.”

“Who said anything about a fair deal?” Loke scoffed. “I’m not trying to make a fair deal. I’m well aware there is no point trying to fool you into thinking I would. I’m simply using my bargaining chip to get what I want, which is you. Svala is insecure about Viggo’s dedication. She’s already vulnerable.”

“That’s not true,” Trym objected.

Loke chuckled and shook his head as if Trym was an idiot. “When are you lot going to wake up and realize that personal gain always wins in the end? Even your precious Svala cares more about keeping Viggo away from another woman than of preserving the balance. She’s having selfish thoughts as we stand here talking, and it’s probably not the first time she’s experienced them. Your Liosálfar focus on unselfish actions, of keeping your protégés apart so they can earn the right to their love by performing unselfish actions, but you completely ignore that their love creates the most selfish feelings of them all. It’s actually rather ironic when you consider it.”

Trym stared at Loke; his determination seemed to grow stronger with each word. “I’ll never accept your deal,” he said.

“You will. You just need to give it some thought.”

 

 

When Loke left, Trym sat on the edge of the bed and closed his eyes. He rubbed his face with a troubled frown.

Alrik walked up and kneeled at his feet. He placed his hand on Trym’s leg and shook his head.

“Don’t even consider it, Trym. Trust your instinct. I know it’s telling you to resist his offer. And trust in Svala. She would never fall for his lies.”

Trym stared right through him. He didn’t even detect Alrik’s hand on his thigh.

The satisfaction of being close enough to touch Trym only frustrated him when Trym showed no signs of awareness. Alrik always figured Trym would be able to sense him, that the two thousand years they’d spent together created a bond strong enough to break through this curse.

“I know what you’re thinking. He has to make good on a promise, and he will, but he’ll twist it around. He’ll make sure he wins either way. He’ll turn this against us and make you invisible to me instead. I don’t want you to suffer through this torture like I have. Worst of all, I’d be aware. I’d always wonder if you were standing next to me in a crowded street, or if you were sitting on the empty chair across the table in a diner. You’d be the one watching me, only we’d both know. We’d both wonder. If you think this is torture…”

Alrik dropped his voice and searched Trym’s vacant blue eyes. “Trust yourself. You know what to do.”

Trym shuddered. He scanned the small area around the bed, and his frown grew deeper. Then he stood and walked swiftly to the other side of the room, where he turned again, staring at the bed as if searching for something.

Alrik rose to his feet as well. “Did you sense me?” he asked.

He walked over and clasped Trym’s hand in a firm grip. “You sensed me, didn’t you? I’m right here. Look at me.”

Trym stared at the bed. With a tense expression he tilted his head to the left and focused on the edge of the bed, as if willing something to appear.

Alrik squeezed Trym’s hand and jerked it. “Look at me. I’m standing right here,” he said.

The tension left Trym’s face. He shook his head and smiled to himself. “I thought I…” he started, but interrupted himself with another head shake. “So stupid.”

“No. Not stupid. I’m here.”

Alrik squeezed Trym’s hand. “Look at me!”

“I wish you were here,” Trym whispered. “You’d tell me what to do. You’d tell me to trust my instinct.”

Alrik swallowed hard in an attempt to push back the pain and frustration surging through him. Trym showed no further sign of awareness.

Trym’s hand grew limp as he stared off at nothing. Another sigh, deeper and more resigned, escaped him.

“What if my instinct is wrong?”

 

 

Chapter 42

 

Jen and Svala were alone by the lockers after lunch. Jen glanced down the worn out vinyl carpet in the hallway, then leaned closer to Svala and lowered her voice. “So, do vampires really exist too?” she asked.

Svala shot Jen a warning glance as a girl passed behind them. Despite the muffled music coming from the girl’s headphones, Svala waited until the she disappeared around the corner before she responded. Her voice came out strained. “Please, Jen. Not here.”

Jen scanned the hallway. There was nothing there but crumpled papers in the corners and a broken off pen.

“Come on, tell me. There’s no one around.”

Svala sighed and doubled checked to make sure they were indeed alone. She avoided Jen’s gaze and reached into her locker to get a book.

“Yes. Now, will you please leave it alone?”

Jen moved closer. She stole another quick glance down the hallway and shifted feet before asking, “Have you ever met any for real?”

“Jen!” Svala closed her locker and stared at her friend, her brows knitted tightly together. “Please stop asking questions like that in public.”

Jen could barely remain still. She fidgeted with the end of her sleeve. “Come on, Svala, I want to know. No one can hear us.”

Svala clutched her book in a tight grip, hoping the answer would end the discussion.

“Yes, I’ve met one or two.”

Jen’s eyes widened in excitement. “What were they like?”

Svala sighed.

“Bloodthirsty. Evil. Murderers,” she said.

“All of them?”

“The two I’ve met.”

Jen stared at her, a hesitant smile forming on her face, as if she wasn’t sure whether she should be terrified or intrigued.

Svala consulted her watch. Their first class after lunch wasn’t for another half hour and most of their other classmates were still in the cafeteria. Plenty of time for Jen to keep this up.

Jen leaned closer, her eyes sparkling. “What about Edward Cullen? Have you met him?”

Svala fought the urge to roll her eyes. “I’m pretty sure he’s a fictional character, Jen.”

“What about Eric Northman?”

Svala glared at her friend.

“What? Aren’t there any fictional characters who are based on real people?”

“Vampires aren’t people.”

“Well, you know what I mean. If vampires and fairies exist what’s to say those stories aren’t based on reality?”

A girl from their class opened her locker a few feet further down the hallway. Svala’s phone buzzed in her hand and she was glad for an excuse to avoid any further questioning from Jen.

It was Viggo, asking her to call him. He’d called constantly since she came back from Loke’s mansion the other day. In hopes he’d stop chasing her, she’d eventually answered him, telling him she needed time to sort out her thoughts. She never told him about the photographs, or about Trym. And she didn’t know what to tell him about Loke’s suggestions so she didn’t mention it either. If she did he’d only get upset and act on his feelings, and it would put Trym’s safety at risk. Besides, if Loke told her the truth, she didn’t want Viggo to know she was aware about his history with Amanda. If he lied about it, she didn’t want to accuse Viggo of something he hadn’t done.

She read Viggo’s message. He wanted to know if she was ready to talk. With a deep sigh, she switched off her screen and ignored his text message.

Jen nodded towards the phone in her hand. “Why are you so upset with him? Is it because of Amanda?” she asked.

“It’s more complicated than that. We’ve been together for so long, it’s hard to believe he would do something like that.”

Svala pushed her phone into her pocket.

Jen tilted her head to the side, studying her.

“How old are you really?” she asked.

“Old.” Svala smiled.

“Yeah, I get that. But how old? A hundred years old? Two?”

“Jen…” Svala closed her eyes in annoyance. “Can we please not talk about this right here?”

“You can’t expect me to find out about all this and not have questions. I still don’t understand half of it. Like Freja being your daughter and all that.”

“Shhh.” Svala shot her a warning glance. “Please, keep your voice down.”

“I’m sorry, but it’s so bizarre. She’s old enough to be your mother.”

Further down the hallway, Emma walked towards her locker. She was alone.

As Svala looked past Jen, and over at her granddaughter Jen followed her gaze. “Right, so that would make Emma your…” She paused, her eyes widening as she did the math. “And Viggo’s too…”

She grimaced as realization hit her. “So Emma has a crush on her grandfather. I take it she doesn’t know who you are?”

“No.” Svala shook her head, still looking at Emma. “She doesn’t know. Or at least I don’t think she knows.”

The fact that Emma didn’t know what they were made her comment the other day even more peculiar. How could she know about witches if she didn’t know about her own origin. She had to find out what Emma knew and where she stood.

“I want to talk to Emma now while she’s alone. Please, stay here,” she said.

Jen agreed, reluctantly and Svala walked up to her granddaughter further down by the locker, keeping her voice down as she called for her attention. “Emma?”

A puzzled expression formed on Emma’s face. “What do you want?”

“I thought we could talk,” Svala said.

“I have nothing to say to you.”

“Well, your father invited me and my friends to your sweet sixteen party. He said we’d have a lot in common. I thought…”

Emma’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean? What did he say?”

Svala hesitated, she hated lying to her granddaughter, but she had to find out if she knew something about what was going on.

“Nothing. He just said we had a lot in common. I figured it might have something to do with what you said… about the magic…”

Emma’s cheeks paled. She turned away to open her locker. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

Svala leaned closer.

“He can’t hurt you. You know that, don’t you?”

Emma paused with her hand inside the locker. Her shoulders tensed. “Why would he want to hurt me? He’s my father.”

Emma didn’t move and Svala ignored answering her question. The silence lingered.

“What have you seen, Emma?” Svala finally dared to ask.

Emma’s jaw clenched. She closed her eyes through a sigh. “What do you want from me? If this is about getting to Viggo…”

“No.” Svala shook her head determined. “This has nothing to do with Viggo. You told me you’d seen magic. What exactly did you see?”

Emma shrugged. “Nothing. It was nothing.”

Her eyes didn’t settle.

Svala lowered her voice. “Did your father threaten you not to talk about it?”

Emma narrowed her eyes again. “Why do you want to know so badly? And why do you keep bringing my father into this? What is it that you want?” she asked.

Svala eased back, not sure how to answer.

“I was only curious why you said that. And when your father mentioned we’d have things in common, I thought…” She shook her head. “Never mind. Forget I said anything.”

She prepared to leave.

“Wait.” Emma reached out to grab her arm. “Is this your way of telling me you were responsible for what happened in the cafeteria?” Emma asked.

“Did you tell your father about that?”

Emma shook her head.

“Why not?”

Emma’s gaze shifted to the floor. “Listen, I don’t like you, but that doesn’t mean I want to see you get hurt. I’m really sorry I threw that pot at you and I appreciate that you and my father came to an understanding about it, but if you were the one who made all that food explode, you should stay as far away from my father as you possibly can.”

“Why?”

Emma avoided her gaze along with her question.

“He has powers too, doesn’t he?” Svala insisted.

Emma’s face morphed into confusion. “No.”

She shook her head, and eased back. “Why do you think that?”

The suspicion she’d eased within Emma returned.

Emma stepped back and glanced over at Jen. Svala tried to come up with something to say but it was too late.

“Do yourself a favor. If you’re dealing with anything that has to do with magic, stay as far away from my father as you possibly can.”

And with that, Emma walked away.

 

 

Chapter 43

 

“Have a seat.” Loke motioned to the empty chair opposite his desk in his oversized office.

Viggo remained standing with a few feet’s distance. Why did all men in history who considered themselves important have such large offices? They only appeared smaller.

“I’m not staying long. And this is not a social visit,” he said.

Loke studied him with a subtle smile, then took a seat in the office chair behind his desk. The black leather squeaked when he leaned back and knitted his hands together.

“Very well, Viggo. Why are you here then?” he asked.

Viggo’s voice remained calm. “Leave Svala alone.”

Loke opened his mouth to speak, but Viggo cut him off. “It’s not a request.”

“Then what?” Loke grinned. “An order? A threat?”

He leaned forward, placing his elbows on his desk. “As far as I’m aware, you’re not in a position to make either.”

Viggo marched up to the desk, placed his palms flat against the surface and leaned in. “Stay away from her!”

Despite Viggo’s harsh tone, Loke didn’t even flinch. He stared into Viggo’s deep blue eyes, his smile fading.

“I take it she’s talked to you about her visit,” he said.

Hesitating, Viggo momentarily broke eye contact.

“Yes,” he lied. “Of course she did.”

Loke nodded and pressed his lips together before he spoke. “I guess that means you won.”

Viggo struggled to keep as straight face as he had no idea what the man was talking about. He straightened up and moved away from the desk.

“Yes, I guess it does,” he said.

“Then why are you even here, Viggo?” Loke asked. “If she’s talked to you, that means she’s already made a decision to stay with you. I couldn’t get her to shift sides even if I wanted to, so why are you here? To gloat? Didn’t think that was your style.”

Viggo’s throat closed. Svala hadn’t talked to him.

Does that mean she consider leaving me? And for what? For him? For them?

“I must say I’m surprised about her decision. I realize her love for you is strong, but I thought she’d do what is in the best interest of the balance. She could’ve saved Trym and Alrik too for that matter. Instead she chose you. She must truly love you,” Loke said.

Viggo could no longer hide his confusion. He had no idea how to respond to the information.

“Oh, I take it she didn’t give you all the details?” Loke smiled. “I suppose she wouldn’t. She did seem upset about Trym’s decision, and to be honest, her own decision isn’t exactly according to your rules. Personal gain and all that.”

“What are you talking about?” Viggo asked.

Loke paused to scrutinize Viggo. His brows knitted together as if trying to make sense of him.

“Well, it’s actually something between Svala and me, but since she’s already made her decision, I don’t see the harm in telling you.”

Viggo trained his eyes on Loke, waiting for him to continue, terrified Loke would suspect he had no leverage.

Loke leaned back in his chair.

“I gave Svala a chance to save Trym by offering herself. To strengthen the appeal of my proposal, I agreed to give her Alrik as well. In return she would willingly come to me,” he said.

Viggo struggled to keep his breath steady so he didn’t reveal that Svala hadn’t yet chosen to decline Loke’s offer. The scent of leather, mixed with the newly polished wooden floor, made him nauseous.

“As you probably know, I can’t take her by force. It has to be her choice. Naturally, I thought my proposal would appeal to her.”

“Is it really a choice when you give her an ultimatum?” Viggo spoke through clenched teeth.

“When there is an option to decline, yes.”

“Why would you want her so badly? She can’t be worth both Alrik and Trym to you.”

Loke smiled. “She’s not.”

Viggo frowned. “Then why make the offer?”

“Why do you think?”

Loke’s smug grin lingered. He met Viggo’s confused eyes with absolute confidence.

Viggo’s frown deepened. “What? To get to me?”

“Why does that surprise you? I’ve had my eyes on you for a long time. How do you think it made me look when I couldn’t get you to join us after years of captivity and torture? How do you think it affected my status in the Döckálfar community? I need to restore my honor. Succeeding in my mission to get you over to our side will help me do that. It will secure me a place in our council.”

“So you’d offer Svala’s safety in return for me?”

“If she accepted my deal, yes. I would have offered you to trade places with her and that way I’d get you, Alrik and Trym. But it doesn’t matter much now, does it?”

The color drained from Viggo’s face.

Loke leaned over the desk again with a hesitant smile. “Or does it, Viggo? You’re not protecting her by keeping anything from me. I hope you understand that.”

Viggo’s gaze didn’t settle. It revealed his doubt, but he refused to confirm Loke’s suspicions. Instead, he calmed down and willed himself to meet Loke’s gaze.

“For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right. What makes you think I’d risk such a power balance?” Viggo asked.

“You love her and would do anything for her. You suffered through all that torture rather than giving up her whereabouts, you let us torture that girl just to stay true to her. You lot don’t kid around when it comes to love and loyalty.”

Viggo straightened up.

“Doesn’t matter how much I love her. I have an obligation to do what is in the best interest of the balance. If her sacrifice will save Alrik and Trym…”

“I intended to make her mine.” Loke cut him off. “Before you say anything else, I want you to know that.”

Viggo’s muscles tensed, his eyes narrowed. He fought to stay in control as losing his temper would not help. That was exactly what Loke wanted and he wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

Loke continued, “Not in the sense that she’s yours of course. I’m smart enough to know she’d never accept that, but I would make her mine, and she would carry my child. That was what I would stand to gain from the deal if you chose to decline my offer. After all, a child is worth so much more than anything else. It would have been a risk of course. I could try to make her pregnant for centuries without results, but I suppose there are more tedious activities one can engage in.”

“If you touch her….” Uncontrolled anger rushed through Viggo.

Loke smiled like he’d already caught on to what was going on.

“Well, as I understand it, that is no longer any risk you’ll have to take, since she chose you. I get why the thought of it upsets you, though. You know firsthand how I treat my women. I know you’d hate to see Svala meet the same destiny as Amanda. Or your daughter for that matter.”

Viggo breathed heavily through his nose with an urge to walk up and punch Loke right in the face, but loss of control would only reveal his bluff.

He focused to suppress the emotions but waited too long. His blood boiled and before he calmed, his energy broke free. A stapler and pen on Loke’s desk rattled against the shiny, black surface.

Loke stared at the items on his desk bouncing up and down faster and faster, the clicking noise echoing in the room. Viggo closed his eyes and, with a deep breath, forced control to return. The items slowed down, then stopped moving completely.

They stared at each other. Loke reached out and reorganized the pen and stapler into place.

“I can’t imagine why you’d get this worked up if you already won,” he said. “So let’s say, for the sake of argument, Svala hasn’t made her decision yet, and that she’ll consider my offer… If you take Svala’s place, I’ll give you my word I’ll also leave your daughter and granddaughter alone. I won’t claim Emma in any way, and I’ll make sure she isn’t recruited as a Döckálfar, as is the original plan, on her sixteenth birthday.”

Viggo remained silent, staring at Loke with an intense, fevered stare.

“I guess that means you’ll consider my proposal.” Loke nodded.

“Go to hell!”

Viggo prepared to leave.

“Viggo!” Loke stood.

He stopped, but didn’t turn.

“You should be aware that if you try to influence Svala’s decision, or tell her about this conversation, Emma and Freja will be the ones will have to pay for your actions. I promise you’ll both regret taking that risk,” Loke warned.

He paused, as if to give room for an answer but as Viggo didn’t respond he continued, “You have one month to decide. That’s what I gave Svala. If you haven’t given your answer by Emma’s sweet sixteen party, the deal is off. And remember, I’m offering you the chance to save Svala, Emma and Freja. You have my word on that.”

Viggo’s eyes narrowed. “Your word means nothing.”

Loke nodded, as if he understood. There was a hint of desperation in his eyes when he reached down and pulled out a drawer from his desk and took out a black scroll with a blood red ribbon tied around it.

He removed the ribbon and rolled it out on his desk. The letters, written in golden ink, glowed in the light from Loke’s green desk lamp.

“You don’t need to take my word for it. You’ll have it in writing. This document secures the deal.”

Loke grabbed a pen on his desk and signed the end of the paper with the same golden ink, then rolled the paper into a scroll and handed it to Viggo.

“It’s all there. All you have to do is sign and you’ve saved your entire family from a very dark future.”

 

 

Chapter 44

 

A month went by and Viggo’s attempts to contact Svala slowed down. He checked in on her, but he didn’t pressure her to talk about her meeting with Loke. She refused to meet him, not because she didn’t want to, but because it would’ve made her decision impossible. She had to make her decision with a clear mind.

As Svala considered her options, she realized she had none. She had a chance to save Trym, Alrik and Viggo. She alone could influence the balance by bringing back an older Liosálfar and having Trym unite with his lover after all these years. It was the only thing that made sense. Too much was at stake to ignore that. It didn’t even matter where Viggo stood with Amanda. For the last thousand years they’d been told one thing: the balance came before all.

On the first day of spring, teenage girls in ballroom dresses, and boys in black tuxedoes lined up outside Loke’s impressive mansion. The warm air filled with the pungent earthly scent of the season. Excitement and laughter swept through the crowd and Svala tried her best to blend in.

A guard checked their tickets at the gate, and once inside they stepped into the graveled front yard. Svala’s friend’s all gasped at the sight in front of them. The impressive white mansion stood tall against a blue sky and the property was surrounded by hedges, trimmed to perfection. A tall, shiny, black fence helped keep intruders outside. The white gravel covered the front yard up to the house with the exception of a roundabout with a large fountain in the center of the graveled path. The beams of water shot up high in the air then fell in perfect arcs and rippled softly down into a pool at the bottom.

Svala and her friends walked up to the end of a large marble staircase, leading up to the front door.

”Damn, my shoes are ruined.” Sarah complained and moved up on the first marble step, away from the gravel.

”This place is huge.” Noah gaped up at the building.

The mansion were four storey’s high with tall rustic windows covering the front. Balconies, bigger than the house Svala grew up in covered parts of the second and third floor. The massive, white marble stairs split in two separate and much smaller stairs at the top, both which led up to another huge balcony. That’s where the massive black double door was located.

Svala gazed up the stairs. Her deep red dress stood out among a sea of blue, pink and black.

Sarah brushed the white dust off her shoes then leaned over the railing, gawking at the building. Megan clutched Sarah’s arm and followed her example, wobbling a little to the side as she did. Noah reached into his suit jacket and pulled out a pocket flask. He took a sip then passed it to Jayden.

Jen leaned closer to Svala and dropped her voice. “Have you talked to him this week?” she asked.

Svala shook her head.

“He’s going to be here, you know.”

“I know.”

Jayden nudged Svala’s side and reached her the bottle. “You want some?” he asked.

Svala suppressed a need to wince as a strong scent of mixed alcohol reached her.

“No thanks,” she said.

Jayden lowered his voice and stepped closer. “You sure?” he asked.

She nodded and swallowed in an attempt to rid herself from the nausea.

“I’m sure.”

She forced a smile.

Jayden stepped even closer. “Are you OK? You look…”

He paused and pressed his lips together, as if he didn’t know how to end the sentence without insulting her.

Svala waited for him to elaborate.

“Well, one minute you’re ash grey, then, like now, you’re all flush. I mean, you still look beautiful in that dress and all, but…” He shook his head, like he thought himself an idiot. ”I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply… you just look like you’re about to throw up.”

“I’m fine,” Svala said, avoiding his gaze.

Her usual calm nerves were in a tangle, and she’d already thrown up once this morning. Jayden didn’t have to know though; he’d only assume it had something to do with Viggo. Which to be fair, it did, but not the way he’d think.

It took them fifteen minutes to reach the front door where a second guard checked their tickets before letting them inside. In the middle of the spacious black and white hallway stood a tall, full figure canvas of Viggo. The text below it read: Donate $10 to charity and win a dance with Viggo Storm.

Sarah gasped and pointed to the canvas. “Oh my God, look at that! Where do we enter?” she asked, raised her clutch bag to her chest and searched the room.

“Doesn’t say what charity,” Jen pointed out and glanced at Svala for approval.

Most likely the ‘charity’ had to do with supporting the Döckálfar communities, one way or another. How could Viggo support that?

“Who cares? You might get to dance with Viggo Storm!” Sarah said.

She opened her bag to get her wallet then looked at the other three girls. “Are you guys in?”

“Not a chance,” Jen said.

Sarah offered Jen a nasty grimace, then turned to Svala. “Svala?”

Svala shook her head.

Sarah frowned, then shrugged and reached for Megan to join her. “Come on, let’s find where we can enter.”

To Svala’s surprise, Loke allowed the guests to wander freely around the property. He’d even put up a billboard with directions to various rooms and activities around the house.

”Look, there’s a casino.” Noah pointed to the billboard. ”We have to check it out.”

Svala agreed, reluctantly, not thrilled about the idea of seeing more of her friend’s being tricked into losing money to the Döckálfar cause.

The room was built like an actual casino. Noah glanced at the others with wide eyes as if doubting they experienced the same thing. Jayden smiled wide and shook his head in disbelief.

”Amazing,” he chuckled.

A bright red carpet covered the floor and several slot machines stood lined up along the right wall. To their left stood two card tables with pretty girls dealing cards to teenage boys who by no doubt were losing big. The room even had a booth where you could buy chips and collect your winnings.

The clink of coins fell into a machine and cut through the buzz of people laughing and talking. 1920’s music played low in the background and to their left some girls made fun of the music by pretending to do the Charleston, getting it all wrong and laughing at each other.

”I’m going to get us some chips.” Noah nodded to the long line leading up to the booth. He reached into his pocket for his wallet and opened it to count his money. ”Damn, I don’t have much cash on me. You don’t imagine they take credit card?” He grinned, as if he thought it unlikely.

”Actually, I would be willing to bet on it,” Svala couldn’t keep the bitterness out of her voice.

Most of the guests had gathered at the end of the room by the roulette table. When Noah and Jayden headed to the end of the line to purchase the chips, Svala sensed Viggo. She found him next to Amanda up by the roulette table. It explained the crowd up there.

Viggo met Svala’s eyes across the room. He looked so sad she could hardly stand it, but when he noticed her dress he mouthed a discrete ’wow’ with a quivery smile. Her heart ached.

Amanda pulled at his arm, demanding his attention, then shot Svala a warning glance.

”God, that bitch,” Jen whispered. ”Did you see how he looked at you before she leeched on to him?”

Svala couldn’t breathe, even less answer. Jen reached out and caressed her back, leaning in to offer a comforting half hug. ”You have nothing to worry about with Amanda. That look he gave you even weakened my knees. And I’m not even that big of a fan.”

Svala forced a smile. She hadn’t considered Amanda before Jen mentioned it. Her focus had been completely on him. If she shifted over to their side tonight, Viggo would no longer be able to look at her the way he just did. He would never be able to look at her in any way. The thought made her weak, it made her doubt the decision she knew she had to make.

”Come on.” Noah startled them both when he leaned in and put his arms around them. ”Let’s go win some money.”

As crowded as the roulette table was, Noah managed to squeeze them all in to the front. Emma stood in front of Viggo and Amanda, a pile of gambling chips at her disposal. Her gaze lingered on Svala for a few seconds before she placed her bets.

”Do you want to play?” Jayden’s lips rested so close to her ear she felt his breath against her skin.

She shook her head. When he leaned in to place a chip on number 14, the pressure from the crowd behind pushed him up against her. He laughed softly, placed his hands on her hips and whispered: ”Sorry.”

The chips on the table started rattling. She met Viggo’s gaze over the table, silently begging him to control his emotions before anyone noticed. He stared at Jayden’s hand on her hip, his jaw clenched. She reached down and urged for Jayden to retrieve both hands. The chips stilled.

Jayden sighed and moved away. Amanda tugged at Viggo’s arm again. Emma stared at the roulette table as the wheel spun. Jen observed Svala while Noah shouted his number over and over, as if that would help him win.

She should get away from Viggo and Amanda. It only upset them both to be this close under these circumstances and she didn’t want this situation to escalate and turn her last memory of him into something bad. She should make a discrete exit, find Loke, and accept the deal he’d offered.

While she considered a way to leave without Viggo or Jayden following her, Trym’s voice entered her mind. It was vague and unclear, like a radio station not completely tuned in.

I have to get out of here.”

She held her breath. Trym was there? Locked up in this house? She never would have guessed.

Svala closed her eyes and focused. She had to be able to sense him again if she were to find him in this gigantic house, but either she’d lost the connection, or he wasn’t speaking anymore.

Maybe it was all these people talking all at once, all the noise from the machines and the music. Maybe she needed to go somewhere more quiet.

”Excuse me.” She pushed past Jayden and out through the crowd.

The corridor outside the casino was empty so she stopped for a moment and tried to focus. She couldn’t hear him, but when she focused hard enough, she could sense him.

”Hey! Where are you going?”

Jen’s voice made her lose her connection with Trym.

Svala kept her eyes closed. ”Jen, go back inside.”

”Why? What’s going on?”

”Shh. Please, I need to focus.”

”On what?” Jen asked.

”On Trym. I could sense him. I need to find him.”

”You could sense him?” Jen lowered her voice, eyes large. ”In this house?”

Svala nodded, annoyed that Jen kept talking.

”Please stay here. I have to go somewhere quiet so I can figure out where he is.”

”I’ll go with you.” Jen insisted.

”No. It’s too dangerous.”

”You need someone to keep watch.”

She didn’t have time to argue. She consulted her watch and glanced at the door leading into the casino. It was less than an hour before the dinner started and she feared if she didn’t go now, Jayden or Viggo would also come looking for her and delay her even more. ”OK, you can come along, but you have to stay quiet.”

As they moved from room to room, Svala tried to sense Trym’s presence and figure out where he might be. In every new room she stopped, and focused. She listened and tried to zone out the constant chatter of voices around her. Jen kept in the background, watching her in agreed silence. When Svala couldn’t sense him, they moved over to the next room. In the last room of the mansion she hardly made it past the threshold before she felt his presence. It was vague, but he was definitely close.

There were no other guests in the room, which could explain why she picked up on him so strongly. She stopped and focused to find direction, and opened her eyes when the direction of Trym’s presence became obvious. At the end of the room, there was a door.

To anyone else it wouldn’t have been odd to find a door where the house ended. It could simply lead out to the garden, or a terrace. But the door was black with a Döckálfar sign printed all over it which meant she was the only one who could see it.

She hurried up and grabbed the handle.

”Wow!” Jen gasped as the door became visible to her as well. ”Where did that come from?”

”Let’s find out.” Svala pressed down the handle.

When she opened the door, she met a small hallway and a set of stairs going down. ”This leads to the underground. This has got to be where they’re keeping him.”

Jen looked over her shoulder, her eyes stirring. “Wouldn’t there be guards keeping watch if he’s locked up down there? What if it’s a trap?” she asked.

When Svala didn’t answer, Jen hurried to join her inside. Svala opened her bag and took out her lip gloss. She placed it in the crack of the door to make sure it stayed open in case something happened and Jen had to make a quick exit on her own. If she closed the door and something happened to her, Jen wouldn’t even be able to see it, and she’d be stuck down there.

Jen glanced into the narrow hallway and the flight of stairs going down. Her face paled. ”This can’t be a good idea, Svala. What if there is someone down there?”

“Relax. Loke doesn’t think I’ll break the rules.” Svala assured her. “Come on. I can sense Trym down here. We have to hurry”

Below the stairs, a long grey corridor opened up in front of them. A bright florescent light reflected on five metallic doors on either side. Svala kicked off her black pumps, gathered the light fabric of her dress, and ran down the corridor. She stopped in the center, where she closed her eyes and focused. She tilted her head to the side. “Third door to the left,” she whispered, then opened her eyes. “That’s where he is. Third door to the left.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do.”

Svala hurried to the door and tried the handle but as expected, it was locked. She pressed her ear against the cold metallic surface, but no sound came through.

“We have to find a way to get inside.” She smoothed her hand over the surface.

“How? That door is made of solid metal, and by the looks of it, really thick,” Jen pointed out.

The door above the stairs opened and closed with a loud thud. The girls froze, exchanging looks of panic as footsteps trotted down the stairs.

“Svala, are you down here?” Jayden’s voice echoed in the stairway.

Svala grimaced and nodded to Jen to get rid of him. She didn’t have time for this. She had to figure out how to get inside that room before Loke figured out they were down there.

Trusting Jen would take care of Jayden Svala leaned against the door and roamed her hands over the surface in an attempt to find a weak spot.

Jen met Jayden halfway down the corridor, preventing him from passing.

”What are you guys doing here? What is this place?” he asked.

“We took a wrong turn; I might have left my purse upstairs, though. Would you mind helping me look for it?” She placed her hand on his arm and tried to guide him back.

Svala moved her hands over the door, hoping her emotional state would trigger some kind of explosion. Nothing happened.

“What is she doing?” Jayden asked.

“What?” Jen shrugged, as if Svala caressing a door with the palm of her hands was perfectly normal to her.

“Svala?” Jayden’s voice pitched in concern. “Are you all right?”

“Shh,” she hushed. “You’re ruining my concentration.”

“Your what?”

He walked past Jen and continued toward Svala.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

The door at the top of the stairs opened and closed again. Svala stepped back from the door and Jen’s eyes widened, her face paled. Since the door had now been shut close, Svala anticipated Loke to come down the last step. It might have been a good idea to bring Jen after all as Loke might not do anything in front of a mortal, even less two of them.

Jayden eyed their reaction with a confused frown; he opened his mouth to speak but closed it again as Viggo came out from the darkness and into the hallway. He paused and glared at Jayden, his lips in a tight line, not even trying to hide he was displeased to find him down in the basement with Svala.

“What are you doing down here?” Svala whispered. Her eyes darted from Viggo to Jayden. “You have to leave. We’ll get caught for sure if you’re down here. There are like two hundred girls up there, stalking you.”

Viggo glanced up the stairs, then continued down the hallway towards them.

“I made sure no one saw me.”

He glared at Jayden again when he passed. Jayden stared at Viggo, mouth open, eyebrows squished together.

“What is he doing here?” Viggo motioned to Jayden.

“He followed us,” Svala said, then backed away from Viggo, suspicious. “How did you know to come down here?”

He smiled, exposing one of his irresistible dimples. ”Hey, why wear red if you didn’t want me to follow?”

Their eyes locked. His smile slowly faded and he looked as if he memorized her appearance for a future she would no longer be a part of.

“Viggo, I…” she trailed out as the tears got stuck in her throat.

He closed in, the concern in his eyes breaking her heart. If she had to spend eternity without him, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know about him and Amanda. She didn’t want their last conversation to be about another woman.

So she shook her head. “Nothing. It was nothing.”

She took a deep breath, catching Jayden’s confused expression behind Viggo. She didn’t have time to consider him, she had to get inside that room.

“We have to focus. Trym’s in here, but I can’t get the door open. If I could only…”

She placed her hand on the handle, closed her eyes and let the frustration flow through her.

Viggo’s presence did the trick, and the handle rattled. She gasped and let it go for a second, then she closed her hand around it again and focused harder.

“What are you doing?” Viggo grabbed her arm and forced her away from the door, his grip tight, border-line violent.

Her eyes flung open. She fought him, trying to get to the door. “No! Let go of me. It was working.”

Viggo grabbed her wrists and held her in a steady grip as he pulled her further away from the door.

“Don’t ever do that again!” he roared.

“Hey!” Jayden raised his voice and stepped forward. “Let go of her!”

Viggo’s jaws clenched. His grip around Svala’s wrist tightened. “Stay out of this!” he hissed without looking at Jayden.

“You’re hurting her!” Jayden didn’t back down.

Viggo loosened his grip and Svala could tell he fought against his frustration. She reached up and clasped his face with one hand. “No, honey. Don’t fight it. Let it go. Come here.” She took his hand and led him to the door. “Help me,” she pleaded

“No.” He held her back in an attempt to prevent her from pressing her palm against the door.

“It’s not worth it. He’s not worth it.” He nodded to the door, and then clutched her face, forcing her to look at him. “Please, don’t do this. We’ll find another way.”

“I have to. I’m not leaving him,” she insisted.

“I get that, but we’ll have to find another way. We can’t do it like this. We can’t break the rules like this. Not now, not here.”

“There is no other way. There’s no time.” Her eyes welled. “Viggo, please. Whatever they’ve told you about him, whatever you believe, it’s not true. Deep in your heart you must know that.” She swallowed hard. ”It’s Trym for God’s sake. He would never betray us. He’s done nothing but protect us. Protect her. We owe it to him, more than you know.”

Jayden stepped back, glanced at Jen as if asking her to clarify what was going on. Jen gazed up at the ceiling, pretending she didn’t pick up on the silent question.

Viggo sighed in resignation when Svala placed her hand on the door. She inhaled deeply through her nose, then exhaled through her mouth.

“I’m doing this, with or without your help,” she said.

Viggo stared at her, as if he hoped she’d change her mind. When she didn’t back down, he raised his hand to the door and closed his eyes. Seconds after, the door rattled again, and then, the lock clicked open.

Viggo reached for the handle, paused with a deep weighted sigh and met her gaze. She offered a nod, hesitant at first, then firm. He pushed the heavy door to open.

“Trym!” Svala hurried inside.

She faced the same apartment she’d seen on the screen in Loke’s office. It was smaller than it had appeared on the screen in Loke’s office.

Trym sat on the bed, but rose as she came inside. “That was you?” he gasped. “What are you thinking, you …?”

Viggo came up behind Svala, and Trym’s gaze darted between the two of them.

“What’s going on? What are you doing here together?” he asked.

Jayden caught the door with his foot right before it closed but stayed in the doorway, making sure it didn’t close again. Jen snuck past him to get inside and Trym stared at them both, his lips parted in surprise.

“What the hell is going on, Svala?” he demanded.

Alrik walked out from the bathroom, dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt. He dried his wet hair with a towel but stopped short at the sight of them all standing there.

Viggo’s face tensed and his gaze darted between Alrik and Trym before he turned to Svala.

“Now do you believe he’s behind it all?” he asked her with determination. “Do you understand what’s going on?”

“Viggo, no.” Svala shook her head.

“I told you, didn’t I?” Viggo continued despite her objections. “He’s betraying you. He’s betraying us both. No matter what you do, or what you decide, he’ll just do it again. It won’t be worth it.”

Trym walked up to them, a confused line forming on his forehead. “What are you going on about, Viggo? In case you haven’t noticed I’m locked up in here, this is not exactly a choice,” he said.

Viggo snorted and Svala placed her hand on his arm. “Viggo please, don’t say anything more.”

“What? You’re still protecting him. Isn’t it obvious what’s going on?” Viggo nodded at Alrik.

Alrik tossed the towel to the side, raised his hand in the air and approached them. “Viggo, there is something you need to know before you say anything else,” he said.

“Shut up Alrik! I’m not interested in what you have to say.” Viggo looked past Trym, over at Alrik. “As far as I’m concerned you’re both traitors.”

Trym froze in a puzzled expression. Alrik closed his eyes and rubbed his face with both hands through a sigh.

Svala studied Trym, her face filled with concern. Trym slowly looked behind him, then back at Svala and Viggo.

“What did you just say?”

 

 

Chapter 45

 

“Viggo, don’t!” Svala tightened her grip on Viggo’s arm.

Viggo’s muscles tensed under the black tuxedo as he stared straight at Alrik.

Alrik walked up to them, his hand raised as if to prevent Viggo from speaking. “Listen to Svala. Tell Trym you said the wrong name, Viggo. Please. He can’t see me, he doesn’t know I’m here.”

“What?” Viggo frowned.

Trym followed Viggo’s gaze. “Who are you talking to?” His voice trembled.

“Viggo, please,” Alrik begged. “Focus on Svala. Pretend I’m not here.”

Viggo looked at Svala, but his gaze darted to Alrik once more. “How did you know?” he asked her in a hushed voice.

“What the hell is going on?” Trym raised his voice and scanned the room. “What are you talking about? Who are you talking to?”

The narrow room spun and the blue and red stripes on the wallpaper merged together. Svala closed her eyes to regain focus, but it only made the room spin faster.

“Svala!” Trym’s voice filled with panic. “Tell me what’s going on right now! Why did he tell Alrik to shut up? Is Alrik here?”

“Svala, don’t,” Alrik warned.

She tightened her grip around Viggo’s arm as nausea rose in her throat. “Bathroom,” she managed. “I need to get to the bathroom.” She fumbled toward the only other door in the room.

Viggo stood frozen in place, an incredulous look on his face. When Viggo didn’t react, Alrik reached for Svala, grabbed her hand and hurried her into the bathroom. She doubled over the toilet and emptied her stomach.

Viggo and Trym bumped into each other in the narrow doorway. “Svala!” They both called out.

Trym stepped aside and motioned for Viggo to go first. Alrik sat kneeled beside Svala and held her hair to prevent it from falling into her face.

She stayed hunched over the toilet seat a while after she was done. When she was sure there was nothing left she leaned back against Alrik.

Alrik put his arms around her and pressed his lips against her hairline. His familiar scent washed over her and her eyes welled. Her dress had slid up and her legs met the cold white tiles of the bathroom floor.

Viggo kneeled by her side. “Honey, what’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing.” Her voice broke.

She moved to stroke her face against Alrik’s chest and her emotions overflowed.

“I’m just…” she started but stopped as the first tears won over her efforts to stay in control.

“Hey.” Viggo’s voice softened as he reached for her.

“It’s too much to handle right now.” She said and pressed her hand against her chest, catching her breath.

“It’s OK.” Viggo consoled Svala, and his eyes softened towards Alrik as though communicating a silent apology.

She accepted Viggo’s embrace, feeling lost between the mentor she already lost and the lover she was about to lose. Alrik ran a hand over her hair.

“This will happen to the two of you if either of you switch sides,” he said. “You won’t be able to see each other. Ever again.”

Trym kneeled behind Viggo and placed the back of his hand against Svala’s forehead to check her temperature.

“Are you OK?” he asked.

She nodded. “Just a lot of pressure.”

“I know, we have to…” Trym started.

“Someone’s coming!” Jayden shouted from the other room.

They all rose. Footsteps closed in, followed by an anguished scream from the other room and the metal door slamming shut.

Trym opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by Loke who appeared in the bathroom doorway, a victorious smile on his face.

“All right, let’s break up this party and gather out here.” He snapped his fingers and nodded towards the other room. “And quickly, we don’t have all day. I’m about to hold a speech for my daughter in thirty minutes.” He checked his wrist watch.

Jayden stood by the door, rubbing his arm, his cheeks flush. Jen was by his side, eyes wide, her face ash grey. Jayden’s eyes darkened as he continued rubbing his arm, staring at Loke. When he caught sight of Svala coming out from the bathroom with Viggo’s arms around her, his gaze flickered to her with uncertainty.

“You have no right…” Trym started.

“I suggest you all stay quiet before you make this situation worse for everybody in this room. I don’t have to remind you of where you are, do I?” Loke’s eyes turned cold, and his smile vanished.

“First things first. You brought a mortal audience.” He gestured toward Jen and Jayden. “That is one very serious rule you’ve broken.”

“It’s not your business to set that right.” Trym stated with authority in his voice. “That punishment will be up to the Liosálfar High Council to decide.”

“By your rules, not ours. We’re more of a finders-keepers kind of people,” Loke said. “Don’t worry, though; I won’t do anything to them as long as you are willing to cooperate. But until we can reach an agreement, these mortals are not leaving this building. If they do, we’ll hunt them down, and we will terminate their lives. Understood?”

Jayden stared at him. “You can’t do that. Who the hell do you think you are?”

Jen grabbed his arm, holding him back. “Jayden, don’t…”

Loke offered Jayden a bored, sideways glance.

“Second rule broken.” Loke stared at Alrik. “Alrik.”

Trym followed Loke’s gaze, squinting, as if that would help him see better.

“You’ve contacted Svala,” Loke stated.

“That should not affect them, only me,” Alrik said.

“Punishing them will affect you. But I’d still be willing to let that infraction slide if Trym accepts my invitation.”

Loke raised his hand in the air to silence Trym’s unspoken objection. “Not a word! I’m not done yet!” he demanded, then directed his full attention on Svala and Viggo.

Viggo tightened his grip around her, his fingers burying into her waist.

“You two, together before your time.” Loke smiled. “Doubting each other. Using magic under my roof.”

He shook his head, still smiling.

“Those are serious violations. I can think of several ways to punish you for your disobedience.”

“The High Council would never allow that.” Trym raised his voice.

“Your High Council don’t have a say when your people break the rules in my house! Not to mention how Viggo thought he could steal one of ours by manipulation and lies. That is a direct violation of both Liosálfar and Döckálfar rules. There are far worse punishments for what they’ve done than you can imagine. If you think being locked up and tormented in that cell for centuries was bad…”

Loke’s lips tightened. “Whoever we get over on our side will pay for what you did, Viggo,” he said. ”And that’s a promise.”

“No one is going over to your side.” Svala stared Loke down. “We’ve called your bluff. Trym never intended to switch over. You kept him here against his will. He didn’t even know Alrik was here with him.”

Trym looked around the room with a frustrated frown.

Alrik watched him concerned.

“True.” Loke nodded. “But you’ve insured my victory by breaking so many rules in my house.”

He grinned. “You’re right. I didn’t place any guards outside this corridor because I didn’t think you’d break the rules. However, if you did, it would only work to my advantage, since it would further strengthen my case. And the two of you using magic to get inside. Well, that’s just icing on the cake.”

He leaned in closer and lowered his voice. “Would you like to know what I do to those who try to use magic against me in my own house?.”

“You can’t force them to switch sides,” Trym pointed out.

“No I can’t, but they can still choose to.”

“That’s never going to happen.” Viggo straightened.

Loke paused, studied Viggo with an excited smile then walked up to Jen and Jayden. He reached out to caress Jen’s cheek.

“Here’s the deal,” he said. “I have the right to keep these two mortals locked up for the rest of their lives, that is the standard Döckálfar punishment. You can look it up if you want. That is the second most effective way to contain the damage of mortal exposure.”

His hand slid off Jen’s cheek and landed her hip where he let it linger for a moment before he retrieved it.

He locked eyes with Trym. “I can choose to lock up Alrik somewhere dark and cold for, give or take, a hundred years for breaking the rules and contacting Svala. Also perfectly within our rules on how to handle one of our own.”

He offered Svala and Viggo a wide grin. “And for the two of you.”

He took his time walking over, then reached out to touch Svala’s hair.

Viggo stared at him, but didn’t dare to move.

“I can keep the two of you separated for eternity.”

Svala looked at Trym, panic in her eyes.

Trym didn’t meet her gaze.

“Trym? He can’t do that, right? He doesn’t have the right to do that unless we agree?” Her voice trembled.

Trym swallowed hard. “I don’t know. Their rules are different from ours,” he said.

Loke’s eyes sparkled with excitement as he watched the hope vanish from their eyes.

He waved his hand in dismissal. “But don’t worry, I’m not a monster. Which is why I’m going to offer you a deal. If only one of you agrees, by your own choice, to switch over to our side before midnight, none of that will happen. I’ll let these two leave.” He gestured towards Jen and Jayden. “They’ll be safe and alive as long as they never speak of this to anyone.”

He turned to Alrik. “Alrik will not be locked up, and Svala and Viggo won’t have to be apart. Unless it’s one of them who chooses to switch sides that is.”

He locked eyes with Trym. “But we all know who would benefit the most from switching sides, don’t we?”

“Oh, you’d love that, wouldn’t you?” Trym shook his head. “The balance would never be restored if you had both me and Alrik.”

“Consider your options.” Loke motioned towards Svala and Viggo. “Dividing these two for the rest of their life. Losing Svala to us?” He met Svala’s gaze and held it. “Or have Viggo spend eternity with Amanda.” He paused, most likely to give Svala time to picture it. “Wouldn’t it be better if Trym reunited with Alrik again? Wouldn’t everyone benefit from that?”

No one said a word. Trym caught Svala’s gaze and shook his head.

“I’ll let you consider it,” Loke said and consulted his watch. “Now, let’s go out to the party. No reason to ruin dear Emma’s special evening over this.”

He nodded to the guards and pointed to Jayden and Jen. “Let those two back outside. I don’t want anyone asking for them. Monitor what they say and don’t let them leave. If they raise any suspicion, terminate their lives, but do so discretely.”

The guards grabbed Jen and Jayden and pushed them out the room.

Loke straightened out his suit and offered Svala a friendly smile. “Svala, go ahead and join your friends. I trust you won’t leave or do anything stupid. Viggo will come with me. Emma’s probably wondering where you are. I don’t want to see you and Svala talking before anyone makes a decision. Everyone will have your chance to say good bye after the decision is made.”

 

 

Svala’s heart sank as she walked up the stairs and continued through the rooms until she reached the entrance. She passed a full length mirror by the front door and caught her pale and frightened reflection. Some of her mascara had smudged around her eyes. Maybe she should take five minutes to get herself together. Fix her eye makeup, put on some rouge.

A group of girls came out from one of the corridors, talking and laughing. They all had shiny, newly brushed hair and fresh lip gloss. When they saw her, they stopped talking and exchanged odd looks.

Svala ignored them and went in the direction they came from, thinking they must have been to the ladies’ room.

Around the corner she ran into the charity booth where anyone could donate money for the chance to win that dance with Viggo. Freja stood inside the booth, leaned over the counter. The pen in her hand moved over a piece of paper, quickly, as if she was stressed for time. As Svala came into view, Freja stopped writing and looked up. Her face reddened.

“Hi. Svala, right?” Freja asked, placed the pen on the counter and folded her paper.

“Yes,” Svala said and eyed the cardboard figure of Viggo. “I didn’t know you were involved in the… charity.”

Freja smiled and looked down. “Just helping out.”

She fumbled with the papers and avoided Svala’s gaze.

“I trust you’ve entered,” Freja said.

“No.”

Freja stopped fiddling with the papers. “Really? I would have thought….”

She paused.

“I was under the impression you liked him. When you talked to him in the hallway that day.”

Svala nodded, her lips pressed together.

“What’s the charity?” she asked.

“Uh…” Freja closed her eyes and shook her head as if trying to remember. “It’s a…” She smiled. “I’m sorry, I forget.”

Svala studied her, not sure if Freja knew what the charity was for and was covering up their dirty business, or if she in fact didn’t have a clue.

Freja forced a smile. “I better get out there. Loke won’t be happy if I interrupt his speech. You better go in there too, find your seat.”

Svala went to the bathroom to freshen up before heading into the main room where the dinner was held. She located her table quickly and sat next to Jayden.

He looked at her, but his eyes never settled. She offered him a calm smile then met Jen’s terrified gaze across the table. Her chest tightened with guilt over having put her friends in this dangerous situation.

Viggo sat at the main table between Emma and Amanda. Freja was there too and Svala caught her looking over at their table, her head tilted slightly to the side, her gaze focused.

“Oh my God! Viggo Storm is totally checking me out,” Sarah gushed.

Svala met Viggo’s gaze across the room. In the ten minutes since she’d been by his side, it looked as if he had aged ten years. He shook his head, begging her not to make the decision. Loke placed a firm hand on his shoulder and leaned in to whisper something in his ear. Viggo tensed.

Svala closed her eyes. She had to think. There had to be a way out of this.

“Oh, typical!” Sarah whined. “That bitch caught him looking at me. Look at her staring, it’s embarrassing.”

When Svala lifted her gaze again she met Amanda’s eyes across the room. Amanda’s hand rested on top of Viggo’s on the table and the message read clear in her smug smile: I’ve won, and there is nothing you can do about it.

 

 

Chapter 46

 

Loke walked up on stage in the big ballroom. The band had already set up their equipment. Against the worn out drum set, amplifier and microphone stands, Loke stood out like a sore thumb in his stiff, tailor made tuxedo.

He placed his glass of champagne on the stage during the time it took adjusting the microphone up to his level. All the guests had been served a glass of Champagne for the toast. It was fittingly inappropriate of a Döckálfar to encourage both alcohol consumption and gambling on a sweet sixteen birthday party.

Clusters of pink helium balloons decorated the stage and their long curled strings flowed to the ground. Loke smiled and gazed out over the sea of round, white clothed tables scattered across the massive ballroom.

“I want to thank everyone for being here to celebrate Emma’s big day with us. It’s nice to see Emma has so many friends,” he said.

Emma’s smile came out strained. No one dared look at each other. You didn’t have to know who Loke was to understand he wasn’t the kind of man you didn’t want to disagree with.

“My dearest Emma.” Loke’s smile seemed convincingly warm. “You’re taking one step closer to becoming a woman and you’ll notice with time life is filled with many different choices.” His gaze flickered to Viggo. “They won’ t always be easy -- they might even seem unfair at times -- but they're all a part of life. ”

The restless crowd of teenagers already squirmed in their seats and rolled their eyes at each other. During a moment of silence, someone coughed.

Loke continued talking about choices: how some choices might turn out wrong and how he as a parent had the role of making sure Emma made the right ones so she could better tell the difference when she was out on her own.

Freja shook her head and emptied her glass of champagne as words of right and wrong spilled from Loke’s lips.

Viggo stared at Loke, his jaw clenched, his eyes cold. Amanda kept an eye on Svala and moved closer to Viggo, marking her territory.

“Wow, look at Viggo. He looks so focused,” Sarah whispered. “I imagine he’s, like, super smart.”

Jayden snorted and Svala’s face tensed. When she turned to him, his face softened.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean it like that. Just that she’s so stupid.”

Svala forced a smile.

Jayden reached down under the table, took her hand and leaned closer.

“Is there something I can do?” he asked.

Her smile lingered. “No. The best thing you can do is to do nothing. But thanks for asking. You’d make a great…” She stopped herself. Jayden didn’t know what she was which might be the only thing saving him at this point. “… boyfriend,” she finished.

Loke went on about responsibilities, family ties, and honoring your heritage. His words worried Svala. This was clearly no longer about hers and Viggo’s choice of shifting sides. This had to be about his plans for Emma.

“Which brings me back to choices.” Loke raised his voice, startling the people who talked amongst themselves during his speech. “You’ll make some new choices later tonight, my dear Emma. But that will be between you and me, and something for you to look forward to.” He grinned.

Freja stared at him, her face pale.

“Now, if you could all please join me in a toast for Emma on her special day.” Loke motioned for everyone to stand. Chairs scraped against the marble floor and Loke raised his glass high in the air. He settled his gaze on Svala then on Viggo before he leaned closer to the microphone and said, “To Emma.”

The scent of perfume mixed with garlic bread and grilled meat as the waiters served the main course. Svala poked at her plate; sure her food was tampered with. Not poisoned, they wouldn’ t risk that -- but drugged. At any rate she had no appetite. Her stomach was in knots.

The first part of the dinner conversation focused around Loke’s boring speech. They all agreed on the embarrassment they’d suffer had it been their father standing there, going on and on about choices and other things that didn’t make much sense to them.

“Though, I wouldn’t mind my father living in this house,” one of the girls said.

This seemed to be the general opinion and Loke’s boring speech could therefore be excused, along with Emma’s distasteful behavior.

By no surprise, conversation eventually turned to the subject of Viggo. The speculations mainly focused around why Viggo looked so sad.

“Maybe he’s sick.”

“Maybe he’s worried about having to dance with someone fat and ugly.”

“Maybe he doesn’t want to marry Amanda and that guy’s boring speech made him realize he has a choice not to.”

The last suggestion received approving nods around the table.

“Maybe he’s constipated.” Noah shrugged and drained his glass of water.

Sarah stared at him, her mouth falling open as if Noah had insulted her and not Viggo.

“Do you have to be so immature?” she asked.

As the dinner drew to an end, a technician appeared on stage to test the sound and the conversation around the table quickly changed to the upcoming dance with Viggo Storm.

Svala glanced at him. He stared into nowhere, shoulders slumped. Hopelessness clouded his entire presence. The last thing he needed right now was to dance with some hysterical girl.

“Did you all sign up for the dance?” Sarah asked, and her gaze lingered on Svala.

Svala shook her head. “No.”

“Really?” A blonde at the other side of the table girl asked. “Why not? This might be your only chance to have him put his arms around you. Why miss it?”

Svala opened her mouth to reply, but didn’t know what to say. The girl’s words cut into her heart. She might never feel his arms around her again. Loke wouldn’t let them say goodbye if he could help it. The last thing she would see of him would be him dancing with some other girl.

Up on stage, a man in a suit interrupted their conversation.

“Can I have your attention, please?” he said.

The loud buzz surging through the room settled and everyone silenced. The man introduced the band, a popular group judging from the standing ovations and cheers as five boys entered the stage. It took well over a minute before the man could silence his enthusiastic audience and move on to the next order of business, picking a winner to dance with the handsome and mysterious Viggo Storm.

Amanda nudged Viggo to stand when his name was mentioned and the spotlight fell on them both. He rose with a strained and uncomfortable smile, then sat back down instantly. A name was drawn from a big transparent bowl. A drum roll built the suspense as the man on stage slowly unfolded the winning ticket. The forced smile on Viggo’s face made it clear he took no interest in the upcoming dance.

“And the winner is…. Svala Linné!”

Viggo straightened, his eyes reflexively finding Svala.

She stared back at him, not sure how this had happened.

Viggo stood; as if afraid they’d draw another name if he didn’t act quickly. Loke glared at Svala, his eyes dark. Freja lifted a napkin to hide her lips, her eyes sparkling like stars.

“Is there a Svala Linné present?” The man on stage asked.

Svala couldn’t move.

“You said you didn’t enter!” Sarah snapped.

“Svala, stand up!” Jen urged.

Jayden pinched her side hard and she stood feeling completely detached from herself. The spotlight blinded her. She squinted and lifted her hand to shield her eyes.

About ten people clapped their hands when she walked over the floor and a surge of disappointment went through the large room. When the spotlight no longer blinded her she saw Viggo standing in front of her, reaching out his hand. He was so handsome in that tuxedo. Svala stared at him, dumb struck, then snapped out of it and walked the last distance up to him.

He grinned when she accepted his hand. “That was lucky.”

“Yeah, considering I didn’t even enter.” She scanned the room.

Over by the main table, Freja smiled like she had just won the lottery.

That’s what she’d been doing out there. She must have tampered with the names somehow.

Viggo pulled Svala against him. He met her eyes, and tears stuck in the back of her throat. It was not the only time she felt his arms around her, as the girl at her table had suggest, but it might be the last.

The band played a slow tempo love song and the room went silent. A breeze swept in from an open window as Viggo tightened his grip around her. She leaned against him, her chin on his shoulder. She wanted to move her face against his and feel his skin against hers, but feared one wrong move would have Loke break them up.

Over by her table, her friends observed them like frozen statues, Sarah’s expression strained, Jen’s worried. Svala closed her eyes to block out the distraction.

Viggo moved to whisper in her ear, “You must let me do it.”

Svala fought the tears. “No.”

“You have to. We can’t let Trym, he’s too powerful. That might lead to breaking us up either way. And you can’t do it. Not with what he has planned for you.”

She held her breath to give herself time to sort through a multitude of thoughts fighting for her attention.

“Does Amanda have anything to do with this decision?” she blurted, regretting the instant the words spilled.

“What?” He stopped moving. “Why would you ask that?”

Jealousy built inside her and she didn’t want to part with him feeling this insecure. The unanswered question rang in her head, made her heart race and her jealousy grow.

Around the room, the cutlery started bouncing softly on the white cotton table cloth. The guests gasped. Some reached out to touch the moving items, others moved their hands above the cutlery as if searching for strings above.

“Svala, stop it. Tell me.” Viggo squeezed her tighter. “What about Amanda?”

“He showed me pictures,” she said.

The cutlery rattled harder.

“Of you and her through time. In a cell during the war, then on the beach in Hampton with Freja… He said you’ve chosen to be with her. That you were going to get her over to our side so you could be with her.”

“No.” Viggo brushed his nose against her hair, his grip so tight he almost hurt her. “He’s lying. I would never choose anyone over you.”

“What about the pictures? How long have you known her?” She leaned back to look at him. “Why haven’t you ever told me about her?”

Over by the main table, Loke threw them a warning look.

Viggo started moving again, his lips close to her ear as he pretended to carry on with the dance.

“Loke locked me up with her during World War II. He tried to make me be with her, but I refused. Then she kept coming back over the years, insisting I help her,” he said and glanced at his former tormentor. “Does he have pictures of us?”

The cutlery stopped dancing on the tables.

Svala nodded.

Viggo shot Amanda a quick glance. She stared at him while fidgeting with a napkin on the table. Viggo’s eyes narrowed and his body tensed.

“I should have known. Of course… I’ve been set up from the start. We both have,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“They tortured her, too. During the war. Or at least that was how they made it look. She made me believe she wanted to shift over to our side. That was her agenda. She said if I got her over to our side our High Council would reward me with one wish; anything I wanted.”

“And you bought that?”

“No. Alva confirmed it. That part wasn’t a lie, but her intentions must have been.”

Viggo shook his head like he thought himself stupid.

“I always felt something wasn’t right. I resisted them for so long. Then after that last time, when they gave us such short time together I felt desperate over how they control us. I thought I could help push the balance in our favor and make sure you and I never had to part. Or maybe have Alrik return to Trym. But if Loke was monitoring Amanda all this time, she only ran his errands. Everything that happened was all about reaching this point. To get to me. He even told me that during the war. He told me all he needed was time. The bastard even used our daughter to get to me.”

He stopped again and leaned back to look at her. “I’m sorry. I should have told you. I thought I was protecting you.”

“How could Alva set you up to this? She’s supposed to protect you.”

“She was against the assignment. The High Council encouraged me to go through with it. Alva begged me to decline and she didn’t want to get involved. I did this on my own and Alva only contacted me to let me know the High Council had allowed us to be together. She said they didn’t want the fact that we’ve met before our time to compromise the mission, so they would allow us to unite, but they wanted it to be a secret, so the Döckálfar didn’t know.”

“So, we didn’t break the rules by being together?” Svala asked.

He shook his head. “No, but Loke tricked us into breaking their rules tonight. Not to mention all the Döckálfar rules I’ve broken by trying to get Amanda over to our side. It was a high gamble. Too high and I won’t let you take the fall for it.”

She met his eyes. After a thousand years it was difficult to imagine never looking into them again. It was too much. The pressure built in her chest and the tears pushed through in an exasperated breath. She couldn’t hold it back any longer.

“It has to be me. I couldn’t live with myself otherwise,” Viggo decided.

“There must be another way.”

“No.” He shook his head, determined. “I have a contract saying he’ll leave you, Freja and Emma alone if I change over to their side. He’s already signed it so he can’t back out of it. It makes more sense for me to go. We both know Trym can’t. This will clear The High Council’s suspicions against him and help protect you. Besides I won’t let you do it.”

“I won’t let you.” Her voice broke. “I won’t let you.”

She shook her head and repeated the sentence over and over.

The cutlery rattled again. Wood thumped against the marble floor, echoing through the room as the tables started stomping up and down. Everybody moved out their chairs, exchanging looks of confusion.

An open window slammed shut; the glass broke and shattered onto the windowsill and down on the floor.

Loke rose.

“Enough!” His voice rang out loud and furious.

The band stopped playing. Svala froze with fear and everything stopped moving.

“This dance is terminated!” Loke tossed his cloth napkin on the table and strode across the room.

His footsteps echoed in the silence. Viggo held Svala tighter, his fingers burying into her waist.

Svala glanced around them. Wide-eyed, open-mouthed stares met her. Loke wouldn’t try anything now, not in front of an audience. Would he?

Whispers buzzed through the room. The young girls around the tables stared at the dancing couple with pinched expressions. The boys appeared more amused, as if watching a show.

Viggo’s grip grew tighter with every step Loke closed in on them.

When Loke reached them, he leaned in, lowered his voice and spoke between clenched teeth. “If you don’t make a decision right now, I’ll make one for you.”

He glared at Svala before meeting Viggo’s gaze.

“You said we had until the end of the evening,” Viggo argued.

“I also said you couldn’t talk to each other. I guess it’s a night for breaking the rules.”

The buzz from the crowd grew louder. Sarah’s cheeks flushed and her jaw clenched. It looked as though her head was about to explode.

“You’re making a scene,” Viggo hissed. “What are you going to do? Grab her and drag her out of here in front of all these people? Then what? Lock everyone up so they won’t tell anyone?”

Loke’s eyes shifted to the attention building around them.

“I want an answer,” he insisted.

“Will you still give us until the end of the evening to say goodbye?” Viggo asked.

Loke shook his head. ”No. And I want an answer now.”

“If you give us a chance to say goodbye I’ll sign the document by the end of the evening,” Viggo said. ”You have my word. Which in our world actually means something.”

“You’ll sign them as soon as this dance is over. Or I’ll execute every single mortal in this room and make it look like an accident. Including your daughter.” Loke warned. He then stepped back and addressed the audience with a dazzling smile. “I apologize for the interruption. Just a misunderstanding.” He thumped Viggo’s back and then waved at the band, ordering them to resume playing. Before the drummer even lifted his drum stick, Svala interrupted them.

“I’ll do it!” Her voice’s panicked pitch cut through the silence.

The band paused.

She slid out of Viggo’s embrace. “I’ll do it,” she repeated.

“Svala, no!” Viggo reached for her.

Loke smirked. His eyes sparkled with excitement. “Is that so?”

“No!” Viggo moved in between Svala and Loke. “You get me, not her. End of discussion.”

“You can’t decide that!” Svala argued.

Loke crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back on his heels. “Well, this is certainly interesting.”

“I’ll sign the contract right away,” Viggo said and reached inside his jacket.

“No!” Svala grabbed his arm, holding him back. “I have a say in this, too. It should be me.”

Loke chuckled. “You know what? This is way too exciting. Why don’t you continue your dance. I have exactly what I need.”

Loke waved to the band again, this time in a rushed motion so that no one had time to object. The band members eyed each other with hesitation, then shrugged, and started the song from the top.

Tension filled the room as everyone stared at Svala and Viggo. Whispers spread through their audience. Frowns, head-shakes, blanks stares and one or two gaping mouths.

When Loke returned to the table, Amanda leaned in and whispered something in his ear, her lips pressed into a tight line, her eyes wide with worry.

Svala couldn’t focus, she couldn’t think and Viggo’s hand on her hip startled her.

“I can’t let you do it,” she said.

He pulled her in. “You have to.”

She closed her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t have to do anything. I also have a choice.”

Viggo’s hand moved up to her face. “Either way, we only have a few hours left. Let’s not spend them fighting.”

She opened her eyes and stared into his. He was right. Now mattered more than anything. She nodded but still couldn’t fight the tears.

“When I went to war you said you didn’t want the last thing I remembered to be you crying,” he said and wiped tears from her cheeks with his thumbs. “Regardless of who shifts over, I want the last thing I remember to be your smile.”

She nodded again but the tears still fell.

“It has nothing to do with Amanda. It just makes more sense if it’s me. It’s me he wants to punish, and I have this deal where he can’t touch you, Freja or Emma. It makes more sense.”

“Nothing makes sense…” she said and closed her eyes.

The room spun. She felt dizzy again.

Viggo pulled her closer. His breath bushed against her cheek and she opened her eyes. He leaned in.

“What are you doing?” she whispered and leaned back.

“Well, I was planning on kissing you,” he said.

“But everyone’s watching.” She glanced over at Amanda. The girl was so tense it looked as though she would snap in two.

”I don’t care. This might be the last time I ever get. I’m sure as hell not going to miss out on the chance just because people are looking.”

Svala met his eyes and smiled.

”See, there it is.” He grinned. ”The most beautiful smile in the world.”

Her smile wavered when she looked at him. The thought of never being able to see that face again was too much. ”Please, Vig. Let’s find another way.”

He reached out to pull a string of hair behind her ear. ”Will you marry me?” he asked with a crocked smile, ignoring her request. He was hell-bent on making her smile.

So she smiled again and reached up to touch his cheek. His skin felt so soft against her hand and she unintentionally made him glow right where she touched him.

He leaned in, his hands clasping her face making her glow as well. She closed her eyes blocking out the gasps resonating throughout the room. His lips landed on hers softly. He pulled her closer and deepened the kiss, tilting her back slightly. The kiss grew intense, and the glow on her skin was so intense she could feel it.

Viggo eased back for a second to look at her. He breathed heavy, locking his eyes with hers. ”I love you,” he said. ”Please, don’t ever forget that.”

He kissed her again. Last kiss. Possibly. Probably.

Most likely.

She remembered their first, a thousand years ago on a dark beach in Birka, Sweden. He’d taken the initiative back then, too. He’d pulled her in and kissed her and she remembered thinking she’d never be that happy ever again. She’d been wrong.

The ballroom lights blinked. Viggo didn’t stop. Instead he pulled her closer and deepened the kiss.

The last kiss.

The room spun. Viggo’s hand moved through her hair, his tongue met hers. Then everything blacked out.

 

 

Chapter 47

 

Svala blinked her eyes open. She was no longer in the ballroom. In fact, she was no longer standing. She lay in a bed, on top of white silk sheets. The dim light revealed an enormous bedroom with red velvet drapes covering the floor-to-ceiling windows.

“Honey?”

“Vig?” She sat and scanned the room.

Before she had time to react, Viggo was by her side. He pulled her into a hug.

“Thank God. They must have drugged you. I couldn’t get you to wake up,” he said.

“Where am I?”

“We’re still in Loke’s mansion. You passed out on the dance floor. I carried you here.”

That must have created quite the scene. She thought.

She eased back and surveyed the room. It held excessive interior, like everything else in Loke’s mansion.

“Are we locked up?” she asked.

“No.” He pushed the hair from her face. “But, we only have two hours left.”

Her eyes widened. “Until what?”

Viggo lowered his gaze. “Until I shift over.”

“No.” Her objection came out weak, like she had no air left. “You didn’t—. Tell me you didn’t.”

He met her eyes. “I had to. When you said you’d shift he could have taken us both. Signing the contract was the only way for me to save at least one of us.”

Svala’s chin trembled. She shook her head as if that would make it all go away. Then desperation took over, she slammed her fist against his chest and choked on shocked tears. “No!”

She hit him again.

“No!”

And again.

“You can’t do this to me! How can you do this to me?” she cried.

“Svala, please.” He grabbed her wrist to prevent her from hitting him again. “I understand, but we only have two hours. Please.” He clasped her face. “Let’s make them count.”

She shook her head, trying to wriggle out of his hold. She couldn’t breathe.

“I can’t,” she whispered.

“I know.” He pulled her into his arms and held her. “I know.”

She clung to him.

“We were supposed to win. We were supposed to find a way out of this. You can’t do this… I can’t live without you, Viggo. I won’t.”

“Yes, you can, and you will. You have to. You’re the strong one. You always were.”

“I’m not. I wish everyone would stop saying that. It’s not true,” she said.

He kissed her temple. “Hey, we had a thousand years together. Who gets a thousand years together?”

She could hear the smile in his voice, his attempt to lighten the mood.

“Most people are lucky to get like sixty. Then they die. This is really no different,” he continued.

She leaned back, lips pressed together. “This is much different.”

Viggo kept smiling, but his pain showed.

“Maybe if we think about it that way, it won’t be so difficult,” he said.

She reached up and trailed her fingers over his jaw line, studying his strong familiar features.

“But it won’t be like that. We’ll still be here. Only, I won’t be able to see you again. Ever,” she said.

He placed his hand on top of hers and closed his eyes.

“You’ll be standing right in front of me, and I won’t see you.” She swallowed hard. “How will I ever know when you’re there? I’ll always wonder if you’re sitting next to me. It’ll drive me crazy.”

“Do you want me to promise you I’ll never do that? Do you want me to promise I’ll stay away?” he asked.

She shook her head. “No. Maybe. I don’t know.”

He kissed her. Unexpected and deep, as though he’d just realized how little time they had left.

She kissed him back with equal desperation, trying to memorize the slope of his lips. Her breathing slowed as she focused to stay in the moment.

“Alrik left Twinkies,” she whispered against his lips.

“What?”

“For Trym. He left Twinkies in his shopping cart. Trym never understood why, but Alrik tried to let him know he was around, watching him. He couldn’t write notes. Trym would find notes all the time, but they were always blank. So he left him Twinkies.”

Viggo smiled and kissed her again.

“OK. So, I’ll leave you Twinkies,” he said.

She frowned. “Well, maybe not Twinkies…”

He chuckled. “I’m sure I can think of something you’ll know is from me. After all, I do know you pretty well.”

She nodded. “OK. That sounds like a good plan.”

He kissed her again, quick. ”I have a surprise for you, though.”

”It’s a joke? You’re not leaving?” She tried.

He shook his head. ”No. But I managed to make another deal with Loke before I signed the contract.” He turned to the door. ”You can come in!”

The door opened and Freja entered. She hesitated over by the door but Viggo waved for her to come over and made room for her to sit between them on the bed. Svala glanced at Viggo, uneasy, not sure what this meant.

Viggo nodded to Freja. ”Tell Svala what you told me when you showed me to this room.”

Svala’s heart raced as she waited with anticipation. Freja smiled, a warm and comforting smile and reached out to take Svala’s hand.

”I recognize you,” she said. ”I recognize you both.”

Svala covered her mouth with her free hand. She didn’t know exactly what it meant, but the way Freja looked at her eased her mind in the strangest way. The tears flooded and the enormous stone she’d carried in her heart all those years vanished.

”Not just from High School. I remember the beach, the house, the paintings.” She looked at Viggo with a wide smile. ”You giving me ice cream.”

Viggo smiled and met Svala’s gaze.

”I don’t understand it, and I don’t know why it took me so long to remember, but I do. I remember it so clear I can almost feel the salty winds from the ocean on my face.”

”So you…?” She didn’t dare to ask the question.

She nodded. ”I know you’re my parents. I have no idea how that is even possible, but that’s what I remember.”

Svala’s lower lips shivered. Viggo moved over to her side, folded his arm around her and kissed her temple. ”See, you’ll be fine. Both of you.” He reached in and took Freja’s hand. ”Do you remember what I told you the last time I saw you in the beach house? Before we disappeared?”

Freja shook her head. She’d only been five years old.

”I was going into town to buy paint and you wanted to come along. So to persuade you to stay, I asked you to stay and take care of your mother for me,” he said.

Svala buried her face against his shoulder, feeling a stab to her heart. For a moment she’d forgotten about him leaving.

”I have to leave again, and this time I won’t be coming back.”

Svala drew a sharp breath and tightened her grip around him.

”I will look out for her.” Freja’s voice wavered.

Svala studied her daughter. Her sapphire colored dress brought out her blue eyes as she studied them with a mixture of sadness, compassion and curiosity.

”Thank you.” Viggo reached up and caressed Freja’s face. ”It’s so good to see you again.”

She smiled, her gaze shifting to Svala who held on to Viggo so tight she was probably hurting him. ”I should let the two of you be alone now,” she said. ”If I know Loke, he won’t give you a second more than he’s agreed to.” She rose.

”Wait.” Viggo reached for her. ”There’s one thing before you leave. There’s a contract in the inside pocket of my jacket.” He didn’t let go of Svala but nodded to the chair where he’d tossed his suit jacket. ”Can you take it, please?”

Freja found the scroll hand handed it to him.

”No. I want you to keep it,” he said. ”Loke is a very bad person. He won’t stand by his word”

”I already figured that out on my own.” She smiled.

”But it’s worse than you think. He’s what’s known as a Döckálfar, a dark fairy. You’re a Liosálfar, just like us. You’re a light fairy. That contract is your insurance that Loke is bound by law to leave you, Svala and Emma alone and not make Emma one of them.”

Freja studied the scroll in her hand. ”What is Emma?” Her voice broke. ”Is she good or bad?”

”She can be anything she wants to be, and if she lives with the two of you, she’ll turn out OK.”

 

 

When Freja had left they lay on the bed and just looked at each other. Svala trailed her fingers over Viggo’s face, wondering how long it would take for her to forget the details in his face, the slope of his lips, the exact location of his dimples when he smiled. They talked about everything they would never get to say again, shared memories from their past, times when they’d been happy.

”These are the things I need to remember,” Viggo whispered and intertwined his fingers with hers. ”You, falling into the mud with Queen Lovisa’s evening dress in your arms.”

She laughed, despite the situation. ”I think that was the first time I wished we’d start over.”

”For me it was when Alrik and Trym obsessed over Oscar Wilde.” Viggo smirked. ”Using me as bait…”

Svala grinned. ”Well, to their defense he did turn out to be one of the greatest authors of our time. You should be proud of that kiss.”

He studied her, his gaze so focused on her he wouldn’t notice if the world collapsed around them. ”This is what I want to remember most of all.” He touched her face. ”Your smile.”

”You can still see me,” she whispered. ”If you need to remember me, you should. I want you to.”

He nodded and her smile faded. They kissed, and even knowing they were most likely being monitored, they made love.

 

 

Chapter 48

 

It didn’t take long after Svala left the bedroom before Amanda came in to check on him. Viggo sat at the edge of the bed in his boxer shorts staring at the wall with a blank expression. The energy had drained from his body.

”This was not how it was supposed to end,” Amanda said, her voice calm.

”Leave me alone.” Viggo kept staring at the wall.

”I’m afraid I can’t do that.” She approached the bed.

Viggo pierced his eyes into her with a hard stare. ”Oh, was I unclear? Let me rephrase that for you. Get the fuck out!”

Amanda flinched and her shoulders tensed but she remained where she stood. Viggo’s blue eyes darkened and the hatred build inside of him with an uncontrollable force. His chest heaved and his temperature rose. He wanted to scream or throw something at her but he had to control the hatred expanding inside of him. It was more important now than ever to hold on to who he was.

He focused on his hands, took a deep breath and clamped his teeth together. Amanda relaxed but didn’t move.

”Please, leave me alone,” he said, using all his effort to keep his voice down.

”I can’t. I’m sorry.”

He closed his eyes. He could still feel Svala’s scent on his skin, remember how soft she’d felt against him, how her lips tasted. He already missed her so much his heart ached. How could he go on living without her?

”Loke expects me to talk to you,” Amanda said.

”Yeah?” Viggo snorted. ”Well, you can tell him to go to hell. I’m not going to talk to you or do anything he wants me to do.”

She sighed out loud and hung her head in resignation. ”I understand that you’re upset, but please…” Her voice was soft, compassionate, like she actually cared. ”I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

”It’s a little late for that.”

Amanda glanced at the door and clasped her hands together. She paused, as if unsure how to proceed. Then she lowered her voice above a whisper. ”This is not what I wanted either. This was not the plan.”

Viggo stared at her. ”Oh, save it. I’m not buying into your lies anymore. You got exactly what you wanted all along.” He motioned to the door. ”Both of you. You played me from the start.”

”No.” She shook her head and walked up to him. ”No, it’s not like that. I’m as surprised as you are. I swear.”

Viggo lifted his hand. ”Stay where you are. Don’t you dare come any closer.”

”Viggo, you have to believe me. I had nothing to do with this.” Her voice grew desperate and her gaze never settled. ”I never wanted this. He tricked us both.”

Viggo sighed and rubbed his face. His patience was running out. ”Please, just…”

”No, you have to listen to me. You have to believe me.”

”I don’t have to do anything!”

Amanda reached up and clasped her forehead, her skin exceptionally pale, even for her. She was a good actress, he’d give her that. He almost bought her act.

”Yes, you do. He expects us to have a child and he won’t accept anything else.”

Viggo stared at her. ”I hope you realize that is never going to happen.”

She slumped down next to him and reached for his hands. He jerked away and she let her hand fall down into her lap.

”Viggo, please. If we refuse he’ll do horrible things to both of us. We have to do this.”

”I can’t imagine anything more horrible than having to be with you for a single second.” He met her eyes. ”You’ve taken everything I care about away from me. You can rot in hell for all I care.”

Her lips trembled. Viggo rose and walked to the other side of the bed. He refused to talk to her, and didn’t answer the rest of her questions. He only replied when her she asked him what he wanted.

”I want to see Alrik. I want to know he’s all right.”

”I’ll see what I can do, but I can’t make any promises. I’m going to do everything in my power to make you trust me, though.”

When Amanda left the room Viggo put on his pants and buttoned up most of his shirt. He got up on the bed and stared up into the ceiling. The soft, white pillow still held Svala’s scent. He grabbed it, lifted it to his face and took a deep breath into it. One day he would forget what she smelled like. It happened every time they were apart for too long, but it took only one second with her, one deep inhale, for all their memories to resurface.

He’d almost drifted off to sleep when the door opened again. He sat, prepared to see Loke or Amanda walk through the door. At the sight of Alrik he quickly moved off the bed but didn’t know what to do next.

Alrik gently closed the door behind him and offered Viggo a pitiful look. ”No offense, Vig, but I was hoping I wouldn’t have to see you again.”

Viggo swallowed hard and nodded. He hung his head and closed his eyes.

”Hey.” Alrik strode up to Viggo and pulled him into his arms. ”It’s OK.” He held him tight and stroke his back in a soothing motion. ”It’s going to be OK.”

Viggo wrapped his arms around his old friend and accepted the embrace. ”Is this your way of telling me it’s not so bad?”

”Oh, no. It’s absolute hell.” Alrik confessed. ”But you’ll learn how to cope.”

Viggo sighed. He leaned back to look at his friend. Alrik forced a smile and Viggo felt obliged to do the same. Having Alrik there was a small comfort, but it was still a comfort.

”I’m so sorry about earlier. With Trym,” Viggo said. ”I’m an idiot.”

Alrik shook his head at first, the nodded with a much more honest smile this time. ”Yeah, you are. But it’s still OK. Trym will understand.”

”You really haven’t seen him since you left?” Viggo asked.

”Oh, I can see him just fine. But he can’t see me.” Alrik stepped back. ”They sure have a special talent for torture.”

Viggo’s posture sloped. ”Right. You can see him and I will be able to see her too.” He observed Alrik with a distant stare, feeling like an idiot for having made the situation worse for his friends. ”I’m so sorry Alrik…”

”Hey, don’t worry about it,” Alrik smiled. ”Trym is strong. And so is Svala. They’ll be all right.”

”And what about us?”

Alrik slumped down the bed with a deep sigh. He looked tired, worn out. His green eyes had lost all spark. Viggo’s stomach quivered, not sure if he wanted to know what Alrik had been through, what was waiting for him.

”It will be easier if you do what they tell you,” Alrik said.

”Did you?”

Alrik smiled and shook his head. ”Hell, no. And I don’t expect you to either. But I don’t want you to go through the things I did.”

”I can handle it. I managed all those years in that cell, didn’t I?”

Alrik winced. ”I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they’ve advanced their torturing techniques since the 1940’s.”

”So what do you suggest I do?”

Alrik shrugged. ”Go along with what they want.”

Viggo opened his mouth to object. Before he had a chance to say anything Alrik quickly and unexpectedly forced his way into Viggo’s mind, his facial expression still calm and resigned.

They’re listening in on our conversation and they expect me to tell you to do what they say. Don’t do it! Play along for as long as you can. As long as they think they can get you to do what they want, you’ll be safe. Try to find a way to trick their system. Be smart. That’s the only way to survive here.

”That’s what I’d do. I mean now when I know what they’re capable off. I resisted and fought them too in the beginning but in the end they always win. Why suffer through unnecessary torture if the outcome is inevitable?” Alrik said, his face still calm.

Viggo fought to appear unaffected by what Alrik had done. It was against Liosálfar rules to use telepathy. Not to mention the punishment Loke would have bestowed on him if he had sensed it.

”At least consider it. Svala wouldn’t want you to suffer the torture. You know that. Do it for her.”

 

 

Chapter 49

 

Freja and Emma accompanied Svala and Trym home that night. No one said a word in the car. Trym unlocked the door and the dark hallway suddenly appeared endless. Svala continued into the living room, shoulders slumped, eyes distant.

“What happens now?” she asked.

“I don’t know.” Trym switched on the light then trudged into the room. “I’ll talk to The High Council first chance I get, but I need to figure out what to say first.”

“Do you consider lying to them? About what I’ve done and about me telling Jen?” she asked.

He walked up and caressed her cheek. The distant look in his eyes told her his thoughts were somewhere else.

“Maybe. You don’t need to be punished any further than you already have”

He pulled her into a hug.

Freja and Emma stood in the doorway. Emma’s gaze was blank, Freja’s compassionate.

Trym kissed the top of her head and held her tighter. “You should go get some rest. I’ll be here if you need me,” he said.

She offered Freja and Emma a forced smile before she went to her room where she sat on the edge of her bed and stared into the rejoining wall. She couldn’t feel anything, like the loss was so overwhelming she couldn’t even connect with it. Was this how life would feel from now on? Pointless.

Her phone buzzed in her purse. She fumbled to get it out. It was stupid to think it was Viggo, but she couldn’t help it. She still couldn’t believe she’d never see him again. There was so much she had wanted to say.

It wasn’t Viggo, but a text from Sarah, calling her a lying bitch and letting her know this was now a general opinion. She ignored the other eleven text messages, even the ones from Jen, and went to bed.

 

 

***

 

“The High Council contacted me last night.” Trym informed over breakfast the next morning. “They asked me where I’d been.”

“They didn’t know?”

He shook his head. “They can’t sense me when I’m under Döckálfar control. Just like they couldn’t sense Viggo during the war, remember?”

The sun lit up the kitchen like this was just another sunny spring day and not the worst day of her life. The scent of scrambled eggs made her sick. She’d poked her breakfast around the plate, unable to take a single bite.

Freja came down the stairs and into the kitchen. ”Emma refuses to get out of bed,” she said.

Trym reached for the pot of coffee, pouring Freja a cup. ”What did you tell her?”

”The truth.”

Trym sighed and pressed his lips together. Svala shook her head at him, silently begging him to let this one go.

”She already knew.” Freja took a seat by the table. ”Or, she suspected something anyway.”

Trym placed the cup in front of Freja, urging her to continue.

”She told me she’d caught Loke executing someone when she was ten.” Freja grabbed the cup between her hands but didn’t lift it. Her eyes were tired, the lines on her face more visible in the bright sunlight. ”She’d seen a woman standing on her knees in front of him. He’d said something about punishment for using magic, and apparently after that he’d beheaded the woman with a sword.” She closed her eyes and sighed out loud. ”Thankfully, he didn’t see Emma.”

Svala reached out and place her hand over Freja’s. ”She’s safe here. You both are.”

Freja met her gaze and smiled. Trym observed them in silence.

“What did The High Council say when you talked to them?” Svala asked and reached for her cup of coffee.

“They had questions concerning my release. How I managed to get out.”

Svala lowered her cup. “You didn’t tell them?”

“No. I hadn’t had the time to think it through. I didn’t want to say anything that could harm you in any way.”

Svala clutched her cup and lowered her voice as if The High Council listened in on their private conversation. “Will they know you’ve lied? Won’t that make things worse?”

“I’ll think of something. In the meantime, we better continue as before. Can you handle that?”

Her chest tightened.

“You mean go to school on Monday?” she asked.

“Yes.”

Going to school, facing those people, would not take her mind off Viggo. After what they saw, they’d make it worse.

“Can’t I call in sick?” she asked.

“We don’t want to draw unnecessary attention. It’s better if you go.”

She rarely argued with Trym, and even if this situation called for her to break that rule, she knew he was only looking after her. She wasn’t the only one who had received unpleasant news that weekend. He hadn’t mentioned Alrik once since they left Loke’s mansion, and Svala had been too caught up in her own pain to ask.

Trym rose, placed the frying pan in the sink and filled it with water. Svala studied him clean the kitchen like nothing had changed.

“How are you holding up, Trym?” she asked.

He paused at her question, then continued to clean up.

“I’m fine.” He kept his back to her, his shoulders tensed. “We need to stay focused. It’s more important now than ever.”

 

 

***

 

 

Svala normally wouldn’t have cared about all the whispers and stares, but as she walked toward her locker that Monday morning, it consumed her. Without Viggo, she felt like half a person. She felt unsafe.

Ever since they parted, she expected to experience his torture like she had during the war. On one hand, she was relieved she didn’t, as it could imply he was OK. One thought nagged her from the back of her head, though. The more logical reason was that their connection was forever lost.

When she opened her locker, a hand landed on her shoulder. She flinched, but relaxed at the sight of Jen.

“I didn’t think you’d come in today.” Jen leaned in for a hug. “How are you holding up?”

“I don’t know.”

“What happened?” Jen lowered her voice. “I mean, after Viggo carried you out of there and the two of you vanished from the face of the earth?”

Svala’s gaze darted around the hallway. Everyone stared at her and whispered. Some even pointed. She met narrow eyes and lips twisted into thin lines. Jealousy was an unattractive human emotion.

“I can’t talk about it. I’m sorry,” she said

“But is he…” Jen raised her eyebrows.

“He’s gone,” Svala nodded and pressed her lips together, fighting the tears.

“I’m sorry.”

Jen leaned in to hug her again. It only drew more attention their way.

“You’re very strong to come here after everything that happened,” Jen said.

Her presence wasn’t optional. Trym told The High Council about Viggo the following day, and they were investigating the situation. They’d mentioned she might have to seek up a new eternal, someone to replace Viggo, unless she was ready to stand on her own and take on her own protégé.

She’d told Trym it was madness, that she couldn’t even think about being with someone else and she certainly wasn’t ready to take on the responsibility of a protégée. Trym didn’t argue her feelings, but said whatever they decided, she would have to oblige. It was better to accept their terms than suffer the punishment.

Students crowded the hallway. The buzz grew louder, the whispers and stares less discreet.

Jen eased away from the hug and offered Svala a sympathetic smile.

Sarah startled them both with a louder than necessary cough. She placed her hand on her hip and pursed her lips together. “So, when are you going to explain what’s going on?”

“I don’t know what you mean.” Svala stated calmly.

Sarah snorted. “Stop lying, we all saw it.”

“Back off, Sarah.” Jen kept her voice down.

Sarah ignored Jen and continued harassing Svala. “So, what was all that about? What were you talking about out there? And why did he kiss you? What did you tell him?”

Jen grabbed Sarah’s arm. “Piss off!”

Sarah pulled back her arm and shoved Jen away.

“I demand to know what the hell is going on. Where did he take you when you faked passing out, and why didn’t he come back? I swear, I saw your eyes open as he carried you out of there. You’re such a fake.”

The crowd grew silent, pretending to continue with what they were doing, obviously listening in on their conversation.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Svala swallowed hard and closed her locker. “Please, Sarah. I didn’t lie, and I didn’t fake anything. I really need for you to leave me alone right now.”

“No.” Sarah shook her head, determined. “I won’t leave you alone until you tell me what the hell you’re up to.”

A fist slammed into the locker between Svala and Sarah. The sharp noise of knuckles against metal made all three girls jerk back. Jayden leaned closer to Sarah, his voice low but harsh.

“Fuck off,” he hissed.

Sarah eased back and snorted, but stayed.

Jayden moved closer on Sarah and spoke through clenched teeth. “I said, fuck off.”

She grimaced then glanced over Jayden’s shoulder at Svala, her eyes narrow. Then she left.

“Thanks.” Svala smiled.

“I can’t stand her. She’s been spreading rumors about you,” Jayden said, glaring after her.

Svala shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.”

Svala couldn’t wait to start over this time, to get away from this life and everything it represented. It would be easier to deal with her loss in her next life where no one had heard about Viggo Storm.

“Are you OK?” Jayden asked.

“No, but I will be.”

She would miss Jayden. He was a sweet guy. Had his heart in the right place. It was uncommon these days.

The other students lost interest when the drama subsided. The clink of lockers closing drowned out the whispers, and a scent of lasagna swept from the cafeteria through the corridor.

“You’re a bit pale,” Jen pointed out. “Have you eaten anything at all?”

“I’m fine,” she lied

Svala ignored the group of girls giving her nasty looks as they passed. This whole thing reminded her of how she’d been treated when she’d attracted The Black Death in 1349 and was driven from the village. Only those reactions had been somewhat justified.

The dizzy sensation from last Friday revisited her. She closed her eyes and felt blood drain from her face. Maybe she was coming down with something. Maybe she didn’t have to fake illness after all. Or maybe she only needed to eat something.

“Are you sure you are OK?” Jen placed her hand on Svala’s arm.

“Yeah, I’m fi…” She braced herself against the lockers feeling faint.

Jayden grabbed her arm. “You need to sit.” He nodded toward Jen. “Can you get her something to eat or drink?”

Jen nodded, then disappeared toward the cafeteria while Jayden helped Svala to a nearby bench.

She smiled at Jayden. “Thanks.”

“Hey, don’t mention it,” he said and rubbed her arm. “You still dizzy?”

“I mean thanks for not making a big deal out of, you know… And asking a lot of questions.” She clarified.

Most guys would have handled the situation with less grace. Rejections usually brought out the worst in people. Jayden surprised her.

“I figure if you want to tell me, you will,” he said.

She studied him, intrigued. “You’re different.” When Jayden frowned she added quickly. “In a good way.”

He blushed and folded his gaze. “Yeah. I’m no Viggo Storm, though, right?” He searched for her gaze, nudging her gently as she didn’t look up. “Hey, this is where you’re supposed to tell me he’s not that special.” He nudged her, his smile insecure.

She studied her hands, swallowing hard.

Jayden shook his head, as though he was telling himself he was being an idiot.

She reached out and placed her hand on his thigh. “Actually, you’re not that different from him,” she said.

The excited glimmer returned to his eyes. “Does that mean I still have a chance?” he asked.

She looked down.

“Sorry. Too soon?”

She nodded.

“That’s OK. I can wait.”

Wait. That’s all she’d done for the last thousand years.

She’d waited for Viggo, for their life to start together again and again. Summing up, she must have waited more than a hundred years. The wait used to be the most unbearable part of her life. Now. when it was lost forever, it didn’t seem so bad.

 

 

Chapter 50

 

The weeks passed. In time, the other students lost interest in Svala and the speculations about Viggo’s disappearance faded out on social media. Emma went back to school, a completely different girl. She kept close to Svala and hardly talked to anyone else. With Viggo gone she held less appeal to the other girls, and as the initial gossip faded out, no one bothered her.

Svala spent most of her time with Jayden or Jen. It was easier since they knew what she went through. Once he stopped hitting on her, Jayden proved to be a good friend. He would text her silly jokes to make her smile and he often came by her house unannounced, convincing her to come along and do things that kept her mind off Viggo. He’d dragged her to every movie, every concert and most of the musicals playing.

Freja and Emma moved in with her and Trym and Svala was given a precious opportunity to reconnect with her daughter again. They stayed up late in the evening, drinking tea, catching up. Freja was as sweet as she’d been as teenager and Svala cursed the Döckálfar for having messed up her daughter’s entire life with their power play.

Emma would join them sometimes, but she didn’t say much. Freja worried about her. She didn’t say as much, but the pained gaze as she watched her daughter revealed her fears. Svala didn’t know what to do, or how to offer comfort.

One evening, Emma sat staring into her cup of tea as usual while Freja and Svala talked. Svala often told Freja about events from her childhood, detailed descriptions of a field trip or a birthday party, but she also shared things that happened before Freja was born. Things about Viggo. She needed to keep the memory of him alive. Sometimes, Trym would join in and add to her memories.

”Do you remember that time when Viggo was late for your wedding?” He grinned into his cup.

With every new story, Freja’s eyes lit up. Emma was more subtle about her interest in their past, but she listened.

”Late? He didn’t show up at all.” Svala corrected.

”What happened?” Freja asked.

”It was 1430,” Svala said.

”1431.” Trym interrupted. ”Jeanne d’Arc had just been burned at the stake. Remember how devastated Alrik was? He was so fascinated with that woman I worried he was going to leave me to go and be with her.”

Svala beamed. It was nice to hear him talk about Alrik again.

”Right, 1431. Anyway, those were very different times,” Svala said.

Freja placed her cup on the table and pulled up her legs under her. She tilted her head to the side, glanced quickly over at Emma, and waited for Svala to tell the story.

”He’d been away to locate a ring I’d worn in our previous life, and on his way home he came across a gang of robbers. They stole the ring, and his horse. He had to walk all the way back. Took him a few days to get there.”

”Were you upset?” Freja asked.

Svala shook her head. ”In those days things like that would happen. It wasn’t like we could call and inform we’d be late. And it was easier for the Döckálfar to interfere with us. All they had to do was steal your horse and it was more or less impossible to carry out your assignment in time.”

At the mention of the Döckálfar, Freja tensed. She glanced over at Emma again. Svala followed her gaze. Emma sighed and clasped her cup of tea in both hands.

”You don’t have to tip toe around me,” she muttered and glared at her mother. ”And stop acting like I’m one of them.”

”I never thought that for a second,” Freja said.

”Well, maybe you should. I am, aren’t I?” She looked at Svala. ”Half anyway, right?”

Svala nodded. ”Genetically, yes.”

”Then I’m the bad guy who ends up ruining everything. Maybe you should throw me out before I stab you all in your sleep.”

”Emma!” Freja warned.

”What? That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it? That’s why you’re looking at me all the time.”

”I’m looking at you because I’m worried.” Freja raised her voice. ”Because you’ve gone through something difficult and you’re shutting down instead of dealing with it.”

Emma turned to Svala. ”What do you think?”

”About what?”

”You’ve met my kind, you know what we’re like. Do you think I’m like them?”

”No.” She held Emma’s gaze. ”It’s entirely up to you to decide what you want to be. And worrying about it, asking me if you are like them proves you’re not.”

Emma’s lip quivered. She swallowed hard and pressed her lips together but the tears won. Svala reached out and took Emma’s cup from her hands, placed it on the table and moved in to embrace her granddaughter. Emma clung to her, crying into her shoulder.

After that, Emma slowly started processing her fears and gradually changed into someone more calm and happy. She confided in Svala but often pointed out how much it freaked her out that Svala was indeed her grandmother.

And one day, Trym heard from the High Council. They had reached a decision and they were willing to give Svala two choices.

”They want to make Emma Liosálfar,” Trym informed her. ”They think she’s ready and they don’t want to risk Loke breaking the deal and recruiting her to their side. The first hundred years as Liosálfar he won’t be able to touch her, and that is enough time for us to train her in our ways.”

”They want me to take care of her? Be her mentor?”

”They’re offering you the chance since she’s related to you, but they also considered Alva.”

Svala nodded, she had expected that and Alva was probably better suitable for what would become a very difficult task.

”What’s my other option?”

”Find a new companion. They’re willing to give you time.”

”I don’t see how that’s going to be possible. I’m never going to love anyone as much as I loved Viggo.”

”You don’t have to. You only have to love him, or her, enough to fight for what’s right.”

Jayden was the first person who came to mind, but the thought was too strange. She wondered how she’d feel about fighting for someone other than Viggo. She wasn’t sure she could. But choosing Emma was a selfish choice, one which would put Alva out of a job. And probably Trym too.

”What will happen to you if I chose Emma?”

”I don’t know, they didn’t say.” He placed his hand on Svala’s shoulder squeezed lightly. ”But don’t worry about me. You have to do what’s right for you.”

Tears welled her eyes. ”I can’t lose you too,” she whispered. ”I won’t.”

He pulled her into a hug. ”You don’t have to decide right away. Think about it. Take as much time as you need. Now, it’s their time to wait.”

 

 

Chapter 51

 

Four months had passed since Viggo shifted sides. He had followed Alrik’s advice and played along as much as he could in order to keep himself safe.

Amanda sat across from him in the dining room. Viggo read the paper, paying her no attention. The oversized apartment was a gift to both of them when he shifted over, compliments of the Döckálfar community.

The dining room, as stale and extravagant as the rest of the place was furnished with the latest modern furniture, but lacked any type of homelike feeling. The heavy silver candlesticks were strategically placed on windowsills and throughout the apartment, and silver details was embedded in most of the furniture. They all lent a sterile feel to the apartment. More than that, they reminded Viggo of the failed alliance between Döckálfar and other dark supernatural communities. Those who did not do well with silver.

Alliances with deceitful beings never ended well.

Amanda placed a napkin in her lap and nervously ran her hands over it.

“Viggo, we need to talk,” she said.

He flipped a page, but didn’t look up.

“Viggo, look at me.” Amanda’s voice leaked the desperation she worked so hard to conceal. She drew a breath and sighed before continuing. “They won’t have much more patience with us. If we don’t show them something soon they’ll resort to other methods. You don’t think Alrik received this kind of accommodations, do you? They want us to unite. Completely.”

“I know. You keep telling me,” Viggo said, but his focus remained in his paper.

“One way or the other, they’ll get their way. If you don’t give in now, they’ll lock you up and torture you until you do.”

He shrugged. “Let them. Anything is better than living under the same roof as you.”

He looked up in time to see tears forming in Amanda’s eyes but she quickly composed herself. Evading his gaze, she threw the cloth napkin on the polished oak table and stood. Her high heels clattered against the Italian marble.

“Damnit, Viggo! Why do you have to be so difficult? You’re never going to be with her again; what’s the harm in being happy with someone else?”

Viggo snorted and folded his newspaper. He leaned back, crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her. “They want us to have a child, correct?”

She nodded and fingered the end of her sleeve. “Yes. That’s what they say.”

“Well, that would require me to sleep with you.”

“Yes, that is how it works, Viggo.”

“That’s never going to happen.” He stood. “I can’t stand you.”

“You’re not making an effort.” She raised her voice. “I know you believe I had something to do with this, but I didn’t. You saw how they treated me back then, you know…”

“I don’t want to listen to this. I don’t believe a word you tell me and I no longer have to pretend I do.”

Amanda pressed her lips into a tight line and shook her head. She straightened out her navy blue Chanel dress and reached for the matching purse on the table. The fabric crunched in the tightness of her grip.

“I need to get out for a while. I have to clear my head. Loke expects a report tonight, and if I don’t have anything positive to tell him on my progress, they’ll try something else. Trust me, you won’t like what they have planned for you so please consider Loke’s proposal one more time. You don’t have to suffer through this. Forever is a long time. Svala wouldn’t want you locked up and tortured either. She’d want you to be happy.”

Amanda sighed and consulted her wristwatch.

“I’ll be back in a few hours. Consider the proposal one more time. It’s for your own good.”

As Amanda walked out of the apartment, Viggo sat down at the table again, thinking about what she’d said. She was right. Svala wouldn’t want him to go through more torture. She wouldn’t want him to be with Amanda either but if she had to choose her choice would have been easy. She would want him safe.

In the end, Svala’s desires weren’t what prevented him from agreeing to their terms. For one, Loke’s wish for a child was part of a bigger plan. He meant to disrupt the balance and Viggo couldn’t be a part of it. That aside, he couldn’t stand being with Amanda after what she’d done. He didn’t believe for a second he’d make her pregnant when he didn’t love her. He could probably live this life, pretend to agree to it, to endure it, but what would happen after a hundred years of living the lie? Would he start to believe he was happy? Would he and Amanda share private jokes? Would he kiss her good morning because he wanted to, not because had to? That scared him most of all. That if you live the lie long enough, you eventually believe it’s’ the truth.

He’d only been alone for fifteen minutes when the key turned in the lock. Viggo closed his eyes and sighed. He liked it when she was gone. It gave him space to breathe and time to reconnect with who he really was.

The door closed and footsteps clumped down the hall. Boots, so obviously not Amanda. He sat on edge, expecting Loke to walk through the door any second.

“Viggo?”

Viggo stood, startled by the familiar voice.

“Alrik?”

He hadn’t seen Alrik since that evening in Loke’s mansion. He was sure they’d done something terrible to him.

“Where are you?” Alrik asked.

“In here!” Viggo walked toward the door.

Alrik’s eyes lit up at the sight of him. They embraced. Alrik held him tightly and Viggo found himself reluctant to let go.

“What are you doing here? Did they send you here to talk to me?” Viggo asked.

Alrik eased back. “Nah. I stole a key.” He grinned and reached up to clasp Viggo’s face. “You look great, Vig: much better than I did my first time here. It’s so good to see you.”

Viggo smiled, but it came out strained. “Yeah, they’re spoiling me while trying to get me to unite with Amanda.”

Alrik nodded and glanced around the room. “I can see that.”

“I won’t do it.”

“Yeah.” Alrik nodded and bit his lower lip, his eyes turning sad. “They’re only giving you until tonight to make up your mind, though,” he said

“Then what?” Viggo asked.

“Then they’ll lock you up. Torture you until you change your mind.”

Viggo shrugged and moved away. “Let them.”

“Yeah, I figured you’d say that.” He placed his hand on Viggo’s shoulder. “So I thought we could sneak out for a while.”

“And do what?” Viggo frowned.

“Give you a last chance to see Svala before they lock you up.”

Last chance? What do you mean?”

Alrik frowned, like he was surprised Viggo didn’t know.

“They’ll keep you locked up for a long time. By the time you get out, she’ll have started over. You won’t know where she is, and they won’t make it easy for you to find her,” he said.

“But you found Trym.”

“Not always. And it took work and freedom I no longer have. You won’t have the luxury of either. And if you do, it’s only because you agreed to their terms.”

“You’re saying I should agree now instead?”

Alrik smiled. “I’m saying we should go together and look at your beautiful girl one last time.”

 

They snuck out of the apartment. The front door required a key on the inside to get out so it was the first time since he switched sides Viggo had been outside without supervision. The air smelled better walking next to Alrik, the scent of autumn less depressing.

“She should be in school right about now,” Alrik said and pointed to an old blue Ford Escort parked around the corner. Rust crept up the door of the passenger seat.

“We have to be back before Amanda returns though, or they’ll have me join you in that cell. Been there, done that,” Alrik smiled.

The passenger seat squeaked as Viggo slid inside. The interior, with its torn up fabric and scratched panel, was as decrepit as the exterior.

“She’ll be able to see you, right?” Viggo asked.

Alrik nodded.

”So, can’t you tell her I’m there? Tell her I’m fine,” Viggo said.

“I could, but it would only be harder on her. I can’t lie to her, and the truth won’t make her happier.”

Viggo nodded and put on the seatbelt as Alrik slowly pulled out of the parking space. The car spat and jerked.

“They give me a ten million dollar apartment but you have to drive around in this?” Viggo smiled in an attempt to lighten the mood.

“Oh, I don’t have a car. I stole it.”

Viggo’s smile faded quickly. “Stole it? From a mortal?”

“Yeah.” Alrik turned the corner. “Figured it was worth it to get you to her.”

Viggo forced a smile. He didn’t want Alrik to see how much the information scared him. The old Alrik wouldn’t even steal a piece of gum from a grocery store. If they could change and elder like Alrik, they could change Viggo too.

The schoolyard was deserted when they arrived. Viggo hurried toward the entrance, eager to catch a glimpse of Svala and to watch her for as long as possible. Alrik caught up with him and grabbed his arm, pulling him back.

“We have to be a little bit more discrete than that,” he said.

“But she can’t see me.”

“No, but there are about five hundred other girls who can and who will recognize you. You used to be rather famous, remember?”

“Right.” Viggo nodded and sighed in frustration. “You’re right.”

“We don’t want Svala to find out you’re here because some hysterical girl sees you and makes a big thing out of it.”

Viggo gazed up at the school yard. The regency brick contrasted the clear blue sky. Yellow and orange leaves lay scattered over the yard. “So what do we do?”

“We wait at a distance.” Alrik nodded his head away from the building. “Then we just watch her. That’s all you can do.”

They hunched behind a row of rosebushes for ten minutes before the schoolyard filled up with students on their way to have lunch in the early autumn sunshine.

Alrik and Viggo moved further in behind the bushes.

“I sincerely hope no one sees us,” Alrik whispered. “They’ll think I’m some pervert, lurking behind these bushes checking out young boys.”

“Or girls,” Viggo pointed out.

“Yeah, don’t think they’d consider that to be much better.” Alrik smirked.

Viggo froze the second Svala came out from the main entrance with her friends.

“There she is,” he whispered and stepped out from the bushes.

Alrik grabbed his shirt and reeled him back in. “Careful,” he warned.

“Sorry.” Viggo stepped on Alrik’s shoe. His eyes never left Svala.

She wore an oversized grey sweater and a red scarf around her neck. Her denim blue jeans were tucked into a pair of brown boots. Her hair had been cut below her shoulders and she had a glow about her that both mesmerized and hurt him. He’d expected her to look sad, grey and depressed, not smiling and glowing.

That guy, the one from the coffee house and Emma’s party, came up behind her. Svala smiled at him. A burning sensation spread in Viggo’s chest.

“What is she doing with that guy?” he muttered.

Svala and the mortal sat on the grass. Her other friends joined them. The jerk, hooked his fingers around the edge of Svala’s brown lunch bag, peeked inside and said something that made her laugh and tilt her head to the side.

“Is she dating that guy?” Viggo asked. “She doesn’t seem all that upset.”

“She’s probably acting. What is she supposed to do? Sit there and cry in public?”

Viggo’s jaw clenched. “She doesn’t have to flirt with that idiot.”

Alrik leaned in closer with a frown. “She’s not flirting. She’s only smiling. Come on, Viggo. Don’t be like that. You know her better than this. She wouldn’t move on this quickly. She’s trying to get by like the rest of us.”

Viggo sighed. “I thought this was going to make me feel better. Maybe I shouldn’t resist their offer to unite with Amanda after all. If she…”

“Oh my God!” A shrill voice cut him off.

They turned, slowly. Behind them stood two girls, eyes wide, mouths open. They both stared at Viggo.

“It’s you! It’s really you!” one of them said, her voice pitching.

“Oh crap.” Alrik glanced over at the schoolyard. “We better leave.”

The girl’s’ outburst had already attracted some of the students’ attention. A group of girls sitting closest to their location looked in their directions, squinting their eyes.

“You’ve been missing for, like, forever,” the girl said and clasped one hand over her chest. “Where have you been? It’s been in the paper and everything.”

Alrik chuckled and nudged Viggo. “Oh, they must think you’re that actor guy,” he said. He winked at the girls. “He gets that a lot.”

The girl’s eyes narrowed in doubt. Alrik grabbed Viggo’s arm. “Come on Boris, let’s get going.”

“Boris?” Viggo frowned but allowed Alrik to drag him away.

“No, it’s really you, isn’t it?” The girls followed.

Alrik leaned closer to Viggo and lowered his voice. “We better hurry before someone else sees you.”

Too late.

The wind picked up and the yellow leaves on the pavement swirled around, rustling as they danced in uneven circles. The seconds before it happened, the school yard was peaceful, quiet even. Then, someone spotted him.

“Oh my God! It’s Viggo Storm!” shouted a girl from the lawn, pointing right at them.

The rest of the students fell silent and directed their attention to Viggo and Alrik – as did Svala.

Viggo couldn’t help it, he stared right back at her. He couldn’t move. Her face paled, her eyes widened, and it looked as though she stopped breathing. This was not how he wanted her to find out he was there. He should have left, told Alrik to talk to her and gotten out of there as fast as he could, but he couldn’t stop staring at her.

She rose. The brown paper bag on the ground beside her fell over.

“Damn, she’s seen me. Viggo, you should leave.” Alrik pulled at his shirt. “Take the keys to the car. I’ll talk to her. Just get out of here.”

“Viggo!” Svala’s voice echoed over the schoolyard, panicked and filled with tears.

Viggo glanced at Alrik. “I can’t leave now. You have to talk to her. Tell her what I’m saying. Don’t make her think I left her.”

“Viggo, she already knows everything you could tell her and the rest isn’t worth mentioning,” Alrik objected. “It’s too great a risk if you stay. For both of us!”

“I don’t care!”

Svala half ran towards them on the sloped hill. “Viggo!” she shouted, her voice thick and unsteady.

The tears streamed down her face. She slid on the grass, and fell but got up. Her eyes trained on them, panicked and scared.

This could not be his last memory of her, turning his back on her when she desperately needed him to let her know he was there.

He closed his eyes. The desperation in her voice made his heart ache. This was torture for both of them and she was bound to ask what they were doing to him. It would do her no good to know the truth.

He faced Alrik, no longer able to see her panicked expression as she ran toward them. ”Tell her I love her. Don’t tell her anything else. Only that.”

Alrik nodded. ”I promise.”

His heart stopped when the weight of her body hit him from behind. Her arms wrapped around him and the sudden impact had him lose balance and bump into Alrik. Her familiar scent washed over him at the exact same moment her body did. He stumbled and Alrik steadied him, his mouth and eyes wide open.

“I can see you,” Svala whispered into his neck and held on to him tight. “I can see you.”

He turned around and Svala loosened her grip only to wrap her arms around his neck, sobbing into his shoulder. His arms hung loose in the air for a few seconds before he hesitantly put them around her and felt her warm body against him.

“What?” Viggo’s question came out in a breath of air.

“I can see you.” She repeated through a hitched laugh.

“You can see me?” His gaze darted to Alrik again. “She can see me.”

Alrik stood there, dumbstruck.

“How can she see me?” Viggo asked.

Alrik shook his head, still staring at the two of them.

“I have no idea,” he said.

Svala leaned back, smiling as she met his gaze. “You can see me too, right?” she asked.

“Yeah.” Viggo smiled as he reached up to caress her cheek. “I can see you fine.”

She laughed, the tears still streaming down her face. He stared at her, not sure what this meant.

“How is this possible?” he asked, his eyes darting to Alrik.

“Maybe it’s different for you?” Alrik suggested.

“No.” Svala shook her head, and smiled wider. “I don’t think it is. This is something else.”

“What do you mean?” Viggo asked.

She closed her hand around Viggo’s wrist and guided his hand from her face, down to her stomach. His hand moved over the small bulge that grew underneath her sweater and his mouth dropped open. He couldn’t speak.

Svala smiled.

“You’re pregnant?” Alrik asked.

She shifted focus on him long enough to offer a nod, then returned her attention to Viggo.

“Trym said they wouldn’t be able to split us up if I was pregnant. Not if we reunited in this life. But I didn’t think we would. I thought they’d locked you up and I’d start over before I had the chance to let you know. I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”

“What do you mean? Does this mean I don’t have to leave you?” Viggo asked.

“No. You don’t have to leave me. And you never shifted sides. You’re not going anywhere,” she said.

Despite the tears still streaming down her face, Svala’s eyes sparkled. “You’re staying right here with me, and our baby boy.”

“It’s a boy?” He lifted up her sweater, exposing the bulge deliberately hidden under the oversized sweatshirt. He grinned and met her eyes. “We’re having a boy?” He repeated, this time so loud, his voice rang through the schoolyard.

She nodded. Viggo laughed out of relief, lifted her off the ground and spun her around. When he let her back down, she still smiled.

“Well, this day certainly turned around quickly.” He glanced at Alrik. “We’re having a boy.”

Alrik nodded and smiled. “So I hear.”

That was the reason she glowed, not that guy or anyone else. He was the reason. They were.

He stared at her beautiful face. The years together always proved one thing. They belonged together, and nothing could tear them apart. Not her father, not death, nor the war. Not even decades of carefully planned manipulations by Loke.

He leaned in and placed his lips on hers. This time, things would be better.

 

 

Chapter 52

 

 

Svala smiled through her veil as Trym hooked his arm under hers and guided her down the aisle.

The church was heavily decorated with white and lilac lilies, matching her bridal bouquet. Many of their Liosálfar friends had traveled far to be there and a sea of fairy blue eyes, turned to look at the bride.

Svala saw only Viggo.

He stood by the altar, in front of the minister, wearing a dark suit with a white lily in his lapel.

“Do you have any idea how many times you’ve done this now?” Trym asked.

“No, I haven’t kept track.”

She remembered her first wedding, back in 1122. They’d married on the beach. She was sixteen years old and a virgin. She’d been a sixteen year old virgin many times since, but that had been the first time.

She was so innocent back then, so unprepared for what life would put her through, century after century.

“Too bad Viggo didn’t have time to make any friends in this life. He looks so lonely up there without a best man,” Trym said.

“Yeah, well, we’re breaking lots of traditions this time.” She placed her hand on her stomach. “I really shouldn’t be wearing white, should I?”

Trym chuckled and nudged her. “I told you, it’s eggshell.”

She grinned and looked at him. ”Right.”

He smiled back, full of pride. Then he glanced up at the end of the aisle, at Viggo and his smile faded. “It’s Alrik, isn’t it?” he asked.

“What?” She feigned confusion, but knew very well what he meant.

“Alrik is Viggo’s best man, isn’t he?” Sadness clouded his eyes for a moment. “And everyone but me can see him standing there.”

“We didn’t want to upset you. He asked and we couldn’t say no.”

“It’s OK.” Trym patted her arm. “I just don’t think it’s wise of him to take the risk. I can’t imagine it’ll go unpunished.”

 

 

After the ceremony everybody went to find their seats.

The reception was held in a castle. Trym thought it fitting to make this one extra special, considering all they’d gone through to get here.

Svala and Viggo didn’t care; they were just happy to be together, but figured Trym needed the distraction of planning the wedding.

The reporters were all over them. They were fascinated by Viggo’s mysterious disappearance and stunned he’d broken his engagement to the famous actress Amanda Jones to marry a nobody – a nobody who on top of everything else carried his child.

These days, Svala couldn’t pass a magazine stand without seeing a picture of herself and Viggo, usually along with some fabricated headline. Or, worse, a simulated picture of how their child would look once it was born.

They shrugged it off. After what they’d faced it didn’t matter much. And once they started over, it would matter even less. The High Council had promised to keep their child safe this time. Even Emma and Freja were safe. Since Viggo had agreed to shift sides, the contract was still valid. It would expire in ten years which was enough time to make sure the Döckálfar couldn’t get to their daughter and grandchild.

 

 

Svala went up to Alrik, who stood at the castle’s entrance alone.

“You’re stunning,” he said, and leaned in to kiss her cheek. “I’m afraid I have to get going, though.”

He glanced into the dining room where Trym was busy helping a girl figure out the seating chart.

“Thank you for coming.” Svala reached out and took Alrik’s hand.

Her veil was removed and her lustrous, blonde hair showed. Alrik smiled, studied her, and tucked a string of hair behind her ear.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he said.

Svala squeezed his other hand.

“We’ll figure out a way to get you back,” she said.

He shrugged. “Hey, it’s not so bad. After this latest failure, the Döckálfar council are unhappy with Loke. They question his methods and he won’t dare punish me before he knows what they’ll do.”

Svala’s heart dropped as this meant there would be punishment in the future.

“Hey, it’s your wedding day. You should be smiling.” Alrik leaned in to kiss her cheek again. “Tell Viggo he looked great. And tell Trym…” He paused and glanced into the dining room again.

Svala and Alrik caught Trym brushing his suit to get rid of pollen from the flower in his lapel.

Alrik grinned and shook his head.

“Tell Trym I’m glad he finally agreed that grey is a great color on him,” he said.

She smiled and nodded. “I will.”

When Alrik left, she walked into the dining room and met Viggo’s gaze over by the main table. He was almost the same age as the first time they’d married, but he was a different person now. They both were. Stronger, better, and more in love than ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Nordic Fairies - The novel

​What would you do if your lover since a thousand years back in time reappeared after two years apart as a famous movie star, and you couldn't get to him? Svala and Viggo have spent a hundred lives together over the last thousand years. As Liosálfar, Nordic light fairies, their job is to do good and to uphold a balance in the mortal world. A balance, often compromised by the Döckálfar, Nordic dark fairies. In this life, Svala turns on her TV and learns that Viggo has become a popular movie star. This is not only highly unexpected, it indicates something is wrong and that Viggo is attempting to contact Svala before their assignments are carried out, an action which is strictly forbidden. Svala seeks him out, but not without breaking a few rules of her own, and learning that things are not always as they seem. Nordic Fairies is a low fantasy novel with a new concept of fairies where Saga Berg introduces Nordic light and dark fairies,Liosálfar and Döckálfar in a contemporary setting. The series has been very well received by readers in all ages with high ratings and amazing reviews on Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes & Nobel.

  • Author: Saga Berg
  • Published: 2016-01-16 14:40:37
  • Words: 106857
Nordic Fairies - The novel Nordic Fairies - The novel