Authors: T. S. Joyce
SECOND OF THE WINTERSET COVEN
(Winterset Coven, Book 2)
By T. S. JOYCE
Copyright © 2016 by T. S. Joyce
Copyright © 2016, T. S. Joyce
First electronic publication: August 2016
T. S. Joyce
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the author’s permission.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental. The author does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for third-party websites or their content.
Published in the United States of America.
Geir Westergaard searched the village but didn’t see her anywhere. Torunn wasn’t among the farewell crowd at the docks, and she wasn’t at the market that lined the main road either.
“Your woman forget what today is?” Gunnar asked, shoving him in the shoulder.
Geir shoved him back hard, debating whether to nick the bastard with his blade for even touching him. Gunnar had been pushing him too far lately. “She’ll be here.”
A long bellow of the horn sounded from the top of the cliffs where the chieftain’s first son was blowing the first warning. Fuck, he was going to miss saying goodbye.
Geir pulled his furs closer and made his way through the crowd.
“Where are you going?” Gunnar called after him. “To get your dick wet one last time?”
“Tell them not to leave without me!” Geir yelled back in their native tongue.
Behind him was chaos. It was wives and children bidding farewell to their men for the Viking raids that happened every spring. It was saying goodbye to people they might never see again if they met their end in battle. If they were called up by Odin to Valhalla.
Geir had always thought the women silly and sentimental before this raiding season, but he was different now. Everything was different. Torunn had made him soft. He’d fought it at first, but she wasn’t just some good fuck to relieve him after a fight. She was his, so why the hell wasn’t she here to see him off?
His fur-lined boots squished through the mud, and his breath froze in front of his face as he jogged faster. His hut was on the edge of the village, and something deep inside knew she would be there.
Geir skidded to a stop in front of his door. Torunn had hung reflective glass, but why? Probably some superstition. She was a medicine woman, and some of the townspeople feared her, but not Geir. She was a shield-maiden—tough, frightening, fearless—and he was high in the clan, so good. People should fear his woman.
His face was ferocious in the glass. His hair was shaved on the sides to reveal his tattoos, and his black hair on top was braided in thick layers that trailed down his back. His eyes were bright green and fierce, and the scars on his face and neck showed how many battles he’d fought and survived.
When a soft sniffle sounded from inside, Geir frowned.
Good at war he may be, but good at love he was not.
With his calloused hand, he shoved open the door. Torunn was sitting on his bed, hunched over, tears spilling onto her lap. Fuck. What did he do with a woman’s tears?
The horn sounded again, long and steady. The Viking ships would soon push off the shore.
“Why aren’t you saying goodbye to me?” he asked gruffly, kneeling in front of her.
She didn’t seem surprised to see him here, and it angered him. Was this another game to get him to chase her? Torunn loved games.
“I want to go, too,” she said in a trembling voice.
She’d grown weak after being injured in a fight with another clan. She’d gotten the fever from an ax slice on her back. Torrun’s body had healed, but her mind had stayed weak. He missed the old Torunn, but a part of him liked her like this, too. He liked her needing him. Weakness wouldn’t keep her alive, though, not with him gone across the seas. Not without him here to protect her.
“The mirror?” he asked.
“It’s there to bring you back home safely. It’s there so I see your reflection and know it’s really you.”
Nothing she’d said made any sense. Her words were like a puzzle, and he was a simple man. A war man. “I’ve never heard of that. Where did you learn that?”
“I dreamed of it.” Suddenly, she grabbed his hands in her own and lifted those bright blue eyes to his. Her long blond braids fell forward over her shoulders with the movement. “Geir, if I can’t go, you shouldn’t go.”
“Stop,” he said, shaking her hands off and standing. “Torunn, I am the chieftain’s nephew. What would you have me do? Tell them I don’t feel like going on the raids this season? It doesn’t work like that. It’s not my choice, and even if it was, I would still go. I won’t rot here waiting to die. I will die in battle and find my place in Valhalla.”
“But I don’t want you to die on this raid, Geir! I want to have babies before you go, and when I close my eyes, I see such terrors. Your throat covered in blood and something awful hovering over you. You won’t die in battle! You’ll get stuck in the in-between, Geir, and me with no babies. With nothing to remember you by. Please, don’t leave,” she sobbed, clutching at his hands.
Geir yanked out of her grasp. This wasn’t how a Viking woman should behave. It wasn’t how a shield-maiden should behave. It was beneath her. “Stop it, Torunn. I won’t hear anymore. It’s an honor to meet battle like this. You make me weak in the heart, but I can’t give you my soul, woman. It’s not yours to take, and you shouldn’t ask.” He spun to leave but she was crying so hard now so he paused at the door. “I’ll find you again in this life or the next, I swear.”
The third horn sounded and he couldn’t stay any longer. He gave her one last baffled look, then ran for the ships and left his beloved behind.
“Oops,” Craig said as he dumped a shot of whiskey down the front of Dawn’s white shirt.
Dawn gasped and shoved the empty tray between them to shield herself. Craig spat on the floor of Trager’s Bar and lifted eyes full of hatred to her. “Blood bag whore,” he gritted out.
Those words stung more than any other. Blood Bag. That’s what people called humans who volunteered as feeders for the covens. But this wasn’t just some stranger making a snap judgement about her. She’d known Craig since high school, and he was treating her like dirt under his boots. And for what?
When his friends around the table laughed, the edges of Dawn’s vision blurred with embarrassed rage. She wished she was stronger, tougher, and could come up with good words to curse them all out and make them respect her. But she wasn’t that girl. All she could do was murmur, “I don’t do that anymore.”
Craig snorted. “Got all used up by a vamp, and now who will want you?”
The words sliced like a knife. She had loved the vamp she fed. She still did, and now she couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat. She was completely cut off from the man who had stolen her heart, and Craig was being careless with his assumptions.
“Craig,” her boss, Trager, warned from the next table over, “that’s enough.” The giant gave Craig a hard look before he went back to organizing receipts.
“You could’ve had me, Dawn.” Craig said, his words slurring slightly. “I asked you out like ten times, and you said no. You chose a fucking corpse instead.”
“Okay,” Trager said, standing so fast his chair screeched across the tile floor. “Craig, shut the fuck up. Bar’s closed. You and your friends need to leave.” He jerked his head toward the bathrooms and told her, “Dawn, go clean yourself up. I’ll clean up out here.”
The venom in his voice wasn’t lost on her, though. Cleaning up meant the ex-bouncer was about to bounce Craig’s dumb ass right out of this bar. Trager wasn’t much older than her, but he had old-fashioned manners about violence in front of women, and thank God for small blessings. She didn’t want to see it. Dawn set her tray on the table and jogged to the bathroom.
She turned on the water full-blast to drown out the scuffle outside and went to scrubbing damp paper towels all over her whiskey-soaked cleavage.
The fitted white bar shirt was now stained, but that wasn’t why she locked her arms against the counter and let off a long shaking breath. It wasn’t why she closed her eyes tightly against the pain in her chest. She hadn’t lied when she’d told Craig she didn’t feed vampires anymore.
Garret had let her go. He’d let her down. He’d broken up with her. Or maybe he’d just broken…her.
They’d never even kissed. That was his rule while he fed from her neck. He was gentle with his fangs, and had seemed to like her outside of the feedings. He’d made her feel special, even flirted, but now she was questioning everything. If she really was special to him, how could he push her away so easily?
Dawn exhaled hard, blowing a flyaway lock of hair out of her face. All men left.
She blinked hard to keep the tears at bay. One quick glance in the mirror, and she wanted to shatter it with her fists, so her reflection would match her insides. She knew better than to attach to a man, but she’d thought Garret was different. Better. She’d thought he was building that slow bond that would turn into an epic love story. Her love story.
Swallowing hard, Dawn forced herself to look in the mirror so she could repeat the mantra she uttered when the heartbreak threatened to devour her. “Hold it together. You weren’t wrong. You fell for a man, and there’s no shame in that. Falling is good. He just wasn’t there to catch you. Someday, somebody will. Your person is out there. You won’t be alone forever.” Her words trembled coming out. She didn’t believe them yet, but if she said them often enough, maybe someday she would. And maybe someday, they would come true.
Her cheeks and nose were red, as if they’d already prepared for her to break down and cry like the wuss she was. Her eyes looked even bluer with all that red coloring, and her blond hair hung limply from her high ponytail. This last month had been hell.
Dawn washed her hands and turned off the sink, then went to work making sure the bathroom supplies were stocked so Craig would be long gone by the time she went back out there to help Trager close up the bar.
But when she finally drifted back out to the main room, Trager wasn’t alone as she’d expected. The bar was small, and on most nights she and her boss could handle business, just the two of them. Trager was standing behind the bar, staring at a man who was sitting at a table in the very center of the room. Her boss didn’t move a muscle or look at her when her sneakers made loud squeaky sounds on the tile floor. His eyes stared vacantly.
Dawn slowed to a stop as the hairs rose on the back of her neck. She didn’t recognize the stranger, but she sure as hell recognized the tattoos that trailed down his neck into his collared shirt. She’d seen similar ones on Garret when his barber had cut his hair too short on the sides.
The man turned and slid eerie-colored gray eyes to her. His lip twitched, and he didn’t look surprised at all to see her.
His hair was long and blond like hers, but his skin was pallid and held the slight blueish hue of the unliving.
“You can’t be in here,” she gritted out, angry at what he was doing to Trager. “You haven’t been invited in.”
“Public building, and anyway, you’re wrong. Trager here invited me in.”
Dawn cast a quick glance at Trager, but he was still frozen against the bar. There was a stake under the register, on the shelf right near his knees, and Dawn would bet her boobs he had tried to get to it before this asshole vamp turned him into a statue.
Rage flared up through her chest. “What do you want?”
The man stood and approached slowly. “You look just like her, you know.”
Dawn took a step back for every one he took toward her, as the fury in her chest transformed to fear. “L-like who?”
“Like the bride of Geir the Destroyer.” His words were English, but with a slight accent she didn’t recognize.
Dawn’s back hit the wall, and she whimpered when his cold fingertips touched her neck as he brushed her flyaway tresses behind her shoulder.
“You can’t be her though, can you? You don’t smell immortal. You don’t look like the eternal.” He inhaled deeply and gripped the back of her neck too hard. “I can practically taste your soul. Have you finally been reborn then I wonder?” The monster’s breath was cold like an arctic wind across her cheeks as he spoke, and his teeth were elongating.
“Trager,” she desperately pleaded.
Over the man’s shoulder, Trager was sweating as if he was fighting the vampire’s hold, but he still wasn’t moving.
“Tell me about Geir now. How has he changed after all this time? Does he speak of me? Does he speak of the lost and the damned? Does he dream of his origin?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what you’re talking about! I don’t know anyone named Geir.”
“Lie!” he roared, flattening her against the wall. He lowered his voice. “I can smell him on you. Say his name. Cry out for him and beg him to save you. Only one is fast enough and powerful enough to save your neck from me. Call to him. Tell him Asmund the Dark is here. Say his name.”
Tears streamed from the corners of her eyes as she struggled against him with everything she had. She could see her death coming when he opened his jaws wide, exposing his white, razor-sharp teeth that shone in the dim light.
Garret, Garret, Garret. Say it! Call him to you.
Dawn inhaled and screamed, “Garret!”
And then she waited.
She waited as the monster’s fangs punctured her skin.
The pain worsened with her struggle, and she cried harder. Eventually her arms and legs went cold and numb. And still she watched the door of the bar, and still she waited.
“Garret,” she sobbed, growing weak.
Asmund was killing her. He was draining her, and there was a chance she would come back a vampire. She didn’t want this. Not from Asmund, but Garret was going to let it happen.
Just as sparks dashed this way and that on the edge of her vision like shooting stars, the monster released her.
Dawn fell, and pain shot through her knees when she hit the unforgiving floor.
Asmund was smiling, his teeth red. She hated him.
“Good Torunn,” he murmured, and then he disappeared in a thick, black fog.
Dawn locked her arms against the floor and glared at the door.
Still she waited, but Garret never came. Only Trager, who was rocking her now, holding a towel against her neck and talking fast and frantic into the phone.
And in this moment, something deep inside of her awakened. Something quiet and barely there. Something that was only a whisper against her heart.
She’d fallen for a let-down man.