Peta raised his head when they neared the house. He changed to human form and said, "I owe you thanks. Three witches came for me today, but couldn't cross your line of salt or the talismans on the nearby trees."
Diana frowned. "Could they capture you? Is their magic stronger than yours?"
"They thought they could." He rubbed his stomach. "One of them made a tasty meal. But they're growing bolder."
"Or desperate." Tyr scowled, glancing around the clearing. "They had to know your house would be protected. You and Freya both use magic. What did they hope to accomplish?"
Peta answered that. "They hoped to bespell me to do their bidding. It might have worked on a younger dragon, but I've been practicing seidr for a long time."
"Not a bad idea. Heid knows she can't enter here, but if she could use Peta…" Freya faltered. "What would she do? Even a dragon can't burn down a marble house, and even if he did, Diana would just replace it."
"Commanding a dragon is no little thing in itself," Tyr said.
"True. Should we guard our house better?" Freya went to the marble porch and sank onto one of its benches. "I didn't think Heid would dare show her face here."
"They said their chant, then commanded me to bring them Diana's spell book," Peta said.
Diana laughed. "If she could steal my spell book, she'd have a rare prize."
"But it's not here," Inga said. "And she can't read mine. The words disappear for anyone but me and Freya."
"She doesn't know that." Diana shrugged. "Heid is over sure of herself. If she opened mine, she'd regret it."
"Could she steal it, though?" Freya asked.
"She could try." A wicked smile twisted Diana's lips.
Inga shivered. "You don't sound concerned."
"My books have spared me many a bother." The witches who were clever enough to find them were too clever for their own good. "I've charmed them so much, most witches don't survive touching them."
"But what if an innocent….?"
"No worries. There's a spell surrounding each to keep them safe. Only black magic can undo it. No innocent would know the chant."
Freya shook her head. "Devious Diana, I'm glad you're our friend. I'd never want you for an enemy."
"Likewise." The goddess of love and beauty showed more layers of magic and warfare than Diana had ever expected.
Inga sighed her frustration. "I don't understand. Why won't Heid just leave us alone? Why does she keep trying to kill my Jorunda? Why won't she just wait? If she stalls for a month, the runes said her chances of winning are better."
"That might have changed." Tyr's expression grew thoughtful. "Heid didn't wait when the runes told her to. Could that make everything different?"
Diana bit her bottom lip. Tyr had a point. "Destiny is all about timing, your journey's ups-and-downs. If you don't follow the runes' wisdom, you can change the outcome."
"Heid could lose?" Freya asked.
"Could we do another reading? Please? Maybe we'd get different answers." Inga put her hand on Jorunda's arm. "Just because he's our strongest warrior, Heid keeps trying to kill him."
Diana frowned. Surely, there was more to it than that. What had Gudrun told her? That the fate of the village depended on the warrior. Diana studied him, wondering what the seer hadn't told her. "Gudrun thought highly of him," she told Inga.
"Who wouldn't? Gudrun knew he was destined for me, and I want to keep him safe."
Freya laughed at Jorunda. "Love has created a tigress. If I were you, I'd never cheat on this girl."
He flushed. "I'd never do that anyway."
"No, you wouldn't. A perfect pair. Let's try to keep you both alive." Freya turned to Diana. "Who should do this reading?"
"Inga's too close to it," Diana said. "Let's have you give it a try."
Freya reached for her pouch. She closed her eyes, and everyone went silent. Even Peta hushed. Noir jumped on the table to watch, and Shadows hunched next to him. Diana stared. Obviously, the cats had bonded while they were gone.
"Can we win the battle with Heid?" Freya asked. Then she tossed the black, charred bones on the marble floor of the porch. They glistened in the moonbeams, and soon, an image appeared:
Heid and all of her forces stood on one side of the meadow. The gods and warriors stood on the other. Between them, a crumpled corpse lay on the grass. The sky roiled with dark clouds clashing against one another. A strong wind howled in a circle, slashing at everyone. On a signal, Heid's troops stormed forward, hellhounds bounding across the meadow, giants trampling anyone in their way, and magic slamming toward Tyr's troops. Diana raised her arms to stop Heid's energy. Tyr and Jorunda ran to meet the giants, and the image faded….
"What?" Freya slammed her fists on the marble slabs. "That's all?"
"What does that mean?" Inga cried. "Do we win or lose?"
"It means the outcome isn't known. It can go either way." At Inga's look of surprise, Tyr added, "Woden uses runes. I've learned a little."
Diana shook her head. Damn it! Why did the runes always go silent when she wanted an answer the most?
Tyr stretched out an arm and massaged the back of her neck with his one, good hand. “Relax a little. We expect too much from you. The runes have shown us the final battle. We’ve never seen that before.”
She almost pulled away, not used to such intimacy, but it felt so good. He was always so kind. Her whole body relaxed.
“You must be tired,” he said. “We’ve thrown one thing after another at you. I’ll prepare supper. Jorunda and Inga will do everything else. Sit. Drink wine. I’ll call you when we’re ready.”
Diana looked to the heavens, struggling for composure. Tyr’s touch sent odd spasms through her body. His warmth sank into her veins and traveled to every part of her. She wanted him more than she’d ever wanted anything. She was a goddess, damn it. Why deny herself? She turned to him. "You’re a man of your word, right?”
He blinked, surprised. “I have to be. I’m god of justice and….”
She didn’t care. “You promised you’d repay your gratitude to me.”
“After supper, you'd better be as male and luscious as you look, or my first time is going to be a big disappointment."
He gulped in air, almost choked on it. "You don't have to do this. When Gudrun said that we’d save worlds together, she didn’t mean…."
"I do have to bed you. It's either that or I’m not going to be able to concentrate on anything else."
He studied her. "Are you sure? I forced our kiss…."
"Do you want me or not?"
"It’s all I can think about."
"Me too. Get ready, and make it good."
A sudden grin curved his lips. "I'm out of practice, but I might be able to meet your standards."
Jorunda shook his head, stunned. Diana felt sorry for him. Too much information. He asked, "Do you want us to leave? We could return to the village."
"No! I can't do it here. It would feel too awkward." Diana rubbed her hands on her thighs, trying to calm herself. "It's a beautiful evening. We'll find some place in the woods."
"Put a protective spell around it to spare any innocent who might stumble upon you. Woden help anyone who interferes before your orgasm!" Freya teased.
"Freya!" Tyr's voice held a warning.
The goddess of love and beauty laughed. "Once you two get started, I'm predicting there'll be no stopping you!"
"No more jokes." Diana pushed herself to her feet and stalked into the house.
Freya pressed her lips together and followed her to the kitchen. "I love Tyr, and I've grown to love you. Yours will make a beautiful union, but not one more word out of me. I'm famished. Let's eat."
It wasn't a graceful change of subject, but it was enough. Diana was grateful. It was her own fault. If she had a little more patience, a bit more subtlety, but as always, she’d blurted her intent. They all busied themselves, preparing supper.
Diana went through the motions while Tyr and Jorunda grilled fish they'd brought from the village and mushrooms she'd picked in the woods. She diced fresh herbs while Inga sliced breads and cheeses. Freya set the table. Diana drank more wine than usual. Her stomach fluttered with nerves. She was calmer before a battle. Was this what a bride felt like? Why did anyone get married?
She fidgeted at the end of the meal until Tyr took her hand. "There's no hurry. Let's walk."
As they left, the others busied themselves, clearing the table, trying to give them some privacy.
Tyr led her on a path away from the village. When the trail forked, he took a direction she'd yet to try. They came to a small, secluded meadow. Tall blooms bobbed above the grasses. A stream burbled nearby. "Snorri's farm isn't far from here. Audun still works his fields. There's fresh hay." He led her to a field, and they gathered armloads of the fragrant plants. Her movements felt stiff, awkward. Her body felt unnatural.
They carried the hay back to the meadow and made a cushion to lie on. He scooped her into his arms and gently lowered her onto their bed. She squirmed uncomfortably. He positioned himself over her and gently kissed her lips. "If you change your mind, at any time, tell me, and we’ll stop."
She put a hand to his cheek. She could tell how much he wanted this, but he wouldn't force it. On the other hand, she might. His concern touched her. She lifted her mouth to his lips.
Her kisses started gently, then deepened. He lowered himself beside her and rolled to face her. Not close enough. She pressed herself against him, awed at the long, solid strength of him. He lowered his head and his lips moved to the base of her throat. Shards of pleasure raced through her. She could hear her own pulse. She could feel her heart beat. How could a neck be so sensitive?
Her nerves were on fire. He nibbled her ears, and her stomach clenched with need. Her body wasn't her own. It reacted in ways that surprised her. He sprinkled kisses down her neck, and an ache spread through her—a need she'd never known she had. His hand slid under her tunic, his fingers gently skimming her skin. Her pulse ignited. Everything tingled. His lips brushed the tops of her breasts, and pleasure melted through her. She wanted more. Her fingers fumbled with the clasp on the front of her bra. When it fell away, his breath caught as he gazed at her. His hunger made her ravenous. When he cupped her breast and lowered his mouth to it, her hips rose off the bed.
His mouth moved from her left breast to the right. Her breath came in tight gasps. His fingers gripped her jeans to unfasten them. His hand slid beneath the denim, under her thong panties, and disappeared between her folds. Her body went rigid. She couldn't move. Every one of her senses focused on the pleasure that was building. He stroked until he found her special spot, and then her body convulsed with need. He didn't move over her fast enough. She kicked her jeans lower and pushed him into place. Her hips ground upward. They met bare male. When had he removed his leather pants? She didn't know. She didn't care. She felt his erection and slithered against it, up and down, teasing herself. She spasmed and groaned. "Take me, damn it!"
He entered her, trying to be gentle. She jammed herself up, taking him quickly. He gasped. Then he began to move. Each plunge went deeper. She didn't think she could hold anymore. And then she exploded—a wet ecstacy of joy. She felt him come too, their juices mingling. "More!" She bit his shoulder. And his rhythm grew faster, harder until they came in unison. This time, she felt spent. She went limp under him.
He propped himself on his elbows and kissed her forehead, her cheeks. "You're so beautiful."
"Not like you." She'd never seen anything so perfect as his body.
He chuckled. "Then it's mutual." His kisses rained on her face, her arms. "I love every inch of you." His hand moved to explore her collar bone, the dips in her abdomen, the inside of her thigh. She felt the heat rise up her neck. She burned with need. "Again," she begged.
"It's too soon. You'll be sore."
"I'm a goddess, damn it. I heal." She trapped his hand between her legs. "Fill me."
"This time, I'll be thorough." He kept his promise. When they finished, much later, their legs tangled and Diana was scarcely able to breathe; she was exhausted. He rolled onto his back, staring at the stars and their patterns. His voice was hesitant when he said, "I don't want this to be just one time, a mating to please our destinies. I want you as mine. I want you for always." He turned his head to see her. "Diana?"
She rolled on top of him, pressing every part of herself against him, their skin salty, sticking together. "We're one now, Viking. For better or worse."
His arms circled her, crushing her to him. "It's a natural thing—to have woman complete man."
"And vice versa."
He smiled. "Never change. Promise me."
She rolled back onto the hay, snuggling beside him. "Your odds are decent. My fellow gods and goddesses swear I've been perverse since I was born."
They fell asleep under the stars. Appropriate, Diana decided, before slumber claimed her. The planets ordained this. They could watch over them. Along with her spells.