Yes, it’s Snippet Saturday, but I’m continuing my countdown to the release of my new book. One reader has already told me that the book has shipped. So if you’re eager to read it, follow the link to the book to buy your own copy!
When I began writing Ravished by a Viking, I wanted to take a reader on a journey, sink her into a world she’d never imagined, but could believe. I also wanted to introduce the overarching conflict of the series in a way that would make the beginning of the quest memorable. I began with a secondary character whose error in judgment started the adventure. Here you’ll meet Eirik, Dagr’s brother, who will be the hero of the second book coming out later this year, Enslaved by a Viking. My hope is that this will be a world you’ll want to revisit again and again.
Enjoy the snippet. And Happy New Year!
Eirik Ulfhednar glared into his opponent’s reddened face and adjusted his hand, just a slight movement to improve his grip, and then bore down with all his might. The muscles of his forearm and biceps burned. A spike of adrenaline seared his blood.
Harald, who had boasted his prowess over drinks, didn’t seem so confident he’d win this contest now. His lips pulled away from his teeth in a feral snarl, but his bushy red brows rose, betraying his surprise that the man in front of him, so much younger and more privileged than he, hadn’t already crumpled.
A smile eased up the corners of Eirik’s mouth, and he narrowed his eyes. He would prove he was every inch his brother’s equal and deserving of respect from the crew at the mining camp. Respect that they’d denied him since his arrival that afternoon.
However, respect had to be earned from these fierce, rough men. An accident of birth didn’t grant an Ulfhednar, a Wolfskin, any special favors inside this clan. Further, Eirik’s status wasn’t helped by the fact that the last time he’d visited the camp, he’d been a gangly teen with blemishes on his face, tagging behind his elder brother.
But Eirik wasn’t a boy anymore. This challenge was a good place to prove it.
Without a hint to warn his opponent, Eirik opened his jaws and yawned, then squeezed harder around Harald’s huge fist and slammed it into the table.
The crowd surrounding them roared. Large, meaty hands slapped his shoulders in congratulations. Eirik gave Harald a chagrined smile and stood to reach over the table and offer his hand.
Harald shook his head, scowling, looking none too happy to have been bested, but he gripped Eirik’s wrist. “You won fair. Only other man who ever bested me was your brother.”
Prideful pleasure warmed Eirik, and he wondered why he’d been so resistant to return to this rough camp. He’d thought he wouldn’t enjoy it. That the journey itself would bring back hurtful memories of his father. However, his brother had been right about his needing to learn more about his heritage than just the art of battling like a Norseman. His brother was right about most things, and it was time for Eirik to accept that fact.
He let the crowd draw him toward the sleeping quarters of the mining camp’s longhouse. Blue-gray light gleamed through the curved ice-block walls and ceiling where “windows” had been cut in the animal-skin lining. Although it was nearing time to sleep, daylight rarely waned in this region of New Iceland.
The smells of roasted animal and a pot of savory stew permeated the longhouse since no vents were cut to allow them to escape. A chimney had no place in the ancient structure, built in the time their ancestors had first arrived on this cold planet.
“Tell us of your journey,” Harald said, taking up one of the stools set around the crude fire pit. Chunks of the precious ore the miners cut from the earth deep beneath the icy crust lay nestled in the bottom of the pit, emitting an eerie glow and warmth that tempered the cool, wet chill lingering in the air.
With the melodic sound of water dripping from the walls nearest the pit and the earthy smells of the men around him, Eirik relaxed, ready to spin a tale worthy of the brother to their clan-lord, for he’d traveled to this frigid outpost without the comfort and safety of a tracked snow-eater by land. He’d come the more direct route, by ice skiff , over the frozen waters. A feat made even bolder by the fact his father had been lost, no trace ever found, during a similar trek to this mine, which lay farthest from the Wolfskins’ seat of power.
“It was a harrowing journey,” Eirik began, pausing as a beaker of mead was handed to him.
“Did you see serpents?” one of the men asked, a hint of awe in his voice. Few dared travel the open, frozen sea. They fished near the shores, but rarely ventured over deeper water because of the monsters lurking there.
Eirik nodded and leaned forward. “A pod of the beasts trailed after me from Skuldelev all the way here. Streaks of blue, green, and bright flame shot past me, gliding close beneath the surface of the ice. They circled, closing tighter and tighter. But I let out my sails and skimmed past their death spiral.”
“Did any of them break the surface?” Harald asked. “Did you see their horned heads?”
“I never looked back.” A lesson he’d learned from his brother when he’d first taught Eirik to sail.
If you look back, little brother, you risk losing your nerve. Always, always keep your eyes on your destination.
“But the winds favored me. The bastards pounded the ice behind me with their huge heads.” He gave the men a sly smile, relishing the attention. “The breaks only added a little lift to speed me along.”
Soft laughter surrounded him. Outracing the monsters who ruled the seas wasn’t a sport. The consequences of one mistake could end in an agonizing death—dragged beneath the ice to an underwater berg-cave to be ripped apart and devoured by the pod.
Which was why so few dared. However, Eirik had a long tradition to uphold. The lords of the Wolfskins were fearless; neither the cold nor formidable odds could conquer them. Hence his mode of travel and the bearskin cloak sitting on his shoulders. Even the miners wore the Outlanders’ deep-space clothing, which insulated better against the freezing temperatures. Eirik wore garments crafted in the old ways by the women of his clan. Boiled wool undergear and a thicker wool shirt; bearskin chaps tied around his wool trousers. Thick boots made of several layers of cowhide encased his feet.
Yes, his toes were cold, but he could still feel them. If he’d taken a spill in the skiff and damaged the hull or steering skimmers, he’d have frozen to death if the ice dragons hadn’t killed him first. But Eirik would never think to complain about the harsh strictures his brother and he lived by. Their lack of comforts was only a small part of what they sacrificed to make themselves worthy to lead their clan.
Harald lifted his chin to the men around him, then bent toward Eirik. “You’ll be wanting to see what we found.” Gone was the blustery, overloud voice. Even his expression changed, shifting from brusque savage to sharp-eyed warrior.
The miners standing nearest turned to face outward to ensure none of the Outlanders in the longhouse came close enough to overhear their conversation.
“My brother wants this kept secret,” Eirik whispered. “Until we’re sure.”
Harald nodded. “Not a word. And our production hasn’t suffered in spite of the extra work. No one will suspect anything’s amiss. The shipping containers are already stacked high in the main cavern in preparation for the next delivery.”
“Does the artifact appear damaged in any way?”
“What we’ve uncovered thus far is intact. We’re working with picks and shovels rather than large drills. When we get close to parts of the mechanism, we use our chisels.”
“Good.” Relieved, Eirik gave Harald a smile. “My brother will come when it’s fully excavated. For now, we pretend I’m here to inspect the mine.”
Harald nodded, and in an instant his expression changed from keen intelligence back to affable companion. “We’ll talk more tomorrow. Below.”
Eirik understood. The less said here, the less chance of discovery. If what the miners had found beneath the ice pack was what Eirik and his brother thought, the Icelanders had a new weapon in their arsenal that would ensure their hard-won freedom. “Tomorrow is soon enough to see the mine,” he said, raising his voice for the benefit of anyone trying to overhear. “Is there a pallet for me?”
“A pallet in a private nook.” Harald winked. “And a woman to warm you while your clothing dries above the fire.”
Low, masculine laughter erupted around the circle as men raised their cups and shared sly glances.
Eirik grimaced. “I’ve frost coating my balls.” He drained his drink. The honey mead, made from the honey of the bees in Hel’s meadow, slid down his throat, warming his belly.
“I bet you do. But we have the cure.” Harald smiled and clapped his shoulder hard, and then shoved off his stool to lead Eirik away from the fire and toward a row of sectioned-off sleeping berths. He pulled back a heavy curtain from one.
Inside, a shelflike bed stretched across the back wall draped in gray wolf and brown bear skin. A small fire pit glowed in the center of the small cubby.
A woman knelt on the floor beside it, nude but for a soft, woven blanket clutched around her shoulders. Dark, sloe eyes lifted slowly and widened as Eirik entered.
Never looking back, Eirik reached behind him and snapped the curtain closed, leaving Harald laughing outside. Then he stepped closer, reached for the edge of the blanket, and inched it away to reveal the figure of the woman who sat still, chin down, her small catlike features glowing gold in the pure light.
She was a dark beauty, with long black hair and creamy brown skin. Perfect, if a little too petite. Still, she was a sex-thrall, so identified by the stamped metal cuff encircling one wrist, one of the women contracted to service the men because no Icelandic woman would demean herself to act the whore. His size shouldn’t prove a problem.
His blood heated as he stared at her small, round breasts with their brown nipples. A hint of her sex, tucked between her thighs, was smooth and gleaming in the warm light. He noted her slender curves, her supple legs. She’d do nicely.
“Undress me. My fingers are numb,” he growled, enjoying her quiver of fear. Best to let her know now that he wasn’t a soft man.
Color infused her dusky cheeks, but she rose without hesitation and drew away his clothing, one item at a time.
Her spicy scent and lingering touches warmed him more than the radiant heat rising from the stones.
When he was naked and seated on the edge of the pallet, she dipped the blanket into the pit to warm the fibers, then rubbed his body with it, chafing away the cold, igniting a languorous heat that stirred his blood.
He breathed deeply, keeping his gaze averted, pretending to be unmoved although his cock was thickening and pulsing to the thrum of his heartbeat. Like a lynx, he waited until she circled to his front. Then he pounced, grabbing her hips and lifting her off the ground.
She gave a startled gasp, but opened her legs and straddled him, nestling her knees beside his hips on the mattress and bracing her hands against his shoulders. Her gaze locked with his as she slowly lowered herself onto his cock.
Slick heat surrounded him, obliterating the last vestige of the numbing cold that had slowed his body and his thoughts. “What is your name?” he murmured, his lips hovering over hers.
“Fatin,” she whispered, meeting his gaze.
“You please me. I’ll see you’re well compensated.”
She bit her lower lip and her glance fell away.
With a callused finger, he nudged her face and she tilted it, meeting his kiss, her eyes never closing.
She seemed young for her profession, and he wondered if he might be among her first lovers. The thought made him gentle his kiss, and he suckled at her lush lower lip, enticing rather than forcing her cooperation.
Her sweet breath seeped into his mouth, the sigh edged with a delicate moan that increased the tension in his body. He pushed back the rich fall of her hair, cupped her head in one large palm, and tipped her face to drink from her lips.
She panted and shivered as she rose and fell upon his lap. Eirik growled deep inside his chest, and she gave him a little half smile, then shook back her hair.
He gripped her hips hard, with both hands, urging her to rise and fall faster. Her eyelids drooped and moans trailed from her lips, one after another like chanting.
He could tell she enjoyed herself. Could feel the faint ripples building along her silky, inner walls. “How you please me, darkling,” he breathed, willing himself to stave off his pleasure just a little while longer because he didn’t want to lose the warm haven caressing his cock.
But something changed in her expression as he dragged her off his shaft and lowered her again. A crease deepened between her brows. Those brown doe eyes glittered. “You’re mine, Viking,” she whispered.
Eirik didn’t have time to wonder what she meant. A sting pricked his neck, and his legs trembled. He fell to the floor on his knees, still clutching the girl close, his muscles locking as though frozen. “What . . . ?”
“Sleep,” she whispered, excitement tightening her voice. “You’ll feel no pain.”
But it wasn’t entirely true. His body felt heavy, leaden for a second, unresponsive to his will, and then it exploded in a burst of white heat, fragmenting and spilling away.
A silent scream echoed in his mind before Eirik, heir apparent to the Wolfskin clan, slipped into oblivion.
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