Kiss of Surrender

A Deadly Angels Book #2
Avon Books
November 27, 2012
ISBN-10: 0062064622
ISBN-13: 978-0062064622

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In the beginning...

Out of the barren glaciers and snow-capped mountains, fjords emerged like shimmering snakes, and a god-like race was created.

In the year 850, in the cold darkness of the Norselands, Trond Sigurdsson snuffled and snored and burrowed deeper into his bed furs. He was a man who held a deep appreciation...some might say an unnatural appreciation...for his creature comforts, and that included rest. Lots of rest.

In truth, he would not mind sleeping the winter away like a graybeard, which he was not at only twenty and nine, but a shiver passed over his body as he noticed that even the hair on his head felt frozen. Despite his druthers, he started to twitch and awaken. Which was a shame because, as jarl of these estates, there was naught he had to do.

So why bother rising? This time of year, the gods graced them with only an hour or more of sunlight, and he was not about to go out to the barns or stables and engage in menial labor. For all he knew, or cared, the teats had already frozen into icicles on his milch cows. Who needed milk anyhow?

Of course, there had been those pleas from the villagers yestereve— and the day before, truth to tell—begging him to come rescue them from an impending Saxon assault. Or was it the Huns? How ridiculous! Surely, even Saxons were not so demented as to engage in slaughter on a cold, dark, winter’s day. And Huns were more like to attack the keep itself. Still, he should go check, or send a hird of his soldiers to check. Trond might be lazy in many regards, but he was a far-famed warrior when the mood favored him, and he did have responsibilities as jarl of this region.

With a sigh, he contemplated his choices. He would have to rise, clothe himself, rouse his soldiers who were no doubt suffering the alehead, break his fast on cold fare, have horses readied, and ride through the blistering wind through withers-high snow for a half hour and more. All for foolish, no doubt unfounded fears.

Mayhap later.

Trond stretched out one bare toe to the left, and found naught but cold linens. And to the right. More cold linens. He understood now why he was freezing; ‘twas the lack of body heat. Frida and Signy must have slipped out to their own bed closets off the great hall during the night. No swiving to while away the waking hours, he concluded with a jaw-cracking yawn. Then immediately recoiled at his own stale mead-breath. No wonder his concubines had left his presence. No doubt he had let loose ale farts in his sleep, as well, as was his habit, or so some maids had dared to complain. Should he get up and rinse his mouth with the mint water he favored? And wash the night sweat from his odorsome body? Nay. Best he stay abed and rest.

And so he drifted off to sleep, once again.

When he awakened next, the room was alight with the brightest sunshine. How could that be? At this time of the year? Sitting up, he let the furs fall down his naked body and blinked against the blinding light. Only then did he notice the stranger standing in the corner.

He jumped off the mattress and stood on the far side of the bedstead, broadsword in hand. A tall man stood there, arms folded over his chest in a pose of impatience. He wore a long white gown, tightened at the waist with a rope belt, like a woman’s gunna or a robe worn by Arabs he’d met in his travels. Despite the loose garment, Trond could see that he had a warrior’s body. And he was a beautiful man, Trond observed, though he was not wont to notice such things about other men, being uncommonly handsome himself. In this case, it was hard not to admire the perfect features and long black hair hanging down to his shoulders. Or the strange light shimmering about his form.

“Ah, at last the slugabed rises,” the man observed.

Trond had felled men for such disrespect, but that would require more energy than he was ready to exert. “How did you get in here? Where are my guards? Who are you?” Trond demanded.

“It is not a question of how I got here, Viking, but why.” He said Viking as if it were a foul word. “Do not concern yourself with who I am but what I will be...the thorn in your backside. Forevermore.”

“What? You speak in riddles. Are you a god?”

“Hardly,” the man scoffed.

“Did Odin send you? Or Thor?”

“Do not blaspheme, Viking. There is only one God.”

Trond nodded his understanding. Actually, he practiced both the Norse and Christian religions, an expediency many Norsemen followed.

“I am St. Michael the Archangel,” the man informed him.

And I am King David. “Is that so?” he replied skeptically. “An angel, huh? Where are your wings?”

To Trond’s amazement, a set of massive wings unfurled out of the man’s back, so large that the snowy white tips touched the walls on two opposing sides of his bedchamber, and feathers fluttered to the rush-covered floor. “Convinced, Viking?”

Trond just gaped. Was he in the midst of some drukkinn madness? A dream, perchance?

“You have offended God mightily with your sloth,” the angel pronounced. “You and your brothers have committed the Seven Deadly Sins in a most heinous manner.” He shook his head as if with disbelief. “Seven different sins...what did you do, divvy them up? Or did you draw straws?”

Trond assumed that was some attempt at warped angel humor. He did not laugh. Instead, he glanced at the doorway and asked, “My brothers? They are here?” Last he’d heard, his six brothers were scattered throughout the Norselands on their own estates, hunkered down until springtime when they could go a-Viking once again. When the angel declined to respond, Trond went on, “What’s so wrong with a little sloth, anyhow?”

The angel’s upper lip curled with disgust at his question, but then he pointed a finger into the air betwixt them where a hazy picture appeared. ‘Twas like looking into a cloud or a puff of swirling smoke, and what Trond saw caused him to gasp with dismay.

“Because you were too lazy to get up off your sorry arse, this is what happened today,” the angel told him.

It was the nearby village being beseiged by marauding soldiers. Saxon or Hun, ‘twas hard to tell. They were covered with furs and leather helmets. More important, his people were being slain right and left, heads lopped off, limbs hacked away, blood turning the snowy ground red. Women and children were not being spared, either. It was a massacre. One soldier even impaled a still wriggling infant onto a pike and raised it high above his shoulders.

Gagging, Trond turned aside and upheaved the contents of his stomach into a slop bucket.

“And that is not all,” the angel said. “Look what pain your indifference has caused, over and over in your pitiful life.”

Now the cloud showed Trond as a youthling watching indifferently as other Viking males beat Skarp the Goatman almost to death. Skarp had been a fine archer at one time, but later became the object of ridicule due to a head blow in battle that had rendered him halfwitted.

Then there was a view of himself not much older, fifteen at best, though already a soldier, observing his comrades-in-arms raping a novice nun in a Frankland convent following a short bout of pillaging, short because it had been a poor convent with little of value to pillage. Although he had not engaged in the sexual assault, he’d done naught to intervene, despite the blood that covered the girl’s widespread thighs. Odd how he could recall so vividly the red splotches on her white skin! And the screams. Now that he thought on it, there had been much female screaming. And male laughter.

“Was that the beginning, when you first began to hide behind your shield of apathy? For surely, you followed a path of indolence thereafter. Like a slug you are, slow to move, except for your own wants and needs.”

One image after another flickered through the mist. Him ignoring a fourteen-year-old dairymaid who claimed to be carrying his child. Later, he’d heard that her father had turned her out, and she’d died of some fever or other.

Then there was his mother seeking a boon from him, which had been inconvenient at the time. The expression of hurt on her face showed clearly, as did the coldness in his. Had that favor been so important to his mother? Why had he not bothered to find out? She’d died soon after of a wasting disease whilst he’d been off a-Viking.

Trond felt sickened when he saw himself and all his sins. What was wrong with him? Why didn’t he care? About anything or anyone? It was selfishness, of course, but more than that. To his surprise, he felt tears wet his bearded face.

“I suppose you have come to take me to your Christian hell in payment for my sins,” Trond said with resignation.

“Not exactly,” the angel replied. “God has other plans for you.”

Trond arched his brows in question.

“Satan has put together an evil band of demon vampires to roam the earth harvesting human souls before their destined time. Lucipires, they are called. Our Father has charged me with formation of a different type of band to fight those evil legions. Vikings, to my eternal regret.”

Trond’s brow furrowed with confusion. “You are going to lead Viking warriors in battle against some demon vampires?”

“Not exactly.”

Trond didn’t like the sound of that. “What exactly?”

“Viking vampire angels,” St. Michael explained. “Vangels.”

Trond started to laugh. “You are going to turn Vikings into angels? You would have better luck turning rocks into gold.”

The archangel was not amused by his laughter. “Viking vampire angels,” he emphasized. “For seven hundred years, you and your brothers will lead the fight against the Lucipires.”

“With your magical powers,” Trond said, waving a hand at the cloud picture and at the shimmery light that surrounded the angel, “why don’t you just annihilate the demon vampires yourself?”

“That is not the way God works.”

Trond mulled over everything that the angel had told him. “Seven hundred years is a long time.”

“It is. Or you can spend eternity in Satan’s fire.”

Death by fire was ne’er a pleasant prospect. He’d seen Olaf the Bitter consumed by fire from a pitch-lit arrow. Yeech! And eternal fire? “Not much of a choice there.”

St. Michael shrugged. “Do you agree?”

Trond was no fool. He could tell that the archangel would just as well see him on a quick slide to hell. “I agree.” But then he asked, “What exactly is a vampire?”

The archangel smiled at him, and it was not a nice smile. Before he had a chance to ponder that fact, Trond’s body was thrown onto the rushes where pain wracked every bone and muscle in his flailing body, especially his bleeding mouth and shoulder blades where it felt as if an axe was hacking away at the bones.

“It is done,” the archangel said after what seemed like hours, but was only minutes, and disappeared in a fading light.

Done? What is done? Trond felt himself rise above the floor, viewing his dead body, which lay on its one side, curled in a fetal position. Fangs stuck out of his mouth, like a wolf, and there were strange bumps on his shoulder blades.

But then in a whoosh of movement Trond was back in his body, and he was flying through the air, out of the keep, into the skies. Where he would land, he had no idea. He was fairly certain Heaven was not his destination. Nor Valhalla.


You could say he was a beach bunny...uh, beach duck...

“If it looks like a duck, and walks, like a duck...hey, Easy, can you give us a quack? Ha, ha, ha!”

Trond Sigurdsson, best known here in Navy SEAL land as Easy, gritted his teeth and attempted to ignore the taunts military passers-by hurled his way, especially when he noticed that the bane of his current life, Ensign Nicole Tasso, was standing there, along with Lt. Justin LeFontaine, or Cage, who’d been the one teasing him this time. Cage was LeFontaine’s SEAL nickname, appropriate considering his Cajun roots. Cajuns were folks who lived in the southern United States— Louisiana to be precise—and were known to eat lots of spicy foods, drink beer, play loud rowdy music, and were generally wild. A little bit like Vikings, if you asked Trond, which no one did.

He didn’t mind the teasing all that much, but no red-blooded male—and, yes, his blood was still red, and, yes, he was still a man—wanted a good looking woman—even one Trond absolutely positively did not desire or even like—witnessing him down on his haunches, walking around like a friggin’ duck, making an absolute ass of himself. A duck’s ass!

“You’re working Gig Squad? Again!” Nicole just had to remark.

As if it is any of her business! But then Nicole was a nosy, bossy, suspicious woman who’d made it her goal in life to uncover Trond’s secrets, or improve him, or both. As if!

Gig Squad was a SEAL punishment that took place every evening in front of the Coronado, California, officers quarters where Navy personnel leaving the chow hall could witness the humiliation of the punished trainees. Squats. Push-ups. And, yes, duck walks.

His infraction? Jeesh! All he’d done was hitch a ride on a dune buggy when told to jog this morning in heavy boondocker boots for five lackwitted miles along the sandy shore. What was wrong with the ingenuity of taking the easy way to a goal? “Work smarter, not harder,” that was his motto. The SEAL commander Ian MacLean apparently did not appreciate ingenuity. Not this time, and not when he’d slept through an indoctrination session, or yawned widely when a visiting Admiral came to observe their exercises, or complained constantly about the futility of climbing up and over the sky-high, swaying cargo net when it was easier to just walk around the blasted thing.

Truth to tell, he was not nearly as slothful as he’d once been now that he was a vangel...a Viking vampire angel. Nigh a saint, he was now. Leastways, no great sinner. But Mike—as he and his fellows vangels rudely referred to St. Michael, their heavenly mentor—kept hammering away at him that sloth embodied many sins, not just laziness or indifference. Supposedly, Trond was emotionally dead, as well. Insensitive. Ofttimes apathetic and melancholy. “You have no fire in you,” Mike had accused him on more than one occasion, as if that were a trait to be desired. “Your foolery and lightheartedness mask a darkness of spirit. You are sleepwalking through life, Viking. A dreamer, that is what you are.”

So here he was, more than a thousand years later, still a fixed twenty-nine years old, still trying to get it right. Before vangels were locked into modern times, a recent happenstance, their assignments had bounced them here and there, from antiquity to the twenty-first century and in-between, back and forth. He’d been a gladiator, a cowboy, a Regency gentleman, a farmer, a pilot, a ditch digger, a garbage man, even a sheik. A sheik without a harem, which was a shame, if you asked him, which no one did.

And now a Navy SEAL, even as he continued to be a VIK, the name given to he and his six brothers as head of the vangels. He understood the VIK mission and how it applied here, as it did with all assignments...killing demon vampires or Lucipires and saving almost-lost human souls. Still, many of the SEAL training exercises were foolish in the extreme, if you asked Trond, which no one did. Walking around like a duck...was that any way for a thousand-plus-year-old vampire angel to behave? And a Viking at that!

It was demeaning, that’s what it was. And PITAs like the always bubbly, always on-the-go, always mistrustful “Sassy Tassy” didn’t help matters at all. By PITA, he didn’t mean a pet lover, either. More like a Pain In The Ass. He tried ignoring her presence now, but it was hard when Cage added to his embarrassment and Nicole’s amusement by further taunting in that lazy Southern drawl he was noted for, “Why dontcha fluff yer feathers fer us, Easy?” He was referring to the exercise where a detainee not only waddled around like a duck but flapped his elbows at the same time. Twice the pain and twice the humiliation. To Nicole, Cage added with a shake of his head, “That Easy, bless his heart, is the laziest duck I ever saw.”

The final insult was Nicole’s smirk at Cage’s remark. Oooh, he did not like it when women, especially Nicole, smirked at him. Then she added further insult by telling Cage, loud enough for Trond to hear, “Maybe he should just ring out and save us all a lot of trouble.”

SEAL trainees could “volunteer out” at any time by ringing the bell on the grinder, the asphalt training ground at the compound. Actually, huge numbers of those who started out in SEAL training dropped out. Quitting was not an option for Trond.

Once Trond managed to control his temper and the huffing of his was hard work, waddling was...he duck-walked toward the woman whose back was to him as she continued talking, in a lower voice now, to Cage, who idly waved a hand behind his back for dismissal of the Gig exercise. At the same time she was standing in conversation, she bounced impatiently on the balls of her boots, as if raring to get off to something more important. The blasted woman had the energy of a drukkinn rabbit.

Meanwhile, the SEAL charmer was smiling down at Nicole, and she was smiling back, even while she bounced. Nicole had never smiled at him, but then he’d never tried to charm her, either.

Trond noticed that Cage’s eyes were making a concerted effort not to home in on her breasts that were prominent in a snug white razorback running bra with the WEALS insignia dead center between Paradise East and Paradise West. Leastways, they looked like Paradise to a man who hadn’t had hot-slamdown-thrust-like-crazy-gottahaveyougottahaveyou sex in a really long time. Or any other real sex, for that matter. Near-sex, now that was a different matter. He was the king of near-sex. Not that I’m planning any trips to Paradise, near or otherwise. Nosiree, I’m an angel. Celibacy-is-Us. Pfff! In any case, WEALS—Women on Earth, Air, Land, and Sea— was the name given to the female equivalent of SEALs, which stood for Sea, Air, and Land. A female warrior, of all things!

He shook his head like a shaggy dog...or a wet rid himself of all these irrelevant thoughts.

“Are you sure about that, darlin’?” Cage was saying to Nicole.

Trond had no idea what they were talking about, but one thing was for damn...uh, darn...sure, if he’d ever called Nicole darlin’, she would have smacked him up one side of his fool head and down the other.

Trond was still down in his duck position while the other poor saps had risen, their punishment over for now. Without thinking...Trond’s usual M.O., unfortunately...he leaned over and took a nip at Nicole’s right, bouncing buttock, which was covered nicely by red nylon shorts. Luckily, he’d been a vampire angel long enough that he could control his fangs; otherwise, he would have torn the fabric.

With a yelp of shock, Nicole slapped a hand on her back side and swiveled on her boot-clad heels. SEALs and WEALS were required to wear the heavy boots to build up leg muscles. Hers were built up very nicely, he noted with more irrelevance, although the shape of a woman’s body was never irrelevant to a virile man. And Vikings were virile, that was for sure.

All this exercise must be turning me into a brain-rambling dimwit. Or is it the celibacy?

“What? How dare you?” she screeched.

I dare because I can, my dear screechling. Rising painfully on screaming knees, he stood, reaching for a towel and wiping sweat with purposeful slowness off his face and neck. His drab green t-shirt with the Navy SEAL logo clung wetly to his chest and back. “Oops!” he said, finally.

“Oops? That all you have to say for yourself?”

You don’t want to know what else I have to say. “Sorry. I thought it was a big ripe apple, and you know how ducks like apples.” He grinned.

Usually women melted when he grinned at them. He had nineteen different grins in his repertoire, at last count. This was his How-can-you-be-mad-at-a-sexy-guy-like-me grin.

She was not melting. Not a bit. “Did you see that, Cage? Did you see what he freakin’ did to me?”

Cage was laughing too hard to answer Nicole’s question, as were the other soldiers who’d been released from Gig duty. To say SEALs were often politically incorrect would be an understatement. Like Vikings, Trond thought once again.

“Did you say big?” At least she wasn’t bouncing any more. “Did you actually say that I have a big butt?”

Huh? Uh-oh He recalled then how modern women were fixated on the size of their posteriors. Little did they know how much men adored them. The consternation on Nicole’s face would have daunted a lesser man. Or a smarter man. “Did I say your buns...” That was a contemporary word for buttocks. “...were like big apples. I meant to say juicy apples. Or melons.” He batted his eyelashes at the bothersome witch.

“Melons!,” she sputtered, casting a glare at him and then at all the other laughing hyenas around them. With a snort of disgust, she stomped away.

“Uh, cher, I’m thinkin’ you need to do a little damage control,” Cage advised him. “You doan wanna make Sassy Tassy your enemy. Uh-uh! Talk about! Pissing off a female officer? Can you spell sexual harassment?”

Her-ass, for sure. But Cage was right. He was supposed to be blending in here. Taunting the irksome woman who was already suspicious of him was not a good idea.

With a sigh, Trond tossed aside the damp towel and hurried after her. “Sassy,” he called out, trying his best not to notice the up-down bounce of her butt checks in the brief shorts, cheeks that were not too big at all.

Should he point that out to her?

Probably not.

“Nicole?” he tried then, figuring she might be more inclined to answer to her real name.

Still nothing.

“Hey, slow down,” he yelled.

She stopped in her tracks and turned, frowning at him from under a brimmed cap. Her curly, light brown hair was gathered into a tail that emerged from a hole in back of the cap. Her heavily-fringed, honey-colored eyes sparked gold fire at him. Being of Greek descent, she did in fact resemble Helen of Troy whom he’d seen from afar on one occasion, right down to the light olive cast to her skin and the slight Mediterranean bump on her arrogant nose.

“What?” she demanded, catching him in the midst of ogling her.

Talk about cold! With that attitude she couldn’t launch a longboat, let alone a thousand ships. “I might have crossed the line back there,” he offered.

“Might have? You are such a dickhead. Is that supposed to be an apology?”

Well, yes. “It is what I said, is it not? We dickheads are thickheaded betimes.”

“Betimes!” she snorted. “That’s the most lame apology I’ve ever heard.”

He counted to ten silently in Old Norse, then said as sweetly as he could, “I am sorry if I offended you.”

She arched one brow skeptically.

His tongue, which seemed to have a mind of its own these days, urfurled like a banner on the wind. “Your buttocks aren’t too big. Not at all. In fact, when you wiggle...”

“Whoa! You need to stop when you’re ahead.” Shaking her head at his hopelessness, she resumed walking.

He walked beside her. “’Tis your fault.”

“This should be good. How is it my fault?”

“For one thing, you are always hurling those lackwit motivational proverbs at me, mostly dealing with my attitude, which is just fine, if you ask me.” Which no one did.

“That’s because you need a major attitude adjustment.”

He’d like to adjust something on her, and he’d like to do it with his fangs. “For another thing, you are always pulling rank on me, even though my captain standing in the Jaegers is probably comparable to yours as lieutenant in the U.S.” Trond and one of his fellow vangels, Karl Mortensen, had joined BUD/S, Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL, the SEALs training program, under the pretext that they were Jaegers, the secretive Norwegian special forces, equivalent to the SEALs. Not that he’d been back in the Norselands for the past one thousand, one hundred and sixty-three years. But Mike had set up this cover story to get them into the training compound.

There were people in the U.S. government who would swear that the security surrounding their special forces was ironclad, that no one could enter their ranks undetected. Little did they know the power and craftiness of an archangel!

“Maybe I do that because I don’t believe your story. Maybe I suspect you’re here for some ulterior purpose. Maybe my detective instincts tell me you’re hiding a secret. Maybe I’m repulsed by your laziness. Maybe I think you need a few motivational courses.”

A fount of information, most of it unsolicited, on motivational courses, Nicole apparently had dozens of books on the subject of inspiration, ones that could be downloaded onto an MP3 player and listened via ear buds. Inspiration to overcome fears, inspiration to increase focus, inspiration to lose weight, inspiration to gain weight, inspiration to achieve success, inspiration to reach potential, inspiration to be inspired. In his case, she’d offered to lend him one called, “The Power of Pure Energy.” And she made the offer repeatedly, sometimes alternating with “Attitude Is Everything.” Each time he declined with a cool politeness, she was surprised that he wasn’t jumping with joy to soak up her wisdom.

Nicole had been a police detective before joining the female SEALs. Another job better suited to men. Not that he would say that aloud in the presence of a woman who might just clout him upside the head, as one had done at a NOW rally back in 1972.

That’s what he thought, but what he said was, “That is a lot of maybes. What do you care about my background as long as I get the job done? You cannot deny that I hold my own in SEAL training.”

“Yeah, by wheelbarrow management. You’re one of those people who only work when pushed.”

Oooh, she was really getting on his nerves now. “I am a Viking. We have our own way of doing things.” Which was a load of boar droppings. Even he knew he was not typical of Viking men. Certainly not like his brothers who had managed to find a place in this new world: Vikar, who was successfully managing the VIK headquarters in a rundown castle in Transylvania, Pennsylvania; his brother Sigurd, a physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital; Cnut, an international security expert; Harek, a computer whiz who was setting up an angel blog on the Internet; Ivak who was presently managing his lustful inclinations in a prison; or Mordr, a soldier-for-hire, who should have been the one sent here, not him.

Nicole shrugged. “It’s the way you do things that rankle. And what’s with all this Viking crap you’re always spouting?”

Viking crap? Oooh, how he would like to tie her tongue in a knot! “I am a Viking, and I have no idea what Viking crap you refer to.”

“You’re always saying things like, ‘Back in the Norselands, our weapon of choice was the broadsword.’ Or ‘We Vikings are known for our battle skills and our extreme good looks.’ Or ‘I am Viking, hear me belch.’”

He stiffened with affront. “I did not say that last thing.” Trond prided himself on having refined his cruder habits over the centuries. He only belched on rare occasions now, and then in private. Mostly.

“Earth to clueless swabbie. There are no Vikings today. They died out about a thousand years ago.”

That’s what you think. “Some of us are still around.”

“Pure-blooded Viking, huh?” she jeered.

“That’s right.” I wonder how many years of additional penance I would get for tying her tongue in a knot.

“Like a shitzu?” She grinned.

A big knot. “More like a pit bull,” he said and made a growling noise at her.

“You’re a ghost, you know.”

“Huh?” He was dead, but he wouldn’t call himself a ghost.

“I ran a search on you in my old police database. You don’t exist. Nor does your friend Karl.”

Nosy, nosy, nosy! “Must be the Jaegers have buried our identities.” Or good ol’ Mike.

“Do you know Max from Seal Team Five...Torolf Magnusson? He and that whole Magnusson clan claim to be Vikings.” The way she tossed a question at him suddenly, without warning, was no doubt some detective skill intended to trip him up. “Even Commander MacLean is married to a Viking, Max’s sister. And there’s a whole herd of that Magnusson family up in Sonoma.”

By the runes! This woman could talk a cat out of a tree, or a lustsome man out of a cockstand. Not that he had one. Not over her. Not that he couldn’t muster one up, given a chance. Not that he was taking that chance.

I swear, my brain is melting. Must be the heat. After the extreme cold of the Norselands, you’d think I would cherish this warmth, but a Viking is not meant for these climes.

“I asked you a question,” she prodded. The whole time she interrogated him, she shifted from foot to foot, as if impatient to off to her next important mission. Did she never stand still? Was it a physical condition? Or something she did just to annoy him?

He crossed his eyes, and this time he counted to twenty in Old Norse. “No, I have not made the acquaintance of Max yet. He has been away on field operations while I’ve been here, and when he returned, I was at jump school at Fort Benning. I look forward to meeting him, though.” In fact, he’d heard so many odd things about the Magnusson family that he was curious.

“I got a new catalog from Audible Books today,” she said. Another out-of-the-blue remark meant to disconcert him, no doubt. “There’s a book there you might like. ‘Outwitting the Devil.’ Interested?”

How appropriate! He couldn’t help himself. He burst out laughing.

She scowled at him.

They’d reached the parking lot, not the female officers’ quarter where he’d thought she was headed. He recalled then that Nicole lived off-base in Coronado in a small house she shared with two other WEALS. Trainees, like himself, were not given that option.

“Well, do you accept my apology?” he asked.

Tilting her head up at him...she was a mere five-five or so to his six-foot-four, not that their size disparity daunted the pixie at all...she eyed him suspiciously. Like a show dog on point she was with him. “What you really mean is, will I be reporting you?”

He shrugged. “That, too.” Where were all the biddable women in the world, that’s what he wanted to know. Had they become extinct, like Vikings?

“No, I won’t be reporting you, but I will be watching you,” she warned. “I’m on to you, buddy.”

He doubted that sincerely.

“You’re hiding something.” She stared as him, as if waiting for him to reveal all.

Not in this lifetime, or a hundred others! “Aren’t we all?”

An expression of pain crossed her face for a brief moment, stunning him into silence. She has secrets, too? Was it possible...oh, please, do not let it be so. Was Nicole Tasso the person he was sent to save?

His only clue as to the mission he and Karl were to accomplish here was to take out terrorists working for Jasper, king of the demon vampires, and to save one, or several, SEALs in danger of falling to the “other side.”

“You look like you smell a rotten egg,” Nicole said, opening the door to her little red Mustang convertible.

Which would have been appropriate since Lucipires, on being annihilated, melted into a pool of sulfurous slime that smelled like sulfur, or rotten eggs. Not that she was in any way a Lucie; he would have known that right off the bat. But she could have been fanged by one and be in need of a vangel transfusion.

Maybe if I thrust my fangs into...

No, no, no! No thrusting.

Oh, Lord! Let it not be so! he prayed. And it was definitely a prayer, not an expletive. Vangels never, or almost never, used God’s name in vain.

He leaned in closer and sniffed.

“Are you smelling me?” The outrage on her face was almost comical. “First you infer I have a big bottom, and now you infer I have body odor. What a charmer!”

He just smiled. There was no scent of lemons, the usual clue that a person had been infected with the sin-taint. No fang marks on the neck, either. Whew! Thank you, Lord!

I wouldn’t be thanking anyone yet, a voice said in his head. He’d recognize that voice anywhere. Mike. And the voice was laughing.


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