Kiss of Temptation

A Deadly Angels Book #3
Avon Books
March 26, 2013
ISBN-10: 0062064630
ISBN-13: 978-0062064639

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The Norselands, 850 a.d., where men...and life...were always hard...

Ivak Sigurdsson was an excessively lustsome man.

Ne’er would he deny that fact, nor bow his head in embarrassment. In truth, he’d well earned his far-renowned wordfame for virility. On his back. On his front. Standing. Sitting. On the bow and in the bowels of a longship. Behind the Saxon king’s throne. Deep in a cave. High in a tree. Under a bush. On a bed. In a cow byre. Once even with...well, never mind, that had been when he was very young and on a dare and another story entirely.

He liked women. Everything about them. Not just the sex bits. He liked their scent, the feel of their silky skin, the allure of their secrets, the sound of their sighs and moans, the taste of them. And women liked him, too. He wanted them all.

You could say lust was a sixth sense for Ivak. He was a Viking, after all.

He’d been twelve years old when, swaggering with over-confidence, he’d tried his dubious charms on his father’s eighth concubine who’d laughed herself into a weeping fit afore showing him exactly which hole he should aim for. Now, twenty years and at least two hundred bedmates later—he’d stopped counting after that incident in Hedeby— there was naught he did not know about sex. Men came to him for advice all the time. Women, too

The cold Norse winds blew outside his keep now, but he and his comrades-in-arms were warm inside as they sat before one of the five hearth fires that ran through the center of his great hall at Thorstead. Their body heat was aided by the mead they were imbibing and the satiety that comes from having tupped more than the ale barrel, and it not yet eventide.

When bored and having no wars to fight, or any other time for that matter, taking an enthusiastic maid to the bed furs was always a worthwhile pastime. Leastways, it was for Ivak. You’d think his jaded appetites would have waned by now. Instead, he found himself wanting more and more. And the things he tried these days pushed even his sensibilities for decency...but not enough to stop him.

And, of course, when bored and having no wars to fight, men did what men did throughout time. Drank.

In fact, Esbe, the widow of one of his swordsmen, walked amongst them now, refilling their horns from a pottery pitcher. When she got to him, she smiled, a small, secretive smile that Ivak understood perfectly. Women told him that he had an aura about him...a presence, so to speak. By leaning against a wall just so, or just staring at them through half-slitted eyes, or gods forbid, winking at them, he sent a silent message. Here was a man who knew things.

He smiled back at Esbe, who shared his bed furs on occasion, and watched appreciatively, along with every one of his men, as she walked away from them, hips swaying from side to side.

Another thing men did when bored and having no wars to fights, and especially when drinking, was talk about women.

“Tell me true, Ivak,” demanded Haakon the Horse, a name he’d been given because of a face so long he could lick the bottom of a bucket and still see over the rim, not because of other bodily attributes. Haakon was a master at swordplay if ever there was one, a soldier you’d want at your back in battle, but an irksome oaf when drukkinn, and he was halfway there already. “There must have been times when your lance failed to rise to the occasion. It happens to the best of men betimes.”

Ivak exchanged a quick glance with his best friend, Serk the Silent, who sat beside him on the bench. Serk, a man of few words, did not need to speak for Ivak to know that he was thinking: Here it comes!

Ivak tapped his chin with a forefinger, as if actually giving the query consideration. He could feel Serk shaking with silent laughter. “Nay, it never has, though there have been times I’ve had to take a vow of celibacy to give it a rest.” He cupped himself for emphasis.

“For how long?” scoffed Ingolf, his chief archer. A grin twitched at Ingolf’s hugely mustached upper lip, knowing when Ivak was about to pull a jest.

“Oh, a good long time. Two days at most,” Ivak admitted.

Everyone, except Haakon, found amusement in his jest, including Kugge, the young squire he’d been training of late. Gazing at Ivak in wonder, Kugge blurted out, “Did it hurt?”

“The celibacy or the excess?” Ivak asked, trying to keep a straight face.

A blush crept over Kugge’s still unwhiskered face as he sensed having made a fool of himself.

Ivak patted Kugge on the shoulder.

Haakon glared at him, his question not gaining the results he’d wanted...a fight. Ivak returned Haakon’s glare, his with a silent warning that Haakon thankfully heeded. Haakon stood, tossing his horn to the rushes, and stomped off, hopefully to sleep himself sober.

Ingolf took a long draught from his horn of ale, cleared his throat, and proclaimed with a chuckle, “To my mind, a man’s cock is like a brass urn.”

“Oh, good gods!” Ivak muttered.

“How true!” Serk encouraged Ingolf and nudged Ivak with an elbow to share in his mirth.

“Now, hear me out,” Ingolf said, stroking his mustache. “Everyone knows that brass needs polishing from time to time, and—”

“Mine is especially shiny these days since I got me a second wife,” one of the men contributed.

Ingolf scowled at the interruption and continued, “Of course, a one-handed rub will do to ease the throb, but best it is if the polishing is done in the moist folds of a female sheath’s choke hold.”

“I don’t understand,” Kugge said to Ivak.

“It’s a mystery,” Ivak replied with dry humor.

Ingolf, who fashioned himself a master storyteller, was on a roll now. ‘Twas best to let him finish. “The thing about brass is that too much rubbing and it loses its luster. Even grows pits.” Ingolf pretended to shiver.

“Pits? Like a peach?” Kugge whispered.

“Nay. Like warts,” Ivak told the boy. “You do not want warts down there, believe you me.”

“Even worse,” Ingolf told Kugge, “tainted oil in the sheath can spoil all it touches. Remember that dockside whore in Jorvik.” The latter Ingolf addressed to the other men. “Now that was a woman with teeth down there.”

“She had a lot more than teeth,” Serk remarked, “as many men soon learned.”

“The difference, my friend, is that some cocks are solid gold.” Ivak motioned a hand downward.

The other men rolled their eyes and guffawed uproariously.

“Mine is solid silver,” Bjorn No-Teeth said, his lips twitching as he attempted to hide his gummy smile. “I’m thinking about having it...etched. Ha, ha, ha!”

Others offered their own self-assessments:

“Mine is ivory, smooth and sleek, and big as an elephant’s tusk betimes. Not that I have e’er seen an elephant.”

“Mine is a rock. A rock cock.”

“Mine is iron, like a lance. A loooong lance.”

“Holy Thor! Do not make me laugh anymore lest I piss my braies.”

Someone belched.

Someone else farted.

More bragging.

Ivak sighed with contentment. It was the way of men when they were alone with time to spare.

Their merriment was interrupted by the arrival of Ivak’s steward announcing Vadim, the slave trader from the Rus lands, who had come from Birka before circling back home. He would probably be the last one to make it through the fjords before they were frozen solid for winter.

Ivak and Serk left the others behind as they went out to the courtyard and beyond that to an outbuilding that usually housed fur pelts. It was empty now, the goods sent to market, and cold as a troll’s arse in a blizzard. He waved to a servant who quickly brought him and Serk fur-lined cloaks.

Vadim was a frequent visitor at Thorstead. As often as he dealt in human flesh, Vadim also traded in fine wines, spices, silks, and in Ivak’s case, the occasional sexual oddity...dried camel testicles, feathers, marble phalluses and such.

Serk joined the steward who was examining some of the wares on display in open sacks while Ivak, at Vadim’s urging, walked to the far end of the shed.

“Come, come, see what delights I have for you, Lord Sigurdsson.”

Ivak was no lord, and he recognized the obsequiousness of the title dripping from the Russian’s lips, but it wasn’t worth the bother of correcting him. “So, show me the delights.”

Three men were roped together against one wall. Nothing delightful here. An elderly man that Vadim identified as a farmer from the Balkans. With the rocky landscape at Thorstead, Ivak had no need of a farmer and certainly not a graybeard. Next was a boyling with no apparent skills; Ivak passed on him, as well. The third was a young man that Ivak did want...a blacksmith’s apprentice. He and Vadim agreed on a price, although Ivak did not like the angry exchange of words in an undertone between this last man and Vadim that the trader dismissed as of no importance.

Next came the best part. The delight part. The women. Ivak always enjoyed checking over new female slaves. Serk, who had finished examining the household wares, joined him.

The five women were not restrained, but they were shivering with cold, or mayhap a bit of fear, not knowing that Ivak would be a fair master. They shivered even more when Vadim motioned for them to disrobe. While Ivak pitied them this temporary chill, he was not about to buy a piece of property without full disclosure. Once he’d purchased a prettily clothed slave in Jorvik only to find she had oozing pustules covering her back, from her neck to her thighs.

“I see several you would like,” Serk whispered at his side.

Ivak agreed, a certain part of his body already rising in anticipation.

The first was clearly pregnant, normally a condition that would preclude his purchase—there were enough bratlings running about the estate, including some of his own—but he had a comrade-in-arms who had a particular taste for sex with breeding women; so, he motioned for her to join the young blacksmith at the other end. With an appreciative nod of thanks at her good fortune, she quickly pulled on her robe and drew a threadbare blanket over her shoulders.

“This one is a Saxon, a little long in the tooth, but an excellent cook,” Vadim said.

“I already have a cook,” Ivak demurred.

“Ah, but does she make oat cakes light as a feather and mead fit fer the gods?” the heavy woman of middle years, whose sagging breasts reached almost to her waist, asked in Saxon English. The Norse and Saxon languages were similar and could be understood by either. She’d obviously got the meaning of his remark.

Ivak liked a person with gumption, male or female, and he grinned, ordering her to join the other two. Besides, a Viking could never have enough good mead.

All the thrall bodies were malodorous from lack of bathing...for months, no doubt...but this next one—an attractive woman of thirty or so years—had a particular odor that Ivak associated with diseased whores. He gave Vadim a disapproving scowl and moved to the fourth woman.

“This one is a virgin,” Vadim said. “Pure as new snow. And a skilled weaver.”

Ivak arched a brow with skepticism as he circled the shivering female who had seen at least twenty winters. He doubted very much that a female slave could remain intact for that many years. Still, she would be a welcome diversion. New meat for jaded palates. Not to mention, he had lost a weaver this past summer to the childbirth fever. He nodded his acceptance to Vadim.

And then there was the fifth woman...a girl, really. No more than sixteen. Red hair, above and below. Ah, he did love a red-headed woman. Fiery, they were when their fires were ignited, as he knew well how to do. He could not wait to lay his head over her crimson fluff and...

He smiled at her.

She did not smile back. Instead, tears streamed down her face.

He ran his knuckles over one pink, cold-peaked nipple, then the other.

She actually sobbed now, and stepped back as if in revulsion.

The tears didn’t bother him all that much, but the resistance did. Thralldom was not easy for some to accept, but she would settle into her role soon. They usually did. They had no choice. Not that he would engage in rape. Persuasion was his forte.

But wait. She was staring with seeming horror at something over his shoulder.

Ivak heard the growl before he turned and saw the smithy tugging to be free from the restraints being held by both Vadim and his assistant. At the same time, the young man was protesting something vociferously in what sounded to Ivak like the Irish tongue.

“What is amiss?” Ivak demanded of Vadim.

“He’s her husband, but you are not to worry—”

Ivak put up a halting hand. “I do not want any more married servants. Too much trouble.” He started to walk away.

“You could take one of them,” Vadim offered.

Ivak paused. The woman’s skin was deliciously creamy and her nether fleece was tempting. “I’ll take her. You keep him.”

The husband didn’t understand Ivak’s words as he spoke, but Vadim must have explained once Ivak and Serk left the building and headed back to the keep because his roar of outrage would be understood in any language.

“Is that wise, Ivak?” Serk asked. “Separating a man and his mate?”

“It happens all the time, my friend, and do you doubt my wisdom in choosing good bedsport over good metalwork?”

Serk laughed but at the same time shook his head at Ivak with dismay. In some ways Serk had gone soft of late, ever since he’d wed Asta, the daughter of a Danish jarl. Six months and Serk was still besotted with the witch. Little did he know that Asta was spreading her thighs hither and yon. Ivak knew that for a fact because he’d been one of those to whom she’d offered her dubious charms. He would have told his friend, but he figured Serk would grow bored soon enough, and then it would not matter. As long as she did not try to pass off some other man’s baby as his own. When Ivak had mentioned that possibility to Asta, she’d informed him that she was joyfully barren. That was another thing of which Serk was uninformed.

And women claimed men were the ones lacking in morals!

That night he swived the Irish maid, and she was sweet, especially after having been bathed. It was not an entirely satisfying tup, though. The girl was too willing. He kept seeing her husband’s face as he was dragged away. No doubt his distaste would fade eventually, but tonight he had no patience for it, and he sent her away after just one bout of bedsport. In the end, she begged him to be permitted to stay, but he wanted no more of her for now.

He drank way too much mead then, which only increased his foul mood. That was the only excuse he could find for his seeing Asta slinking along one of the hallways and motioning him with a forefinger to come to her bedchamber. Another round-heeled woman with the morals of a feral cat. He knew for a fact that Serk was serving guard duty all night.

Mayhap he should tup Serk’s wife and then explain to him in the nicest possible way on the morrow what a poor choice he had made in picking their particular maid for his mate. He would be doing his friend a favor, he rationalized with alehead madness.

Asta was riding him like a bloody stallion a short time later, and while his cock was interested, he found himself oddly regretting his impulsive invitation. Bored, he glanced toward the door that was opening, and there stood Serk, staring at them with horror. This was not the way he’d wanted his friend to discover his wife’s lack of faithfulness.

“Ivak? My friend?” Serk choked out.

“I can explain. It’s not what you think.” Well, it was, but there was a reason for his madness. Wasn’t there?

At the stricken expression on Serk’s face, Ivak shoved Asta off him, ignoring her squeal of ill-humor, and jumped off the bed. By the time he was dressed, his good friend was gone. And Asta was more concerned about having her bedplay interrupted than the fact that her husband had witnessed her adultery. To Ivak’s amazement, she actually thought they would resume the swiving.

Ivak searched for more than an hour, to no avail. It was already well after midnight and most folks, except for his housecarls, were abed. His apology and explanation to Serk would have to wait until morning. He had no doubt that Serk would forgive him, once he understood that Asta was just a woman, and a faithless one at that. Oh, Ivak did not doubt that Serk would be angry, and Ivak might even allow him a punch or two, but eventually their friendship would be intact.

Still, he could not sleep with all that had happened, and he decided to walk out to the stables to check on a prize mare that should foal any day now. What Ivak found, though, was so shocking he could scarce breathe. In fact, he fell to his knees and moaned. “Oh, nay! Please, gods, let it not be so!”

Hanging from one of the rafters was Serk.

His friend had hung himself.

What have I done? What have I done? She was not worth it, my friend. Truly, she was not. Oh, what have I done?

Ivak lowered the body to the floor and did not need to put a fingertip to Serk’s neck to know that he had already passed to Valhalla. With tears burning his eyes, he stood, about to call for the stablemaster in an adjoining shed to help him release Serk’s noose, when he heard a noise behind him. Turning, he saw the young Irish blacksmith, husband of the red-haired maid he’d bedded, running toward him with a raised pitchfork. Vadim and his crew were supposed to depart at first light. The man must have escaped his restraints.

Before Ivak had a chance to raise an alarm or fight for himself and because he had only half risen from his kneeling position and was unsteady on his feet, the man was able to pierce his chest with the long tines of the pitchfork. Unfortunately, he used the special implement with metal tines that Ivak had purchased this past summer on a whim, not satisfied with the usual wooden pitchforks for his fine stable. So forceful had the man’s surge toward him been that he pinned Ivak into the wall.

“You devil!” the man yelled, tears streaming down his face. “You bloody damn devil! May you rot in hell!”


He was given a choice: Hell or something like Hell...


Ivak heard the voice through his pain-hazed brain. I thought I was dead. I must be dead. Opening his heavy lids, he glanced downward, beyond the sharp tines that still pinned him to the wall, to see his life’s blood pooling at his feet. Definitely dead. Raising his head, he saw that Serk still lay in the rushes where he’d lowered him. Apparently, neither he nor Serk had been discovered yet. Well, it would be too late for either of them now.

“Tsk-tsk-tsk!” he heard again, and this time realized that the voice came from his right side. “It is never too late, Viking.”

If Ivak hadn’t been dead, and if he hadn’t been immobilized by a pitchfork through his heart, he would have fallen over with shock. Standing there, big as he pleased...and he was big, all right...was an angel. A big, black-haired man with widespread, snow-white wings and piercing blue eyes.

Ivak knew what angels were since he practiced both the ancient Norse religion and the Christian one, an expedience many Norsemen adopted. Apparently, he would not be off to Valhalla today with its myriad of golden shields and virgin Valkyries. “Am I going to Heaven?” he asked the frowning angel.

The angel made a snorting sound of disbelief at his question. “Hardly!”

“Hell, then?” he inquired tentatively.

“Nay, but thou may wish it so.”

Enough of this nonsense. Dead was dead. “Who are you?” Ivak demanded. “And how about pulling out this pitchfork?”

“Michael,” the angel said, then eying the pitchfork, added, “Thou art certain I should do that?”

“Before Ivak had a chance to reconsider, the angel...Michael... yanked it out, causing excruciating pain to envelop him as he fell to the rush-covered floor, face first. If he were not in such screaming pain, he would have been impressed at the strength of the angel to have removed, all in one smooth pull, the tines that had not only skewered his body but had been imbedded in the wooden wall behind him, as well. Like one of his muscle-honed warriors who hefted heavy broadswords with ease, this angel was.

He realized in that instant whose presence he was in. Staggering to his feet, he panted out, “Would that be Michael the Archangel? The warrior angel?”

The angel nodded his head in acknowledgement.

“Am I dead?”

“As a door hinge.”

“Is this what happens when everyone dies? An angel shows up? You show up?”


“I’m someone special? I get special attention?”

“Thee could say that.”

Ivak didn’t like the sound of that. “Stop speaking in riddles. And enough with the thees and thous!”

The angel shrugged. “You are in no position to issue orders, Viking.”

He sighed deeply and tried for patience, which had to be strange. A dead person trying to be patient. “What happens now?”

“That depends on you.”

More riddles!

“You are a grave sinner, Ivak Sigurdsson. Not just you. Your six brothers are equally guilty. Each of you has committed one of the Seven Deadly Sins in a most grievous fashion.”

“My brothers? Are they dead, too?”

“Some are. The others soon will be.”

Ivak was confused. “Which horrible sin is it that I have committed?”


“Lust is a sin?” He laughed.

The angel continued to glare at him. No sense of humor at all.

Ivak laughed again.

But not for long.

The angel raised his hand and pointed a finger at him, causing him to be slammed against the wall and pinned there, but this time there was no pitchfork involved. Just some invisible bonds. “Sinner, repent,” Michael demanded in a steely voice, “lest I send you straight to Lucifer to become one of his minions. You will like his pitchfork even less than the mortal one that impaled you.”

“I repent, I repent,” he said, though he still didn’t see how lust could be such a big sin.

“You do not see how lust can be sinful?” Michael could obviously read his mind. The angel gaped at him for a moment before exclaiming, “Vikings! Lackwits, one and all!” With those words, the angel waved a hand in front of Ivak’s face creating a cloudy screen in which he began to see his life unfolding before him, rather the lust events in his life.

It didn’t take Ivak long to realize that not all the girls and women had been as eager to spread their thighs for him as he’d always thought, but most of them had. What surprised him was the number of husbands or betrothed who’d suffered at his hands...rather his cock...for having defiled their loved ones. Serk hadn’t been the only one. And babes! Who knew he’d bred so many out-of-wedlock children...and how many of them lived in poverty! He would have cared for any of his whelps brought to his keep, but these were in far countries.

And then there was this past night’s events...the thrall he’d taken to his bed furs knowing she was wed. Worst of all, his betrayal of his best friend.

He shook his head with dismay as shame overcame him. Raising his eyes to the angel, he asked, “What can I do to make amends?”

Michael smiled, and it was not a nice smile. “I thought you would never ask, Viking. From this day forth, you will be a vangel. A Viking vampire angel. One of God’s warriors in the fight against Satan’s vampire demons, Lucipires by name.”

Ivak had no idea what Michael had just said. What was a vampire?

But then, it didn’t matter because his pain-ridden body became even more pain-ridden. Even bone in his body seemed to be breaking and reforming, even his jaw and teeth, after which he hurtled through the air, outside his keep, far up into the sky. Then he lost consciousness.

When he awakened, he found himself in another keep of sorts. But it was made of stone, not wood, like Thorstead was. And the weather here was almost unbearably warm, not the frigid cold of the Norselands.

The sign over the entryway read: “Angola Prison.”



(Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 2013)

When all else fails...

“Petition denied!”

Gabrielle Sonnier pressed her lips together to avoid saying something she might later regret. Tucking her legal briefs into a massive leather shoulder bag, she nodded at the parole board members, when what she’d like to do was give them the finger. Right in their holier-than-thou hypocritical faces. Then she lifted her chin and walked stoically out of the hearing room. You could have heard a pin drop behind her. With shame, she hoped.

Putting one foot in front of the other, she walked down the hallway. Click, click, click, her high heels marked her path on the worn hardwood of the corridor until she reached the ladies room, which was thankfully empty. Rushing into one of the far stalls, she dropped her bag to the floor and began to retch, violently. Since she hadn’t eaten breakfast before leaving New Orleans this morning just after dawn, not much came up. Still, the urge to upheave went on and on until her throat felt raw with bile and her stomach cramped.

Finally, she sat down on the toilet seat and wept, a weakness she rarely allowed herself. Certainly, never in public. Being vulnerable was not allowed, not when fighting the criminal justice system in Louisiana. The vultures had been circling for years. Give them a chance and they’d peck the resistance out of her.

She’d been so sure that this hearing would be different. With good reason. She’d been promised a different outcome. Be patient, those on the other side had advised her. Lay low. Don’t ruffle any feathers. Hah! Look where being a good girl had got her. She should have plucked a few damn feathers and to hell with them all!

How am I ever going to tell Leroy? He’ll be crushed. Again. Not that he would show it. No, her brother was more expert than she was at putting on a brave front. She fear that the pain would fester in her brother until it erupted in rage, as it did with so many inmates whose hopes were dashed over and over.

With a final sob, she straightened and swiped at her eyes with a wad of toilet paper. Leaving the cubicle, she hefted her leather bag up onto the counter and proceeded to transform her appearance for her trip to Angola where she would give her brother the news. No way was she walking into that pen of 5,000-plus men wearing a short, fitted black pin-striped suit with a silk blouse that unbuttoned just enough to show off a lace camisole underneath. And definitely no sheer hose and high heels. Once, years ago, when she hadn’t been so careful with her attire, she’d seen an inmate in a hallway pull out his weiner—that’s what her Grandma Sonnier had always called it—and pump joyfully as he watched her walk to Warden Pierce Benton’s office. And it wouldn’t have mattered if she was stump ugly. Being female was enough to whet the deprived appetites of long-incarcerated men.

The press would want to interview her about the board’s decision. But not today. Not when her emotions were so raw.

She used a paper towel and squirt soap to wash off all her make-up before combing her hair tightly off her face and into a knot at her nape that she secured with two tortoiseshell combs. The short-sleeved, white blouse she left on, but buttoned up to the neck, over which she put a red, hip-length, cardigan-style sweater vest, which was too hot for this late August heat, but a necessity, to her mind, to camouflage her “assets,” such as they were. Next, she removed her thigh-high hose and replaced her short suit skirt with a pair of loose jeans. Ratty athletic shoes completed the outfit.

She was about to leave the ladies room when the door opened and she almost ran into Dolly Landeaux, the owner of a wholesale Creole foods business out of Lafayette and a parole board member for the past dozen years. Scanning Gabrielle’s appearance, the big woman blocked her exit with her wide hips—Dolly obviously taste-tests all her foods, Gabrielle noted snidely—and said, “Don’t be disheartened, sweetie.”

You two-faced bitch! “Disheartened? How about crushed?”

“You can always try again.”

“Like I have for the past six years?” Gabrielle couldn’t stop herself from asking. “Like Leroy did for six years before that, on his own?”

“It was close this time.”

That’s what you said last time, Dolly. Have you been playing me? Is this all a game for you? But making an enemy of people in power wouldn’t help Leroy’s cause, Gabrielle decided, almost gagging as she said, “Well, thanks for all your help.”

Dolly stepped aside to let Gabrielle pass, but then she said, “Tell that brother of yours that he needs to keep his mouth shut if he ever wants to be free.”

Gabrielle bristled, but she knew what Dolly referred to. Her brother was ruthless, and highly effective, in his criticism of prison officials and politicians in Louisiana. The news media loved him and were always willing to give him an outlet for his diatribes. She kept telling him to save his bombs for after he was released, but Leroy was a rage-filled man whose passion for justice was rarely tempered with diplomacy.

Odd that she referred to him as a man. For so long she’d thought of him as the sixteen-year-old boy who’d been tried and convicted as an adult for murdering their abusive bastard of a father sixteen years ago. He would have been out by now, but a boy that age was considered fair game in the prison system and he’d fought against two particularly vicious convicts who wanted him for a “love slave.” One of them ended up dead, and the other claimed that Leroy had been the perp with a makeshift shank. As a result, Leroy was now serving life without parole. Didn’t matter that the convict in question had been a worthless, evil man, or that there was a question as to whether the other convict had been the one who did the crime in a fight over Leroy. In a prison like Angola, where ninety percent of the five thousand inmates would die there, they had nothing to lose.

Leroy was the reason Gabrielle became a lawyer who worked for Second Chances, a Southern version of the Innocence Project. She’d been only fourteen when Leroy had stabbed their father with a kitchen knife, repeatedly, after his usual Friday night beating of their mother and any of the kids who weren’t quick enough to run and hide.

Dolly stood in the open doorway watching Gabrielle walk away. The middle-aged lady was no dummy. She knew how Gabrielle felt about her. So, it was a surprise when she called out to her, “There’s someone who might be able to help you.”

Gabrielle wanted to keep walking, but she owed Leroy every chance he could get. She paused and glanced back over her shoulder.

“Have you ever heard of Louise Rivard? Tante Lulu, they call her down on the bayou.”

“The traiteur?” Gabrielle frowned, having no clue how a folk healer would be able to help her, and a wacky one, at that, if rumors were true.

Dolly nodded, the compassionate expression on her face appearing to be genuine. “Tante Lulu knows people. She accomplishes things no one else can.” She laughed and added, “Mostly due to her devotion to St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless cases.”

She and Leroy had long ago lost any belief in a higher power. But hopeless, they were. With a nod of thanks, the most she was willing to concede to the old bat, she said, “What have we got to lose?”


Even Vikings get the blues...

If prison was a microcosm of regular society, as penal authorities purported it to be, then Ivak was living in a village of idiots. And the chief idiot, Warden Pierce Benton, had just made the most outrageous demand of him.

“You want me to put together a talent show on the last night of the rodeo? Why me?”

Every year, Angola put on a series of prison rodeos that were open to the public. A more ludicrous, often cruel, event Ivak had never seen, except in the days of old Rome when they forced inexperience slaves to go out into the coliseums as gladiators.

“Why not you?” Benton inquired in a heavy Southern drawl as he rolled an unlit cigar from one side of his mouth to the other, the whole time staring at him from behind his desk where everyone knew his swivel chair was elevated to give him extra height. The warden, who wore his Christianity on his sleeve, was not a fan of Ivak’s less-than-deferential attitude, not to mention his unconventional manner of particular, combining a clerical collar with unclergyman-like attire. But then, Ivak was not a fan of the stocky, gray-haired man who was more autocratic than some kings Ivak had known over the years. King Boris the Boar came to mind, for one. When he smiled, as he did now, with that big space between his front teeth, he resembled a shorter, heavier, older David Letterman, but the smile was deceptive. Behind the amiability was a ruthless autocrat.

No one was exactly sure what or who Ivak was here at the prison. Not an inmate. Nor a clergyman, precisely, although there were chaplains and religious folks aplenty assigned to all the cellblocks and camps. Oh, he had credentials, thanks to St. Michael and his secret sources, proclaiming him a former inmate chaplain from some small European country, now a non-denominational “spiritual advisor” at Angola, but he didn’t fit anyone’s idea of a religious minister.

Ivak knew better than most the power Benton wielded in this prison. One word from him made the difference between a man being made a trusty with a limited amount of freedom or confinement to a six-by-nine cell for life. One word from him and Ivak’s “job” would be toast.

“What do you think I am...some kind of Simon Cowell?”

“What a great idea! Y’all can hold an American Idol type competition. Maybe you’ll discover a Reuben Studdard or Scotty McCreery right here at Angola” Benton smiled at him, but the humor never made it to his beady eyes. “See, I knew you’d be the man for the job.”

“Simon Cowell is no longer with Idol. He moved on to X-Factor,” he informed the warden. Or some other friggin’ show. It’s not as if I follow that crap.

“Even better.”

The Angola rodeos were held in the Spring and the Fall. That meant in a little over a month...the rodeos would start and continue each Sunday in October...the warden was expecting Ivak to have a talent show to put on.

Ivak did a mental crossing of his eyes. He could just see it now. If he rejected Big Tony Fasano in the try-outs, the convicted Dixie Mafia hit man would cut off his balls while he was sleeping...and eat them. Or those thugs in Camp J where the prison troublemakers were housed, if they tried to audition as a group and Ivak wasn’t impressed, he would find himself someone’s girlfriend by morning. Or they could try. Gang rape was not unheard of in this testosterone-oozing jungle, and since most of the inmates would never leave, they didn’t have much to lose.

“This is about me trying to get through to Leroy Sonnier, isn’t it?”

Sonnier was a presumably a model inmate who managed to annoy just about everyone in authority at the prison with his attitude. For some reason, maybe because he saw a bit of himself in the man, this particular inmate had become a challenge for Ivak to save.

Benton put a hand over his heart and made a ridiculous moue of innocence around his cigar, as if wounded that Ivak would accuse him of such tactics. “A talent show will bring more people to the rodeo.” He put up a halting hand when Ivak was about to speak. “Oh, I know very well how y’all feel about the rodeo, Mister Sigurdsson. Dangerous, demeaning, yada, yada, yada. But the more money the rodeo brings in, the more money that can be allocated for prisoner activities. Like your religious mentoring program.”

That was a load of bull, and they both knew it. Religious mentoring cost almost nothing. But the warden could single handedly pull the plug on any of the convict programs without any justification.

“I’ll agree to do it, but my way.”

Benton raised his brows. “We’ll see.”

We’ll see all right. I’m a vampire, my good man. How would you like to lose a bucket of blood in a dark corridor one of these nights? Well, actually, I’m a vampire angel, and the angel in me curbs my feeding indiscriminately, but I could do it. Above all, Ivak was a Viking, and the Norseman in him hated giving in to bullies like Benton. “I need to go home for a few days,” he said then, suddenly overcome by the oppressive atmosphere in the prison, but especially the prison warden’s presence. “I’ll get started on your frickin’ talent show when I get back.”

Benton arched his eyes with displeasure at his swear word. If he only knew! Vangels never used the Lord’s name as an expletive, but every other crude swear word was fair game. “Where exactly is home?”

This was not the first time the warden had asked him that question which he managed to evade so far.

“Did I say home? I meant my fishing camp down the bayou. I don’t really have a home.” Next, I’ll have to buy myself a fishing camp just to prove my lie. And I like fishing even less than I like swamps. Give me a nice four-star hotel in the Caribbean any day.

That’s why you’re assigned to a prison, lackwit, he thought he heard a voice in his head say.

And actually it wasn’t quite true that he didn’t have a home. He and his six brothers, the VIK, considered the rundown castle in Transylvania, Pennsylvania their headquarters, for now. And that’s where he teletransported himself as soon as he was outside the prison gates.

Landing in the back courtyard of the castle, he stomped into the kitchen where the cook, Lizzie Borden, was hacking apart a rack of ribs with a meat cleaver. She didn’t even look up as he passed her. She must be in a mood, too. Last he’d heard, she went on strike over the vangels’ obsessive appetite for pasta. There was usually a minimum of thirty vangels in residence at any one time in the twenty-five bedroom castle that had been built by an eccentric lumber baron a century ago.

Walking over to the commercial size fridge, he took out a container of Fake-O, the vangels’ makeshift substitute for real blood, and two bottles of beer. He’d just sat down at the counter when his brother Vikar walked in and raised his eyebrows at his presence. Vikar was in charge of renovating this huge pile of stone into a livable residence. Good thing vangels didn’t age. Vikar would probably still be working on the project fifty years from now, or a hundred.

“To what do we owe the pleasure of your company?” Vikar took out a bottle of dark ale for himself, too. If there was anything Vikings appreciated about modern times it was a good beer.

“I’m depressed.”

Vikar sat down on a tall stool next to Ivak. “Vikings don’t get depressed. We go out and conquer a country, or at the least go a-Viking when an ill-temper comes over us.”

Miss Borden mumbled something that sounded like, “Or eat a pigload of ravioli.”

“Not having a longship, and being landlocked in a prison, I’m hardly in a position to go off anywhere. The best I could manage there is a small canoe-like boat they call a pee-row on a trip down the alligator-infested bayous. A-Viking, it is not.” He hated the whiney tone in his own voice. When had he turned into a whiner?

“Shhh!” Vikar put a fingertip to his lips. “You don’t want Mike to hear you objecting to an assignment.”

Mike was the rude name they’d given St. Michael. And, yes, it was unwise to protest a mission they’d been given by their celestial mentor. They would find themselves given worse. One time his brother Trond had complained about his mission to some misbegotten jungle and found himself sling-shotted to ancient Rome where he was a gladiator fighting lions. A lesson learned for all of them: The more you complain, the longer you live as a vangel. Of course, the same could be said of sin.

“I know what this is about,” Vikar said. “Sex.”

“What’s that?”

You asking a question like that? The king of sex?” “Not for a long time. Truth to tell, brother, I’ve been celibate for more than two years.” Ivak could tell that Vikar was astounded. He was, too. His brothers had seen him around women during that time, of course. He’d no doubt been touching them, or flirting. Mayhap even venturing a kiss on occasion, but what his brothers hadn’t known was, that was all. No. Sex. “I’ve been trying to be good in hopes that Mike will give me a ‘Get Out of Jail’ card.”

Vikar grinned, obviously enjoying his situation.

“It’s not funny.”

“Oh, I think it’s very funny. ‘The Sexiest Man Alive...Ever.’ And he has blue balls? They ought to put you on a magazine cover.”

“Easy for you to make mock of me when you have sex on tap now that you have wed.”

“I dare you to say that in front of Alex.” Alex was Vikar’s wife.

“What a wench-whipped man you have become!”

“Are you referring to Alex as a wench? She will cut off your blue balls.”

“Are you sure you’re still a Viking?” Ivak said, basking in the pleasantness of the sunny kitchen. How different it was from the bleak place he called home these days! Even the sun failed to reach many of Angola’s dismal corners. It smelled better, too. Ivak inhaled deeply to appreciate the pleasant aroma of something baking in the oven, something chocolate, and even the bowl of apples and oranges in front of him provided their own scents.

“Have a care, Ivak. I have lopped off the heads of men for lesser insults.”

“Whatever!” He took a long draw on his bottle of beer, then added, “Don’t you just love that word? Can you imagine how perfect it would have been in our time? When King Olaf went on and on about one misdeed after another that we Sigurdsson brothers committed, we could say as one, ‘Whatever!’ Or better yet, when Mike calls us on the carpet...uh, cloud...for one teeny-tiny sin or another, we could say, ‘Whatever!’’’

“You really are going off the deep end, aren’t you?”

“Lack of sex does that to a man, makes his sap thicken and clog up his veins.”

“Is that a scientific fact?”

“It could be.”

They grinned at each other.

“Where are Alex and the bratlings?” he asked then. Vangels were unable to breed or bear children, but Vikar and his wife had “adopted” twin toddlers last year, a first in the thousand-plus-year history of the VIK and vangeldom. But then Vikar’s being permitted to marry a living soul was a first for vangels, too.

“They went to an Amish market with Armod and Svein. You’ll stay until they come back, won’t you?”

He nodded.

“Back to sex—“ Vikar said.

Ivak snorted his opinion.

“Really, Ivak, I sympathize with you. I don’t imagine there are many opportunities for sex...I mean, male/female a prison of five thousand men.”

“You’d be surprised. There are prison guards, lawyers, Bible-thumping do-gooders who sometimes take do-gooding to a new level. Plus, I go outside the prison on occasion.”

“There are women in an all-male prison?”

“Believe me, there are women everywhere.”

“And you’ve managed to resist the temptations. I’m impressed.”

“I am, too. I keep thinking that if I can hold out just a little bit longer, Mike will take pity on me.”

“Are you demented?” Vikar shook his head at Ivak, as if he were a hopeless case. “Methinks you need to find yourself a life mate and hope, and pray, that Mike will let you have her.”

“That is the last thing. One woman, forever and ever.” Ever since Vikar...and his brother, Trond, too, for that matter...had married, they thought there was a soul mate just waiting to catch each and every one of the VIK. As if that was a happenstance Ivak should be anticipating with great glee! It was sickening, really, the way Vikar and Trond and their mates constantly touched and kissed and cooed at each other.

Ivak shivered with distaste.

“Is the alternative any better? No woman?”

“I refuse to believe that I will be forced to go on this way much longer. A man of my appetites should be able to ‘eat’ once in a while, or lots in a while.” He blinked his lashes with mock innocence at his brother.

Vikar laughed. “I cannot wait to meet the woman who will bring you to your knees.”

“The only reason I would be on my knees before a woman is because I am about to perform a sexual act on her person.”

Vikar laughed. “You’ll see.”

“Actually, the reason I came here is to warn you that there might be Lucies in the vicinity of Angola.” Lucies was the nickname for Lucipires, Lucifer’s vampire demons. They fed on humans in a state of mortal sin, or those tempted to some great sin. “Their scent is everywhere around the prison perimeter. I’m not sure they’ve actually infiltrated the complex yet, but it’s only a matter of time.”

“Well, you know where they’re coming from, if they’re there,” Vikar said, a note of disgust in his voice.

“Dominique,” they both said at the same time.

For some time now, the VIK had been aware of Dominique Fontaine’s presence in New Orleans where she’d opened a portion of her mansion, Anguish, as a restaurant. Dominique was a powerful haakai demon vampire, one of Japser’s top command council and a more repulsive woman there never was, especially with her passion for snakes.

“I hadn’t heard about her working her evil wiles throughout Lousiana, though,” Vikar remarked. “Rather like a dog soiling its own bed.”

“We’ll soon find out if it’s her minions, or some others.”

“As for Lucies possibly infiltrating Angola, you have to admit there’s a great body of potential victims there. I’m surprised they haven’t thought of it before. You’ve said yourself that many of the inmates are irredeemable.”

“Yes, but I’ve managed to ‘save’ several dozen these past two years. It’s just that for every criminal I save, two others equally needy pop up.”

“So, what can we do to help with this new threat?”

“I’ll need at least a dozen, maybe even two dozen, vangels incarcerated there, or put on the prison staff, to help me.”

“Jarls, karls, ceorls, thralls?” Vikar asked, referring to the various social classes of vangels.

“Some of each.”

“Done,” Vikar said.

“And I need a quick lesson in talent scouting.”


When he finished explaining, Vikar was bent over with laughter. Even Miss Borden snickered.

“It’s not that funny,” Ivak contended.

“Ivak! Your idea of talent is a stripper singing ‘Let Me Entertain You’ while she hangs from a pole.”

“Your point?”

Ironically, once he was back at Angola and received a list of potential talent show participants, the first song to be sung by Leo Lister in his cross-dressing role as Linda Lister was “Let Me Entertain You.”


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