Friends can be such a drag
Hello again. It's me, your favorite reincarnated Norse trickster god, Loki.
I still have boobs.
I'm also suffering from a health issue that has a 99.43% chance of permanently ending me (assuming the Norns don't get to me first). And I can't find my immortality rune. And the runes I did recover are playing fisticuffs with each other. And I've been cursed with an inability to lie. One by one, my new friends are turning out to be old foes. Oh, and did I mention I accidentally on purpose destroyed Odin's gazillion-dollar business investment, and now he's sharpening his spear for me too?
I hate Tuesdays.
But I finally got a lead on another rune. With a trip to a drag queen pageant in San Francisco in my future, I just have to convince my friends Gunnar Magnusson, Freddie, and Darryl Donovan that they're destined to change the world in dresses and heels. That would transform this terrible Tuesday into the funnest Frigg-ing Friday since Ragnarok.
Book 3 in the Asgard Awakening urban fantasy comedy series
Release date: March 24, 2020
Publisher: Howling Mad Press
Print pages: 312
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After midnight - Wednesday/Odin’s Day
There’s nothing like a full belly and a sexy Viking in a suit to make the promise of bedtime a raucous exercise in salivation salvation. Two great tastes that taste great together. Like peanut butter and chocolate. I’ve been on a chocolate binge ever since one of my mates introduced me to Reese’s Peanut Butter cups as a remedy for PMS. What I wouldn’t give for a handful of Gunnar Magnusson to melt in my hand. Or even better, in my mouth.
The giant, blond-haired, blue-eyed object of my affection stands before me outside the door to the Silver State Sleeps Motel office near Las Vegas, Nevada. He’s waiting for our friends to get out of the van. I’m staring unabashedly at the pecs filling out his tight-fitting dress shirt. They’re like steel pancakes, and the abs tucked below them could be steel sausages stacked up in a pretty row. I lick my lips as spit surges into my mouth. I love pancakes and sausages.
It’s one a.m., and we just wrapped up a late dinner at an Indian restaurant following the destruction of Nine Realms. A few hours ago, it was a multimillion-dollar Norse-themed resort and casino with so much gold and sparkle, it made my eyes hurt. Now it looks like an abandoned bowling alley after a nuclear war. My friends and I may have had something to do with its unscheduled demolition.
Okay, we totally did it. Or, I did. It’s been an eventful night.
Gunnar Magnusson’s closeness makes me twitchy in more ways than one. I wish my mates would hurry up and exit the van. On the drive to our lodgings, there was an argument—which, judging by the muffled shouts behind me, is still going on—about something called “football.”
“What were you and Freddie talking about at the restaurant?” Gunnar Magnusson asks.
I can tell he’s serious because he’s speaking in Old Norse, and this line of conversation is currently at the top of my no-fly list. Have you any idea how hard it is for a born liar not to lie?
Confused? Me too. I’ll start over. From the top.
Hello. Welcome to book three in my gender-bending tale of woe and wonder. If you’re tuning in for the first time, I’m Loki.
Yes, the Loki, as in, the Norse trickster god. Also venerated by some as the father of lies, though, I suppose that particular kenning is moot now since (1) I’m no longer a man, and (2) I was cursed by an honest-to-goddess Norn who etched Sannleikur, a truth-telling rune stave, into my back yesterday with water from the Well of Urd. Long story short, the new tattoo has denied me access to the edit button that used to tailor words to fit my whims. Honesty is the bold new voice thriving in my head full of lies. Gross.
I’m also a thirsty human woman with a rune obsession, loose morals, and an evolving American English vocabulary that gets stuck like glue to the underside of my skull from time to time until one of my friends pulls meaning free and dangles it before my eyes like a full drinking horn.
But back to Gunnar Magnusson’s question about what our friend Freddie and I were chatting about. The answer is complex. I was standing outside the Indian place when Freddie—who, as it turns out, isn’t really a Freddie at all—stumbled upon his own truth in a moment of off-handed fishing for fame. He asked me for his rune after I snagged a bunch of the ancient bone chips from an imploding World Tree at the aforementioned resort I destroyed, and I, like a truth-spewing idiot, wondered aloud how he knew he was a god.
He didn’t. But my question confirmed it for him.
I’m not tricked often, but Freddie turned the tables on me without meaning to.
See, once upon a time, Freddie was Freya, the Norse goddess of many things, not the least of which include love, sex, lust, beauty, fertility, war, death, and magic. Yeah, she dipped her fingers in plenty of wells back in the day. The bad news in all of this is that not only did I treat Freya less than admirably in Asgard, but one of her runes currently resides in the bag at my hip. If Freddie finds it, he’s bound to remember his immortal legacy, and I’m certain he won’t be throwing any WeedPop-fueled orgies to celebrate our reunion.
Gunnar Magnusson lowers his head as if to prompt me to answer his question. I’d rather rip his glasses off, smush my mouth into his, and brush my teeth with his beard. Have I mentioned he’s hot AF?
“I, uh. Well …” I scramble to find words that won’t get me in trouble. I make the mistake of looking up at Gunnar Magnusson. My insides quiver at the pouty lips partially concealed by his reddish-blond face bush. My fingers twitch at my sides, eager to comb his messy, sun-kissed locks straight.
Then I remember why his hair is out of sorts, and the ache of flying ravens churning my guts into honey butter sours into an acid bath of guilt.
Hours ago, Gunnar Magnusson slept with Saga Leifsdóttir, aka Frigg, Odin’s wife and the goddess of foresight, to recover one of my runes. He made this sacrifice for me—defied his own moral code to do so. As much as the thought of Frigg tenderizing his meat hurts me, it probably hurts him more.
I know. There’s a lot of backstory to catch up on.
I lay a hand on his chest, searching for his heartbeat. Maybe if I can connect with it, the harsh realities dangling from the tip of my tongue will be easier to tell. I wish he would wind his fingers between mine like he did at the restaurant, but he’s a statue, waiting for an answer I can’t give.
“I don’t want to tell you,” I finally reply in Old Norse. This is my vulnerable truth.
Freddie and I aren’t the only former gods around here. Unbeknownst to him, Gunnar Magnusson was once my wife Sigyn. And my lawyer, Darryl Donovan, was Thor in another life. I wasn’t very nice to them either. Or anyone from my time, since I’m vomiting truths from my perpetually flowing cauldron of honesty.
See my dilemma?
Gunnar Magnusson nods without a word. Just when I thought we were moving past our gender hang-ups and trust issues, the crack that started to mend in our mutual bedrock changes its mind and widens. We are two islands drifting apart. If I were still a god, I might be strong enough to pull us back together, but having recovered two of my four runes, I’m only halfway there.
Odin’s raven-turned-chicken Huginn wanders up. A trail of feathers flutters behind him. He leans against my leg long enough to remind me I’m not alone, and then he wanders into a patch of grass adjoining the lot to peck at some bugs.
Freddie, Darryl Donovan, and Alex Alfheim—Freddie’s new bed buddy and former Nine Realms Resort and Casino magician whom I don’t know well—exit the van in a swirl of muscle and testosterone. They’re quite handsome chaps, but my heart beats strongest for the one standing before me. The one I had and lost. The one who can never find out who he was before, lest he hate me.
Gunnar Magnusson turns to our approaching friends. “What’s the verdict?” His tone is light, but the wrinkles vexing his eyes look like they’re trying to blind him.
“They conceded,” Darryl Donovan says, his white teeth flashing brilliantly against flawless, bronze-brown skin. He crosses his bulging arms under his Asgard Awakening Thor costume. Oh, the irony.
“Under duress,” Freddie protests. He blows a puff through his catlike lips, flipping a stray strand of wavy dark hair out of his pale, moonlit face.
Darryl Donovan grins. “Are you gonna say it, or do you need prompting?” A flex of his biceps underscores the last word.
“Fine.” Freddie huffs. “Herschel Walker is the best college football running back of all time. Can I have my WeedPop back now?” He holds out an open palm and wiggles his long, thin fingers.
Darryl Donovan flips a sucker to him and studies me. “What’s the plan?”
I love how he defers to me as the unofficial leader of our little group. Thor always was a follower.
“I assume you two are sharing a room?” I turn to Freddie and Alexander. Alex recently became intimately familiar with the contours of the inside of Freddie’s pants (and vice-versa). Their mutual pants parties seemed a good enough reason to recruit him to join our quest to find my runes.
They look at each other, and something melts between them. “I’m gonna say … yes.” Freddie unwraps the red WeedPop sucker, rolls his tongue suggestively around the candy, and shoves it between Alex’s lips.
Under night’s dark blanket, Alex’s skin looks ashen. Black eyes smoldering, he accepts the gift with a less obvious tongue swirl. The air thickens with lust strong enough to taste. Rich, warm, heady, earthy. Kenaz, my newly recovered rune of fire, hums appreciatively under my scalp. Kenaz is a slut. It’s good to have it back.
Glancing sideways at Gunnar Magnusson, I brush a hand over my stomach to quell the tide of desire swelling within. Freddie and Alex aren’t the only ones who are eager to throw a leg over a bloke.
I feel Gunnar Magnusson’s gaze on me. After the kiss I laid on him in the parking lot, I’m ready to curl up in his driver’s seat and take his body for a spin. Vroom, vroom!
Darryl Donovan aims his attention at his feet, and Gunnar Magnusson tugs open the lobby door. I pant at the sight of his thick arms tensing and promptly choke on my own spit. The ensuing coughing fit sends the cardioverter-defibrillator that regulates my heartbeat into a tizzy. Trying to recover between sputters and grunts and hacks, I wave off my friends’ questioning looks, my cheeks burning. “Go ahead,” I sputter. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
Sparky the cat wanders up. The little ball of orange tabby fur lifts a paw as if pointing at my face and says, “Why are you blushing?”
Hanging back and out of human earshot, I snap to attention. Thanks to the truth rune stave, my defensive I’m not blushing retort comes out as, “I’m blushing.”
Wiggles sits beside Sparky on the ground. The black-and-white cat laughs dryly. “What’sa matter with you? Cat got your tongue?”
My friends collectively turn and stare at me with puzzled expressions. Darryl and Freddie shrug in sync, and Alex follows my line of sight to the cats. He notches a curious brow but doesn’t say anything as he follows the boys inside. Trailing behind the moving wall of man flesh, I lean down and hiss, “Keep your mouths shut in front of them.” I jerk my head in the direction of the squad heading in. I straighten as Gunnar Magnusson’s eyes find mine.
Pressing my lips together to keep from spewing more truths I’m not willing to share, I step inside the air-conditioned parlor and flush at Gunnar Magnusson’s hotness as I pass him. The attendant behind the desk appears to be watching a show on his computer screen.
“I need a room.” I glance at Gunnar Magnusson. “With two beds.”
The wrinkly old man with ears as big as a baby elephant’s looks past me over the top of his glasses to Gunnar Magnusson, whom I know for a fact doesn’t have much money. “Can I help you?”
Gunnar Magnusson steps forward, but I duck in front of him. “I said I need a room.”
“Are you looking for a motel room, young man?” the guy says as if I’m invisible. I’m not, though I could be with a second’s thought.
“Uh, hello, old man?” I wave my hands in front of him. “I’m right here.”
“I’ve only got one room left, and it’s a single.” He continues to ignore me.
You’re speaking the wrong language, Laguz, my rune of intuition, says from its home lodged within my hip bone.
Kenaz, the rune of impulsivity, aka constant thorn in Laguz’s proverbial side, silently suggests I smack the man with the wad of Ben Franklins stowed in my lady purse. I reach in, careful to keep the runes littering the bottom of the bag out of sight, and withdraw several hundred-dollar bills I won from a poker tournament. I fan them out under the man’s nose. “Can you hear me now?”
His gaze falls on the green, and he licks his lips. “It’s a hundred a night.”
“You charged us seventy-nine for the other room we rented,” Freddie interjects behind me.
The man snaps his attention to Freddie and scowls. “That was when I had vacancies. I can’t help it if my motel is in hot demand.”
“That’s price gouging, and it’s illegal in Nevada,” Darryl Donovan chimes in. He casually pulls out his phone from a pocket in his creaky black leather pants. “I’ll just call my friends at the Metropolitan Police Department, and we can clear this right up.” His bulk, coupled with the revealing Thor costume that hugs every line and curve of his fit body, seems to have the desired effect. The man shrinks away and fumbles with his computer.
“Just a minute,” he says. “I’m sure I can find something in your price range.”
“That’s what I thought.” Darryl Donovan tucks his phone into its hiding place and leans across the desk.
Thor has always been good with threats. I rue the day when Darryl Donovan reclaims his godhood.
After a few clicks and taps, the old man declares, “Yes, I can reduce your rate to seventy-nine a night. How long will you be staying?” He looks at Gunnar Magnusson.
“Hello? Eyes over here, you senile goat.” I cave to Kenaz’s instincts and cock my arm to slap him with the wad of bills across the face, but Gunnar Magnusson wrestles my hand down before I make contact. He whips his head toward me and smacks me with a glare I can feel.
Sorry, I say, but “I’m not sorry” comes out.
The teetering attendant stares at me slack-jawed.
Gunnar Magnusson pushes me behind him and Darryl Donovan. “Please excuse my friend. She’s had a difficult day. One night is fine.”
The man resumes his keyboard dance and holds up a plastic card. “I’ll put you in room 196.”
I shove my head between hulking man shoulders and toss one of the Ben Franklins on the counter as an attempt at an apology I don’t feel. “Keep the change,” I blurt and snatch the key out of the attendant’s fingers.
With that, my entourage follows me out of the office toward room 196. Gunnar Magnusson catches up, leaving the rest of our friends several paces behind us.
“That was incredibly rude, Loki. What’s gotten into you?” he asks.
“He was the rude one. Didn’t you see how he ignored me?”
He nods. “Yes, I did, but that’s no reason to hit a guy with money.”
I spin on my heel and face him. My heart tries to keep pace with the rush of lust surging in my veins. The cascade of hair falling around his bunched shoulders. The muscles defining his chest under the suit. The essence of male written all over him. Gods, I need to bed this man yesterday. But I have my pride.
“He was insolent. He deserved it.” My jaw tightens as Gunnar Magnusson bores a hole through my soul with his sharp eyes.
“He clearly has no idea who you are.” Gunnar Magnusson glances around us. “Nobody does.”
Our friends fan out, giving us a wide berth as they wander with heads down toward their rooms. Freddie unlocks the door with 185 on it. Alex and the cats follow him in. Darryl Donovan watches us as he enters room 190. He slips inside without a word. Huginn hangs back, kicking pebbles.
“That’s not an excuse to refuse me service,” I decry. Then it hits me. That aged old coot is just another sexist arsewipe. I groan. “Shite grenades dangling on the arse of a herpes-infested goat. It’s because I’m a woman, isn’t it?”
Gunnar Magnusson rubs his forehead. He looks exhausted. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
It always comes back to gender, doesn’t it? Half the time, I hate being a woman, and the other half, I feel as if I should be defending my sex. It’s a never-ending struggle, and I still don’t know where exactly I fall on the spectrum of acceptance.
I look down at my breasts and wish them away.
They’re still here.
“I’m sorry he was rude to you,” Gunnar Magnusson says, “but maybe you should try treating others the way you want to be treated.”
“You expect me to put humans on the same pedestal as a god?” I laugh. “You must be joking. These Midgardian fools don’t deserve such reverence.”
Gunnar Magnusson flinches. “I’m one of those Midgardian fools. So is Freddie. And Darryl. And Alex.”
I start to say, No, you’re not, but Laguz, my main source of common sense, cuts me off. LOKI. SHUT UP.
I slam my lips closed with a pop and wait a beat for the fury to pass. It doesn’t. I rub at the itch throbbing at the top of my skull. Kenaz again.
My freshly recovered rune hasn’t had much time to settle in yet, so I can’t tell if the combination of rage and lust suffusing me is Kenaz’s doing or some hormone-related feminine nonsense. At this stage, it could be either. Or both.
“I’m hungry. You look good enough to eat,” I blurt to Gunnar Magnusson.
His eyes widen. Mine do too. I cover my mouth a second too late. I’m sorry. “I’m not sorry,” I admit.
Damn this truth tattoo!
We stare at each other for a moment. I’ve clearly lost my mind, along with any semblance of restraint.
“It’s been a long day,” he finally says.
“Yes,” I agree, stepping closer. His back is inches away from the door to our room. I have half a mind to shove him against it and climb him like a tree.
“I think …” He pauses. A ridge forms between his brows, and he awkwardly swipes his palm down the back of my arm. “I think I need a night to myself.”
The force of the blow knocks me off course.
“Oh,” I mumble, searching for my feet or Huginn or anything but Gunnar Magnusson. Heat rushes into my cheeks. I understand. “I don’t understand.”
I stomp my booted foot and back away, determined not to let him see the disappointment encroaching on my eyes.
“It’s not you,” he says defensively. “I gotta work through some stuff. Just give me tonight, okay? I’ll sleep in the van.”
I shake my head. “No, you take the room. It’s the least I can do.” I barely manage to swallow the after you slept with Saga to get my rune for me before it has a chance to escape.
I shove the key into his hand and craft a fake smile. Is my face immune to the truth curse? Judging by his tight expression, it’s hard to tell.
“Where will you sleep?” he asks, his brow creasing.
“Don’t worry about me,” I reply with another smile. I don’t even try to make this one look genuine. “Get some rest.”
Without waiting for his answer, I turn away and motion Huginn over. We head for the stand of trees off to the side. A tear sneaks past the corner of my lids and hits the pavement with a splat.
I am such a fool.
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