By Gina Conkle
Wars and weddings were alike in her father’s longhouse…celebrations marked with roast venison, rose hip mead, and raucous laughter. And much revelry. Except the old women. They drank quietly, their aged eyes fixed on the fire pit. Eira’s cheek brushed the lattice leather curtain she stood behind. She tried to read their faces through a break in the weave.
What secrets did the elders hide?
They’d seen enough feasts honoring marriage and battle. The two could be cut from the same cloth. With her mother gone, she craved their wisdom.
Her gaze slid to the great chair where her father, Den Gamle, Aland’s greatest chieftain reclined, his silver-trimmed horn raised high. The chair would be hers as would the man beside it, Steinar of Uppakra, a Viking of great standing and lethal ambition. Beautiful and strong, he could be the perfect mate, but when the time was right, she’d kill him. He deserved it for what he’d done three years past.
Steinar’s pale blue stare searched the room, measuring, counting, full of expectation.
“Calculating our wealth, is he?” She clutched the key ring heavy on her thigh. “He works harder to open my father’s chests than my heart.”
The finest saffron wool stretched across his massive chest. Steinar didn’t need more silver, and he didn’t need her. She was a prize. Nothing more.
His well-shaped lips tightened when he spied her empty seat. She stepped back in the shadows. The loosely woven leather curtain had been her mother’s effort to create a storage room and hide unsightly barrels. When her sister had whispered in her ear, “We need more apples,” she was glad to fetch the fruit and have a moment of quiet. The bucket of fruit in hand, it was time she returned.
A cool draft stirred her skirts. “Who left the back door—”
A brawny arm manacled her waist. Air stuck in her lungs. The bucket clattered to the ground. Apples tumbled underfoot as she struggled against a wall of muscle and heat.
“Don’t fight me,” a deep voice male rasped in her ear.
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