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Son of Thunder
By Libby Bishop, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Libby Bishop
All rights reserved.
The thunder boomed, rattling the windows and pots and pans of her home in the Adirondacks of New York. Liv was certain at any moment the glass would implode. Normally, she found thunderstorms beautiful — the power breathtaking, the lightning mesmerizing — but this storm was ridiculous.
Turning back to the paperwork in her lap, she studied the original police report of the murder. She'd read it about ten times in the last two days, which truly wasn't necessary as she had the damn thing memorized. Solving her best friend's murder — a cold case for six years — was her mission in life. Every year on the anniversary of the death, she took a two-week vacation from her job at the FBI, burying herself in case files, photos, and evidence ... or rather, lack of evidence.
Something compelled her to read the file over and over again, as if a new clue would jump out at her. Deep down she knew going over the file time and time again wouldn't change the fact there was no biological evidence — even though it was clear that Soosie had been brutally victimized — and it wouldn't tell them if they were dealing with a human or a god.
The emotions she'd felt in the days following Soosie's death still very much lingered, hitting her as strongly as a punch in the gut. At times it seemed the feelings hadn't faded at all, though some of that was due to not having brought the killer to justice. She remembered, quite clearly, the day she'd fallen apart and allowed herself to feel the full weight of grief. As if it were yesterday ...
She barely remembered how to breathe, the weight of loss so deep it etched into her bones. She didn't want to eat, and sleep was near impossible. Burying her best friend had taken a piece of her soul that would never be returned.
"Liv Agda Winter, you need to sleep."
Looking toward the doorway from the porch swing, she watched her close friend — and work partner — as he walked toward her, taking a seat and putting his arm around her shoulders. He'd been there from the beginning, leading the investigation when she was too broken to deal with it.
"When I close my eyes all I see is her torn and broken body tied to those trees." She sniffled, and he held her closer. "Granted, I see it when I'm awake, too, but when I sleep it's more ... vivid." Fresh tears filled her eyes, and raw grief caught in her throat as the images flashed, taking her ability to speak.
Every sound, every piece of scenery, would be etched in her mind forever. The loss of Soosie had forever and irrevocably changed the course of her life.
"It's all right, sweetheart," he soothed, rubbing his hand up and down her bicep gently. "You're going to get through this. I'm going to get you through this. So you go ahead and cry, scream, collapse in grief — I'll be right here to catch you."
"I don't know how to deal with this," she said.
His grip tightened again. "First, you fall apart, you feel the loss. Then, once you've taken the time to do that, you get up, you get dressed, and you use that pain to hunt the son-of-a-bitch down so the monster can't hurt anyone else."
She inhaled deeply then shakily exhaled. "But first ... I feel it."
"But first you feel it."
With him holding her tightly, she let the tears roll unchecked. A soft, mournful cry left her as a fresh wave of grief rolled through her, heavy sobs soon following ...
The fact that she'd not fulfilled that promise ate at her daily, but she'd learned to use that guilt as fuel during other cases.
Closing the file, she sighed. "Time to get some sleep."
She ran her hand over the folder once then set it on the nightstand, placing her phone on top of it. She lay down on the bed and closed her eyes, though she doubted true sleep would take her anytime soon — grief robbed that from her when it stripped her of her best friend.
"Good night, Soosie," she whispered, then curled up under the covers.
* * *
Rune still couldn't believe his ears. Two days after the ruling, and he was still unable to grasp his punishment. And now, after hearing it for a third time, all he could do was stare at his great-grandfather Odin in disbelief. How could this be happening? How could the All-Father make this decision based on the evidence?
"I am truly sorry, Rune," Odin said as they stood near the Gate. "But this is the only way to deal with this situation."
Rune's eyes widened, and something in him snapped at those last words. Anger gripped him, raw and fiery. "Only answer? Reign butchered my closest friend, and he has no remorse for it. Nor does he care that they'd been friends for centuries! Not one of you — not you, Thor, or my father — has done a damn thing to treat Reign's anger and lust for violence, for blood. The punishments given to him over the years have only strengthened those emotions in him because you only seek to punish him for the deed done. I've told you all, since Reign and I were in our first century of life, that you need to focus on why he does what he does, not the deed."
"And you have the nerve to banish me from Asgard after seeing what he did. What justifies this sentence?" he demanded, his gaze locked to Odin's. "What justifies sending me to Earth and not allowing me back home until I've redeemed myself for something that was a defensible reaction?"
And how could his grandfather, Thor, and his own father, have agreed to it? Nothing about it made sense. What his brother had done was wrong, unprovoked, and beyond monstrous. Yet Rune found himself the one being chastised.
The patient expression on Odin's face did nothing to quell his anger or his sorrow for his fallen friend. But Rune waited for the All-Father to speak, to explain himself, his actions.
"While your reaction to Reign's deed is understandable, I find your nearly beating him to death to be worrisome. You are the levelheaded one, the honorable one at all turns, so it bothers me greatly that you could have almost killed your own brother." Odin looked away a moment, then back, his brow knitted. "Despite your valid arguments, my judgment still stands — you are to be banished to Earth until you redeem yourself for this bloody, uncharacteristic deed."
Shaking his head, Rune spread his arms out then dropped them to his sides in exasperation. "That answers none of my questions. This punishment still makes no sense."
Odin held his head high, hands clasped behind his back.
The conversation was over. He would get nothing more from the god in front of him. He squared his shoulders, swallowing his anger and confusion. "Very well. I do not accept this chastisement, but I will take it all the same, as you've given me no other choice. Make no mistake — I will return very soon, as I have no intention of letting Reign harm those I care for in retaliation."
Odin nodded once. "Reign will be watched closely. You can trust in that."
But Rune didn't trust in that. If his brother wanted retaliation, his brother would get it, unless he was locked away and allowed no visitors. That hadn't happened yet — four days after the killing, and Reign was still free of consequence. His other friends were in great danger ... and Odin seemed rather cavalier about it, which only strengthened his resolve to get home as soon as possible.
"Once you pass through the Gate, you will have to earn your right to be near humans. This will not be easy on you and for that I am sorry. But it's the way I've done things since I took the throne — you being my blood changes nothing."
"I understand that."
"All-Father," he replied, then walked into the Gate.
He'd never fallen so fast through the Gate — everything was blurred, and a buzzing penetrated his mind like a sharp, jagged knife. Was this part of the punishment for nearly killing his twin brother? Odin hadn't told him where he would be sent; Rune just hoped the pain would stop once he got there.
A bright light jetted toward him from the end of the tunnel, blinding him. Nausea swam through him as he broke through the barrier into the realm of Earth. A few seconds later he impacted with something soft, and sank down a few inches.
A woman's scream broke through his haze.
A fist to the side of his face brought him abruptly back to himself. The power behind it rattled his brain as he fell sideways onto a hard floor.
"Who the fuck are you, and what are you doing in my room?" She didn't sound as scared as much as strong-willed, something he was used to in both humans and goddesses.
He started to stand, but the click of a gun made him slow his actions. "I am not here to harm you, my lady."
Turning to face the person he landed on, he was slightly taken aback by the tall, curvy, red-haired beauty. She stood straight, her gun aimed at his forehead. The bullet wouldn't kill him, but it would take a healer of the gods to make him right and restore his mind.
She narrowed her eyes. "Who are you?"
He bowed his head then met her sea-blue eyes. "I am Rune, grandson of Thor."
She huffed out a sigh, lowering her weapon. But he could clearly see that she'd pull the trigger before he could conjure whatever power his great-grandfather Odin had left him.
"The Son of Thunder? Are you friggin' kidding me?"
"No," he replied, not surprised that she'd used the nickname given to him by humans centuries back.
"What are you doing here?"
"Odin sent me to Earth as punishment, and I cannot return home until I've redeemed myself."
She put a hand on her hip and raised an eyebrow. "And that has what to do with me?"
He answered, "I don't know. The journey through the Gate was harsher and faster than I've ever experienced. I should have landed miles from any human — that's what I understood from Odin."
Persistent. She showed no fear toward him and kept her eyes on him, watching his slightest twitch like a predator. And the way she held the gun loosely, but firmly, ready to fire at a moment's notice ... he'd bet good money on her being law enforcement.
"He told me, quite clearly, that when I entered the Gate I would have to earn the right to be near humans and redeem myself. The hundreds of times I've heard him say that, those he punished were sent to the most desolate places on Earth."
Her eyebrows rose. "So, you don't know where you are?"
She nodded, clicking the safety back on the gun. She was a beautiful woman, her hair a tangled mess, her legs long, her porcelain skin smooth save a scar on the right side from her temple to her jaw then over to the left side of her mouth, like an L.
What gave you that scar?
"You are in the Adirondacks, in New York. The middle of nowhere, though not what one would call desolate. But you landed in my second home, a cabin in the woods."
"The nearest neighbor —"
"Is a half hour away in pretty much all directions."
Rune was confused at this turn of events, as Odin never made this kind of mistake ... to his knowledge, anyway. How had he ended up in this woman's home?
"I'm sorry, but you can't stay here. I'm ..." She trailed off, taking a deep breath. "I can't have company right now. That said, it is the middle of the night. You can sleep on the couch, but tomorrow you'll have to find another place to lodge."
"I apologize for the intrusion."
"Thank you. Follow me."
He followed her out of her bedroom, enjoying the view as they walked. A scent lingered behind her, something crisp like an autumn morning. Intoxicating.
"It's pretty comfy to sleep on, but you're about six inches too tall to really fit," she said as they stopped near the couch.
A blanket was folded at the other end of the couch, a pillow atop it. "Do you have company coming?"
"No. I slept on it the other night," she replied, not elaborating. "The bathroom is on the other side of the kitchen, through the laundry room. There's a nightlight on in there."
He briefly looked over at the kitchen, seeing the soft light emanating from the bathroom.
"Good night, Rune. Sleep well."
As she turned to go, he realized she knew something about him that he didn't about her. "My lady?"
She turned to him. "Yes?"
"What is your name?"
Her shoulders relaxed.
"Liv. My name is Liv Winter."
Beautiful name. "Good night, Liv."
She gave a nod and then continued to her bedroom.
He was fairly certain his sleep would be filled with her scent and image. Someone had certainly done well when they'd made Liv Winter.CHAPTER 2
How she managed to get any sleep with a god in the house, she didn't know. After showering and finishing in the bathroom, she dressed in a pair of jeans and a lightweight hoodie, leaving her hair down to dry. As she was walking to the bedroom door, she noticed that her file wasn't on the nightstand. Anger gripped her tight, clenching her stomach.
Staring at the empty space, she folded her arms. Nice. I give him a place to sleep, and in return I get him checking out my ass and taking my murder file.
Taking a deep breath to steady her temper, she made her way to the front of the cabin, where she found a bare-chested Viking standing at her island kitchen.
Sweet Valhalla, he was a wet dream standing there, long rustcolored hair tied back with a few strands hanging loose as he looked down at the counter.
Lean muscles and a broad chest, a light sprinkling of hair trailing down his torso to disappear beneath his pajama bottoms ... if she wasn't so irritated, she'd have the urge to run her hands over —
Wait. Where had he gotten pajamas?
Anger still riding her, she walked to the other side of the counter and slapped her palms on the wooden surface. "That is not for you to read, Viking."
He looked up at her, his eyes the color of dark blue ice. But they weren't icy. No ... sympathy etched his features and swam in his gaze.
"You knew this woman well? I saw her picture near the couch."
Crossing her arms, she replied, "She was my best friend for over twenty years."
"I am sorry for such a loss. Her death seems to have been quite brutal."
Pain sliced through her heart, knocking the anger down a notch. But it was there, coiled and ready to strike. "Yes, it was. And it's none of your business."
"You are hunting her killer."
The statement made her wary. What are you up to, Rune?
"I'm an FBI special agent. So yes, I'm hunting her killer. Not that it's your business," she repeated. Gods were known to have thick skulls. Maybe that was his problem.
He met her gaze, a stubborn glint dancing behind the sympathy. "I know what it is like to lose someone close to your heart. My brother took the life of my close friend several days ago. We'd all been born on the same day, as a matter of fact, not that my twin gave a damn."
What was she supposed to say to that? "I'm sorry," she replied, and realized she meant it.
He nodded then looked down at the file again before closing it. He folded his arms, meeting her gaze. "I have a proposition for you, Liv Winter."
She raised an eyebrow. "And what's that?"
"I am almost unrivaled in my ability to hunt — both humans and enemies of Odin. I wish to help you apprehend your friend's murderer."
"What's the catch?"
A smile kicked up the side of his mouth slightly, and damn it, it was sexy as hell.
"I will help you hunt the killer if you help me find redemption and my way back home to Asgard."
"Why do you need redemption?" she inquired. "What did you do to get kicked out of Asgard?"
He looked away, jaw clenching. When it loosened, he turned back to her. "I told you my brother killed my best friend. I nearly beat him to death for it."
That gave her pause. Not because she didn't understand his reaction — she did, wholly — but because he'd said it so calmly. Something else was going on, and she wasn't about to consider taking him up on his offer until she knew what that was.
"Your reaction is understandable. Now tell me why you clenched your jaw a moment ago."
His gaze darkened for a split second, then he gave a nod.
"No one has punished my brother for killing my friend. I was rather vocal about my feelings on that — Odin wasn't pleased with me. Sending me here to find 'redemption' was his answer."
Her eyebrows furrowed. "How long ago was your friend killed?"
Excerpted from Son of Thunder by Libby Bishop, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2016 Libby Bishop. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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