“If you enjoy outrageous scenarios, witty banter, and hilariously over-the-top characters, look no further than Shelly Laurenston’s Call of Crows series.” —SmexyBooks, Best Books of the Year
No one would ever accuse Jace Berisha of having an easy life—considering her husband…you know…killed her. But that was then! Now she fights for mighty Viking gods with the spectacular and vicious Crows.
But things are turning very bad, very quickly because a vengeful, ancient goddess has come into the world with just one thing on her mind—ending it. And the only way they can hope to stop her is if the Crows join forces with their one-time enemies, the Protectors. A Viking Clan created to do nothing but kill every Crow they see.
Thankfully, Protector Ski Eriksen is a peace loving kind of guy. Because the woman he is desperately trying to get close to is the beautiful and not-very-chatty Jace. Battling Nordic clans? Unkillable goddesses? Jace’s mean-spirited dog? None of these things would ever get in the way of a true Viking!
About the Author
Shelly Laurenston is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Pride, Call of Crows, and The Honey Badger Chronicles, as well as winner of the RT Book Reviews Readers' Choice Award for her 2016 novel, The Undoing. When she’s not writing about sexy wolf, honey badger, lion, and other fang-filled predators, she's writing about sexy dragons as G.A. Aiken, the acclaimed and bestselling author of the Dragon Kin series. Originally from Long Island, she now lives on the West Coast and spends most of her time writing and making sure her rescued Pit bull doesn’t love everyone into a coma. Please visit her online at www.ShellyLaurenston.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Shelly Laurenston
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Shelly Laurenston
All rights reserved.
When he touched her knee again, Jace Berisha gritted her teeth and forced a smile.
Keep it together, she told herself. You can do this.
Although she really didn't want to do this. She didn't want to be in this temporarily closed Santa Monica club haggling over gods-blessed trinkets. She wanted to be back at the Bird House, reading ... something. Anything. But, sadly, she was the one among the Los Angeles Crow Clan who could speak Russian as well as a whole host of other Slavic and romance languages and some that were neither of those. A skill that had one time served a very different purpose. But it had been her key. The key to getting her out of her First Life and — happily — into her Second. True, she'd had to die for that to happen. At the hands of her bastard ex-husband.
But it was a price she'd pay again to be here.
So although undercover work was not really her forte, she'd do it for the women she called sisters and the goddess who'd given her so much. Because she chose. Something she was told never to do.
She'd just have to find a way to keep her now-infamous temper in check.
Because she wasn't just a Crow. She was a Berserker Crow. A Crow whose rage was used during battles to terrify and destroy, not necessarily in that order.
Jace wished she saw her role as Berserker Crow as some sort of curse, but she didn't. She enjoyed her rage the way some people enjoyed babies or a gorgeous new sports car.
Still, if only ... if only she had more control over it. She had a little, but once her rage was really sprung, there was no pulling back until she'd spent it on whoever had set it off in the first place.
A tendency that worked well in the heat of battle but not so much when the Crows were trying something a little different from their usual "get in, kill everybody, get out" work scenarios.
Tonight the Crows were trying negotiating, a skill most of them were only known for in the downtown LA jewelry district.
Usually, when the Crows were called in, it was so they could get back what had been stolen from the gods and kill everyone who'd had anything to do with the theft. And if the blood of an innocent had been spilt ... let's just say, some of what the Crows had done over the years to avenge that had become legendary.
This time, however, they knew for a fact that those who currently had the Rhine bracelet that belonged to one of the Fates had absolutely no clue what they held. They hadn't used it. Hadn't spilled blood over it. They were simply some club owners who were trying to sell the pretty bracelet to the highest bidder. So it was decided that killing these men would be unnecessary.
Of course, none of the gentlemen they were dealing with were innocent in the big scheme of things, but they weren't pure evil, either.
At least that had been their leader Chloe's belief. Jace, however, knew better. Before she'd been taken away by her mother all those years ago, Jace had grown up around men like this. But she couldn't think about that now. If she did ...
"So," Tessa tried again, working hard to ignore the male beside her who'd sniffed her neck, "how much for the bracelet?"
"It is expensive," the big Russian said in strained English. His name was Vadim Ekimov, and he ran the docks in San Pedro. The bit of research they'd done on Vadim before heading over here showed that he was a medium-sized gangster, but no better or worse than any of the others. He definitely hadn't earned a Crow attack that neither he, nor his men, would ever recover from. Because if the Crows started going after every minor scumbag who lived in Los Angeles ... Yeah, well. That would just be a bad idea. "We can't just give it away, my pretty."
Knowing that these idiots had no idea what they were haggling over was beginning to wear on Jace. The man sitting between her and Tessa in the booth, whose hand was steadily moving up Jace's thigh, was wearing on her even more.
"We have money," Tessa promised. "And it's just so gorgeous, Vadim. I must have it."
The hand on Jace's thigh inched up a bit more, and she was seconds from breaking the man's fingers.
"And what will Vadim get for such pretty bracelet?" he asked, leaning forward across the round table, eyes on Tessa.
"My fist up your ass if you don't give us a goddamn price."
The men all looked at Jace. And that's when she realized that she'd not only said that out loud ... she'd said it in flawless Russian in the men's Southern Russian dialect.
She couldn't have given away her secret any more obviously if she'd put it on a billboard on the I-10 Freeway.
"Ahhh, a sneak, Vadim," one of the men joked, still not taking any of the women seriously. "They brought in a pretty little spy."
Tessa leaned back in her seat. "What's going on?" Tessa, an African American born and raised in San Diego, knew Spanish and a little Korean from her time as a nursing student in a hospital in Koreatown, but that was about it. She now had no idea what was being said.
Realizing she'd blown any chance of being subtle here, Jace simply replied, "Just give us the bracelet, Vadim. We'll pay you. Well."
"And how will you pay us, little girl?" Vadim suddenly grabbed her chin and held her.
Tessa was nearly out of her seat when one of the men pressed a gun to the side of her head. She silently sat back down, but her face said everything that was needed. At least to Jace.
These men had just lost their one chance not to end up as "bird feed," as the other clans called it.
"I don't like to be touched, Vadim Ekimov," Jace warned. "So get your hand off me."
"Or what, little girl? What will you and your brown friend do to me?"
"The question," a voice from the dark corners of the closed club explained, "isn't what she will do." A blade slipped around Vadim's neck and pressed against his jugular. "But what will the rest of us do?"
Vadim immediately released Jace's face and raised his hands.
Jace wiped the spot where he'd touched her. Not because she had a problem with him in particular, just ... again, she didn't like to be touched.
From the darkness they emerged, easing into the few lights that were still on in the mostly deserted club. Jace's strike team. The girls she fought with, lived for, would die for if it ever became necessary. Her sisters. All Crows were her sisters, but these women ... they meant everything to her. Always would. She adored them in a way she never said but felt deep down in her bones. In her blood. In the soul that now belonged to Skuld until Ragnarok came. Because she chose. A choice she'd happily make again and again.
Kera Watson, the last to join their team, but the most naturally protective of any of the Crows, reached over the booth back, slipped her hands under Jace's arms, and lifted her up, out, and away from Vadim and his hands-y friends.
"You all right?" Kera asked, quickly releasing Jace.
Kera was a former Marine and she knew people. Understood them in a way the rest of the Crows didn't really bother to do. One of the first things she'd learned about her team was their personal foibles. She knew Jace didn't like to be touched and she knew she didn't like to sit close to people. So Kera had made sure to get her friend out of that situation as soon as she could. That was Kera. The full-time "fixer" of the group.
Jace nodded her thanks before addressing Vadim again.
"Give us the bracelet," she said in English so that everyone could understand. "This can all be over if you hand over the bracelet."
Vadim turned a bit to look at her, shrewd eyes sizing her and the others up. "Why is bracelet so important to you? Why do you need it?"
Jace shook her head. "Don't haggle, Vadim. Not anymore. You lost that right when you pulled guns on us. Just give us the bracelet."
"Fine. We want a million for it. In Euros."
Jace let out a sigh. Men. Always so difficult.
The Crows laughed at that, which the Russians didn't seem to appreciate. But Vadim was being ridiculous.
"No," Tessa finally said. "You can have fifty grand. In American dollars. And you'll be damn happy with that."
"Fifty grand," she said again. "And we all go away. Wouldn't that be nice? Everyone getting out of this unscathed? Because trust me," Tessa promised, grinning, "you will be scathed if you don't let this go."
"I have better idea —" he began, but Jace let out a loud sigh that had Vadim looking at her again.
Jace nodded. She didn't want to talk anymore. She was tired of talking.
"You see," Erin explained for her, "you're probably about to say something really sexual and disgusting, and she's going to get really pissed and you won't like that. We will," she added. "But you won't. So just give us the fucking bracelet."
Vadim glanced at his men and, finally, he agreed. "We will give you bracelet. If you have money now."
"We have the money," Alessandra Esparza promised, slapping a briefcase on the table and opening it. One of the men quickly looked through the stacks of bills before nodding at Vadim.
"Come." He stood, and Erin pulled back the blade she'd had against his neck. The standard Crow weapon given to each of them almost from their first day. Made of the finest steel, it was a thin blade that could tear through either major arteries or hard bone without much effort. The Crows were taught to fight with one in each hand, but if they ever lost one during a fight that was not a problem. They also had talons that could tear through flesh and bone just as easily. Why they had both, Jace didn't know, but she also didn't mind. Sometimes she wasn't in the mood to have blood under her nails.
Together, as one large group, the men with their guns, the women with their blades, all walked to the back of the club and down a long flight of stairs to the basement. All the liquor was down here. They moved through the cases until they reached a back office, where, using a key, Vadim unlocked the door and pushed it open.
And that's where they found them. The door to the walk-in closet–sized safe blasted open. The six men standing around it froze, staring at the Crows as the Crows stared back.
It was the Protectors, a powerful Clan created by the god Tyr after the Crows and Odin's Ravens had wiped out one too many villages for Tyr's very moral tastes.
Tyr had given his human warriors a powerful sense of justice and a "no enemies shall survive!" sense of battle. Just a few Protectors, with their owl-like wings, could silently swoop in and take out entire battalions of Crows and Ravens. In the beginning, they'd had no other purpose, but that had changed when the other Clans began to realize that the Ravens and Crows were needed to keep Ragnarok at bay.
At the time, it was easy to accept the Ravens as one of the Official Nine. Chosen by Odin himself, they were all of the finest Viking stock. The Crows however ...
They were slaves brought to their Scandinavian shores and turned into vengeful warriors with black wings and dark souls by the Fate Skuld herself. She took these women as they were breathing their last, giving them a chance at a second life and to finally have an outlet for their anger after being ripped from their homes and dragged to a foreign land. For centuries, they were not allowed to be part of the Official Nine because everyone assumed that when the raiding and slavery faded away, the Crows would, too.
But they never did. The Crows were as strong now — if not stronger — than they had been "back in the day." Skuld still chose from the dying, and like their small but brilliant avian namesakes, the Crows existed all over the world. Some groups smaller than others. Some in infinitely more danger than others. But they still all worked together to protect the world from itself. Not an easy job but one they all loved.
They were still human, though. None of the Crows was immortal. They were faster, stronger, and more powerful than they had been in their first lives, but they could still die when hit with a well-placed bullet or a knife to an artery. At least now they were promised a place at Odin or Freyja's tables in Asgard. They would fight with all the other warriors when Ragnarok came. That was more than most people had to look forward to in their afterlives.
Still ... even though the Crows and Protectors were no longer the hard-core enemies they once had been — immediately trying to kill each other without question or consequence — the Crows and Protectors didn't actually trust each other, either. At all.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" Tessa demanded of the men.
"Well, if you must know —" one of the Protectors began, but the Russian snapped in rage.
"Treacherous bitches," Vadim snarled.
"Wait," Jace told him quickly, going back to Russian in the hopes of keeping Vadim calm. "We had nothing to do with this. We still have a deal."
"Fuck you and your deals," he growled before jerking back, slamming into Erin, who'd still been behind him with her blade out.
Erin hit the door, momentarily stunned by the large man ramming her.
He reached for the gun he had under his jacket and Jace made a mad grab, pushing the hand and weapon toward the ground. That's when she felt the fingers of Vadim's free hand dig into the back of her head, and before she could stop him, he smashed her face-first into the wall.
Danski "Ski" Eriksen cringed when he saw Jacinda Berisha hit that wall. Watched as the other Crows fell silent, hands dropping to their sides, the expressions on their faces one of hopelessness.
"Why?" the Crows' strike team leader asked. "Why did you do that?"
"What?" the big Russian asked, smirking. "Was she a favorite of yours? Did you take turns licking each other's pussy?"
"Well, this won't end well," Gundo muttered behind Ski. Followed by a sighed, "What an idiot."
"Get the books," Marbjörn Ingolfsson — they mostly just called him "Bear" — ordered his team. "She" — and they all knew who he meant — "is going to burn this place down!"
Before they could follow Bear's orders, they all heard that growl. They'd heard it before. In battles or during particularly nasty Trials, and once at a party when a drunk Valkyrie went to punch the Crow leader and, instead, punched Jace Berisha.
It was a sound that they'd all learned to fear over the last couple of years.
And Bear was right. She would burn this building down and everyone in it.
The Russian stepped back, eyes narrowing as Jace slowly turned to face them all. Blood poured from an open cut on her forehead and her nose appeared a bit ... smashed. But it was her eyes. They'd gone from a pretty dark blue to a dark blood red. Her talons tore out of her fingers, curling at the tips, and her wings exploded from her back.
The humans backed away; some started to run.
"What the fuck are you?" the big Russian screamed.
They'd never get an answer from Jace. Not when she was like this. She could speak. But she never answered questions. Right now, she was trapped in whatever rage-filled vortex slamming her into the wall had set off.
Jace locked on to the Russian, grabbing his tailored jacket with both hands, and yanking him close. She did begin to speak to him, but it was in what Ski guessed was Russian.
Yet even though he couldn't really understand exactly what Jace was saying, Ski knew it wasn't good. The words torn from the back of her throat had her victim's face blanching, his eyes wide in desperate fear.
He tried to pull away from her but she wouldn't let go. Instead, she held on tighter, lifting her legs until they wrapped around his waist. And still those Russian words spewed out of her, her voice getting louder and louder, more and more rough and raw. Her face was now red with rage, her muscles bulging, the veins in her neck and arms throbbing and pulsing.
Then it began. The screaming. That gods-awful screaming.
Jace released the Russian's jacket and slapped her talons against his face, digging them into the flesh and holding him tight. Then, still screaming, she grabbed his nose with her teeth and ... bit it off.
"Jesus Christ!" Borgsten barked, forgetting his own gods as they all watched her spit the Russian's nose out so she could go for the veins in his neck ... while still screaming.
That's when the new girl, Kera — who probably still didn't know better — tried to pull Jace away from her victim. Jace held on to the Russian's face with her talons, elbowing her friend, who was desperately trying to get her to let go.
Finally, the one Ski's brothers referred to as the "vicious little redhead" — Erin Amsel — joined in. Together they were able to pull Jace off, and then Kera kept her grip on the berserker while Jace panted like a wild animal, blowing her blood-filled breath out past grinding teeth.
Excerpted from The Undoing by Shelly Laurenston. Copyright © 2016 Shelly Laurenston. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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