“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
Stieg Engstrom, Angriest Viking Ever, has got big problems. The human Viking Clans of earth are in danger of being obliterated—along with the rest of the world—and the only one who may be able to save them is a super pain-in-the-ass Crow. Most people annoy Stieg, but this is the one woman he really can’t stand…
Erin Amsel loves being a Crow! Why wouldn’t she when the other Viking Clans are so hilariously arrogant and humorless? She’s not about to let all that come to an end! She just didn’t expect to be shoulder to shoulder in battle with Stieg. Then again, he’s so easy to torment—and also kind of cute.
With the future of the world riding on them, Stieg knows he’ll have to put aside his desperate need to kiss the smirk right off Erin’s face. Wait. What? He didn’t mean that—did he? No! They have one goal: To conquer the idiots. Because nothing bugs Stieg more than when idiots win. If only he can keep himself from suddenly acting like one…
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By Shelly Laurenston
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Shelly Laurensten
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"Why aren't you dead?"
As Erin Amsel slowly woke up, her head, face, and throat throbbing from where she'd been repeatedly hit, she realized she should have gotten much more of a clue when that question had originally been tossed at her earlier in the evening.
Especially since it was not a common question, definitely not the kind of pickup line one got in a hot LA club. But she'd been busy. Doing something she probably shouldn't have been doing, too bad it was kind of late for regrets now. Sitting in the second row of seats in a big SUV, with two large men on either side of her. Three men in the row behind. And two in the front.
She could almost hear her father jokingly reminding her, "You never pay attention!"
And she hadn't paid attention. Having some random guy talking to her was kind of par for the course in any club or bar. Hunting around for a piece of ass they could nail was what guys did. So she really hadn't paid any attention to his actual question. She just knew he'd been in her way. Blocking her from her target.
Because while everyone else in that overpriced joint had been drinking, getting high, and trying to be seen in the hopes of getting their picture in a tabloid or attracting the attention of a talent scout, Erin had had a very specific goal. To prove that the woman she was trying to get a closer look at was the high priestess of a goddess determined to destroy the world. To bring about the Viking end of days — Ragnarok. The goddess Gullveig.
The first time Erin and her sisters had dealt with Gullveig, they'd thought they'd stopped her from entering this world. They'd been wrong.
The second time, they'd been forced to shove her into some distant plane of existence just to give them time to come up with a plan to stop her for good.
This upcoming third time ... would be the last time.
No matter how it all came down.
Yet even now her sisters worked to stop Ragnarok.
Her sisters. The mighty Crows. The human warrior clan of the goddess Skuld. Since before the days when Vikings terrorized Europe from their longboats, Skuld had chosen from the dying those she felt worthy to fight in her name. She didn't choose from pure Norse stock the way the other gods did. No. She chose from those who'd been dragged to the northern shores in chains. Always women. Always slaves. And always filled with rage.
Now, in this day and age, Skuld chose from the descendants of those women. Or from those mistreated in this time.
She gave them a choice upon dying. Go to the god they were raised to worship or join her. Get a shot at a second life and a chance to use all that rage and need for revenge they had stored in their souls to help prevent Ragnarok.
There were those who refused to take the offer, but many others did. And those women were now Erin's sister-Crows.
Women she lived and died for, who at the moment had no idea Erin was in deep trouble.
It was her own fault. In the weeks since they'd pushed Gullveig out of their world, Erin had known that somewhere in Los Angeles, there had to be a priestess who worshipped the crazy bitch. There had to be. Gullveig, like all gods, fed on the worship of humans.
So, while the rest of her Crow sisters and the members of the other Viking Clans — the Nine, as they were called — desperately searched for a way to stop Gullveig, Erin did her own research. She read every trashy gossip rag. Scoured every gossip Web site. Listened to the incessant babble of her sister-Crows who had dreams of being a "star" one day. She listened and she researched and she obsessed until she came down to just one.
The hottest "it" girl on both coasts and in Europe, Jourdan was the quintessential "do nothing megastar."
She was attractive — although it was kind of hard to tell with all the makeup she wore no matter the time of day or where she was or what she was doing — single, rich, and had lots of famous friends. Her father was an infamous Italian director whose work got Erin thrown out of a college film class once because she spent most of the initial movie screening mocking it. The man was pretentious — her film professor just needed to deal with that.
Now his daughter, instead of becoming an actress like her equally famous Belgian mother, or a director like her father and older half brother, did nothing except "set the style" for everyone else and spend lots of money.
When Erin spotted her, she'd been sitting in the VIP section of the club, surrounded by desperate sycophants, and obscenely covered in gold and diamond jewelry.
If she wasn't a priestess for Gullveig — a name that translated into "gold drink" or "gold power" or "gold trance" depending on what you read — she should be. She was everything Gullveig seemed to love. Beauty and tackiness all in one slim, sexy package.
In the end, Erin was so sure she was right about Ambrosio, so obsessed ... she hadn't really noticed the big guy hitting on her.
Of course, he hadn't been hitting on her, had he? Hitting on a woman didn't usually involve asking her why she wasn't dead.
Now Erin was trapped here, with her wrists zip-tied together, and her body throbbing from the short beating she'd taken when they'd forced her into the SUV. She had no idea where she was, but they were turning onto a dirt road.
Yeah, that couldn't be good.
Dirt roads and women in zip-ties never ended well.
The SUV stopped and the men got out, pulling Erin with them. She struggled, trying to pull away, but two of the men kept an easy grip on her.
So, like she did that first time, all those years ago, she brought her elbow up and back. Only this time, she didn't just break the man's nose — she crushed his face, forcing in his nose and cheekbones.
Blood splattered across Erin's face and that's when she remembered. That's when it hit her. This wasn't a replay of the last time she'd been killed. It couldn't be. She wasn't the same woman who'd been taken before.
She was no longer the Staten Island loudmouth and tattoo artist who'd found herself on the wrong side of mobsters. Who'd made the oh-so-Erin mistake of talking to federal agents like it was no big deal. Because she'd just been a tattoo artist. A nobody. And Erin had continued to believe that — at least in the back of her mind — until the day those mobsters blew her brains out.
But now she was a Crow, one of the nine recognized human clans that represented the Nordic gods on this plane of existence.
She'd fought Vikings, demons, and Helheim's Carrion. She'd been hit on by Odin and hit at by Thor. One time, Idunn threw an entire basket of her golden apples at her and another time Bragi — the god of poetry and eloquence — called her a "fucked up little twat that I would love to beat the unholy shit out of with my harp!"
And after all that, the one thing that remained was her. Erin Amsel had survived all of it. So was she going to let some lowlife gangsters actually —
A bullet slammed into Erin's forehead and she fell back against the hard ground.
* * *
Stieg Engstrom thought his friend and fellow Raven brother Vig Rundstöm was just being an asshole when he'd insisted Stieg "watch Erin Amsel tonight. See where she goes. What she does. Keep her out of trouble."
He'd really thought Vig was just being a massive dick. Why else would he make Stieg, of all the people in the universe, follow Erin "I'm a pain in everyone's ass!" Amsel around Los Angeles?
When he'd seen her go into an LA club, one of those "latest hotspots in the LA area" as they were called on the local news, he thought the whole Raven brotherhood was just tormenting him.
They all knew he hated the LA club scene. Hated actors and models and rich people who thought their money alone made them important. Hated Hollywood assholes who thought their ability to get a movie off the ground made them kings of the world and the rest of humanity their bootlickers. He disliked those people so damn much, if he wasn't so loyal to his brothers, he'd have joined the Colorado Ravens just so he didn't have to live in Los Angeles anymore.
But what he disliked most of all was Erin Amsel. The most irritating, frustrating, rude, ridiculous woman the gods had ever placed on earth.
Following her, it seemed, was a complete waste of time. Because in Stieg's mind, how much trouble could one small redhead with an ego the size of Norway get into in a boring club?
Apparently a lot.
One second, she was obviously stalking that model chick he had seen on the cover of some men's magazine in the Raven house bathroom — why Erin was doing that, he had no idea — and the next, some big mountain of a guy was dragging her off into a back hallway.
Normally, Stieg would let Erin handle some pushy guy on her own. It wasn't like she didn't have the skill. He'd seen the woman lay waste to a whole line of demons once. Literally, she'd just gone down the line, slitting throats and setting some on fire until there was nothing left but bones and demon blood.
And yet ...
So Stieg, against his better judgment, had followed — through the hallway, out the back door, toward the SUV. That's when he'd unleashed his wings and followed from above until they'd left the 101 Freeway and ended up going down some dirt road.
When they parked the black Escalade, Stieg hovered above them. He didn't really know what he'd expected. Maybe some tough talk. Maybe some threats.
People loved to threaten Erin Amsel, he just didn't know why. Because threatening her was a sure way of getting her to focus on you. Making you part of her life's work, which was tormenting people beyond all reason.
That's what Erin Amsel did well.
But these men didn't even bother with tough talk. They dragged her out of the SUV, her hands zip-tied in front of her, stood her up — which was when she'd smashed one guy's face in with her elbow — stepped away, and a guy pulled a gun and shot her in the head.
Without a word. They didn't even seem angry about their buddy bleeding to death at their feet.
Who the fuck does that?
Christ, maybe this world needed to burn. Some days he really wondered if Ragnarok would be such a bad thing.
Yet Stieg didn't need to go all "Raven destroyer" on these assholes, because these men had no real idea what they were dealing with.
* * *
Tommy aimed his gun at Erin Amsel's chest. He hadn't checked to make sure she was dead the last time when he'd thought he'd killed her. Two bullets to the back of the head. What else was he to think? But this time he would end it. One to the head and two to the chest. That was always the best way to take a person down and make sure they stayed down.
But before he could pull the trigger again, the ground beneath his feet shook and he turned, his weapon instinctively raised.
Surprised, he gawked at the man standing behind them, partially shielded in the dark. The headlights of their vehicle showed only a bit of his face ... and his size.
"Who the fuck are you?" Tommy demanded, not sure how stupid this man could be.
The man didn't say anything. He just pointed.
Tommy looked over his shoulder, his eyes widening. Horror coursed through his bloodstream as he watched Erin Amsel getting to her feet. Digging into her forehead until she pulled the bullet out.
"I am," she growled, "so sick of being shot in the head!"
Her scream snapped Tommy out of it. "Kill her!"
The men raised their guns, but the SUV suddenly spun to the side and he briefly wondered if that man had moved it. With his bare hands.
No one was that strong.
They were both gone. Amsel and that man.
Tommy and his guys looked around, trying to see in the dark, the headlights illuminating a different part of their surroundings.
"Where are they?" Tommy barked. "Where the fuck are they?"
Feet hit Tommy in the head and he realized that Tesco was disappearing up into the sky.
They could hear Big Tessy's screams before he came back down, landing hard on his face. Blood poured not only from where he'd landed but from his back and inside thighs. Damage he wouldn't have suffered from a straight fall.
Their SUV spun, crashing into several of Tommy's men, sending them flipping into the dark. Tommy could hear bones shattering, the groans of his men.
But there was no one behind the wheel of the SUV. It was like someone had pushed it. Again.
Backing up, feeling terror for the first time in decades, he held the gun out in front of him, flanked by the last two of his men.
Until they were gone, too, dragged off into the night.
Their screams ... God, their screams.
He whirled around at Amsel's voice, ready to fire, but her hands — now free — caught the weapon, turning it away. Pulling back her right hand, she rammed it into his forearm and he felt the bone shatter from that one hit.
Tommy dropped the gun and fell to his knees in the dirt.
Amsel kicked the gun aside and rested her hands on her hips. "Tommy, Tommy, Tommy." she said, smiling, despite the bruises and blood on her face from the beating she'd taken. And that shot to the head. "You do know I'd forgotten about you, right?"
"You know him?" another voice asked. The big man from earlier.
He came out of the darkness looking really pissed off, Tommy's last two men gripped tight by their throats. He tossed them aside like they were nothing.
"I do. From a long time ago. This is the man who killed me."
"Don't you mean tried to kill you?" Tommy asked, cradling his broken arm against his body.
Amsel crouched in front of him, one finger stroking his cheek. "No, no. You actually did kill me. But before my last breath, she came to me. A goddess named Skuld. And she made me an offer. Gave me a chance at a new life. A Second Life."
The woman was insane. Tommy knew that now, but he could play along. "You just had to give her your soul, right?"
"Aww. It's sweet you think I actually have one. But no." She traced the line of his jaw and it felt weird.
He glanced down and saw that the tip of her finger no longer looked like a finger. Not a human one. Black and dangerously sharp, it reminded him of ... a talon?
Why did this woman have a talon?
"She promised me," Amsel went on, "that I'd never have to be scared again by assholes like you. And she didn't lie to me." She flicked that talon and pain seared his cheek, blood poured down his jaw. "If you'd just left me alone, Tommy, this wouldn't be happening."
The man with Amsel took a knee behind Tommy and grabbed a handful of his hair, yanking Tommy's head back. "Why is he still alive?"
"Are you in a rush?" Amsel asked, laughing a little. "Got something else to do?"
"He shot you in the head."
"And yet you haven't wasted him."
"Death is so final." She looked at Tommy and added, "Usually."
The man growled and she threw up her hands, revealing that all her fingers were black talons.
"What?" Amsel snapped. "What is wrong?"
"I don't understand why you're letting him live."
"I don't understand why you're so uptight. My God, man, loosen up."
"He shot you in the head. I'd think you'd be a little angrier."
Amsel shrugged. "I don't let the little things bother me."
"He shot you in the head," the man repeated. "How is that a little thing? And then he did it again!"
"You are not making friends, Tommy. He so wants to kill you," she mock-whispered.
"I so really do."
"But I'm not going to kill you." She grabbed Tommy around the throat with both hands and stood, taking Tommy with her, the man forced to let go of Tommy's hair. "That would be too easy. Because you don't deserve the quick exit of an honorable death. You deserve to suffer." She smiled. "And I'm going to be the one to make sure you do."
* * *
Stieg waited for Erin to do what she had always done so well. Make someone's life hell.
But, while still gripping the throat of the man who'd shot her in the head again, she abruptly looked at Stieg and asked, "How does my face look?"
Shocked at the question, considering the timing of it, Stieg answered, "What?"
"I asked how my face looks?"
"Is it bruised?"
"Of course it's bruised."
"Then I'll need to crash at your house tonight."
"You can't afford a hotel?"
"Wow, dude. I've been shot in the head and you're going to make me stay at a hotel ... alone? All by myself?"
"Oh, please," Stieg scoffed, disgusted she was trying to force herself to cry. "And why don't you just go home?"
"Looking like this?"
"It wouldn't be the first time you've gone back to the Bird House looking like that, so why does it matter now?"
Erin started to reply, but then she stopped, shrugged, and said, "You're right. I'll just ... just ... you're right."
Excerpted from The Unyielding by Shelly Laurenston. Copyright © 2017 Shelly Laurensten. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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