Authors: The Last Viking
This book is for my cousin Peggy Follmer, an ardent supporter of romance novels and my books in particular. It’s especially appropriate that I dedicate to Peggy
The Last Viking
, which celebrates the appeal of a man with calluses on his hands. Her late husband, Paul, the love of her life, was a carpenter.
My mother once told me
She’d buy me a longship,
A handsome-oared vessel
To go sailing with Vikings;
To stand at the stern-post
And steer a fine warship,
Then head back for harbor
And hew down some foemen.
“From the fury of the Northmen, oh, Lord deliver us.”
9th- and 10-century Britain
Geirolf let out a wild Viking battle cry before burying…
Geirolf dropped his loincloth.
“Unleash your tongue,” he said. “I am listening.”
“I am dead,” Rolf said with utter desolation.
Geirolf sat with his legs braced stiff, belted into the…
An ominous rumble of thunder followed by a streak of…
Meredith awakened the next morning to a loud pounding noise.
It was ten o’clock, and Meredith was still on the…
Two days later Thea was on the patio painting bright…
Meredith’s sister Jillian swept into their lives that evening like…
“You love me?” Merry-Death choked out.
Meredith reeled under the euphoria of her own words.
“Let me take Teddy.”
“Aaaccckkk!” Meredith screamed when she opened her front door the…
“Battle? Ha, ha, ha!” A little shiver ran visibly over…
For the next three weeks, their love blossomed and unfurled…
The time travel had failed.
“What the hell is this?” Mike exclaimed a week after…
“Oh, my God! Aunt Mer, hurry! You’ve got to see…
A distant land,
Geirolf let out a wild Viking battle cry before burying his face in Ingrid’s massive breasts.
She was woodenly unimpressed.
He roared his outrage. Then, still clutching her voluptuous figure, he jumped from the rail of his splintering, already sinking longship into the roiling seas…and certain death.
Ah, well, ’tis the fate of many Viking warriors, and better than most, Geirolf thought fatalistically as a whirlpool sucked him under, swirling his body uncontrollably, faster and faster, into the briny depths.
’Twill be over soon…even now the Valkyries should be coming to lead me into Asgard, the hall of the gods, where a grand feast surely awaits me in the afterlife. Leastways, I hope ’tis Asgard, and not Hel. After all I
endured this day, I misdoubt I deserve the underworld
Still holding his breath, he hugged Ingrid closer—his companion in death—and chuckled silently.
Mayhap this night I will get my very own bedmate with breasts as magnificent as yours, sweet Ingrid
But then some instinct moved inside Geirolf, perchance the warrior reflex. He’d been trained from boyhood to fight to the bitter end. He would not yield now like a wet-nosed pup!
Nay! Damn the gods! I am Geirolf Ericsson of the noble Yngling clan. The blood of kings runs in my veins. I am a master shipbuilder and a fierce soldier. I will not die yet. Honor demands I complete my pledge-mission for my father. Lives depend on me. I…refuse…to…surrender
Kicking out with powerful thrusts of his legs, Geirolf escaped the whirlpool’s briny grave and rose swiftly, like a dolphin, to the surface of a strangely calm sea.
With a toss of his head, he cast the wet swath of his long hair over his shoulder. And, to his great surprise, it was Ingrid and her glorious breasts that kept him afloat, bobbing gently on the ocean waves. Ingrid—the outlandishly carved figurehead of a buxom, blonde-haired goddess.
More than three years past, his brother Jorund had given him, as a coarse jest, the wooden sculpture of a woman’s upper torso to embellish the prow of his newest dragonship,
. Fortunately, Geirolf had been able to grab onto the figurehead when his vessel began to shatter apart moments ago.
Geirolf laughed joyously at the irony. Saved by a woman’s tits. His mother, Lady Asgar, a Christian of Saxon birth, would say it was the One-God’s just retribution against her youngest son’s wild life of licen
tiousness. His father, Jarl Eric Tryggvason, ever the Viking, would hoot with laughter at the lewd paradox. Geirolf’s latest leman—sweet Alyce of Hedeby—would cluck with disapproval, then merely smile her pleasure at his being alive, no matter the means.
He gave Ingrid’s left nipple—the size of a fat, sun-drenched grape—a quick lick of salty appreciation. And hoped belatedly that he didn’t get a splinter in his tongue.
By the fading light of the Demon’s Moon—the odd celestial apparition that had drawn him to this dangerous location—he gazed fondly at his stiff companion and relaxed. His fate was in the hands of the heavenly beings now. He could only believe that Odin had chosen to deliver him from that evil Storr Grimmsson, the villainous outlaw who’d killed or captured his entire crew of loyal sailors a sennight ago, sparing only Geirolf to a crippled vessel and stormy seas.
Pondering all that had happened to him, Geirolf decided that the Norse All-God must have some other destiny in mind for him. Thus resigned, he gave himself up to the rhythmic current.
He knew not where he was, long ago having lost his star bearings under the exotic aura of the Demon’s Moon…surely farther west than any Viking adventurer had traveled afore. Even Eirik the Red. He would have much to tell the skalds at his father’s court in Vestfold. Of a certainty, the skilled storytellers would weave sagas telling of his great bravery for eons to come.
ever he returned, that is.
Nay, he would not think doomful thoughts.
I must return
, he vowed, rubbing one palm over his wide leather belt, grasping the heavy clasp that hid the sacred talisman. Otherwise, there was no point to the end
less journeying. No point to the bloody battle with Storr. No point to all the lost lives.
Yea, I must return the relic to its rightful place, as directed by my father
With a long sigh, he fought his fluttering eyelids and a soul-deep exhaustion. He was so weary and battle sore. If only he could rest for a moment. But, nay, he had to be alert for omens, for any sign from the gods that would steer him toward his future.
At dawn, Geirolf forced open his bleary eyes—he must have dozed, after all—and saw his sign.
Thanks be to Odin!
It was a half-completed longboat sitting on a grassy knoll atop a craggy cliff. Just waiting for him.
“Come, Ingrid,” he shouted jubilantly to his figurehead companion, tucked now under his left arm. With renewed vigor, he swam for shore as the sun began to rise. “There is the ship that will take us home.
. Yea, I will call it
“No way! You are
putting breasts on the figurehead of my ship,” Meredith Foster declared, shaking her head indignantly.
Her grad assistant, Mike Johnson, gave her an impatient scowl as he rolled up the sketches he’d prepared for her approval. “Now, now, Dr. Foster. I’ve researched the figureheads of tenth-century Viking ships, and it wasn’t unusual to have a favorite goddess adorn the prow.”
Meredith tapped a pencil on her desk and peered at him over the top of her reading glasses, trying to determine if he was serious or not. The ex-Marine, who still clipped his blond hair in a short G.I. cut and wore old U.S. Army T-shirts with his jeans, had a dry sense
of humor. And he often ribbed her, thinking her much too serious and overly engrossed in her work.
“It was just as usual to have animal heads,
Johnson. Give me a dragon, or a serpent. No buxom bimbos.”
“And don’t think I missed the fact that this particular woman looks a lot like Sharon Stone,” she added. In the few months she’d come to know her handsome grad assistant, a doctoral candidate in Dark-Age Norse culture, he’d made no bones about the fact that Sharon Stone was the one woman he’d most like to be stranded with, just about anywhere. Sometimes, she suspected that he talked about the movie sex symbol to cover his pain over losing his young wife two years before in a freak skiing accident. “Remember, we’re going for historical accuracy here. And Sharon Stone is pure anachronism.”
Mike rolled his shoulders in a “Hey, it was worth a shot” shrug, and then tried another tactic. “I could always put a bra on the babe.”
Meredith lifted a brow. “My friend, a Wonder Bra and a forklift wouldn’t hold up the pair you’ve drawn on those blueprints.”
Mike’s eyes widened with surprise at her unaccustomed playfulness, but he came back real quick. “How about if it’s a male figurehead and another kind of…endowment? Then, would it be okay?”
“Not even if it was Mel Gibson in a kilt.”
They exchanged warm smiles, and Meredith was glad she’d relaxed her standard formality with Mike. It felt good, for a change, to act…well, normal.
“Besides, we have more important concerns right now,” she noted. “Spring break is about over, and we
still haven’t found a competent carpenter to head the project. Now that the temperate weather is here, I’d like to resume building.”
With a nod of agreement, the young man slid into a chair in front of her desk, bracing one ankle on a knee. “I worked with your grandfather for over a year on the ‘Trondheim Longboat Venture,’ but he was the master builder. When he died last fall, everything just came to a screeching halt.”
A screeching halt?
Yes, Meredith knew that better than anyone. Gramps had been the light of her life, her lodestone in a world that had become increasingly lonely and alien after her bitter divorce three years before. What would she do without his sage advice and unconditional love?
“I’d be perfectly willing to take over,” Mike continued, “but I just don’t have the talent to oversee all these students. I can sand wood and do grunt work with the best of them, but that’s about it.”
“I know, and I appreciate all the help you’ve given me so far.” Brushing a strand of flyaway hair behind her ear, she unconsciously tucked it into the loose knot at the nape of her neck, thinking over their mutual problem. “It’s too bad we got so few responses to the ads we placed in the Bangor newspapers, and none of them qualified. Maybe one of the archaeological periodicals my brother recommended will bring some interested soul out of the woodwork.”
“Hey, expert carpenters want a hell of a lot more money than we can afford with nonprofit funding.”
“Someone will show up,” she asserted.
Even if I have to pay top dollar out of my own trust fund. Anything to make Gramps’s dream come true
. “In the meantime, we can start the students on menial tasks.”
“Like hand-sanding, right? With sand, the way the primitive shipbuilders did it, right?” Mike grumbled. Sanding was an endless, tedious task everyone hated.
“Right.” She smiled and pushed her glasses up her nose. “And see what the woodworking shop can do in terms of an animal prow. I don’t care if it’s an elephant. Just no obscene body parts.”
“If you insist,” Mike muttered as he walked out of her office. “An elephant? Geez, who ever heard of a Republican longship? Talk about anachronisms!”
Darkness blanketed the countryside by the time Meredith had finished working for the day and was driving up the long lane to the cottage recently bequeathed to her. The one-bedroom A-frame, built with her grandfather’s own hands on a desolate cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, held so many memories for Meredith. As children, she and her older brother Jared and her younger sister Jillian had been shipped off to Maine each summer while their parents, engrossed in significant work as noted professors of medieval studies at Princeton University, went off to lecture, or on one research expedition or another to museums and archaeological digs.
Gram had been alive then, too, and the smells of Gramps’s woodcarving and Gram’s fresh-baked bread and home-cooked meals filled the house. Meredith wasn’t even sure if her own mother knew how to cook, so preoccupied had she always been with her career. Not that culinary arts were an essential motherly skill. A live-in housekeeper had taken care of those domestic tasks.
Contemplating the house now as she got closer, Meredith realized how small it was, and how simple.
Funny, she’d never noticed before. But then, now that she thought about it, while Gramps and Gram had slept in the upstairs loft, she and her brother and sister had bedded down in sleeping bags on the living room floor, or outdoors in warm weather next to the pool. They’d never minded.
So much love! That was what she remembered most…the love Gram and Gramps had clearly shown for each other, and toward their beloved grandchildren.
Now, all that was gone.
Fighting the tightness in her throat, Meredith gave a cursory glance to the half-completed longship, highlighted momentarily in her headlights. Gramps had decided to build the project on the vacant lot next to his house, rather than on the Oxley College campus, which was too far inland. Besides, Gramps had told her in his letters that his students loved to come up to the remote spot, often combining their work with picnics, or climbing down the treacherous cliffside for a quick dip in the ocean.
She retrieved her briefcase and a small bag of groceries from the back seat and approached the dark house. There was something so sad about an empty house at the end of the day. That was the only thing she missed about her marriage to Jeffrey.
Usually, he’d gotten home early from Columbia where they’d both been professors. In the early years—the happier days—he’d already started dinner by the time she got home. Violin sonatas by Vivaldi had been playing on the stereo. And a glass of chilled Chenin Blanc and a warm smile had greeted her as she opened the door. Sometimes, he’d even welcomed her in other ways.
Well, those days were gone forever. And good riddance!
As she opened the door to the cottage, she did get a greeting, though. And a
No sooner did she step into the entryway than a rough arm wrapped around her waist from behind, lifting her off the floor, and a knife was pressed against the side of her neck. The grocery bag fell with a thud, ripping, and her briefcase snapped open, spilling its contents.
“Let me go!” she shrieked, kicking out with her sensible loafers—which she desperately wished were hiking boots—against a bare shinbone. Her flailing arms hit a thigh, and it was nude, too. And hairy.
Oh, no, the guy must be naked. Please, God, not rape!
Frightened and outraged, she screamed as loud and as long as she could, clawing at the brute’s arms.
Her attacker didn’t release his hold on her one iota, just muttered an incoherent breathy expletive against her exposed neck, followed by a single guttural command that sounded something like, “
The only light in the pitch-black house came from the reflection of a roaring blaze in the fireplace in the living room up ahead, and a full moon partially visible through the French doors leading to an ocean-view patio.
A fire? Her assailant had taken the time to build a cozy fire? She groaned, concluding that he must, indeed, be a rapist and that he planned a lengthy assault. She also recalled in a flash of terror that this was Friday night. A whole weekend stretched ahead of her in which no one would notice her absence or come searching for her.
Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Where’s my Mace?
her chagrin, Meredith saw the can rolling toward the kitchen, along with three oranges, her favorite Parker pen, and a handful of change from her wallet.
Be calm. Remember your self-defense classes. Take time. Think before acting