“I will spend an eternity in Hell before I watch you die.” ~ Rune
A cursed Viking must lose his heart or lose his soul in a thousand-year-old game started by the Norse gods. As passion sparks and love blooms, the gods decide to change the rules.
Clover has a peculiar effect on men—they turn into homicidal lunatics. She decides to swear off men and gives up her dream of the perfect boring suburban life. She hadn’t counted on finding a very large, very yummy Viking in her favorite part of the library courtyard. Clover finds she has to trust this Viking, because she’s in danger from gangsters hunting her to collect on her brother’s debts.
Rune is a thousand-year-old Viking trying to escape from a curse. He must fall in love with the woman the gods choose for him or suffer eternity in Norse Hel. Nine times he’s tried and nine times he’s failed. This is his last attempt. Resigned to his doom, he vows to save Clover from the gods’ petty games before his death. As the last round of the gods’ game begins, Rune discovers there are worse things than losing his soul.
Love Cursed Book 1
I look like walking sex. Clover Rossum stared at her reflection in the mirror while she wore the slinky number her friend insisted she try. This wasn’t going to do at all. The last thing she needed was to attract some sex-starved buffoon who would seem like Mister Wonderful but ultimately turn out to be Mister Disaster.
“I’m taking it off,” she called through the dressing-room door. There was no point in showing anyone what she looked like, least of all Gypsy Elvenheart. She’d only insist Clover buy the dress, and then, even worse, Gypsy would want her to wear it out someplace—where there would probably be men.
Clover systematically worked her body out of the skintight sequined black spandex scrap. It wasn’t as if she didn’t like men. She loved men. She wanted to be in love with and be loved by a man. But there was something screwy with her chemistry which caused them all to go homicidally insane when she got too close to them.
“No!” Gypsy yelled. “You have to let me see you in it first!”
Clover cracked the door open and snarled at her friend. “Not going to happen. You do remember what happened with Burk two weeks ago, yes?”
Gypsy made a face at her as she moved her purse strap from one shoulder to the other. “You are never going to meet your Viking if you don’t get out there and mingle with people.”
Clover closed the door. The urge to thump her head off the wooden frame was almost overwhelming. She and Gypsy had been roommates in college. The other woman was a few cards short of a full deck most of the time, but she was the best friend anyone could have. She’d driven all the way out to Springfield, Illinois from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to tell Clover she was going to meet a wonderful Viking warrior.
Exactly what she didn’t need. Clover avoided men like the plague. Without fail, if a man was interested in her, he’d go all psycho serial killer on her within twenty-four hours of the first date. It couldn’t be the men’s fault—it happened to way too many of them for it to not somehow involve her. Gypsy knew this about her. Clover turned sweet, sensible Mister Perfects into raging lunatics frothing at the mouth with promises of death … usually by beating.
Clover shuddered as she pulled the shapeless sack dress over her head. Her new fashion to hopefully discourage men from even looking at her.
With her messed-up dating history, how in the world did Gypsy think she’d want a Viking? At least with normal—present-century—men she had a chance to run away when she got stupid and decided to try a date in the hope whatever bizarre curse afflicted her had worn off. She didn’t need to try dodging swords and axes while she ran.
She slipped on her canvas sneakers, hung the dress on the wall hook, and grabbed her purse. She opened the door and gave Gypsy her best stern look. “No. I am not going back on this decision. I am not going to date anymore. It’s not safe for me, and it’s not fair to make some innocent man insane.”
A rare moment of anger flashed on Gypsy’s face. “Druid’s blood!” She used her favorite curse. “You have to take this seriously. If you reject him he’s going to die, Clover, and so will you!”
Clover ground her teeth together. Gypsy had visions. While it was one of those hard things to believe, her predictions came true with too much frequency to totally ignore them. “A Viking? Gypsy, listen to yourself. They don’t exist anymore. Even if they did, imagine what a man like that would do after I drove him insane.”
Gypsy kept glowering at her as she marched from the dressing room. “Not a Viking. The Viking. There is a difference. I saw you with him. You have to be ready when you meet him. Did you pack an overnight bag like I told you?”
“No,” Clover said as she followed Gypsy into the main store. “I am not doing this. I am going to work, and then I am going home to a nice boring crazy-free night.”
Gypsy sighed and tucked a wisp of hair behind one of her elf-pointed ears. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
How was it Gypsy looked so dang good with that kind of physical deformity? Any other woman would try to cover her ears if she had perfect Tolkien-elf ears but not Gypsy. She showed them off by making sure they stuck out. Clover shrugged it off and refocused on the matter at hand—Vikings. “Thank you for the warning. I had a wonderful time at lunch. Seriously,” she said as they walked through the mall. “Even if I am supposed to meet this curse-impervious Viking, I can’t wear a skimpy dress to the library.”
“He needs to like you,” Gypsy mumbled. “Any guy would like you in that dress.”
Clover snorted. They wouldn’t like her. They’d want to have sex with her. Two very different things as far as Clover was concerned. “Well, your Viking is just going to have to like me in my sack dress.”
A look of disgust flashed on Gypsy’s face. They took the escalator. “Your Viking. Not mine. I am not into mostly human immortals. It’s not my thing.”
Clover slapped her forehead with the palm of her hand. This was why it was difficult to take Gypsy seriously. She lived in her own little world where she was a fairy and immortals existed. “Gypsy, honey, do we need to have the magic conversation again?”
They got off the escalator and walked over to the main doors. Gypsy turned to look at her. “I know your disbelief comes from the binding spell on you. It will be lifted today when you meet him. Don’t worry about it—and, oh—” Gypsy gave one of her mischievous elf-grins. “—Don’t be surprised when you get your own pair of elven ears. Rune will think you’re hot!” Then she pushed open the glass doors and hurried out into the warm October day.
She needed to limit her time with Gypsy. Now the imaginary perfect Viking man had a name—and she was going to magically get elf ears. She followed Gypsy out into the parking lot. “His name is Rune?”
Gypsy’s head bobbed up and down as her grin widened. “Oh, yes. Rune Savage. I’ve met him once before.” Her nose scrunched up as she thought for a moment. “He was working with one of my brothers about thirty years ago, and they had to get one of the magic talismans from Avalon to help them in their quest.”
Clover’s head started to throb. She would be twenty-five in a few days and Gypsy already was. There was no way she’d met a man thirty years ago. It just wasn’t possible.
“All right,” she agreed after a few minutes. “Is there anything else I need to know about Rune?” She unlocked the car door when they got to it and popped the other lock for Gypsy.
“Promise me you’ll believe when the time comes. If you meet Rune Savage today, will you believe?”
Clover dropped down into the driver’s seat and stared at the steering wheel for a good long minute before she answered. “If I meet him, I will consider it.”
Gypsy clapped her hands together and then got into the car. “Great! I need to get back to my car because I need to get back to my shop. It’s not going to run itself, and I only trust Rainbow for a few days.”
Clover started the engine and hoped this day would get better. She glanced at the dashboard clock. She had enough time to get Gypsy to her car and then get to the library for some much needed alone time in her special spot in the courtyard. Maybe she’d be able to figure out what she was supposed to do with Vikings and her brother’s latest financial crisis.
She blew out a long, beleaguered breath. “Yes?”
“You don’t seem okay. What’s wrong?”
She could blame it all on Gypsy, but the truth was she could handle Gypsy a whole lot better than her money-pit brother and his latest need for her inheritance from their parents. “It’s Chaz. He needs money again.”
“Don’t give it to him,” Gypsy said in her fierce tone. “He’s already bleeding you dry.”
True, but what else was she going to do? They were all each other had in the world. Their Uncle Bob and his wife had been more than happy to toss them out the second she turned eighteen, and Chaz had been only sixteen. If it hadn’t been for the money Aunt Millie sent them they’d have ended up on the street. She still wondered why Auntie never offered to let them go live with her back in Pittsburgh. The old woman was a strange one, immersed in the ancient lore of the Norse gods. She’d said it was better if they stayed where they were to finish growing up. Aunt Millie sent money every month to cover basic necessities and education until Clover was able to handle it on her own. Clover had managed to keep her head above water, but Chaz—Chaz had slipped through the cracks, and she felt responsible for saving him.
“He’s my brother,” she said very softly.
“I know, hon,” Gypsy said. “But he needs to grow up, and he won’t if you’re always there to bail him out.”
Normally she’d agree, but Chaz wanted five hundred thousand dollars. The only way he could have racked up the enormous debt couldn’t be legal. She’d seen all those thug movies. It wasn’t pretty for people who didn’t pay their underworld gambling debts. The money her parents left for her would be hers in a few days when she turned twenty-five. “I think they will kill him this time if I don’t.”
“Oh, that is bad.” Gypsy went quiet for moment. “Listen. Drop me off at my car. I’ll take care of myself. Then you get your butt to work. Take the time to really think about what Chaz could be getting you into if you decide to help him this time.”
Clover didn’t respond. She was more worried about what kind of trouble Chaz would get her into if she didn’t help.
* * * *
Clover walked quietly through the library with her knitting bag clutched to her chest. If she could sneak through without Mona—her boss—seeing her, she’d have a whole hour to herself before her shift started. She had her new repulse-men uniform in perfect schoolmarm order. Bun tight enough to make her hair hurt: Check! Drab brown sack dress which hid almost all of her curvy figure: Check! Stupid-looking canvas shoes that didn’t match her dress: Check! She didn’t have the money to get new reading glasses yet, so she’d have to hope they thought the bold purple rims of her current glasses didn’t enhance her at all and looked like she’d made a ridiculous attempt at looking pretty.
She was almost to the courtyard. Just a few more feet, and she’d be there. She sprinted the last five feet, flung open the door, and dashed into the lovely little garden in pretty autumn colors boxed in by the library building. She hurried along the path to the small wooden gazebo in the center. She froze in place when she saw a man sitting there.
No. No. No!
This was her place and her time!
She needed this time to figure out what to do while she mindlessly counted stitches. Just because the man sitting there was gorgeously built—from the back—and all blond, didn’t mean he was the Viking. It was impossible, no matter how many other predictions Gypsy made came true. She was going to march over to that overgrown, excellently muscled man and tell him to get out of her special place. She nodded once, lifted her chin and marched into the gazebo. “Excuse me,” she used her most disapproving voice. “You need to move.”
The man held a magazine in his hands. He slowly looked up with the most amazing brilliant blue eyes. His gaze scorched every place it touched her. His brow screwed up, and then his expression went completely unreadable.
“I don’t need to do anything,” Rune said with a lazy drawl. His accent over the last thousand years had faded into a more modern one.
The severe-looking woman’s mouth dropped open before it quickly snapped shut. She squared her shoulders. “This is my, um, my special place. I need some time here. Alone.”
He narrowed in on her purple eyes. The white-blonde hair. The killer figure hiding somewhere under the awful thing hanging on her body. Damn she had nice legs—from what he was able to see of them. He met her uneasy gaze. This was the woman he needed to save, or his hell on earth would be exchanged for an eternity in Hell. He still wasn’t sure if it was the Christian Hell with fire and brimstone or if it would be the Norse Hel of eternal boredom. Norse Hel was looking pretty good if he could figure out how to keep the woman alive long enough to get there—alone.
He forced a smile. He was supposed to somehow impress her into liking him. “We could share your, ah, special place.”
She frowned as she surveyed the seating arrangements. This place was built for two, but he was taking up all the space. A huff of air escaped her infinitely kissable mouth. “I’d have to sit on your lap, and that’s so not going to happen.”
His head cocked. Great! Just what I need. Another woman who wants nothing to do with me. It was his doom in life—to never love. Sometimes it sucked to be him, especially when he was sure there was a hot woman somewhere under that … get-up … who was supposed to at least like him a little. He went for a smile again and hoped he was doing it right. “I promise I won’t mind, and I won’t even nose into what you’re doing.”
She laughed. It was a sweet, hesitant sound. “I just bet you wouldn’t mind, but you’re like ginormous sitting there. I can only imagine how big you’d be if you stood up. Look, I am sure you’re the nice, sweet Viking guy my friend said you were, but I am not in the market for a man.” She paused as she rubbed her palm over her nose. “Or a woman either. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I’m just … not … like … that…” Her words trailed off, and then she glared at him. “Hey! Why don’t you think I’m crazy for equating you with a Viking.”
Rune stood up but held himself back because he didn’t want to intimidate her. “Maybe because I am a Viking.”
Her eyes went huge as she took a step back from him. “No!” She turned a circle like she was going to leave before rounding on him and pointing a finger at him. “No! You are not A Viking! You are not The Viking. You are just … you! And you are going to stay right here, and I am going to pretend this never happened.” She moved to the entrance of the tiny gazebo before rounding on him again. “What’s your name?”
He had no idea what she was babbling about or how she knew he was a Viking. He figured answering the woman’s question would be good idea. “Rune Savage.”
Her shoulders rounded, and she snarled at him. “You have got to be kidding me!” Her tone rose to a near hysterical level. “As if I didn’t have enough to worry about with Chaz!” She stomped her foot and then gave him an accusing look. “Now I have to worry about you dying too? Good grief! I want a nice, normal, boring life! I am tired of excitement.” Her tone and eyes went pleading. “Is it really too much to ask? I mean, I’m a librarian, for crying out loud.” She looked up at him as her tone shifted again, only conversational this time. “I am perfectly sure you and Gypsy set me up! I mean, if I was into exciting, yummy-looking strangers—did I mention yummy-looking?—I wouldn’t work in a library!” Her face flushed as she shook her head as if irritated with herself. “No!” Then she was fierce. “Whatever the question is or whatever you’re trying to sell, I am not interested. I am not buying. I am not going to do it.” She paused and then made a cute growling sound before she winced. “Wait! You die if I don’t help you—at least that’s what Gypsy said.” She gave him a pointed look. “Are you really going to die if I don’t help you?”
He waited a beat to make sure she was done babbling at him before answering the question. “No, søt en, sweet one.” A white lie wasn’t going to hurt as long as he got everything lined up just right. He’d played the game for a thousand years. He should know loopholes by now. He lowered his voice and made it as gentle as he possibly could with his deep, gravelly bass. “It’s you who will die without me.”
She blinked at him twice and then laughed at him. An outright belly laugh. “Good one. Didn’t Gypsy tell you I can’t date?”
Why did he always get stuck with the women who didn’t want to be with a man? It would be so much easier if the woman he was supposed learn how to love actually wanted to be in love. Damn the gods! They probably thought it was funny trying to make him love someone in fourteen days who didn’t want to be loved. It was no mystery why he knew his fate was doomed to Hell. His brow quirked up. How did she know a Faery? “Why can’t you date?”
The woman cringed. “I make men go insane.”
He dragged a hand over his face and did his best to suppress a growl of irritation. “Clover,” he started out slowly. “How do you make men go insane?”
She dropped her bag, snatched it up, and then gave him an evil-eyed glare. “How do you … oh, never mind.” She let out a tragic sigh. “A fairy told me your name. Why wouldn’t she tell you mine?” He winced slightly at the way she pronounced “faery.” It was a slight inflection, but he realized she was talking about the cartoon variety and not the real thing. Before he could answer she was talking again. “Every date I’ve ever had has tried to kill me.”
Now he knew the gods were fucking with him. This was so un-fucking-believable. “You’re not serious.” How was he supposed to get her to trust him if she believed he was going to try to kill her? He did make a growling sound. “It ends today.”
She blinked, and then a sad smile curved her mouth. “You’re sweet, but seriously, have you seen you? I’d be paste before I had a chance to run.”
He started counting slowly backward from a thousand. He hoped by the time he got to one he’d have his temper under control. He wasn’t angry at her. Whichever god put the dreadful curse on her had better hope he never made it to Valhalla because he would hunt him down and gut him with a mistletoe-dipped blade to make sure he died.
Her eyes went huge. “Dude, you’re a little scary when you’re angry.”
He scrubbed a hand over his face again and drew in a deep breath before letting it out slowly. “I can fix this. You’re going to have to trust me.”
“Do you have a sword … or maybe an axe?” She moved subtly closer to the exit of the gazebo.
“In my truck. Why?”
Clover knew it. He was going to butcher her, and it wasn’t even going to be his fault. “Oh, no reason. I, um, I think I’ll just be going. My, ah, well, I think I should be…” She turned to hurry away from him when her phone rang. She should ignore it while she got away from this soon-to-be lunatic, but it could be Chaz, and he’d sounded frantic when he called her after breakfast almost seven hours ago. She stopped and acted as if by glaring at the delicious-looking Rune she’d be able to hold him off as she fished through her purse. She looked at the caller ID and ground her teeth together.
“Not now, Chaz,” she said in greeting. “I have a bit of a situation I’m dealing with.”
“Don’t use that language,” she scolded him. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry. They weren’t supposed to get you until after your shift.”
He did sound sorry, but the statement had the hairs on the back of her neck tingling. She stepped closer to Rune and looked around the courtyard. There wasn’t anyone she could see who wasn’t usually there on a warm-ish day.
“Who is coming to get me?” she demanded.
“Oh fuck,” Chaz mumbled under his breath. “Just go back to what you were doing like I never called you.”
“Chaz!” she screeched into the cell phone before the call disconnected.
She hadn’t realized it, but she’d steadily inched closer to Rune during the disturbing call. Great! Thugs were coming to get her to pay off Chaz’s gambling debt. She looked up at Rune. “They probably know where I live, huh?”
His expression was grim. “They do.”
At this point she was willing to believe Gypsy knew this guy. Gypsy wouldn’t put her into a dangerous situation. She’d said to believe in magic, and right now, Clover was going to need magic to get out of some scary real-world trouble. “No sexual thoughts. It should keep you from going insane a while longer while I figure out what I am supposed to do.”
He snorted, and an amused look lit his face. “In that get-up, søt en, you’ll have a difficult time getting a sex-deprived teenager to have a sexual thought about you.”
She beamed at him. “Then it’s working?”
“No,” he said with a laugh.
She glared at him, knew she was going to have to count spending time with him as a date. “Okay, then we have twenty-four hours max to find me a safe place and…” She blinked a few times and realized she was playing the stupid damsel-in-distress card. She in no way should expect him to protect her for any reason just because she was in trouble. She changed what she’d been about to say. “You know what? I figured it out. You die because you help me escape the thugs looking for money from my brother. You stay here and I’ll leave, and then I won’t have to worry about you dying.” She nodded to herself and then bolted back to the building.
He caught up to her as they got to the door. One of his powerful arms hooked around her, and the side of his face pressed up against hers. “Oh no, you don’t.” His voice was gruff in her ear. “We’re going to pretend like there isn’t anything wrong. We’re going to exit through the main entrance and go to your car. Understand?”
She let out a whimpering sound as she tried to decide what she was going to do. Would it be her fault if something happened to him for helping her? Then she saw Mona staring at her from the front desk. This wasn’t going well at all. “My boss is going to think you’re kidnapping me.”
He pressed the side of her face to shift her focus from the front desk to the middle computer tables. A dangerous-looking man stood to the right of the science fiction section, just beyond the computer tables. He was tall, bulky, and wore a suit. He had a bulge… She hoped it was a gun, or the man was seriously deformed.
She sucked in a breath and then whispered, “He’s here for me?”
“That would be my guess.”
“But Chaz said they wouldn’t come for me until after my shift.” She knew Chaz had called her to see if they’d snatched her yet, but she really wanted to believe her younger brother hadn’t sold her to pay for a gambling debt.
“Then he was wrong. We’re leaving now.”
The gaze of the scary man in the suit landed on her. His hand went to his weapon, and he took a step forward. His gaze shifted to just above Clover’s head, and then he audibly swore.
“Time to go.” Rune growled the words. He shifted the hold he had on her and moved her, so he was standing between her and the man with a gun. “We’re going to walk.”
Clover made a small squeaking sound. They started moving. Mona grabbed the desk phone. The man in the suit followed them at a brisk pace.
“Where are you parked?” Rune demanded.
“Th-third row, seventh car in,” she said trying to picture exactly where her car was in the lot. She wasn’t going to freak out—at least not yet. She could cry and be scared later; right now she needed to focus on not getting anyone—including herself—killed.
“Get your keys.” One of his large hands wrapped around her upper arm in an unbreakable grip yet didn’t cause any pain.
She groped and felt around inside her purse as they got closer to the door. It took up to two minutes to find her keys on a good day. The task seemed impossible, except she didn’t have to worry about where she was going or not running into things. Rune carefully, but quickly, directed her through the door and out into the parking lot. She found her keys as they went from the sidewalk to the asphalt. The door behind them burst open.
Rune grabbed her keys and shoved her in front of him, to keep between the thug and Clover. “Keep moving no matter what you hear.”
“What are you—” Clover finished in a scream as two gunshots cracked through the air. Rune’s body jerked forward, and then wrapped tightly around hers for ten seconds after the last booming sound faded before he let her go.
Rune roared. “Move!”
Clover dropped her knitting and her purse as she ran for her car. Rune drew a weapon she’d had no idea he’d been carrying as he turned. He let off two rounds, shattering the silence a second time. The man in the suit slammed onto the pavement. Then Rune was next to her at the driver’s door. He unlocked the doors, shoved her into the back seat, and was in the driver’s seat and peeling out of the parking space before he even had the door closed.
“Stay down,” he barked the order.
Clover crouched down in the seat as she tried to see what was going on around her. Two more men in suits were running out of the parking lot on foot as the sound of police sirens blaring in the distance grew closer.
Rune slowed down the speed they were traveling and then turned down a side street as the first police cruiser passed them, going in the opposite direction.
“Can I sit up now?” Clover asked in a shaking voice.
“Stay down.” The gritty edge to his voice faded. “We’re going to ditch your car and get my truck.”
Right. It made sense. Mona probably had the good guy and bad guy mixed up, but then she usually liked the villains in a story better than the heroes. The security camera at the library would have Rune’s picture for the media to get, and she’d be officially labeled kidnapped.
Her stomach gurgled in protest of all the excitement. She clamped her jaw shut and focused on not vomiting in the backseat. Moments later Rune parked on the side of the road. He tossed her keys into someone’s front yard and helped her out of the car.
He lowered his head and focused his blue eyes right on hers. “Are you okay?”
She shook her head. When they’d stopped moving, her stomach settled out enough she felt safe to talk. “You should let the police find me. I’ll make sure they know you were protecting me.”
He shifted his large body around hers until he was standing behind her. The tips of his fingers pressed into her back, and he lightly pushed to get her moving forward. “The police can’t protect you from what’s coming.”
How did she know he was going to say that? “Mona is going to spin this so you kidnapped me. We’ll make the news. Mona will make sure of it. It will be easier if we let the police handle this. If you don’t want to deal with them, go, and I’ll make up a story about being rescued by a Viking stranger.”
“This is just starting, søt en,” he said in the wonderfully gritty voice he had. “We need to get somewhere else, and then we can have a chat.”
They walked in silence for two blocks before turning down another street where Clover saw a well-used truck. “Yours?”
“Yeah,” he hurried her to their destination. “We need a drug store, and then I think we should head for Indiana for now. We’ll make more decisions once we’re out of the state.”
“Then you are kidnapping me?” She should be more worried and scared, but the man had just saved her from bullets. Besides, they would be heading east. If she could get him to go far enough, they’d land in western Pennsylvania, and she had people she could go to there.
“If it makes you feel better to think of it that way.”
She wasn’t sure what was worse, men wanting to use her to pay off her brother’s debt or a possible Viking willing to agree to being a kidnapper when it was obvious he wasn’t … a kidnapper. She was willingly going with him. It didn’t make a good case for kidnapping. She still wasn’t sure about the Viking part.
Meddling Gods. Fated Love.
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