In the dance studio, Sylvi jerked to a halt when a gunshot tore through the quiet. The swirling blue cloak that appeared whenever she turned her magic toward fighting disappeared, but she clutched her staff. Sending it into the aether would be unwise.
Her staff allowed her to draw power from the aether, which thrummed with magical energy from earth and all the afterworlds, and getting rid of it when there were gunshots would be damned stupid.
She raced to the door of the studio and yanked it open, but the hall was empty. What the hell was going on? Nothing ever went wrong at the Praesidium. They were too good at their jobs for that.
But something had been off tonight—particularly these last ten minutes. She’d had that itchy feeling at the back of her neck, as if she were being watched. There had been a tightness in her chest. She hadn’t felt that combination of weird symptoms since she’d left Norway nearly five hundred years ago.
Shaking away the impossible thought, she ran out into the hall toward the atrium. Whatever was happening was going down outside, and she sure as hell wasn’t going to miss the fun. That, and she didn’t like the idea of anything bad happening to the university. It was her home. She loved this place like nowhere else.
The great double doors at the end of the atrium were swung open to the black night. Someone had left them open. Had they been chasing someone? She charged across the shining parquet floor, through the great wooden doors, and down the massive stone stairs, following the shouts echoing from the side of the building. Half a dozen guards and members of the Praesidium pointed to the sky. Some fired shots.
“What the hell is going on?” she shouted as she stopped beside them. She looked up into the dark, moonless night, squinting to see what they were looking at. There was nothing.
“Prison break,” one of the guards said.
Her heart dropped to her feet. “What? That’s never happened before.”
“Turns out Ian MacKenzie was no normal prisoner.”
“What was his crime?”
At least he wasn’t a murderer. But she didn’t recognize the name. She didn’t know any of the names of the prisoners. Though she worked for the Praesidium, the protection division of the Immortal University, and her department shared a building with the prison, they were two entirely separate departments.
But whoever was locked up down below wasn’t someone who should be out in the world.
“Why are we all standing around then?” she asked.
“The bastard turned into a bird and flew off,” her boss, Warren, said. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man with messy blond hair and handsome features. His Scottish brogue rumbled in his words. “I arrived just as there was a swirl of green magic, then the bastard turned into a big black bird. By the time he got a hundred feet off the ground, he was impossible to see.”
A chill raced over Sylvi’s skin. A flash of green magic and a great black bird? There was no way. They’d said the prisoner’s name was Ian MacKenzie. She forced the thought away. It was wishful—and terrible—thinking. Of course she didn’t want him to be here.
“But we shot him,” a prison guard said. His bushy brows drew low over his eyes. “He looked hurt. No way he’ll make it far.”
“Aye, perhaps not.” Warren turned to a man who stood a dozen feet away and shouted, “Magee! Are you going to send your men to search the grounds?”
“Aye! We’ll find him before he heals enough to get off campus.” Magee, the head prison warden, turned to his men and began shouting orders.
Sylvi was sure they would. The university was excellent at what they did. An escaped prisoner wouldn’t remain free for long.
“Isn’t it about time you got home, Sylvi? You’ve been here nearly fourteen hours,” Warren said.
She glanced at her boss. “How do you know that? You weren’t in ’til nine. Speaking of which, you don’t come into the office nearly as early as you used to, now that you’re with Esha.” Warren was fun to tease since he was so good natured about it.
The corner of Warren’s mouth kicked up at the mention of his wife. “Aye. Lea mentioned she saw you.”
“Ah, ratted out,” Sylvi said at the mention of Lea, whose office she walked by on the way to her own. “But you have a point. It’s about time I got out of here.”
She nodded her goodbyes to the guards and went to collect her things from the studio where she’d been training for the last several hours. Though she still got to fight occasionally as part of her job as an Immortal Guardian, she hadn’t been in a good battle in over a century. Her moves were getting rusty.
She grabbed her bag and banished her staff to the aether. She used it to focus and manifest her power, a bit like a big wand, and if she needed it, she could call it back out again in a flash. It was also handy for bashing people over the head with, which she was inordinately fond of doing.
On her way down the great stone stairs at the front of the building, she barely managed to avoid bowling someone over. She sidestepped and looked up.
“Hi!” Sylvi smiled at Esha, ignoring the feeling of her power being temporarily drained away by her new friend. Esha couldn’t help it, so Sylvi didn’t mind. It wasn’t permanent.
Esha grinned, all white teeth and red lips in an even more beautiful face. “Hey.” Her American accent was always pleasant to Sylvi’s ears.
The scruffy black cat at her feet gave a deep meow, more of a hey, acknowledge my divine presence than a hello.
“Hello, Chairman Meow,” Sylvi said to Esha’s familiar. The big tom just stared back at her, his citrine eyes unblinking in the night. His scruffy black fur matched Esha’s straight black hair perfectly and she’d always wanted to ask if it was a familiar thing or just coincidence.
“How’s it going?” Esha asked.
“Fine. You here to see Warren?”
Esha nodded and Sylvi grinned. “That’s great. Hot plans?”
“Oh, the usual. Telly with the Chairman, then we boot him out and do it like monkeys while he yowls his indignation outside the door.”
Sylvi laughed. “No way. The Chairman is too dignified for that.”
“True, he just ignores us. Hey, how’d the date with what’s-his-face go?”
“‘What’s-his-face’ doesn’t deserve a name. The date was shit.” The evening’s failure had been a surprise because the guy had the most potential of anyone she’d ever been with.
Except Loki. The man she’d cared so much for when she’d gone by another name. A therapist would probably say she was holding everyone else up to his image and finding them wanting, but it totally wasn’t true. She shook the image of his face out of her mind.
“Sorry about that,” Esha said.
“Eh, that’s how it goes. Don’t worry about it. You’ve got to go see Warren and I’ve got to go drink a beer in my shower. We both have hot dates. Except mine is with a beer and my shower.”
“Still hot,” Esha said, then grinned before she set off up the stairs, her familiar leading the way toward the big double doors.
Sylvi smiled and continued down the stairs and across the cobblestone courtyard. She loved it here. New friends like Esha just reminded her of how perfect it was.
She’d only recently become friends with Esha, which made her feel like a total bitch, since Esha had lived at the university for over a decade and had been a bit of an outcast during that time.
Esha was a soulceress, a type of Mythean who drew her power from the immortal souls of other Mytheans. It wasn’t conscious on her part, but it was damned unpleasant for others to feel the shivery sense of their power slipping away. They’d be temporarily weakened, unable to manifest their magic or immortal strength. Because the perpetrator of their misery only got stronger, most Mytheans despised soulceresses.
Sylvi had never actively despised Esha or any other soulceress because, frankly, she didn’t have the interest in despising anyone who wasn’t outright evil. Ten years was just a blip of time to someone like Sylvi, who’d been here for half a millennium. She’d just never noticed Esha, not when work and life flew by so quickly.
Then Warren and Esha had gotten together and Esha had started working part-time for the Praesidium. Sylvi had finally noticed the other woman now that she came to the Praesidium more often and realized that she liked her a lot.
Ever since she’d been evicted from Asgard and her life had gone to shit, she’d been searching for a home.
Here, at the Immortal University, she’d finally found it. Amongst the beautiful old buildings and rolling green lawns spotted with enormous oaks, she’d found others who were like her. Mytheans, those supernatural creatures of religion and myth who’d been created by the beliefs of man, had established the university hundreds of years ago as an institution of learning.
In the following centuries, necessity had dictated that it grow from a mere school into an enormous organization that acted as the informal governing body of supernatural creatures in Britain. It took organization, support, and policing to keep Mytheans’ secret from mortals, and that’s where the university came in. That’s where she came in.
She was halfway across the lawn separating the main buildings from her little cottage at the edge of the forest when that back-of-the-neck itchy feeling returned. Her chest tightened.
Weird. She’d shaken it off by the time she let herself into her little one bedroom cottage. Warm lights flared to life when she flipped the switch and illuminated the cozy space she’d made her own so many years ago. It had seen a whole lot of modernization since she’d moved in four hundred years ago, but it was still quaint and quiet, with colorful furniture and art gracing the old stone walls and wooden floors.
As was her habit, she was out of her clothes and in the shower in less than five minutes. A quick side trip to the fridge had snagged her a beer for shower time—a little tip from Esha—and now she had all the time in the world to wash away the soreness in her muscles.
He might be a god, and therefore immortal, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t be seriously, if only briefly, put down by a couple of bullet wounds. The wound in his shoulder was less than nothing. Straight through the muscle and out the other side. The one in his gut, however…
The pain and weakness racking him indicated that the bullet had taken out some vital organs on its way through his flesh.
It had made it impossible to fly after only a few hundred yards. He’d crashed into the forest. He’d come to in his original form, as Loki. It wasn’t very different in appearance from how he looked as Logan, which made the Logan identity easier to hold for centuries. Still pale skinned and dark haired, just with slightly harsher features.
Because he was so badly injured, he was no longer able to hold any kind of illusion and he’d started off on foot, intent on outrunning the guards who were no doubt following him. Soon, he’d realized he wasn’t going to make it. Even gods needed functioning organs.
When Sigyn had walked across rolling hills toward the little cottage, he’d stopped in his tracks, once again idiotically drawn to her. It had gotten him shot, for fate’s sake, but he’d done it a second time. He had a plan to come back for her once he’d eliminated the threat to his life and hers, but she kept pulling at him now that he was near.
Ever since they’d parted eight hundred years ago, he’d wanted her. He’d never stopped wanting her, but it hadn’t been the right time. When he’d learned of the construction of the labyrinth nearly a century ago, it had thrown his whole life into perspective.
The end was finally coming for him. What had been fated—what he had feared above all else—was finally being set into motion. Imprisonment and death. The mere thought sent chills across his sweaty skin.
He’d vowed that if he could evade death and his fate once again, he’d come for her. That had been a century ago—a blip of time to an immortal like himself and nothing compared to how long they’d been apart.
After all this time, he was close to her once again.
As he’d stood at the edge of the forest, staring at her, the lightheadedness had come.
Blood loss. Enough to fell even a god, if temporarily. Temporarily was all it would take for the guards to find his body. She was his only hope. He set off toward her little cottage.
Finally, he reached the front door and stumbled through.
The lights within were lit, revealing a cluttered little cottage with cozy furniture, colorful paintings on stone walls, and a big empty hearth. Photos lined the mantel. Sigyn grinned out from them all, surrounded by friends. More often than not, the setting appeared to be the university.
His soul warmed just to be in her home. This was the place she’d made her own. He felt like he were with her again, and the warmth it put inside of him almost overwhelmed the pain of his wounds.
His attention was dragged away from the photos by a low hum of water. A shower. Sigyn was in the shower. Naked.
His feet moved as if they were separate from his brain. He should just collapse on her couch and hope she took mercy on him when she came out. He should not go spy on her in the shower. Hell, especially not after he’d gotten shot because he was playing Peeping Tom outside her window earlier tonight.
But he found himself at the entrance to the small bathroom anyway. It’d been right off the short hall leading from the living room to the bedroom. A matter of a few steps, really. He had to see her. Now that he was so close to her after so long, any opportunity he had couldn’t be ignored.
The door was swung open to reveal a small white bathroom. An old, claw footed tub with a shower overhead was surrounded by a semi-sheer curtain. Sigyn stood within, tall and slender. As soon as he caught sight of her pale skin, reality snapped back into place.
He was fucking out of line and fucking creepy, spying on her like this. He should get himself together and get out of here.
Motion erupted behind the curtain. Before he could blink, Sigyn had whipped back the sheer fabric and thrust her long wooden staff at his throat. The tip pressed sharply into his windpipe, cutting off his air. She was in front of him in seconds, moving so fast that she must have bent time and the aether to appear in front of him. The mystical blue cloak hung about her shoulders and concealed most of her nudity, leaving only a long strip of gleaming skin down the middle that he dragged his eyes away from.
Her brows drew low over eyes that flamed. “What the hell do you think you’re—”
“Hello, Sigyn. Looking good.” She looked more than good. She looked amazing. Even more beautiful up close. Light shined from within her. She’d always seemed to glow and that hadn’t changed.
Shock froze her features, as if she couldn’t process what she was seeing. Her green eyes were dark and deep. Was she seeing their past?
He wasn’t. His thoughts were too full of her in the present. Beautiful and angry and so close to him that it clouded his mind even more than the pain.
“Loki,” she said. She had the slight accent of a Norwegian expatriate. Similar to his, he’d guess.
“You’re not the girl I remember.” This woman was tougher, more skilled, and potentially very, very dangerous. And hot as hell.
He was in trouble.
“Hardly.” Her gaze ran over him and her eyes widened at the sight of his blood-stained prison guard’s uniform. “You. You’re the escapee.”
“But how? You’re not Ian MacKenzie. And if you’d been here for long, I’d have eventually noticed.”
“Would you?” Would she have felt what he felt when he was near her? That tug, that pull, as if everything his soul needed was right here before him, so close he could touch?
“How?” Her eyes were hard, her jaw firm.
“It’s a long story. A private one. And I need some help.” He jerked his chin down toward his wounds.
“Indeed. You’re bleeding all over my floor. But you’ll sure as hell tell me what’s going on before I even consider helping you.”
“I’m going to need more than that, Originator of Deceits.”
He frowned at the name he hadn’t heard in decades. Centuries. It had been one of his titles in Asgard, honestly earned, in fact. But it wasn’t helping him any at the moment.
He felt his muscles weakening and his mind fading. He needed a place to recover. Medical attention would be even better, though it wasn’t necessary. And he didn’t want to leave her side now that he’d found her.
“I vow upon Fenrir.” He chose something of true value to him, his wolf who was long lost.
Her face paled, her expression stricken. “You dare mention him to me?”
He cursed inwardly. Mentioning his wolf was not the way to get her help. Fenrir, and his own actions, had driven her away from him so many years ago. “I can’t change the past. And you know I mean the vow.”
She couldn’t take her eyes off him as she grappled with the reality that he was actually here. When she’d heard the intruder, she’d been fine. She could handle anything that came through her door.
Except Loki. When she’d seen him, tall and strong and too handsome, the pleasurable surge of battle in her veins had been replaced with shock. And then with a wash of memories that had dragged her back to a time when she’d been young and in love.
Or had thought she was in love. He’d quickly revealed her error.
And now he was here in her tiny bathroom, nearly eight hundred years after she’d seen him last. Here. At the university, the home she’d created for herself out of the rubble of her past.
Oh shit. “How are you on campus?” she demanded. He was a god; the wards should have kept him and all other gods away. If they were broken…
He raised an arm and a roughly hammered silver band glinted around his wrist. “This is enchanted to allow me past the wards.”
“So no other gods can enter the campus?”
“No. Worried?” There was something beneath his voice, a harshness she couldn’t decipher.
“Of course. The university has enemies. Not all gods. Not even most. But some. And if enough of them could get past the wards?” She shook her head.
It could be bad and he knew it. The university staff was made up of all sorts of Mytheans—those supernatural creatures created by mortal belief in myths and religions—and they took their jobs seriously. One of the university’s primary mandates was to ensure peace between the afterworlds—as the heavens and hells of mortal belief were called—in order to ensure the safety of Mytheans on earth.
Maintaining the safety of Mytheans on earth meant secrecy from mortals. Mortals might have once believed Mytheans into existence, but in present day, secrecy was of utmost importance to peace for all species. Some gods didn’t like to be restricted and therefore didn’t like the university. They sought loopholes to get onto the university campus. If they found them, they could wreak whatever havoc they chose.
It’d be a nightmare.
“It’s just me,” Loki said.
“That’s a long story. But first—” he gestured to his bleeding torso “—could I get some assistance?”
She swallowed hard, scenes running through her mind of the first time she’d tended to a grievous wound on his chest. These were nothing in comparison. At least he could still walk, if barely.
“Fine. But you’ll talk while I tend to you. I want answers.”
“Let me put on real clothes.” With the threat to the university past and her adrenaline fading, the illusion of her blue cloak would fade as well. She poked him hard with the staff, ushering him out the door.
It took her a few minutes to throw on jeans and a shirt and grab a bowl of water and some bandages. By the time she got back to the living room, Loki was seated on the couch, nearly slumped over. His shirt was gone, revealing a broad expanse of muscle.
Chin length dark hair swept down over his face, concealing his pale skin and even features.
She’d forgotten how handsome he was, with sharp features, full lips, and a sliced scar along his jaw. She’d forced the memory of his face from her mind long ago, but to see him again dredged up all the feelings she’d once had. Love. Fear. Disillusionment.
It twisted something in her chest, right where she’d felt that same tightness before she’d heard the gunshot and again when she’d been walking to her cottage. And occasionally when she’d been back in Norway.
“You were watching me.” Her skin tingled as she said it. It wasn’t a question. The pulling sensation in her chest had to be more about feeling his presence than just seeing him, but the idea of a link between them made her uncomfortable.
He nodded once. Her lungs felt empty. Why? And did that mean he’d occasionally watched her back in Norway after it had ended between them? Why would he do that?
She shook the question away. She had far too much to worry about without everything from their past creeping in. She was harboring a fugitive. In a sense, she was betraying the university. The ugly thought made a sick feeling well in her stomach. How could she be doing this?
And for him.
She’d already done so much for him. And lost so much because of it.
She was an idiot. There was no question.
She scowled as she knelt beside him and said, “You’re going to tell me everything, then I’m going to turn you back into the university.”
“Quite brave telling me your plans, Sigyn.” His eyes were clouded with pain.
“Like you said, I’m not the girl you remember.” She’d never been timid, but she hadn’t been nearly as powerful as she was now. If she wanted him back at the prison, especially if he was wounded, she’d make it happen. She’d do anything to make it happen. He wouldn’t convince her to divert her path again. “And my name is no longer Sigyn. It’s Sylvi.”
The corner of his mouth kicked up and the sight made something flutter low in her belly. She set the bowl of water on the ground with trembling hands.
“Sylvi. Why the change?”
She wiped the blood off his shoulder and rigid stomach as she spoke. “Sigyn was an idiot. And the name was given by a woman who should have loved me, but banished me from my home.” She thrust away thoughts of Freya, her godly and immensely powerful mother, and focused on Loki’s wounds. “I no longer wanted it.”
“You really know how to hold a grudge.”
She shrugged. So forgiveness wasn’t her strong suit. It would serve her well with him. He was the reason Freya had evicted her. As long as she managed to tamp down on the stupid drunken butterflies careening about in her stomach, she’d be fine. Loki was just temporary idiocy on the grandest scale imaginable.
“Tell me where you got the bracelet, Loki. Are there more of them?” She finished wiping the blood off his torso and tried not to think about the firm perfection of his muscles.
“It’s Logan now.”
She wasn’t surprised he’d taken another name. Loki was on many gods’ hit lists. Lying low was smart. “The bracelet?”
“In a trade with another god. And I don’t think there are more.”
She scowled. “Don’t think? That’s not reassuring.”
“Life’s not reassuring.”
“It can be.” She’d made it so. It’d taken a long time after her life had fallen apart because of him and her own stupidity, but she’d made it so, with help from the university. “Hold on, this is going to hurt.”
He tensed slightly as she closed her eyes and laid her palms on his stomach near the bullet’s entry wound. His skin was warm beneath her palms as she focused all her energy on healing the wounds within his abdomen.
It was a talent she’d honed in the years since she’d left him, along with many other skills. In Asgard, she’d never been able to finish her training as a Vala, a follower of Freya and practitioner of seidr magic, but she’d managed to cobble together an impressive array of talents once she’d ended up on earth.
Now, she turned those talents toward healing him. Sweat beaded on her brow and his muscles tensed, but after a while, she sensed his organs repairing themselves. Her breath came short and hard as the magic she was funneling into him left her weak.
“Enough,” he said.
She glanced up to see his black eyes hot on hers. “You’re not healed yet.”
“I’m healed enough. It’s sapping your strength.” Worry creased his brow.
It pissed her off. He didn’t get to be worried about her. His lack of worry so many years ago had ended up with them getting kicked out of Asgard. It was too damn little, too damn late.
She pulled her hands away from his stomach. He was right. He was healed enough. His own advanced healing abilities would take over from here. With some rest and a little bit of time, he’d be back to full strength soon. Which meant she needed to get all the information she could get so she could figure out what to do with him. She was strong, but she was just a demigod. Loki—no, Logan—was a full god. When he had all his strength, her chances against him decreased significantly, even with the help of all her magic.
“Tell me why you’re on campus. It must have taken a hell of a lot of effort to get something that would break through the wards.” She taped a large bandage over the entry wound on his abdomen. There was no need to be concerned with infection, not with a god, but the sight of the wound bothered her for reasons she refused to explore.
He didn’t speak right away, and she could tell he was debating telling her now that he had the worst of his wound tended to.
She poked him hard and said, “You made a promise.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish