Peppermint by Cali Mann
“Well, Birger, let it go,” Roar said. “We’ll follow the bird out.”
Thor—or rather Birger—grunted.
“Seems unlikely there’d be a crack in the curse,” said Skarde, his dark eyes flashing. “After all this time.”
There was something off about his scent, even through the sweaty man smell of the others. I didn’t expect baths were really a priority down here, but this was something worse than sweat and dirt.
Roar shrugged. “It’s worth a try. At this point, anything is. We might even go to Hel again—”
Skarde glared at him and he went silent.
But Birger frowned and slid his hand aside.
I eyed them all warily. They wanted to leave. I knew that. Why shouldn’t I lead them out? One of them was my mate, wasn’t that why I’d come here?
Birger slid the bag down around me to the rock and I stretched my wings.
They all watched, their eyes full of curiosity.
Taking off, I flew across the cavern. The three men stumbled after me, clumsy on their big feet. I wanted to laugh, but I was going to save them. That made a flutter of warmth rise in my chest. No one deserved to be trapped for this long on the whim of a god. They deserved to be free. I dove through the doorway and spun to see if they followed.
The three Vikings slammed into an invisible wall, that showed as black and blue illuminated cracks for mere seconds before disappearing again. Then they fell back in slow motion, yelling out their annoyance. I darted back through the barrier, but I didn’t even feel a tickle of magic. There was nothing there for me, but for them it was a full-on obstacle.
A hand closed around me, and I squawked. It was very un-cardinal like sound, more like a chicken. I peered around the bulky fingers and into the dark eyes of the red-head, Skarde. The strange scent of him was stronger, now that I was closer. He smelled like the deep, swampy part of the marsh, sour from standing water. My beak twitched. It wasn’t a pleasant smell for someone so sexy, and I couldn’t help being a little disappointed. He tilted his head and stared at me, his dark eyes swirling as if they saw behind my bird form. Did he know what I was?
Then suddenly I did feel some kind of magic sliding over me, smooth like silk but with a cold, slimy feel. I twitched. A cage formed around me, squeezing me even more than the fingers had until I thought my heart would explode. Instead my human form burst out from the bird and I fell naked to the floor. The warriors gathered around me and I stared up at them blinking.
“What the hell?” I gasped. I’d never been forced from my shifter form before. I’d never come out naked either, usually my clothes reformed with me. I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks, though the rest of me shivered in the cold cavern.
“A woman?” Birger asked, confusion in his voice.
A slow smile spread across Roar’s face, and he leaned in closer. “A beautiful woman.”
Skarde just watched me, stroking his eye pendant.
“Got a blanket I can borrow?” I asked, trembling harder under his gaze. Though I had to admit the strange warmth that rose in my gut at the obvious interest in their gazes. They took in every inch of me and didn’t seem to find me wanting. You’d think such big, virile men would want a warrior woman, not me. Maybe they’d been here too long, and any woman was looking good. That thought soured my mood somewhat and I stood, a bit wobbly, and glared at them. “A blanket?”
They frowned at me.
I sighed. I’d understood them. Surely they understood me. “I’m cold.”
“I’d be happy to warm you up,” Roar said, offering me a hand.
Meeting his fierce gaze, I suddenly wasn’t cold anymore, but I’d ever seen, but I didn’t want them to know that. They might be the sexiest men I’d ever seen, but I had a mission. I crossed my arms over my chest, and raised an eyebrow at them. “I’m here to rescue you.”