Samantha is struggling to figure out what she believes and where her life is headed, and in the meantime, she's living with her Grandmother, for the price of fixing up the house. Enter Ullr, alarmingly beautiful, and even more alarmingly friendly, who offers to help her with the work, but he's not exactly what he seems, and Sam can't decide how she feels about that, either.
“If you need a place to stay, I’m sure we can come up with something better than sleeping in a tree.” I would not invite him inside. That was just one step away from inviting him into my room, and then into my bed. A recipe for disaster, embarrassment, and heart break. The whole trifecta. Especially if he said no. “I’m sure I’ve got a tent in the garage, and sleeping bags. There’s plenty of room to camp in the woods.”
“I am not disturbed by sleeping beneath the stars, Samantha. We are old friends by now.”
“It isn’t that,” I said. “But if my grandmother finds out about this, wild horses could not stop her from giving you a bed to sleep in.”
He smiled, releasing my hand. Was it my imagination, or did he linger? “You know I would not accept it.”
“She won’t accept you not accepting it,” I said. “She’s a determined old lady, and stubborn as a rock.”
“A trait you seem to have inherited in full measure,” he teased, his eyes glowing with warmth and amusement. “For you do not suggest you will offer me a bed yourself, nor did you make your own offering of supper last evening.”
I flushed. “If I had known you’d go to bed hungry and spend the night in a tree, maybe I would have made a bigger fuss.”
“I am a god of archery – as long as there is game, I will never starve.”
“Well, see, then you didn’t need me to invite you to dinner anyway. And in my defense, I did offer you a tent and a sleeping bag, and you refused me.”
“And you fear I would refuse a bed as well?”
“No.” My cheeks were on fire now, and I looked anywhere but at him. The willow tree over his shoulder, the coffee cup in my hand. “It’s just, yesterday was kind of a lot to process, and I needed some time to come to terms with it all, that’s all.”
I shrugged, fixating on a cloud that looked like a horse. With eight legs. I shut my eyes.
“You were not easy with me even before you learned I was a god, Sam. I hoped telling you the truth of myself would reassure you, that you might know I am your friend. Yet still, you hesitate. Why?”
I blew out a breath and glared at him. “I don’t know, maybe it might have something to do with the fact that you’re a complete stranger, and I have no idea what it is you want from me?”
His forehead creased. “But I have told you already, the pleasure of your company is all I ask in return.”
“Coming from a god that isn’t exactly reassuring,” I grumbled.
He was clearly still confused. “You do not trust me, but I have done nothing to betray your faith. Or if I have, it was only through misunderstanding.”
It wasn’t why he was here. The familiar disappointment settled into the pit of my stomach like lead, and I sank to a seat on the porch steps, not realizing until that moment how much I had hoped, in spite of everything he’d said. I set the coffee cup between my feet and hid my face against the water bottle in my hands to stop the flaming of my cheeks. I was so stupid to think it at all. I wasn’t special. I was just another sheep being gathered into the fold.
His hands closed around my wrists, the warmth of his palms almost startling in the morning chill. Gently, he pulled my hands away from my face, and I found myself staring into his searching grey eyes, incapable of looking away, of even moving at all.
“Sam,” he said softly. His forehead touched mine. “What must I do? Only tell me.”
I shook my head, but he caught my face in his hands, holding me still.
“Would you make a god beg?” His voice was rough with emotion, pain, I thought, and my own throat tightened. “For you, I am not above it.”
“No,” I said hoarsely. He was so close. All I had to do was lean forward, lift my chin, and our lips would meet. He would taste like honey, I imagined, and my hand was at his throat, my thumb tracing the line of his jaw without thought.
His fingers curled into my hair, his mouth so near I could feel his breath against my skin. “Is this what you fear?”
I licked my lips, pressing the tips of my fingers to his mouth, the roughness of his beard tickling my palm. “No.”
My heart was racing, but I didn’t want this to end. I didn’t want him to turn his face from mine and stand. I didn’t want him to leave me behind and go on to some other woman. Maybe if this moment lasted – maybe he would stay longer than it took to fix the house.
He closed his eyes, holding himself still. So still.
I leaned forward, just enough, lifting my chin until our noses brushed. “Please.”
He exhaled, catching my hand and pressing my fingers to his lips. He kissed my palm, and then sat back, dropping his head, turning his face into the sun, and my heart ached for the loss of him, my body cold without his heat, without his touch.
“When you trust me,” he said. “Not before.”
The burn on my hand stung dully, the skin stretched too tight. I swallowed against the thickness in my throat and the press of tears behind my eyes.
“I’ll just – just get you some breakfast.”
I don’t know if he nodded or not, because I didn’t look at him as I turned to go back in the house. I couldn’t look at him, knowing what kind of fool I’d just made of myself.
Maybe he was right. Maybe I had been afraid he’d refuse me, all along.