Brad stepped out onto the veranda, tucking his bright white shirt into his black pants. Polished silver buttons and embroidery on his vest flashed in the bright sunshine. “One for me, one for you, one for Sif, and one in case she brings a guest. You never know.”
“Oh.” Ann sighed, her shoulders sagging. “She’s coming, then?”
“Yes.” He straightened his shirt and set to buttoning his vest.
Picking up the decanter, Ann bit back her feelings about the goddess lest she be overheard. She pulled out the stopper and poured amber liquid into a glass, filling it to the gold band. “Every time she visits, she sets you on a quest. Then you’re gone for six months, chasing down the Shield of Brucklesnot or the Erflgrumpy Sword or something.”
Brad laughed and wrapped his arms around her from behind. “That’s kind of my job. You knew that when you married me.” He nudged her head aside and kissed her neck.
She sighed again, this time at the warmth of his breath on her neck. “It would just be nice if you could be gone less.”
“I know.” He rested his chin on her shoulder and rubbed his hands over her swollen belly. “I’d like to be here when this baby is born. How much longer will it be?”
Ann set her hands over his and their wedding bands clinked together. “The candle has a few days on it. That’s only counting down until the birth, though. Labor could start as early as tonight. I don’t want to be alone.”
“You won’t be alone, no matter what.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep.” Ann held her glass where he could see it and waited for him to stick his finger into the liquid. When he pulled it out, he offered it to her and she sucked on it. He’d removed the alcohol for her, leaving her with a light, pleasant grape juice.
He opened his mouth to respond, but flinched away from a harsh flash of yellow light in the backyard. When Ann opened her eyes again, a woman with hair of pure gold stood among the roses and daises. Her gown matched the lush grass under her feet and displayed her cleavage to best effect.
Ann sighed and sipped at her juice. Brad let go to pay fealty to his patron goddess. She watched him approach and sink to one knee before Sif, lowering his head in complete obeisance. What she wouldn’t give to have him–just once!–refuse to abandon her in favor of the goddess. While Brad and Sif spoke in tones to quiet for her to overhear, Ann poured wine for them and moved the extra glass out of the way.
Sif touched Brad’s head and he looked up. With his back to her, Ann could only imagine the devotion and ecstasy on his face. Sif stepped around him, smiling, and glided up the marble steps to the veranda. She reached out, offering Ann her hand to clasp.
“Annbjørg, I’m so pleased to see you.” Sif’s voice flowed smooth and rich, as it always did.
Ann dipped into a shallow curtsy and took Sif’s hand to kiss the emerald ring on her finger. “We’re honored to share our home with you, as always.”
Brad trailed after her, an adoring puppy allowed to lick his master’s feet. “The wine is your favorite, my Lady.”
The goddess stepped close and placed her hand on Ann’s belly. “Ah, joy comes soon. Brandr will be away, alas. He must fetch me a token before Loki’s minions can find it. Grave danger lies before us all should he fail.”
Though she’d expected this, disappointment crashed over Ann anyway. Her smile faltered and she felt her eyes itch with tears wanting to be shed. Brad always had to stave off some kind of monumental disaster. “I think I need to sit inside. Excuse me.”
“Of course,” Sif said. “Your state is fragile, my dear. Do as you must.”
Brad, serene and smiling, bowed to his goddess. “My Lady, if I might be so bold as to ask, could you see to it that someone attends my wife while I’m away?”
“A sensible request, my Brandr. I’ll speak to my husband about dispatching one of his valkyries to watch over her.”
Hearing them speak about her as if she’d already left, Ann covered her mouth with a hand to avoid bursting into noisy sobs and waddled inside. By the time she recovered, Brad would be gone. Perhaps it came from the hormones, but she had the awful feeling he wouldn’t come back this time.