Building Evolution Preview
I had been driving for weeks, on the road even longer, traveling for what seemed forever… So nothing was as pretty and welcoming to me as the estate I’d been dreaming about since the start of the new century. I led the convoy of semis to the main security gate, not surprised when lights came on and I heard people calling for backup on their radios. I quickly shut down my truck, hopped out, and signaled for the others to do the same.
“My brothers are all here and you’ve been expecting me,” I called over, holding my hands up in surrender. “My name is Oddfinn Lundberg. The people with me are my protection team and they have all been vetted.”
“Why would a hound need a protection team?” a human demanded, glancing past me at the guys jumping down from my trucks.
I gestured to my lithe, six foot frame. “I’m the runt. The rest of my litter got all the brawn.”
“And what, you got the brains?” he snickered.
“Yes,” I stated firmly, not understanding the joke. There was the thump of an archangel and I stared at the one who landed before me. “You must be Castillo, the newly promoted. Congratulations.”
“Umm, thanks, but it’s been a few years now,” he muttered, taking my hand when I extended it.
“We are both centuries and centuries old. A few years is still new to us, is it not?” I smiled politely as we shook but then dropped his hand. “Scan my people as you want, of course, but it’s the owner of the property and Michael I’ll need. I’ve drawn up the specs needed but it would be rude to not discuss with the owner—”
“Specs for what?” he interrupted, looking confused as he glanced from me to the trucks. “What have you brought here, Oddfinn Lundberg?”
I studied him a moment and then a thought hit me. “Was I the only one with the visions?”
“Most likely,” he hedged. “No one had the same ones your brothers did. They showed up and only had pieces to a puzzle. You seem to be way more informed.”
“I apologize then. I thought visions were shared and they were setting things up here for my arrival.” I adjusted my neck, having a hard time not cursing to myself. This complicated things… Drastically. And it was already late. “Might I speak with one of my brothers and we can continue this in the morning? We have traveled a great, great distance and we’re all exhausted.”
“Yes, of course.” He turned and I already knew Geir was jogging over to us but Castillo looked relieved to see him and have the backup.
“Baby bro,” Geir gushed as he grabbed me up, not even slowing down, and swung me around. “We’ve been waiting for you, hoping you were coming. What’s all this?”
“Our stuff,” I gasped, hating when they greeted me like this, showing off how much smaller I was. I knew they did it out of love, but to me it always showed how I wasn’t truly one of them.
“What do you mean our stuff?” he hedged, setting me on my feet. Then he stared out into the night at the line of semi-trucks. “Odd, what have you been up to?”
“I’ve spent the past four years or so following the visions,” I muttered, wondering now if they were going to get mad at me since they didn’t have the same ones. Suddenly I felt really tired. “I’ve been collecting all of our belongings we’ve tucked away all over the world. I cleaned out every rental unit, apartment, vault, security deposit box, and what have you, cataloged it, and brought it all here where we now have a home and it can all be safe under the protection of angels and Nephilim.”
“Oh wow, Odd, just wow,” he whispered, staring out into the night. Then his eyes bugged out. “Get them on the property now!” He spun around to Castillo. “Cass, get them on the sacred land! Ariel! Gabriel!”
“We’ve been protecting them for years, Geir,” I growled, annoyed that he was so worried now and thought so little of me.
“No, it’s not you, baby bro. You’ve done an awesome thing,” he rambled, kissing my forehead. “There’s always demons lurking around trying to grab one of the saved souls. They could have heard what you just said and called for help getting any and all of this. You know what we have and how much they would want it.”
“Fair enough.” I put my fingers in my mouth and let out a loud whistle before rotating my hand in the air to signal they should start up the engines. My passenger slid over and handled my semi, pulling it right onto the grounds where we guided them. Other angels showed up and Castillo filled them in. They went to the back of the line and used their powers to get the semis onto the property before anyone could blink.
In the end, a few minutes later, there were fifteen semis lined up all over the owner’s poor lawn.
“You guys have a lot of shit,” another guard said, and I met the most alluring amethyst eyes I’d ever seen. My heart skipped a beat and I quickly looked away.
“Yes, well I wouldn’t call it shit, though my brothers do like some toys that might need replacing,” I replied evenly. “It’s easy to collect a lot over a thousand years. We are extremely wealthy after all.”
“Stop making it sound like there’s a truck full of gold,” Geir snickered, throwing his arm around my shoulders. “Two are probably your books and journals. Odd is a genius, Seth. He can translate almost any language and is a maniac at chronicling events. I bet he’s gotten down every demon we’ve exorcised or killed, every training technique and lesson we learned.”
I shrugged. Those had been the easy ones. “Of course. You each have volumes in your own bound set and I have since scanned them into computer copies.”
“Wow, you are organized,” the human—Seth, from what Geir had called him—whispered, shaking his head. “I never even got around to getting Danny’s baby books together. I always say I’m going to go on Snapfish and get it done, but I never know where to start or have the time to get it all just organized.”
“Organization is the key to a lasting society.”
“What he means is—” Geir started to explain, as my brothers always did for me as if I needed explaining… But then something amazing happened.
“No, I agree with him,” Seth murmured, studying me closely. “I do. I was a cop in New York for years and being organized can seriously mean the difference between life and death on a bust. There’s so much shit out there and people think we have time to think of things that are so inconsequential in the grand scheme of life, but we don’t, when you’re risking your life every time you put on the uniform that if you’re not organized and know what’s what it ends up with you or others dead.”
I tilted my head and then nodded. “You don’t see much else in the heat of the moment besides who’s on your side and who’s not on your side—a threat to your survival and the bad guy. People who’ve never been there don’t get that. Knowing where your people are so you don’t mistake them as one of the bad guys saves lives.”
“Exactly. The things I’ve been asked about and what I was thinking about during that moment—”
I snorted. “Right, because who has time to think? You react. You react the same way each time in that circumstance no matter if the players change, the location, or whatever, it’s that threat that made you react that way, nothing else.”
“The organization of your training that has your brain choosing that path based on the level of bad and threat to you and the person they’ll go after next if they get through you.”
“Nothing else registers right then, not their name, their age, their race, their sex, their anything other than threat level and how many others they can hurt. I’ve lived over a thousand years and that’s never changed.”
“Yeah, that kind of organization is easy to me, second nature after all the training I’ve had,” he agreed, clearing his throat when he realized Geir and some of my guys getting out of the trucks were giving him funny looks at the moment we were sharing. “Never seems to be time to handle the other type of organizing like paperwork, Danny’s baby pictures, and such. Most of it is tucked away under the school in our storage locker after stuff was moved from our apartment.”
“You should get on that before there ends up being no proper record that your son ever existed,” I blurted, thrown by hearing his son’s name and the fact that he had one. I turned to Geir and nodded to my people. “They can sleep in the cabs of the trucks. We’ve been doing it for a while now after we collected everything in Europe and Asia. But I think most of them would like showers and grub if that could be arranged?”
“We can do better than that,” Castillo hedged, glancing at his siblings who I knew were reading my peoples’ minds to check they were on the up-and-up. His shoulders relaxed when they both nodded. “There’s a locker room off the infirmary so if they don’t mind bunking down on some comfy cots for the night, we can get provisions sent up and have them all settled in there until we met with Kellan in the morning.”
“And you want us all in one place contained until you vet us further yourselves,” Chandler Roland, the head of my team and one of the men I was sleeping with, chuckled, rolling his eyes. “Yeah, we got it as long as we can keep eyes on the trucks. They’re our responsibility.”
“We’re going to have a long conversation about you hiring mercenaries, by the way, Odd,” Geir mumbled under his breath so the humans couldn’t hear. The look of disappointment he was giving me spoke volumes, once again, of how odd I was compared to my siblings.
I had so choicely been named and branded since my birth it seemed.
I bit back a more scathing remark and decided to take the high road, especially since it would be sweeter in the end. “Chandler, love, would you tell my brother how much you get paid? How did I contract your services?” He raised an eyebrow at me and I realized the innuendo that could imply since we were screwing. “My brother is under the assumption I’ve hired mercenaries.”
“Well you know what they say when you assume,” he snickered, shooting Geir a less than friendly look. “Odd pays us nothing. Yeah he feeds us and makes sure we’ve got a place to crash, but we’re not mercs. He saved us. My unit of six got possessed somehow when we were trying to do a rescue op. Odd found us, sealed us in sigils, and exorcised us all with his knife after weakening us. We completed our op, left the service, and swore our lives to him and the cause to save others.”
Geir glanced around at the three dozen plus people we had in our group. “All of them, Odd? You’ve saved all of these people and they’ve pledged themselves to helping you?”
“I get lost in a grid-pattern city,” I chuckled, knowing my own flaws well. “When I told Chandler and his guys I was getting visions and the job I had to do, they wanted to come with. I knew I could use the help, and as we’ve moved around to get everything, we’ve stumbled upon others. Some we’ve exorcised and they’ve gone back to their lives, others wanted to fight, knowing something big was coming and going on.”
“I don’t get it. What’s he saying?” the female archangel that had to be Ariel muttered to Michael, who was smiling brightly.
“He is saying he did not simply bring us an arsenal of knowledge, weapons, and everything the Lundbergs have been collecting over their generations and centuries. He is telling us he brought us instructors, dozens of trainers for the Nephilim that he has spent the past few years preparing for the war ahead.”
“Exactly.” I glanced between the angels and my brother. “Why? What was your vision? Didn’t you guys have visions telling you what was needed of you and what to do?”
“Nothing like yours, baby brother,” he whispered in awe and then burst out laughing. “Not even close to yours, Odd. Holy shit, bro. I’m not sure we’re even needed with you and yours now.”
“Yes, you are, Geirfinn Lundberg,” Michael chastised. “Your mates were all here. You were all pieces of the same puzzle.” His gaze fell upon me, beaming with pride and joy. “Smaller pieces granted, much smaller pieces than your extraordinary brother here who was simply an overachiever, but needed, nonetheless.”
“Thank you, Michael,” I mumbled, my cheeks heating up. “I only did what was asked of me.”
Michael raised an eyebrow. “I do not think He asked you to train instructors and bring more help.”
“Wasn’t my choice. Free will and all of that,” I chuckled, nodding to my people. I couldn’t have made them do anything. They wanted to. I had to give credit where credit was due. “Anyways, let’s get them fed. We’re all exhausted. Weeks on the road and whatnot.”
“Months,” someone corrected.
“Fuck, years,” Chandler threw in. He moved closer to me, and I shook my head, stepping away. I saw the hurt look in his eyes and I mouthed to him that I would explain later.
There was a lot to explain to a lot of people about a lot of things. Simply thinking of that made me want to take a nap.
Geir seemed anxious to get back to his mate, and I was all too ready to be out from under his watchful eye and on my own again with my own people. That had been the major downfall of coming here, to me. I liked the setup and system we had. I had liked my life, minus all the travel. I wasn’t a fan of it changing so drastically.
And neither was Chandler from the way he was waiting for me in the locker room, when I arrived with my overnight duffle. He opened his mouth and I shook my head. “That day we discussed has come.”
He snapped it shut and then tried again. “So it’s not about your brother or that you want to only sleep with Keith going forward?”
“No, never,” I murmured, leaning against him so he hugged me. “I loved sleeping with you both, you know that. I’m sorry.”
“One last time to say goodbye?”
I thought about that a moment and shook my head. “No, I’m sorry. It doesn’t feel right now that it’s happened. I mean, would you forgive me if you were him and you found out later?”
“No, probably not,” he sighed, kissing my hair. “I’m going to miss you, Odd. You know how I feel about you.”
“I know.” It was always hard for me that he loved me and I just liked him, though I liked him a lot. Maybe I could have loved him but I was always careful to keep some part of me and my heart tucked away from anyone I was with since I knew I couldn’t be with them forever as I could with the one who was destined for me.
“He better be good to you.”
“Are you going to leave?” I whispered, more worried about that than anything. I needed Chandler as my right hand. He knew me better than I knew myself most days and filled in the rest for when I was lost with my head in books.
“No, never going to leave your side as long as you want me here.” He cleared his throat and pulled away. “Don’t be surprised if Keith and I continue on or I play with some of the other hotties here to mend my broken heart.”
“That’s fair,” I mumbled, sulking. He was mine to my hound even if he wasn’t my mate, and I liked being possessive.
“Oh, it makes me feel so much better that you won’t like me moving on,” he chuckled but not with any real malice in his tone, more trying to figure out a way to get over a tough situation. “I’ll talk to Keith. He’ll understand. This was just fun to him anyways.” He leaned over and kissed me, a real kiss that I returned as the goodbye he deserved after years of being my loyal and dedicated lover.
After that, I let him shower in peace, unable to hop into the stall next to him and deal with the awkwardness that would bring. Instead I checked on the food situation. The schools at least had their acts together because warmed up leftovers were already being brought in and set up on a table.
“Sorry they’re leftovers but we didn’t want to wake the kitchen staff,” Castillo apologized. “They’ve got so many they’re already feeding that we try to cut down on the amount of extras we ask them for.”
“No, this is great, thank you.” I smiled, truly appreciative. We didn’t want to stop one last time when we were so close to our goal, thinking as Geir had, that eyes would be on Nashville, but not really watching the property as he had said.
My team was thrilled with the trays of baked ziti, enchiladas, and ravioli, along with salads, garlic bread, and drinks. We finished it all, tired of burgers and fries, fast food, and whatever we’d been stuffing in our mouths through all the drive-thrus for so long.
“I want to marry whoever makes the pies,” Keith moaned as he practically licked the plate, his hair still falling in his face from his shower. “I don’t even like pie, but I like this pie.”
“We hear that a lot,” Castillo chuckled. “It’s one of the saved souls’ grandmothers.”
Keith glanced at the pie and shrugged. “There was a better chance of me following through on that earlier comment if the pie maker was a man. Now, not so much. I don’t even care about the grandmother part. It’s the girly bits that scare me.”
“All class, you are all class, Keith.”
“No, it’s my ass you like, Odd,” he teased, giving me a good-natured wink. It was his way of saying things were cool with us. I was glad of that, but I hoped he didn’t keep making comments like that or things would get awkward real fast.
I watched him staring at the pie as if debating whether or not to go for another piece and realized he was pretty much over it. Keith was easygoing like that.
Everyone was fed and turning in when I finally got a chance to take my shower. It was nice and quiet in the locker room and I soaked that feeling of calm right up along with the hot water. I knew I would need it because it was the last peaceful moment I was going to get for a while. Things were about to get complicated fast and I was right in the center of it all.
And I hated that.
* * * *
“How do we want to play this out?” Chandler asked me the next morning when we were all awake, dressed, and ready to go before the sun was up. “I mean, there’s a lot to be done after all.”
“Yeah, but it’s not our show anymore and I’ve not even met the owner of this place,” I muttered, staring at my hands.
“And your brothers are here,” he pushed. I bobbed my head. “Odd, you’re not a kid. Hell, you’re older than all of us combined—” I shot him an unfriendly look and he smiled. “Fine, almost as old, but seriously, you’re not a kid, just their kid brother. They can get over it. You’ve done all of this, and even Michael, the fucking archangel was impressed. It’s your show still. Own it.”
“Right, own it,” I sighed, scrubbing my hand over my head. “Okay, we need the guys in charge.”
“Dude, I don’t have any cell service or Wi-Fi here,” someone called out. “What kind of outdated place did you bring us to, Odd?”
“They’ve got a tower,” I answered, pointing out the window. “They cut it.” Which reminded me of why we had driven through the night to make sure we arrived yesterday. I reached over and grabbed my messenger bag, slinging it over one shoulder. “Right, lots and lots to discuss.”
“Game faces on people,” Chandler called out as if that would help me.
We walked out of the school, ignoring the looks of the few people who were actually awake at that hour, and headed over to the main house. A smaller blond man opened the back door off the terrace just as we were about to go around front.
“Oddfinn?” he called out quietly. I nodded before glancing at Chandler and then back to the man who was waving me over. “I’m Rafe Damas. This is my estate. Come on in. Most everyone is still asleep but I get up early to start the coffee and catch yoga.”
“They have yoga here?” Chandler asked under his breath, disbelief in his voice.
“I got the impression they didn’t know they were Nephilim until very recently,” I answered just as quietly.
“We didn’t,” Rafe agreed as we stepped onto the terrace. No human should have been able to hear us but then his eyes flashed silver and I was pretty much caught up. “We built a safe haven for the souls who needed it. Not a barracks for those we thought were fighting a war. Things are changing but there are kids here who still need some semblance of normal. On that we all agree.”
“We don’t disagree,” Chandler offered with a shrug. “I’m simply trying to figure things out and get my bearings.”
“As am I,” Rafe chuckled, stepping back from the door to let us in. “Like why there are fifteen semis on my front lawn.”
“Do you want me here for this?” a hound asked from the doorway leading to the hall. He looked wiped as if he had just gotten off shift. I sniffed the air and realized they were mates.
“If you don’t mind,” Rafe murmured, staring at the man. “No one else is awake yet. I know you’re tired and all, so if you want to go to bed I understand but—”
“No, I’m good,” he blurted, moving closer to his mate. “I mean, I want to stay if you want me to.”
“I do.” Rafe looked as if he had much more to say, but instead slipped a K-cup into a maker and set it going. Then he handed the mug to his mate. “I made sure there’s that cream you like this time. Sorry they forgot it off the list.”
“Oh, I thought I didn’t get such perks anymore since…” he trailed off and stared down at the mug. He took it with shaky hands. “Thanks.”
“You always get whatever perks you want, Stryker,” Rafe whispered. “No matter what’s going on between us. I won’t ever give up on us. We had a fight and need to talk some things out. That’s not the same as me voting you off the island and not allowing you to ever fix your coffee the way you like again.”
“No? And sleeping on the couch?” he chuckled as he moved over to the fridge.
“You chose to do that.”
“After you—” he shut his mouth, remembering we were there. “You’re right, we do need to talk.”
“We can go,” I hedged, glancing at Chandler with a what the fuck look. I wasn’t sure how to handle this one. He was very helpful and shrugged.
“No, please, I have a feeling your timing isn’t a coincidence,” Rafe hurried to say but then looked at his mate. “Stryker, can we make an appointment? That’s what I want. That’s what I wanted all along.”
The hound blinked and bobbed his head. “Why didn’t you tell me that?”
“I did. I tried to at least but it was like you couldn’t hear me after what happened with Sandro, but some of this started before then. We need counseling. We’re not the same people and I’m not even human anymore. Either way, I need my mate. We can’t be divided or apart right now. I miss you.”
“Miss you too, baby,” he whispered before pulling Rafe into his arms.
“Oh thank God, the dads are done fighting,” a man drawled. He had a bit of a Southern accent and he was definitely a hound.
“I have a feeling it’s never boring here,” one of my guys said from the terrace. Yeah, not all of us could fit in the kitchen so only a few of us had stepped inside.
“Like a reality show,” someone else added. There were a few snickers and I got evil looks from Rafe, Stryker, and the new hound.
“We’re tired. We’ve been traveling for a long time, and we’ve got very important information and jobs to handle from the visions I’ve been getting for years. This isn’t exactly what we expected to walk into, so yeah, we’re a little thrown.” I rolled my eyes when there were a few snorts behind me. “Plus, most of them are simply smartasses. It’s just better if you get used to it.”
“Oh good, because we don’t have enough problems on our hands,” another man bitched as he walked into the kitchen. “We need a bunch of jackasses we didn’t ask for to—”
“Watch it,” Chandler warned, crossing his arms over his chest. Then he nodded towards me. “This jackass has a list of the court orders and subpoenas you guys are facing. Or would you prefer to be cell phone and internet free here forever?”
“I need coffee if I’m going to be nice,” the man replied after a moment. “There’s just too much happening at once. Who’s handling breakfast? It’s Sunday, right? We’re doing breakfast here?”
“I think maybe I’ll bring Guy’s crew in,” Castillo muttered as he glanced around the kitchen as he walked in. “Yeah, lots of people, need the backup.”
“Okay, everyone into the formal dining room and we’ll get coffee started and clean out a Panera or something,” Rafe chuckled.
“We can go to the cafeteria someone mentioned,” Chandler hedged, glancing at me as if he wasn’t sure we wanted to go deeper into the crazy.
“No, it’s Sunday so it’s normal security team meeting morning. You’re just early,” Rafe explained with a tight smile.
“And I should round up the lawyers we have here if he knows about these court orders,” the other guy mumbled. “We’re going to need them to handle the situation and explain all of this to us.”
“I’m Oddfinn Lundberg, Esquire,” I clarified.
“You’re a squire? How does that help us?” the hound with the Southern accent asked, glancing at Stryker.
“No, it’s a fancy way of saying he’s an attorney,” Stryker explained.
“Um, no, in England, it’s an honorary title for a great lawyer, normally one that has aided the nobility, or in my case, the Crown,” I muttered, glancing at Chandler again. “How much longer do I have to stand here and feel like I’m imposing when I was sent here by God and have the answers they want and ability to fix it? I have been polite, right? I mean, I know sometimes I’m not the most polite guy, but you normally tell me—”
“This one’s not you,” he agreed, patting my back.
“Okay, we need a time-out and reboot,” Rafe called out when the room started erupting with voices. Everyone went quiet and looked to him. “Oddfinn, I’m sorry. We had a shit day yesterday. There has been a lot going on, and your brothers showing up has come with more chaos.”
“Hey, I resent that,” Dag said from the terrace, pushing through my people still waiting out there. “I was lovely when I arrived.” Every person who lived at the estate turned to look at him and then burst out laughing.
All right so this wasn’t me then. That was comforting. I was used to everyone thinking it was me. If my brothers were jerks, then I might be a pleasant surprise to all these people… I just had to be patient.
I could do that, if I understood the reasons or the people. Which wasn’t my forte.