Read the first three chapters of Northern Vows! Out 28/20/2020 and available for pre-order.

Photo by Damir Spanic

Chapter 1 – Monday

“Wow, it’s…” Kristine stared out over the rugged landscape and swallowed down the lump in her throat. “It’s so pretty here.” She and Hannah were standing on top of a hill, the spectacular view revealing a narrow path that led down to a large tree-lined, lake below them. Behind the lake, mountains rose as far as the eye could see, their snow-covered tops a vivid contrast against the vivid blue sky. The nearest farms and homes were mere colored specs in the distance, and it felt incredibly secluded, with the dense pine forest behind them and lush green fields stretching out to their left and right.

“And so peaceful.” Hannah wrapped her arms around Kristine’s waist from behind, rested her chin on her shoulder and inhaled against her hair. “We’d better enjoy this quiet time together before our lives change forever over the coming months.” They were in the process of adopting two foster children—a brother and sister—and it had been a long journey from their caseworker completing the home study, to the adoption agency monitoring pre-placement visits. This and the anticipation of coming here, not knowing exactly what to expect of their wedding location, had made her tense but now, she couldn’t be happier. “So, so pretty.”

“Welcome to Valdres,” Espen said as he started lifting their suitcases from the trunk of his car.

“We totally love it here.” Hannah helped him and passed one of the suitcases to Kristine.

“Good. So do I. Dani was worried your guests might be bored if they’re staying for a while; there’s not much to do around here.” He slammed the trunk shut and scratched the stubble on his chin. “But we have a couple of boats, and I can take people out fishing if they want, and there are plenty of hiking trails. There’s also a shortcut to Fagernes through the woods, so you’ll be able to walk there if you get cabin fever. Although it’s very traditional and has more of a village feel, it’s the biggest town in the district of Valdres.”

“I doubt our guests will be bored,” Hannah assured him. “In fact, I think they’ll be delighted to have some quiet time to themselves, and this seems like a great place to catch up with everyone. It’s so private.”

Espen, who ran the small eco-resort together with his wife Dani, had picked them up from the airport and as each mile passed, the more they’d slipped into the wilderness. The last evidence of civilization had been the quaint town they’d driven through fifteen minutes ago, but even that seemed like a world away now. He’d parked the car just behind the gates of a large fenced-off field, filled with fruit trees and wildflowers. Rustic, traditional wooden cabins were dotted around, and to the rear stood a house with an outbuilding next to it. A Norwegian flag was flailing from a pole by the house; most people seemed to have one here. In the middle of the field, a tall wooden cross with rings on both sides rose from the ground and two men were balancing on ladders, decorating it with leafy greenery.

Hannah cast a curious glance over the pagan looking pole. “What is that?”

“We’re setting up the maypole for Midsummer’s Eve,” Espen said. “And since it’s also your wedding night, we’ll make sure it looks extra spectacular this year. These guys are attaching the foliage and we’ll add the fresh flowers last minute.” He waved at the men and shouted something in Norwegian before he turned back to Hannah and Kristine. “In most countries they decorate maypoles in May to celebrate the start of spring, but we don’t get flowers here until June, so in Norway, we decorate it for Midsummer.”

“It looks like something from the movies but without human sacrifices, I hope.” Kristine sniggered and nudged Hannah. “I love you more than anything, darling, but if it comes to that, it’s every woman for herself.”

Espen laughed and shook his head. “No human sacrifices here, don’t you worry.” His eyes lit up when he saw his wife Dani walking up to them with a little girl on her hip. “I see the little pork chop has woken up.”

“Hi, guys! Welcome, I’m so glad you’re here.” Dani greeted them both with a sideward hug and lifted the little girl higher. “This is Evi, our daughter.”

“Hey, Evi.” Kristine smiled as Evi fisted her hand and waved it around wildly while shooting her a toothy grin. “She’s grown so much since the last pictures you emailed us.”

“Yes, she’s almost two, now. A Midsummer child,” Dani said, looking at her daughter lovingly. Evi started screeching and pointed to the ground. “And she wants to do everything herself at the moment, so she’s also a handful,” she added, putting her down in the grass.

“You’re very cute, but I bet you know that already, huh?” Hannah pulled a face at Evi, which made her laugh.

“She’s great, we feel very lucky.” Dani turned to Espen. “Do you mind taking her inside so I can show the ladies around?”

“Not at all.” Espen took Evi’s hand, said something to her in Norwegian, and lifted her up on her feet so she could toddle along back to the house with him. “Hannah, Kristine, make yourselves at home. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

They waved at them, and Hannah took two of the suitcases they’d brought. Kristine also took two and Dani the last one, leading the way up to their cabin.

“I’ll show you your little hideaway first, so we don’t have to drag these around.” She looked over her shoulder and smiled. “We feel so honored that you guys want to get married here in our new resort.”

“We’re so excited,” Kristine said. “And it made total sense for us to get married in Norway as we met here; that week in Kirkenes holds such special memories.”

“I know you wanted to get married in our hotel up north, and I’m sorry we couldn’t make that happen,” Dani said. “When you called me to set a date, we were just in the process of selling. The buyer had big plans for renovations, so he wasn’t sure when he was going to reopen.” She carried the case up to the steps of the small porch and searched for the keys in her pocket. “But if you ask me, this part of the country is way more romantic for a wedding.”

“You’re right; it’s even better.” Hannah put down the cases, took off her hoodie, and tied it around her waist as she glanced over the charming porch. The thatched roofs of the wooden cabins were covered in moss and flowers, red and white checkered curtains hung behind the windows, and a padded porch swing, a coffee table, and two recliners made for a lovely outside seating area next to the front door. “I never thought I’d be wearing just a T-shirt; the weather is amazing.”

“We get very nice summers here. It doesn’t get too warm, but warm enough to take a swim in the lake and get a nice tan.” Dani opened the door and let them in. “I was actually really excited myself when we moved here. It’s nice to have lots of daylight again, I didn’t realize how much I’d missed it.”

“Why did you leave Kirkenes?” Hannah asked.

“Well, we had Evi, and everything changes when you have a baby. Espen and I have traveled a lot, and we both lived in cities when we were younger. We weren’t sure if it was fair to our daughter to bring her up somewhere so secluded, so we started thinking about different options. She got very sick when she was around three months old—she caught pneumonia—and I lived in the hospital in Oslo with her for two weeks. When we came back, I was uncomfortable about being so far away from a good children’s hospital, so that sealed our decision to sell the hotel.”

“That must have been quite a challenge; I remember how dark it was when we visited, and that was only for a few days. I can’t imagine many people wanting to live in the dark for most of the year,” Kristine said. “Even though it’s beautiful up there.”

“Actually, it wasn’t challenging at all, and you’d be surprised how many nature freaks would kill for a life like that. It’s pretty unique, of course, so that helped, too. When we had our hotel valued, we were a little shocked to learn how much it was worth, and it was sold only two weeks after it went on the market.”

“And now you’re here…”

“Now we’re here, and we have more space than we ever dreamed of, plus a private strip of land beside the lake, and we’re only ninety minutes away from Oslo.” Dani opened the curtains to let in the light. “I hope you’ll be comfortable in your ‘hytte’. It’s the Norwegian word for cabin.”

“Are you kidding me? This is adorable.” Kristine squeezed Hannah’s hand as they took in the cozy space. There was a little seating area to their left in front of the windows, and a small kitchenette with a table and four chairs to their right. Handmade blankets were draped over the couch and the armchairs, and the walls were adorned with watercolor paintings of local scenes. Behind a dividing wall in the back stood a big bed, and there was another sleeping area in an alcove in the living room that doubled as a reading space with built-in bookshelves and a reading light.

“Good.” Dani smiled. “The bathroom is in the back, and there’s also a tiny sauna next to it. The cabin is big enough to sleep three more people—one in the reading nook and two on the couch that can be pulled out and made into a bed—but I figured you honeymooners should have your privacy, so don’t worry; you won’t have to share.”

“So, everyone’s okay with the sleeping arrangements?” Hannah asked. “If not, we can share, it’s no problem.”

“Absolutely not, it’s all arranged.” Dani pointed to the field outside. “We had three additional camper vans—or RV’s as you Americans call them—delivered today. They’re luxury ones that come with a tent and a portable firepit, so they should be comfortable enough for everyone, and they’ll provide plenty of additional space.” She handed Kristine the key. “Want me to show you around the site, or are you tired?”

“No, we’d love to see everything.” Kristine gave her a beaming smile. “I saw on your website that you grow your own vegetables. I have a veggie patch myself, so I’m super excited to see it.”

“Kristine is obsessed with growing stuff,” Hannah added with an endearing smile. “You have no idea how many hours she’s slaved over seedlings, caring for them like a newborn.”

“I think you’re going to love our vegetable garden, then. Of course, the climate is very different from Louisiana, so we’re limited to the vegetables and fruits that thrive here.” Dani walked to the kitchen and opened a cupboard. “Let me show you where everything is before we do a tour of the premises.”

Photo by Vidar-Nordli Mathisen

Chapter 2 – Monday

“To the front, as you can see, is the lake,” Dani said when they were back outside. “It’s deep in places, so be careful not to go too far out if you’re not a great swimmer. The other side of the lake is really pretty too, and there are popular hiking trails that lead through the mountains. We have a private dock down by the water and although the water is still chilly this time of year, it’s really nice to swim there.”

“That’s wonderful. I’m looking forward to seeing you in a bikini.” Hannah shot Kristine a flirty smile. “The swamps back home aren’t exactly tempting to dive into, and this looks lush.” The water was so clear that she could see the bottom of the shallows, where fish swam over the rock-covered floor.

“By the way, skinny dipping is totally okay here.” Dani winked. “Also, topless sunbathing is more or less the norm in Norway, so you won’t have to worry about the occasional local hiker passing through. They honestly won’t even blink an eye.”

“Even better.” Kristine looked around, trying to spot the nearest neighbors, and from where they were standing, she could only see a small, red farmhouse and a barn in the distance. It was very, very private indeed.

“This is our house,” Dani said as they neared a cute buttery yellow wooden house with white roses climbing up the trellis on either side of the door. Colorful garden furniture stood at the front, along with a shed that had a chicken run next to it. “The reception area for guests is just through the front door and there’s usually someone there, so just let yourself in if you need anything. We have a handful of sheep and a couple of cows that roam freely, but they tend to stay in the back, on the forest side or in their shelter, at night. Our two full-time employees look after the sheep and the cows, make artisan cheese with their milk, and shear the sheep in spring. We then sell the wool to local craftspeople to make blankets.” Dani had a proud look on her face as she turned the corner, heading toward the back of the house where a white picket fence surrounded a vast veggie patch.

“This is awesome, do you mind if I try some?” Kristine bent over the fence, broke off a piece from one of the plants and smelled it. “Mustard. That’s so exciting.” She picked another sprig and sniffed it. “And dill.”

“Please feel free to try anything. The herbs are here more for convenience; dill grows practically everywhere in the wild around here, but as you can imagine, I don’t have time to go and forage every day. We do get seasonal stuff from the forest, though, like mushrooms and berries.” Dani cast a glance over the neat rows of produce. “Let’s see, apart from herbs, we also grow cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, onions, lettuce, peas…” She paused and narrowed her eyes, trying to work out what was what. “Oh, and kohlrabi, of course. It’s very popular here, and over there we have carrots, beets, asparagus, and watermelon. But we buy stuff too, from the farm shops in town, and from neighboring farmers. This region is known for eco-friendly tourism, so we’re very keen to keep our business sustainable. We serve fresh fish that Espen catches from the lake; he loves fishing so that’s not exactly a chore for him, and we also make our own bread, butter, elderflower lemonade and other things like that.”

“That’s so cool. I’ll have a proper look tomorrow if that’s okay with you,” Kristine said.

“Of course, you can roam around anytime you want.”

Hannah turned to the left and raised a hand above her forehead, shading her eyes from the bright sun. “Is that a farm over there?”

“Yes, the land behind the fence belongs to old Einar, our neighbor, and the forest is part of the Norwegian national parks and is therefore protected,” Dani said. “The land on the other side belongs to a farmer too, but in general, you can walk anywhere you want; they don’t object, and we don’t mind if people pass through on our property either. Einar’s got goats, so don’t forget to close the fence behind you when you leave or return; we don’t want them to get in here.”

“Cute. I love goats.” Despite their long journey, Kristine felt full of energy.

“They’re cute, yes. But they can also be a little intrusive, so be careful.” Dani gestured to a path by the gates. “There’s a hiking trail there; it will take you through the fields, over the hills and into the forest in a big circle, and it ends right over there where the cows are. The fence is charged, so make sure you don’t touch anything apart from the wooden gates.”

“Any wild animals we should be aware of?” Hannah asked.

“Be cautious of moose, we have quite a few around here, and if you go out at night, take a stick with you to rustle the grass in front of you. The noise will scare away snakes and badgers.” Dani chuckled at Kristine’s wide-eyed expression. “Come on, you’re from the land of alligators, surely you can handle a badger or two? Anyway, both Espen and I are trained in first aid, so if anything happens, just call me.”

“I think we’ll be okay.” Hannah smiled at her. “Thank you. I’m really looking forward to spending a week here.”

“We’re delighted to have you, too. As I said, reception is through our front door. Either Espen or I will be there with Evi most of the time, so just come in if you need anything. Breakfast is served from eight to ten every morning, and dinner is at seven. We’ll set up a long table in front of your cabin where everyone can gather, so just let me know if you or your guests plan on walking into town for dinner instead. Oh, and you can use the rowing boat by the dock, and if you’d like to use the motorboat, I can explain how it works; it’s pretty easy.”

“Great. You’re the best, Dani. I feel at home already,” Kristine said.

“That’s what we want.” Dani put her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. “Well, I’m going to get dinner started. I’m sure you’re eager to freshen up and have a rest after your long flight.”

“Yes, a shower would be wonderful right now.” Hannah took Kristine’s hand and gave Dani a wave. “Come on, babe. Let’s get cleaned up and explore.”

Picture by Nandhu Kumar

Chapter 3 – Monday

“You look ravishing, wearing that,” Hannah said, glancing at Kristine’s legs under her short, white summer dress. She looked angelic strolling through the high grass with the sun shining on her happy face. Her long, blonde hair was drying in the wind after their shower, and she kept doing that thing where she tucked it behind her ears over and over. After three years, Hannah’s feelings for the wonderful woman who had conquered her heart had only grown, and she was still so madly in love with her that she couldn’t keep her eyes off Kristine when she was near.

She put an arm around her as they walked along the edge of the hill and passed through the gates. The view was incredibly romantic—a patchwork of fields stretched out before them covered in spikey purple-pink fireweed, yellow meadow buttercups and white daisies—and she was so glad they’d decided to come here to get married. There wasn’t a soul in sight, and both the resort and the neighboring house were mere colored specks in the distance. “It’s so quiet here.”

“Yeah. I love it.” Kristine turned to her and grinned. “So, I have a bucket list and there’s this thing on there…”

“What?” Hannah’s lips pulled into a mischievous smile as she tilted her head and studied Kristine. “I didn’t know you had a bucket list and I’m not sure what’s coming, but that look tells me you’re up to no good.”

“That depends…” To Hannah’s surprise, Kristine stripped off her dress. She tossed it in the grass behind her, leaving her in a delicate light blue lingerie set that looked bewitching against her tanned skin and blue eyes. “You see, I’ve always wanted to make love in a field filled with wildflowers.”

“Is that so?” Hannah’s eyes roamed over her lingerie. “Fuck, you look hot. Is that new?” she asked, inching closer.

“Uh-huh.” Kristine got down in the grass and lifted her arms over her head. “And there’s a lot more where that came from because I plan on seducing you all week.” She shot Hannah a heated glance. “Come join me.”

“How about I make you wait until our wedding night?” Hannah teased. She took off her T-shirt and got down on her knees to straddle Kristine in her torn denim shorts and sports bra. She needed a moment to take Kristine in because she was just such an idyllic sight, lying there. Her golden hair rippling over her toned shoulders made her look like a Nordic goddess, and her toned and curvy frame was surrounded by tall sprigs of grass and little yellow flowers. “You know what? I take that back; you’re too irresistible…”

Hannah leaned in and kissed her softly, but Kristine pulled her closer and deepened the kiss, moaning as Hannah’s body covered her own. Moving a hand under Kristine’s blue bra, she sighed as she felt her nipples harden against her fingertips. “As much as I love this bra, I really, really want to take it off,” she mumbled against her mouth.

Kristine nodded, her pulse quickening as she steadied herself on her elbows so Hannah could unclasp it and take it off. The sight of her full breasts made Hannah take in a quick breath, and she licked her lips as she moved down Kristine’s body to run her tongue over her nipples.

“Fuck, Hannah…” Kristine arched her back, raising her chest to meet Hannah’s mouth. “You know exactly how to…” Her voice trailed off, and she moaned as Hannah slipped a hand into her panties and cupped her center.

“How to what?” Hannah asked in a teasing tone, her mouth still on Kristine’s breasts. “You mean like this?”

“Oh God!” Kristine’s hips jerked up when Hannah pushed two fingers inside her and bit down on her nipple. She smiled against her breast as she felt her squirm. Although she vaguely registered the sound of bells somewhere in the distance, she was too focused on Kristine and the delicious sounds she was making to realize what was happening.

A loud bleating noise behind her made her stop and turn around, and at the same time, Kristine’s eyes widened as she screamed at the sight of at least a dozen goats charging toward them. The two goats who were already there were fighting over her dress, their goatees swinging from side to side as they both chewed and pulled separate ends.

Hannah jumped up and managed to save her T-shirt before one of the other goats got to it. “Fuck. Come on, let’s go.”

“But my dress…” Kristine grabbed her bra, then decided there was no time to put it on as all eyes were on the dangling blue object in her hand now.

“Forget about the dress, it’s too late.” Hannah took Kristine’s hand and they made a run for it. She’d expected the goats to follow, but they seemed happy enough with the white fabric that she could hear being torn apart as they rushed through the gates and closed them.

“I heard the noise, so I thought I’d better come and check,” Dani said in an amused tone as she came walking up to them. “What is it with you two and getting yourselves in trouble? I seem to recall an incident where you’d locked yourself out in the freezing cold wearing nothing but blankets, and now…” She laughed as she glanced at Kristine’s arms folded across her naked chest and the goats in the neighboring field, running around with strips of white fabric. “Now, this.”

“Hey, you could have warned us about the goats,” Kristine said with a sheepish look on her face.

“I did!” Dani laughed even harder now, tears rolling down her cheeks as she took off her cardigan and handed it to Kristine to cover herself up. “Oh boy, the goats. They’re not aggressive, but yes, they will chew anything they consider a tasty meal, and that includes textiles. I’ve had tourists abandon their cars because they opened the doors to feed them, despite all the signs warning against that. The goats climbed into their car and ripped out chunks of the chair upholstering.”

“Jesus…” Kristine stared at her in disbelief as she put on the cardigan, but Dani seemed serious.

“So, let me give you some advice,” Dani continued with a smirk while she tried to compose herself. “If you’re planning on getting undressed in the wild again, make sure you don’t hear any bells. The goats roam around freely and they’re not always near but when they see people, they’re hoping to find a snack. They feed on grass and the grass here is of such a fantastic quality—you’ll know when you try Einar’s cheese—but once they’ve had a taste of sandwiches, cakes, or even a shoe, they won’t forget. Ever.”

“We’ll keep that in mind.” Hannah rolled her eyes lovingly at Kristine and gave her a kiss on her cheek. “You and your bucket list.”

Dani laughed. “Bucket list, huh? Well, I hope you got to cross that particular item off.”

“Well, let’s just say the goats were never a part of my fantasy.” Kristine shuffled on the spot, looking at the herd of big, white goats who all seemed to be staring at her now. “Are they going to be okay?” she asked. “After eating my dress?”

“Yeah, they’ll be fine. They occasionally steal laundry from our washing line when people forget to close the gates.” Dani shrugged. “Sorry about your dress.”

“It’s fine. I packed plenty of dresses.” Kristine held up her bra and laughed. “At least I managed to save my expensive lingerie.”

Picture by Y. Kvam

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