Valkyrie Rising

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Authors: Ingrid Paulson
busy for a while.
    But not that day. “Still. The girls we saw—they just weren’t normal. I’m sure of it,” I pressed.
    Grandmother sighed. “An example, please.”
    “Well, first, they were ridiculously pretty. Unbelievable. Then one of them hit this guy when he grabbed her leg. I think she broke his nose. Then she walked right over and started talking to Kjell. She knew all about him being a medical student even though he hadn’t told her, and … and she tried to force him to leave with her.” It sounded so inexcusably ordinary, even to my own ears.
    Which is probably why Grandmother interrupted me. “Kjell is a nice-looking boy. You can pardon another girl for taking a chance,” she said. “As for the hitting, I’d look the other way if you defended yourself in bar.”
    “There’s more,” I said, taking a deep breath and holding it so that the rest practically exploded out of me—because this was the part of the memory I still distrusted. “Everyone’s eyes turned white. Solid white. And one of the girls, named Astrid, put one finger to my forehead and said Valkyrie.”
    “Astrid saw you?” she asked. Her voice was unnaturally calm.
    “You know her?” But I didn’t need her answer. I could hear the familiarity of the name on my grandmother’s tongue.
    But “No,” she said. “It’s surprising this Astrid girl would go after Kjell if you were standing there, that’s all.” If I hadn’t been staring at her hands on the steering wheel, I might have accepted her explanation. But I’d seen the way her fingers tensed around the leather like talons strangling their prey. The skin across her knuckles was stretched so thin, it almost melted away, leaving just bone behind. The hands of a skeleton.
    “That’s all you have to say?” I demanded. “What about the Valkyrie part?”
    “These supposed disappearances have the whole region on edge. Fabricating outlandish explanations. Name-calling. Sounds to me like Astrid was exploiting their fears. Really, Ellie, you’re smarter than this.” She paused, slowing down and changing lanes. Driving like a confused old lady—something my lead-footed grandmother never did.
    “Speaking of fears, I’m terrified I’ll miss the airport exit. Last time I went ten miles before I realized I’d gone too far. You’re in charge of watching for it.”
    Her explanation was a cover-up, followed by a blatant attempt to change the subject. Still, I let her words slip right into my ear unhindered. Maybe if I let them sit there long enough, I could start to believe them myself, because the truth was getting weirder by the second. Grandmother was holding something back, something big. And it wasn’t going to be easy dragging it out of the usually blunt and brazen Hilda Overholt.
    W E PULLED UP to the curb at the main terminal, and after a few minutes of evading airport traffic cops, we saw Graham stroll through the sliding glass doors. I jumped out of the car and ran to greet him—so intently focused on Graham, I didn’t see Tucker Halloway until I ran smack into him. Actually, he ran right into me. In typical Tucker fashion, he stepped in my way the second before I would have reached Graham.
    “Tuck?” I came to a stunned stop as my shoulder slammed into his chest. I took a step back, wishing my skin wasn’t so hyperaware of that brief moment of contact. “What are you doing here?”
    “Missed you, Ells,” Tuck said, leaning way too close. “It was torture. I changed my ticket just to see your smiling face.”
    “Then you’re out of luck,” I said, determined not to let his flirting confuse me. “With you around, it’ll be a while before I smile again.” I passed him by and folded myself under Graham’s extended arm.
    “I missed you too,” Graham said, squeezing my shoulder. “Didn’t Grandmother tell you Tuck was coming early? Guess she didn’t know it was the start of World War Seven. Or are we already on Seventeen? Either way, there was a

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