The Midwinter Mail-Order Bride

By: Kati Wilde

A Holiday Fantasy Romance





Some might call Princess Anja of Ivermere brave for offering herself up as a bride to Kael the Conqueror, a barbarian warlord who’d won his crown by the bloodied edge of his sword. It was not courage that drove Anja from her magic-wielding family’s enchanted palace, however, but a desperate attempt to secure a kingdom of her own—even if she has to kill the Conqueror to do it. She expects pain beneath his brutal touch as she awaits her chance. She expects death if he discovers the truth of her intentions.

She didn’t expect Kael to reject her and send her back to Ivermere.



Raised in the ashes of the Dead Lands, Kael fears nothing—certainly not the beautiful sorceress who arrives at his mountain stronghold. But no matter how painful his need for her, Kael has no use for a bride who would only tolerate his kiss. Yet the more of Anja’s secrets he uncovers during their journey to return her home, the more determined he becomes to win the princess’s wary heart.

And Kael the Conqueror has never been defeated…





1





Kael the Butcherer





Grimhold



Here we are, at the last of four tales about brides who travel great distances drawn by hope, or driven by fear, and who find happiness in the arms of an alien, and a wolf, and a billionaire.

Now comes the warlord king.

The time is anotherwhen, a date unknown but in the midst of winter; the place is anotherwhere, a world unnamed but to the west of the Illwind Sea. And this story begins, as many stories do, with a lonely warrior wandering through a fortress guarded by mighty walls that are as thick and as hard as the walls around his heart. Surely only a brave bride—or a very desperate one—could scale those stone battlements…or any of the other thick and hard parts of him.

So we settle in for a midwinter’s spell—for that is all a tale is, words woven together in hopes of making magic. It matters not if you believe in such things. You must only believe this—

Love is magic, too.



Kael strode into the chamber that ought to have been filled with shackled prisoners and the beseeching cries of the penitent—and found it disappointingly empty. Frowning, he turned to the sentry posted beside the chamber doors. “Is this not the petition hall?”

The young guard’s only response was the metallic shivering of chainmail and a panicked hiss of breath.

If Kael asked the simple question again the boy might piss himself in fear. Frustration gritted his teeth. A flash of blue farther down the corridor caught his eye—one of the royal underministers, a woman he’d seen cowering in the great hall during his endless meetings with his advisors. “You there!”

The figure froze. A timid, “Yes, your majesty?” floated toward him.

“Is this not the petition hall?”

Though the underminister had the courage to approach him, she was trembling as hard as the sentry—but silently trembling, for her woolen robes didn’t jingle. “It is, sir.”

Just as Kael had thought. “Then is it not Petition Day?”

In each of his four kingdoms, anyone sentenced by local magistrates or whose complaints were unresolved had a right to petition the king for a hearing. Kael had only recently learned that a high magistrate had been overseeing the hearings in the petition hall each month, as had been established during Geofry’s reign.

Kael enjoyed few royal duties. It seemed that his every hour was filled with tedious meetings and pointless rituals. But he had looked forward to this day, when he might hear how his kingdoms’ laws were applied—and learned which of Geofry’s still needed to be struck down.

“It is,” she answered.

“Why is no one here, then?”

Her cheeks paled and she bit her lip. Her gaze darted to the sentry, as if searching for help, but the boy could hardly breathe let alone give Kael an explanation.

The underminister attempted it. “Because…I have heard…that is…” In a sudden rush, she got it out— “There are no petitioners.”

Kael’s frown deepened. “No petitioners?” He had seen previous dockets. Each month brought dozens of petitions. “Why?”

Mutely she stared at him.

Curse every breath that Geofry ever took. So frightened was she, Kael would have to pull her tongue from her mouth to get an answer from it—as Geofry had done in truth to those who’d said words he hadn’t wanted to hear. Too many silent servants roamed these stone corridors to wonder at her fear now.

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