I’ve decided to change up these weekly snippets and go through my backlist, sharing the first meeting between the two main characters in each book. It’s always fun for me to revisit the books and I hope it will be for you too! Or if you’ve never happened to read a certain book, maybe I can entice you into giving it a try.
Can I tell you a secret? This is one of the books I’ve reread the most from my own backlist. I love the classic Cinderella fairy tale and this novella was inspired by the fairy tale. I have this entire fantasy world of Claddare created and stories to tell in that world but never enough time to get to it. However, the Female Main Character here, Nadelma, is the castle’s cook from The Captive Shifter (which is my other novel so far set in this world) and readers liked her and asked for her story. It’s also my winter holiday story! I will also admit to a mental picture of Navarre from ‘Ladyhawke’ when I wrote an earlier scene with Halvor on his horse…so in short, I love this story.
The excerpt – Halvor is a high born mercenary, come to Azrimar to fight for the king. Nadelma saw him and his people ride in a few days prior to this but they’ve never met. She’s been summoned by the king for a different reason:
Nadelma made a note to herself to find a regiment of suitable toy soldiers as a solstice gift for the boy, who was a great favorite of hers. “Will you be allowed time off to go home?”
“His majesty said I could go for a week if I wanted to.” The boy’s eyes were wide. “He said it would be hard but he and his lady mother would do their best to manage without me.” Chewing on his lip, Tabarus had a furrowed brow as if there were weighty matters on his mind. “I don’t want to leave them with a lack of service. They’re been so nice to me, not like…well, other people.”
“Sending you home to your family for a week would probably make both of them happy,” Nadelma said. “They only have each other and the king’s sister after all, so they want anyone from a large family to be with their kin at the holidays.”
He obviously liked the idea. “What about you?” he asked, with the bluntness of a child. “I’ve never heard you talk about your family.”
Nadelma barely felt the twinge of pain after all these years. “Don’t be worrying about me—the castle is my home and everyone here is my family. I don’t need anywhere else to go.”
Satisfied with her answer, Tabarus rushed ahead to announce her to the royals, dodging someone attempting to leave the chamber and scampering inside, out of view.
Nadelma followed him and ran right into a soldier who was exiting the audience chamber. She nearly fell but his hand on her arm kept her upright.
“Apologies, my lady,” the man said in a deep voice, the syllables accented with the lilt of the Dales. “Are you all right?”
“I’ve got my balance, thank you.” Flustered, she brushed her skirts and dropped a curtsey, realizing the man she’d collided with was the Dales lord, Halvor himself. “I believe I was the one at fault, sir.”
He laughed but kindly. “We’ll call it a draw.” Now he released her arm, nodded pleasantly and joined his waiting companion in the hall beyond.
Nadelma had to work hard not to pivot and stare at him as he walked away. He was a big man, even more massive than he’d appeared on the giant warhorse the other day, although his touch had been gentle, only enough to keep her on her feet. He’d smelled deliciously of man and forest greenery and a hint of musk and unaccountably she’d wished to move closer to him, not to retreat. Now she’d seen his face without the obscuring helm, she found him as handsome as she’d expected and his brown eyes were piercing in their intensity. The day old stubble served to emphasize the strong lines of his face and his sandy blond hair was cropped close, the better to accommodate his helmet no doubt.
VS: Don’t worry – they meet again soon…
Torn from her home in the Dales as a child, Nadelma has made a place for herself as the head cook in the Witch Queen of Azrimar’s castle. She stays in the background of the busy court and uses her gentle magic gifts sparingly to help others. More or less content, she’s made peace with the hard facts of her life. Romance, marriage, a family – all beyond her dreams any longer.
Then Halvor, an ambitious Dales lord rides into the city, bringing his mercenaries to serve the king, with the promise of a rich reward, including a title and an estate. The only catch? He has to marry a highborn Azrimaran noblewoman to seal the treaty.
Fate conspires to throw Nadelma and Halvor into each other’s company and the attraction is instant and deep but both resist the attraction. She knows she can never have him for herself. He must fulfill the treaty to secure a safe place for his people to live, since their holding in the Dales was destroyed by the black magic of the Shadow. Marriage to a noble damsel of the king’s choice is his fate.
Until he met Nadelma he thought his heart was frozen by the loss of all he cared for, back in the Dales. Now he knows better but his people must come first.
The situation is hopeless…or is it? For the king declares the city will celebrate Winter Solstice and hold a ball, where wishes and dreams just might come true.