The winner of the free download is commenter #21 — Linda!
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I haven’t had space in my calendar for a while to do a “flashback” day, but a guest dropped at the last-minute. This story was originally part of the Fated Mates anthology that Ellora’s Cave published back in 2005. In 2010, the story was finally separated and offered as its own novella with this lovely cover. It’s a very traditional trope—an arranged marriage between kingdoms, a sister substituted at the last-minute. What made it fun for me, was imagining this all taking place on another magical world. The perfect blend of history, sci-fi, and fantasy.
“…In Delilah Devlin’s WARLORD’S DESTINY, a strong man is brought to his knees by an equally strong woman. Interesting, attractive personalities make this read especially powerful.” ~ Nominee for Best Paranormal Erotic Novel of 2005, TOP PICK! 4 1/2 Stars, Page Traynor, RT BOOKreviews
“Watching these two grow is both amusing and touching… I found Warlord’s Destiny to be a very well-written novel, and ultimately a very entertaining story to read.” ~ Book Review Network
Promised in marriage for a decade, Mora has no illusions she is anything other than the sacrificial lamb to ensure peace between her peace-loving planet and the warlike world that demands her union with one of their own. No great beauty, she resigns herself to a loveless marriage with a man who will only do his duty by her. However, when she meets the rugged warlord who will be her husband, Mora feels an immediate stirring of lust. She decides in that moment to win his heart—she’ll settle for nothing less!
Lord Tetrik finds his bride more than the scrawny handful he had expected. She has hips to breed him strong, sturdy sons, and intelligence that is a gift worth more than a pretty face. When he suspects his wife harbors tender feelings for him, he wonders if he can be the husband she desires. After all, love for a woman is a frivolous thing—and not a Warlord’s Destiny.
So, that’s what Kronaki warriors look like!
Every story ever whispered about the fearsome warriors came rushing back to set Mora’s body trembling. How they fought like ravaging beasts, cutting bloody swaths through Graktilian mercenaries during the war. How they lived in rough stone fortresses made of blocks carved from their frozen mountains. How they fostered their children to rival clans so they would be raised without gentleness.
How they fucked with such fury their women’s screams echoed throughout their valleys.
Mora felt a tremor rumble beneath the polished, marble floor of the great hall, so explosive was the swell of conversation that arose at the warriors’ arrival.
They were seven, dressed in furs and leather, armed with bows slung across their shoulders and scabbards at their sides.
She couldn’t drag her gaze from the man at the head of their formation, striding toward her—her husband in name, if not yet by deed. Although she had never seen him before this day, she knew it must be him, for he looked the fiercest, the strongest—only one such as he would be chosen to rule from amongst their ranks.
He was from a race of barbarians, seemingly as proud of their reputation for brutal warfare as their orgiastic sexuality. The latter Mora could well believe for the man stalking her now looked every inch a sensual marauder.
A shiver of awe bit the base of her spine and trembled upward until the fine hairs on the back of her neck stood erect.
Taller by a head than any Mellusian, his broad shoulders nearly blocked out the sight of the two heralds dogging his steps as they attempted to halt him. He seemed not the slightest bit interested in following protocol by waiting for his name to be addressed to the assemblage. As if anyone attending the ceremony hadn’t already guessed who he was!
He’d also eschewed the fine wedding tunic Mora’s mother had personally designed—an embroidered silk affair that would have stretched absurdly across his bulging chest and arms.
No, he wore a vest of gray animal pelts that parted at the front, no doubt to tempt a woman’s gaze to ogle his obscenely muscled chest and follow the dark arrow of hair down his hewn abdomen. The black sueded leather that encased his legs strained over thickly corded thighs and the alarming swell of his manhood.
Mora’s heart tripped and then fluttered like the wings of an aradil.
Her mouth dry, she forced her gaze upward to look at his face but found no comfort there.
Lord Tetrik of Kronak—his name was as harsh as the angles of his square jaw and the sharp blade of his nose. His hair was dark like a moonless sky and worn like the old warriors in the paintings in History Hall—hanging past his shoulders with small braids on either side of his inflexible face. But his eyes frightened her most of all—chips of blue ice froze her in place as his gaze found hers across the noisy hall.
He would have to know she was his bride. She wore her wealth and importance in the weighty jewels studding her hair and gown and encircling her neck. She saw fury in that first glance. Had he already guessed he’d been cheated of the true prize? That her rich adornment was a ruse?
Her mother moaned behind her. “His ambassador said he was too busy to attend such an insignificant event. You should have worn the pink gown!” her mother hissed.
“It was covered in dirt, mother,” Mora whispered, keeping her gaze pinned on the man walking straight toward her. “It’s too late now, anyway. The ceremony is over.”
“He may still repudiate you. Oh, what were you thinking, digging in the garden on your wedding day?”
“I wanted a tuber rose to take with me to my new home.”
“As if a rose will grow in their rocky soil,” her mother said, her voice becoming thin and breathy the closer the warrior drew.
Mora hoped her mother didn’t choose this moment to faint. She suspected the Kronaki leader would scorn a woman frightened by the mere sight of him.
“That green makes your cheeks sallow,” her mother lamented, working herself into a high state of agitation. “You look as though you’re attending your own funeral.”
Mora couldn’t resist delivering a little dig. “Am I not? What do you think he’ll do once he finds himself wed to the wrong sister?”
“You should have worn the pink! It would have shown you to advantage.” She sounded on the verge of tears.
Her mother’s diatribe wore on Mora’s nerves. “Mother, it doesn’t matter if I wear the pink or the green, I’m no beauty. He will know. And by the look of that scowl he wears, he already does.”
“May the Goddess save us!”
“Hush, Hespha!” Her father finally intervened. “You frighten our daughter.”
Only that wasn’t quite true. Her mother’s words had the opposite effect, reminding Mora that by rights, her older sister should have been the one sacrificed to honor The Promise. But her sister had been deemed too delicate and hidden away when the day came to repay the decade-old debt owed the Kronaki. “She’d never survive the rigors of life on that harsh planet,” her father had said.
Her mother had been only too eager to agree to the substitution. Her delicate, slender little flower wouldn’t be surrendered to the barbarian. Instead, Mora stood in her place. She was anything but delicate—a fact that had pained and embarrassed her parents to no end all her life.
A flush of anger heated Mora’s cheeks. Try as she might, she couldn’t suppress the primitive emotion. Her parents thought so little of her they were willing to marry her to a beast. A black-haired beast that grew more enormous and intimidating as he approached the dais upon which most of the members of the Mellusian royal family stood.
Mora straightened her shoulders. Jewels and a fine gown would not deceive the man. She was dull quartz against the bright, blonde diamonds glittering inside the hall.
He stopped in front of the dais. The room fell silent while all in the assemblage strained to hear what he might say. His cold gaze raked her from head to toe. Even standing on the raised platform, she had to tilt her head to meet his glance.
Panic had her body tightening. Mora raised her chin another notch, unwilling to let him see her fear.
He lifted one dark brow, and his gaze swept her face, lingering over her lips. “What is your name?”
He knew! “Mora. I am Mora,” she said, surprised the words escaped her tight throat. Would he reject her? Strangely, she wasn’t certain she’d feel relief if he deemed her unfit. Humiliation at his hands would be the harder emotion to swallow.
His gaze cut to her father, and he nodded once. “It is done,” he said, his deep voice terse. Then he turned and offered her his hand.
As Mora realized his curt statement meant he would accept her as his bride, emotion pricked her eyes. He would have her. Although she wasn’t the beauty he’d been promised, he accepted her as wife. She blinked and drew in a deep breath. She’d not shame herself by giving way to tears. Although she might be the least favored daughter, she was wed now—and to the fiercest warrior of the covenant worlds. She placed her hand inside his and stepped down beside him.
Immediately, she felt swamped by his tall, broad body, a sensation foreign to her, living all her life among the slender elegance of her people. She lifted her startled gaze.
“You’re short.” A frown drew his dark brows together in a daunting scowl.
Mora drew back. “I am tall for a Mellusian woman.”
He snorted and glanced down her body again. “We leave now,” he said, letting go of her hand.
“But we’ve prepared a banquet,” her mother’s voice quavered behind her.
“We’re leaving now,” he said again as though grinding his teeth, his ice-cold gaze never leaving Mora.
She sensed a question in his statement and nodded her assent. Best not to annoy him so soon in their marriage. That would doubtless come later.
He raised his arm, and she placed her hand atop his forearm. His skin was warm, the hairs dusting his arm crisp—the muscle beneath felt hard as stone.
“But her trousseau!” her mother cried. “Her things must be packed.”
“I will see to her clothing.” To Mora, he asked, “Is there anything else you would bring with you?”
She thought of the small bundle containing her personal treasures and the bundled roots of her tuber rose. “There’s a package on my bed.”
He turned then to her mother. “Fetch it. Bring it to the mage’s chamber.”
Her mother was so startled, she didn’t question his authority to command her. She swept up the train of her gown and rushed from the hall.
Lord Tetrik strode out of the room, past the glittering assemblage without so much as a sideways glance.
Mora found herself enclosed at the center of the formation of tall warriors and lengthened her stride to keep apace. So tall were they, she was denied her last glimpse of her home, only catching a glimmer of gold leaf from the panels in the ceiling. Too soon, she was descending the steps to the mage’s chamber in the dark, ancient dungeon beneath the golden keep.
As they stepped inside, the shadowy cavern seemed, for once, cramped. Her escorts fanned out around the perimeter of the room, their legs braced as if for battle.
Gwimmel, the castle’s mage, turned from the cooking pot suspended above a crude wood hearth. His gaze darted to Mora’s, and he raised his bushy, white brows. “That was rather quick. I had thought there would be celebrations above.”
“Lord Tetrik desired to depart immediately,” she murmured to her one true friend, aware of her husband’s scrutiny. “And since the ceremony took place before his arrival…”
“Ahhh…” Gwimmel nodded. He straightened as far as his hunched back would permit. “Lord Tetrik, it will only take a moment to reopen the passage.”
Mora glanced to her husband, whose scowl grew darker by the moment. If Gwimmel doesn’t hurry, he’ll change his mind! Disaster has not yet been averted.
Suddenly, her mother rushed into the room, halting to catch her breath as she spied the warriors. She stepped timidly into their midst and thrust the bundle into Mora’s arms and hugged her. “Despite how it may seem,” she whispered into her ear, “I wish you well, daughter.” She squeezed her and stood back. Then she smoothed a hand over her perfectly coiffed hair before turning to her new son-in-law. “We have your promise you will return her if she so desires?”
“I keep my bargains,” he said, the words spoken so slowly his true meaning could not be misinterpreted. He had kept his bargain—the Mellusians had not! “She may return after spring comes to the mountains if she so desires—and if she does not carry my child.”
Although her mother strove for a regal nod, her hands pressed her stomach, betraying her unease. “Well, I wish you good journey.” Her liquid gaze met Mora’s one last time before she turned and departed the chamber.
Mora let out the breath she’d been holding and tried not to shiver at the chill encasing her heart at her husband’s words. If she does not carry my child… With a husband so virile, how would she not?
“Mage!” Lord Tetrik spat the word, impatience apparent in his tone.
“Oh, yes, yes. Just a moment.” Gwimmel bent and lifted a stone from a basket of magical stones beside the hearth.
He opened his palm and a rough-cut yellow diamond caught the flickering light from the hearth, bending and fracturing it until rays spread in a fiery prism—yellows, reds and oranges bursting like a tiny sun. Then he closed his eyes and murmured an incantation that sounded more like the gurgling of a river than any spoken tongue. The slivers of fiery light curved into a shimmering circle, becoming liquid, the radiance dimming at the center.
“Come, it is time,” her husband said, gripping her elbow. He led her to the circle and ducked inside, pulling her along.