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Pretty Bride (Rags to Riches #3)

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As keeper of a sacred oath, Aruk allows nothing to tempt him away from his duty. Not gold, not women, not power. So when the barbarian warrior is marooned in the middle of the ocean, his only thought is of escaping the island paradise and continuing his quest.

Until a pretty princess washes up onto the beach. Spoiled and disobedient, Jalisa should have been easy to resist. But when Aruk discovers the secrets concealed by her beautiful smile, he’ll have to decide between his duty and his heart

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Rags to Riches Series by Alexa Riley

A Dead Lands Fantasy Romance

As keeper of a sacred oath, Aruk allows nothing to tempt him away from his duty. Not gold, not women, not power. So when the barbarian warrior is marooned in the middle of the ocean, his only thought is of escaping the island paradise and continuing his quest.

Until a pretty princess washes up onto the beach. Spoiled and disobedient, Jalisa should have been easy to resist. But when Aruk discovers the secrets concealed by her beautiful smile, he’ll have to decide between his duty and his heart…

1

Aruk the Lost

Here we are again, in the midst of five tales about pretty women—some in rags, some with riches—who are called virgin, human, daring, and prize.

Now comes the pretty bride.

The time is anotherwhen, a date unknown but only two nights before a fateful storm; the place is anotherwhere, a world unnamed but on the southern shore of the Illwind Sea. And this story begins, as many stories do, with a desperate princess wearing a smile that she doesn’t feel, and a barbarian warrior too preoccupied by his long, hard sword to perceive what she conceals.

Only magic can pierce a guarded woman’s skilled illusion, and our barbarian warrior is no sorcerer. Fear not, however, that this tale will end unhappily. Our hero has a skull as thick as his sword, but his heart burns bright and true.

And although love sometimes makes us bleed…it is powerful magic, too.

* * *

Savadon

“I see Mara ahead.” Sheer relief filled Strax’s voice. “She is making her way past that fishmonger’s stall.”

Trying to make her way. Aruk saw her now, a slim figure with dark hair. Crowds packed these streets so tightly, she was forced to wedge herself between the people standing in her way. A small woman she was, so it ought have been easy for her to slip through, but the saddle she carried and the pack slung over her shoulder prevented easy passage.

No such trouble did Aruk and his brother have. They stood head and shoulders above everyone around them, muscles hardened by years of hiring out their swords. People made room for the brothers, even when there was no room to make.

“Call out to her,” Strax said.

“Has your voice broken?”

“If I do, she will not wait for us.”

That was truth. If Strax called her name, Mara might push harder through the crowd to get away from him. He’d made a quick enemy of her three weeks past, at the start of the tournament to retrieve Khides’ gauntlet, by telling her that she wouldn’t last a week on the difficult route—especially as her competition were all experienced warriors, and she an unskilled noblewoman.

Aruk had thought the same, yet he’d had the brains not to say it.

And in the past weeks, Mara had proved herself far more capable than either brother had expected. But if ever Aruk looked at a woman in the same yearning and hopeless way his brother looked at Mara of Aremond, he prayed some kind soul would take pity on him and run his heart through with a sword.

A fine woman Mara was. Yet never could his brother have her—as Strax knew well. Mara believed Strax and Aruk were contestants in this tournament, as she was. In truth, they were bound by a blood obligation to prevent anyone from claiming the prize. In the end, all the obstacles she faced and all the sacrifices she made would be for nothing. For certain, she would hate them then.

Or she would hate Aruk then. Strax, she already did.

But from the moment Strax had clapped eyes on her, his heart had been ensnared. And there were but two ways for Aruk to watch Strax’s helpless tumble into love—with his heart sore and aching for his brother, or with amusement and laughter as Strax twisted himself into knots.

Aruk always chose amusement. “For what purpose should we tell her to wait? We know where she goes.”

To the docks, as they did. The tournament map clearly marked the route from Aremond, where the contest had begun, to Khides’ Keep, which would take at least six months of hard travel to reach. They were in Savadon now, a kingdom that served as the only port along the southern coast of the Illwind Sea. From here they would sail to the northern coast.

Frustration marked Strax’s voice as Mara slipped out of sight, swallowed up again by the crowd. “She might find passage on a different ship.”

And Strax would not see her again until they landed on the northern shore. Weeks of agony his brother might suffer. So Aruk would amuse himself a little longer.

“She likely will, anyway. A noblewoman such as she will hire a ship we cannot afford.” And had probably not needed to sell her horse, as they had. She could have afforded passage for it, as well. But finding a ship that could also board a horse might take more time, and it was easy enough to buy another mount on the north shore.