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Cursed Yuletide
Author: Eve Langlais

 


INTRODUCTION

 

 

It will take a Yuletide miracle—and love—to break a witch’s curse.

Anders left the woman he loved to join the king’s army. On the way, a vicious storm forced him to seek shelter with a witch.

Don’t strike any bargains. He was familiar with the stories. Thought he knew how to keep himself safe—how wrong he was. A curse left him howling at cruel fate.

Alva promised to wait for Anders. He’d asked her to be his wife, but before they could marry, he was determined to prove his worth. Years passed with no visit. No word. Hope faded, and realization set in. Anders was not coming back, but could she move on?

Guntar would like her to—with him. He’d been courting her since his return, but she was leery of giving her heart. A decision made more complicated when she is forced to deal with the witch of Briar Forest—and possibly ruining her chance for a happily ever after.

 

More books and info at EveLanglais.com

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

Once upon a time, two young men went into the woods on their way to join the army. Their small town had no use for two more boys. The current needs of the town were met. They had a miller, a baker, even a candlestick maker. And so many woodsmen, the forest was suffering; the animals sparse from over hunting.

On the cusp of manhood, Guntar and Anders knew that in order to make their mark, they had to leave home.

Anders especially needed it. Life at home hadn’t been great of late, his mother grumbling even more than usual.

“Look what I brought for the trip.” Guntar withdrew a flagon from his cloak and shook it with a grin.

Not much of a surprise. Guntar often brought along something belly-burning. “When your father realizes you took it…” A warning left unfinished.

“Usually, he’d curse me out then buy another. But this time, my friend,”—Guntar lifted the alcohol—“he gave it to me.”

“Gave?” Anders arched a brow.

Guntar’s father, whom everyone called Captain, was strict with his son. “You have to earn it,” was something often barked.

“A reward because the captain,”—whose children didn’t dare use any other title—“got what he wanted. We are going to be good soldiers for the king.”

“Which one?” Anders muttered. In the past twenty years, they’d gone through three and an evil queen.

“It’s the one with the daughter.”

That caused Anders’ eyes to roll. “Don’t they all have a princess?”

“Yes, they do. Can’t wait to meet one,” Guntar said with a wink as he passed the flagon of alcohol to Anders.

“Never happen.” Princesses were for wedding princes and kings, or as prizes for a valiant hero to vanquish some kind of threat. Dragon being the most common. Anders didn’t need to slay any monsters to have the woman he loved.

“You have so little faith.”

Anders eyed his friend, whom the girls all claimed was handsome. He didn’t see it. Neither did his heartmate. “I wish you luck finding a princess. I don’t plan to be in the army that long.” A year. Two at the most. Long enough to build a bit of a nest egg. Something he could point to and say: “I earned this.”

“You and your plan,” Guntar groaned. “Drink!”

A swig had Anders holding his breath. He’d accidentally choked on a drop once. Thought he was going to die, he’d coughed and heaved for so long. Didn’t stop him from having the next sip, though. He couldn’t resist the fiery, mouth-twisting ball of heat that spread rapidly.

“Good stuff,” he said, handing back the flagon.

“Only the best for my father,” Guntar drawled. He and his sire had not always seen eye to eye. The commanding man didn’t believe in coddling a son. Men should be strong. Never show or act out of emotion.

Guntar’s idea of rebellion was constant pranks and laughter. His father hated it. And yet, Guntar kept doing it.

“Don’t complain. Even if he’s a dick, you’re lucky to have a father.” Anders had lost his some time ago. So long, he no longer remembered his face. But his mother still cried because he looked like him, and that hurt her.

Another reason to leave home. Anders couldn’t listen to the recrimination. It was his fault that she couldn’t remarry or just pick up and go.

“Yeah, I’m lucky. Especially compared to you. How ugly did it get when you left? How did your mother handle it?”

“Not that bad.” When he’d claimed he was leaving, his mother initially reacted with joy.

“Get, you. About time you left.”

Then it’d turned to anger.

“That’s right, leave me to fend for myself after ruining my life.”

And, to end it like it always did: tears.

“I’m sorry. I love you. Don’t leave me.”

Anders had been eager to walk away, and the guilt of it ate at him, even as relief soothed.

“Your mother really needs to remarry. Surprising she got no offers,” his friend remarked. “She’s a fine woman.”

She was. Pretty of features and figure. He knew she got offers. But she never accepted any of them. Could she actually still mourn her late husband? Hard to tell, given he was either a saint or evil incarnate, depending on her mood.

“My mother is complicated.” And, hopefully, better off without him making her upset just by existing.

“Speaking of complicated, how did Alva take the news about you leaving?” Guntar asked.

Alva.

The baker’s daughter. They’d known each other since childhood, became lovers in their teens, and always knew they’d get married when they became of age. This past summer for Anders, but Alva wouldn’t be old enough until the spring. Not that far away given they were close to the Yuletide.

“She took it well for the most part. She knows I have to do this.” He wouldn’t marry her empty-handed.

A glance at his feet reminded Anders of why he had to leave temporarily. The shoes he wore bore stitches and patches over more patches, a rag-tag mess, and no match for the weather. How he envied his friend his fine boots. As a soldier, Guntar’s father provided well for his family. He also spent months away from home. But no matter where he traveled, his military pay arrived without fail to support those in his care. When the captain returned home, he received a hero’s welcome. It seemed like a good exchange.

And it wasn’t forever. Just long enough that he could look Alva’s father in the eye and say, “I am worthy of your daughter.”

Alva didn’t like Anders’ plan to enlist, but she clasped his hands tight and said, “I know you’ll come back to me.”

“Always.” And then, since the moment was right, he’d dropped to a knee.

Anders told Guntar, who was taking a swig, “On my first leave home, she and I will marry.”

“Whoa.” Guntar spat out the alcohol and choked. When he could breathe again, it was to wheeze. “You idiot. Why would you marry her so quick?”

“Because I love her.” Anders held out his hand, and it was his turn to drink the liquid fire.

“Exactly the problem. You love her, and now that she’s said yes, you’re going to try and be faithful because you’re that kind of guy.” Guntar shook his head.

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