Into the Bargain
Author: Colleen Cowley
Publisher: Slender Sky Books
Release Date: January 31, 2024
Series: Clandestine Magic (prequel/standalone)
Genre: Fantasy romance
“Out of idle curiosity,” the omnimancer’s assistant said, voice light but eyes hard, “how long have you aspired to marry him?”
She could just imagine what he was thinking. Wizard hunter.
Well, she could hardly defend herself against the charge, as she was trying to marry a wizard she didn’t love—didn’t even know. His wizardry and social position were beside the point, as it happened: He was simply the only man who might make a total stranger an offer of marriage before her uncle would arrive to cart her off. But she had no desire to explain all that.
Instead, she replied, “I suppose I began aspiring five minutes before I called to get on the omnimancer’s appointment calendar. Give or take a minute.”
“I doubt I would get so forthright an answer from Porten’s other—ah—applicants.” His smile was decidedly ironical. He had lips tailor-made for such smiles, expressive and full and—
She forced her gaze back to his, pulse racing at the split-second image of those lips on hers. What was happening? What on earth was she doing?
A lady does not turn her mind to carnal matters.
She was a lady. She might have nothing else to show for her life, but she was a lady—slight exceptions to the rules notwithstanding—and she intended to remain that way.
“I am in need of a forthright answer to a question, as it happens,” she said. “May I ask it of you?”
“By all means.”
What is your name?
She set her jaw. She didn’t need to know that, and he was obviously disinclined to tell her. “What are my chances among all the ‘applicants’?”
Those expressive lips twisted into a wince. “Omnimancer Porten has some … fixed opinions about feminine beauty.”
“I’m not pretty enough for him,” she translated, heart sinking. How often had she heard a variation on that refrain? Nose a little too prominent, neck a little too long, skin a little too sallow. “Perhaps with the right bargain—or if you could tell me what he likes and dislikes, so I might alter my conduct accordingly—” She stopped as he shook his head. “There’s nothing I could do, you mean.”
“He wants ‘an ornament’—his words—to show off.”
She squeezed her eyes shut. When she’d grasped at this straw she was trying to turn into gold, this plan of last resort, she’d known the odds were against her. But she’d thought—
Well. This wasn’t a fairy tale where persistence and cleverness won the day, was it?
“You really wouldn’t want to marry him, I promise you,” his assistant said.
“But I must,” she whispered.
She turned and got back to work on the ingredients. He said nothing for a while, and she tried not to dwell on how he now thought of her. With pity, perhaps. Or derision.
Then they ended up on opposite sides of the table at the same moment and he leaned into it, gazing at her with an expression that held no judgment.
It was a look of pure calculation.
“I can help you marry him,” he said. “Strike a bargain with me, and I’ll do it.”
About the Book:
A young lady with no income—and shortly no home—must be in want of a wizard husband.
Pen Novak has two weeks to find someone to marry. Otherwise, she’ll be spirited off to live with her awful uncle. Fortunately, her town’s omnimancer is on the market, and he plans to choose someone at a ball in thirteen days.
Unfortunately, he’s not the type to appreciate cleverness, persistence or anything else Pen has to offer.
Enter the wizard’s intriguing assistant, who makes her a bargain: a magical brew that could virtually guarantee her selection, in exchange for a favor. Which he won’t specify. Nor will he tell her his name.
Of course she shouldn’t accept. Especially as she starts to notice his fine eyes and tempting lips.
But with all the job openings in town meant for men only, what other choice does a young lady—or, rather, a not quite so young lady—really have?
INTO THE BARGAIN is a fairy-tale-inspired fantasy romance set in the Clandestine Magic world, shortly before the events of the trilogy that begins with Subversive. This quick-read novella, a standalone story with an HEA, is perfect for fans of gaslamp fantasy, feminist awakenings and slow-burn romance with some steam.
Author contact links:
@colleencowleyauthor on Instagram and Facebook
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