Pottery sculptor Erika Sherwood has no idea her televised wedding in Las Vegas is for real until an official confirms she and the stranger she’s just met are legitimately wed.
A Drift Lord and warrior of the Tsuran, Magnor tricks the redhead into marriage because she’s one of six women prophesied to save Earth. But as he’s forced into her company in their race against the apocalypse, he wonders if he risks his heart more than his life.
Can a free-spirited ceramic artist and a fierce swordsman trust each other enough to prevent disaster?
“Cohen’s third book in her Drift Lords series is an action-packed thrill ride from start to finish. She effortlessly blends fact with Norse mythology and fiction to create a fabulous tale, layered in detail and rich in texture.” — Muddy Rose Reviews
“This book has action, adventure, and romance. If that is not enough, this book will have you at the edge of your seat.” — Drue’s Random Chatter
“A fun combination of action, adventure, sci-fi, mystery, mythology, and romance. I loved this book and cannot get enough Drift Lords.” — 5 Stars! WiLoveBooks
“I really felt connected to these characters. The story is quick-moving and keeps you entertained…definitely will leave you satisfied.” — 5 Stars! The Book Maven
“Warrior Lord is a fast-paced science-fiction tale with suspense and romance. A very-well written book that kept me reading and guessing until the last page.” — Reader Forever
Where else but Las Vegas could a bearded man wearing a cape and sword swagger inside a casino without drawing attention?
Erika Sherwood stared at the man who peered around, a bewildered look on his face until his gaze slammed into hers.
Her heart slowed, as though the world had frozen in that moment. Despite the bells ringing and people chattering and roulette wheels spinning, her awareness narrowed. She couldn’t drag her eyes away from his searing glance.
Her pulse jumped when the man strode purposefully in her direction, his cape flapping behind him. With his powerful physique and resolute jawline, he looked like a superhero come to life. She supposed he’d bought that fabulous costume at a store along the Strip.
He claimed the empty seat beside her, exchanged a few words with the blackjack dealer, and set out a pile of chips. Tension charged the air around him. Her sideways glance absorbed his longish black hair and trim beard and the wide breadth of his shoulders. She pulled her skirt down, aware it had hiked up indecently, but his gaze didn’t go there. Instead, his dark eyes fixated on her wristwatch.
“Miss?” The dealer’s questioning glance fell on her.
“Oh. Hit me, please.” She grimaced at the eight of spades she’d drawn. Drat, now she was over the limit.
“Not having any luck?” The newcomer nodded at her diminishing pile of chips. “Maybe this isn’t your game.”
“Excuse me, mister…?”
“My name is Magnor.” He quirked an eyebrow when the waitress came by with another round of free drinks.
Erika lifted her third Viking Volcano from the tray. Who could resist? The fruity drinks were on the house, a popular ploy to keep gamblers in their casino.
She raised her glass in a friendly gesture before taking a sip. “Is Magnor your first name or your last name?”
“It’s my only name.” His mouth curved as he watched her reaction.
“O-kay.” She wasn’t in the mood to challenge him. Those drinks had already gone to her head, making her happy to accept his remark along with his blatant stare. Probably half the people in Vegas used false names anyway.
“Do you work here?” she asked, realizing his outfit matched the resort’s Nordic theme.
He stiffened. “I should say not. I am a guest, like you.”
“Sorry to have asked, but you fit the part.”
“It is my customary attire as a warrior of the Tsuran.”
“I see,” she said in a noncommittal tone. Maybe he was an actor deep into his role. He could be taking a break from a movie set. Were they filming a sequel to Thor in the area?
“Nice timepiece you’re wearing.” He nodded at the object of his scrutiny.
Erika slid her hand under the table. “It was a gift.”
Her parents had given her the watch for her sixteenth birthday with the caveat that she ask no questions about its unusual properties. It ran with no visible mechanism and no battery and had a peculiar symbol engraved on its face.
Her forehead wrinkled. Why had Magnor chosen to comment on her watch when most men would offer a line about her flaming red hair or her flashy clothes?
Come on, Erika, why do you care what he thinks? You came here for the art show, remember, and not to meet men?
It must be the alcohol causing that low buzzing sound in her ears and not his imposing presence.
“This announcement is for all of our engaged couples out there,” blared a loudspeaker voice. “It’s the last call if you want to enter our exciting contest. The lucky winners will be married on live television, after which they’ll receive a complimentary stay in our honeymoon suite, fifty thousand dollars, and a new car. Entries are being accepted in the Green Room all day Friday until four o’clock.”
“Fifty thousand dollars,” Erika muttered. “Man, could I use that money!”
Magnor nudged her, a grin on his face. “Why don’t we enter the contest together?”
The smile transformed his features, making her want to study the craggy lines and furrows that made his visage so interesting.
“What?” she said when his words finally registered.
“I need a room, and the hotel is full. If we win, that will solve my problem. You can keep the car and the cash.”
“B-But the winners have to get married. On live television.”
He waved a hand. “Oh, that. Las Vegas is all about fantasy, is it not?”
Her eyes widened. “You mean, the wedding will be filmed like a reality show, but it isn’t real?”
He winked at her. “All of the contestants get bonus credits on their club cards. What have we got to lose?”
Erika stared at her diminished pile of chips. She’d lost two hundred dollars in less than an hour.
She scooped the remaining credits into her purse while considering the man’s outrageous suggestion.
In her earlier days, she’d have accepted his proposal without a second thought. Back then nothing had mattered except her plants, her pottery, and her own pleasure.
Eventually, she’d erected an armor of self-discipline around herself so she could accomplish her goals. However, this resolve had evaporated under the influence of the drinks and the man’s piercing gaze. Who wouldn’t want a hunk like him as her fake fiancé?
Her head spinning, she wondered how a few cocktails could affect her so strongly. She’d been better able to hold her liquor in the past. Was there something else in those fruity drinks that made her so amenable?
Ignoring the warning bells in her mind, she scraped back her chair. Her knees wobbled when she stood. Magnor rose and steadied her with a firm grasp on her elbow.
“I accept your offer,” she told him with bravado. “If we lose, at least we’ll be ahead by several credits. And it might be fun.”
“We should seal the deal if we are to play an engaged couple,” Magnor said, closing the distance between them.
His head descended before she could protest, and his lips met hers. The pressure of his mouth electrified her and left her breathless. When he stepped away, she staggered.
He gripped her arm and guided her along. “This way, my lady. I believe the Green Room is just past that shiny black Jaguar on the rotating platform.”
She let him steer her, berating herself for not heading toward the exhibit hall instead.
Then again, she’d already set up her booth for the art show on Saturday, so there wasn’t much else for her to do the rest of today. She deserved a break, especially since this was the only getaway she could afford for the year.
When she’d wandered into the casino earlier, she’d quickly forgotten her purpose. The free drinks and enticing games had tempted her to relax and enjoy the resort amenities. Tomorrow would be time enough to get back to business.
People jostled them as they hurried along. Allowing the caped man to hustle her past the flashing lights and dinging sounds of the slot machines, she breathed in a deep breath of cooled air. Thankfully, this was a non-smoking casino. She hated the places where clouds of smoke pervaded the atmosphere.
Viking-garbed attendants stood at attention at various entrances, most of the men having deformed features like they all went to the same makeup artist. Mythological lore being the theme of the resort, she didn’t find it odd. Instead, tipsy from the cocktails, she gauged their appearance to be appropriately troll-like. Their beady eyes watched her as she moved through the throng.
In the Green Room, an elevated dais held an arched canopy decorated with white tulle and tiny white lights. A pair of contestants sat in chairs on stage while their interview was filmed for broadcast. Wearing a portable microphone, an official questioned them. He had on an emerald robe more suitable to the Wizard of Oz. Why not? In Vegas, all was flash and little was substance. People expected weirdness.
Grabbing her hand, Magnor rushed forward as a clerk behind a corner desk called for final entries.
“Picture IDs and sixty dollars cash, please,” the clerk said as their turn came in line. He had them fill out and sign several forms each. “There, you’re all set if you win. Take this number and wait over there.” His gesture indicated a queue of other hopefuls.
Erika’s stomach turned cartwheels as they advanced. How would she answer those questions the official was asking? How long have you known your fiancé? Where did you two meet? What made you know you were right for each other?
Her frightened glance met Magnor’s laser-beam gaze. He touched her lips with a gentle forefinger.
“Do not worry. Say whatever comes to mind. It’ll be the right thing.”
As she gazed into his mesmerizing eyes, she felt an irresistible compulsion to learn more about him. His slate gray irises glinted under her observation. She glanced away, discomfited by the reaction he aroused in her. They were strangers, and yet something sizzled between them.
Whoever this man was and for whatever reason he showed interest in her, she acted like putty in his hands. Since clay was her medium for sculpting, that said a lot.
It said more than she wanted, truth be told.
She approached the steps to the dais with trepidation after the official, Dennis Slate, called their names. Was it her imagination, or was the crowd of observers thickening around them? More of the hefty attendants moved to strategic locations at the perimeter of the room, their abnormally large ears and long noses making her wonder if they were related.
Her pulse leapt when a pretty blonde grasped her forearm. The buzzing sound in her ears increased to painful decibels.
“Be sure to stop by the Longhouse Restaurant for a complimentary breakfast buffet in the morning,” the lady said in a sugary tone. Her cold blue eyes sent a chill skittering along Erika’s spine.
She withdrew her arm, her skin tingling where the woman had touched her. “Sure, I’ll do that.”
The blonde turned to Magnor at her side and made him the same offer. He snatched his arm away as though he’d been burned. His face flushed, and his mouth tightened. With a slight shove at Erika’s back, he hastened her along, but not before she’d caught the flash of alarm in his eyes.
Sweat popped out on Magnor’s brow. Great Cosmos, that had been close. If he hadn’t kissed the fiery-haired Earth woman, he might have been confounded by now. Once spellbound to the Trolleks, he’d have been forced to join their sleeper army of mind slaves.
Hopefully they didn’t recognize him as one of the Drift Lords. He considered himself a team member even though his status was provisional. And while he lacked the unique genetic trait that his fellow warriors possessed, this difference might be what kept him off the enemy’s radar. At least, Magnor hoped the Trolleks regarded him as another weak human.
Unfortunately, he’d run out of the elixir from his home world that had protected him from the Trollek mind spell, and since he’d been banished from his land, chances of getting any more were nil. Either he had to resort to the painful means used by the other Drift Lords for immunity, or he’d have to taste his lady’s lips on a regular basis. Erika Sherwood had no idea of the power she held or of her role in the ancient prophecy.
Magnor didn’t realize she’d be in the casino when he had stepped inside. His mission was to obtain the sacred Book of Odin. Supposedly, the ancient text mentioned a weapon that could defeat the Trolleks. He’d received a tip that a clue to the text’s location was hidden at the resort.
The beasts roamed everywhere in the casino. Their alluring females passed around free drinks while their disguised troops made sure none of the humans strayed to forbidden areas.
He wondered where their recruitment center was situated. Doubtless this resort had one, like other tourist attractions commandeered by the invaders. He could explore later, once he and Erika had won this game and settled into the newlywed suite.
Her wristwatch had identified her as one of the six Earth women in the prophecy. Instinct must have drawn him to her. Now she’d become a target for the enemy, since his arrival may have activated her dormant power. Once they went upstairs, he could set up a protective perimeter in their room.
It was imperative she marry him for her own safety. Magnor regretted the trick he was playing on her, but she’d understand the necessity for it later. If not, he’d risk her ire.
She could divorce him after the threat to their worlds had been resolved. In the meantime, she’d have to rely on him to keep her safe, at least until she learned her role. Her participation was crucial to the success of his team’s mission.
With an insistent pressure on her spine, he urged her onto the dais where their fate together would be sealed.
“So tell me, Miss Sherwood, how did you meet your fiancé? Oh, and where’s your ring, dear one?”
Dennis Slate, the justice of the peace, peered at her with a kindly expression. He sported a white goatee that matched his sparse hair. The years had etched fine lines onto his tanned visage and around his firm mouth. He had a mole on one upper cheek and wispy eyebrows.
“I-I left my ring in our room safe,” she said in a hesitant tone. “I didn’t know we’d be entering the contest.”
“I see.” His eyes twinkled while the cameraman aimed his portable lens at them. “And your first meet?”
She cast a frantic glance at Magnor, seated reassuringly at her side. He grasped her hand in his large palm and gave her an encouraging smile. For an instant, it looked as though his eyes glowed, but it must have been a reflection of light from the overhead chandelier.
Now where would she meet a hunk like him in real life? A logical answer popped into her mind.
“We met at an art gallery. I have an exhibit in the show starting here tomorrow. I run a pottery studio in my home town.”
Dennis’s brows twitched upward. “How did you get his attention? Was he interested in your work?”
Magnor leaned over to address the man. “Actually, I was there on behalf of my sister. I’m not into art myself, you see. But Sis couldn’t go, so she asked me to, er—”
Erika caught his fumble. “To pick up a brochure on my classes for children,” she finished, offering the camera a beaming smile. “I love working with kids. If we win today, I’ll use my portion of the money to get an education degree so I can teach arts and crafts to special needs children.”
“That’s an admirable goal.” Dennis tilted his head. “But tell us more about you and your fiancé.”
Her pulse raced under his keen glance. “We liked each other on first sight. He asked me out, and we went to dinner at a Mexican place.”
“Very good.” Dennis signaled to an assistant, who handed Magnor a placard and a black marker. “Sir, please write your answers to those questions on the other side of the card. We’ll see how well your fiancé knows your tastes.”
Erika’s gut twisted. Now surely they’d be unmasked as frauds.
When Magnor was done, he handed the card over to the emcee.
“Miss, give us your responses, please. We’ll start with the easy ones. Your fiancé’s favorite ice cream flavor?”
Oh, gosh. Her preference was chocolate, but what would he like? Squinting at his costume, she compared him to Robin Hood, a nobleman turned woodsman out of necessity. Was Magnor’s background similar in any way?
“Strawberry,” she blurted on a whim.
The emerald-robed official beamed at her. “Score one! Next, briefs or boxers?”
Her gaze widened. “Uh, briefs.” She didn’t dare look Magnor in the eye. Heat suffused her cheeks as the erotic image of him in the aforementioned undergarment came to mind.
“Right, again. Where was he born?”
How would she answer that question without any clue as to his origins? Wait, another place where a costumed character might go unnoticed popped into her head.
Dennis’s startled gaze met hers. Clearly he hadn’t expected her to get that right.
“Location of a birthmark?”
Color warmed her skin. “His butt.”
How did she know that? Was he beaming the answers directly into her brain? A tantalizing fantasy distracted her from that thought. Without his voluminous cape, linen shirt, and dark trousers, what would he look like? All rippled muscles and lean, hard body? Man, she’d bet he looked good in the buff.
Dennis didn’t reveal her score. “Thing he most hates about his job?”
She squirmed in her chair, conscious of the hot stage lights aimed at them and the surrounding throng. A cacophony of background noise from the nearby casino competed with the low buzzing in her head. Her upper lip beaded with sweat. She shouldn’t have consumed all those drinks.
“Can you repeat the question?” she asked.
Agreeing to this farce had been a bad idea. They’d never win. And—oh, God—what if someone from home saw her on television? This would totally confirm her family’s opinion that she was too flighty to ever settle down.
Her mind absorbed what Dennis had said. “He dislikes having to depend on others,” she replied with an assertion she didn’t feel. She supposed a man like Magnor would take pride in his accomplishments, although she didn’t have the slightest idea what he did for a living.
A depressing thought crossed her mind. The man could be a boring accountant from New Jersey or a farmer from Nebraska, for all she knew. She’d never suit him in either case. But then, he’d have to be a bodybuilder as well. No one could fake the way his chest stretched the fabric of his clothes, or the way his hand hovered over his sword as though he knew how to use it.
“Let me in!” a portly fellow shouted from the doorway. He barged his way inside past the attendants. “Listen to me! This is all a ruse. You’re in grave danger. Don’t let these monsters take you downstairs!”
As the bouncers approached him, he dodged them and sped toward the dais. A blond woman carrying a tray of drinks stuck out her foot and tripped him. As he toppled over, costumed male employees grabbed him and hauled him away. The gaping crowd parted to allow them passage.
What had that been about? Erika’s thoughts scattered as Dennis grinned into the camera.
“Don’t mind him, folks. He’s merely another zealous fan. Let’s finish this contest. Erika, here’s the next question.”
She stumbled through the rest of her responses, then stood aside with Magnor and the other contestants until the last couples had their turn. The robed official rambled on about the resort into the camera until another woman brought him an envelope with the tally from online viewers.
Erika frowned. She hadn’t noticed before, but all of the female servers were blonde and beautiful. Why was that? To counter the ugly faces of their male co-workers?
Dennis flourished the opened envelope, diverting her attention. “And the winners are, Erika Sherwood and her partner, Mr. Magnor!”
Erika spun around as wild applause sounded in her ears. What? They had won?
Magnor pounded her on the back. “I knew we would do it. Congratulations!” He turned her towards him and planted a triumphant kiss on her lips. The crowd cheered louder.
“Miss, we have to get you ready for the wedding,” Dennis said with an indulgent smile. “Please follow Sylvia to the alcove where we have a stylist ready to dress you.”
A young teen showed up at her elbow. “This way, lady.” When Magnor stepped forward to accompany her, Sylvia held up a hand to stop him. “You’re not allowed to see the bride again until the ceremony. Wait here.”
“What about the rest of our prizes?” Magnor said to Dennis as she strode away.
Erika’s temples throbbed, and her gut churned. She needed food to settle her stomach, although she suspected it was upset more from nerves than from hunger. The nuptials might be a show for the broadcast audience, but the idea made her quake. Or maybe it was the after-effect of those cocktails she’d consumed.
She tottered after the girl, who wore a long blond braid down her back. They went behind a partition, and Erika gasped. A rack of wedding dresses stood by the wall, along with a dressing table stocked with hair implements and cosmetics.
The stylist introduced herself before instructing Erika to select a gown in her size.
“Have a seat,” the woman said after she’d made her selection. “I’ll fix your hair and makeup.”
Once she was prepped, Erika donned the strapless white satiny gown she’d chosen. Her eyes misted as she regarded herself in the mirror. The sleek design complemented her figure, but it wasn’t her appearance that made her teary-eyed.
She’d been a bridesmaid so many times that it seemed as though her own chances of wearing a wedding dress someday were nil. Adam, her latest boyfriend, had validated that belief when he’d left her in the dust. Her ambitions seemed to chase men away, but she wasn’t about to give up her dreams in exchange for a wedding ring.
At least, not until now, but this marriage wasn’t real.
“You look beautiful,” Sylvia said after the stylist settled a short gauzy veil on her head. The teenaged girl drew Erika aside. “Here, take this.” She held out a shiny gold-colored ring. “Put it on your man. Make sure he wears it all the time.”
“Thank you.” Erika took the ring, puzzled to feel its weight in her palm. Was it real gold?
Sylvia gripped her arm. “Tell him this talisman will protect him against the coming darkness.”
The stylist approached, and Sylvia vanished around a corner before Erika could ask her what she’d meant.
“Miss, here’s your bouquet. It’s time to go.” The woman thrust a flower arrangement into Erika’s hands.
As Erika followed the woman, she noted a red carpet had been rolled down the aisle toward the dais. Cameras aimed at her, and a wedding march blasted from the speaker system. She resisted the urge to press a hand to her aching temples. Man, those drinks must have been strong.
Magnor waited for her under the canopy where myriads of tiny lights twinkled. He looked proud and tall, an unreadable expression on his face as he watched her step forward. His cape swung behind him, making him look like an avenging god with his impressive height and sword.
She took her place at his side and together they faced Dennis. The official had exchanged his emerald robe for a somber black garment. He held an open book in his hands. Dennis began the brief ceremony, his words bypassing her brain as she stood rooted in place, immobilized by the rapid pace of events.
“With the power invested in me by the State of Nevada and the city of Las Vegas, I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.”
Erika’s head whirled. Not even fifteen minutes must have gone by. Was this what passed for a Las Vegas wedding?
What a sham. She supposed that every minute they were on the air, it cost money.
Magnor’s head descended, and he pressed his mouth to hers. As far as the TV viewers were concerned, they’d been married. The exchange of rings had felt real. She wondered who’d given him the one he’d slid onto her finger. Dennis, most likely.
The ruddy-faced official shook their hands, gave Magnor the key to the honeymoon suite, and said their car would be available for pickup from the valet. As for the cash, it was theirs for the taking. He handed them a large-sized signed check made out to Mr. and Mrs. Magnor.
“Oh, and one more thing,” Dennis said. “I’ll need your signatures on these documents, please. It’s simply a formality, but we do need permission for the resort to use your likenesses for publicity. These papers also include transfer of title to the car, tax forms and such.”
Erika signed with a shaky hand. In her frazzled state, she couldn’t be bothered to read the details.
Magnor followed suit, then grasped her hand in his and raised it in the air. The watching throng cheered loudly.
“That’s it then, wife.” His low, rumbly voice broke through the haze in her head. “You’re mine now.”