Teaser Time!

Baldr the Beautiful is dead.

Desperate to get back to his privileged role as Óðinn’s favorite son, Baldr strikes a bargain with Hel, the terrifying half living and half skeletal queen of the realm of the dead. He offers her the only thing he’s got: knowledge from the living world. Hel gives him three days. If he can teach her something new, she will return him to the realms of the living.

But the icy Hel seems completely impervious to Baldr’s charms. What’s worse, she already knows everything. By the end of the third day, Baldr realizes he’s only got one chance left to impress her.

Returning to his former life depends on Baldr the Beautiful seducing the most formidable woman in the Nine Realms.

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“The thing about sailing,” I said, raising my voice over the hiss of water against the hull of our little skiff, “is to know how the wind works.”

I glanced at Hel. She crouched in the bow, wearing a heavy, dark dress despite the midday heat rippling across the water. She looked uncomfortable, and quite unimpressed.

I carried on anyway. It was our third day together, and I was feeling lucky.

“If the wind comes from the side of the boat, like it is now, it’s called—”

“Reaching,” Hel said. “And the wind appears to be coming at a right angle to our boat, making this is a beam reach. Correct?”

I muttered something very impolite under my breath. Hel’s eyes sparkled in the sunlight.

“You’re enjoying this far too much,” I said.

The exposed tendons in her neck flexed in the sunlight as Hel turned away from me, showing me the bones on her left side. I was starting to think she turned like that when I actually succeeded in making her smile.

“Well, let’s see if I can surprise you, then,” I said.

“I doubt it,” Hel replied.

I tried not to grin as I leaned on the tiller, turning the little skiff until we were running in the same direction as the wind. It was quieter this direction, with just the purr of the water under our hull. I reached for the mainsheet and let it out, extending the blinding white sail as far as it could go. The waves sliced open before us, sending rainbows of spray across the bow and over our faces.

Damn, what a fantastic day for a sail.

“Oh, yeah!” I shouted. “And now what are we doing, Queen Hel?”

Hel leaned across the bow, her skeletal fingers almost touching the wavetops. She turned to me with a raised eyebrow on her living face, and what looked like a barely suppressed smile on her lips.

“Running,” she shouted. “Going downwind is called running.”

I smiled at her. Hel was almost standing now, reaching across the bow to the little rainbows flying from the waves. She was off balance. And right behind her was the sort of freakishly large wave I’d been looking for.

“Right,” I yelled. “And what about this?”

I shoved the tiller hard, spinning the little boat. We slammed broadside into the big wave. Hel screamed as cold water knocked her off her feet and into my chest. I grabbed her waist instinctively, pulling the tiller back to face the skiff upwind and make sure we wouldn’t capsize.

Hel jumped away from me. The boat rocked with her sudden movement. “Oh, you jerk!” she screamed.

I wiped saltwater from my eyes with a grin. “You know what that’s called?”

“Being a complete jackass,” she said, pushing her wet hair from her eyes.

“I was going to say, ‘surprising you.’”

“Well, that was a horrible surprise.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh, don’t tell me. You know more about surprising someone too?”

Hel smiled, her eyes dancing. The wave had soaked her heavy dress, making it hug her living side. Her nipple was hard, outlined by the wet fabric. She had a nice breast, I realized. A very nice breast.

Two hands hit me square in the chest. I flew backward out of the boat and crashed into the ocean. The water was cold enough to make me forget all about Hel’s perfect breast. I surfaced to the sound of her laughter ringing across the waves.

“Oh, Baldr, I’m sorry, but you should have seen your face!”

“Well, clearly you know more about being a complete jackass than me,” I called, swimming back to the boat.

Hel’s skeletal hand shot over the side of the boat to splash me. I dunked under the waves, then spat an arc of water toward her. It fell well short of the boat, and she laughed even harder.

There it was again. Her cheek flushed with color, her eyes sparkled, and she actually looked pretty. No, more than just pretty. Despite the bones of her left side, or perhaps because of the contrast, Hel’s living side was suddenly gorgeous.

She reached for me as I approached the boat. “Come on. I’ll help you.”

I took a mouthful of ocean water before I accepted her living hand. She grabbed my wrist and leaned back, helping me scramble into the hull. Once I had the tiller, she pulled away and sat down, smoothing her wet dress across her lap.

“So, Baldr the Beautiful, what’s next?” she asked.

I sprayed my mouthful of seawater over her head. She shrieked, pulling up her skirt to cover her face and exposing a considerable amount of leg. Her left thigh was bone and tendons, but it was the creamy, pale skin of her right side that drew me in.

As I tried not to stare, it occurred to me I might actually miss Queen Hel when I returned to Asgard.

*

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