romance writer
Chapter One of Her Orc Husband

Hi, dear reader!

 

I'm sharing Chapter One of Her Orc Husband with you today! In it, you'll meet our heroine, Violet, and get your first glimpse of Marut through her eyes.

This book was so much fun to write, especially with Violet being afraid of physical touch at the start and Marut being an orc (we all know how much they like to touch their mates). This is a low-angst, high-heat story where our hero and heroine never question their commitment to one another, and I really enjoyed that. 💚

 

Her Orc Husband by Zoe Ashwood

 

Chapter One

 

“My dear, I cannot help you if you insist on being difficult.”

Mrs. Pimms’ voice is calm, but the way her knuckles whiten when she squeezes her hands together on top of her writing desk tells me it’s only her good manners that are keeping her from snapping at me.

“I’m sorry,” I say, fixing my gaze on those soft, pale hands that are only now showing the first signs of aging. Mrs. Pimms has worked for years as a matchmaker to the middle-class residents of Ultrup. She never had to scrub dishes or wash laundry or even lie on her back and spread her legs like I might soon have to do. No, she married well into an established family, gained access to her husband’s coffers, and started a successful business of her own.

And she’s been trying her best to help me do the same. For over a year now, she’s paraded me in front of the most eligible bachelors in Ultrup because she and my beloved late mother used to be friends. I know she would have dropped me as a client much earlier if I’d come to her as an unknown young woman with issues such as mine.

“I know you said this is your only option.” Mrs. Pimms relaxes her hands a little and leans forward, her forehead creased in concern. “But surely your brother would…”

I shake my head to stop whatever idea she has. “No, Huck has made it quite clear that his patience is running thin.” I study a lone candle burn on the otherwise pristine desktop. “And there isn’t anything I can do. My father made sure I was a gently bred young lady.”

I say the last words with more bitterness than is polite. I know all the rules of the gentle society, that echelon of Ultrup’s minor nobility and landed gentry that my father so desperately wished for me and my brother to marry into. Huck had managed to do it, of course. He’d found a third daughter of a wealthy baron, married her, and sired two sons within the first three years of his marriage.

But that didn’t give him a title. No, the real coup would have happened if I’d married a lordling of some sort and gained the title of a lady. Then my sons would be lords.

And I’ve tried. Gods, I’ve tried my very best, but all I’ve done is gain a reputation as a prissy virgin who won’t let a man touch her, let alone bed her. So, after the first four attempts at matching me with second sons and widowers, word had got around those same circles I’d been trying to attain. And Mrs. Pimms told me in no uncertain terms that I could kiss my wishes of marrying well goodbye if I didn’t change my ways.

I swallow thickly, squirming under the older woman’s shrewd gaze. She stares at me for a moment longer, then lets out a sigh and focuses on the sheaf of papers in front of her.

“We’ve exhausted every option, I’m afraid,” she says.

Her voice is not unkind, but there’s a note of finality that sends shivers down my spine.

I reach for the papers, pulling them toward me. “No, that can’t be right. There are—there must be thousands of men in Ultrup. It’s just that they haven’t gotten around to filling in your application yet.”

I know my words are naïve, but I’m out of time and I need to do something about it.

Mrs. Pimms sits back, motioning at me to flip through the forms. “You came to me for a certain kind of match. I can’t help you if you wish to traipse around taverns, searching for some farm hand who might be looking for a wife. Though I will say, there are good men out there who would make fine husbands to you, but they either don’t know about my agency or they cannot afford to pay the fees.”

I clench my fingers around the papers, crumpling them, then force myself to let go. I wish I could take her advice and traipse around taverns. I do. For once in my life, I would like to have the courage to take this step and make my own choices instead of listening to my brother. And I don’t care about my future husband’s pedigree. I only want a man who doesn’t make my skin crawl. One who would treat me well and not…demand things from me.

But the thought of entering a public place, of brushing elbows with all sorts of people, has me breaking out in a nervous sweat. I drop the papers on the desk in front of me, before my damp palms smear the ink, and bring my handkerchief up to dab at my upper lip. The vermilion cotton dress I put on today is one of the lightest I own, but it still feels stifling.

With trembling hands, I pinch the corner of the first page and draw it closer to read. The moment I read the man’s name, however, I push it to the side. I met this son of a wool merchant two months ago, and he left in a huff after only half an hour because I’d refused to let him kiss me on the mouth. My brother had called me too picky that day, saying I could do worse than marry a man only four years my senior who still had all his teeth.

The next form had been filled out by a man old enough to be my father, who’d cheerily told me he didn’t care for heirs and only wanted a soft body to rut into at night. I swallow the bile rising in my throat and shove the page aside. I wouldn’t wish a husband like that on my worst enemy.

“Violet,” Mrs. Pimms says gently, “I have a friend who owns an employment agency. I’m sure she could find you a place with a nice family. As a nurse perhaps. Your, ah, affliction doesn’t affect you when it’s children, does it?”

I look up at her. “No, children are all right.”

“Well, there you go. A position as a nurse or a governess? That would work well for you, I think.” She pulls out a fresh sheet of paper from her desk drawer and uncaps her inkpot. “I will write you a letter of recommendation for her so she knows who you are. She really is one of the best in town.”

“Thank you.” My voice wobbles, so I clear my throat and add, “That’s very generous of you.”

Mrs. Pimms purses her lips. “Yes, well. I like to pride myself on the fact that my success rate is well over ninety percent. The matches I make are well thought out, and the couples report a very high degree of satisfaction after a year of marriage.” She dips a quill into the ink and taps it on the rim of the inkpot with a gentle clink. “I always find it hard to let a client go.”

So that’s it. She’s giving up on me. I’m the single unmarriageable woman in Ultrup, it seems. I think of working as a governess to some noble family’s children, and my breakfast roils in my stomach. It’s not that I don’t want to work or that I dislike children—far from it. I’d taken on the role of a nurse for my brother’s babies the day they’d been born, and I love them dearly. But working for one of the very families I’ve tried to marry into… The gossip would run rampant. And my brother might break all ties with me.

“Do you think…” I slide away another page with another failed suitor’s name. “Does your friend know of any positions outside of Ultrup?”

That would take me far enough away that no one would know me. And I wouldn’t have to worry over meeting Huck or my sister-in-law in the streets, strolling around like a happy family to keep up the appearances that are so damned important to my brother.

Mrs. Pimms pauses, her quill hovering over the paper. “Outside of Ultrup?” She scrunches up her nose as if I’d asked to be placed in a troll household. “Whyever would you want that?”

I shake my head, not wanting to explain. “Never mind. I’m sure she’s got wonderful connections everywhere.”

Mrs. Pimms hums, clearly unconvinced, but focuses on penning a short letter to her friend. As spring rain rattles on the windowpanes of the matchmaker’s office, I put away page after page of suitor applications, most of whom I’ve already met and been rejected by.

“How about this one?” I ask, pushing a form across the desk. “He might—”

But Mrs. Pimms is already shaking her head. “No, he won’t do. He specifically requested a young bride. Eighteen, nineteen at the oldest.”

My cheeks flame at the implication that I’m nowhere near young enough. I check the man’s age on the form and grimace. He’s forty-three. One would think that my twenty-seven years of age would be young enough for him, but apparently not. I move his page aside and squint at the last sheet of paper on the desk.

The form is filled out in black ink, the pen strokes neat and assured. The man’s name, Marut, is unusual, but he is thirty-four years old, cites a very impressive yearly income, and lists no specifics as to what he wants in a wife.

“How about—?”

“No.” Mrs. Pimms reaches across the desk and snatches the paper away from me.

I straighten my shoulders, surprised. “What? Why not? He didn’t put any preferences in.”

“You don’t know what you’re on about,” the matchmaker barks.

I’ve never heard her use that tone with me before, and it’s enough to pique my curiosity. I don’t really believe that the meeting with this man would unfold any differently than all the previous ones, but now I want to know his story.

“But if you could just arrange for us to meet?” I press gently.

She pins me with a stern glare. “He is only in town for one more day. There really isn’t enough time.”

I narrow my eyes. “If the match is good, surely we would know within the first hour. We wouldn’t need a day to decide.”

Mrs. Pimms blots her letter with fast, efficient moves. “He has rejected every one of the young ladies I paraded in front of him.”

That, more than anything, makes me determined to meet him. “Ah, a kindred soul,” I quip. “Perhaps the stars will align—”

“There will be no aligning,” Mrs. Pimms says. “I only took his application because he paid his fee in full up front and won’t be in town long.”

“Why?” I ask, leaning forward. “Is he—is he a bad man?”

At that, Mrs. Pimms hesitates, a stick of red wax clutched in her hand. “No,” she admits finally. “He’s not bad. His people have a good reputation, actually. But really, Violet, you have to trust me. He is not for you.”

“All right.” I can see I won’t get any further with her. “I’m sorry this didn’t work out.”

Mrs. Pimms gives me a fond look, though her blue eyes crease in the corners with something that’s too close to pity for my liking.

“Well, as much as I’d like to claim otherwise, not everyone is made for marriage.” She closes the envelope and presses her seal into the hot red wax. “And maybe you will find that life will be much more satisfying for you once you’ve got a clear task to work on.”

I grit my teeth to prevent myself from snapping out a caustic reply. I am made for marriage. It’s these men that I’ve been meeting who have skewed ideas on the matter. And I have a clear task to work on. I’ve been running the entire household since my mother passed six years ago and didn’t stop doing that even when my brother brought home his new wife. She was a lady, after all, and didn’t concern herself with such mundane things as when the linens should be changed.

I stop my thoughts, knowing that it isn’t Amber’s fault. She was raised in a manor where the housekeeper and maids took care of all of the housework, and her only expectation in life was to be pretty and bear healthy children to her husband. Both of which she’s managed to do at her twenty-five years of age, which is more than I can boast of.

But once I take a paid position in another household, I won’t be able to help her anymore. My heart pangs at the thought of little Jamie and Darren, but for as much time as I spent with them, they were never my babies. In a couple of short years, they will be old enough to be thrust into the hands of the best tutors my brother’s money can buy, and they will no longer need me.

“Thank you,” I say as Mrs. Pimms hands me the envelope with the recommendation letter. “For everything.”

I stick the letter in the pocket of my dress. It seems heavier than it should, as if it carries more weight than that of paper.

“Of course, my dear,” she says. “I wish I could have done more to—”

Boom.

The door of the office rattles, and I jump, swiveling around in my chair to stare at the entryway. A deep voice grumbles something in the hallway beyond, then a gentler knock sounds, followed by a resounding silence.

I glance back at Mrs. Pimms to see what she makes of this. The matchmaker pushes back a lock of hair with trembling fingers, tucking it behind her ear.

“Oh dear.” She stands and brushes down her dove-gray skirts. “Well, our meeting is at an end, Violet, and my next client is a tad early. I’ll walk you out.”

I stand quickly, intrigued by the mysterious newcomer, and pick up my umbrella. “Yes, thank you,” I repeat. “Send the warmest regards to Mr. Pimms.”

The older woman ushers me toward the door. “And you to your brother. Good day.” With that, she pulls open the door.

My gaze falls on a pair of large leather boots, then travels up to leather riding pants of very nice quality. The next thing I notice is an emerald-green embroidered silk vest under a rain-slicked overcoat. But what strikes me the most is the sheer size of the body hidden under these fine clothes.

I look all the way up to where the man’s head is half hidden by the upper doorjamb, and twitch back in surprise.

The man isn’t a man at all but an orc, with green skin, long black hair, and white tusks jutting up from his lower lip.

And he’s staring straight at me.

 

***

 

Order Her Orc Husband today!

If you need to catch up with the series, start with book one, Her Orc King

You can also grab the freebie novella (which has a full happy ending) here: Her Orc Mate

 

Happy reading!

xo, Zoe

Hi! I'm Zoe, and I write cinnamon roll heroes, no matter how loud they growl

 

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