Drawing the short straw is bad luck ... isn’t it?
A treaty between three warring realms calls for a mass wedding ceremony amongst their eligible princes and princesses to solidify the peace. But since the number of males and females differ, one of the marriages must be between two of the princes.
Prince Obren of Canna draws the short straw, sealing his fate, and Prince Dukan of Butari volunteers to be the other half of the nontraditional marriage. The two princes fought nobly in the years-long war and are willing to do whatever it takes to finalize the treaty, ending the conflict that took the lives of their loved ones ... Obren’s brother and Dukan’s lover.
Each harbors a dark secret, and King Rogan of Canna has long nurtured a deep hatred of Obren, blaming him for bringing home the deadly virus responsible for the untimely death of his much-adored wife. Obren and Dukan can’t deny their chemistry, but can they overcome the ugly truths complicating their path to a friendly, respectful, and -- dare they hope -- loving relationship? Will King Rogan stop at nothing to dash Obren’s chance at happiness, or does that short straw represent good luck, after all?
Obren stayed low and still while Dukan went through the same motions several more times. Selecting a stone, staring at the clouds, then skipping the stone with the same fluid motions until he intuitively understood Dukan’s timing.
While Dukan stared at the clouds, Obren stood, quietly pulled his slingshot from his waistband, placed his stone, and twirled the long strings with the stone-filled soft-leather pouch between them around and around as a flock of geese flew overhead, honking loudly, masking the soft whistle the whirling motion created in the air.
He was ready when Dukan reared to throw his stone, and at precisely the right moment, he released the string that wasn’t looped around his middle finger to send his stone to meet Dukan’s over the water.
The stones collided with a resounding clatter. Dukan’s reaction was immediate, turning, fully alert, with his hand at the ready on the hilt of his sword.
His eyes widened and his upper body reared back when their gazes locked. They stood silently as Obren carefully tucked his slingshot into his waistband. It seemed an eternity passed before Dukan broke the tension-filled silence.
Of course, Dukan wasn’t questioning who he was. They were close enough for that to be obvious. That one word represented a different question. Although the answer to that, too, was evident assuming there wasn’t another covert slingshot ace out there with Obren’s level of expertise.
“I’m sorry.” Obren managed to warble those two short words. He cleared his throat. “I thought it best to be honest with you.”
Dukan didn’t reply. He stood staring, slowly bobbing his head ever so slightly. His hand dropped from where he’d been holding it on the hilt of his sword, but he remained silent. It was difficult to parse the expression in his eyes at their distance, but he appeared thoughtful.
Obren continued. “Lale ... he’s good, but he isn’t nearly the swordsman Pejo was. Maybe he eventually will be, but ... he wasn’t yet. He --” Obren choked, replaying the scene in his mind. His blood running cold, fearing for his brother’s life. “He was no match for him.”
No match for Lord Vidan Faddy. Dukan would know who he was talking about, but Obren found it difficult to say the name aloud.
A tear streaked down Obren’s cheek, and his voice shook as he continued his plea. “Lale was about to be run through. I couldn’t ... couldn’t ... just stand there and do nothing.” Obren’s voice gained strength. “Couldn’t just stand there and watch my remaining brother be killed!”
A rattling sob escaped Obren, and he took a moment to listen to a songbird trill in a nearby tree. He softly continued, and hoped his eyes expressed his anguish and the plea for forgiveness that he felt from the top of his head, through every bone, to the tips of his toes. “I will forever be deeply sorry for your loss and the pain it causes you, but I can’t be sorry for saving my brother’s life.”
They stood silently again for several minutes. Staring, listening to the songbirds gaily peeping in the trees, oblivious to the turmoil simmering nearby.