This woman, man. I just can’t get a break.
I keep my distance as we make our way through the sprawling halls of her brother’s palace. She walks ahead of me, her ass swaying in a way that makes me forget the slight ache in my jaw from where she slapped me before we got off the pod.
I never should have kissed her.
Standing at attention along the way are guards under my command. They double tap their fists to their chests as I pass, and I acknowledge them back with a slight nod.
My life has changed so much since I was abducted. I went from wallowing in one prison to wallowing in another, thinking I would die there, to being a general in one of the most powerful peace-keeping armies in the fifteenth quadrant. To say I’ve come up is an understatement. But something’s missing, and that something is Dinar.
I jog up, closing the distance between us, determined to smooth things over, but just as I reach her, the large, ornate doors to her brother, King Sekh’s, court open up ahead and he comes strolling out, his younger brother, Prince Vlaad, behind him.
“Sister, Malcolm, I trust you enjoyed your time at the exhibit?”
I open my mouth to report that all went well, but before I can say anything, Dinar starts to speak.
“It was fine. My designer did not win, although she should have. Malcolm was accosted by a Lyqa and nearly killed, and he kissed me on the pod forcing me to strike him.”
With that, she breezes past him and makes her way to her chambers to the right. I stare after her, my eyes wide, until she is out of sight. I delay looking back to her brothers, but when I do, they both look on me with amused expressions.
“You kissed her?” Sekh’s brows lift in surprise.
“And she struck you, why?” Vlaad’s mouth quirks. “Do you need instruction?”
He snorts a laugh, and I suck my teeth, shoving him in the arm.
“Shut up. The kiss was fine. She just got mad after. I dont know what I’m doing wrong.”
Sekh shakes his head. “You are not wrong. That is the problem. You are right. She likes you, and she does not wish to.”
“Yeah, well, I think I’m going to let it go for a while. Maybe she just needs something else. Someone more like her. What’s going on with the Patashi campaign?”
Sekh’s sigh is heavy as he turns and heads back toward his court. We’ve been assigned as emissaries to the Patashi to help with a slight uprising among their people after the sudden change in one of their oldest laws. The change hasn’t set well with the more rigid among them.
“They are not near civil war, yet, but it is a possibility. So far, they have rejected my attempts at mediation.”
“Purity is important to some people. Trust me, I know. It’s a whole thing back on my planet, some folks trying to ‘preserve’ their race.”
“Well, Patashi are a small people compared to others, and this kind of internal conflict could lead to their eradication. They would not survive it.”
“I can go there today and see if maybe I can sway them. Most folks change their mind when they hear of the state of humans on Earth due to this kind of foolishness. We’re nothing if not a cautionary tale.”
I expect Sekh to jump on the offer. I’ve done well at convincing people to choose something other than war to solve their problems. So when he makes a face and exchanges a glance with his brother, I frown.
“Dinar is coming on the end of her choosing span.”
“Her what?” Annoyance prickles at my gut. Sometimes the formalities of alien culture annoy me, and I have a suspicion this is going to be one of those times.
Sekh shrugs and releases an exasperated sigh. “She is a princess. In our culture, she is given a time to choose her own mate before…”
“Before what?” I dont even realize I’ve tensed and stepped close to him. It’s rude and disrespectful, but I’m too heated to care.
“Before she is given to the one who was chosen by our parents.”
It feels as if my heart sinks. My stomach twists into a knot as I imagine Dinar with this other dude. He’s probably a fucking prince. He probably has horns or some shit.
“Who is it, the one who was chosen for her?”
Sekh exchanges another glance with his brother, and I’m already shaking my head. This is some bullshit.
“Just tell me.”
“He is the son of one of our sector chiefs, a very suitable young Hosa. My parents would not have chosen him otherwise.” His voice trails off at the end as I feel my face go rigid with anger.
“You’re just going to give her away?”
Sekh rolls his eyes and turns away to examine something one of his soldiers holds up on a tablet. “This is not Earth, and things are not done as they are on Earth. Dinar is aware of this arrangement and has agreed to it if she did not find a mate of her own after her choosing span. She is not being forced.”
I blink back, stunned by what I’m hearing. “Dinar is okay with this? She wants to be with this dude?”
Maybe that’s why she rejected me. Maybe that’s why she hit me when I kissed her even though she’s the one who got close enough for me to kiss. Maybe she felt like I was spoiling her for this other guy.
“Are you not considered smart on your planet?”
I swing to Vlaad, my gaze blazing. This isnt the time for playful insults. “Excuse me?”
He sighs. “When we saw that Dinar was not taking to you as we thought she would, we arranged to take you off her detail. After all, you are of better use to us in other areas of our empire. She would not allow it. If I remember correctly, she made quite a bit of noise and did quite a bit of foot stomping about it, which is unlike her. She wants you.”
“Her choosing span is over in two turns. You have until then to win her over,” Sekh cuts in. “My brother and I will deal with the Patashi uprising. You deal with this.”
Sekh waves his hand in the way he does when he’s politely but firmly dismissing me, and I leave because there’s only one thing I can think about, and that’s finding Dinar and making her mine.