Princes Marcelo and Efren (from The Contingency Plan and The Best-Laid Plans) are among my favorite characters, so I suppose it’s no surprise that their story is the one I came back to first when my muse reappeared. I promised you this opening scene the other day on Facebook, so here it is.
(Note, it hasn’t been seen by beta readers, let alone an editor yet, so please squint and forgive as needed. Also, I’m bound to further tweak it on my own, but the gist of the scene should remain as is.)
Change of Plans
By Addison Albright
Chapter 1: Forget-Me-Not
Efren, the crown prince of Zioneven, blinked himself fully awake and studied the soft curls of beautiful strawberry blond hair haloing the head of the young man slumbering in his arms. Seemed like Efren should have a headache if he’d drunk enough spirits to forget bringing this one home to his bed.
But his head was clear, so his personal servant, Dru, must have snuck the man in after Efren had fallen asleep. Odd that he hadn’t woken up, but his subconscious must have known he was safe.
Heat swirled through Efren’s bloodstream as his gaze traveled the length of that lithe body. A lovely surprise to wake up to. He would have to give Dru a bonus.
“Wake up, my lovely.” Efren gently shook the man’s shoulder and landed a light kiss to his forehead.
The man’s eyes didn’t open, but the movement of his lids gave the impression of blinking without actually taking a peek, and his body stiffened. Waking up in a stranger’s bed, he was probably scouring his memory, processing where he was and how he’d come to be here.
Efren ran a finger along the man’s jaw then tipped up his chin for a proper, although still light, kiss. “Come, my lovely. Let’s make the most of this glorious morning, hmm?” He pressed his arousal against the man’s own to augment his words.
Stunning blue eyes that would beautifully reflect the Zioneven summer sky snapped open and stared in horror as if he were shackled in a Proye dungeon with Efren approaching, wielding instruments of torture.
Efren smiled reassuringly. Perhaps the young man had drunk more spirits than he was used to when he’d allowed Dru to coax him to Efren’s bed and couldn’t remember how he’d gotten here.
“You are in friendly hands, my lovely. You are free to stay or go, whichever you’d rather.” Efren held his breath and cut off his desire to plead for the man to stay.
With wide, stricken eyes, the man pushed away and scrambled out of bed. Efren huffed a heavy sigh and ran a hand over his face. He hefted himself to a sitting position as the young man stumbled to where two sets of clothing lay folded across the backs of chairs.
The man sifted through the garments as his breaths grew louder and quicker. His head swiveled as he searched Efren’s bedchamber. “Where is my clothing?” His voice wafted out from between quivering lips in a breathy whimper.
More beauty than brains, perhaps? “My lovely, I’m sure they must be the smaller of those two sets.” Efren’s tone was more sardonic than he would have liked, but it was too early in the morning to deal with this level of rejection before his first cup of tea.
The man shook his head. “Not mine.”
But he picked them up anyway and quickly but jerkily stepped into the smaller set of leather leggings before slipping the tunic over his head. His brows came together as he peered down at himself as if perplexed by the perfect custom fit.
Efren snorted, stood, pulled the bell rope to summon Dru, then stepped into his own pair of leather leggings. He held his shoulders back although his inclination was to slump. He was weary of this disappointing scene.
“As I said, my lovely, you are not a prisoner here. You need not panic so. I have plenty of enthusiastic partners available, and I feel no desire to force myself upon unwilling lovers who’ve changed their minds.” Efren waved a hand toward the door. “No doubt Dru knows to bring tea and toast for two in case you’re inclined to break your fast before rushing out, but you may leave now if you’d rather. Dru will show you out if you don’t remember the way.” Efren’s tone possibly conveyed his preference for the latter option, but basic civility and deeply ingrained diplomacy demanded he at least make a passing offer of refreshments.
The man’s breath quickened further, and he spun before rushing to the window to throw open the heavy draperies. The sun was reflecting off Zioneven’s majestic mountains to the northeast with the sun just clearing the horizon south of where the range tapered off.
Objectively a beautiful sight, but the young man recoiled with an alarm that had ratcheted up several notches. He wobbled as he whirled in place. “Where—?” He gulped. “Who—?”
A twinge of concern prickled Efren’s neck. The man’s distress went beyond what one would expect from waking in a stranger’s bed. Far beyond. He’d reacted as if the scenery was completely unfamiliar.
“Where are you from?” Efren asked.
“Where am I?” the young man countered.
The door swung open, and Dru and another servant whom Efren didn’t recognize entered bearing trays.
“Erich! Thank goodness!” The young man expelled a breath that also deflated some of the terror that had stiffened his slight frame.
“Sir?” Erich sedately placed his tray on a small table, and his brows raised in a manner that conveyed a calming, “How may I be of service,” rather than a reflection of the young man’s panic.
“Yes, thank goodness.” Efren rolled his eyes and turned to Dru. “I appreciate the thought, Dru, but next time, please find a bed-warmer who isn’t so deep in his cups he won’t remember how he came to be here.”
Dru came to a full stop with his laden tray halfway down to another table. “Sir?” Dru’s brows, unlike Erich’s, came together over widened eyes. In fact, Erich’s countenance now mirrored Dru’s. They both stared at Efren with a concentration that brought Efren’s twinge of concern back to life…and amplified it.
Dru carefully laid the tray on the table and took a deep breath. “You don’t know one another?”
The worry in Dru’s eyes clearly conveyed that they should. They should each recognize the other.
Efren’s blood chilled as he and the mysterious young man both shook their heads. Surely it wasn’t…no…it couldn’t be.
Dru gulped and walked stiffly to the bell pull and yanked it three times, signaling an alarm.
“No,” Efren whispered as he sat heavily on the edge of the bed.
“I’m sorry, sir.” Dru’s eyes mirrored his words. “I fear you’ve both been dosed with Forget-Me-Not.”
Forget-Me-Not was banned in all four realms with a very stiff penalty to anyone caught using it. It had originally been developed in Sheburat, but the formula had been discovered and also used by the monarchies in Zioneven, Gagel, and Proye. It hadn’t taken long for each to conclude that they were better off if they all agreed to ban its use.
Forget-Me-Not wiped a couple moon cycles worth of memories from its victims, activating during the first sleep after dosing. Those memories were never regained.
If a couple months had gone by since Efren’s last memory—which had been mere weeks before his journey to Sheburat for his upcoming nuptials—then he should be married to Sheburat’s Princess Marcela by now, sealing the final agreement of the two sovereignties’ peace treaty.
Efren shivered and stared at his hands. Sure enough, a ring was missing from his pinky finger, replaced by a new, unfamiliar ring.
He frowned. He was married. His shoulders did slump now, although he couldn’t complain too much about remembering neither that tedious journey nor the ceremony he’d been dreading. Dare he hope she was already with child so he no longer needed to force himself to go against his nature?
Still, who was this young man with the beautiful strawberry blond curls who stood with his clenched fist holding the top of his tunic closed. “What…what is ‘Forget-Me-Not’?”
The question seemed rhetorical, because the intelligence behind those brightly shining eyes seeped out as the young man’s mind worked toward the obvious answer. Obvious considering the drug’s name, not to mention their current state of confusion.
The ring gleaming from the young man’s third finger as he continued to grip the fabric at his neck drew a gasp from Efren. This man was wearing the ring that used to adorn Efren’s smallest finger.
There was only one possible explanation for that.
Efren stood, straightened his back, and neutralized his features, hoping to appear unthreatening as he crossed the room and took the young man’s hands in his own.
“You must be Prince Marcelo,” Efren said. Apparently, Princess Marcela had died at some point during the month before the wedding, and the contingency plan had been put into place allowing Efren to choose from amongst her younger siblings. Marcelo was a rare son—Marcela’s twin, younger by mere minutes—born to Sheburat’s matriarchal royal family. Unlike his sisters, Marcelo would have been kept deliberately naïve and uninformed.
Efren ran his thumb over the ring on Marcelo’s finger and gestured to the ring adorning his own finger, which he expected Marcelo would recognize. “And I am Efren, the crown prince of Zioneven. It appears we are married.”
The intense focus that had overtaken Marcelo’s eyes as Efren approached him faded, and his eyes rolled back in his head. Efren’s heart leapt, but he managed to inelegantly catch his husband before the man’s now-limp body could drop to the floor.
After hefting Marcelo’s slight frame properly into his arms, Efren carried him back to his—their—bed and carefully laid him on the mattress as the sound of many sets of running feet filled the castle’s corridors.
Efren trailed his fingers across Marcelo’s forehead and tenderly shifted wayward strands of hair that had fallen across his eyes. He swallowed the lump in his throat and murmured, “I hope you’ll forgive me for that ignominious second beginning to our relationship. I imagine I was more respectful first time around.”
What do you think? Should I finish writing this story? Should Marcelo forgive Efren?
In case you missed the beginning of Marcelo and Efren’s relationship—or perhaps I should say their first time around—here are some handy links:
A sheltered prince.
A sudden death.
An unexpected choice.
How will Prince Marcelo react
to discovering he’s…
The Contingency Plan?
A death that wasn’t
what it seemed.
A kidnapping that isn’t
what it seems.
Time is running out.