Here’s the opening scene in Change of Plans rewritten from Marcelo’s POV. This scene was originally shared in my monthly newsletter in September, 2021.
Chapter 1: Forget-Me-Not
Marcelo, present day
Marcelo, a rare and naïve young prince of matriarchal Sheburat, shuffled sleepy cobwebs around in his brain but remained unmoving. A warm body shifted lazily beneath him as if the owner of said body was also awakening.
The ambient sounds surrounding him were unfamiliar, as were the scents filtering into his barely-awake brain. The captivating, musky scent of the man—he was definitely a man—almost overpowered the milder odors of the unfamiliar bedding and room in general.
Marcelo pushed all thoughts about the oddly pleasurable sensations coursing through him in response to the man’s body pressing against his own to the back of his whirling mind. Naked. The man was naked. They both were.
Marcelo breathed in a forcibly steady breath that he hoped emulated that of a sleeping man. He wanted…needed…to remember his circumstances before opening his eyes to face this stranger.
At least the berry smell of his own hair was comfortingly familiar. A miniscule comfort.
The man’s slight movements seemed to indicate that he was looking over Marcelo as if he, too, might be confused by the situation. But surely not. It was difficult enough trying to comprehend how Marcelo could not know why he was awakening in a stranger’s bed without that explanation further covering how the stranger was also unknowing.
Was it morning? Hard to discern the light through his closed eyelids, but the chirping of birds outside a window indicated morning. Yet, he’d gone to sleep in his own bed. He would swear to that.
“Wake up, my lovely.” The man gently shook Marcelo’s shoulder and landed a light kiss to his forehead. Marcelo’s heart skipped a beat, and it was all he could do to continue feigning sleep. Or unconsciousness. That would do just as well. Perhaps better.
Marcelo remained still as the man ran a finger along his jaw and tipped his chin, then a warm, tantalizing buzz coursed through him when the man kissed him. Kissed him! On the lips. “Come, my lovely.” The man’s calm voice sent another curious shiver across Marcelo’s skin. “Let’s make the most of this glorious morning, hmm?”
The man punctuated and clarified that incredibly forward proposal by pressing his arousal against Marcelo’s own uncomfortably—and embarrassingly—hard manhood.
Marcelo’s eyes snapped open. They were well past the point where pretense was the better path to take.
The man was sleep tousled and clearly didn’t share Marcelo’s alarm at their shocking state. He merely said, “You are in friendly hands, my lovely. You are free to stay or go, whichever you’d rather.”
As if that would be reassuring. Was it common and acceptable for this man to awaken with a strange man in his bed? Assuming it was his own bed, since surely he would be conveying at least some level of alarm if he were as unfamiliar with his surroundings as was Marcelo.
It might be all well and good for this unidentified—although decidedly handsome, Marcelo’s traitorous brain insisted on acknowledging—man, but a vision of his mother’s frosty and deceivingly calm reaction to hearing this news ran through his mind and propelled him to action.
Marcelo pushed away and scrambled clumsily out of bed. The man huffed a heavy sigh, ran a hand over his face, and hefted himself to a sitting position as Marcelo stumbled to where two sets of clothing lay folded across the backs of chairs.
Clearly the man was displeased, but what did he expect? Could he honestly have thought Marcelo would…would…well…go along with his proposal? In fairness to the man, he didn’t appear to recognize Marcelo as the prince of the realm.
Marcelo’s gut churned, and his breaths grew louder and quicker as he sifted through the garments on the chair backs. Neither outfit belonged to him, yet they were two different sizes. How many people had gotten undressed in this room last night?
What in the four realms was going on?
“Where is my clothing?” Marcelo’s voice seemed disembodied as it wafted from between his quivering lips in a breathy whimper as another image of his mother’s likely response to this scandal—which would surely surpass all he’d ever been privy to—raced through his mind.
Not that this man seemed to mind about the scandal he was embroiled in. “My lovely,” he drawled, “I’m sure they must be the smaller of those two sets.”
Perhaps the man’s certainty that there hadn’t been a third person participating in this wild little party should be mildly reassuring, but it was lost on Marcelo, who shook his head. “Not mine.”
Yet there were no other options, and he could hardly sort out this muddle in the nude, so he quickly but jerkily stepped into the smaller set of leather leggings, then slipped the tunic over his head. He drew his brows together as he peered down at himself.
These garments were not his, yet they fit as perfectly as his own custom-made clothing. None of this made any sense. They even smelled familiar. Like himself, as he would expect clothes he’d been wearing to smell.
As if he hadn’t a care in the world, the man snorted, stood, pulled the bell rope, presumably to summon his personal servant, and stepped into his own pair of snug leather leggings.
The man held his shoulders back, though his expression had slumped into a neutral yet vaguely regal mien. “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.” He 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.”
The man’s tone clearly conveyed his preference for the latter. Again, perhaps it should be mildly reassuring that the man was cultured enough to extend the offer, but Marcelo’s belly clenched like an angry man’s fist. He could not have held down a meal even without the certainty that needlessly delaying his return to Sheburat castle would fan the flames of his mother’s ire into an inferno. No, he would not casually break his fast with this man.
Speaking of…why wasn’t this man equally concerned about the potential consequences of their situation, and how was it that he didn’t even recognize Marcelo? No one living in the vicinity—certainly not of this man’s apparent class—would fail to recognize him. Or likewise, whom Marcelo wouldn’t recognize in return. Perhaps he was a foreign visitor. The oddly snug leather leggings did suggest that. Or…
Marcelo’s breath quickened further, and he spun before rushing to the window to throw open the heavy draperies. The sun was reflecting off majestic mountains, just clearing the horizon where the range tapered off.
Marcelo recoiled in alarm. There were no mountains in Sheburat. Neither were there mountains this grand in either Gagel or Proye.
He had to be in Zioneven, the land of Sheburat’s former enemy. It would have taken weeks to get here, yet he knew he’d gone to sleep in his own bed in Sheburat last night. He would swear to it in front of any court in the four realms.
He whirled in place to face the strange man. “Where—?” He gulped. They appeared to be in Zioneven, yet that was inexplicable. But even if true, where within that realm? “Who—?” Not to mention, how and why, but the words failed him.
The man’s brows drew together. Finally, Finally, he was exhibiting some mild concern. “Where are you from?”
“Where am I?” Marcelo countered.
The door swung open, and a servant Marcelo didn’t recognize entered followed by Erich—Erich!—bearing trays.
“Erich! Thank goodness!” Marcelo expelled a breath that also deflated some of the terror that had stiffened his frame. Erich, his personal servant from Sheburat was here, acting for all the world as if nothing were amiss. Perhaps the situation wasn’t as grim as it seemed, although what could possibly explain how he’d been transported, unconscious, to Zioneven, not to mention put to bed with this man.
“Sir?” Erich sedately placed his tray on a small table, and his brows raised in his familiar, calming manner. “How may I be of service.”
Erich was acting as if this were just another day with nothing amiss, which was an odd mix of disturbing, curious, and consoling. Surely an explanation was now imminent.
“Yes, thank goodness.” The man rolled his eyes and turned to the other servant. ‘I appreciate the effort, 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.”
Bed warmer!? This man had no idea whatsoever who Marcelo was.
Dru halted with his laden tray halfway down to another table. “Sir?” Dru’s brows came together over widened eyes, and Erich’s countenance now mirrored Dru’s. They both stared at the man with a concentration that reversed Marcelo’s short-lived semi-relief.
Their evident concern—which was alarming considering how well servants schooled their features—surpassed any reaction one might expect in response to the ‘bed warmer’ insult the man had directed at Marcelo.
Dru carefully laid the tray on the table and took a deep breath. “You don’t know one another?”
The worry in both servants’ eyes clearly conveyed that they should. They should each recognize the other.
The mild loosening of Marcelo’s muscles at the news implicit in the servants’ behavior—that the seemingly compromising situation he’d awoken to was not, in fact, scandalous in and of itself—didn’t prevent his blood from chilling as he and the man both shook their heads. Something was clearly drastically amiss.
Dru gulped and yanked the bell pull three times. Signaling an alarm?
“No,” the man whispered. He sat heavily on the edge of the bed. Evidently, he had figured out what was going on. Not surprising, really. Likely anyone whose life wasn’t as sheltered as Marcelo’s would have at least a clue.
“I’m sorry, sir.” Dru’s eyes mirrored his words. “I fear you’ve both been dosed with Forget-Me-Not.”
The man seemed to know what this “Forget-Me-Not” toxin was. His lack of further reaction indicated that Dru’s words had merely confirmed what he’d already suspected. He shivered and stared blankly at his hands, frowning, as he processed the information.
Marcelo remained standing in front of the window and clenched the top of his tunic closed with one hand. “What…what is Forget-Me-Not?”
The question was somewhat rhetorical, since it obviously did something to wipe a person’s memory despite the name seemingly implying the opposite, but specifics would be appreciated, as would an explanation of how he’d come to be in Zioneven, not to mention who was this man, and why were they sharing a bed, which was seemingly a perfectly acceptable situation?
In Marcelo’s now-outdated memory , his twin sister, Marcela, had been mere weeks from marrying Crown Prince Efren of Zioneven. Perhaps Marcelo had been recruited to join her, although that would be odd, since they hadn’t been close in years. Still, Marcela might have considered any familiar face to be comforting, and mother would never have spared any of his sisters to be sent along as her companion.
The stranger’s gasp drew Marcelo’s attention. The man stared for a few moments at the hand Marcelo was clenching at his chest, then he stood, straightened his back, and neutralized his features as he crossed the room and took Marcelo’s hands in his own.
“You must be Prince Marcelo,” the man said. Had he drawn the same conclusion?
But then the man ran his thumb over an unfamiliar ring on Marcelo’s third finger and gestured to a ring Marcelo did recognize as one of his own on the man’s smallest finger. “And I am Efren, the crown prince of Zioneven. It appears we are married.”
To each other?!
What an utterly preposterous conclusion. And yet, someone as worldly and in-the-know as the crown prince of Zioneven would be able to draw correct conclusions from minimal data far more readily than someone as uninformed as Marcelo. And neither of their personal servants spoke to correct the prince’s assumption, thus confirming it.
The man…Crown Prince Efren’s eyes appeared kindly, as if he were silently begging Marcelo’s forgiveness for his earlier behavior and words. Marcelo focused on those warm brown beacons of hope as the room around him diminished along with the chirping of the birds and the strength in his muscles.
This was just too absurd to be true, and he dropped, as reality—or perhaps this odd dream—faded to black.