Originally published in my April, 2023 newsletter.
This is an ALTERNATE POV scene. In the published novelette, the entire story is told from Prince Marcelo’s POV. This takes an existing scene and retells it from Efren’s POV.
This scene is of Marcelo and Efren’s second meeting, but the first where they actually speak to one another:
Efren sat at the foot of the long dining table, opposite Queen Giselle of Sheburat, and like the properly brought up crown prince that he was, managed not to fidget, gnaw his lip, bounce his leg, or even sweat to project the nerves roiling in his gut. Everyone was seated with the exception of Prince Marcelo, his newly betrothed.
As Efren had expected, Marcelo’s astonishment at Efren’s announcement choosing Marcelo under the peace treaty’s contingency plan to replace his deceased sister in tomorrow’s wedding ceremony had eclipsed that of pretty much everyone else in Sheburat. But the question remained, would that jolt morph into revulsion or interest?
The fact that Marcelo had fainted dead away after processing the announcement was not the best of signs. But did it necessarily point to distaste or was it merely the shock?
Though naïve, Marcelo was intelligent enough to understand how completely his life would change with this marriage, which would only add to his confusion about a marriage between two men. Though common enough in Zioneven, it was unheard of in Sheburat.
Efren was keenly aware the instant Marcelo appeared in the open doorway. Efren’s memory of their first glimpses of each other this morning hadn’t morphed to exaggerate Marcelo’s beauty despite telling himself that he surely must have done so. Marcelo’s soft strawberry blond curls cascaded over his shoulders. His flawless skin appeared soft to the touch.
Efren’s lips twitched as Marcelo held back his shoulders and lifted his pretty chin as he strode purposely to the empty chair to Efren’s right. The young man had pluck. That much had been obvious when the two of them had held gazes from across the room before Efren’s announcement. And it was clear again now.
Although Marcelo’s face was carefully neutral, his eyes were open windows to his inner thoughts. If Efren was reading him correctly, he was a combination of wary and intrigued, but not aghast.
Marcelo’s face pinked, likely in awareness that all eyes were on him. He wouldn’t be used to being the center of attention…not as a male in Sheburat’s matriarchal society. He’d have grown up considering himself to be a superfluous royal, of no importance.
A servant pulled out the chair, and Marcelo sat then peered at Efren. The slight quiver to Marcelo’s muscles might have alarmed Efren if it hadn’t been accompanied by a widening of his pupils. A touch of attraction? Certainly not fear.
Marcelo nodded to Efren, but remained silent, likely waiting for Efren to speak first since this would be their first conversation, and as a crown prince, Efren was higher ranked. Efren studied him for a few moments, and Marcelo kept his head high and held Efren’s gaze. As when they’d first set eyes on one another hours earlier, the result was similar. A corner of Efren’s mouth twitched up, though this time Efren didn’t turn away.
“Prince Marcelo, I trust you’ve fully recovered from your shock?”
Marcelo returned Efren’s slight grin and, as Efren had done, began their first sentences to one another using their proper titles. “Your Royal Highness. Thank you for asking. Indeed, I have.”
Efren inclined his head. “I’m happy to hear it.”
“I hope you understand, sir, that my swoon was truly caused by my utter astonishment, and that you won’t be facing an antagonistic partner. Apparently, I’ve been shielded from the realities of life to a far greater extent than I knew.”
Efren’s grin widened, and the churning in his belly eased. Of course, he knew that such words would likely have been spoken regardless of their validity, but Marcelo’s eyes couldn’t lie. His statement was sincere.
“I surmised as much.” Not entirely true, at least not until Marcelo had entered the room. “But thank you for reassuring me.”
“If you don’t object, I’d like to take this opportunity to learn from you what will be expected of me. What is my role to be in your household? In your kingdom?”
“Excellent questions. I am encouraged by your interest in such matters. It would appear my diplomats’ analysis was accurate.”
“Sheltered as you were, I’m sure you were still aware that since the treaty was signed, ambassadors from each of our lands have visited back and forth.”
“Yes, sir, I’ve spoken with them.”
“One of their objectives was to learn as much as they could about the characters of Princess Marcela’s younger siblings so a contingency plan could be in place should the worst happen. It was decided years ago that you would be the best choice both as a partner for me personally, and for Zioneven overall.”
For me personally. Efren figured he’d put that out there in the open for Marcelo to ponder. If Efren hadn’t been trained in reading people, he might have missed Marcelo’s reaction, which was restricted to his eyes, but pointed toward interest and perhaps a touch of relief.
“Is it because we shared a birthday, and there need not be any further delay?”
“That was a factor, yes, but not as important as other considerations. Although none of your sisters were found lacking, our diplomats felt you had the most empathetic temperament and an inquisitive nature, and those characteristics are highly valued in Zioneven.”
“I see.” Marcelo’s chest visibly expanded. As a male in Sheburat’s matriarchal society, he’d spent his whole life last in line, last considered. Cut from lessons his sisters continued.
Unfortunate as that was for Marcelo, it had worked in his favor toward becoming Zioneven’s best choice for the contingency plan. He’d been deprived of the political lessons that would have been laced with Sheburat’s spin.
Discussion halted as servants came around with the first course, greens mixed with chopped and shredded raw vegetables. Efren used that time to study Marcelo’s reactions to him…because although it was subtle, Marcelo was definitely reacting to Efren’s presence.
His skin was delicately flushed, and he kept darting quick glances at Efren from under his lashes. Efren’s blood warmed.
Efren waited until Marcelo had finished his food before putting down his own fork, knowing Marcelo would follow suit. He gazed steadily into Marcelo’s eyes.
“To answer your question regarding your role in Zioneven, I would say your first project should be to spend time with our tutors to expand your education. Then, as your particular interests and abilities surface, we will revisit that subject.”
Marcelo’s lips parted, and he positively glowed. “Thank you, sir. I would dearly love to continue my formal education.”
The temperature of Efren’s blood continued its upward trend. Marcelo’s cheek twitched as he returned Efren’s regard, perhaps picking up on Efren’s attraction to him just as Efren was sensing Marcelo’s.
Efren slid one soft leather-clad foot toward Marcelo. He brushed it alongside one of Marcelo’s feet and achieved the hoped-for effect. Marcelo gasped quietly, his pupils expanded rapidly, and his eyes narrowed, ever so slightly, likely in recognition that Efren’s maneuver had been deliberate.
One side of Efren’s lips quirked up, and Marcelo licked his lips. How Efren…how either of them…made it through the rest of that dinner without embarrassing themselves by forgetting every rule of etiquette they’d been taught since birth was a mystery.
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