Princess Roswynd Arrington stared at her younger sister, Myla, in awe and befuddlement. She stuttered once before she regained control of her mouth. “Pardon me. Did you say you are to marry Tharon Blakesley?” Her heart was in her throat.
Myla shuffled on her feet, then looked away from her sister. Her eyes were puffy and red, and her cheeks were damp. “Yes. Father told me an hour ago.”
Roswynd was certain her knees would give out, so she leaned her back against the stable’s siding. Her sister’s voice was growing smaller, distant until Roswynd shook her head.
“I leave this afternoon with Father. We meet King Saxon and Princess Tharon tomorrow morning.” Myla was crying again, edging on a sob. “I am so scared, Roswynd. They say she rapes Betas and th-that she marks them with a dagger.”
Pushing off the stable building, Roswynd pulled her sister into a strong hug and held her. Myla tucked her head under Roswynd’s chin and returned the hug, sobbing into Roswynd’s chest. “Myla, it is going to be fine. I promise.” She closed her eyes and continued whispering reassurances, even though she was still overwhelmed by the news.
Myla was to wed Tharon Blakesley.
Tharon Blakesley, who was better known as the Lord Commander of the White Sommer Army and bestowed the title of the Black Wulf. There were other, far less kind names for Tharon, but Roswynd kept them at bay.
Her sweet nineteen-year-old sister was to become the Omega mate of the bloodthirsty lord commander.
With a low growl, Roswynd withdrew from Myla, kissed her on the forehead, and promised her again that everything would be okay. She told Myla to go to her room and rest for a moment. Leaving the stable, Roswynd marched across the castle grounds, entered a hallway, and headed for her father’s office. After horseback riding, she typically went to her room and changed from her riding trousers into a dress. Her father was against her wearing trousers, boots, tunics, and anything else masculine. But right now, she cared nothing about appeasing him when he planned to marry off Myla to that enemy asshole.
At the door to her father’s study, the guard straightened his back and said, “King Garrett is meeting with the captain of the guard.”
“Perfect.” Roswynd snarled at the guard, who attempted to stop her. Her burning look made him take a step back before she opened the door herself.
“What is the meaning—” Garrett was standing behind his desk and grew flustered upon seeing Roswynd storming into his office. “—Roswynd! What are you doing? I am busy.”
“We must speak.” Roswynd turned to the seated knight and said, “If you will excuse us, Sir Donnchad.”
Donnchad had risen out of respect, but he turned to his king for actual instructions.
Garrett sighed and said, “You may go, Captain.” He waited until the heavy door opened and closed before he turned his wrath on his daughter. “I assume you have spoken to your sister.”
“Yes!” Roswynd clenched her teeth, flashing her canines. “How can you do this to Myla?”
“I have little choice!” Garrett’s fists clenched at his sides. The furrow across his brow tightened more. His eyes were dark with circles under them. “King Saxon wishes to have peace and has offered his sister’s hand in marriage to show good faith.”
Roswynd’s vision flashed with red dots, but she barked with bitter laughter. “They do not mean such peace, Father! They wish to conquer us, then kill us.”
Garrett’s pheromones were heavy with a mixture of concern and weariness. He rumbled and said, “I am well aware that may be their true plan.”
“Then why fall for the trap?” Roswynd asked, demanding her father use reason. Myla was going to be a pawn who would be hurt or worse by the farce.
“Because we are the better hunters.”
Roswynd became wide-eyed. But you taught her how to be a hunter! She reboxed her happy memories of Tharon and their hunting trips. “This is not a game,” Roswynd snapped. “This is Myla’s life.” She waved her hands in the air and continued to reprimand her father. “You cannot trust them! The Blakesleys go back on their oaths!” She knew this better than anyone after Tharon’s betrayal.
“Then do you suggest we continue this war? It has carried on for ten years.”
“Yes! We have held out for ten years. We can hold out for another ten.” Roswynd struggled against the heat in her eyes, but the tears were close. “And another ten after that until they give up.”
“They will never give up.” Garrett’s words were firm and true. He sighed and whispered, “Our resources are dwindling. Now that they have defeated Loxmoor Citadel and taken Leeward, it is only a matter of time before they march across Fringe Road and arrive on our doorstep.”
Roswynd released a slight whimper, then took the seat closest to her. It was unlike her father to be honest and open about the effects of the war. The truth left her weak and breathing hard. “I thought Myla was promised to Prince Drust and that they were going to send help to us.”
“Yes. But it will take time. Perhaps years.” Garrett sank into the chair and tried holding back a groan, but Roswynd heard it. “But if we can end the war now with White Sommer, then this is a better choice.”
Roswynd wiped her face, ridding herself of the stupid tears. She wanted to believe that her kingdom was faring better than their enemy, but they had lost the important town of Leeward. Under Tharon’s ruthless leadership, the White Sommer Army seemed undefeatable. The previous lord commander of the White Sommer Army had been a pure idiot and easily bested at every turn. After his forced retirement, Tharon was promoted from a knight to the lord commander and proved to be a decisive and excellent tactician, and a strong leader. Tharon was born for it.
The worst part of it was that a ridiculous sliver of Roswynd actually admired Tharon’s skills and accomplishments as both a knight and lord commander.
“There is another way, Roswynd.”
Swallowing, Roswynd lifted her head and studied her father’s grim features. Whatever his second idea was, she would probably like it less.
“You could wed Princess Tharon so that Myla may wed Prince Drust,” Garrett said in a calm voice, then fell silent and waited for his daughter’s eruption. But it didn’t come. The prolonged quietness was interrupted by a pop of burning wood from the fireplace. He pressed on with his thoughts. “If you were to marry Tharon, you could keep a watchful eye on her. You understand her better than anyone else in our family does.”
Roswynd closed her eyes and shook her head. “I knew Tharon the princess of White Sommer. Not Tharon the beastly and monstrous lord commander of the White Sommer Army.” There were countless wild tales that Tharon transformed into a werewolf on the full moon and slaughtered Wyndfeld soldiers out of pure pleasure.
“Even so, do you believe your sister can handle Tharon?” Garrett asked, his voice gentler now. He was making a difficult decision by giving away one of his daughters to the enemy. From the sour scent rolling off him, he didn’t want to do it. There were other ways and reasons to deny the political marriage. But the cost would be the loss of more lives.
Unbecoming of a lady, Roswynd groaned and slouched in the armchair, then rubbed her aching brow. “No.” Her father had excellent points about Myla and Tharon. Without doubt, the marriage was a diversion for any plans King Saxon was creating with his clever mind. “What if we were to catch Tharon spying or…” She didn’t want to consider what other nefarious plans Tharon might have.
“Or attempting to kidnap or murder someone from the House of Arrington?” Garrett asked and folded his hands on his lap. “We would arrest and behead Tharon, depending on the crime.”
Roswynd swallowed and wrenched her fingers together. Images of Tharon’s head rolling taunted her, but she chased them off. Was Tharon capable of cold-blooded murder? Were the Blakesleys that determined to defeat their enemy? Considering the lie that started the war, it was possible that Tharon would be willing to murder out of vengeance for the death of Tharon’s mother ten years ago.
“Without Tharon, the White Sommer Army would collapse,” Garrett whispered, but he sighed and shifted in the seat. “I am sorry you must hear all of this, daughter. These are not conversations meant for your ears.” After years of fighting and death, the protective wall between him and Roswynd was cracking. Bits and pieces from the war’s strain were bleeding through. Now at the age of twenty-three, Roswynd was no longer a pup who needed shielding.
“I hear the whispers,” Roswynd muttered, then straightened. In deep thought, she stared at the mud on her boots from her ride today. The morning had been beautiful even if parts of the trail had been a little messy. She’d packed a light breakfast and ate it at the overlook that she and Tharon had once shared together. Each time she tried to replace her memories of the overlook with better ones, she failed, and instead the thoughts took her back to her heartbreaking childhood. Again, she reprimanded herself for giving in to such bittersweet memories about Tharon.
However, upon returning to the stable, it felt as if an avalanche had struck Roswynd when she learned Myla and Tharon were to wed. She would be idiotic to ignore how deeply her Omega reared up and demanded that no one but her be allowed to wed Tharon. Such an internal betrayal helped her gain control of her silly Omega. Right now she needed to focus on the real problem, which was allowing someone from the House of Blakesley back into their fold to any degree. Especially Tharon, the lord commander.
Her father was right. Myla was too docile and gentle to handle Tharon. Even though ten years had passed, Roswynd still had a fair idea of what made Tharon tick. On the positive side, Myla would be allowed to marry Prince Drust, who was a handsome and kind Alpha, a rare combination. Roswynd’s future was marred by her reluctance to conform to the traditions expected of an Omega. Many times her father attempted to pair Roswynd with a prince or noble, but Roswynd did her best to undermine his matchmaking. As a result, she’d earned a reputation as a wild, untamed Omega princess not fit to wed, which pleased Roswynd. But a political marriage to Tharon was a twisted chance to show everyone she was capable, even if it was predestined to fail.
With a sigh, she asked, “Are you not concerned that King Saxon will reject your offer of my hand over Myla’s?” Roswynd watched how her father’s features made a slight shift, one she couldn’t quite figure out.
“No.” Garrett hesitated, then lifted a blond eyebrow. He was nearing his fifties, but still had a young face, especially with his beard shaved off in the summer months. “Because even if King Saxon refuses, Tharon will not.”