Tiger's Promise

Tiger's Promise by Colleen Houck Read Free Book Online

Book: Tiger's Promise by Colleen Houck Read Free Book Online
Authors: Colleen Houck
threatening from my perspective, he said, “By creating
     an alliance between our families.”

Four
Bait
    I couldn’t help it and let out a soft, involuntary gasp. Fortunately, neither my father
     nor the young man noticed it over the sounds of the flowing fountain.
    “What do you mean?” the handsome man asked. He was right to be suspicious. Whatever
     my father was planning would not bode well for anyone involved.
    Lokesh turned and approached the water fountain. Allowing the stream to run over his
     fingertips, he queried, “You are, of course, aware of the king’s announcement tonight?”
    “That your daughter is now eligible for marriage? What of it?”
    A part of me was hurt by the young man’s remark. I rationalized it by reminding myself
     that I wasn’t looking for a suitor anyway. That the best thing for me and Isha was
     if I married a man who lived far away from my father. Far enough away that I could
     escape. Such a thing would be easy with the King from Mahabalipuram, but I suspected
     that leaving a man like this stranger would prove far more difficult. Still, to hear
     of his indifference to me was a blow to my feminine pride.
    I’d always known that I was beautiful. Isha told me as much daily, and I’d garnered
     enough attention from the men surrounding our home as to be confident in my appearance,
     but for the first time in my life, I felt…unappealing. The idea that the young man
     that I found so very fascinating had no interest in me whatsoever stung.
    My father went on. “You may be unaware of this, but the announcement tonight was unplanned.
     The king intends to use my daughter to further his reach, and as she is the only connection
     I have remaining to my beloved, late wife, you may understand that the declaration
     regarding her eligibility for marriage has caused me some concern.”
    I narrowed my eyes at the mention of my mother. Isha had shared her suspicions regarding
     my mother’s death long ago. She told me that my mother didn’t die in childbirth as
     my father led everyone to believe. Her friend, the midwife who delivered me, had spoken
     to Isha just hours after I was born and reported that both mother and daughter were
     healthy.
    When Isha’s friend went back to check on me and my mother, my mother’s death was announced
     and the midwife disappeared. Isha believed wholeheartedly that my father had both
     women disposed of. Having seen his temper firsthand, I didn’t doubt he was capable
     of the feat. If I thought killing him was a possibility, I would have done it myself,
     long ago. The handsome man spoke, distracting me from my thoughts of revenge.
    “What does this have to do with me?” the stranger asked.
    My father ran his fingertips back and forth in the water, and I noticed that all the
     fish disappeared. No longer supplicating, they quickly retreated to the far reaches
     of the pond. Had they sensed something when my father touched the water ? I wondered. Or perhaps he used his power somehow to make them retreat . I bit my lip, so intent on the next words my father uttered that I could barely
     breathe.
    “I thought we might come to a mutually beneficial arrangement.”
    “Such as?”
    “Your elder brother, Dhiren, is it? I have heard that he has not as yet taken a bride.”
    “He’s still young. Besides, he’s been too busy defending our lands from your…small
     skirmishes.”
    My father glanced briefly at the stranger, his lips curved slightly at the man’s remark.
     “Wouldn’t it be better,” Lokesh asked with a wily smile, “if your brother could return
     to his duties at home? Forget war and disputes over territory and settle down to be
     the emperor he is destined to become? With the proper queen at his side, he could
     take his rightful place. Sire sons to reign in his stead.”
    “Let me guess. You’d want your daughter to be the queen.”
    “She is beautiful. Obedient. Demure. What’s more, her dowry is backed by the king.”
    

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