Tiger's Promise

Tiger's Promise by Colleen Houck Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: Tiger's Promise by Colleen Houck Read Free Book Online
Authors: Colleen Houck
He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “And, just between the two of us, with my
     daughter on the throne, I would be satisfied that my grandchildren would someday rule
     both kingdoms. The meaningless squabbles over territory would cease, and both of our
     kingdoms could flourish in a mutually satisfactory way.”
    The young man rubbed his jaw, and I heard the scrape of stubble on his cheek. I wanted
     to shout, to scream at him not to heed my father’s words. That Lokesh never kept his
     promises. That even staying here listening to him was dangerous. But I said nothing
     and wrung my invisible hands, desperate to hear about this future he planned for me.
     The fact that Lokesh wouldn’t allow the king to marry me off to someone of his choosing
     wasn’t surprising, but I’d allowed a small sliver of hope to grow, and as I’d expected,
     my father had snuffed it out before even an evening had passed.
    Then my devious parent added, “Surely, at that point you might be freed to pursue
     your own goals. Perhaps you can find a wife with enough riches to enable you to purchase
     a small freehold of your own. Obviously, as the second son, you would be given a portion
     of your father’s wealth to establish yourself. With enough of a start, you might even
     do well. You’d never be able to keep up with your brother, of course, but there’s
     no shame in being second best. And I’m sure my daughter’s royal children would enjoy
     meeting their uncle should he deign to visit from time to time.”
    As Lokesh continued, the young man’s back straightened even more. His fury was obvious.
     I knew it and my father knew it. Manipulation was one of his skills, and the only
     way to circumvent it was to pretend that nothing he said affected you. Again, I found
     that I wanted to rise to the young man’s defense, but there wasn’t anything I could
     do. My father had maneuvered his layers of manipulation around the man as deftly as
     a snake, and I could almost hear the sound of the handsome stranger’s ego being bruised
     as the coils tightened.
    “You understand that I feel a great fatherly affection toward my daughter. It is imperative
     to me that I keep her close by. Our lands border each other. Because of that, I am
     willing to negotiate a betrothal on behalf of our king, but make no mistake, should
     my generous offer be rejected, I will have no choice but to escalate the hostilities
     between our peoples.”
    “And you feel comfortable housing your daughter with your so-called enemies?”
    Lokesh’s tongue darted over his lips. “I have every confidence that you will treat
     her with the honor and respect she deserves.”
    I could have laughed. There was no enemy more dangerous to my well-being than the
     very man who professed to feel “fatherly affection” for me.
    The young man called Kishan turned his back to my father, which meant he was facing
     me. In fact, he was only a few inches away. A myriad of emotions crossed his face
     as he considered my father’s words. I wanted to reach up and stroke the tip of my
     finger across his brow, to smooth out the wrinkles and ease the discomfort my father
     had caused him. Finally, he said, “I will pass along your proposal to my parents.
     We will send our reply by courier within a fortnight.”
    My father lowered his head in a gesture of feigned good will. “May your horses be
     swift.”
    Kishan took his leave then and Lokesh watched him go. Silence descended on the garden.
     Every creeping thing was still. Even the wind had died down. My breathing suddenly
     seemed too loud. I swiped at my overheated brow and willed my invisible legs to stop
     aching. Raising his hands, Lokesh channeled his power, an act I’d rarely witnessed.
     The water in the fountain snapped and froze as hoary ice soon covered every inch of
     the path’s stony surface.
    He whipped his arms in the air, and a stiff wind tore through the garden, ripping
     delicate flowers from their

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