Roe wiped sweat and grime from his brow, and tried to ignore the looks he was getting, tried to stand cool and nonchalant and like he didn’t care he had just made a fucking fool of himself just because he was smitten like a girl at the sight of her first noble.
He had done what Prince Isaac had asked, and lost every single tourney challenge. Not that he would have won a single one anyway; he was a knight only as a matter of formality because he needed to be a knight t to get into the Academy. That he had been at the tournament at all was pure chance—he and his stepfather had come along to make nice with the Academy Lords during the Royal Tourney.
It had never occurred to him he might actually meet Prince Isaac, whom he had seen and watched any number of times, but never really spoken to. Admire from afar, that was his lot. But then Prince Isaac had crashed into him looking and acting like a thundercloud, angry about the lavish Tourney his father was throwing for no reason other than to show up his neighbors.
“A waste of money, and I’ll not be party to such immaturity,” Prince Isaac bit out. “I’ve half a mind to make a fool of him throughout the whole damn thing. But how?” He smiled sheepishly. “I am sorry, Sir Roe was it not? You should not be forced to listen to the crown prince bitch about his father.”
“My own father was much the same,” Roe replied. “He spent my fortune on such things; my stepfather has graciously folded me into his family. I remember one year, to scold my father, my mother acted the perfect fool at a banquet he put on only by selling off most of her jewels. He was furious with her, and beat her for it, but he stopped selling her jewels.”
Prince Isaac laughed. “Acted like a fool, eh? If only! Though, that is an idea—select a fool for my champion. He will murder me if I am represented in the field by a man who loses every challenge. But where to find someone willing to do such a thing?”
Roe wondered morosely why anyone thought him fit to be a scholar.
But, Prince Isaac had promised that in reward, Roe could claim anything that was in the Prince’s power to give. There was plenty that Roe should ask for—but only one thing he would ask for, even if thinking about it scared him to death.
So he waited patiently by Prince Isaac’s tent, loathing going near the crowds, anticipation and dread warring in his gut.
Finally, though, he saw Prince Isaac walking toward him. He just wished his heart had chosen that moment to leap up into his throat.
Prince Isaac stopped in front of him, and smiled ruefully. “I wondered if you had retreated here. Never have I seen so splendid a performance, my fine new friend. I do fully admit, I would not have the fortitude to purposely lose for three days straight. I should and will reward you twice over, so name your prizes, Sir Roe.”
Roe drew a deep breath, then forced the words out before he could lose his nerve. “A kiss, Highness. That is all I desire.”
“That—what?” Prince Isaac stared at him, clearly taken completely by surprise.
“You said whatever was in your power to give,” Roe said, disappointment a crushing weight. “But—” He broke off as Prince Isaac cupped his chin, tugging him close, and something too much like comprehension filled his face.
“I must be as spoiled as my father, to be so wrapped up in my own tantrums, to miss something so precious as this…” Prince Isaac murmured, and released Roe’s chin to cup the back of his head and draw him closer still.
A real kiss from Prince Isaac was far better than even Roe’s best imaginings, and he simply was not capable of behaving the way he had told himself he would, tightly gripping Prince Isaac’s sleeves and kissing back with everything he had, determined to engrave a memory that would last him a life time.
He could not help but whimper when Prince Isaac drew away, but obediently drew back—only to find himself firmly dragged along, into Prince Isaac’s tent. “Have a bath drawn for Sir Roe,” Isaac said to his waiting servant. “Also see we are not disturbed the rest of the night; I will speak with my father in the morning.”
When they were alone, Roe looked at him and said, “Highness, I don’t understand…”
Prince Isaac smiled, and bent to brush a soft kiss across his mouth. It made Roe shiver, somehow striking deeper than their more heated kiss a moment ago. “You spent three days subjecting yourself to injury and humiliation, all because a brat prince asked it of you, and in return you wanted only a kiss. Even I am smart enough to know I should hold fast, and never let you go.” He reached up and brushed his knuckles lightly across Roe’s cheek. “No man could ask for a better champion than thee, Sir Roe, and I can only humbly ask that you remain by my side.”
“Until you’ve no further need of me, Highness,” Roe replied, half-afraid he would wake at any moment.
“I think you are what I have needed all along,” Prince Isaac murmured, and bent to kiss him again.