Chapter 1

Best Friends 5Eva

 

“DO I even want to know what we’re doing?” Prince Justin asked me as we walked down a side street in the City of Lockes, trying to avoid detection.

“Absolutely,” I said. Probably not. “I have the best ideas.” There was plenty of evidence to the contrary, but it was usually spouted by excessively negative people, and I hated excessively negative people. “You can trust me.” This was going to end in tears and death, most likely my own, but he didn’t need to know that. At least not yet. I grinned my most trustworthy grin as I led him into an alley.

He stared at me.

I widened my smile so he’d understand.

“Are you… are you about to be ill? Because you look like you’re about to be ill. Like you just ate a plate of bad beef and are entirely unsure of what end it’s going to come out of. I suppose that’s how you normally look, though, so I don’t really think there’s much of a difference.”

“I’m smiling at you. To show my trustworthiness.”

He grimaced. “Funny how that works. I still don’t trust you at all.”

“Lie. You trust me a little bit. Otherwise you wouldn’t have snuck out of the castle with me without asking me why.”

“I didn’t do anything with you. You put your hand over my mouth and told me I had to come with you if I wanted to live. And I repeatedly demanded you tell me the reasons for—”

“We’re the best of friends,” I told a rather large alley rat as it scurried along down the cobblestones. “He hugged me once in the forest while a naked man with wings tried to get us to touch each other inappropriately.” I frowned. “Huh. What does it say about my life that that sentence makes complete and total sense to me?”

“We’re not anything of the sort,” Justin snapped. “In fact, my first act as King will probably be to behead you. Fair warning. And the hug was against my will, like most of the things you do to me. And it was made worse by the fact that the King of Fairies kept telling you to lick my—”

“You can’t kill me,” I reminded him as I stopped us at the entrance of the alley. “You would miss me too much and would probably feel really bad.” And I would also be dead, which would suck for me.

“I highly doubt I would feel anything at all but immense relief.”

Okay, I could work with that. “The people would revolt.”

“Or there would be celebrations in the streets as they would no longer need to hear your inane prattling.”

My trump card! “Gary would come after you.”

Justin sighed. “Now that I believe. He still looks at me like I wasn’t the one left standing at the altar on my wedding day while my fiancé stared lovingly into the eyes of another man and spouted disgusting platitudes of jerking off your heart or whatever the hell else was said.”

I glanced out the alley to make sure we hadn’t been noticed. “I don’t know if that’s quite what happened.”

His glare was rather ferocious. “Care for me to refresh your memory?”

Nope, not at all. “You’re distracting yourself from what’s important.”

He gaped at me. “Your level of self-awareness would be remarkable if it wasn’t so terrifying.”

“Thank you.”

“That wasn’t—”

“Don’t you want to know why we’re here?” I asked.

“No.”

“You did just a second ago.”

“I’ve since changed my mind.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to know? Not even a little bit?”

“Sam, if you don’t take me back to the castle this instant, I’m going to make sure you’re miserable for the rest of our lives.”

My heart swelled. It was inevitable.

He took a step back. “What. Why are you looking at me like that? Like you’re having feelings?”

I needed to hug him very badly. “Because,” I said, taking a step toward him. “You just said you wanted me to be miserable for the rest of our lives. Like we’re going to live long and miserably together. Forever. As best friends.”

He blanched as he held up his hands, back hitting the brick wall of the building behind him. “That’s not what I meant. You stay back! You hear me? Godsdammit, Sam, you stay back—”

“We’re going to hug,” I demanded, taking another step.

“No, no we’re not.”

“You can’t stop it,” I said, holding my arms out wide. “It’s gonna happen.”

“Godsdammit, I will kick you in the—”

But before he could move, I had him pressed up against the brick wall, arms wrapped tightly around him. His arms were trapped at his sides. I laid my head on his shoulder, tucking my nose against his neck. “Shh,” I said. “Shh. It’s okay. It’s okay. Just let it happen.”

“You are hugging me against my will.”

“There’s no such thing,” I whispered. It was a good hug. Maybe not the best, but we had time to get there. Justin had just all but admitted that. It was glorious. I would probably write a poem about this day when we got back home.

He sighed heavily, like he couldn’t believe I could be so wonderful. “You really don’t understand boundaries, do you?”

“Only that they’re made to be broken,” I said. “Also, I would let your arms go, but you’ve already proven you can’t be trusted to hug me back.”

“It’s not my fault you bruise so easily,” he muttered.

“Yet you still seem to try—”

“Are we done yet?”

“It hasn’t even been a full minute. Everyone knows that hugs last for at least two minutes. It’s mandatory.”

“No one thinks that. Sam, literally no one.”

“Maybe we should,” I said, squeezing him tighter. “Maybe there’d be no wars if people just hugged all the time. After all, you can’t be armed if you have someone in your arms.”

“Unless I stab you in the—”

I felt like that was a good time to end the hug.

I turned back toward the entrance to the alley as he grumbled what I was sure was nothing but compliments about my existence.

It was going on dusk, and the street ahead was busy as people scurried about. Shopkeepers working the stalls called out their wares in loud, boisterous voices, selling fresh fish from the port and handwoven baskets and jewels crafted by the fires of dragons. It stank of animal shit, cooking meat, and something so distinctly Verania that I couldn’t help but love every single piece and part of it. These were my people; this was my city. As if in response, somewhere in the crowd, there came the sweet, sweet chords of a lute playing a song that had taken Verania by storm over the last several months after it’d spent close to a year circulating in the pubs.

“I swear to the gods,” Justin muttered, “if I have to hear that godsdamned song about cheesy dicks one more time, I’m going to find out who started it and send them to the dungeons forever.”

Since I had no desire to poop in a bucket for the rest of my life, I said, “I don’t hear anything, so let’s stop talking about it and focus on other things. Like how I’m about to change your life. For the better.”

“Anyone else, I might believe that. Coming from you, it sounds like a threat.”

Since anything he had to say was, at this point, entirely without merit, I ignored him. I had a scene to set, after all. “Imagine,” I said, waving my hands slowly in front of me, setting the shit out of that scene. “It’s a lovely evening. There’s music in the air. Everyone is happy. There’s a feeling of joy in your heart.”

He glared at me.

“Joy,” I insisted. “You’re feeling joy.”

His eyes narrowed further.

“Okay,” I said. “We’ll come back to that part and work on it a little later. By the way, did you know that the skin under your eye twitches when I talk? I noticed that a long time ago. I wonder why that is. You may want to see the doctor in case it’s a sign of illness or stress. Are you stressed? I can’t imagine why. Where was I? Dammit. I forgot what we were talking about.”

“Sam,” Justin ground out.

“That’s right,” I said. “The scene. There’s music and happiness—mostly—and joy in your heart, or there soon will be. The night stretches out in front of you, filled with promise. Your senses are tingling, and you’re thinking, Yes, this is going to be something magical. This is what I’ve been waiting for.”

“That’s not what I’m thinking right now.”

“Regardless,” I said, “you will be thinking it. And when you’re thinking it, when you’re caught up in the moment, when you feel like you’re finally alive, what’s the one thing you notice is missing?”

“The reason why your parents didn’t sell you for the highest price they could the moment they realized you were nothing but an unmitigated tragedy?”

“Close,” I said. “You’re missing love.”

He blinked at me, looking startled.

It didn’t last long.

“Love,” he repeated slowly, starting to frown.

“Love,” I agreed.

“Sam, I mean this in the most succinct way possible. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“What. The fuck. Are you talking about?”

I sighed. “Look, maybe, quite possibly, I feel bad for a certain knight coming to a dawning realization at the worst possible moment.”

“Really,” he said flatly. “You feel bad about that.”

I did. Granted, it led to my virginity getting completely destroyed by the love of my young, albeit adventurous, life, but yes. I still felt slightly bad. It’d been years since I’d given my heart away but only thirteen months since I was sure it’d be protected enough for me to let it go. And I would always remember the look of betrayal on Justin’s face when his husband-to-be looked him straight in the eye and said he loved another. “Mostly bad,” I said. “Slightly giddy, but bad too. It’s paradoxical, but then I am an enigma.”

He rolled his eyes. “I still blame you. But mostly him.”

“Because he’s an idiot.”

“Right? Such a fucking idiot.”

“Seriously! Who does that? He literally waited until you were getting married to confess his undying love and admiration for me.”

“I would have believed that more if you hadn’t gotten that sappy look on your face.”

I shrugged. “It’s a by-product. Of the love and admiration.”

“It’s an affliction. A symptom of a festering disease that must be eradicated.”

“Or one that we need to infect you with, which is why we’re here. Gods, I love it when conversations come full circle. Don’t you just love that? I do.”

He stared at me with an expression on his face that suggested he did not love that.

“Anyway,” I said hastily. “Let me get a good look at you before we proceed. I have to know what I’m working with.”

“Working with? Why do I have a feeling I’m not going to like what you’re making me do?”

“To be fair, you don’t like anything I make you do, so. Now hush. Let me gaze upon you.”

“Is this some freakish wizard thing?”

“Yes.” It wasn’t. “That’s exactly it.” That wasn’t it at all.

I suppose if one liked frigid bitches hiding hearts laced with gold, one could reasonably say that Grand Prince Justin of Verania was an attractive man. Sure, he often looked like he’d bitten into the most bitter of lemons (something I’d tried to cure him of but only seemed to make worse), but men and women alike fawned over his porcelain skin, waxing poetically over his chocolate-brown curls. How regal he was, they exclaimed. How beautiful. It was as if the gods themselves had a hand in his making.

Even after I’d essentially princenapped him, he looked well put together. He was statuesque, broad shouldered with a narrow waist. He had elegant fingers and callused palms, a testament to how well-versed of a swordsman he was. His expensively embroidered tunic was stretched tightly across his arms and chest. His trousers had the right amount of pull along his thighs and—

“Holy crap,” I breathed. “You’re dreamy.”

He said, “What.” No inflection whatsoever.

“Like, no, just… give me a moment. My worldview just shifted and I’m struggling to go along with it.”

“So… pretty much a normal day, then, for you.”

“When did you get attractive?” I demanded.

“Are you hitting on me?” he asked incredulously.

“What! No! Of course not. At least, I don’t think I am. Am I? I really need to sit down and think about this. What am I doing? With this? With my life? Oh my gods, what am I doing with my—”

Justin scoffed. “It wasn’t enough that you swooped in and stole my fiancé right out from under me, but now you’ve taken me to a dark and dank alley to have your way with me? For shame, Sam of Wilds. For shame.”

“I would never have my way with you in a dark and dank alley,” I retorted. “I’m a gentleman. I would woo the shit out of you, wine and dine, the whole nine yards. And then we’d make sweet passionate love on a bed covered in roses and I would just go to town on your butt because apparently I’m a power top and—what the fuck are we talking about?”

He looked horrified. “I have no idea! You’re the one that stole me away to try and power top me! I don’t even know what that means!”

“That’s not—” I took a deep breath and let it out slow. “Okay. Somehow, you’ve gotten us all off track. As usual.”

Me? Why you little—”

“We’re here because we’re going on a date.”

“I don’t want to date you! In fact, I would rather do anything else—”

“Not me. I found you a date with an awesome dude!”

It wasn’t silent after that. No, it really couldn’t have been, seeing as how we were in the middle of the City of Lockes. But Prince Justin was silent, like his mind had been blown at the thought of my extraordinary generosity, his synapses firing in the face of just how much I cared.

Which, honestly, contrasted heavily when he finally spoke. “You did what.”

“Okay, so look. It’s really rather terrible, but something I’ve learned is that when one falls in love and is happy about it, one wants nothing more than to spread that love to others, to see best friends—okay, okay, don’t growl at me, almost best friends, gods—experience the same joy of falling for someone. I love love so much, that I want to shove it down your throat so you know what I’m going through.”

“Sam.”

“Yes, Justin.”

“Are you telling me that right now, there is someone waiting for me to come to them to go on a date with them? Someone I’ve never met.”

“Um. Yes?”

“How are you a real person?”

I frowned at him. “You know what? That’s not the first time I’ve been asked that.”

“Who is he?” Justin asked, sounding resigned (which possibly meant he was thrilled; I hadn’t quite worked out all of Justin’s facial expressions as of yet).

“Oh! You’re going to love him. His name is William and he’s a Sagittarius and he likes the same things you do.”

“Like….”

“Um. You know. Stuff. Things. That everyone likes.”

He cocked his head at me. “Sam.”

“Yes, Justin.”

“Where did you meet him?”

“At… the store.”

“What store?”

I was feeling awfully sweaty because I really couldn’t lie for shit. I suppose that was a good thing. Mostly. “The… hat. Store.”

“The hat store.”

“Yes,” I said, swallowing. “Where I was buying a hat.”

“What kind of hat?”

Why was it so warm in the dark and dank alley? “A pork pie.”

He took a step toward me. “Really.”

I nodded. “Gary says they’re all the rage this season. And I trust his fashion sense. Because he’s a unicorn. Unicorns are very fashionable, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“And this man. This… William. What does he look like?”

And godsdamn his inquisitive mind! How neatly a trap it laid! “Like a… male… person.”

“Sam.”

“Yes, Justin.” He was standing really close to me. I was uncomfortable.

“What—”

“Fine!” I cried. “You’ve broken me. I’ve withstood Dark wizards and really invasive corn, but I can’t take the endless pools that are your eyes. I’ve never met him before. I’ve never even seen him before!”

“Aha!” Justin cried. Then, “Wait. What?”

“Ah, man. I feel better. That really was weighing on me.”

“What do you mean you’ve never seen him?”

I blinked. “Just that. I’ve never seen him before.” Was it that hard to understand?

“Then how do you know him?” he asked dangerously.

“He answered the ad.”

Justin closed his eyes for a moment, breathing heavily through his nose. “What ad?”

Well, this was off to a very bad start. “Um. The one I placed in the back of Lockes of Love, the periodical for singles who are ready to mingle in the City of Lockes, under their man for man section?”

The skin under his eye twitched.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I made you sound really good. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s bullshitting.”

Another twitch. Or maybe a more pronounced one. Like it was spreading.

“I’m serious! Look, I even cut it out and saved it, it was so good.” I reached into the pocket under my robes and pulled out the folded piece of paper. I handed it over to Justin, who just glared at me. I poked it against his hand. “Come on. Come on, take it. Take it.”

A man walked by the alley, staring at us with wide eyes.

I waved at him.

He walked away quickly.

Justin grabbed the paper from my hand and brought it up to his face. I didn’t need to see what it said. I’d already had the genius of it memorized.

Looking For Love!

M4M. In position of power, would like someone else to take charge. Me: 20s Attractive w/ resting bitch face. Intelligent, slightly evil, ambitious. People think I’m cold, but it’s really a front for a semisoft heart. I like rolling my eyes at wizards even though I secretly like them and think they’re pretty cool. I also like deviled eggs.

“I know so much about you,” I said helpfully.

You: Older? Maybe. Assertive attitude. Real go-getter. Takes what you want. Commanding, even. Must have eyebrows. Double jointed is a plus. No Darks or fairies named Dimitri.

Justin looked up at me slowly.

I smiled at him. “You’re welcome. Some of them got really porny, but I took the high road. One talked about splitting you like a—”

“And someone responded to this,” he said, voice strangely even.

“Yes! Well, actually, like a hundred people did, but I narrowed it down to the best one. And I’ve been sending notes back and forth posing as you so I could get a real sense of him. He seems like a nice guy. Maybe a little bossy, but I figured that’s something you can work on when you marry him. Also, for some reason, he likes to call you boy and expects to be obeyed at all times, but hey, just roll with it. Could be fun.”

“What part of you thought that this would be a good idea?”

“Most parts,” I said. “But that’s why I’m here. In case he turns out to be a raging psychopath—which I highly doubt because it seems like that’s something you’d have to put down in the ad—I’ll be there right by your side.”

He said nothing for a long time. My jaw hurt from smiling so much.

Finally, “So let me get this straight. You impersonated the Prince of Verania to set up a date for me by using a personal ad in the back of a magazine that I usually see lying in the gutters and covered with bird feces. And not only that, but someone responded to said ad and now I’m on my way to meet him. Where you will also be in attendance.”

“All the highlights,” I said, suitably impressed.

Lots of twitching going on.

“Also,” I said. “One more thing.” I reached into my robe in the inner pocket and pulled out two matching beards from my old Mervin days. “Disguises. So we won’t be recognized. If all goes well, then William will understand why you had to lie. Especially if it’s for love. Do you want to put this on or should—you know what. I’ll just do it. Just… hold still. You’re kind of tense. Like really, really tense. It’s not good for your back. And your hands are fists right now. So much tension. Sorry the beard is a little wet. And sticky. Tiggy spilled juice on it right before we left and I didn’t have time to clean it. Just gonna hold it on your face for a moment to make sure it sticks… annnnd done.”

He looked ridiculous.

“You look amazing,” I said. “William won’t know what hit him.”

I had the best ideas.

 

 

I HAD the worst ideas.

Not that they started out that way, mind you, but for some reason, they tended to devolve quickly and out of my control. Dragons, truth corn, getting gay fairy married, turning boys to stone, and asking an important wizard to not explode my nipples. I’d like to think I have the best intentions in mind, but I lose the thread partway through.

Like today, for example.

I wanted Justin to find love.

And thought what if I brought love to him?

Ergo, I put out a search for love.

And then bring him to love.

Foolproof, right?

Almost. Except for the fact that William seemed to be almost as big as Tiggy, wore an entire herd’s worth of leather, and made us call him Sir.

Justin and I sat side by side in the open-air café that William had suggested we meet at. (Though, if I was remembering correctly, he’d said negotiate rather than meet, but I had a lot going on at the time, so I couldn’t be faulted for not remembering every little detail.) I wore a beard similar to Justin’s, something that Sir hadn’t missed, given that he’d raised an eyebrow as we approached and said, “I’m down for twins.”

I should have known it was going to go downhill from there.

“Now, I understand you’re looking to be dominated,” Sir said.

Justin squeaked.

“Uhh,” I said. “I don’t think that’s quite what I—”

“Did I say you could speak, boy?” Sir asked sharply.

“No, Sir. Sorry, Sir.”

He waited a beat, as if making sure I wouldn’t step out of line again. I didn’t, because I didn’t want to get fisted or have something shoved up my pee hole.

“Now. We should probably discuss hard limits,” Sir said. “I’m okay with most things, even the… fluids… some others might have problems with. Even the more solid ones.”

“So unbelievably gross,” I breathed in awe.

“Also, after you sign the contract, you will become my personal property, and I like to share. I have a lot of friends who will want to tear off a piece for themselves while I watch. You will treat them with respect while they treat you like a piece of meat. It’s how these things go. Also, I have this kink where I treat my subs like footstools.”

“I will see you castrated for this,” Justin whispered furiously at me.

“Stop saying things he might like!” I whispered back.

Sir coughed in warning.

We stared at him with wide eyes.

“Are you two quite finished?”

“You have no idea,” Justin said.

“Absolutely none,” I agreed.

“Good. Tell me. How do you feel about puppy play?”

Before I could answer that (Ooh, I like puppies!), we were interrupted by a shrill, grating, and dare I say shriekish voice. “Well eat me up and shit me out. Just what do we have here?”

I sighed. “Crap. I am never going to hear the end of this.”

I turned slowly, already knowing what I would find.

Sure enough, there on the street only a few feet away (how had I not heard them approach!) stood a hornless unicorn, a half-giant, a dragon, and a knight with a resigned look on his face, something that I was extraordinarily used to being directed at my person, even after all this time.

“Heyyy,” I said with a wave. “What. Is. Up.”

Hey, he says,” Gary snapped, flipping his mane prettily. “Can you believe this? You raise a child most of his life, watch him go through painful years of puberty to become a reasonably attractive man, only to find him negotiating kink contracts with a leather Dom and saying hey.” He sniffled. “I’ve never been more proud of anything in my life.”

Tiggy frowned. “Sam a pain slut?”

“I highly doubt that, kitten. You know how he gets when he stubs a toe. He doesn’t pop a boner, that’s for sure.”

“He’s growing up so fast,” the dragon named Kevin rumbled. “I remember when he was just a wee slip of a lad. Now he’s this young man finding his way in the world. A sexy way that I will probably actively participate in because that’s just who I am. No judgments. We’re all gods’ creatures, right? Just writhing on top of each—”

“Do I even want to know what you’re doing?” the knight asked, cocking a devastatingly unfair eyebrow.

Knight Commander Ryan Foxheart, the dreamiest dream to have ever been dreamed.

And probably currently not very happy with me.

“It’s not what it looks like?” I tried.

They all stared at me.

“Okay, it probably is what it looks like, but not for me. I’m not some kind of pain slut like Justin is. I’m here for moral support and nothing else.”

“Really,” Sir said. “You sure about that?”

“Wow,” I said. “Your voice is deeply intimidating. That’s impressive. I’m impressed.” I turned back to the others. “Did you hear that? He makes us call him Sir. This is fun. I’m having such a good time. Please save me.”

“Sam put a personal ad in the newspaper to try and make up for the fact that he is a home-wrecker,” Justin said.

“See, that makes sense,” Gary said.

“Hey! What about what I said?”

“Sam,” Gary said, sounding disappointed. “Honestly, what do you expect me to believe? I know Justin’s not a pain slut, because I’ve never seen him at the club getting flogged by Honest Helga.”

“That’s not a club I want to go to,” I said. “Because of Honest Helga.”

“She certainly knows how to pack a punch,” Kevin agreed.

And,” Gary said, “I know you’re a home-wrecker because I witnessed it with my own eyes. Remember that? Sam? Do you? When you wrecked their home? I remember when you wrecked their home.”

Tiggy crossed his arms over his considerable chest. “That’s not nice, Sam. Even if Knight Delicious Face ate your flower.”

“He most certainly did,” Kevin said. “We all heard it too. The acoustics in the castle are just extraordinary. Raise your hand if you thought Sam would be a screamer.”

Tiggy raised his hand. Kevin raised a claw. Gary stood on three legs.

“I didn’t scream,” I said, scowling at all of them. “I was providing encouragement to my boo so he knew he was doing a good job. It’s called positive reinforcement.”

Ryan turned his face toward the heavens and sighed. He was either silently agreeing with me or deciding now was a good time to study up on constellations.

Kevin snorted a little lick of fire. “It sure sounded like you were positively reinforcing his—”

“Dear,” Gary said. “We’ve talked about this. It’s not polite to discuss other people’s sex lives when one or more of them is a prude.”

“I’m not a prude. Do you know how many things Ryan has done to me? Like, seventeen things.”

“Name three,” Gary said rather gleefully as he pranced in place.

“Easily,” I said. “This one time, he put his toes in my—”

“That’s probably enough of that,” Ryan said.

I mimed the rest to Gary. It was the most accurate thing I’d ever done.

Gary squinted at me. “Are you pretending to eat a watermelon covered in peanut butter?”

“Close enough. I couldn’t walk straight for like three days.”

“I bet I could make it four,” Sir said as he leered at me.

“I like him,” Kevin announced. “We should all be sex friends and go on team-building retreats where none of us wear clothing and we all lay on top of each other.”

“Yep,” I said. “Time to go. This has just been lovely. Justin, will you be signing any contract or having any follow-up with Sir? I take it by the way you’re squeezing my hand to the point of excruciating pain, that’s a no. Sorry, Sir. Looks like the date was a bust. Next time, huh?”

“Or maybe,” Sir said slowly, “you owe me for wasting my time.” He glanced at Ryan. “He your bitch?”

“Oh, girl, that was a bad idea,” Gary muttered.

“I smash?” Tiggy growled.

“Kind of my bitch,” Ryan said.

“No shit,” Justin said.

“Ha,” Kevin said. “I knew it. That’s so hot.”

“Hey! Okay, I am, but that’s still rude. Or maybe I’m my own man, and I can speak for myself. Maybe I want to go with him.” I looked back at Sir. “I really don’t want to go with you. I’m just trying to prove a point.”

“Autonomy is very important,” Sir said. “Unless I take it from you and cover you with my semen.”

“You are the greatest man alive,” Kevin said. “Teach me all your secrets.”

“One day,” Ryan said, “we’re going to meet someone new who doesn’t want to capture and/or have sex with you.”

“I never did,” Gary said. “He’s a little too stringy for my tastes. Not enough meat on dem bones, if you know what I mean. Unicorns need a little more oomph since we’re such voracious lovers.”

Stringy?” I gasped.

“It okay,” Tiggy said, reaching down and patting me roughly on the head. “I do you.”

“Aw. Really?”

“No.”

“Dammit.”

“I can’t comment on this,” Kevin said. “Given my position as his stepfather.”

“You’re not my—”

“I’d hit that so hard,” Kevin told Sir.

“This did not turn out how I thought it would,” I said.

“Does it ever?” Justin asked. “That was a legitimate question, by the way. Does anything ever turn out like you think it will?”

I nodded toward Ryan. “Locked that shit down, didn’t I?”

“Oh snap,” Tiggy said.

“Fist-bump me, babe,” I said to Ryan, holding out my hand.

“Yeah, I’m not going to do that,” Ryan said.

“Watch,” Gary whispered to Tiggy. “It’ll take five to ten seconds for him to give in. I’ve been teaching Sam how to unicorn.”

I widened my eyes as much as possible and fluttered my eyelashes. “But, I want you to. For me? Please?”

Ryan sighed and fist-bumped me.

“Works every time,” Gary said.

“I can hear you,” Ryan said. “You’re standing right next to me and not trying to hide the fact that you’re talking about me.”

“I thought we talked about how stalking me is wrong now that you’re in a monogamous relationship with one of my best friends,” Gary said. “Get a grip, Ryan. This obsession you have with me is going to ruin the best thing that’s ever happened to you.”

You talked about that,” Ryan reminded him. “Loudly and repeatedly. Once you woke me up at three in the morning by standing above me and breathing on my face, only to tell me to stop following you.”

“Maybe you should listen!”

“You were in my room.”

“I’ll find you true love,” I told Justin. “If it’s the last thing I do.”

“That feels like a threat,” he said slowly.

“A threat of love,” I agreed. “Now, I think it’s time we head back to the castle. I’m famished and I’m probably going to get yelled at by four or five different people for sneaking you out to meet with a leather daddy.”

“The castle?” Sir said.

“Oh, right,” I said. “Yeah, this is Justin, the Prince of Verania, that you just tried to violate with your existence. Good job.”

“Holy shit,” he said, paling considerably. “The Prince? That means—” He looked from Gary to Tiggy. From Kevin to Ryan. Then back to me. “That means you’re—”

I grinned at him. “Damn right. I’m Sam of Wilds, King’s Wizard.”

“Apprentice,” Gary coughed.

“Don’t explode my nipples!” Sir said as he stood up quickly, knocking his chair back. “I didn’t know it was you!”

“Wow,” I said. “That’s still a thing? And now it’s said about me? Sweet molasses.”

“Oh boy,” Ryan sighed. “This is something I’m never going to hear the end of.”

This might have been the greatest day of my life. “Babe! Did you hear that? He said—”

“Still standing right here.”

“But—”

“Don’t need to repeat it. Heard it enough the first time.”

And that’s when Tiggy decided to smash the table. But that was okay. He’d earned it.