Secrets and Friends Don’t Work Well Together
“You ruined all my plans, you know.”
Hector Quate was one of Gavin’s friends, a skinny guy who talked a little bit less like a rich kid than the rest of them. Tan and light-haired, he sat down next to Owen on the grass and watched Gavin talk with some of the others. They were having a picnic on the castle grounds, and Owen had moved back a bit to give himself a break from the relentless questioning.
Gavin had been right, his friends seemed pretty determined to eat Owen. But Owen thought he was holding his own.
Owen looked at Hector. “Sorry about that.”
“You don’t sound sorry,” Hector sighed.
“Do I sound like I know what we’re talking about?”
Hector snorted a laugh. “You’re just enough of an asshole to match with Gavin.”
“Thanks, I try my hardest.”
Still chuckling, Hector gave Owen a look. “Gavin was always my back-up plan when I was younger. I figured if all else failed I’d marry him.”
Owen figured Hector was joking, and tried not to glare. “Your back-up plan?”
“Well, my first plan was Turner.” Hector said with a sigh, looking over at the dark-haired young man joking with Gavin. He had a silver ring on his finger, signifying his betrothal to Gavin’s cousin. “Now he’s engaged and Gavin’s got you, what am I supposed to do?”
Owen watched Hector, trying to decide if he was serious. “You could try fighting a dragon,” he suggested. “That’s how I got mine.”
Now Hector looked very unimpressed. “That sounds like a lot of work. Boys are supposed to just fall for my natural charm and charisma.”
“And how’s that working so far?”
Hector groaned a bit, and flopped back onto the grass, looking up at a cloud. “Whatever. I’ll let you keep Gavin, for now.”
“Thanks. I wasn’t planning on returning him anyway.”
“Rude. I saw him first.”
“Too bad, he’s mine now.”
Another chuckle. “Yeah, that’s pretty obvious. Fortunately for you I’ve been feeling a bit…” he held out a hand, wiggled it a bit. “…eh about boys lately anyway. Maybe I’ll try hopelessly pining after a girl instead.”
“How about Gabrielle?” Owen teased. “Just to keep up the theme.”
“Of people I have no chance with?” Hector laughed, rolled onto his side. “You suck, you know that?”
“That’s one of the things I like about him,” Gavin was suddenly beside them. Owen hadn’t noticed him approach, and he looked up and smiled at him as Gavin sat down with them. “You two thinking you can sneak away from the rest of us over here.”
“We’re five feet away from you, calm your royal boots.” Hector pulled himself into a sit with way more effort than was necessary. “Owen’s giving me dating advice.”
“God, don’t listen to him. His dating strategy is to rush into a cave with no plan and hope for a miracle.”
“Skill,” Owen reminded him. “Pure skill, you’re just jealous that you lacked the ability to slay your own dragon. And I totally had a plan.”
“Yeah, the plan was that the dragon would trip and land on your sword, and then so would I.”
Owen coloured, gave Gavin a poke to the arm. “Well, it worked, didn’t it?”
“Whatever, I’m easy to impress.” Gavin shrugged.
“Unlike me, I have the highest standards.”
“Um, guys?” Hector asked, waving at them “I’m still here.”
“Right, you need dating advice.” Gavin grinned at Hector, then threw a glance over his shoulder at Turner, who was now talking to his sister Olivia. Gavin had told him that she was the friend of Gabrielle’s who’d dropped out of knight training. She and her fiancé were getting married in a few weeks. “Turner still doesn’t know about your embarrassing crush on him, right?”
“No,” Hector said, glaring at Gavin. “And he never will. It’s easier that way.”
“You know it’s easier to get people to date you if you tell them that you want to date them?” Gavin asked. “At least that’s what I’ve found.”
“I don’t remember you saying you wanted to date me,” Owen told him. “I remember you telling me to take my clothes off.”
“That was different, you’re easy.”
“You two are really annoying,” Hector observed, shaking his head at them.
“Yeah, and you’re really single,” Gavin poked.
Hector rolled his eyes. “Whatever, I’ll just let mom marry me off to someone. It’s probably easier.”
“You’re so lazy.” Dark-eyed Susanna had wandered over at some point now, and sat next to them. “Stop letting your mother run your life, Hector.”
“Stop letting cattle farmers run yours,” Hector suggested back, raising an eyebrow.
Susanna just gave him a thoroughly unimpressed look, and Gavin turned to Owen. “The Suntower family owns a lot of really important farmland.”
“Speaking of which, Owen, you want to kill more dragons for us? They’re a bloody menace.”
“Sure, how many do you want killed?” Owen asked with a grin, flexing his arm a bit.
That earned him a chuckle, but Susanna pointed at him. “I wasn’t joking.”
“Neither was I.”
“His services aren’t free,” Gavin told her. “Dragon slaying is expensive.”
First Owen had heard of that, but Susanna just smiled at Gavin. “I’m sure I can get a discount since he’s sleeping with my friend. Plus I’m shopping in bulk here.”
“Do I get a say?” Owen asked.
“No,” Gavin told him, and Owen just shrugged.
Hector giggled at all of that. “Looking down the pipe at the rest of your life, regretting your decisions?”
Owen didn’t even hesitate. “Nope.”
“Suddenly you look up and all the cool kids have moved over here.” Owen looked up at Turner Feestings, who punched Gavin on the shoulder. “Are we that boring?”
“Yes,” Gavin, Hector and Susanna all told him, but that didn’t stop Turner from sitting down. Gavin’s other friends were making their way over here as well now. Fair enough, Owen supposed.
“I have to say, Owen, I don’t know why you put up with him,” Turner told Owen as he sat.
“Well, he’s pretty.”
Turner considered Gavin. “I guess,” he declared.
“You guess?” Gavin demanded, sounding offended.
“You’re okay,” Owen didn’t like how much Kieran Wrathwate smiled, but he seemed genuine enough. “For a guy, anyway.”
“You going to tell him that at the altar too, Kieran?” Hector asked, looking at his nails.
Kieran glared at Hector, and so did Gavin. “You shut up,” Gavin ordered.
Hector put on an innocent expression. “What?” Owen asked. There was some strange tension between Gavin and Kieran, not bad, but like they were both making a point of not talking about something. Owen wondered if they’d been interested in each other before or something.
“Nothing,” Gavin said, in a very final tone.
“Now I want to know.”
“Owen, it’s nothing.” Gavin looked embarrassed.
“Then tell me.” Owen poked Gavin’s side. “I’ll find out eventually anyway.” Owen wasn’t about to be mad that Gavin and Kieran had been jerk-off buddies as kids or something.
Flushed with colour, Gavin sighed. “It’s nothing. Kieran’s father wants us to get married. It’s not going to happen,” he added quickly, seeing how Owen tensed. “Lord Kenneth is just ambitious like that.”
“And bad at it,” Kieran confirmed, putting his hands up. He looked embarrassed too. “I promise I’m not the enemy here. Nobody takes my dad seriously.”
“Good,” Owen settled back down, though his heartrate had picked up a little. He didn’t need any reminders that Gavin might get stolen out from under him like that. “I’d hate to have to kidnap poor Gavin at his own wedding.”
“Speaking of which, I’m having a hard time picturing Owen dressed up. He’s going to look funny at the banquet,” Hector said suddenly, while Gavin flushed.
Owen blinked, looked at Gavin. “What banquet?”
“The…banquet that I haven’t told you about yet,” Gavin said, looking up at the sky.
“You haven’t told him?” Hector asked, sounding a bit scandalized. “You’re going to make him come to a fancy dinner party the likes of which he’s probably never seen and you haven’t told him yet?”
“Can I second that?” Owen asked, still looking at Gavin.
“I, um. Thought it would be a good surprise. I was going to tell you on, you know, the morning of the banquet.”
“Gavin!” Owen thought he deserved more warning about something that sounded so terrifying.
“I didn’t want you to get worried about it. It’s just an expensive dinner to formally celebrate my return to the capital, and everything. Not a big deal.”
“It sounds like a big deal,” Owen pressed. He wasn’t going to let Gavin back out of this.
“You’ll be fine.”
“Does he even know what fork to eat with?” Turner asked.
Looking at the look on Owen’s face, Hector added, “Does he even know that there’s more than one kind of fork?”
“Gavin.” Owen could feel his eyes going wider.
“Oh, it’s just cutlery.” Gavin waved a hand. “Nobody cares.”
“Except for your parents and the entire royal court, who are all going to be there,” Susanna said, as if having just thought of it.
“All of whom are going to be wanting to appraise your new lover,” Turner nodded along.
“And will be searching him for culture and manners,” Hector finished.
“Gavin.” Owen was growing steadily more alarmed and angry in turns. What the hell had Gavin been thinking, not telling him about this? Maybe he’d already sufficiently impressed the king and queen, but he didn’t need to be taking steps backwards by making a fool of himself in public.
“They’re just teasing you, Owen.” Gavin sighed. “Sorry, I’m sorry. I should have told you before.” He smiled. “On the bright side, now that the secret’s out, you can come with me to the tailor’s to make sure I gave him the right measurements for your outfit.”
“You already got me something to wear.” It wasn’t a question.
“Well, you have no fashion sense anyway.”
“I’m going to look ridiculous, aren’t I?”
“Of course not.” Gavin’s face was entirely straight, and Owen didn’t buy it for a second.
“Are you at least going to look ridiculous too?”
“No, I’m going to look royal and handsome.”
“You always look royal and handsome, you little shit.”
“Exactly!” Gavin’s expression brightened. “So it’s no different. Anyway, you all suck for making Owen worry about this, now I’m going to have to spend days calming him down. This is why I didn’t let you meet him until now.”
“No, I think that was because you’re a terrible person,” Owen put in, and several of Gavin’s friends nodded.
“Everyone in the capital is a terrible person.” Gavin shrugged as he said that. He reached out and took Owen’s hand as he said it. “I wouldn’t get too worked up if I were you. It’s just a party.”
“I’d rather fight another dragon.”
“I’ll arrange that with Susanna later, promise.”
Owen let them move on to talking about what food they hoped was served at the banquet, still planning to take this up with Gavin later. But through the rest of the afternoon, Gavin held his hand, and that did a lot to remind Owen that he had nothing to worry about.