The waiting was almost more intense than the race. Briar drummed his fingers onto his legs, eyeing his tattoos of seaweed creep up his arm, inexplicably hypnotising. Honestly, he swore they moved of their own accord sometimes.
His sharp gaze swept contemptuously about the Olympic waiting room, until it focused on the extremely pretty athlete sitting in the corner by herself, fingers casually braiding a simple white ribbon.
A bright new face. Well, he might as well go get her measure, it wasn't like any of the other girls on the Emelan team this year had caught his eye like her. And he wasn't a fool enough to think that his casual flirting with the Namornese Show Jumper Berenene was anything serious. Besides, she was many years his senior and this young girl looked to be his age or younger.
"Hey there darlin'. What might you be competing in?" he slid over to her bench casually, one arm on the table resting.
She glanced up – briefly – then replied, "rhythmic gymnastics: ribbons." But in that quick glance, he got a look at bright cornflower-blue eyes and a small button nose, and fell irrevocably in love. Or at least part-way, he wasn't quite so great at judging his romantic fantasies.
"Ugh," she wrinkled her adorable nose at him, obviously distasteful of his nickname.
"Duchess," he amended, taking her sigh and lack of protest as a sign to continue. "I'm Briar Moss, men's single kayak, and you may know me from…"
"The Seaweed Incident?" Ouch. So she knew of him, but not the way he wanted her to.
"Just so you know," he informed her, gently caressing his injured pride, "the media got it all wrong."
"Oh did they?" her mouth quirked to the side and she titled her head questioningly. So she had some spirit in her.
"Yes," he affirmed, "They did. It wasn't me who tangled up the other teams oars in seaweed, it just grew there itself."
"All. By. Itself," the disbelieving tone made him snap his head in annoyance, but when he saw the teasing smile, his heart gave a thump, much different to anger and more like…he gulped. Slow it right down there, he told himself, you aren't ready to get involved with a bag like this. Because now he recognised her. Duchess indeed, or rather, the Duke's beloved niece. Royalty competing in the Olympics. She better not let us down, he thought seriously.
She gave a short laugh, and startled, he realised that he had said the last bit aloud.
"Well, I'll try," she said merrily, eyes dancing with amusement, "But only if you come and watch me."
Briar swallowed, throat dry, "Umm, well you see…"
"Sandrilene fa Toren," she held her hand out, "But you can call me Sandry."
"I can't, cause…umm," Briar gave up. Why was he refusing anyway? "I'd love to."
"Great," she beamed, and it was like she had the whole sun in her mouth, she was shining so brightly.
His heart gave another thump and he looked away. What was wrong? Pretty girls didn't usually make him feel this way.
"I will see you there then," she announced, and there was the noble haughtiness, the assumption of what others will and won't do. But instead of it making him grind his teeth in fury, he found he thought it rather…endearing.
She swept away and a little piece of Briar's heart went with her, while the boy himself was left gaping.