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~*~ Raya’s Pov ~*~

“What?!” Your bellow echoes throughout the room you and your ba are having lunch in. He flinches at your tone and you would normally feel bad but the shock of what you have just heard doesn’t allow it.

“It’s just an offer Dewdrop, you don’t have to accept it.” Your ba tries to placate but it does little to settle the sudden pounding of your heart.

“An arranged marriage!” You say with edges of disgust. The thought of anyone marrying someone they have no feelings for sets you and your omega on edge and leaves a putrid taste in your mouth. You honestly didn’t think it was still done anymore.

“Talon may not have been hit as hard by the Druun as others, but they are still struggling to find peace with the other regions. An alliance with Heart would greatly help change peoples’ perspective of them.” Your ba explains and even though he said it was your choice, it sure does sound like he wants you to accept the offer from the Talon Chief.

You are about to tell him that you’re sorry Talon is struggling and you want to help, but you are not going to mate with the Talon Chief’s son. The thought of it curdles your stomach and has your omega violently snarling in protest. Your heart already belongs to another. Even after she betrayed you and the years of heartache and grief that followed, the traitorous thing never stopped wildly beating for her. When she helped fix the gem and restore Kumandra it only grew fonder of the alpha, and now, after three years of getting to know each other again there is no doubt it wholly belongs to her.

“But you have already done so much for Kumandra, given so much for it. You don’t have to give your heart as well. There are other ways we can help the people of Talon.” He says before you can object and the relief that washes over you makes your shoulders sag and head bow. A warm hand clasps your shoulder and you look up at the smiling face of your ba.

“You don’t have to accept the offer, but we still have to make an appearance at the dinner.” You go to disagree, but your ba is holding up his other hand to stop you.

“It is more respectable to decline him in person rather than through a correspondence. We can also use the opportunity to learn of other ways we can provide our support.” Your ba tells you and while the thought of dressing up in formal attire sounds about as fun as being stuck in a room full of tutnbooms, you have to admit that he is right.

“I suppose you’re right. When is the dinner?” You ask. When you read the letter you didn’t make it past the offer of a marriage union between Talon and Heart before loudly stating your protests.

“It’s tomorrow night.” Your ba tells you with a reassuring squeeze to your shoulder before standing and starting to walk towards the door. You splutter and gape at his retreating back before struggling to stand and catch him.

“Tomorrow?!” You exclaim. Surely he must be joking. How were you expected to make such a huge life changing decision in such a short amount of time?

“The messenger ran into pour weather on his way here and was delayed a couple days in Spine waiting for it to pass.” Your ba patiently explains and you further gape at him. How can he be so calm about this? What if you had seriously considered accepting the offer? Twenty four hours is not enough time to make a decision that is going to upend the lives of not only yourself but the son of the Talon Chief as well.

“You knew I wouldn’t take the offer.” You say because that has to be the only reason why he doesn’t have a sense of urgency about it. He looks at you out of the corner of his eye and gives a small smile.

“How?” You question and at that he sighs and comes to a stop just shy of the entrance leading out of the room. He turns to fully look at you and the smile he gives you is full of melancholy.

“Because you wear your heart on your sleeve much like your mother did.” You feel your breath hitch at the mention of your mother, and the fact that maybe you haven’t been as secretive with your feelings for the alpha as you thought you have been.

“I don’t know what you mean.” You say instead of acknowledging it and you see your ba’s shoulders sag just a little.

“You will in time. For now you should see the tailor for a dress.” You want to question him further but the reminder of formal wear has you rolling your eyes and groaning.

“Fine.” You reluctantly agree, making your ba chuckle before he turns around and continues out the door. Letting out a hefty sigh, you take a moment to just stand there and delay the inevitable, before you shake your head and start heading towards the tailor. It’s much too late for them to make you anything but you have no doubt they have something already made that with a few alterations can be easily suited for the dinner.

~*~*~*~*~

You pull at the neck of your formal top for what feels like the hundredth time in less than a minute. The thing was suffocating the moment you put it on and didn’t change during the boat trip to Talon. If anything it has only gotten worse the closer you got to the Chief’s house. Memories of breaking in and looking for the gem resurface and have you pulling at the collar again.

“If you stop messing with it you will eventual learn to ignore it.” Your ba quietly tells you as you come up to the guards at the entrance of the palace. You want to tell him that it’s easier said than done, but keep quiet and allow him to introduce yourselves.

“Chief Benja, Princess Raya, Chief Hai has been expecting you. The other guests have arrived and are waiting in the dining hall down the hallway and to the left.” The guard explains and you squint in confusion. What other guests?

Were you not the only region to receive a letter? It would make sense that the Chief would send out the offer to as many eligible regions as possible, but as far as you know that would leave Tail completely out since last you knew the Chief is well into her sixties, maybe seventies, has no pups and hasn’t appointed any heirs. You’re pretty sure the Chief of Spine has a set of twin omegas and an alpha son but all are under the age of twelve, and Namaari is an alpha and Chief Virana’s only pup, so a biological heir wouldn’t be possible between her and the Chief’s son. So who else would be here?

“Thank you.” Your ba gives the guard a small appreciate nod and begins to follow their directions. He doesn’t seem as surprised as you are about the unexpected guests.

“What guests?” You quietly question him as you go down the hallway towards the dining area.

“Probably the suitor for his daughter.” He causally tells you but the information makes you falter in your step. In all the hype of the situation you had forgotten that Hai has twin betas, a son and a daughter. You feel your heart sink with the reminder. If Hai is trying to arrange a marriage for his daughter like he is his son, the only eligible person for her would be Namaari.

Walking down the hallway with your ba you come upon the dining hall and feel your stomach drop and heart shatter at the sight of Namaari standing intimately close to who you assume is the Chief’s daughter. Your omega snarls and urges you to go over there and tear the other woman to shreds but your feet remain frozen where you stand as your eyes watch the way the woman’s hand squeezes Namaari’s bicep. She laughs loudly at whatever Namaari has said and you swallow down the urge to vomit when she dramatically leans against the alpha’s muscled frame. You want to look away, to save your heart the pain of what you’re witnessing but you can’t seem to tear your eyes away. Especially when Namaari shyly smiles back and nervously tucks her hair behind her ear.

“I heard the princess of Heart was as beautiful as the gem she guarded, but seeing you for myself doesn’t do the stories justice.” A deep voice says as a tall frame, dressed in bright pinks and purples, blocks your view of Namaari and the other woman. You rapidly blink at the sudden change and look up into the smiling face of a handsome man. His hair is jet black and neatly tied into a bun atop his head while his face remains free of any facial hair. He has a lean, fit figure and his sleeveless top shows off toned arms. His smile is kind and his scent isn’t unpleasant to your senses, but does nothing to intrigue your omega.

“Oh, um…thanks.” You awkwardly say, unused to people showing interest in you in that way. You look over to where your ba had been and internally sigh when you see him no longer there. He gives a bright smile and light laugh, seemingly unaffected by your response as he slowly reaches for your hand. His hand is overly soft within your own, and you have a hard time not pulling away.

“You are not used to people commenting on your beauty, we will have to change that. I am Chi, Prince of Talon.” Chi gives a low bow as he brings your hand up to his mouth and gives the back of it a chaste kiss. Another loud laugh has your eyes shifting over his shoulder to see the woman all but draping herself across Namaari’s tall frame as she shamelessly marks her scent on the alpha. Jaw clenching and omega viciously snapping, you nearly tear your hand out of Chi’s grasp.

“Princess?” His questioning voice has you looking away from the scene over his shoulder and up at the wounded expression he is poorly trying to conceal. It almost reminds you of a kicked puppy and you give a silent sigh of defeat at the look.

“I’m really sorry Chi. You seem like a nice guy, and I have no doubt you are going to make someone very happy one day, but I can’t accept your offer of marriage.” You gently tell him, but each thing you say only seems to make his head dip further in dejection, until his chin is practically touching his chest.

“I understand princess. I knew it would be a long shot to think I would have a chance with the hero of Kumandra.” He tells you with a sad smile and you feel terrible for hurting him, but you can’t change the way you feel.

“Would you believe me if I told you it’s not you, it’s me?” You offer with a half grin, trying to lessen the sting of your rejection. He gives a short laugh and he shakes his head.

“No I don’t think I would.” He honestly tells you and you give a slow nod.

“Fair enough, but it is true. It really isn’t you Chi, it’s me. It wouldn’t be fair to you or me to agree to this when my heart already –,” You immediately stop talking when you realize what you are saying. Chi’s eyes widen and his mouth forms a soft ‘oh.’

“I didn’t mean to say that, I just wanted you to know that it really isn’t anything to do with you.” Chi smiles at your slip of the tongue and you feel your cheeks heat in embarrassment.

“Don’t worry Princess Raya. It hurts that we will not be together, but you can’t control the matters of the heart. No matter how much we wish we can, the heart will want what it wants.” Surprise brightens your face. You honestly hadn’t expected Chi to take the news of your rejection as smoothly as he is. That makes you sound really selfish now, but you truthfully thought he would be more upset.

“Thank you Chi, and it’s just Raya.” You say and give him a grateful smile.

“Well, just Raya, even though we aren’t destined to be mates, it doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.” Chi says and steps back before offering his hand to you in greeting. Softly chuckling, you take the offered limb and grasp his forearm and give it a firm shake.

“No it doesn’t.” You tell him and his smile grows. He holds your arm within both of his, and gives it a thankful squeeze before releasing it. Movement from behind him has your eyes flickering over to see the woman leaning forward to place a lingering kiss to Namaari’s cheek. An unintentional growl begins to rumble in your chest and you can’t help but glare at the woman as she slowly turns and gives the alpha a flirtatious smile over her shoulder as she walks away.

“Well this certainly will make the evening interesting.” Chi says and you see from the corner of your eye that he has followed your gaze to Namaari and the woman. You want to question what he means by that, but the opportunity to talk to Namaari now that she is alone is too great to pass.

“I’m sorry again Chi, but will you excuse me.” You say more as a statement than a question, and barely wait for him to respond before you step around him and begin to quickly cross the space between you and the Fang princess.

She looks as uncomfortable as you do as she secretly pulls at her formal wear, but as you near her you can’t help the hitch in your throat at how beautiful she looks. She is dressed in similar attire on the night you first met, with her sculpted arms completely exposed and perfectly unmarred neck on full display. You swallow when you feel your mouth water at the thought of sinking your teeth into the flesh and possessively marking it with your bite. It’s not the first time you have thought of it, but it is the first time you have felt an almost physical need to.

“Fancy seeing you here dep la.” You say with a smirk but when she whips around to face you an overly sweet, almost rotten fruit stench wafts your way and you can’t help but wrinkle your nose.

“I was going to say what a pleasant surprise but your face says otherwise.” She says with a low chuckle that would normally make your heart race but the putrid smell coming from her is wholly distracting. That woman all but saturated Namaari in her scent and you want to tear her throat out for leaving such a disgusting smell on your alpha.

Without thinking you step into Namaari’s space and wrap your arms around her torso. Tucking your face against her neck, you tightly hug the alpha and pour your scent out. Namaari lets out a strangled gasp as her arms hesitantly wrap around you, and you feel your omega smugly huffing as the snarl that had been on your face begins to relax. Your chin tucks against her shoulder and you nuzzle your head against the side of hers, thoroughly rubbing your scent gland along hers. Namaari lets out another gasp that has her arms instinctively tightening around you, and you want to smirk and tell the other omega that is how you scent someone. You continue to soak the alpha in your scent for a second longer before stepping back.

“W-What was that?” The alpha breathlessly asks with a dazed look as her deep mahogany colored eyes search your face. You look down and pointedly refuse to meet her intense gaze as you run your hands along her top to smooth out the wrinkles you created.

“You didn’t smell right.” You quietly say. The brazen confidence that embroiled you to boldly scent mark her is now long gone and your left feeling embarrassed at your brash reaction.

“I – what? Raya you can’t just…” Namaari lets out a quiet sigh before stepping back and away from your touch. You look up and see the alpha unable to meet your gaze as her jaw violently clenches.

“I need this union to work.” Your stomach violently rolls as you recoil at her words. You didn’t think she was truly considering the offer, but hearing that she is more than considering it has your heart leaping to your throat as terror suffocates your lungs.

“But, why?” You ask in disbelief as you flick your eyes across her face for some sort of sign that this is all just a sick joke, but she isn’t smiling.

“Because Fang needs this. The other packs barely tolerate us and…we’re hurting because of it. This union can rebuild the trust between the people of Kumandra and Fang.” She says with a quiet desperation you can see reflected in her mahogany eyes. You knew some of the packs still held some resentment for Fang, even though it has been three years since the gem was restored, but you didn’t know things were still that bad.

“There are other ways to do so that doesn’t involve you sacrificing your choice at a mate.” You tell her but Namaari lets out a sarcastic laugh. Your omega loudly whines at the sound and you have to bite your lip to keep it in.

“It’s not like I have a line of suitors anyways. No one wants to mate the one who killed Sisu.” Namaari says with a self deprecating grin before shaking her head and looking away.

Your heart wildly beats and crashes against your chest as it screams at you to correct the alpha. To tell her that she’s wrong, that there is someone that wants to be her mate. Your head tells you it’s neither the time nor the place for this conversation but your heart is overpowering and is forcing the words out of your mouth before you can bite your tongue to stop them.

“I want to mate with you.” Namaari’s breathe hitches as her eyes snap up to meet yours. Her face is slack in utter disbelief as mahogany eyes well with emotion and intensely stare back at you. You can feel the heat of embarrassment burning at your cheeks but you don’t look away.

“W-What?” She breathlessly asks, as if she had just run a mile and even though your nervousness and doubt has your stomach twisting into tight knots you smirk at her.

“I said I want to mate with you.” You repeat, with more confidence this time, but the alpha viciously shakes her head and takes another step away from you. She clenches and unclenches her fists as a tirade of emotions play across her face.

“I betrayed your trust, twice, I took your ba from you for six years, I hurt you, and I k-killed Sisu. Why would you ever want me?” She asks with such shame and self-loathing. Tears burn at the corners of your eyes but you fight them as you take a step closer to Namaari and hesitantly reach your hand out towards her closed fist. Your fingers trail across the back of her hand and it instinctively opens for you to slide your hand inside.

“Why wouldn’t I? You restored the gem, you brought my ba back to me, and you are willing to sacrifice your freedom to keep the peace of Kumandra. You’re incredibly compassionate and kind even if you don’t want others to know it. You’re ridiculously smart and possibly the best fighter I know. You always know how to make me laugh, or what to say to calm me when things become too much to bear. You’re strong and protective but not overbearing, and have never thought less of me or looked down at me because I’m an omega. You’re there for me when I need you, no matter if it’s a shoulder to cry on, an ear to vent to or a body to spar with. I…I would be honored to call you my mate.” You tell her with a soft smile tugging at your lips. You hadn’t meant to bear your heart this way, but once you started it was like a cork being released and everything came pouring out at once. Now you’re left feeling exposed and open as you stand before the alpha with your heart in hand.

Namaari’s chest rapidly rises and falls with harsh breathes as her mouth opens and closes several times. Her wide astonished eyes flick between yours and you feel the tingle of uncertainty and doubt creep up your neck the longer she stays silent. You wish she would say something, anything to break the tension that is building between you, but nothing comes out of her mouth and you feel dread painfully squeeze your heart.

“My guests thank you all for honoring me and attending this dinner.” The loud voice of Chief Hai is like a bucket of ice water that violently brings reality crashing back in. Namaari drops your hand as if scolded and quickly walks away before you can think to stop her. With a heavy heart and deep sense of dread you watch her rejoin her mother’s side.

“Our packs have been feuding for centuries, but the actions of our young ones have shown us the error of our ways and taught us that true strength comes from unity. So may tonight be the start of hundreds of years of peace between our packs. Now, let us eat!” Chief Hai joyously declares yet you feel anything but. You can’t wipe the deep frown from your face as your stomach violently rolls with the Chief’s words. You find your ba standing with Chi and an older woman that resembles Chi and reluctantly join them.

“Ah there’s my Dewdrop!” You ba excitedly says when he sees you nearing and you force yourself to smile back at him. You realize it must not be very convincing in the way his eyes dip in concern but he thankfully doesn’t say anything and instead wraps his warm arm around you.

“Raya this is Tien, Chief Hai’s lovely wife.” You try to brighten your smile as you turn to the short woman and offer your hand.

“It’s nice to meet you ma’am.” You politely say, making Tien laugh and grip your offered hand with both of hers.

“The pleasure is all mine Raya, and please call me Tien. Even if you don’t accept my son’s hand, you will forever hold a place at our table dear. You have brought my family back to me and I will always be grateful to you. Thank you Raya, thank you.” Tien says with a slight watery smile, and immense gratitude. Heat burns your cheeks at the fierce emotion directed at you, and you can do little more than smile back at the older omega.  

“Y-You’re welcome, but I didn’t do it by myself. I had help.” You tell her and you instinctively look over to Namaari. Your heart shatters when you see Bian clinging to the alpha’s arm while Namaari shakes Chief Hai’s hand. The harsh sting of tears begins to burn at your eyes and it takes everything in you not to give into them.

“Well I for one am famished, Raya would you like to join me in getting food?” Chi suddenly says. His deep voice pulls your gaze off Namaari and to his offered arm. Your brow dips in confusion but you wind your arm within his anyways.

“I – uh…sure.” Your cheeks further burn at your eloquent stutter, but he doesn’t seem to mind, if anything it makes the tall beta’s smile grow. His mother makes a cooing sound as you move into Chi’s side and allow him to lead you towards the food tables.

“I’m sorry if I overstepped, but you looked like you needed to get away.” Chi quietly tells you as he brings your steps to a near snail pace to give you time to recoup. You let out a heavy grateful sigh and sag into his side. Your head leans against his smooth shoulder and you give his arm a brief squeeze.

“Thank you Chi.” You tell him and he gives your arm a squeeze back.

“Now correct me if I’m wrong, but is Namaari the one who holds your heart?” You gasp and falter in your step at his question. Swallowing, you snap your gaze up to him and find a soft, reassuring, if not resigned, look on his face. Either he holds his anger better than anyone you know, or he really is one of the world’s nicest guys.

“Chi I – I don’t…” You have no idea how to respond.

If Chi is hiding his anger then telling him the truth could be a big mistake. He could challenge Namaari, destroying her chances of fixing Fang’s reputation, he could hold it over your head, and force you to accept his hand to keep it a secret, or he could go to his father with it who could view it as a slap in the face and cut Heart off. To lie though could lead to all these possibilities as well because you have a feeling Chi is going to see right through any lie you tell.

“It’s okay Raya. I told you before that I was happy to be your friend and I meant that. Do I wish I had the honor of your affections, yes, but we can’t choose who we love anymore than we can choose what the weather will be.” He sincerely tells you and you want to trust him. He has been nothing but kind to you, but being on your own for six years and having to be weary of anyone that showed you kindness is a hard habit to break. Even if it has been years since you’ve had to be on your own.

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, I completely understand if you don’t. But fair warning, when my sister digs her claws in it’s near impossible to tear them out.” Chi quietly warns you as he brings you to a stop at the end of a table filled with various foods. Your stomach churns just looking at it now.

“So, hypothetically, what would you suggest?” You mumble back as you drop his arm and force yourself to fill a plate with food.

“Hypothetically, I would distract my sister so you can have time to tell the princess how you feel.” You sharply look over at Chi to see if he is joking, but his face is serious as he shuffles along and picks out various foods.

“You – why would you do that?” You question him and he gives a half shrug before giving you a small grin.

“For one I’m a sucker for a happy ending, second after everything you’ve done for Kumandra you deserve to be happy and if Princess Namaari is the one that does then I would be honored to help. And if it works out I’ll also have bragging rights for the rest of my life for being an instrumental part of it.” He tells you with a soft chuckle and you jokingly roll your eyes at him as you shove him further down the line. His laugh increases and you feel hope swelling within you until it suddenly bursts with the remembrance of watching Namaari shake hands with the Chief.

“It doesn’t matter anyways, I’m pretty sure she already agreed to your father’s offer.” You say and look down at your plate with a dejected sigh. Chi knocks his shoulder against yours and you frown up at him.

“If that did happen my ba would have ordered the fine wine to be brought out in celebration.” He tells you with a wide smile and you can’t help but let out a relieved sigh. Chi laughs at it and moves to another table filled with desserts.

“Don’t worry princess you still have time.” He teases as you continue to move along with him. Looking at all the delicious baked items you feel your stomach finally rumble.

“So, hypothetically, when would you distract your sister?” You ask as you pick up a puffed pastry with some type of glaze topping it and plop it on your plate.

“Well I guess that would depend on when you want to make your move. Hypothetically speaking of course.” He says and you look over your shoulder to see the alpha now standing alone with Bian. The beta has both her hands on Namaari’s shoulders and is heavily leaning into the alpha’s space. Your heart squeezes at the sight until you notice how Namaari is subtly trying to lean away from her. Your grip on the plate in your hands dangerously tightens and you don’t realize you’re seconds away from breaking it until the calming scent of chamomile enters your senses. Blinking, you look over at Chi and see a soft smile directed at you.

“You were about to take your jealousy out on that defenseless plate.” He tells you and you try to sputter out a reply. When nothing immediately comes he gives a deep laugh and throws an arm around your shoulders to guide you away from the tables.

“Namaari obviously didn’t like the way your sister was invading her space and that made me angry not jealous.” You finally manage to say, ending it with a small huff of annoyance. Chi just shakes his head with another chuckle.

“Whatever you say princess.” He says with a wide grin that makes you roll your eyes. As you near the dining table he guides you off to the side where you find the noise of the gathering has dimmed.

“If you are serious about the Fang princess I would suggest doing something about it before the end of dinner. I suspect that is when my sister is going to formally ask Chief Virana for Namaari’s hand.” Chi tells you with an unusually serious face, and you feel yourself nervously swallow.

“My parents are getting their food now. If you wish to have a moment alone with Namaari now would be your best opportunity.” Chi says and you look over at the buffet and find the couple just beginning to fill their plates. Nervousness fills you from your head to your toes, leaving your body practically vibrating.

“Why are you doing this Chi? The real reason.” You fiercely ask him one last time. He pursues his lips and lets out a sigh before softly shaking his head.

“I love my sister, I truly do, but she would not be a good mate. She can be unnecessarily cruel with her comments and make you feel as big as her pinky toe. She will play nice to secure the union but once things are settled she will have no interest in Namaari. The princess will be little more than a glorified trophy to her and as much as I love my sister, I can’t stand by and let that happen if Namaari is the one you truly love.” Chi confesses to you and you shakily swallow down the emotions welling within you. There’s so much you want to say to him, to thank him, but you can feel your window closing and instead give the beta man a quick hug with your free arm.

“Thank you Chi, from the bottom of my heart.” You tell him and he gently wraps his arm around you to hug back.

“You are welcome Raya. Now let’s go get your princess.” He says after pulling back. You softly chuckle and nod in agreement.

“What’s the plan?”

~*~*~*~*~

You nervously shift your feet back and forth from your spot behind a nearby pillar. You can see Chi weaving himself between the people to make his way over to Bian and Namaari, and you feel like your heart is about to explode out of your chest. You’re a few meters behind the couple so when Chi comes up to them you can’t hear what is said but you can see him wrap an arm around Bian’s shoulders and all but drag her away from Namaari. Confusion dips the alpha’s brow as she watches the twins walk away and you let out one last nervous breathe before coming out of your hiding place.

“Namaari.” The alpha’s head snaps over to look at you, and you use the brief moment of distraction to grab hold of her wrist and pull her off to the side and away from prying eyes.

“Raya what are you doing? I told you –,” You pull Namaari within the shadows and push the alpha against a nearby pillar. She lets out a startled sound but you don’t give her time to recover before you’re wrapping your hands around the edges of her shirt and pressing your lips against hers.

A surprised sound escapes her as she freezes beneath you. For a moment you believe you have just made the worst mistake of your life until she suddenly relaxes and plump lips are pressing back to fully return the kiss. Strong arms tightly wrap around your body and let out a content sigh as you step further between the alpha’s legs to deepen the kiss. You melt into the embrace and the rest of the room fades away except for the two of you as you easily lose yourself within the feel of her lips against yours.

“Raya…” She breathlessly says, eyes still closed and a small smile tugging at her mouth. You lean your forehead against hers and tighten your grip on her shirt.

“You told me you needed the union to strengthen the people’s faith in Fang. Why can’t that union be between Heart and Fang instead?” You quietly ask her before leaning back. The small smile that was on her face has fallen into a frown.

“Because I’ve taken enough from you already Raya, I can’t…I can’t take this to.” She replies, unable to look at you. Shaking your head, you gently grip her chin and turn it to face you. She reluctantly allows it and you wait until mahogany eyes flick up to look at you.

“You can’t take something that is being willingly offered, and I have wanted you for years Namaari.” You honestly tell her and move the hand that is holding her chin to cup her cheek.

“It’s…it’s okay if you don’t feel the same way, but please don’t accept Bian’s proposal. I want you to be happy, even if that’s not with me, but she will only make you miserable. Please don’t accept her.” You all but beg of her as you stare into her deep brown eyes. You see her visibly swallow before she opens her mouth to respond.

“There you are! I was beginning to wonder – oh.” A high, melodic voice has you flinching and immediately stepping away from Namaari. Snapping your head over you find Bian standing next to you with a poorly hidden scowl. Seeing her has your omega immediately growling and urging you to tear that sneer off her face. Instead you force a pleasant smile on your face.

“I don’t believe we have officially met. Princess Raya of Heart.” You introduce yourself with an overly polite voice and stick your hand out for her to shake. She glances down at it and back up at you.

“Princess Bian of Talon, pleasure.” The beta woman says as she casually grips your hand. You don’t hesitate to crush her soft hand within yours and you can’t help it if your smile widens at the hiss of pain that escapes her. Chi suddenly appears behind Bian, looking slightly disheveled and a little more than breathless. You want to question it but instead use his appearance as your cue to leave.

“Sorry to keep you waiting Chi, your lovely sister was just introducing herself to me.” You give another hard squeeze to the beta’s hand and can barely stop yourself from chuckling at the grimace that flashes across her face before you let go of her hand.

“It was a pleasure to meet you Bian, and it’s always a pleasure to see you Namaari.” You politely say to Bian before giving a wide, bordering on flirty, smile to the alpha. A red hue blossoms across the Fang warrior’s cheeks and the Talon beta gives you a poorly concealed sneer as you grab hold of Chi’s arm and usher the both of you away.

“I’m so sorry about that. I swear I was keeping her distracted but I blinked and she was suddenly gone. Did you manage to talk to Namaari?” Chi asks, voice laced with guilt and concern. You squeeze his arm in reassurance and give him a soft smile.

“Don’t worry, you probably just saved me from doing something I would have regretted, and yes I did talk to her.” You say to him and you can feel him slightly sag next to you in relief.

“Thank the spirits. I was afraid you didn’t get enough time.”  He says with a hand pressed to his chest. He lets out a long breath and you give his arm one last squeeze before letting go.

“I did all I could, now it’s up to her.” You say and glance back to where you left Namaari and Bian. The beta has a look of anger on her face and is wildly moving her hands as she heatedly talks at the alpha. Namaari’s face is unreadable as she simply stands there and takes whatever the woman is throwing at her. You’re the one that has instigated everything Bian should be screaming at you not Namaari. Guilt stabs at your heart and nearly has you walking back over there, but you clench your jaw and quickly look away instead.

“Uhh yeah, I think she may have already made her decision.” Chi says in a dazed voice full of disbelief. Before you can question it the loud, echoing sound of skin smacking skin has you whirling around to see Namaari’s head turned to the side and Bian furiously stomping her way towards her father.

“Uh-oh this isn’t going to end well.” Chi quietly says as Bian urgently gains the attention of Chief Hai.

“Ba the union between Talon and Fang is off.” Bian loudly announces and you feel yourself gasp as you instinctively look over to Namaari. The alpha’s body is rigid as stone as she stands with a slightly bowed head. You don’t realize you have made a move to go to her until you feel Chi grab your arm and stop you. When you accusingly look at him, he gives you a short shake of his head.

“What? Why?” Chief Hai asks with obvious concern.

“Because she’s a no good, lying, cheating binturi!” Bian yells, but the snarl that rips through you quiets the room and draws everyone’s attention. You don’t pay them any mind and furiously glare at the beta’s sneering face. Hands clenching into fists you tear your arm out of Chi’s hold and begin stalking towards her.

“She is a skilled warrior, a compassionate leader, and a hero you selfish, ignorant –,”

“Raya!” Your ba’s horrified gasp has you clamping your mouth shut before you can go any further.

“Says the one who had her tongue shoved down her throat five minutes ago!” Bian snarls back and you feel the sneer fall from your face. Clenching your jaw you glare at the beta a moment longer before turning to the Chief with guilty, apologetic eyes.

“Bian is right, I did kiss Namaari and I’m deeply sorry for being incredibly disrespectful to you. You invited me into your home, offered me a place in your family and I responded in kind by letting my emotions get the best of me, but Namaari had no knowledge of my feelings before today. She came here wanting to make this union work, and I blindsided her with my confession. She is a loyal, kind-hearted alpha and would make an amazing wife and mate to anyone. Please don’t hold her or Fang accountable for my actions Chief Hai.” You sincerely tell him before nearly bowing at the waist and holding your hands above your head in the circular sign of respect.

“What is happening here?” Chief Hai asks with anger and confusion heavily present in his voice.

“Chief Hai, may I explain please?” Hearing Namaari’s voice has you lifting from your bow and slowly dropping your arms. You look over to see the alpha walking closer to stand in front of the Chief, and though she hides it well you can still see the nervous pinch in her shoulders.

“Someone needs to.” Hai says his voice tight with annoyance. You can’t help but flinch at the scolding tone.

“You have greatly honored Fang with your generous offer of your daughter’s hand in marriage, and I was not lying when I agreed a union between our regions would be what is best for Fang. But I realize it wouldn’t have been fair to you or your daughter for me to agree to it when…when I am already in love with someone else.” Some type of strangled noise escapes you as your heart seizes in your chest and you snap your head to look at the alpha. She’s giving you a tiny smile as you stare back at her in barely contained wonder and affection.

“By the dragons this is not how I thought this night was going to go. Son, you’ve been awfully quiet. What do you have to say about all this?” Chief Hai asks and all eyes turn to Chi. You can see him nervously swallow as his cheeks begin to redden from all the attention turned to him.

“I’m not going to lie I was hurt when I learned Raya was not going to be mine, but it didn’t last when I saw her obvious love for the Princess of Fang. And if the heroes of Kumandra wish to be together then who are we to stop them?” Chi says with a light laugh that several people join in with. He meets your eye and you silently mouth a thank you to him. Chief Hai gives a heavy sigh, his frown seemingly ever present now, and you nervously swallow when he turns his full attention onto Namaari. He stares down at her with an unreadable expression and a mute scent.

“I am disappointed to not have you as a member of my family Princess Namaari, but if Princess Raya is the one you truly wish to mate then like my son said, who are we to stop you?” A slow smile begins to brighten his whiskered face as he claps a meaty hand onto Namaari’s shoulder. The alpha’s jaw physically hangs open in shock and you can’t help but laugh at the sight. Chief Hai lets out a deep bellied chuckle and various others join in with him.

“Ba you can’t be serious!” Bian’s sudden cry silences the room, and the lightened atmosphere tenses again.

“Their actions were incredibly disrespectful and bordering on criminal.” Bian hisses and surprisingly glares up at her father. Chief Hai sighs and goes to place a comforting hand on her shoulder but she ducks away before he can.

“It’s not the best decision they could have made, but one doesn’t always make the best decisions when you’re young and in love. They’ve both sincerely apologized and I believe them when they say they meant no ill intent. You are hurt Bian, and it’s completely understandable, but you need to tread lightly with your words.” Chief Hai tells her as he gives her a scolding look. You shouldn’t, but you feel a tiny bit of gratification at the expression. Bian continues to glare at him a moment longer before scoffing, turning on her heel, and stomping out of the dining hall. You and everyone in the hall follow her retreating figure with varying faces of shock.

“Well this evening has been quite eventful, and we haven’t even had dinner yet!” Chief Hai says and a few people give quiet chuckles as the tension in the room begins to fade away again.

“We may not be celebrating the joining of our regions today, but instead let this be the beginning of a prosperous friendship!” Chief Hai joyously declares, and the room erupts in a loud roar of various agreements. He calls for everyone to come eat again and the hustle and bustle of the dining hall quickly returns.

Before the sudden flow of people can swipe you up, you quickly dart forward to grab hold of Namaari’s arm. You give a tug to the limb and she easily follows you as you quietly, but hurriedly weave between passing bodies. Your cheeks ache from the smile that stretches across your face, but you can’t be bothered to care as you pull Namaari into a quiet spot away from the crowd of people. Turning around to face her, you open your mouth to speak but calloused hands are suddenly cupping your cheeks as soft plump lips find yours.

You melt into the feeling of her mouth against yours and eagerly wind your arms around her to pull her closer. She lets out a hum against your lips before pulling back. Your eyes lazily blink open and your heart nearly bursts at the complete look of adoration on her face.

“I love you.” You breathlessly say, making a beautiful blush color her cheeks. She bites her lips and leans her forehead against yours.

“I love you to Raya.” She quietly says and the sudden bubble of joy that wells within you has you giggling and pushing forward to tightly wrap your arms around her. She lets out a surprised chuckle but her arms surround you just as strongly.

Tucking your head against her shoulder, your lips brush against her neck and you lean closer to gently bite down on the area, leaving just the faintest indentations of your teeth. Seeing the mark on her smooth skin has a stupid giddy smile pulling at your cheeks. It will be gone by morning, but for the rest of the night there will be no further doubt that Namaari is yours.