Breestlin remembered her first kiss as if it were fresh on her lips. She took a deep breath and thought back, to a beautiful day in early spring. She was sitting outside on a stone bench of the castle terrace in her father’s kingdom. The leather book in her hand was heavy, and filled with romantic stories of star-crossed lovers and tales of wild adventure. For a girl of 14 years of age, this book was both scandalous and marvelous at the same time.
The sun was beaming down on her thick auburn hair, neatly braided and tied round with beautiful silk ribbons of violet. The ribbons matched her gown, which was gathered into her lap to prevent it from touching the damp stone below. She was reading so intently that she was able to drown out the birds chirping and occasional voices from the servants buzzing around the castle. Her books provided an escape of sorts from her busy and demanding life as the only daughter of King Frederick II, the ruler of Junacave. Being constantly guarded in the kingdom had left little capacity for real adventure or romance, leaving the stories in her books as her only refuge and sanctuary.
Bree was taken out of her peaceful trance by the sudden sound of an object whizzing past her left ear. Startled, she dropped her book to the ground and fell backward off of the bench, her skirts flailing about during the fall. The soft grass behind her eased the landing a bit, but her head was dizzy as she sat up. She quickly tried to compose herself, pulling her skirts down to cover her now bare legs. Looking around, she saw an arrow poking up from the ground, several feet behind her, which must have been the object that flew by just moments ago. She heard footsteps coming toward her and shouting from a distance as she tried to stand.
A hand reached out and grabbed her arm firmly, lifting her to her feet. Bree looked up into a familiar face and couldn’t help but frown. Rowan was standing in front of her, his face less than a foot away from hers with soft brown eyes. One corner of his thin mouth curled up into what could only be described as a beautiful smirk. He was almost a foot taller than her, and at nearly 16 years old, was looking more like a man than a boy every day.
Of course, training for knighthood at the hands of your father, the first knight of the king, was bound to make any boy strong and lean. He was wearing a tunic, untucked and untied, hanging over the top of his brown trousers, both of which were dirty from training outside.
Having known Rowan all of her life, Bree had only recently become aware of the change that she felt when he was nearby. Before, she had mostly felt annoyance at his presence, but suddenly his familiar face was intriguing, and his tall, solid build was mesmerizing. She had purposefully avoided any conversation with him over the past several months. She constantly felt foolish when she was near him and a princess absolutely cannot be made a fool.
Realizing she had been staring at him, Bree dropped her head and pretended to brush dirt and grass from her skirts with her free hand. When she heard Rowan chuckle, her head snapped up, and her eyes narrowed sharply at him, giving him a look that would cut a steel blade in half. A look that didn’t seem to faze Rowan at all. Bree tried to jerk her arm away, but he didn’t lessen his hold.
Instead, he pulled her back around to the front of the bench and sat down beside her, then bent down and picked her book up from where it had landed. Before handing it to her, however, he paused and turned the book over to look at the title.
“Lovers Entwined: Tales of Adventure & Romance,” he read aloud. “Looking for romance now, are we, Princess? Aren’t you a bit young for this nonsense?”
Bree tried to grab the book from him, but he continued to move it around, avoiding her hand each time she tried to snatch it away, making an almost childish game of it. When she finally closed her hand around the book, she realized he had let go of her other arm. She immediately jumped up and hurried away. Rowan followed quickly, catching up to her at the corner of the terrace and the gardens. He grabbed hold of her gown to slow her down. Then he fell into step beside her as they walked into the gardens together.
“I’m sorry, Bree. I didn’t mean to upset you,” he said, “I know you’re a dreamer, always have been, and—“
“You don’t know anything!” she interjected, shouting at him. Rowan put his hands up as if to surrender, and smiled at her. His gorgeous smile was almost enough to make her forget that she was extremely irritated with him. “I will be 15 years old next month and my father is already receiving tenders for my hand in marriage! I could be wed as early as one year from now. Do you know what the chances are that I will marry someone I actually like?” she demanded.
Rowan shook his head, too afraid to answer at this point.
“And worst of all,” she said with tears beginning to gather in her eyes, “is that my first kiss would be with a hairy old man, likely twice my age and not a care in the realm for me! Is that how you think my memory of that moment should be?” she looked down and shook her head. “No. I would rather live in this dreamland you speak of than the reality of my future to come…”
Bree was now quiet and looking down at the ground. Rowan liked the shouting better than the quiet between them.
“Well, why don’t you just kiss someone you love first?” he blurted out. “Then you would always have that memory… umm, instead of the… old and hairy one.”
He felt silly once he finished speaking. What was this effect she seemed to have on him that none of the other girls did? Every time he spoke, he sounded even more ridiculous than before.
His shoulders relaxed when he heard her giggle, and he breathed a sigh of relief that she appeared to be calming down. He didn’t like the way he felt when seeing her upset, but especially if it was his fault. She was so delicate, like one of the fine vases in the main hall. He knew first hand that if you broke one, the pieces would never quite fit the same way again. He didn’t want to be the one to break the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Her long dark red hair was shining in the daylight. The loose waves spilled out around her, having come undone from the fall. And her perfect sun-kissed skin was finally showing now that the angry redness was fading from her face.
Even though her dress was dirty now, and he certainly preferred her in red or deep green to match her eyes, she was still the most amazing thing he had ever laid eyes on. Womanhood was treating her very kindly with a body that would soon be the envy of all women of Junacave—maybe even Everealm. And those perfect round breasts were sitting on top, snug in her corset, just waiting for someone to…
Snap out of it, he told himself. She is the princess, not your plaything!
Bree had been silent for several moments, studying him.
“And what if the person I love doesn’t love me back?”
She watched his face to see what reaction, if any, she would get from him. He looked nervous and unsure if he should answer.
She smiled and said, “I guess you will just have to do, for now.”
Rowan looked around to see if they were alone. Thankfully, they were, and the tall rose covered trellis surrounding them would be an adequate cover.
He stepped toward her until they were close enough that he could smell her floral perfume oil. No matter how much he probably shouldn’t be doing this, when the most beautiful girl asks you to kiss her, you damn well better.
She didn’t seem nervous to him, but under her skirts were two legs just barely able to stand up for all of the shaking. He put a hand up on the corner of the trellis behind her to steady himself and bent down to her.
Bree held her breath. His large body was shadowing over her, but it wasn’t fear that she felt as much as excitement. If she could see herself, she probably looked like an over-anxious child about to open a present. She tried to relax her face to look calm and mature. This was the time to act like a woman, not a girl.
Rowan was so close that she could feel his breath on her skin. When he finally closed the gap and placed his mouth on hers, it was as if a wave of heat had washed over and her stomach twisted into knots that she thought would never come loose. After a moment, Rowan began to pull away, but Bree wasn’t ready for it to end, so she rose up onto her toes and put a hand around his neck to pull him closer.
The next thing she knew, Rowan had his arms around her waist and was lifting Bree off of the ground, pinning her to the garden trellis behind her and smothering her body with his. Instead of trying to free herself or pull away, she melted into him. The kiss seemed to go on and on, only ending when their mouths broke apart so they could gasp for air.
With their foreheads still touching, Rowan slowly lowered her back down to the ground while attempting to catch his breath. For a moment, he feared that she might think he had taken advantage of her, but that thought quickly vanished when she leaned in and rested her head on his chest.
The two of them stood there, still wrapped in each other’s arms, swaying lightly in the breeze. When Rowan could finally find his voice, he said, “Well, that should make for a good memory, I guess,” and kissed the top of her head before pulling away. A good memory for both of us, he thought.
Bree couldn’t believe how peaceful she felt at this moment. She wanted to pull him back to her again, but she couldn’t make her arms move. She may very well have been in shock. Blissful shock. Instead, she smiled at Rowan and said, “Thank you.”
One year later, Bree and Rowan would share another magical moment, when on the eve of Bree’s sixteenth birthday, she had given Rowan something she could never again give to another: her innocence.