BOOK 1 in The Love Mark Series
Adult Fantasy Romance
Orginally published May 2018
144,290 words, 418 pages
3-Flame Sensuality Rating
Custom demanded that Prince Urban get a love mark tattooed to the side of his left eye as an infant, just like the rest of his people, but to him, the stupid things have only brought on the scorn of his father, the misery of his siblings, and caused his entire kingdom to go broke from fighting so many wars over the irritating ink stains.
When Urban's sister must travel to Donnelly, the kingdom within the sand, for her arranged marriage to align two realms, he goes with her. But he no sooner steps foot inside their castle than his mark starts itching like a son of a bitch, telling him his one true love is near.
It just figures, though, that the woman meant for him is completely forbidden. Now he must decide if he should ignore the persistent mark, telling him she's the one, in order to avoid a possible war between kingdoms, or if he should discover whether she's worth risking everything for so they can be together. Either way, his life gets sucked into chaos with threats of beheadings, dark magic lurking, castle traitors scheming, and sword fights eminent.
Who knew one little tattoo could cause so much trouble?
(ONE TRUE LOVE is the author's first attempt at a fantasy romance. Please forgive her; she might've read an overabundance of Cassandra Gannon, Sarah J. Maas, and Eve Langlais books, then gone off to watch too many episodes of Supernatural, Game of Thrones, and Outlander, because this was the outcome.)
RAIN HADN'T VISITED this region in quite some time, proof evident in the brown, wilted cacti and dead flowering plants we passed. Sandy travel dust coated us all, weighing us down with a weary kind of plod that made our journey feel even longer than the three weeks it had taken to reach this point. Even our horses had given up on twitching their tails in an effort to remove flies from their hides.
Our path was paved with dry, cracked earth, and what emaci- ated cattle we saw lay in the shaded nooks of exhausted boulders as they panted with their dehydrated tongues lolling. It made me miss home even more. Nothing could compare to the vast expanse of rolling, green-carpeted hills, turbulent blue seas, succulent fruit trees, and the white-washed cliffs I'd grown up exploring. This dry, barren wasteland did nothing whatsoever to change my mind, either.
I couldn't believe I'd agreed to come to this place with my sister.
And stay. Forever.
I must've lost my damn mind.
With a sigh, I capped the canteen I'd just taken a swig from and tucked it back into the pouch of my horse's satchel. Under me, the thirsty beast snorted as if he could smell the fresh liquid, meaning I probably needed to halt the caravan soon so we could water the animals again, even though stopping would delay our trip even longer.
Which made my mood grow grimmer.
"Ready to turn back yet?" I asked, wiping sweat off my brow with the back of my wrist before I sent a telling glance to my right, where my sister rested her own heat-glistened face in the window of her carriage. "Go home and forget this desert?"
"And risk starting a war?" Her fatigued gaze slid drowsily my way. "I think not. The marriage alliance has already been signed, Brother. It's a done deal."
"Nah." I sent her a wink and mischievous grin, even though the juices in my stomach boiled every time I was reminded how she'd been sold off into marriage like some kind of meaningless broodmare. "We'll just send Cousin Agnes in your stead. She'd love the adventure, and they'd never know the difference."
"Father would. He'd disinherit us both if we returned home now."
I stopped arguing with a muttered grunt, because Father. Pfft. That old windbag put more importance on honor and respect than he did his own children, which had proven terribly unfortu- nate for me on more than one occasion. Like now. Because Father, the great and mighty ruler of High Cliff, had spent the entirety of our kingdom's coffers on fighting a war, all for a little honor and respect.
The people of High Cliff—my home—had a custom, you see. Every child born in our land must be christened with our cere- monial mark within a week of birth. Once the mark was applied, that person would then be able to recognize his or her one true love at first sight.
I know, I know. Stop rolling your eyes already. Even I admit it was a trite, romanticized practice set forth by some young, dreamy-eyed teen queen centuries ago, but that truly didn't matter. It had become an honored tradition among my people, so the kingdom of High Cliff treated it seriously. And when other lands ridiculed our sacred custom, well… We took it as an extreme affront.
Which caused wars. Many wars. Many expensive wars.
Call us pansy-assed weaklings concerned with nothing but finding true love? Fine, we'll kill all your warriors and take your land. How about that?
Actually, no, that wasn't quite true either. I wasn't sure if many outside kingdoms even knew about our sacred marks, and the last war we'd gotten ourselves involved in was supposedly to stop a dark magic family's reign, but in all honesty, Father hadn't joined that fight until they'd mocked our marks. So… I stuck with my original theory: the marks caused wars.
And now the kingdom of High Cliff was broke from all this fighting. But never fear, we still had our honor and respect plus more battle-ravaged land than ever, by God. No one dared to blaspheme the mark these days.
Not to our faces, anyway.
We'd become so damned honorable and respectable that other kingdoms—richer, newer, younger kingdoms—were willing and even eager, to align themselves with us for a bit of that old, honor- able, and respectable standing we had among the Outer Realms.
Thus my reason to leave home forever.
Father had agreed to pull High Cliff from its debt by marrying my sister, his only princess, off to the king of Donnel- ly's younger brother, Prince Brentley.
Donnelly was the youngest, most prosperous kingdom in the Outer Realms, also known as the kingdom within the sand. To me, it was quickly becoming that kingdom within the pain in my ass. Because seriously, what insane people had ever looked around at all this nothingness and thought, hey, let's make a home here?
I glanced toward Allera once more, still unable to quite believe she'd actually agreed to go along with this ridiculous bargain, though honestly, what alternative did she truly have? Father would've no doubt exiled her if she'd refused, and she would've had to flee to somewhere just like Donnelly for refuge. I guess she might as well marry a wealthy man with high standing who could help her homeland prosper, if she were going to come here anyway. Doing this was likely the most pleasant option she had left.
Either that, or she was simply a true patriot to our kingdom.
Didn't mean I needed to escort her, though. I wasn't being forced to marry anyone. But honestly, who could let their only sister, their favorite sibling, the one person in the entire realm of realms who still seemed to like me, go off alone and tie herself for the rest of her life to a complete stranger?
Not me, I guess. So here I was, accompanying her.