Afron clenched his jaw and turned away, paced back to the window. "I didn't buy it because I owed you anything," he hissed. "It's not payment." He squared his shoulders and faced Makara. "Open it again, but pay more attention this time, would you?"
Opening the box again, Makara frowned. What was he supposed to be seeing? The ring was beautiful, expensive, but nothing out of the ordinary. He squinted. Was that writing on the band? An inscription, perhaps? Makara pulled the ring out of the box to scrutinize it. "For my Heart of Stars," he read. "What does it mean?"
"Long ago, when the land was splintered and the Many Kings ruled, my people were far more spiritual than they are now. They believed in prophets and signs, destiny and fate. They taught their children that everything a man needed to know, he could find in the stars." Afron pointed to the ceiling. "One day, if a man were lucky, he would meet a woman who carried such knowledge inside her. He would find his Heart of Stars. She would come to him in a time of great turmoil, and he would feel the song of her heart and see the light of their love..." He trailed off and shrugged. "I doubt they gave any thought to a man finding a man, but the same holds true, I believe."
A tiny knot of nervous anticipation formed in Makara's belly, blossoming out to his chest, making breathing near impossible. He couldn't be interpreting this correctly. Afron couldn't be saying what Makara thought. What Makara hoped. "I don't understand."
Afron cocked his head. "Don't you?" He crossed the room and knelt beside the bed. "When the ogres attacked, I felt a fear I have never known, but not for myself. I feared for you, Makara. What would happen to you, if I were gone? Who would see to you, provide for you?" He took the ring from Makara's grasp. "All these years, longing for you, yearning for you, joying in you, dreading the moment my duties pulled me away from you, and I had given you nothing in return beyond coin. No part of me. And the realization of that shamed me." Afron slid the ring onto the middle finger of Makara's right hand where a betrothal band would have gone.
Makara's gaze flicked from Afron's face, down to his own hand where the ring sparkled. He was Afron's Heart of Stars; Afron's mate, Afron's chosen partner. This was more than he had dreamed of, more than he could have ever hoped for. Tears burned the corners of his eyes. "I don't know what to say."
"You need say nothing." Afron wrapped his large, meaty hand around Makara's much smaller one. "It has already been decided. Tonight you'll leave with me, and take your rightful place at my side."
Afron's words sounded so wonderful and perfect, but the knot of anticipation quickly turned into a heavy weight of dread and self-loathing. Afron might be able to dress Makara up with fancy jewels, but a whore remained a whore, no matter how pretty. Nothing would erase what he was, what he had been for the past three years. No one would care he'd only been with Afron. The last thing he wanted was to be a burden to Afron's social status, or worse, cause Afron's status to slip. Makara shook his head, shoulders slumped. "I'm nothing but a whore. You've said it yourself. You cannot attach yourself to someone like me. Not publically. What would your people think?"
"My people may think whatever they wish, but in earshot they will hold their tongues lest they become acquainted with Bloodslinger." Afron growled softly and tightened his hold on Makara's hand. "You belong to me. You will come with me."
"But what I am--"
"What you are is mine. There are no objections here. As I said, it has been decided. You cannot argue with the stars."
To be continued...