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The Book of Lost Princes Box Set (MM)

JMS Books LLC

Heat Rating: SWEET
Word Count: 73,228
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A marionette, a weeping willow, and a house shade -- there are more to them than what meets the eye. Written in a style reminiscent of classic European folktales, the three original fairy tale novellas in this collection explore a gay teen’s coming-of-age in settings steeped in magic, wonder, romance, and infinite possibilities. Contains the stories:

Benedict: Benedict is a boy from a privileged household in the land of marionettes. When his best friend acts oddly and then birds insist that Benedict go to the king’s palace to find the lost prince, he realizes that the answer to the mystery could be more personal than he’d first believed.

The Weeping Willow: A boy is cursed and turned into a weeping willow, and his salvation lies in an orphaned and homeless boy. Something deep and enduring will shape the curious friendship between them, one that will break a curse, end a dark cycle, and bring two lonely boys together.

Grave's End: It isn’t business as usual for Maelwine when a new family moves into Grave’s End House. Maelwine’s forced to face difficult answers to unsettling questions about the nature of his existence. As a house shade, he doesn’t have a heart, doesn’t feel loneliness in the shadows of his world, until Royden Villar enters his life.

Excerpt

EXCERPT FROM "Benedict"

Benedict turned to his side, cradling his head -- now only mildly aching -- on a bent arm. The sky was too bright, too vivid, and it blinded him. Looking at Jeremy was a great deal easier on his eyes and much more pleasant on the whole.

“They are, I suppose,” he replied. “But I’ll admit my heart wasn’t in it. I was too distracted to make connections like I should have, but maybe I’ll have better luck tonight.”

Jeremy nodded and turned to look at him. Benedict frowned at seeing how pale his friend was, how shadowed and haunted his eyes looked. “You will. If we run into each other, I’ll help you find someone.” He smiled without humor. “I think you’re just shy around the ladies and need a prop until you’re good and ready to take that step.”

“You think too much, Jeremy.”

“Do I? Well -- I suppose. Can’t help it, anyway.” Jeremy paused as he regarded Benedict more intensely. “Speaking of thinking too much, I’m worried about you meeting me like this. Your mama doesn’t know, does she?” When Benedict shook his head, Jeremy sighed. “You’re getting yourself into trouble, disobeying her.”

Benedict barely listened, and he said nothing in return, though it looked like Jeremy didn’t expect a response. He merely turned to face the sky again, closing his eyes against it this time and leaving Benedict to look at him for another moment, gaze wandering and taking in minute details, mind whirling as he wondered whether or not his friend was ill. He thought about Jeremy’s strings and looked for them, and he saw -- after a great deal of squinting because of the bright sunlight -- that Jeremy had alarmingly few strings attached to his limbs. Much fewer than Benedict remembered from his last visit, in fact, though he had to attribute that to a trick of the light and the play of certain shadows. He had to. A marionette’s strings, after all, were practically invisible unless one was purposefully searching for them, and even then, their visibility depended on how the light struck them.

He wanted to ask Jeremy about that, but a sharp tug of warning made him jerk reactively, his head at least not swelling in pain like before, though the throbbing ache spiraled for a second or two as though mimicking the pain his limbs now endured. It was all he could do to take several breaths to calm himself down and bear the fading discomfort on his body.

He wasn’t supposed to ask. That was a lesson learned. He tried not to dwell on that, on the curious role of guardian his strings played, for that was exactly what they were there for. Every marionette knew that, of course, and because strings were a great part of their existence, it was normal to take them for granted, ignore them or even forget about them, until something happened that would remind them of their limitations.

Benedict’s brows furrowed at the realization: limitations.

There were lines that shouldn’t be crossed, and there were rules made in order to ensure that no one crossed those lines. His parents had long ground that into him and his siblings, and it was to his benefit that he’d take those limitations seriously.

He’d do just that, he told himself. The sudden attack of his strings that day was a blatant reminder of those lines and how he was so close to stepping over them, and now confusion and guilt forced him back, though he remained troubled. Besides, Jeremy would try to be evasive about it like before, acting guilt-ridden and uncomfortable.

He tried to divert himself from his thoughts, from what his broken head strings meant, and from Jeremy’s condition, given his missing strings. For that, he focused on Jeremy’s profile, lost in wonder now at the changes that had happened through the years. Benedict couldn’t help but smile faintly at the thought that he’d known his friend for so long now and how lucky he was to be able to compare what he remembered of Jeremy’s features as a child with those as a sixteen-year-old. Then again…

Benedict’s eyes widened. Was it another trick of the light? He blinked several times and stared at Jeremy’s profile. No, it must have been his imagination. Jeremy still looked wooden and painted. His face didn’t have a strange, soft surface that invited touches. His mouth didn’t look rosy and pliant and a temptation for a kiss. His hair remained stiff and coarse, not silky.

Benedict pushed himself off the grass and sat up, knuckling his eyes. “I have to go,” he stammered. “I’ve already spent too much time in the woods, and Mama will be asking questions.”

Jeremy sat up as well, looking at him doubtfully and yet with a great deal of relief he didn’t bother to check. “As long as you’re all right,” he said, sounding disappointed and contradictory. “I’ll walk you to the edge of the woods.”

Benedict’s initial response was to decline, but he found himself agreeing, even feeling some delight in being able to spend more time with Jeremy despite his growing misgivings about -- well -- about everything now.