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lilansui last won the day on October 13 2013

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  1. 12 Leon crossed the street and kept walking until he found a trail leading him to the beach. There was magic in the water when the sun descended into its depths. Leon spent a few minutes immortalizing the color on the water and the sky with his camera. When he had enough pictures, he sat on the sand, removed his boots and watched the sunset. Logan joined him after thirty minutes, choosing to keep a wide gap between them. “The sun is almost gone,” Logan said. “We should be getting back.” “I came out to be alone.” Leon pointed out, not glancing at him. “How did you know I left?” “I know about your secret tunnel,” Logan said. “I imagine none of your people know about it. Or the passage you used to get there. Dax would not have neglected to tell me of such a weakness.” Leon chuckled. “I’ve used that tunnel a long time. Don’t make me stop.” Logan sighed, drawing Leon’s gaze at the weight of it. “You sound like you’re carrying the world on your shoulders,” Leon said. “I am, when you’re placing your life in danger,” Logan countered. “If no one knows the tunnel exists, and you clearly have it covered now, then I will be fine,” Leon said. Logan kept his silence this time. Leon watched the sunset for a minute. “Why did you leave today?” Logan asked, breaking his silence. Leon thought about his grandmother and shuddered. Being out like this tonight made him scared that he was losing time. Losing the chance to enjoy every single moment doing what he wanted, being with whomever he wanted. He glanced at Logan. If his grandmother saddled him with more responsibilities, what would that mean for Logan? For them, together? “I’ve been thinking,” Leon murmured, hoping to test the waters. “Grandmother is overdue in naming Uncle Isaak the crown heir. Her delay must have placed undue stress on my uncle and his family. Looking at it from an outsider’s point of view, do you think Grandmother is wrong in her delay?” Logan stayed silent for a full minute before he answered. “The Queen is wise. She would not delay a decision without reason,” Logan said. “The people of Aeras understand her. Prince Isaak has not been without his faults. His son, Prince Constantin, has let her down more than once. It’s not unkind of her to wait.” Leon nodded, returning his gaze to Logan. “You wish she would choose none of them,” Leon guessed. “I’m under qualified to give you that answer.” Leon blinked then broke into a laugh, amused by Logan’s clear refusal to answer his question. “You should have considered a diplomatic career like Riku,” Leon said, when his laughter subsided. “You give answers without giving them.” “I’d be too bored,” Logan said, looking at him. Finally, Leon thought, and held that dear gaze. “I imagine you’re more of an action hero type.” “Am I?” Logan asked, studying him. The study lasted longer than Leon expected. He’d always loved when Logan looked at him. There were people who could look, and leave one feeling violated, ignored, dismissed, even irrelevant. Not with Logan, Leon thought. When Logan looked at him, he felt visible, happy…wanted, as if he belonged. Strange when he should have all those things anyway, he was not lacking after all, but this was Logan. He made Leon’s heart skip with a simple smile. “Leon, how are you really?” The question made Leon smile. He had missed the feel of Logan looking at him. Blue eyes intense, really seeing him, Logan really asking and wanting to know. “I’m fine,” Leon said, feeling like a liar at that moment. “You’re not,” Logan stated, calling him out on it. “I’m afraid that you haven’t been fine since your parents’ funeral. I see that now.” Leon looked away because even David had never had the courage to ask him about his pain. It had been hard at first, his friends had worried, and then he’d gotten good at hiding it. Not from Logan. Logan shook his head, drawing Leon’s gaze for a second. “I still can’t get over that day, you know. It killed me having to watch you walk that procession alone.” “I’m their only son,” Leon said, staring at the darkening horizon, memories of his parents’ funeral flooding him. “It was the least I could do.” He remembered feeling numb to the noise surrounding him as Dax managed the numerous procedures required of a state funeral. His grandmother hugging him tight, when he thought he might fall. His uncle’s family kept their distance, even as they stayed polite and supporting. Most of all, he remembered the feeling that he was now alone in this life. Castle Arguro had felt empty from that day on. He might have lost his mind for a while in the following months before he found his bearing. “I do miss them,” Leon admitted. “Some days it feels like a dream and I will wake up and find them laughing in the sun room downstairs. My mother loved to tease my father when they were alone. I’d find them giggling like the love sick couple they were in quiet corners around the castle. I have thousands of photos of them in those moments that I can’t look at anymore.” “They were my favorite royals,” Logan confessed, making Leon look at him. Leon’s heart skipped when he saw Logan smile. He had a Logan-condition, he thought. He’d caught it at Eibsee Lake and there was no hope for a cure. Logan just needed to stay right next to him so that he could make it. He smiled wondering what Logan would say to this. “There was something magical about your parents,” Logan continued. “They led a quiet life, and doted over you. I admired them for that, simply living.” “I didn’t take you for a follower,” Leon said. “My mom was,” Logan said. “She ran a tourist treasure shop. She would keep any interested customers entertained for hours on stories about your parents, or your grandmother.” Leon stilled, his chest tightening at Logan’s choice of words. He was talking about his mother in the past tense, his shoulders tense. Leon frowned. He remembered Logan telling him he could meet his mom once. They had been discussing hot chocolate. Leon had tried to replicate the taste of Logan’s hot chocolate over the years, and never come close. Already sensing the nature of Logan’s sadness, he asked, “Does she still make hot chocolate?” “I’d have to make it for you now,” Logan said, his tone heavy with sadness. “Tell me,” Leon said, shifting to face Logan. Logan rubbed his forehead keeping his gaze on the shore. “My mom passed away about two years now,” Logan said, his voice rough with emotion. “She got sick. The doctors did the best they could.” Leon moved before he could think. He wrapped his arms around Logan, and held him. He knew what it was like to lose a parent, to be alone, which Logan was now. After all, Logan had never talked about other family. Saying sorry always felt insufficient, Leon thought. He knelt on the sand, his arms tight around Logan’s broad shoulders. Logan shifted, resting his forehead on Leon’s shoulder, his arms going around Leon’s back. Logan held on and it was the best feeling in the world. They stayed like that for a while before Logan spoke. “I missed you so much.” Leon closed his eyes, breathing him in. “We’re both idiots,” Leon said, echoing David’s sentiments. “You for keeping away, and me…,for-for choosing not to find out about you when you left. Can we make this easier on ourselves, Logan?” “Aren’t we already trying that out?” Logan asked, amused. Leon scoffed, and sunk his fingers into Logan’s hair. “There’s the pesky matter of someone trying to kill me, and a title you can’t seem to forget.” “Both of those things do complicate our situation a bit,” Logan said, lifting his head when Leon tagged his head back. “A bit?” Leon asked, thinking of his grandmother’s order to enter the palace. He didn’t even want to think of how Logan would react to that. Logan smiled in the fading light and acknowledged, “Okay, a lot.” Leon chuckled and started to move away, but Logan kept holding him tight. “Just a minute longer,” Logan said, when Leon leaned against him. Leon nodded, and brushed his fingers through Logan’s hair. He felt sad that he would miss getting to know Logan’s mom. He had really wanted to meet her. The woman who’d brought this extraordinary man up. He would have loved to meet her. “Next time you visit her grave,” Leon said, stroking Logan’s hair back. “Take me with you. Okay?” Logan hugged him tight, and nodded, resting his forehead on Leon’s shoulder again. *** They stayed at the beach for almost an hour. Logan held Leon through most of that hour, feeling as though he was receiving a gift when Leon sat and leaned into him. At seven-thirty, Logan got up, waited for Leon to wear his boots, and then pulled him up too. Leon cradled his camera as they walked back to the main street. He started to head to his motorcycle, but Logan stopped him with a hand on his elbow. “Let’s use the SUV this time,” Logan insisted. “But,” Leon started to protest, and then stopped when he saw Logan’s team driving up in a black Jeep. “You have everything sorted.” “It’s my job,” Logan smiled. “John will ride your motorcycle back. Tom will take mine.” “As you say,” Leon said, getting his keys from his pocket and handing them to John. “Give John your jacket, I have one in the car for you,” Logan said, opening the back passenger door for Leon. “Nothing can change.” Leon removed his leather jacket and handed it to John, then slid into the backseat without any question. Logan closed the door and turned to John. “Wear the jacket and the helmet. You and the Prince are the same height and build. It should be enough to act as a decoy, just in case.” “Got it,” John said. “Have a nice ride back.” “Yeah,” Logan said, turning to see Shirley in the driver’s seat, the engine running. Leon sat right behind her. Shirley gave him a short nod and closed the window on the front passenger seat, so that he couldn’t see her anymore. A niggling in the back of his head had him opening the back passenger door and sliding in the backseat next to Leon. He didn’t question this gut feeling, he only closed the door, and signaled for Shirley to take off. The ride back took an hour and a half thanks to evening traffic. Tom and John drove the motorcycles keeping ahead as it was easier for them to navigate. Leon fell asleep, tired from his busy day. His camera in its bag sat on the floor between them. Leon’s head tilted in the wrong angle. Logan moved to the middle seat so that he could rest Leon’s head on his shoulder. He sat still, excited by the prospect of Leon leaning on him. He was enjoying their new connection. It was a new layer over their old one, a slow delicious burn to getting back to each other. Looking up, he caught Shirley watching him on the rear view mirror. He ignored her knowing smile. Instead, he spent the hour making sure Leon was comfortable. He savored the simple joy of having Leon so close. He wanted more time together. Shirley started up the road that led up to Castle Arguro. She slowed down at the intersection to allow way for a service truck. Tom and John slowed ahead on their motorcycles, wanting to match Shirley’s speed. The jeep’s head lights caught at their motorcycle plates, shone on Tom and John’s helmets. Then Logan sat up as Tom jumped off his motorcycle. Gunshots rained on the motorcycles in the next minute, and Logan shoved Leon to the floor of the jeep. Gun in hand, gaze searching their surroundings, he cursed when he saw no assailants, but Tom’s motorcycle went down. John already off his as Tom pulled him out of the line of fire. Leon, woken from his sleep, crouched low on the floor, his fingers digging into expensive leather when a round of bullets hit the side of the black jeep. Logan met frightened gray eyes. “I’ve got you,” Logan said. “Trust me.” ****
  2. 11 Leon woke up at five a.m. in the morning the next day, his head feeling heavy. A soft groan slipped from his lips and he rolled to his left side. Painkillers and brandy were the devil, he should never have tangled with either, but they’d numbed the pain now flaring in his chest. He couldn’t bear the thought of David in hospital. Reaching for his phone on the bedside table, he rubbed sleep from his eyes and found Dr. Joley’s number. He called her and sat up when she answered on the second ring. “David?” “He’s had a quiet night,” Dr. Joley said. “No complications, we’re keeping an eye on him. Ms. Sadie has not left his side for even a second.” “Accommodate her needs without exception,” Leon insisted, getting out of bed. “Don’t hesitate to call me if anything changes.” “You know I’ll call,” Dr. Joley assured him. “Take care of yourself.” Leon ended the call and dumped his phone on his bed. Pushing fingers through his hair, he headed to the shower. Today, he’d take on all of David’s responsibilities until David was well enough again. In the shower, he let the hot water soak his hair before he dumped shampoo on his head. His hair was filled with suds when he recalled a blurry conversation late in the night. Logan leading him to bed, talking about hotel sheets, and him, Leon groaned, opening his eyes in mortification. Soap got into his eyes and he cursed when he rubbed at them with his fists only to add more suds. Stepping under the water, he closed his eyes and washed away the soap fast. When he was done, he pushed wet hair back and wondered if he had not gone crazy in his drunkenness. ‘Do you know how much I’ve missed you?’ Leon groaned, and stepped up to press his forehead to the wall. “Why would you ask that?” he asked, with a sigh. “Idiot.” Shaking his head, he finished his shower, and came out, wrapping a towel around his hips after drying. He was busy brushing his teeth when a knock came at the bathroom door. He glanced up when the door opened expecting to see Dax. Instead, there stood Logan, delicious in a white t-shirt and dark jeans. He suffered a mad urge to stroke the dark stubble on Logan’s jaw. Leon leaned over the sink to spit out the foam filling his mouth. “What are you doing here?” Leon asked, slapping the water on to rinse his toothbrush. “Morning to you too,” Logan said, coming in without invitation. He carried a tube of ointment and a pack of bandages. “You look better than last night. Do you have a headache? Hangovers are killer in the morning.” “No. I don’t need anything. You should head down to get dressed.” “Nuh-uh, your arm needs tending. Otherwise, you’ll catch an infection. Dax is handling breakfast. He insisted on getting my suit pressed, otherwise I’d be fully dressed by now.” Logan waited for Leon to finish at the sink before he took Leon’s left arm and turned him so that he leaned on the counter. He took his time inspecting Leon’s wound on his right upper arm. Leon swallowed hard and tried to ignore Logan’s close proximity, but it was difficult. He didn’t remember an answer from Logan last night. He had been drunk yes, but he always remembered all his stupidity. He wished he could be like Riku who forgot everything he did when he was drunk. He wasn’t that lucky. No, he remembered every minute of his insane lack of control. What had he been thinking? “Your wound is healing nicely,” Logan murmured with approval, his breath brushing against Leon’s skin. Leon closed his eyes and wondered if he shouldn’t have a serious talk with Dax later. This had to be Dax’s doing, pulling Logan this close. Letting out a sigh, he started to tell Logan that he would take care of the wound himself, but Logan started applying cool ointment on his wound. “This stuff is the best. I’ve used it before,” Logan said. “It reduces the pain, and speeds up healing. You’ll feel better soon enough.” Leon imagined Logan had needed the wound ointment after getting injured in his top secret missions; the ones that had allowed his rank to rise. The thought made Leon bite his bottom lip hard. He wished he had the right to ask about them now. To ask, how many times Logan had needed to recuperate. Did he have someone to take care of him through the pain? Why did Logan need to keep placing himself in danger? Leon let out a soft sigh, and looked away from where Logan was busy applying a silicon soft bandage. “You’re probably wondering why I didn’t answer your question last night,” Logan said, making Leon turn fast to meet warm blue eyes. “I guess you were.” Leon shook his head and forced himself to look away from Logan. “I was drunk. I shouldn’t have asked—” “I needed you sober to understand my answer,” Logan said, stroking a thumb over the edges of the bandage to make sure it was secure. Logan didn’t move away from Leon after he was done, instead, his strong fingers held Leon’s right elbow in a firm hold. To keep him in place, Leon realized when his only urge was to walk away from this conversation out of fear. “Look at me Leon,” Logan’s gentle request was hard to ignore. Leon turned to Logan because he couldn’t do otherwise. He never could. “You seemed sure about us in Sevilla,” Logan said, holding his gaze. “I—I had reservations, and you knew it. Six months was too short a time together.” “Not for me,” Leon felt compelled to say. “I wanted you, Logan.” “I know,” Logan said, agreeing. “It was different for me though. I’ve always worked for everything I have. My career was on the verge of a huge break, and after your parents died—” “You got a chance to prove your worth to The Crown,” Leon said, having read the reports his grandmother had felt compelled to send him. “I know about the mission to capture the man who killed them. I suspect you were involved. Working under Stevens and Steele, you had to be.” “Leon.” “I don’t fault you for wanting to work for your future,” Leon said, with a sigh. “It’s admirable, Logan. I’m proud of you, and thank you for the work that you did. We don’t have to discuss this anymore.” “Yes, we do,” Logan’s hold tightened on his arm. “You seem to think I don’t care about you. That I only care about advancing my career…” Leon looked at Logan then, curious. “But, I do care, Leon. I missed you too. Very much,” Logan stated, sending Leon’s heart beat into a wild dance. “I just—, you’re—, I’m—” Leon understood. Logan was still looking at who Leon was to Queen Amethea of Aeras. “I once asked you to see me, Logan. Just me,” Leon said. “The Leon who can live for days content to kiss you, the Leon who would walk away from his family for you. Why can’t you look past this goddamn title? I didn’t choose it you know. I—” Leon closed his eyes, shaking his head. He’d lost so much already. Was he to live without the love of his life too? Taking in a breath, he moved away from Logan. “I’m sorry about last night. I should never have brought up this topic. You’re free to live your life, Logan, as am I. It’s been four years. Surely, we both can move on and be friends. I’d really like that.” “Leon.” “There is too much to do today,” Leon said, giving up on drying his hair. He hurried for the bathroom door. “I should get dressed.” Leon turned the knob and started to step out, and then Logan spoke. “I broke your heart when you asked me to stay with you and I walked away,” Logan stated. “I’m sorry for that, Leon. I don’t want to be your friend.” Leon’s fingers tightened over the doorknob at the stab of pain at those words. He had hoped they could stay close as friends. He could manage with that, at least. If Logan didn’t want it— “I want more,” Logan said, cutting through his thoughts. “With you.” Leon turned to Logan, blinding hope sweeping through him. “You’ve said that before,” he said without thinking. “I won’t run away this time,” Logan promised. “No matter what happens, I’ll earn your trust again. I hope you’ll give me that chance.” He wanted to jump in joy, do an excited dance, call Riku and brag about this, but then…Leon cleared his throat and nodded at Logan, keeping cool. He left the bathroom and hurried to his walk-in closet. Closing the doors, he leaned on them and grinned wide, happy for the first time in…years. Logan wanted a second chance, he thought, with him. Leon bit back a happy laugh and almost thanked the person trying to kill him for bringing Logan back into his life. Almost. Later in the afternoon, after going through half a dozen meetings, Leon arrived at David’s main office, a building tucked away in an upscale part of the city. Leon’s phone buzzed and he stopped to answer it, only to have Logan press a firm hand on his back. He looked up to find Logan smiling at him. “Inside, nothing outside,” Logan explained, leading him into the building set up like a cottage. David told him once that it was where David's great-grandparents had first lived, years ago. Now, the cottage was used as the head offices to manage all Corentin businesses. Leon needed to meet with David’s business managers to discuss the way forward. Once they were inside, Leon answered his call when he saw Riku’s caller ID. “I’m here,” Riku said. Leon couldn’t help the smile. “How much did you push back?” Leon asked, wondering how many appointments Riku had set aside in order to fly to Aeras. “Leon, I have a very valuable team,” Riku boasted. “They have strict orders to manage the ship while I’m gone. Besides, if Sadie won’t have you, she’ll have to put up with the rest of us. Petr will land later in the day.” “He follows you like a magnet,” Leon teased, feeling lighter, the weight pressing on his shoulders getting easier to carry. Riku made an unimpressed sound. “Anselm will be here tomorrow, Paul has to wrap things up, and he’ll be here in a week. We’ll support Sadie and David.” “Don’t forget to tell me when he wakes up,” Leon said, thinking of David. “You’ll know,” Riku promised. “You have to do something for me too, Leon.” “What?” Leon asked, watching David’s team approach him. Logan blocked their way, and Leon stepped behind him so that he could complete his call with Riku. “You concentrate on staying safe. I hate black suits. They make me look pale. I don’t want to wear one.” Leon stared at Logan’s back, strong and reassuring, he felt invincible with Logan beside him. Holding back the urge to reach out and touch Logan’s back, Leon answered Riku. “I promise.” His words drew a curious gaze from Logan. Leon thought at that moment that a curious Logan was his most favorite. Slipping his cellphone into his pocket, Leon walked around Logan and extended his hand to David’s head business manager. “Afternoon, Mr. Bishop,” Leon said. “Thank you for agreeing to meet me today…” *** Logan hammered in a post in the right corner of the field Leon used for his morning runs. Leon came out here running for almost an hour every morning. Logan finished with the post, adjusted the camera mounted on it, and then checked his watch to see that the connection was working right. He made a few more adjustments, glad to see the feed covered the field. Trees surrounded the track field. They had installed sensors there, but they needed constant checks. Logan turned on his walkie and called to John in the security office. “What’s the status on the sensors in the surrounding trees?” “All working, no problems, boss,” John answered. “Keep up a constant check on them, pass it down the line,” Logan said. “Yes, Boss.” Logan took a moment to take in the track field. No matter the measures they took, this field remained a weak spot, but he couldn’t ask Leon to stop running. Leon seemed to find release in the act of running. The past two weeks had turned into a whirlwind of work. Between securing the castle, running an intense investigation and keeping up with Leon’s schedule, no one had a moment to breath. Not even Leon. Leon hardly slept, and woke up too early to run on this track field. David was recovering, though he was still in the hospital. Logan couldn’t forget the tears that filled Leon’s eyes when David woke up. Coupled with acute relief that David was going to be okay. Seeing it had made Logan want to find the culprit and spend an hour hitting him. David’s doctor expected he had two weeks more until full recovery. Leon’s response to his best friend in hospital was taking on most of David’s duties. An insane feat as Leon’s own set of commitments, separate from the hotel, were enough to stagger the strongest of donkeys. The extra load of work meant Leon had worked every waking hour for the last two weeks without stop. He slept four hours and woke up to repeat the same grueling schedule. Petr and Riku were staying at David’s house, with Anselm. Paul was to fly in a few days. Their presence centered Leon, but it did nothing to alleviate the stress of an investigation that was stuck. Logan knew that Petr was sourcing information using his own network. So far, all they had was a bullet fragment from the forest, and a pair of scissors laced with poison. He had the secondary team checking the previous incidents hoping the culprit had made a misstep, but nothing had turned up yet. The Yacht that blew up was scrap, and the Ferrari had undergone a full maintenance job, leaving no evidence. Shirley was running backgrounds on the hotel staff working shifts on the opening day, but it was tedious work. They had not turned up any solid leads. Logan sighed, frustrated. It felt like they were stuck waiting for the next attempt. The thought left a bad taste in his mouth. Logan climbed down the ladder he was using. He carried it to the tool shed in the back corner of the castle. It was only four o’clock in the afternoon. Dinner would be at six o’clock. He had two hours of downtime until then. Leon was home this afternoon. Logan hoped Leon tried to get in some rest before another busy day tomorrow. Meanwhile, he needed to make a call in to Commander Stevens. **** Leon changed into casual jeans and a t-shirt looking forward to a quiet afternoon at home. He wondered if he might convince Logan’s team to hang out with him. The billiard room could use lively noise. He placed his suit jacket on a hanger and slid it on the rack Dax used for clothes that needed dry cleaning. He was about to leave the closet, when he saw the camera case he kept on its own shelf. His thoughts on Logan, Leon crossed to the shelf and unzipped the bag before he knew what he was doing. Memories, that’s what the camera staring at him represented, so many of them. At some point in the past four years, those memories had almost suffocated him. He had needed to keep his camera hidden in here. He touched the lens and reached for the battery, wanting to charge it. A video call rang, and he answered it while he was busy plugging the camera charger. “Leon?” It was his grandmother. “One second,” Leon said, finishing up with the charger. He made sure the battery was charging before he hurried into his bedroom. He stopped when he saw his grandmother sitting at her desk in her private office. “Hi, Granny,” Leon greeted, smiling at her. “You look well.” “I want to say the same about you,” Amethea said, then sat looking at him for a full minute. He kept his silence, letting her. “You look so much like Kleo every day.” Leon rubbed his nose for a second, and then looked away. She was missing his dad, he thought. She always called him when she was missing his parents. “I heard David is in hospital,” Amethea said, after sometime. “Dr. Joley is taking care of him. I’ve directed my people to make sure she has everything she needs. I’m hurt you didn’t call me. I waited two weeks to see if you would tell me in person.” Leon held her gaze for a minute, and then shook his head. “I’ve been busy taking care of David’s affairs,” Leon explained. “I assumed Dax made the necessary reports.” “You should be ashamed of making your grandmother envious of David. You worry for his affairs, what about your family? Dax is not my grandson,” Amethea snapped. “You are, Leon. How many times must I repeat that before you hear it?” Leon kept his silence. The pain lacing his grandmother’s words never lessened, seemed to deepen each time, but he still didn’t have the strength to face it. The strength to face all she was, he just didn’t have it. “I will ask you again,” Amethea said. “Move into the palace, Leon. Come and stay by my side. No one will dare touch you then.” “I decline,” Leon said, lowering his head in apology. “I can’t, Granny. Please—” “If I make a decree, you’ll have no choice,” Amethea said, angry. “Please don’t make me,” Leon begged, shaking his head. “Don’t force me into the palace. There is no guarantee that I won’t end up dead like my parents in that place. Let me manage my life.” “Your life is this Kingdom’s future.” “Then the Kingdom is doomed. I can barely manage this castle,” Leon scoffed and shook his head. “Don’t joke, Granny.” “Who says I’m joking?” Amethea asked, her expression too serious for Leon. Leon folded his arms against his chest. “Gia has visited me twice now, asking me to ignore your summons. She must have heard you talking about succession. Can you stop? You’re making her worried,” Leon said. “I can’t handle another visit from her.” Amethea sighed. “Leon, there are things I need to tell you that cannot be discussed on a call like this. Only then can you understand Gia’s panic. You’ll know why she seeks to keep you away from me. Her life is about to change drastically whether she wants it or not.” “Shake your head all you want,” Amethea said, when he stepped back in panic. “These changes are inevitable. I’m asking you to come into the palace, nicely. If you don’t, I’ll have the Imperial Diet force you here.” “Granny!” “I have been a grandparent to you,” Amethea said, her tone enough to let Leon know he was no longer dealing with his grandmother. “I’ve allowed you freedom to play and resist The Crown’s needs for four years. It’s time to step up, Prince Leon. I’m not growing younger. I’ll give you a month to respond to my summons. If you don’t, I’ll let the Imperial Diet handle the matter.” The call ended and Leon was left standing in his bedroom staring at the glass screens on his walls. His grandmother’s ultimatum left him breathless. He had pushed her thinking the longer he did; she would give up her crazy ideas. She would see reason and pull his older cousins into the throne. Yet— Damn it, the Kingdom of Aeras had a very strong Imperial Diet. The queen might be the head of the royal family, but the Imperial Diet ruled all their lives, even the darned queen. They were the voice of the people, Leon liked to think, and kept them all in the style the Kingdom of Aeras wanted to portray to the world. If the Imperial Diet summoned him into the palace, he would be bound by law to appear. He would have no freedom of their decision. Running fingers through his hair, Leon walked back into his closet and checked the camera’s battery. It was charged. Dax must have maintained it for him. Taking the camera bag, he decided to step out of the cage he’d created for his tattered soul for a few hours. If only to clear his head…for a while. *** Logan returned the ladder to its place in the neat storeroom. He made sure to lock the tool shed as Dax expected. Logan then took in a deep breath of the fresh air that was so abundant at Castle Arguro. Letting it out slow, a frown danced on his forehead. Dax was worried that Leon would crash from exhaustion soon. He wasn’t the only one, Logan thought. Leon was using his insane schedule as an escape. It was hard watching Leon drive himself to the edge. Logan suspected Leon blamed himself for David’s condition and so, preferred to sink his thoughts and efforts into work. To the point that Leon had forgotten why Logan and his team moved into the castle. Never pushing for the status of their investigation into who wanted Leon dead. Which was okay, Logan thought. He didn’t mind the silence on the matter right now. Their culprit had remained quiet these last two weeks, making no new attempts on Leon. Logan knew it was because he kept Leon’s schedule tightly guarded. Never once letting anyone outside his main security circle know where Leon would be before time. Even Dax remained in the dark until five minutes before Leon’s next appointment. Dax had complained about it, but Logan had refused to back down, needing the element of surprise. Logan wanted to free Leon from the fear that was plaguing him. So, he was thinking of hatching a plan to bait their culprit. Leon would not even need to be part of it. Logan just needed to find the perfect location for his plan. For that, he needed to keep Leon’s schedule tightly guarded, that way, no one could know where Leon was at any time. Logan started to head back into the castle to call Commander Stevens. He had the framework for the plan, but he needed a team, separate from his. Impatience rolled through him when his watch beeped. He glanced at it in time to see a shadow walking down the utility tunnel he had discovered on the west side of the castle grounds. Logan had mounted cameras there, even though the service tunnel led to what seemed like a dead end near a rock formation with a short cliff. It was a perfect place to hide…. Logan narrowed his gaze studying the figure hurrying to the end of the tunnel, carrying a bag. “Boss,” John came in on his walkie. “Prince Leon seems to be running out on us. I didn’t see him come out of his suite. There must be a secret passage in his chambers. He’s carrying a helmet and a bag. We can stop him in seconds. What’s your call?” “Follow but don’t interfere,” Logan said, feeling like a headache was starting. This was a first. Leon had never run out on him when he was running his security detail. Though, he remembered reading reports of Leon escaping his security when he was in college. “He’s been too good,” Tom said, already on the move. “Switching comms back to earpiece. I’ve alerted the secondary team, we’re on him.” “It’s always exciting here at Castle Arguro,” John said with a chuckle, shutting off the walkie. A helmet meant a motorcycle. Logan zipped up his jacket and walked around the castle to Leon’s extensive garage. “Pierre,” Logan called into the large room. Leon’s previous driver appeared from under an old green Volkswagen Bug in the corner. Leon was having Pierre restore it after finding it in a farm he visited a week ago. His excitement at finding the old car was lost on Logan. Leon refused to share the secret, only insisting that he knew someone who would love it. “Do you maintain a motorcycle for Prince Leon?” Pierre smiled. The knowing kind of smile that meant Logan had no clue. He got a lot of those from Pierre. They were still on hate-each-others-guts level. Logan found Pierre’s over the top devotion to Leon a tad discomforting. He had already ran multiple backgrounds on Pierre. “He has a fleet of them,” Pierre said. “He loves motorcycles. Why?” “I want to borrow one,” Logan said, when he spotted the powerful machines lining the back of the garage. He smiled at Pierre’s unwilling expression and walked to a black Ducati. The superbike looked gorgeous enough to lust over. Leon had the sexiest toys, Logan thought as he swung his leg over the stunning baby, dangerous, but the sexiest toys. “Keys?” Logan prompted a frozen Pierre. “Come on, Pierre. You know, I only ever want to protect Prince Leon.” “He loves these motorcycles. He says they give him freedom. If any harm comes to them—” “I’ll take care of it,” Logan promised, holding his hand out for the keys. Pierre gave him a skeptical glance then moved to take keys from a rack on the counter he used for storage. He threw them at Logan who caught them in one fluid motion. Wearing the helmet resting on the handles, Logan turned the key and grinned as the black Ducati purred to life. He drove out of the garage, determined to follow a frustrated Prince of the realm. It didn’t take him long to find Leon on the winding road down from Castle Arguro. There was only one way up to the castle or down from the castle. Well, one might decide to rough the Arguro Forest, but he doubted Leon was into that right now. Leon drove fast but not reckless. Logan was grateful for that much. Keeping a safe distance, Logan settled in for the ride when he realized Leon did not have a destination in mind. Instead, Leon drove along the highway closest to the ocean. Leon would slow down when the scene was especially fantastic, then when traffic opened up, he would let loose and drive fast. They rode for a solid hour. Leon finally stopped in a small town by the ocean; just as the sun was coming down to kiss the horizon. He parked his motorcycle on the curb along a busy street. Logan slowed down, watching Leon remove his helmet and slip on a black cap. Leon opened the bag he carried on his back to retrieve a camera. Logan couldn’t help his relieved smile. He had worried that Leon lost this part of him. He missed watching Leon taking photographs of lush landscapes, and stunning cliffs. “Secondary team has spread out,” John informed him. “We're covering as much ground as we can. No one is following us. Status so far is clear.” Leon secured his motorcycle and stepped on to the sidewalk with a little stretch. He was going to walk into the busiest street in the town. The weather was nice enough for a walk, but this was the worst for security logistics. Logan found a parking space further down, locking down his motorcycle. He kept his jacket on to conceal his weapon. John, Shirley and Tom drove a black jeep turning on to the same street keeping watch, while Logan followed Leon on foot at a slower pace. *** Leon brought the camera up to his eye. He adjusted the lens and captured a woman wrapping a scarf around her daughter’s neck. The wind caught at the silk scarf around her daughter’s shoulders, waving behind her. He loved the evening light. The sun fading in the distance, casting shades of yellow and orange over the world. He took two more shots of the busy street, and then continued his walk through the bustling street. He loved life in the smaller towns. The main streets were always alive with activity. Life seemed quiet and simple. Families enjoyed the evening together: really living, lovers laughing, hugging and kissing. Leon smiled when he captured two men dancing to music played by a band set up in a gazebo in a little park. He continued down the street until he reached a line of stalls selling street food. Reaching into his pocket, he found a fifty, unable to stop himself from this transgression. If Dax saw him, the poor man would break out in a fever. Dax guarded his food intake like a sentry at war. Leon was grateful for it, but now he savored this simple joy. Leon chatted with vendors as he ate thin hot crepes made with chickpea flour. The seasoned vendors laughed with him when he found it too hot the first time. He charmed them into allowing him to take photographs of them at work. When he was done, an older woman pressed three purple passion fruits into his hands. He thanked her with a kiss on her cheek and continued walking along the street. He stopped at a street junction, waiting to cross the road. He broke one of the passion fruits into two pieces and turned to his right, then left. The street was busy, but not that busy that he didn’t notice Logan. Logan stopped at the vendors who sold Leon the hot crepes, buying a taste. Leon brought his camera up and snapped a picture of Logan biting into the delicious food. Seeing Logan should have felt suffocating, yet looking at him now, Leon felt assured. He was glad there was someone watching his back. Most of all, he was thrilled it was Logan. ***
  3. 10 Closing the bathroom door behind him, Logan leaned on it, and took in several deep breaths to calm his heart. He couldn’t bring himself to regret kissing Leon. It felt right, like they belonged. Leon hadn’t pushed him away because he didn’t like it, but because he did, Logan smiled at that thought. Shaking his head, he got his cellphone and dialed Commander Stevens, moving away from the bathroom door. “Lt. Commander.” “Sir, we are at the hotel for a few more hours. I’m requesting a forensic team to sweep the forest near the stables at Castle Arguro. Have them look for bullets. A seasoned marks man took the shot at long range. He wouldn’t have been able to visit the scene after the incident. If we can get the bullet, we’ll have somewhere to start.” “I’ll send a team out,” Commander Stevens said. “How did you know this?” “I saw the wound on Prince Leon. The graze is very deep. He was lucky.” “I’ll keep you posted. Let me know when you are heading back.” “Thank you.” Logan ended the call and stared at the shirt Leon had removed. Folding it neatly, he stared at the stain on the right arm. The wound on Leon’s arm would sting today. Yet, Leon made no indication that he was uncomfortable. He had kept his pain to himself, not even telling David. Leon had truly changed. The suite door opened and Dax came in carrying a black designer suit bag with no label. When he saw Logan holding the shirt, a deep frown creased his forehead. “Where is His Highness?” Dax asked. “In the bathroom, I helped him with the wound on his arm. He needed a few minutes alone after.” Dax nodded, coming to take the dirty shirt from Logan. Logan frowned when Dax placed the shirt with the utmost care in a bag over his shoulders. “Don’t you need to take it for laundry?” “Not here,” Dax said, with no further explanation. Dax went to the bathroom door and Logan frowned when he entered the bathroom soon after. Leon seemed to trust this attendant above all. A bit too much, Logan thought, adding Dax to the list of people who needed a thorough check. **** Leon touched his lips after Logan left, desire raging in his body. He remembered every second of being in Logan’s arms. Remembered how addictive it felt, how shattering their passion was and…he remembered what it was like to be without it. What it was like to be without Logan. Closing his eyes, he braced his arms on the sink counter and took in a deep breath. He’d clawed his way back from that despair, to this. Whatever this existence was, he couldn’t afford to let himself start to want Logan again. Not with the possibility that Logan might want to hold on to his life out there, one that now included a business. Leon opened his eyes and stared into the mirror. The gray eyes looking back at him were hard, the pain in their depths seasoned, a familiar companion. A single knock came on the door, letting him know it was Dax. “Come in,” he said, turning on the water at the sink. He leaned over to splash water on his face when Dax slipped in, holding a garment bag. “I brought you a fresh change of clothes for the event,” Dax said. “Your shirt is ruined with blood.” Leon finished washing his face and picked up the face cloth on the counter. “Princess Gia’s secretary called twice in the last hour,” Dax said, as he opened the garment bag and pulled out the clothes he brought. “I believe she’ll attend the after party, though there’s no confirmation yet.” Leon sighed as he dabbed his face dry and dropped the face cloth on the counter. “I wish she wouldn’t,” Leon said. “It’s getting harder to ignore her nagging about grandmother.” “Your Highness,” Dax started, and then stopped, turning away from Leon when he undid his white trousers and let them drop to the floor. “What has grandmother done that’s making Princess Gia so uneasy?” Leon asked, reaching for the new pair of slacks. He wore it over his boxer briefs then reached for the fresh shirt. He couldn’t help the hiss as he wore the shirt this time. The wound on his arm felt too sore, because it was the second day, he thought. Dax turned then and helped him button his shirt. “The news about your Uncle Isaak has the Imperial Household officials reviewing the royal family laws. If Isaak is proven guilty by the authorities, he will no longer be eligible for the crown.” Leon closed his eyes, already understanding that. “Well, it’s fine, they have Constantin and Gia.” Dax nodded, though his expression looked like he wanted to say more. Leon didn’t want to listen. He knew that Dax kept in touch with his grandmother. Knew they discussed more than Leon dared to ask about. He tucked in his shirt when Dax finished buttoning it. “Do you want a painkiller?” Dax asked, picking up Leon’s white slacks from the floor and placing them in the garment bag. Leon nodded, watching Dax take the bag he carried to the sink counter. Leon liked to think of it as Dax’s magic bag. Smiling, he buttoned his trousers and ran fingers through his hair. Dax brought him a single pill from a bottle he found in his bag, and handed him a glass of water. Leon tossed it back with a grateful nod. “Do you like Logan?” Dax asked. Leon choked on the water he was drinking. Dax handed him a fresh towel to wipe his mouth and took the glass away from him. “So you do,” Dax smiled wide. Leon frowned at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Dax chuckled. “It’s the first time I’ve seen you so curious about a man,” Dax said. “You couldn’t take your eyes off him at lunch. It’s nice to see. It made me remember that he held you tight the night you arrived from Sevilla, four years ago.” Leon adjusted his sleeves and looked away from Dax. “It’s been a while,” Leon said, his tone dismissive. “That’s history now.” Dax came around him holding an ascot. “Leon,” Dax said in a rare departure. Leon frowned. “It would be nice to see you dating someone,” Dax said, tying the ascot with expertise. “It’s been too long. You can’t be alone forever. Think about it.” *** Leon came out of the bathroom in a neat white blazer over a light blue shirt and dark slacks. He wore black monogrammed loafers and a deep blue ascot tied under his collar. The only jewelry on him was his family ring on his right middle finger. He looked delicious. Logan would have teased him about the shoes, but he dared not now. Leon buttoned the blazer and started for the door. Logan hurried to open it for him, and caught a small smile on Leon’s lips as they went out. Back downstairs, Logan realized why Leon had needed to change his clothes. The press had increased. Photographers taking pictures of Leon, documenting everything he wore for the event. Leon, David and two senior executives stood in the hotel lobby waiting to go outside to officially cut the ribbon. Logan stood behind Leon, his presence enough to intimidate any adventurous photographers. He watched Leon composing himself to face the mob. David touched Leon’s right upper arm with familiarity and Leon winced but said nothing. Once again, Logan wondered why Leon had not told David about the attempts on his life. “Alright, we’re ready,” Dax said, walking toward them. “Logan, we’ll rely on you.” Logan stopped Leon from moving as he waited on an all clear from Tom, Shirley and John. When they were in position outside, Logan gave a nod. Leon and David walked forward to the front doors. Leon kept up a smile as the Master of Ceremony started the short event. Logan and his team kept a tight circle around Leon in the warm afternoon. The ribbon was placed right at the hotel entrance. Flower pillars on each side of the ribbon to hold it. The hotel staff guided both Leon and David to the correct spot ready for the ceremony. Cameramen working, photographers busy, an excited crowd filled the hotel’s front lawn and parking lot. Logan’s gaze moved over an excited crowd as the Master of Ceremony guided the event. The energy from the crowd felt enthusiastic with no sense of urgency. They waited with patience for Prince Leon to cut the ribbon. Logan shadowed Leon when he moved to stand before the ribbon. It was too hot for gloves, so the scissors were decorated with red ribbons. Leon started to reach for his pair scissors, but David brushed hard against his right arm, making him hesitate. Logan shifted to shield Leon’s wince from the cameras, forcing the woman holding Leon’s tray to move to David first. Leon gave Logan a grateful smile after he collected himself and reached for the scissors meant for David. They cut the ribbon with the Master of Ceremony’s guidance. When they finished, music, shouts of congratulations and applause filled the afternoon. Executives surged forward to greet Leon. Logan kept up with Leon, who greeted everyone who approached him with a cordial smile. A commotion started at the hotel entrance drawing attention. Logan’s team worked to contain the fuss. Logan focused on Leon, staying alert as more people came to greet Leon. ‘Boss, David’s in trouble,’ Shirley’s voice came through in his earpiece. ‘We’ve pulled him into the hotel and are using the staff to cover the incident. There are blisters on his hands and he passed out. It looks like poison. The secondary team has an ambulance on the way.’ Logan, knowing Leon would want to know, touched Leon’s left elbow drawing his attention. “David needs you,” Logan whispered to Leon. Leon kept a blank face, even as he let Logan lead him back inside the hotel. Leon smiled, thanked, and invited those who wanted to talk to him to the after party later. When he entered the lobby, Shirley and John closed the main doors keeping everyone out, and Leon turned to Logan. “What’s wrong?” “David is headed to the hospital.” Tom provided the information. “The hotel staff is very efficient. We managed to get him in the ambulance in a very short time. The paramedics are sure he can be saved.” “What? What are we waiting for? Let’s follow them,” Leon said, full of panic. He started for the doors. Dax stepped in his way, blocking his progress. Logan started to tell him off, but then Dax lowered his head in a neck bow. “Your Highness, you can’t leave,” Dax said, his tone begging. “Master David has worked very hard for this day. If you leave, everyone will notice. The event will turn into a failure. Please, trust us to take care of Master David. You must see the evening through.” Leon stared at Dax’s lowered head for a full minute, before he paced away from Dax, clearly unwilling. “How the hell am I supposed to sit through a party while David is in hospital?” “Please leave Master David to me. I will make sure he gets the best care. Her Royal Highness, Princess Gia, called while you were cutting the ribbon. She is set to arrive for the party tonight. Your Highness must keep up appearances. You cannot show them that something is wrong,” Dax said. Leon closed his eyes and turned away from Dax. His fingers tightened into fists, squeezing in, holding in emotions. Logan watched in silence. His thoughts on Dax’s choice of words ‘show them’. Did he mean Prince Isaak’s family? Did they not get along? Would Princess Gia want to have Leon murdered? But, why? Leon was not living in the palace. He had nothing Princess Gia wanted. “David is my dear friend,” Leon gritted out when he opened his eyes. His voice shook with emotion. “Spare nothing in your service. Summon Dr. Joley to his side and take care of his family as well. Do you understand?” “Yes, Your Highness,” Dax said, releasing his bow. “I will leave the Lt. Commander to take care of you. Pierre is driving Lisa over. She will handle my duties this evening.” Leon nodded and started heading to the next part of the afternoon. Logan started to follow him, but Dax grabbed on to his hand to stop him. Shirley stepped in behind Leon following him in Logan’s place. “What?” “I beg you, please, don’t leave him alone. He will try to be nice to the staff, and act normal, but—” “I’ll take care of him,” Logan promised. Dax studied him, his gaze skeptical. Logan then realized he had been too wary of Dax. This man was devoted to Leon, like a parent to a child. He read anxiety in Dax’s gaze. “Bring him straight to the hospital when you can. It won’t be easy for him to stay away. David is like a brother to him.” “I know,” Logan said, because he too worried for David. “Who is Dr. Joley?” “His Highness’s personal physician,” Dax said, already running off. Logan watched Dax leave, and then followed Leon. He watched Leon interact with department heads, charming them and getting them to promise to work their hardest. Leon never showed any crack in his armor, covering for David when one of the executives asked where David had gone. The act was flawless. If Logan didn’t know Leon, he might have believed him. When Princess Gia arrived, a new layer of the armor Leon wore emerged. He closed off, to the point of asking Logan to defer to Princess Gia’s security detail. It reminded Logan of a tortoise hiding in its shell when it sensed danger. The party in the large hall was elegant, the music lively as the staff enjoyed dining with royalty. “Your hotel is beautiful,” Princess Gia said, as she sat next to Leon at the table set aside for their use. “You always manage to own the most elegant of places. Where is David?” “Handling a private matter,” Leon said. “He has worked hard to complete this hotel. I’m happy with the results. He deserves the time away.” “Curious,” Princess Gia said, looking around the room. Her gaze stopped on Logan and she narrowed her gaze. “New security? Pierre not enough anymore?” Leon smiled at Princess Gia. “Dax outsourced a new company for the event. You know how Castle Arguro works. I would never need such tight security as you do, Gia.” Princess Gia nodded and picked up the glass of wine her attendant placed before her. She sipped it and sat back in her chair. She smiled when an executive met her gaze and waved at her, star struck. “Your hotel is not the only thing that brought me here this evening,” Princess Gia said. Logan who stood behind Leon stepped back when she glanced at him with a censoring gaze. She lowered her voice, as she continued. “Grandmother is restless. She refused to meet any of us for breakfast this morning. I’m worried. Has she reached out to you?” “You asked me not to respond to her summons. In any case, I’ve been too busy with the hotel opening. If she has sent summons, I’ve not seen them.” “Blunt as ever,” Princess Gia said. She placed her glass on the table and shifted to study Leon. “Why don’t you want more? What is so great about Castle Arguro?” “What’s not great about Castle Arguro?” Leon asked, directing a blank smile at her. There was a glass of water before him. Leon moved the glass around, as though to drink it in the next minute, but he did not attempt to drink it “Though the castle cannot compare to the Capital Palace, it remains home to me.” “Hmm, must be nice,” Princess Gia said, reaching for her glass again. After that strange exchange, the two cousins talked about food for the rest of the night. Quite literary. Princess Gia spoke of delicacies she thought should be served at the hotel, to promote the Kingdom’s tourism and fame. Leon followed her example, keeping a calm facade, though his impatience remained on his tense shoulders. At around nine o'clock, Princess Gia bid Leon goodbye. Leon walked her out of the hotel to her car. Logan watched Leon open the back passenger door for her, Leon smiled when Gia kissed his cheek. Leon closed her door and stepped back as the driver pulled away followed by her security detail. The moment her motorcade was out of sight, Logan’s team moved into place around Leon. *** Leon wrung his fingers through the ride to the private hospital where David was admitted. Worry filled him at the thought that the person trying to hurt him had now touched one of his people. David did not deserve this. He worked too hard for him, for the hotel and the many businesses Leon placed under his care. Most of all, David was his best friend. Anger rose as he rode the elevator to the top floor at Aceso Medical Center. Dax met them as the elevator doors opened. “Master David is out of danger, and is admitted into a private room. Dr. Joley is looking after him. I’ll let her update you on his condition.” “Sadie?” Leon asked, walking fast as Dax led him to David’s hospital room. “She’s on her way. She was at David’s family farm in Eastways, near the border. I got her on a flight and she should be arriving in the next few minutes. I called in a driver to pick her up at the airport,” Dax said. “She should be here any minute.” “Thank you, Dax,” Leon murmured when Dax opened the door to David’s room. Leon glanced at Logan who made to follow him into David’s room. “I want to do this alone.” Logan held his gaze for a minute, and then stepped back. Leon closed the door on Logan and turned to look at the large bed in the middle of the room. David settled right in the middle with the monitor mounted on the wall above his bed beeping steadily. Leon walked to the foot of the bed, his hands clenched tight. Thin gauze covered David’s right hand protecting the wounds on his hand, where he had held the scissors. Leon stared at that hand, guilt riding him hard. There was no reason for anyone to want David dead. He was a loyal friend, a man of integrity and anyone who worked under David respected him. He loved with all his heart. Sadie would attest to that love. David had even taken Leon under his wing, and given him a warm place to call home. No, no one wanted David dead. The poison on the scissors was meant for Leon. He was the reason why David was in this bed. He had brought this good man pain. Tears filled his eyes, a sob escaping before he could stop it. Leon wiped away his tears with an angry fist, the wound on his right upper arm throbbed and he closed his eyes, making more tears slide down his cheeks. Moving around the bed to David’s left side Leon knelt on the floor and took David’s left hand, pressing a kiss on David’s knuckles. “I’m so sorry,” Leon cried, shaking, as he bowed his head over David’s hand. “I’m so sorry, David.” Leon knelt on the floor for five minutes, could have been more, he couldn’t be sure. A knock on the door had him sucking in air. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and pressed another kiss on David’s knuckles as he stood. Letting go of David’s hand, he took in a deep breath to keep his calm. The knock on the door came again, and Leon sighed. “Yes, come in,” Leon said, his voice as strong as he could get it. To hide the state of his eyes, he walked to the darkened windows, hands in his pockets. The door opened and he glanced back shortly to see Dr. Joley enter David’s room. “Your Highness,” she greeted. “I’ve pooled resources here and Master David is getting the best care possible. The poison used was pure nicotine delivered in a high-end designer cocktail. The contents are deadly. I would recommend following up on anyone else who might have touched those scissors. We administered first aid as fast as we could. He is out of danger, though we will need to keep him under observation for at least seventy-two hours.” Leon wiped the last traces of his tears then turned away from the windows to watch Dr. Joley check on David’s vital signs. She made sure the IV line was secure, and read the information on the monitor. “Are there any lasting effects from this?” Leon asked, his voice sounding raw. “No,” Dr. Joley looked at him and offered him a faint smile. “This is not your fault, you know. Don’t beat yourself up. He wouldn’t want you to.” “I’ve brought him here,” Leon said, shaking his head. “I—” He didn’t get to finish as the door opened and a tall, elegant brown-skinned woman hurried in, frantic. Her long braids swung around her shoulders. She stared at David on the bed in shock: standing frozen at the door, her brown eyes wide, and her hands in tight fists. “Sadie,” Leon said, his voice hoarse at her stricken face. She dragged her gaze away from David to look at him. He took a step toward her, but stopped when she came at him, her fists pounding at his chest before he could stop her. Leon closed his eyes as Sadie erupted. “You did this!” Sadie accused. “He’s here because of you. You did this. Why? Oh God, why? Why would you do this?” Leon looked up to see Logan and his team hurrying into the room, alarmed. Logan looked ready to pull Sadie off Leon as she kept punching his chest. “This is your fault,” Sadie cried, tears sliding down her cheeks. “Your fault!” Leon glared at Logan when he started to reach for Sadie. Shaking his head, he held up a hand to stop Logan from interfering. Logan stopped, but he did not move away from arm’s reach as Leon wrapped strong arms around Sadie to comfort her. “I’m sorry. Sadie, I’m so sorry. He’s going to be okay. I’ll make sure of it.” Sadie cried into his chest for a full minute, before she jerked away from him, pushing him away. “You should leave,” Sadie said, her brown eyes wet with tears. She brushed the tears away with the back of her hand and looked away from him when he started to reach for her. “Please go, Your Highness. Leave us alone for a while. Give me time.” Leon clenched his hands tight, staring at Sadie, heart full of pain at the sight of the fear in her eyes. Dax started to protest her request, but Leon stopped him with a glare, and nodded in agreement with Sadie. “You’re right,” Leon said, moving closer to Sadie. Leon kissed her forehead, and wiped a tear away from her soft cheek with the back of his right hand. “I’ll leave. You stay with him, don’t worry about anything else. I’ll handle everything he needs done, but promise to call me at least when he wakes up.” Sadie stared at David, more tears filling her eyes. She was trembling, and he knew she wanted to cry. She needed a time alone with David to let out her fear at the thought of her man almost dying. Leon swallowed hard and moved to David’s bedside. He brushed soft blonde hair away from David’s forehead, leaned down to press a kiss on David’s forehead. When he straightened up, Sadie was looking away from him, tears sliding down her cheeks. He couldn’t fault her for this. She was right. This was his fault. “Dr. Joley,” Leon murmured, drawing the doctor’s gaze. “I’ll leave David in your capable hands. Anything he needs, all you have to do is ask.” “Yes, Your Highness,” Dr. Joley nodded. Leon looked at Sadie for a full minute and when she wouldn’t look at him, he sighed and left David’s hospital room fast. He didn’t slow down until he reached near the elevator. The weight of the day came down hard on his shoulders. The thought of David dead left him weak, knees trembling, Leon reached out a hand to the wall, fear gripping him as he acknowledged a truth he could no longer escape. Someone wanted him dead. Reaching up to his neck, he undid his ascot and pulled it off, stuffing it into his jacket pocket. Leaning on the wall, he stared at the floor, taking deep breaths hoping to regain his balance. A pair of neat polished shoes appeared in his line of vision. His gaze traveled up the owner’s legs, to a toned chest covered by a perfect suit jacket until he was looking into Logan’s kind eyes. “Shall we head to Castle Arguro?” Logan asked. “You’ll be safe there.” “I don’t think there is any safe place,” Leon heard himself say. “Sadie is right. This is my fault.” “Don’t blame yourself for someone else’s choice,” Logan said. “You survived today, Leon. You managed that much. We’ll sort out the rest as we go.” Leon stared at Logan, mulling over that statement. He looked to his right, to the end of the corridor where Sadie was probably crying her eyes out by David’s bedside: her pain, his grief. Leon let out another sigh and pushed off the wall. “I’m so tired,” Leon murmured. “Then we’ll take you home where you can rest,” Logan said, his steady voice enough to calm Leon. Leon nodded and started a slow walk to the elevator. He once again wondered what he could have done to get someone to hate him so much. Hate him enough to want him dead. *** “Day one sucked,” Shirley said, settling on a couch in the security offices at Castle Arguro. They were on the ground floor, near the kitchen. She removed her shoes and socks, rolling the dirty socks into a neat ball. “I didn’t think Prince Leon’s schedule would be so intensive.” “He is busier than expected,” Tom said, typing up a report on a laptop at the main workstation. “I was expecting parties on yachts and clubbing. It’s nothing like Prince Constantin. Now, he parties." “Maybe, it was a one day thing,” John said, handing a cold beer to Tom, Shirley, and finally to Logan, who sat behind the main desk combing through Hotel Anastasia’s security footage. He replayed the ceremony over, seeking what they’d missed. “Dax forwarded tomorrow’s schedule an hour after we got home,” Shirley said, picking up the tablet on the cushion beside her. It was almost eleven-thirty. “Prince Leon has another full schedule that includes a trip to a vineyard in Archaeon. That’s a two-hour trip.” “The vineyard is his mother’s original home,” Logan said. “I believe the vineyard now provides wine to all the hotels under Leon’s care.” “That’s enterprising,” Tom noted, finishing with his report. “Boss, the main office got the scissors David used for the ceremony. The woman holding David’s tray, touched them too and is getting treatment. The woman who helped prepare the ceremony is dead. The secondary team is analyzing the scissor for prints we can use. They’re also tracking the two women’s movements. One of them has to have met the culprit.” Logan nodded, rerunning the footage at the opening ceremony. He slowed down the video where he moved in to hide Leon’s wince from cameras, when David brushed against Leon's arm. That simple motion had saved Leon, and placed David in danger. It was eating Leon up. “Where’s the Prince now?” Shirley asked. “In the master suite on the second floor,” Tom replied, checking the cameras. “Dax is going in and out of there, probably prepping for the night. He seems too subdued to me.” “This is not his first time,” Shirley pointed out, getting off the couch, her bare feet silent on the carpet as she moved to join Tom at the workstation. She brought up the feed outside Leon’s master suite. The camera gave them a view of the living area when the door was open, and spanned down the hallway. They watched Dax leave the suite, carrying a tray of food, the covers still over plates. “Still, this has been a hard few hours,” Shirley noted. “He and David seem very close, it can't be easy for him..” “Well, I’m going to call it a night. I’ll take the last shift,” John said, drinking the last of his beer. “Boss, don’t stay up too late.” “Goodnight John,” Logan said, nodding when John waved at him with a grin. Their sleeping quarters were on the first floor of the castle. Their rooms well stocked and furnished, they could have booked a room at a five-star hotel. It was a different experience from their usual bunking in standard military accommodation. Logan narrowed his gaze. It was too bad that the luxury came with the worst kind of danger, the kind of danger that was unafraid of terrorizing someone like Prince Leon. Not finding anything new in the footage from the hotel, Logan closed the window and brought up the Castle’s camera feed on his screen, as well as the castle’s blueprints. After the events of day one, he needed to familiarize himself with every inch of the castle. Their culprit was too invested, they needed to be too. Logan was busy mapping the second floor, when a knock came on the door. He looked up to find Dax waiting at the door. “Sorry to interrupt,” Dax said, with a strained smile for Tom and Shirley. “Logan, can I talk to you?” Logan got up and followed Dax into the hallway, where Logan noted a coffee carafe with two mugs on a tray. “What’s up?” Logan asked, scratching his jaw. “I know it’s late,” Dax said, glancing at his watch. It was just after midnight. “I need your help with something. Um, will you take this up to Prince Leon?” Logan’s brow rose as Dax took the tray and pushed it into his hands. “His Highness is not asleep. Well, you’ll see. He needs to drink at least two cups of that if he’s to make it in the morning. Thanks, Logan. Goodnight.” Dax walked away before Logan could ask any question. Left alone holding the tray, Logan sighed and gave the door to the security offices a wistful glance. Five minutes later, he stood outside Leon’s door staring at the intricate door handle. Glancing up at the camera mounted a few feet away, he hoped Tom and Shirley weren’t studying him too closely. Cursing under his breath, he knocked on the door, and turned the handle before he got an answer. He entered the master suite and paused when he realized all the lights were on. Leon had not gone to sleep yet. It was late. Leon had an appointment at six-thirty in the morning. Logan had committed the schedule to memory, timing his own sleep needs. He looked around the impressive sitting area, and let out a sigh when he saw Leon sitting on the floor by a coffee table set near floor-to-ceiling windows. A bottle of expensive brandy sat on the table, Leon holding a glass that he tipped to his lips. No wonder Dax had handed him a tray with coffee. Logan closed the door with a little slam drawing Leon’s attention. Gray eyes slid over him, and then returned to staring out the window. Logan placed the tray with coffee on a side table. Leon needed sleep right now and not coffee, he decided. Walking up to Leon, Logan smiled. He took the bottle, and read the label, letting a low impressed whistle escape, as he moved away to place it on side table with the coffee tray. “If you were going to break out the expensive stuff, you should have called me.” “Give it back,” Leon said, not moving. He placed his glass on the coffee table, and leveled an annoyed gaze on Logan. “You shouldn’t be here. We don’t have to see each other until morning.” “Then you need to sleep,” Logan stated, coming back to Leon without the bottle. Leon was already dressed for bed in pajama pants and a white t-shirt. It was nice seeing him this way. Logan had finally found his Leon, even though he was drunk. He crouched down to study him for a minute. He wrapped an arm around Leon’s shoulders, needing to hold him, if only for a second. “You have an important meeting with people I’m told manufacture fabric,” Logan said, his tone teasing, as Leon leaned against him. “Dax insists it’s important for the sake of the sheets used at the hotel. I’ve never thought about it, but hotel owners must worry about such things, huh? Hotel sheets.” “Go away,” Leon pushed him away, only managing to dislodge Logan an inch, his words slurred. “Leave me alone, Logan.” “I can’t, I have to do my part to make sure people sleep on good cotton. I need to get you to your bed, Leon. So that you’ll be at your best when you negotiate costs.” Logan was careful not to take Leon’s right arm, concentrating on Leon’s left arm, as he lifted Leon to his feet. “Okay, now we’re going to walk to the bedroom. Why did you drink so much when you need sleep, handsome Aeran Prince?” “You’re so annoying,” Leon scowled, trying to push Logan away again, and staggering in the process. Logan tightened his hold around Leon to make sure they didn’t fall. It felt good to hold Leon. It felt so good. He led Leon to the bedroom, wishing this could last, but knowing it couldn’t. Leon sighed, and mumbled out. “Have I told you, you’re annoying?” “Am I?” Logan asked, entering Leon’s bedroom. "How much?" “Very,” Leon said, nodding his head. “So annoying.” The covers were already pulled back on the huge bed in the middle of the room. “Your bed is very inviting, Leon. Look at that. I bet you fall asleep in seconds once you get on it. I bet you don’t have to worry about comfortable sheets on this—” “I worry about you,” Leon mumbled, as he sat on the bed with a sigh. He closed his eyes, and fell back on the bed. His next words were slurred, but Logan heard them clear enough. “Why did you refuse to stay with me? Why don't you want me?” Logan stood staring at Leon at a loss. Leon breathed in and rolled to his left side, across the bed. He was asleep. Logan knew he couldn’t leave him this way. Sliding his arms under Leon, he lifted him up and shifted to make sure Leon’s head would rest on his comfortable pillows. Which left him half kneeling on the large bed, he started to move away. Then, Leon clutched his shirt tight, holding him in place. Logan looked down to find sad gray eyes watching him. “Do you even know how much I’ve missed you?” Leon asked. “I'm suffocating from being alone, Logan. Did you miss me, at all?” ***
  4. 9 Leon might have refused to take on his role as a Prince of the Kingdom in the palace, but the people had not forgotten him. Even now, as he sat opposite two ministry of tourism officials, Logan could see that they regarded him as Prince Leon. They wanted Leon’s support in promoting tourism projects through the new hotel and any trips he might take. Leon negotiated for an equal deal for him, David and the ministry. A surge of pride filled Logan; it was nice to see Leon in such a productive setting. Still, Logan could not find a single piece of the Leon he’d spent six months with across Europe. It was like that Leon had disappeared and been replaced with this new Leon, a business-first Leon. He couldn’t help but miss Leon’s carefree side. Logan’s phone buzzed and he moved away from his position at the door. Toom took over as Logan answered the call. “Mason.” “Why is there a team going through our hotel? They asked me to call you,” David asked, somewhat irritated. Logan had forwarded Leon’s schedule to the command center. Commander Stevens would have sent a secondary team to sweep the hotel before Leon’s arrival. “David, I’ve taken on a job with Leon,” Logan said. “I know he hasn’t told you or the others. I’ll leave it to him to tell you when he’s ready.” David sighed on the other end. “I knew something was wrong yesterday,” David said. “He was acting off all day. Well, this is both good and bad news. It’s bad news because this second team is annoyingly nosy.” Logan chuckled. “Why is it good news?” Logan asked. “For you, Logan,” David said, the warmth in his voice made Logan grateful he’d managed to keep David as a friend all this time. “You’ve waited to get close. Protecting him gives you plenty of opportunities, doesn’t it?” Logan glanced to the lounge where Leon still chatted to the two ministry officials. “It also depends on what he wants, David,” Logan said. “You’re right,” David agreed. “Although, Logan, have you ever stopped to think why he never asked you to stay?” Logan frowned. He’d never told anyone that Leon had indeed asked him to stay. He remembered every word Leon said that funeral day in the car. Leon had asked him. Logan had walked away, because he had wanted Commander Steele's mission, more than Leon at the time. “Why he never pushed you for more when we both know he can?” David continued. “It’s because his life is not quiet. Anyone who gets close loses so much.” “That’s absurd,” Logan said, shaking his head. “I lost nothing with him, David. I only gained.” “You were not fully committed,” David said. “Up to this day, Logan, you remain just a step out of the circle. It’s conscious on your part. If you take a fully committed step toward Leon, you’ll understand what I mean. You’ll understand why Petr has worked so hard to pull you into our circle.” Logan fell silent knowing that David was half-right. The other half, well, Logan wanted to step fully into Leon’s life, he just wasn’t sure Leon wanted him there now. “The team at the hotel is discrete, David. They might ask questions, but they won’t trouble you.” “They feel different,” David noted, he was too sharp for his own good. “It feels a bit like when Princess Gia visits. Something—” “I have to pull in all the stops,” Logan cut in, not about to let David realize that Leon was now under the Kingdom’s full protection. “He’s a prince, you know.” David chuckled. “I almost forget it,” David joked. “Almost. Well, okay. We’ll cooperate with them. I’m relieved to know you’re with him again. Good luck, Logan.” David ended the call and Logan stood watching Leon. He had never stopped to consider what being Leon’s true partner would entail. Why had that never been a concern before? Leon stood and Logan pushed those thoughts aside. He hurried back into position, so that his team shadowed Leon to the elevators as he finished with the officials. They headed to the Anastasia Grand Hotel. Leon and David had named it after Princess Anastasia. Logan wondered how Leon was coping without his parents as they walked up to the hotel’s front doors. David met them at the entrance, pulling Leon into a loose hug, with a wide smile as he greeted Leon. He was dressed down in jeans and a t-shirt. He was clearly in the middle of pulling the opening ceremony together, even as he stopped to welcome Leon. Logan listened as Shirley, John and Tom cleared the surrounding area, thanks to the secondary team. “Thank you for coming, Leon.” “Anything for you, David,” Leon said, as they entered the hotel. David looked behind Leon and winked at Logan before he squeezed Leon’s hand in mock surprise. “Oh wow, is that Logan Mason?” “Don’t bother,” Leon said, scowling at David. “I know he’s worked for you, Petr, Riku, Anselm and even Paul. The whole lot of you kept it a secret from me. I don’t know what you thought I would do.” David dropped the surprised act and let go of Leon’s hand to cross his arms against his chest. “We were helping out our buddy. You’re not the only one who got close to him, you know,” David said to Leon. “He’s our friend too.” Leon turned to look at Logan for a second, and then shifted to face David. “So, you have trouble,” David stated, then before Leon could give an answer, David continued. “Whatever it is, I’m glad you have Logan with you. I’ll at least feel at ease.” Leon sighed and took David’s elbow, leading him into the hotel. Logan didn’t miss the fact that Leon did not try to explain to his best friend why he needed a serious security detail. Leon and David started a busy three hours that left Logan’s team moving through the eighteen floors of the hotel. Logan took it as a plus, it gave them time to secure the hotel, and make sure there were no uninvited guests. “We’ve covered all possible weaknesses,” Shirley reported, as they waited for Leon to finish talking to service staff. “The secondary team is monitoring all traffic. They’re also in charge of the parking lot. The ceremony has guests we don’t have time to account for, not to mention staff—” “It was too short a notice,” Logan agreed. “We'll tighten our circle around the prince when we get to the ceremony.” “Alright, boss,” Tom and John said. Shirley nodded to Leon who had finished talking to the service staff. Thankfully, after this meeting, David announced it was time for lunch *** David insisted on including Logan’s team in the dining room. Leon settled at a table in the corner of the small, private and elegant dining room on the third floor of the hotel. His chair was tucked into the corner of the wall, away from windows as per Shirley’s instructions when she left him. Leon swiped his thumb over his phone screen, over and over, though he never opened any app, or message notification. His gaze strayed to the two security-team members sitting at a table a few feet away from him. Tom and John, Leon recalled from Logan’s quick introduction in the morning. Leon wondered if they too were former members of the Royal Navy SPOC team. They looked highly trained. They moved like Logan, even now at rest, they missed nothing in the room. Leon wondered how Logan convinced them to work in his business. He wanted to know so many things about Logan. David entered the dining room, having finished with their chef, coming straight to Leon’s table. He slid into the chair next to Leon. “We’re having chocolate mousse with raspberries for dessert. Your favorite,” David said with a happy smile. Leon returned it, though he felt it a shadow of his real one. “Logan?” Leon asked, knowing David would tell him without teasing him. “Outside,” David said, “he’s making sure you’re safe.” Leon nodded and placed his phone on his table mat. He rubbed his right earlobe and tried to ignore David’s raised brow. David leaned closer, his gaze expectant. “What?” “I’m not sure whether to feel insulted by the fact that you continue to hide a huge secret from me.” “It’s too complicated,” Leon said. “I would tell you if I had an easy explanation.” “Do you need extra help?” David asked, concern creasing his forehead. “We can ask Petr, and even Anselm—” “No.” Leon said, not about to draw his friends into his problems. “I need time and patience, David. This will get resolved quickly.” David gave him a skeptical glance, and then reached for the glass of water set by his plate. “Fine,” David said, after a slow sip. Leon picked up his phone, plastering on a smile for David. “Why don’t we take a selfie of you?” Leon asked, keeping his tone cheerful. “Let’s shock Sadie when you actually post this on your gram account.” David laughed and Leon took David’s photo then, glad to see his best friend happy. Lunch continued in a lazy, quiet slide until Logan and Shirley entered the dining room fifteen minutes later. A shift change, Leon noted as Tom and John left the dining room. Leon sat back in his seat, and watched David approach Logan. No doubt to make sure Logan and Shirley were satisfied with the food on the menu. Leon had taken the chef’s special, a delicious grilled chicken with rice and sauteed veggies. He hadn’t finished it all, but it tasted spectacular. Leon tried to concentrate on his cup of coffee, even his phone, but it was useless to try. His gaze slid to Logan with every attempt to look away. He bit his bottom lip to keep from smiling when Shirley got her plate and promptly exclaimed over the presentation of food. Logan giving her a startled, censoring look was so priceless, Leon wished he had his camera for the first time in a very longtime. *** “This looks amazing!” Shirley said, reaching for her phone. “I’m so taking a pic of this and sharing it.” David chuckled at Logan’s reaction to that statement and poured water into Logan’s large glass. “I expect you to tag the hotel when you post,” David encouraged Shirley before Logan could stop her. He winked at both of them, before he walked back to the table he shared with Leon. “They are so cool,” Shirley said, already doing as asked on her phone. “This Prince is so different from his cousins. I wonder if it’s because he lives outside the palace.” Logan picked up his fork, his gaze on Leon. David slid into the seat next to Leon. Their connection seemed to have only grown deeper with time, Logan noted. Leon trusted David. As though to prove his thoughts, Leon picked up his dessertspoon and took a bite of the chocolate mousse with raspberries in David’s bowl. Jealousy so blinding rose so fast, Logan jerked his gaze back to his plate. He took a bite of the delicious grilled chicken on his plate, barely tasting it. Reaching for his glass of water, he took a healthy gulp, his gaze sliding back to Leon. David moved his bowl to Leon and took Leon’s bowl. Logan remembered a time when he’d done that without thought. The more he watched them, the deeper the acute feeling of loss filled him. Annoyed by it, Logan forced his attention back to his own plate, afraid of what he might do if he kept watching longer. He had this urge to walk over and demand back the rights he seemed to have lost with Leon. *** The hotel had elevated its security protocols. The food he’d thought to mess with was no longer going up to the third floor. The private dining room had pulled in the hotel’s top chef to cook and serve in person. He’d not made the cut when they chose service staff. He should have realized that Prince Leon’s presence in the building would turn everyone into nervous pricks. He’d not accounted for that. Adjusting his apron, he wondered if there was an easier way to approach his target. Picking up a tray filled with dirty plates, he slid it into the sink and turned on the hot water to spray debris off the plates with expertise. His phone buzzed and he tapped the earpiece in his left ear without pause. “Progress?” the gruff voice filled his head, fraying his nerves. “First plan failed. His security is good. Food is out of the question.” “What now?” “I’m looking for an alternative. I’ll keep you posted.” “Your package will be waiting as soon as you succeed. Once you get it, fly out without delay. No more visits to the house in the glades. Don’t slip up.” “Understood.” The call ended fast and he sighed, wondering what would happen if he failed his mission. He shuddered at the thought. Things hadn’t gone so well for the three before him. “Hey,” a soft feminine voice said, drawing his attention to a young woman who looked harried. She stood a few feet away holding a pair of gold scissors. “I just got these from storage and they’re really dirty. We’ve neglected them. I need to wrap them with bows for the ceremony. Can you help me?” Taking the scissors, he smiled as he ran hot water over them. Could it be so easy? *** After lunch, Leon retreated to a suite on the eighteenth floor set aside for him by David. The opening ceremony was coming up in thirty minutes. David handed the key card to Logan. “I’ll leave him in your capable hands,” David teased Logan as they entered the elevator. “See you in thirty.” Logan nodded as the elevator doors closed. Upstairs, Logan made Leon wait at the door with Shirley and Tom, while he and John cleared the penthouse suite. Logan was glad to discover no unwanted surprises. In the master bathroom, he paused when he saw the tray with antibiotic ointment and fresh bandages sitting on the sink counter. “Clear,” John called from the living area. Logan closed the bathroom door and went to the front door. “Clear,” he confirmed, allowing Leon into the suite. Leon let out a tired sigh, as he walked to an armchair in the living area. He shrugged off his blue jacket and draped it over the back of the chair. Logan frowned when he spotted a red stain on Leon’s upper right arm. He rushed to Leon’s side, taking his arm in a panic. “You’re bleeding.” Leon glanced at his right arm and cursed under his breath. “It’s nothing,” Leon said, shrugging his arm out of Logan’s grasp. “Dax will be up to help shortly.” “No.” Logan took Leon’s left arm and started to the master bedroom. That’s what the tray was about in the bathroom. “What are you doing?” “Helping you,” Logan said, urging Leon to the bathroom, not really giving him a chance to fight him. “You don’t have to do this,” Leon complained, when Logan closed the bathroom door and stood waiting on Leon to remove his white shirt. The red stain on Leon’s arm made Logan worry. It was so out of place. Leon scowled at Logan. “It’s better if I wait for Dax.” “Leon,” Logan said, taking a step closer to Leon, his gaze never leaving the red spot on Leon’s right arm. “You’re hurt, and bleeding. Please, let me help you. I can help redress your wound.” Leon studied him for a moment, and then lowered his head with a sigh. He started to unbutton his shirt, his hands trembling slightly. Logan took in a deep breath remembering the last time Leon had removed a shirt in front of him. They’d been in Sevilla. Leon riding a horse, while he laughed, rain falling on him. Logan longed for that carefree Leon. Leon shrugged off his stained shirt. The bathroom was large enough to fit a small one-bedroom apartment. Yet, watching Leon remove his shirt made the room feel smaller. To distract himself, Logan walked around Leon to the sink. He still couldn’t help looking back and staring. “Logan?” Logan drew his gaze away from Leon’s naked back to find Leon watching him. Logan cleared his throat, and studied the contents on the tray near the sink. Leon moved closer, leaning on the sink counter next to him, making sure Logan had access to his right upper arm. Logan took in a deep breath and focused on looking over the bandage on Leon’s arm, scowling at the stain of blood. Logan undid the old bandage with care to reveal an angry bullet furrow that was an angry red, scabbing over slow. Throwing the old bandage into the trash, Logan studied the wound, worry settling in his stomach. The shooter in the Arguro Forest had done this to Leon. It left a bitter taste in his mouth. “He got close,” Logan said, his gaze moving from Leon’s right arm to Leon’s bent head. He stared at the soft brown hair begging for his fingers to comb through it. Leon lifted his head, and looked at him, gray eyes filled with shadows. There was a time he would have leaned in and kissed Leon until those shadows disappeared. He couldn’t now and it pained him. “I don’t know why anyone would hate me so much that they would shoot at me,” Leon said, his voice low. “Do you?” Logan knew different. Leon was a prince. Anyone who wanted him dead had to have a vendetta against the royal family. It could be political. It was no secret that Queen Amethea loved Leon most. Hurting him would hurt her, as Logan was already aware. She would do anything for this particular grandson of hers. “Don’t worry,” Logan said, keeping his voice low. “Whoever they are, we’ll catch them.” Logan took the ointment from the tray with the bandage supplies. He applied a generous amount to the angry wound, then placed a neat dressing over the wound and taped it with care. “You do that really well. Must be from experience,” Leon noted, looking at Logan through the mirror. Logan concentrated on finishing with the bandage. When he was done, he looked up and met Leon’s probing gaze. Taking a step closer, Leon’s maddening cologne filled his nostrils. It wasn’t fair to smell so good. Heart beat speeding, Logan stared at Leon, wanting. Then Logan cupped Leon’s jaw, his gaze dropping to parted lips. Leon’s breath hitched and Logan leaned closer and kissed Leon as he had wanted to since he saw him this morning. Like falling into a beloved rhythm, their kiss a remembered perfection, it set him aflame and all he could think was how much he had missed this. A soft moan escaped Leon and he stepped even closer, reaching up to hold Logan’s left wrist. Another minute of bliss, and Leon jerked away from him, panic in his eyes. “Stop,” Leon managed, shaking his head. He turned away from Logan and closed his eyes. "I can't." Logan stepped back, breathing hard, remembering where they were and who he was to Leon now. “I’m sorry,” Logan said, moving away from Leon. Logan picked up the shirt Leon had removed and left the bathroom in fast strides. ***
  5. lilansui

    Chapter 6

    I apologize for this, bad editing on my part, posting too fast. I think I need to watch out for this. Riku was originally Ren in my first Draft, hahaha, the name slipped on me in Chapter 6, what a fail! I've edited it. Not as bad as the GOT coffee cup though...hehehehe. Petr is my favorite person in this story. He'll explain the club one of these chapters, hehehe.
  6. 6 Bangkok gave Leon and Logan the freedom to sink into their newfound love. Riku’s home offered convenience and privacy. Leon left his friends to their own adventures, preferring to walk the streets of Bangkok with Logan. Leon remembered every minute of their month there. They rode longboats that took them on a tour of the residential parts of the city, with Leon taking pictures of Logan smiling, or pointing out sights that caught his attention. He took pictures of Logan buying them beers when the longboat stopped at one of the street markets. There was one of Logan laughing with the longboat’s owner as though they were old friends. There was the visit to one of the largest temple complexes in the city, Wat Pho. Home to the giant reclining Buddha covered in gold leaf. Leon spent more than a few minutes capturing it on camera, then dragged Logan closer so that they could take a selfie. Logan had covered his face in embarrassment when Leon insisted they crouch down on the floor to get the right angle. They walked through the huge flower market; Leon took more pictures and bought Logan a bunch of edible flowers. Leon made sure to immortalize Logan's amused expression. He had a collection of pictures dedicated to Logan's expressions; happy Logan, moody Logan, pensive Logan, and his favorite, thinking Logan. Leon scrolled through them and paused when he found a photo of Logan taken at a local restaurant in Bangkok. Leon frowned remembering that lunch. They chose a quiet spot by the windows with a view of the street. After spending five months in Leon’s company, Logan was well versed in Leon’s likes and dislikes. Leon left him to order their food, while he watched the street. “Do you think it’s freeing to live the way we have these last five months?” Leon asked, when Logan was done. “Without a care or schedule in sight. I wonder if I shouldn’t try to live like this forever.” “Don’t you miss home?” Logan asked, accepting the glasses of freshly squeezed tangerine juice from their waiter. “In some ways, I do,” Leon shrugged. “I also know if I go back home, the first thing I’ll give up is free time. There are so many things I want to do that will take my time away. I’m worried I won’t be this free for a long time.” “I don’t mind a life of schedules,” Logan said, adjusting the plate of river prawn on lotus flower and sweet sauce before Leon. Logan had ordered barbecue chicken with sauce. He took a few minutes cutting pieces of it to place on Leon’s plate. Leon had a bad habit of eating what everyone else ordered, and only a little of what was in his plate. Something Logan had picked up about Leon in Norway. “Why don’t you mind schedules?” Leon asked, picking up the pieces of barbecue chicken Logan placed on his plate. He chewed slow, as though testing the taste. When he was sure it tasted okay, he took another bite. “Schedules mean I know where I need to be every day, at every moment. They keep me goal-oriented. They’re efficient.” “That’s…true,” Leon smiled, taking up his glass of juice. He took a sip, then a deeper drink when he approved of the taste. He looked up from his plate and his gaze stayed on Logan as he ate his chicken. “What happens when we get home?” Leon asked, thinking he wanted to continue seeing Logan after their trip ended. They had pushed back this discussion for weeks. Logan placed his fork on his plate and dropped his hands on his lap. When he looked at Leon, it was to deliver somber news. “I’ll get a new assignment.” “Just like that?” Leon asked, annoyed by the acceptance in Logan’s voice. He wanted Logan to want him too. Just a little longer. “That is my life, Leon,” Logan said. “It’s what I signed up for.” Leon nodded. “So, I’m an assignment, and that’s it.” “That’s not what I’m saying.” “What if I want you to stay with me?” Leon asked. “Would you agree?” Logan held his silence, a tick in his jaw before he met Leon’s gaze. “No,” Logan said, his gaze leaving no doubt that Leon would not interfere in his career. Leon stared at him for a moment, before he got up and left the restaurant, anxiety burning a hole in his gut. His appetite vanished. He didn’t want to interfere with Logan’s life in anyway. He wanted the best for Logan, always, but the idea of being unable to see him again— A strong grip on his left elbow jerked him to a stop and he turned to find Logan glaring at him. “Never do that again,” Logan yelled. “You don’t walk away from me.” “Let go,” Leon jerked his arm out of Logan’s hold, hating the swirl of uneasiness flooding his stomach. He wanted to shout with frustration on the street. Why couldn't it be easier than this? Logan held up the camera bag Leon carried. “You left this behind.” Leon cursed and reached for the bag, only for Logan to move it out of his reach. “Do you want to talk about this?” Logan asked, studying him. “We can do it now, or later, when we’re about to go back to Aeras. Which do you prefer?” Leon wiped a hand down his face, and looked around the busy street. Fear he didn’t understand filled his heart. It wasn’t as though Logan would be too far, but— “I’m afraid I’ll never see you again when we get home,” Leon stated, finally meeting Logan’s inquiring gaze. “You’ll be gone, disappeared into the intricate mess that is your beloved Royal Navy. You’ll get inundated in missions. What we’ve built here will disappear in a flash and it scares me.” “I’ll call you, Leon. I won’t let that happen,” Logan said. Leon chuckled, the sound bitter even to his ears, as he shook his head. It wouldn’t be the same. It wouldn’t be this: being together, living together. “Don’t tease me, Logan. I know all the rules, and how they will pull us apart because of your duty to them.” “I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say to make this easier,” Logan said, sliding his hand from Leon’s elbow to lock their fingers together. “You’re having a meltdown in the middle of Bangkok, and all I want to do is kiss you and make it better.” Leon breathed in now, staring at Logan's photo in that restaurant. They hadn't returned for their meal. Leon remembered they hadn’t finished their discussion on the street. Logan had pulled him into a hug and then hailed a taxi to head back to Riku’s house. When they got there, it was to find Riku planning a trip to the beach. Leon decided to go with the flow and forget the upsetting future. He scrolled to the next picture, and sucked in air. It was of Logan at the beach. Logan was in swimming shorts, coming out of the water, his hair dripping, his body so incredible; Leon had been unable to resist taking the picture. Years of military training had sculpted Logan’s body to perfection. Smiling, Leon saved Logan’s photo and decided he didn’t have the courage to revisit their lost conversation until it was absolutely necessary. Bangkok had turned into the perfect getaway. Now, they were in Anselm’s Sevilla. The Leandro Hacienda was ushering in December. Anselm tried to be there for them, but his presence in the hacienda meant he had to work at times. Petr and Riku spent most of their time together. David and Paul went in search of matador scenes, leaving Leon and Logan to their own devices. Leon smiled as a glass of orange juice appeared before him. He closed the laptop and shivered when cool lips trailed along his bare neck, down to his shoulder. The gown he wore slid off his shoulders and he placed the glass on the table, turning his chair so that he could kiss Logan. He and Logan had fallen into a cloud of passion in Sevilla. Anselm’s hacienda was perfect for it: lazy afternoons in bed with Logan were the stuff of dreams. They made love, unfolding each other with desire and need, until there was nothing to hide. Leon moaned now as Logan pushed the gown away leaving him naked. He sunk his fingers into Logan’s hair, which had grown in the last few months, biting his lip as Logan kissed his way down his stomach, lower, until he took Leon’s cock into his mouth. Thoughts disappeared, and all that remained was Logan’s hot mouth on him, and the molten desire racing through him. If he lived with nothing else but this, Leon thought, he would be content. *** When they made it out of bed, Logan took pleasure in watching Leon ride Anselm’s horses. One afternoon, on a sunny Wednesday, Leon sat on a brown mare with no saddle in only a pair of jeans, his shirt hanging on the rail beside Logan, his feet bare. “You’re crazy,” Logan scolded, wishing he could pull Leon off the horse, even as Leon urged it into a run around the enclosed pasture. Leon’s laugh at the exhilarating ride had Logan watching him in awe. It was in moments like these that he couldn’t believe that he got to kiss this passionate Leon and watch him come apart with ecstasy in his arms. Logan frowned when it started raining. He started to call out to Leon, but then stopped, staring instead. Leon held out his hands wide and tilted his head back, allowing his horse to guide the ride around the pasture. Horse and man, making a perfect picture in the rain, Logan brought his phone up and took the picture, thinking it the most real Leon had ever gotten. In that moment, Logan wished he could keep Leon forever. When Leon rode toward him, stopping his horse right before Logan, his heart ached with love when Leon jumped off the horse and came to him. Leon climbed the railing and kissed him as though they didn’t have another night together. One kiss led to more. The rain stopped, and they lay on long grass behind the hacienda, kissing, and exploring each other’s bodies, not spoiling the moment with words. It was bliss. This was heaven. Leon closed his eyes when Logan trailed kisses down his chest. Logan then braced his hands on either side of him and took a moment to stare at him. Leon smiled, leaning up to steal a kiss from Logan. He chuckled when Logan lay over him, pressing his full weight on him. “Leon!” Riku’s voice drifted to them and Logan groaned, burying his face into Leon’s shoulder at the interruption. “Leon!” “We should ignore him,” Leon sighed, running his hands up Logan’s back. “Come on, Logan, kiss me again.” “Logan!” Riku yelled, a note in his voice making Logan sit up to see Riku running. “Come on,” Leon protested when Logan got to his feet, his gaze narrowed when Riku saw him and changed direction, running at full speed toward him. Logan reached down and pulled Leon to his feet. “Something is wrong,” Logan said, when Leon leaned into his back, pressing a kiss on Logan's shoulder. “What could be wrong on such a perfect day?” Leon asked, burying his face into Logan’s back. Riku reached them, and stood staring at Leon for full minute, his eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry,” Riku said, the tears spilling over. “What’s wrong?” Logan asked, shifting so that he could hold Leon. Riku held out Logan’s cellphone. Logan had left it with him when they came out here, just in case. Logan sucked in air, thinking Leon’s parents had discovered the nature of their trip across Europe. He checked the caller ID and frowned when he saw Commander Steele’s personal number. “Hello, Sir,” Logan said, after bringing the phone to his ear. “Lieutenant Mason,” Commander Steele greeted him. “Are you near His Highness, Prince Leon?” “Yes, Sir,” his answer had Leon looking at him with a frown. “There is no easy way to say this, Lieutenant. An hour ago, there was a terrible car accident near the family's vineyard in Aeras. Prince Kleopas and Princess Anastasia were both in the car. They are gone, Logan. Prince Leon is summoned back to Aeras. We’re already making the necessary arrangements. You’ll need to accompany him back home.” Logan sucked in air, his arm tightening around Leon. “If you’ll hand him the phone now,” Commander Steele said. “It is my duty to make the notification to His Highness.” Logan’s gaze met Leon’s questioning one and he heard himself ask, “Can I make it?” “No, Lieutenant. This is my duty, son. Follow orders, hand the phone to His Highness.” Logan closed his eyes and held out his phone to Leon, keeping his arm around Leon. “It’s for you,” Logan managed to choke out, when Leon took it in confusion. Leon brought the phone to his ear, and Logan knew the moment Leon heard the worst news of his life. He dropped the phone to the ground, going limp. Logan wrapped his arms around Leon tight, aware of Riku moving in too, and holding Leon from the back. “I’m so sorry,” Logan murmured, into Leon’s ear. “You’re not alone. Baby, we’re right here.” Leon clung to him, shaking hard, even as he shook his head as though in denial. *** Logan sat beside Leon on the flight back to the Kingdom of Aeras. His hand closed over Leon’s right, doing everything he could to infuse strength into a listless Leon. Since the call from Commander Steele, Leon had not spoken one word. He moved in silence, following when Leon made him head back to their suite to dress. Commander Steele’s orders got them transportation back to Aeras in less than thirty minutes. A car stood waiting outside the hacienda by the time Leon was fully dressed in a black suit. Logan left their luggage to Anselm, knowing it would be well packed and sent to Aeras. He made sure to take Leon’s laptop and his camera bag though. The seat belt light came on in preparation for the landing. Logan started to reach for Leon’s belt to snap it in place, only to realize that Leon had not bothered removing it. Looking into gray eyes, he wondered if Leon even saw him. There was no need for words. Leon was not talking, he was wound tight. “Logan, see me for a moment,” Petr said, touching Logan’s shoulder. “Sit with me.” Logan squeezed Leon’s hand, not ready to leave him. Petr gave him a warning glance, and he sighed and got up. It was no surprise that all Leon’s friends had boarded the plane with him. Riku moved into the seat Logan vacated and took Leon’s hand. Logan sat next to Petr and waited. “How deep are you?” Petr asked. Logan stared at his hands on his lap. He didn’t know what answer to give. He and Leon had barely talked about the future. When they tried, Leon had gotten so upset, Logan had thought it best they push it back. “We’re about to land,” Petr said, continuing without Logan’s answer. “You have a choice to make, Logan. Remember I told you that you would need to join our club to keep close?” Logan nodded his gaze on Leon’s seat. He couldn’t see Leon but he imagined Leon was staring out the window as he had during the flight. “I suppose you’ll have to experience what I mean to understand,” Petr said. “I’m telling you if you want in, I’ll help you. We all will, but you need to want it, Logan, because it’s not an easy feat liking a Queen’s favorite grandson. Do you understand?” Logan dragged his gaze away from Leon’s seat. “Let’s talk about it later, Petr,” Logan said, he could barely think straight right now. He didn’t understand what Petr was trying to say. Right now, all he could think about was Leon. Leon looked like the type to hold his pain inside, and not reach out for help. “Sure.” Petr nodded and Logan got up and returned to his seat making Riku return to Petr. When they landed, it was to find a palace attendant waiting for Leon with three black royal service cars at the ready. It was night. The palace was keeping Leon’s arrival private; there was no press in sight. The heightened security tipped Logan that more was going on. Leon stared at the palace attendant waiting for direction. “Your Highness, Prince Leon, my name is Dax Karia, your personal secretary assigned by the palace. I will accompany you through this difficult time.” Leon pointed to Logan and the rest of his friends. “I—,” he broke off, clearing his throat. “I need them.” Logan started to step forward, but stopped when Riku held his elbow. “Can you not leave him alone?” Riku asked. “He’s—” “I know,” Logan said, following Leon to the car. “Where are we headed?” Logan asked Dax, who sat in the front passenger seat. “The hospital first,” Dax said, shifting to look at Leon. “Then to the palace to meet Her Majesty.” Leon closed his eyes and clasped his hands tight on his lap. Logan once again covered Leon’s cool hands with his hoping to relieve Leon of his anxiety. It worked for a while, until the car pulled into the underground parking lot at the hospital. Leon shivered then, tension returning. Dax led the way to the morgue. Logan noted that only relevant staff remained. At the doors, Leon stopped right outside, unable to follow Dax. His hands tightened into fists. Logan started to reach for him, but Dax stepped out, giving him a censoring glance. “Your Highness, you’re Prince Kleopas’s only son and the head of Castle Arguro now,” Dax said, in the gentlest voice possible. “We should get this done, so that we’re able to make arrangements.” Leon sucked in air, he closed his eyes and then seemed to push himself to enter the morgue. Logan followed behind him, afraid. He wasn’t as confident as Dax that Leon would keep it together. He wasn’t wrong. It took Leon exactly three minutes from the moment he saw his parents. Logan reached him as he broke down into harsh sobs that had Dax leaving them alone and closing the doors to ensure privacy. Logan held on to Leon as he cried harsh sobs that wrecked through his body, until all he could do was hold on to Logan. Shock and pain washed over Leon, Logan wished he could take it all for him. Yet, all he could do was hold Leon in the middle of this horrible storm. When Leon calmed down enough to walk, Logan led him out of the morgue to find Dax waiting for them. Dax held out a handkerchief to Leon. “What’s next?” Logan asked, making sure he blocked Leon from everyone else, as he composed himself. “Now we head to the palace,” Dax said, studying him with a curious glance. “I’m not sure you’re—” “I have clearance,” Logan said. “Talk to Commander Steele.” Dax nodded and led the way out. Once upstairs, Logan sighed because their luck had ran out. The press waited outside. The security Dax brought with him was efficient. They cleared a path to the car in minutes. Leon walked on his own steam, and once they were in the car, the driver took off. “Leon.” Logan tried to reach out, but Leon just shook his head, tears sliding down his cheeks. Logan sighed and pulled him into his arms, holding him. The drive to the Capital’s Palace went too fast. One moment Leon was in his arms, the next the car pulled up to the entrance. Leon moved out of his arms, taking in deep breaths, building an armor around his emotions. When he got out of the car, he was composed enough. Logan followed him into the palace, stopping only when the Queen’s personal secretary and Commander Steele met Leon. Leon continued up the staircase to the first floor and Logan met Commander Steele’s gaze. “Lieutenant Mason,” Commander Steele. “Thank you for completing your mission with success. I have a special mission for you…” Logan looked up the staircase to find Leon looking at him. Their gazes held for a second, then Leon was gone, and there was only duty staring at him. *** A week later, Leon stood in the green salon where his mother liked to host her guests at Castle Arguro. She liked the wide windows that let in the sun. Anastasia worked tirelessly with the gardener to create a bustling flourishing flower garden for the perfect view. Leon stared at the bright garden now and felt nausea rise. His mother would want the garden kept up and he had no clue how. Why had he never bothered to learn? His father’s work was easy, he’d trained all his life for it, but running the castle…Leon took in a deep breath, hoping to quell the panic. He closed his eyes and the image of his parents lying so still in the morgue filled his mind’s eye. He sucked in air, and forced his eyes open. The reality of his parents’ deaths tore him to pieces. “Your Highness,” someone said, trying to draw him out of the cold. “W-wh—” Leon started and stopped to clear his throat. He turned to his right to find the attendant his grandmother had forced on him standing a few feet away. A blessing and a curse, he decided. The attendant was a blessing because Dax was the only person who seemed to know what he was supposed to be doing. Leon thought it a curse because he had this sinking feeling that his parents were dead because of the palace. His instinct was to distance himself from the palace. “What am I doing next?” Leon asked Dax, needing direction. “We’re driving you to the funeral procession,” Dax said. “You'll have a ten minute walk from Thelem Academy until you arrive at Thelem Priory where the Queen waits, Your Highness.” “I don’t remember all the protocols.” “I will stay with you through the ceremony and guide Your Highness through them,” Dax promised. Leon nodded glad he didn’t have to remember all the procedures. Turning to the gardens again, he pointed at them. “Dax, Mom would want me to keep up the gardens and I don’t know how,” Leon said. “Can you make sure they know to take care of them? I—, it’s—,” Leon shook his head. “She would want that.” “Leon, you don’t have to worry about that right now,” Riku said, from somewhere behind him. Leon turned and was surprised to see his friends sitting in various chairs around the room. They all stood up, all dressed in impeccable black suits. Riku stepped up to him first, and hugged him hard. Paul, then Petr followed, each one patting his back in support. Anselm kissed his cheek, and then David took his hand and pressed a coin into his hand. “Hold it to distract your mind. We’re with you through this” David murmured, holding him tight. “You’re not alone, Leon.” Leon clutched the coin and hugged David hard, before he turned and left the living area, afraid he might start crying again. Heart pounding as he followed Dax out. Leon stopped when he saw Logan standing by the exit in his dark formal uniform. His hat held under his left arm. When Logan saw him, he made a perfect salute and Leon could only stare at his lover. In the past week, they had barely seen each other. Logan was pulled off Leon’s protection detail the moment they entered palace. Commander Steele had instead assigned a new officer to Leon. Knowing that Logan wanted a successful military career, Leon had kept his silence. After all, they had not made any promises to each other. Logan held his gaze for a second, before he opened the front doors and Leon had no choice but to head out. He tried to remain strong as he walked by Logan, biting his lip hard as he followed Dax to his car. He could do this. Lose everything in a week: his parents and his chosen lover. He could manage this. Leon almost broke when Logan slid into the backseat beside him. Dax raised the privacy glass between them and the driver and Leon turned to look at Logan. “You came,” Leon stated, gripping David’s coin tight. “I haven’t seen you all week. Did you get a good assignment?” “Leon,” Logan said. “I’m sorry. They’ve kept me so busy. I wanted to come and stay with you, but it’s really hard to get away.” “It’s alright. I knew it was going to be like this from the start. There is nothing to be sorry about, Logan,” Leon said, pain numbing his heart. Logan reached out to touch Leon’s right hand. “I’m worried about you.” “Enough to stay with me?” Leon asked. “Leon.” Leon closed his eyes and forced himself to let go. Sevilla was a dream. He had dreamed it to life, and now he had to stop. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that,” Leon said, shaking his head. “Don’t worry about me. I have the guys, and grandmother. I’ll be fine. Thank you for keeping me safe, Logan.” “Leon—” The car came to a stop, and Leon wondered at how fast they had gotten into town from Castle Arguro. His driver was speeding. Logan looked like he had more to say, but they didn’t seem to have time. There was nothing to say anyway. Logan did not look ready to give up his career. It was a ridiculous thing to expect of him. The fantasy was over for them. Logan cursed under his breath and leaned in to press a chaste kiss on Leon’s jaw. “Don’t skip your meals, Leon. Please don’t forget that you’re not alone,” Logan said. Leon closed his eyes as Dax opened Logan’s door. “This is the farthest we can take you, Lieutenant Mason. Any closer and it will be trouble we both can’t afford,” Dax said, prompting Logan to get out of the car. Leon stared at Logan’s back as he got out and almost cried out for him to stay, so he bit his lip hard and watched Logan leave. Dax closed the door and in less than a minute, the car continued on, taking Leon to his parents’ funeral. Leon clutched David’s coin tight, his heart turning to ice from all the pain. *** At the funeral, Logan matched behind Leon in the company of Commander Steele and Lieutenant Commander Stevens. They acted as the barrier between Leon and the people following Leon and his parents to Thelem Priory. Leon walked alone behind two caskets on carriages. He was too young to have married, and Princess Anastasia’s parents were too old to match with Leon. Prince Kleopas's brother should have been beside Leon, but Prince Isaak had chosen to wait at the church. Leon cut such a lone figure. Only twenty-two years of age and facing such tragedy, Logan’s heart ached wishing he could rush up and take Leon’s hand. But that was impossible, Logan thought as they reached Therem Priory and were met by The Queen in person. Queen Amethea acknowledged the caskets with a touch on each one, and then walked to Leon. She pulled him into a hug, kissed his cheek and took his right hand. They entered the abbey together, and in that moment, Logan knew he would have to keep his love hidden. After all, it had been a dream to try loving a man like His Highness, Prince Leon Nicholas Raphael Maximillian. *** Two days after the funeral, Leon stood in his grandmother’s study trembling with anger. “You ordered them here, thinking to put our family in the line of fire. I saw the messages you sent Dad. You did this. You wanted to make him Crown Prince and it killed them.” “Leon.” “I don’t want any part of it,” Leon stated, holding up his father’s personal cell phone. “Dad didn’t want it either. He told you it would be better to pass on your responsibilities to Constantin or even Gia. They’re old enough for it. I’ll abide by his wishes. I'm not even qualified. I like boys, granny. I'll never hide that fact.” "Does liking boys make you disabled?" Amethea asked, glaring at him. "Does it make you stupid or unable to work? Why would you say that to me?" "Granny! I will not progress the family to the next century is what it means," Leon snapped. "I'm quite sure you've heard of surrogacy, The Kingdom of Aeras is quite ahead in the medical field, Leon. I never want to hear that argument again. Insulting yourself insults the thousands of Aeras citizens like you. I will not stand for it." Leon stared at her, then looked away. "It doesn't matter. Nothing can change the fact that my parents are dead." “Leon, you should give me a chance to explain myself,” Amethea begged her grandson. Leon turned away from her, shaking his head. He could barely sleep these days without seeing his parents dead in his dreams. It was just too much to discover that they had died because of The Crown. “I don’t want anything to do with the palace,” Leon said. “My parents would be alive now if they hadn’t decided to come here. Someone must have leaked out the reasons why you were calling them. I can't forgive that.” “Leon.” “It’s the truth, and you know it.” Leon shook his head. “Whatever it is that ended with them interred at Therem Priory, I don’t want any part of it. As of this moment, I’m cutting myself off from the palace.” “You can’t do that,” Amethea said in shock, noting the same stubborn streak in Prince Kleopas rising in his son. “Leon.” “I’m sorry, Grandmother. I will not accept anything from the palace again. You can now think of me as a commoner living beyond your sight. I’ll stay at Castle Arguro because Dad left it to me. Don’t try to change my mind. Just do what Dad suggested. Give it to Constantin or Gia.” “Leon.” “I’m done.” Leon stated, tears filling his eyes as he gave her a short nod and left the private study room. Leon walked out of the palace with determined steps, not looking back once in his resolve. Had he turned, he would have seen Queen Amethea watching him with a frown on her forehead. *** “What shall we do now, Ma’am?” Olivier asked, when he joined Queen Amethea in her study. Amethea watched Leon speed out of the palace. “He’s upset right now,” Amethea said, clutching the curtain, as she leaned on the wall. “He loved his parents, Olivier. This is hard for him. It’s hard for me, so I understand his anger. Let’s leave him alone for now. Find a way to keep Dax by his side. This is only the beginning. Tell Commander Steele he owes me an explanation on Kleo and Anastasia. It should not have happened that way. I want solid answers.” "Yes, right away," Olivier said. "And find me the guidelines on same-sex marriage. Leon's going to use it to try to fight my decision. I'll leave him no escape." “Yes, Ma’am,” Olivier said, and left the room. Leon’s car disappeared after he left the palace gates. She hoped he would find someone to soothe his pain before he had to take over the throne. She knew now, there was no one else to leave it to, but Leon. Why? She scoffed, because she didn’t need an investigation to know that her eldest son, Isaak, had murdered his own brother for her position. He must have discovered she was carrying out a calculated attack on him. For that alone, she would make sure Leon was crowned king while she lived. Leon would not thank her for it, but he had no choice. ***
  7. lilansui

    Chapter 8

    Like taking back what's his... I'm all for shattering glass, but looking through it is also such fun angst, hehehe. Thank you @Netvoyager
  8. 8 Dressed in his service khakis, Logan followed Commander Stevens into a private meeting room at the Naval Base. A comfortable room, set up for private conversation, with four leather armchairs and a single door, no windows and the vents secured. Logan waited for his Commander to sit before he followed suit, taking the chair next to his boss. “Sir?” Logan started to ask. “I’m sorry to cut your leave short, Logan,” Stevens said, his voice laced with tension. “Orders came in from Commander Steele. He wants to meet. That’s the extent of the request.” “Understood,” Logan nodded, settling in for the wait. The door opened ten minutes later and Commander Stevens shot to his feet. Logan followed suit, lifting his hand in salute when he recognized the gray-haired woman who walked in first, followed by Captain Steele who closed the door on the men following them. “Is this room secure?” she asked. “Yes, Your Majesty,” Stevens said. “Good.” Queen Amethea glanced at Logan before she moved to sit in the armchair opposite Commander Stevens. “Do sit gentlemen.” Logan sat last being the lowest ranked in the room. Adrenaline coursed through his veins. The last time he’d seen Queen Amethea this close was at the funeral when she was hugging Prince Leon. It was rare for one such as him to be this close to her. He only saw her in ceremonies that required her presence, always from a distance and way out of reach. She was the Kingdom’s Queen and grandmother to a man he dared love. “We apologize for the late night meeting, Lieutenant Commander Logan Mason,” Queen Amethea said, her gaze on him. Logan stood, half-shocked that she knew his name and his rank. “I’m at your service, Your Majesty,” Logan said. “Be at ease, Lt. Commander,” Queen Amethea waved him down, glancing at Captain Steele who sat in the chair beside hers. “We have a long conversation ahead. Commander Stevens tells us that your team is the best in the business.” Logan sat straight, glancing at Stevens for a second before he answered. “My team works hard,” Logan answered. “They all returned from a hard mission and are taking time off.” “Yes, that mission was very successful. I wanted to thank you in person, Lt. Commander, for your hard work,” Queen Amethea said with a small nod. “Then, seek your help.” Logan met her steely gaze. She smiled, and then nodded in approval when he held hers without looking away. “We’re at your service, Your Majesty,” Logan said, meaning it. “Then, I’ll get straight to the point,” Queen Amethea said, rolling her shoulders as she looked to Commander Stevens. “My grandson’s life is in danger.” Fear gripped Logan’s lungs, thinking of Leon, but then the Queen had two grandsons. It could be the one from the heir apparent: Prince Constantin. Everyone called Prince Constantin the volatile beast. Constantin was the poster child of all vices. Gambling was his favorite past time. Lady luck seemed to have long abandoned him after birth. Prince Constantin never won any of his bets, and the running joke was that tax payers worked to repay his debts. Every sane citizen worried for when he would take over the throne. Logan imagined Constantin would be the one who got himself in trouble. After all, Leon was living a quiet life, and he had his friends. Logan had talked to Petr last night and David earlier in the day. They would have both told him if there was a problem. “Leon is in trouble,” Queen Amethea said. Logan’s heart dropped, focusing his full attention on the Queen. “He lives a quiet life at Castle Arguro,” Queen Amethea continued, worry clear in her eyes. “He has stayed out of court politics, and refuses to engage in matters that touch on legislation. His choices, while noble, have placed him in a dangerous position of easy access.” “Two weeks ago, his attendant approached us with security concerns,” Queen Amethea said. “Leon’s yacht blew to pieces right before he boarded it for a short trip along the coast. The authorities did their investigations and ruled the explosion an accident. Investigators said that an electric shot in the galley caused a fire that led to the explosion. The chef was caught in the blast, no one could ask him.” Queen Amethea broke off and stared at her gloved hands on her lap. It upset her to talk of Prince Leon in trouble. She clenched her hands and Logan realized she was approaching them as a parent might and not as the Kingdom’s ruler. He glanced at Commander Steele, noting his judgment was right. “A week later, the tires on Leon’s favorite sports car burst into pieces on the steep curve on Sheep Hill road on his way home to Castle Arguro. The skills he learned in an intensive driving class his parents put him through saved him. The authorities called it wear and tear on the tires, but that is impossible. The staff at Castle Arguro ensure proper maintenance of all Prince Leon’s vehicles like clockwork.” “Does Your Majesty have any suspects?” Logan asked, clenching his own hands on his lap, to keep from running out to go find Leon. How was Leon dealing with such a big problem? Why had he not shared it with Petr or even David? “No,” Queen Amethea said, though her gaze told Logan a different story. She had suspicions. She was not comfortable naming them here. Logan looked to Commander Steele, his gaze narrowed when he saw Commander Steele shift his gaze to the floor. They knew who might be responsible for this, but it was classified. The fear gripping Logan’s heart grew deeper. “It pains me to confess that I’m frustrated with Leon’s need to keep the troubles in his life from me,” Queen Amethea said. “We’re lucky that the palace trained his attendant. When there is trouble, Dax keeps me updated. He has been useful these past weeks.” Queen Amethea stared at her hands for a moment, and then continued. “Dax is responsible for following up on these incidents with the authorities. He can only go so far once Leon accepts the investigators ruling and the cases are closed. Dax reached out to me out of duty and worry. If Leon discovers Dax has told me, Dax will no longer have a place at Castle Arguro.” “Why?” Logan asked, needing confirmation of what Petr and David had told him about Leon. Commander Stevens gave him a censuring glance, but he was beyond caring about protocol. “Leon believes his parents died because of the crown,” Queen Amethea said. “He has vowed never to have any dealings with the palace. For four years, he has kept true to his word, living on his own, depending on himself. After the news this afternoon, I say enough is enough.” “What news?” Commander Stevens asked, before Logan could. “Dax called to report gunshots fired in the forest surrounding Castle Arguro. Leon loves riding and took out his stallion for a ride mid-morning. The Arguro Forest has paths perfect for horse riding,” Queen Amethea said, her voice heavy with memories. “Leon escaped the attempt on his life with a bullet scrape on his right arm. He can no longer ignore this danger, Commander Stevens, neither can the palace.” “Castle Arguro might not be the palace, but it is still a fortress,” Logan pointed out, knowing how much Leon loved riding. “The culprit has to have authorized access onto the grounds.” “Your thinking is the same as Dax,” Queen Amethea said, her gaze full of approval. “However, your current challenge is not in working to capture the culprit. The challenge lies in convincing Leon to take assistance from me.” “How can we help, Your Majesty?” Commander Stevens asked. “Prince Leon must be protected. He will not take help from the palace. The crown is turning to you for assistance. So, what shall we do?” Logan leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, angry with Leon. How could he isolate himself from anyone who could help him this way? Had the loss of his parents changed him so much? Had his own leaving done this to Leon too? Damn it! Three attempts on a prince’s life meant someone had a growing need to see Leon dead. It could be political, a business deal gone wrong or a personal vendetta. Either way, royal blood was not easy to spill. A culprit unafraid of messing with highborn blood made this dangerous. Just like with Lamar. “This Dax,” Logan said. “Can he get our team into Castle Arguro without trouble?” Queen Amethea narrowed her gaze at him then she reached for her phone and dialed a number. She set the call to hands free and placed the phone on the small table between them. Dax answered after two rings. “Your Majesty,” a hushed voice said. “Dax, we wish to consult with you,” Queen Amethea said. “Yes, Your Majesty.” Queen Amethea glanced at Logan, giving him a nod. “Dax, my name is Lieutenant Commander Mason. I would like to ask you a few questions. Is that alright?” “Of course,” Dax said, his voice getting clearer. Logan glanced at Commander Stevens before he continued. “What happened after the attempt on Prince Leon’s life?” Logan asked, needing to know what Leon was thinking. He must be worried not to have confided to David, or even Petr. “Did Prince Leon ask you to secure the castle?” “Yes, though His Highness was explicit about not involving the palace. I’m worried there will be more attempts on his life. I reached out to Her Majesty for assistance. Prince Leon’s life is more precious than he thinks. I don’t want to invite a security firm into the castle that does not understand our position.” “How soon does Prince Leon want the new security firm in place?” Logan asked. “I placed the time limit,” Dax confessed. “You see, His Highness has agreed to attend the opening ceremony at the Anastasia Grand Hotel. I’m hoping he can take them with him. Our site staff is no longer qualified to offer the kind of protection he needs.” “Thank you, Dax,” Logan said, giving Commander Stevens a knowing look. “Oh, one more thing, how well does Prince Leon take your recommendations?” Dax chuckled. “I’m not sure His Highness takes too well to my recommendations. However, he does accept any options unrelated to the palace without a fight.” Logan thanked Dax and watched Queen Amethea end the call. She slid her phone into her coat and glanced at him expectantly. He smiled, happy to meet another person who loved Leon as much as he did. “We’re in luck, Your Majesty,” Commander Stevens said with a smile. “Lt. Commander Mason’s has a business setup that allows us to take on this mission. His team can take on the job as a private outfit under the guise of a company named Monarch Security. They have the clearances to run security for Castle Arguro. The security firm has been around for just over three years, which should come in handy if Prince Leon gets curious and asks for the firm’s history. Once cleared to work at Castle Arguro, Lt. Commander Mason and his team will have direct contact with Prince Leon.” “When we get in,” Logan said, all of a sudden grateful for Petr, that he promised to buy him a gift to be decided later. “We’ll be able to assess the situation and keep Your Majesty updated on progress via command.” “May I ask for a guarantee that my grandson will not come to harm?” Queen Amethea asked, her gaze pleading. “Losing his parents was hard enough. I cannot lose him.” “I promise to do my job to the best of my ability, Your Majesty,” Logan said, knowing never to give outright guarantees, although he wanted to. He didn’t think it would be appropriate to pledge his life for Leon’s in front of his bosses. None of them knew about his relationship with Leon. “You’ve protected Leon before,” Commander Steele pointed out. “Seeing you could get the team kicked out.” Logan nodded, noting Queen Amethea’s surprised look at this information. “Yes, I was responsible for Prince Leon’s safety for the six months he spent away from home,” Logan said, meeting Queen Amethea’s gaze. “I made friends with his companions, David and Petr. They’ve assisted in the running of Monarch Securities. They’ll vouch that I’m running the security firm.” Logan prayed that Leon would accept his presence without fuss. Queen Amethea studied him for a moment, and then she stood up. Logan stood too, followed by Commander Stevens. “We charge you with ensuring Prince Leon’s safety. Obtain his safety by any means necessary. You’re to arrest any individual attempting to take the life of Prince Leon Maximilian, and prosecute the perpetrator under the full extent of law. Do you accept this order, Lieutenant Commander Mason?” “I do, Your Majesty,” Logan said. Queen Amethea held out her hand to Logan and he took it quickly, careful not to squeeze too hard. She handed him an old silver key, and Logan froze when her delicate gloved hands wrapped around his wrist. He looked up to meet keen green eyes that seemed to look deep inside him. “If Leon trusts you, you’ll know what door that key opens soon enough. Do you understand the importance of this mission?” Queen Amethea asked. Logan nodded. “Her Majesty is entrusting her grandson into my care.” Queen Amethea squeezed his wrist. “No one outside your unit or your command, Stevens, can know about this order,” Queen Amethea warned. “Not the royal family or the men and women in their service. Not even Dax who is responsible for Prince Leon. Do you understand?” Logan suppressed his frown. There was more to this order, he thought. Something the Queen was keeping very close. “Understood, Your Majesty,” Logan said, echoed by Commander Stevens. Queen Amethea let go of Logan’s wrist. “This meeting never happened,” she said. Queen Amethea left the room as fast as she appeared, leaving Logan staring at the key he held. The only proof that he had, this night, received a direct command from Her Majesty, the Queen of Aeras, Amethea Maximillian. The burden of her order settled on his shoulders like a ton of bricks. *** Wednesday morning, Leon woke with the birds. He loved the early morning. Crisp air cleared his head as nothing else could. Castle Arguro grounds were beautiful in the sunrise. Leon ran along a cobbled path behind the castle that would take him around the front gardens, and then he kept running reaching behind the castle again, and entering a track field he used for exercise routines. Earphones in his ears, music loud with the hood of his jacket over his head, Leon kept up an easy pace, enjoying his morning run. He passed the great oak growing in the driveway, his thoughts on the event at the hotel later. He needed to meet with the hotel’s management before the ceremony. So, most of his time would be spent at the hotel today. Leon hoped Gia would forget her promise to attend. Her kind of security would bog down the event; add too many logistics for his staff. Plus, he didn’t like his extended family meddling in the hotel’s business. It made it harder to keep things separate. When Leon made it to the track field, he pushed thoughts of Gia aside and concentrated on finishing his workout. An hour later, he entered the castle in high spirits and ran up the stairs to his bedroom to get ready for his day. Dax set up breakfast in a small dining room Leon loved with a view of the back gardens. Dax placed the folder with Monarch Security details on the table, and patted it with a hopeful sigh. Leon entered the dining room ten minutes later looking handsome in white trousers and shirt, his tailored summer blazer a marine blue. Dax gave him a critical glance and nodded in approval. He’d chosen the clothes for the morning hours. The marine blue brought out Leon’s gray eyes perfectly. He made a note to talk to Leon’s tailor about adding more marine blue in to his wardrobe. Leon sat at the round table, and arranged his napkin on his lap. Picking up the folder Dax left for him, Leon lifted a brow in question. “You asked for security,” Dax said, standing his ground. He knew it was important that Leon accept Monarch Security into his service. The Queen was counting on him. “It took some doing but I found an elite company, well known in your circles,” Dax said. “I convinced them to send over their most elite team for your needs.” “The name is ambitious,” Leon noted, opening the folder to read the information Dax had compiled. A knot coiled in his chest when he read the first name on the list of security officers assigned to his detail. Lieutenant Commander Logan Mason. His heart stuttered and he let the folder drop on the table. What was this? After four years of silence, he appears. What was he to make of this? “Are you sure they are not military?” Leon asked, aware that anyone working in the military would have connections to the palace. Logan would not have given up on his military career to start a business. Leon stared at the rank before Logan’s name. His rank had risen in their time apart. Leon couldn’t help being proud of Logan for that, but— “Are they the only people available?” Leon asked, before Dax could answer his question. “Find someone else.” He closed the folder and pushed it aside. “Your Highness,” Dax said, panic almost taking over. “Monarch Security is good enough to take care of Master David on his trips abroad. He used them to secure Miss Sadie when she went to visit construction sites in the East side.” Leon narrowed his gaze at Dax. “David uses them?” Leon frowned, wondering why he didn’t know that Logan and David were keeping in touch. “Who else has used Monarch Securities?” “Their client list includes Riku Touma, Paul O’Hara and Petr Mikhailov,” Dax said, taking in Leon’s reaction. He hadn’t expected this visceral response. He wondered what would cause it. “I understand they have a team currently deployed in Spain as well, taking care of Master Anselm—” “Stop.” Leon closed his eyes, his heart pounding a rapid rhythm. So, Logan had decided to go into private security, and Leon’s friends had supported him in quiet silence. Why had they not bothered to tell him? David too, Leon let out a soft breath and opened his eyes to find Dax watching him. “They are the best,” Dax said, his gaze pleading. “Their military background serves them. They’ll know what to do for you, Your Highness. Please don’t ask me to take the second best company.” “What’s their clearance level?” Leon asked, needing to know what Petr had done with Logan. “Grade 8,” Dax said. Secret and high risk, Leon thought, realizing Petr had worked to draw Logan into their circle. At Grade 8, Logan could walk into the palace without anyone stopping him or asking questions. He had higher clearance than Leon. Leon scoffed and reached for his phone. He dialed Petr’s number, and wasn’t surprised when Petr answered on the first ring. “Morning,” Petr greeted. “I expected your call. I see you’ve received my gift.” “He wanted a military career,” Leon pointed out. “Why did you pull him into the private sector?” “Priorities change,” Petr said. “Seems you’re holding out on us, Leon. You’ve not told us you’re in a situation that requires Monarch Securities. What’s going on?” “Nothing,” Leon said, unwilling to talk about the assassination attempts on his life. They still felt unbelievable. “I’m upgrading Castle Arguro’s security. You know how it is. I want to protect the family jewels.” Petr chuckled. “Whatever you say, Leon, I dig eccentric. Take him on, Leon. It’s good to support local businesses. If it doesn’t work out, well, then it wasn’t mean to be. I have to go ambush Riku, he's working again.” “Petr.” “What?” Leon bit his bottom lip, and then shrugged. “You’re too nosy.” “You’re welcome.” Petr ended the call and Leon sat back staring at the folder. Leon sighed, as it was clear he didn’t have very many choices when it came to his safety, short of calling his grandmother. His head filled with the memory of a gunshot sailing at him. Damn it. Well, at least he was sure Logan had the training to keep him safe. “Are they here?” Leon asked. “Yes.” Leon picked up his coffee and sipped it slow. He placed his cup down, his gaze on the plate before him. He tried to have meals with David around, but these past weeks had proved too busy because of the hotel. David was splitting his time between Sadie and the hotel. Anticipation filled him, as he looked to Dax. “Invite the Lieutenant Commander and his team to breakfast,” Leon murmured, trying to keep his tone unaffected. “If he’s going to be spending time with me, might as well break him in.” “Be on your best behavior,” Dax prompted, his gaze narrowed, making Leon smile at him. “These people will be keeping your life safe.” Leon waved his hand to indicate the chairs around the dining table. “Then, I hope the kitchen made enough for breakfast.” Dax handed Leon a tablet with the day’s itinerary, then left to get the security team. Alone, Leon placed the tablet on top of the Monarch folder and sat back. Every cell in his body vibrated with excitement at the thought of seeing Logan again. Four years was a lot of time. Would it have reduced Logan’s charm? His impact on Leon’s heart? They were different people now. Surely, it wouldn’t hurt as much to see Logan again. He wondered if Logan had kept his hair long, or had gone and shaved it off again into that awful military crop he liked. Did he have a boyfriend? A husband? God, he pressed his hand to his chest because his heart felt like it was coming out of his chest. Leon reached for his mug of coffee to distract himself. The door opened and Dax led in two men and a woman, all wearing neat black suits. Leon placed his mug on the table in case he dropped it and sat back in his seat. He folded his hands on his lap to keep from exploding. Leon couldn’t tell who looked more nervous, him or the team that faced him with apprehensive glances. Disappointment bloomed when he didn’t see Logan. Dax closed the door and moved to introduce them. “Prince Leon,” Dax said. “I introduce the team from the Monarch Security Firm. They will be responsible for Your Highness’s safety as of today.” Leon sat back in his seat watching the three nod their heads in his direction. “Your highness,” they chorused. Leon pasted on a smile for them. “Thank you for meeting me for breakfast. Dax says he worked hard to obtain your services. I’m thankful you could make it this morning.” “The honor is ours, Your Highness,” the only woman in the team said. Leon adjusted his plate on the table, curious as to where their boss was. He didn’t ask though, not wanting to appear eager. “Please have a seat,” Leon started to say, just as the door opened and Leon’s breath caught at the sight of Logan Mason walking into his life after four years. It took everything to stay seated, not to react to seeing Logan so vital after all their time apart. Like fine wine, the years had only added to Logan Mason. His dark hair cut short, his jaw dusted with dark stubble. Along the way, he’d filled out even more; his suit fit him to perfection, his white shirt open at the collar, he wore no tie. He looked taller, more formidable, just more. Leon dragged his gaze away from Logan to the tablet on the table. He was afraid if he met Logan’s gaze he might blurt out everything in his heart. Oh, how he had missed him. “Your Highness, this is Lt. Commander Mason,” Dax introduced him. “He was once your royal guard, four years or so ago. He is now running Monarch Security.” Leon squeezed his hands tight and tried to keep his tone casual, afraid to meet Logan’s gaze. “Lt. Commander Mason, I keep a very informal house. Will you find it offensive if I insist on calling you by your name?” Leon asked, not about to start calling Logan, Lieutenant Commander. It was a fucking mouthful. “Not at all,” Logan said, his low voice enough to make Leon’s heart weep. “May I ask that the same concession is provided for my team?” “Certainly,” Leon said, keeping his gaze on Dax. “I insist you call me Leon. As time passes, you’ll see that only Dax insists on calling me Prince Leon. What do you say to that?” Logan cleared his throat, and Leon glanced at him, unable to resist it any longer, only to find Logan looking at his teammates. Leon stole the precious few minutes to take Logan in, and then moved his gaze to the rest when Logan turned to him. “We don’t mind it, Sir,” Logan said. “Then, I’ll rely on you to do the introductions, Logan,” Leon said, a headache starting at the sound of Logan calling him Sir. “I have the folder on your team, but a personal introduction is much better, I think.” “Yes, Sir,” Logan said. “Please meet my team: John Roberts, Shirley Steele and Tom Rogers.” “Welcome to Castle Arguro,” Leon said, and indicated the chairs around his table. “Please, have a seat, and let’s have breakfast.” *** Logan sat in the chair closest to Leon, his team having taken the safe distance away from the handsome man sitting on one end of the round table. He had forgotten what it was like to be so close to Leon. The years had only added to his sophistication. His sharp features refined and polished, his gray eyes warm, and that smile on his lips. Mostly, Logan remembered kissing those lips, how soft they felt against his. Logan watched Leon apply raspberry jam on a slice of oat and rye bread. He remembered doing the task for Leon, and smiling when Leon took a bite of the slice while he still held it. They had both laughed, and kissed. Leon caught his stare and smiled, looking away fast as he took a bite of the slice. Did he remember? Logan wondered. He remembered Leon had eaten most of his meals off Logan’s plate. Did those habits still exist? “Dax gets the bread baked daily. I have to admit I’m a tad addicted to the taste of it,” Leon said, his tone amused as he bit into the slice he held. “Do you not like the food, Logan? You haven’t touched anything. If you don’t like it, we can get the chef to make something to your liking.” Logan dragged his gaze away from Leon and his sexy lips. “No,” Logan started, and shook his head, feeling like an idiot. “I mean, the food looks good. No need to get the chef cooking again.” “He wouldn’t mind,” Leon said, reaching for his glass of orange juice. “Andrew is often disappointed by the lack of challenge working in my kitchen.” Dax chuckled behind Leon. Logan narrowed his gaze when Leon winked at Dax, his gaze full of mirth. Leon’s smile was enough to bring all the memories of their time together to the forefront. The memory of Leon on a horse, with no saddle, laughing as the rain fell on him filled his head. Logan sucked in air and looked away from Leon. Logan focused his attention on the food laid out on the table instead. He didn’t miss the curious gazes from his team. He ignored their knowing looks and served scrambled eggs, sausages and a slice of the oat and rye bread Leon loved. Breakfast was the right move on Leon’s part. It put the rest of the team at ease. Leon broke the ice with them. Engaging each one, asking simple polite questions designed to get to know them. When breakfast ended, Dax had a woman from the kitchen remove the dishes. Logan held on to his glass of orange juice. He loved the taste of the fresh drink. Dax then started a security briefing. Leon kept a staff of fourteen in the castle. Dax, whose main role was Castle Arguro’s manager. He managed the castle and all its needs with the help of three heads. There was Andrew the chef, Marc the stable master and Franco, the garage mechanic. Each one ran a team of their own that did not exceed three, with the exception of Franco who only had one assistant, Pierre. “That’s a small number for a castle this huge,” John said. “We manage,” Dax said, pride in his voice. “What happens when the castle has an occasion?” Shirley asked. “Dax sources extra help as needed,” Leon answered. “I prefer it that way as I don’t want too many people underfoot.” “Understood,” Shirley said. “What about visitors?” Tom asked, looking to Dax. “All visitors need an appointment,” Dax said. “I make all appointments, and manage His Highness’s schedule.” “With the exception of David, my business manager,” Leon said, tapping a finger on the dining table. “And…Princess Gia. You can’t stop her if she wants to come in anyway.” Logan glanced at Tom so that he could note down both names. David was harmless. Logan was more concerned about Princess Gia. Her entourage would need vetting. Who knew what she was bringing in. “Dax will provide you with all the information you need on Castle Arguro’s current security systems, maps and everything else you might need. He will also set up your accommodations and meals. Your job is to discover anything unusual and let Dax know,” Leon said, his tone dismissive. Logan frowned. Leon didn’t see the attempts on his life as alarming. It bothered him that Leon didn't take it more seriously. “I run a busy schedule, working with individuals not expecting to deal with tight security when we meet,” Leon continued. “I ask you to be courteous and don’t suffocate them. If you manage that, then we’ll get along fine.” Logan met his team’s questioning gazes, staying them from voicing any protests. He gave Leon a nod in acknowledgement. “Understood, Sir,” Logan said, deciding they would deal with the logistics as the job progressed. Protecting a prince was not as easy as Leon made it sound. At least they were inside now. He could ask Commander Stevens for support, as they needed. Leon looked to Dax. “Dax, if you’ll show our guests out for a moment,” Leon said, his tone quiet. “I need to talk to Logan alone.” “Of course,” Dax said, already heading to the door. Logan’s team got up from their chairs and left the dining room each one glancing at Logan as they left. When the room was clear, Dax closed the door behind him, leaving Logan and Leon alone. They sat in silence for a full minute before Leon found the courage to speak. Staring at his tablet, his finger tracing the edges of its cover, Leon bit his lip and spoke. “How have you been?” Logan shifted in his seat. “Fine. Doing well,” Logan said. Leon wished he could say the same for himself. He was…existing. “Is Monarch Security your business?” Leon asked, curious about why Logan had decided to enter the private sector. He hadn’t shown any indication of making that change when they were together. Now, after all the silence…Leon wanted answers. “Yes.” There was pride in Logan’s voice. “It’s come up with the help of a few people.” Leon thought about Riku, David, Petr, Paul and even Anselm. The friends he called his, had helped his ex-boyfriend and not told him. Or, had Logan asked them not to tell him? Either way, it seemed as though Logan had wanted to keep the silence intact. “I’m glad you’re doing well,” Leon said, standing up. He picked up his tablet and the Monarch Security folder. “I hope this job won’t be too hard for you. It should only last long enough to catch the culprit.” Logan stood too, pushing his chair back. “Aren’t you going to ask?” “Ask what?” Leon met Logan’s blue gaze then, his heart skipping a beat at the intensity there. “Whether I’m still with the Royal Navy,” Logan said, his tone low. “Would you tell me the truth?’ Leon asked, afraid of the answer. “Yes.” Leon wished he had the strength to ask. He didn’t want to ask, and get an answer that would have him kicking Logan out of the castle. Despite wishing he could forget Logan, seeing him again made Leon want to cling for a while, if only from a distance. It was so good seeing him so close. “I trust Dax. He knows what I need now. I’m sure he would not have made a mistake choosing your company.” “Leon—” “I’m not in a position to be choosy,” Leon cut Logan off. “Please do your job, and I’ll try to make it easy on both of us. Thank you for looking out for me once again, Logan.” Leon walked around Logan fast heading for the door, old pain surfacing to the top. He reminded his foolish heart that he only needed Logan’s services. He needed to remember that Logan valued his career. Whether it was his business, or his career, Logan would pour in his best, and nothing came between. Not even a Prince in trouble, Leon thought. Leon opened the dining room door. “Now that we have all that sorted,” Leon said, keeping his voice neutral. “I’m late for a meeting in town. We should get going.” *** Logan swallowed down the last of his orange juice in one gulp, wishing it were something stronger. Leon had changed. The happy, amusing prince was gone, replaced by a closed off man. His Leon, he sighed, fighting the urge to run after him and pull him into his arms. “Boss,” Shirley broke into his tumultuous thought, and he sucked in much needed air. “Prince Leon is headed out.” “Call him Leon,” Logan said, his tone gruff. “He’s serious about dropping the title.” “Sure,” Shirley grinned. “I really like him. This will be an easy assignment, Boss.” Logan grunted and moved away from the table, adjusting his suit jacket. He followed Shirley out of the dining room, headed to the castle’s front doors. Outside, the weather was sunny. Leon stood at the top of the steps his gaze on the armored black Bentley Mulsanne waiting below, behind it, a black Mercedes for his security. Logan motioned John to the driver’s side of the armored car, where Pierre sat in the driver’s seat. After a heated exchange between John and Pierre, John took over the driver’s seat and Pierre hurried away to the castle garage. “Pierre will be upset by the replacement,” Leon noted as he walked down the stairs. “He values his role as my driver very much.” “John’s training behind the wheel will make sure your armored car fulfills its purpose. I’ll find Pierre a more suitable job,” Logan said, opening the back passenger door for Leon. “Sir.” Leon paused to study him. Logan wondered what Leon saw as he held a military stance, looking straight ahead. Leon released him from the intense scrutiny when he slid into the backseat without saying more. Logan closed the door with care, making sure it was secure. He joined John in the front passenger seat, buckling his seat belt, and nodding to John. “Wait,” Leon said, when John started the car, ready to go. Logan started to look back, but then Dax came running down the stairs carrying a briefcase. He went around the car and slid into the back seat with Leon. “Pierre, let’s go,” Dax said, as he settled the briefcase he held on the floor. When he looked up and saw John, he gaped. “Where is Pierre?” “He’s going to apparently be busy with something else,” Leon said. “What?” Dax asked, leaning forward to look at John. “This is called upsetting the ship, Prince Leon. Pierre will not be happy for weeks after this.” Leon chuckled, but said no more. Logan was grateful for that. Leon needed to trust him to do his job. Logan then narrowed his gaze at Dax. Dax met it with his own glare. He and Dax needed to have a serious talk. On their drive out of the castle, Leon held out his tablet to Logan. “My schedule,” Leon said, and then settled back in his seat for the ride into town. Logan read Leon’s schedule, surprised to see how busy Leon lived. There was no free time. The first chunk of Leon’s day would be spent meeting officials from the Ministry of Tourism. After that, they would head to the Anastasia Grand Hotel. There were more meetings, and then the opening ceremony in the afternoon. When the opening ceremony ended, Leon was to join David for a dinner party with the staff to thank them for their dedication. Leon would not be free to return home until after nine in the evening. Logan stole a glance at Leon through the rear view mirror. He remembered a conversation they had in Bangkok about schedules. Leon had worried he would have no time when he came back home. Glancing at the schedule he held, it looked as though that worry had come true. Logan wondered what else had changed in his absence. ***
  9. Part Two 7 Four Years Later They said time healed all troubles. Well in his case, time aggravated his troubles. Logan doubted those who made that observation had ever faced his brand of troubles. Dragging on a white t-shirt, Logan ran a negligent towel over his damp hair and damped it into his duffel bag. He zipped up his bag and hauled it up, leaving the changing rooms. He walked down a long corridor, and turned right at the end, and straight into an open-plan office. He dumped the bag on a bench by the entrance, nodding at the men lounging on office chairs around the room. “Logan.” He headed to the glass office tucked in the farthest corner, and the man holding the door open for him. “Commander,” he greeted Stevens as he passed him and went to take a seat on one of the guest chairs. “You look better,” Stevens said, closing the door, and pulling down the blinds for privacy. “Better than a few hours ago, I thought we’d lost you, man.” “The take-down was touch and go,” Logan said, rolling his shoulders, as he settled in his chair. He hadn’t slept for forty-eight hours. His blood still pumping with adrenaline from the intense mission his team had completed in the last few hours. “Greg Lamar’s compound had enough ammo to bring down an army. I still can’t believe we managed to infiltrate it. If it weren’t for Shirley’s undercover work, we would not have made it.” “Her dad was upset she went in so deep,” Stevens sighed, crossing his arms against his chest. “I had to convince Commander Steele that you would make sure nothing happened to her. I’m glad you didn’t let me down, Mason. Everyone is praising your team’s success. The burst has brought down Greg Lamar. He’s rumored to have strong ties with a powerful enemy gunning for The Crown.” Logan gritted his teeth. “I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to infiltrate Lamar’s ranks. I still don’t believe they’re tied to religious extremists. It felt like a front. Like there is more to their regime.” “Neither does Commander Steele,” Stevens said on a sigh. “He’s talking like the mission is incomplete, even as he praises your team. The evidence you collected is with his team, going through analysis. The next few weeks will be interesting.” Logan frowned, thinking about the reasons why he had taken on this assignment four years ago. Commander Steele had thrown him into it without much explanation at the time. It had taken him six months to realize his team was assigned to investigate the people who had bombed the car carrying Leon’s parents. The day he understood the purpose of investigating Greg Lamar, he had thrown himself into the assignment with tunnel vision. It had taken four years to infiltrate Lamar’s tight ranks, and six months to plan a take down and pull Lamar into custody. Last night, Logan had watched with satisfaction as his team flew in Greg Lamar into this very building for processing. Greg Lamar had orchestrated the assassination of Prince Kleopas and Princess Anastasia. He’d planted the bomb in the car himself, and gloated on his accomplishment to Logan, in person, two months ago, calling it a victory against the enemy. Logan had wanted to punch his front teeth out when he remembered Leon’s tears. “Has anyone told Prince Leon that we have caught the killer?” Logan asked, hoping they had. If nothing else, he’d worked hard to give Leon closure. Stevens went silent, and then moved away from the door, going behind his desk. “That’s right, you haven’t heard, have you?” Stevens asked, settling in his chair with a sigh. “Prince Leon walked away from the palace two days after his parents’ funeral. He made such a fuss when Her Majesty tried to reverse his decision that he threatened to make a public announcement of it. As a result, Commander Steele is forced to keep an eye out on Leon, as he prefers to be called now, from a distance. Prince Leon now runs Castle Arguro independent of the palace. Commander Steele has lived a hard life of providing protection where it is unwanted for four years.” Logan didn’t wonder why Leon would make such a decision. The death of his parents had destroyed him. He remembered every second of that night at the morgue. Leon crying like the world ended and his parents still…so still. Logan shook his head to clear the vivid images that remained even after four years. He couldn’t forget the feel of Leon breaking down in his arms. “Why does the Queen allow Leon to do this?” Logan asked, swallowing hard. “Rumor has it that she’s afraid he might renounce his titles. She promised him no interference, as long as he kept his silence to the public. They’ve kept an amicable stalemate for four years. She summons him to the palace on family occasions. He refuses to attend, and always provides a viable excuse. The palace is forced to send out press releases countering his continued absence.” Logan sighed. “Well, I hope someone lets him know his parents are avenged.” “I’m sure they will,” Stevens said. “Thanks to you, Logan, and your team. I’m glad you’re taking the time off. You deserve it.” Logan rubbed the back of his neck with his right hand. “I’m going to head out to my mom’s island for a few days. I’m sure your people will take over Greg Lamar’s interrogation. He will be glad to talk to you. Now that it’s over, he’s going to find a way to avoid the worst.” “Life in a black hole is inevitable for him,” Stevens predicted. “If he wants leniency, he will have to drop gold in information.” Logan’s gaze narrowed, thinking that Lamar might really drop such a bomb on their investigation. “I’m curious. Why does Commander Steele believe there is more to Lamar?” Logan asked. Stevens studied him for a moment. “I don’t know, but it has something to do with the Royal Family. He won’t tell me more,” Stevens said. “I’ve not dared ask. I figured the problem is more complicated than it seems.” “Hmm,” Logan said, standing up. He faced Stevens, and smiled. “Now, Sir, I would like to start my much anticipated leave.” “Of course,” Stevens waved him to the door. “Go get some rest, Logan. I’m sure you’re eager to discover how the business you’ve poured money into is doing.” “You knew about that?” Logan asked, staring at him in surprise. “Hard not to when your business partner reached out to me for clearance applications,” Stevens said. “You must have made a hell of an impression on Petr Mikhailov when you went off on that trip with Prince Leon. He’s worked hard for you.” Logan grinned, feeling a bit like he’d been caught with his pants down. “Sir,” Logan started. “Don’t bother,” Stevens said, shaking his head. “It’s not easy for us folks when we retire, you know. Having something to fall back on when you get out is a great idea. You’re lucky you made good friends with someone like Petr. He won’t screw you over,” Stevens said. “Yeah, he said something along the same lines when he bulldozed me into it,” Logan said with a laugh. “Thank you, Sir.” Stevens nodded and urged him to leave with a nod. Logan left the office with a quick salute and decided he’d have a talk with Petr before he headed to his mother’s island. Reclaiming his duffel bag, he headed outside, and went to the huge black truck he liked to drive around the Capital City. Dropping his duffel bag on the passenger seat, he reached into the glove compartment and found his personal cell phone. He plugged it on the charger and turned it on. Logan settled in the driver’s seat, to check the notifications he’d set up the last time he’d left the phone here, a month and a half ago. He wondered what Stevens would call his obsession with news on Prince Leon. Every time he talked to Stevens, he commended himself on his act. He’d perfected the art of deceiving people that he didn’t care about Leon and what he did with his life. The truth was that he knew about Leon’s decision to stay out of palace business. Petr, David and Riku had detailed it to him. Leon blamed his grandmother for his parents. He thought the palace was responsible for his parents’ death. Logan had worried about Leon distancing himself from the palace, had even tried to get Petr and David to talk Leon out of it. However, Leon’s friends thought it a blessing. They all thought that as long as Leon was uninvolved in politics, then he would remain safe. Logan hoped Leon’s friends were right. The notifications on his phone came in one by one: news articles mostly, with Leon’s name tagged in them as well as pictures on social. He spent the next thirty minutes going through the messages, smiling when he found a picture of Leon playing with a puppy at a shelter. The smile on Leon’s face as he held the brown puppy made Logan’s heart ache. He liked these type of photos the most. There were tons of pictures with slices of Leon’s life. Leon working out with a trainer in a gym, or running a marathon for a cause, other times with David in one of the many businesses they owned together. Logan found his favorite was one of Leon holding up turnips at a farm on the outskirts of the capital. Then the last notification came in and he scowled. It was of Leon at a party at Leon’s vineyard. David was said to have thrown the party to celebrate Leon’s twenty-sixth birthday. In the picture, a gorgeous blonde man stood too close to Leon, smiling up at the prince with eyes Logan understood all too well. The caption read, ‘Prince Leon is all smiles next to Model Hansen’. It was obvious even to him, they knew each other, intimately. Logan shut off the phone and dropped it on the dashboard. He dreaded such pictures the most. The thought of Leon finding solace in another man’s arms hurt. Wiping a hand down his face, he wondered if he would ever stop this obsession. What if they never met again? What if Leon had forgotten him? What if…? **** “We have Greg Lamar in custody, Your Majesty,” Commander Steele reported, watching Queen Amethea pace her office. “He’s refused to name the person who hired him. We’ve tried everything.” “Everything?” Queen Amethea asked, sparing him a short glance. “We’re four years into this investigation. How hard can it be to get Lamar to admit that Isaak hired him?” “They are careful to never have direct contact,” Commander Steele said. “We’re combing through Lamar’s financial records, hoping to find a connection. As of now Lamar’s Regime stands as an extremist religious group.” Amethea stopped pacing. She was tired. The plans she’d carefully laid out to invest a Crown Prince remained in the vault, untouched. Isaak’s family remained in a state of impatience to see him invested. They kept up a veiled act of being her most favored family, even as they lobbied powerful politicians for support. She moved to an armchair and sat, her gaze on Commander Steele. He looked older. This investigation was hard on him too. She was well aware of the fact that his daughter had gone undercover to gain them access into Lamar’s Regime. Lamar’s Regime, the messy group headed by Greg Lamar, the man who bombed her Kleopas’s car. “My son is proving a formidable foe,” Amethea said, shaking her head. “He has found a counterattack for each route we’ve taken. He’s even found a scapegoat for the murders you presented to me.” “I still have Lady Dora’s lady-in-waiting in protective custody,” Commander Steele said, his tone making her narrow her gaze at him. “What are you thinking?” Amethea asked. “We’ve been afraid to release the details about Lady Dora’s death,” Commander Steele said. “We have needed irrefutable evidence and been unable to get it. Why don’t we use the media to our advantage?” “You want to place that woman in the spotlight,” Amethea said, hating the thought of placing an innocent in more danger. “We’re left with no choice,” Commander Steele said. “At least with this out there, we can draw attention to the problem.” “What about Leon?” Amethea asked, wincing at the thought of her favorite grandson. “He’ll be in trouble.” “We’re keeping him in our sights,” Commander Steele assured her. “As you did Kleopas and Ana?” Amethea asked, unable to hide her bitterness. “Your Majesty,” Commander Steele said, regret in his eyes. “I promise you, we’re doing the best we can under the circumstances to keep Prince Leon safe.” “Your best needs to be exceptional,” Amethea stated. “Leon is the future of this Kingdom. Nothing can happen to him. Release the details we’ve collected to the media. Make it public knowledge, and start the conversation on Lady Dora’s untimely death. Let the people make the decision.” “Your Majesty,” Commander Steele said. “You and I have conducted an exhausting investigation in four years, culminating in the arrest of a bomber, without the main perpetrator. I don’t want to push this for another four years, Commander. This has to end this year. Release our findings, and let’s see how far Isaak is willing to take this fight.” “Yes, Your Majesty.” *** Three weeks later, Leon woke to phone calls from all his friends. Still lying in bed, he connected them all on a conference call and hugged his pillow, his eyes closed. “I’m glad they caught the bomber,” Petr said in greeting. “I was starting to worry that your intelligence community needs help, Leon.” “How are you holding up?” Anselm asked, horses neighing in his background. “Do you need us to visit?” “I can be free in a week,” Riku said, swiveling his chair from side to side in his office. “Want me to fly over?” “I’m not falling apart,” Leon mumbled out, rubbing sleep from his eyes to look at his friends on the screen across his bed. “Besides, David has me busy.” “You barely show up for meetings to do with the hotel,” David countered. “What are you doing up at the vineyard alone?” “Decanting wine,” Leon said. “The vintner is tolerating my presence.” “You mean you’re giving him no choice,” Paul mused, letting out a healthy yawn. “Your wine is good; don’t annoy him enough to run away.” “I’m quite invested in making his life easier,” Leon said. “I want us to produce enough wine to sell nationwide, instead of to a select few.” “And that’s how you deflect a topic,” David announced, drawing Leon’s scowl. “Leon, you’re refusing to talk about the issue at hand.” “It’s a non-issue,” Leon stated. “What does it change?” Leon sat up on his bed, and pushed hair out of his eyes. “What does catching the bomber change?” he asked, looking around the master bedroom. This had once been his parents’ room. Now it was redecorated to suit his tastes. The only thing remaining were the pictures on an antique dresser in the corner. “It won’t bring them back to life,” Leon said, shaking his head. “Just dredge up old memories I’d rather forget.” “I’m flying out next week,” Riku stated. “Don’t come, Riku,” Leon said, with a sigh. “I’m fine, I promise. We’re quite busy anyway, David and I. The hotel is opening soon, we’re just waiting for inspections.” “Yeah,” David supported him. “We can meet next month as planned.” “Are you sure?” Petr asked, his gaze narrowed. “I mean, if you want me to put an end to this Lamar…” he trailed off. “Don’t interfere,” Leon ordered, afraid Petr might put out a hit on Lamar on his behalf. Riku chuckled. “Petr, stop scaring our dear Prince,” Riku said. “Come back home,” Petr told Riku. “You don’t need to work, Riku. You’re driving me crazy.” Leon chuckled, amused by the endless cycles in Petr and Riku’s relationship. “How is Genevieve?” Riku asked. “Getting married, baby,” Petr said. “Again, to another man,” Petr added. “When will you forgive me for looking at her?” “When I’ve punished you enough,” Riku said. “I was sleeping before you called,” Leon interrupted the lovers. “Sleep is overrated,” Paul said. “I’m curious, Leon. I heard your Uncle Isaak is having a hell of a time because of evidence that his first wife was murdered. What happens next?” Leon cursed and got out of bed. He reached for his robe refusing to think of the shenanigans growing in the palace. He was certain the story ran about Lady Dora dying of poison was released by his grandmother. “His kids will take over, if necessary,” Leon said, repeating what he’d told his grandmother four years ago. “Are you sure?” Anselm asked, skeptical. “If they can’t trust Prince Isaak to take over, then they’ll definitely not choose Constantin,” Petr said. “Are you sure you can escape this?” “I’m already managing it,” Leon said, tying a belt around his waist. “Stop worrying, guys. If Constantin won’t take it, then Gia will. I’m not planning on taking more trouble into my life.” A general silence filled the room, and Leon stared at his friends’ skeptical faces. “If you’re done worrying, can I end the call?” Leon asked. “I should go run now after you woke me up so early.” “Well, if you’re fine, then I’m good,” Paul said. “I have a vet coming in, so I’ll hang up first. Call me, Leon, if you need to talk.” “Thanks, Paul.” Leon nodded when Paul's face disappeared off the screen. “I’m in Paris this coming week,” Petr said. “I’ll stop over for the hotel opening. Keep me posted.” “Sure, Petr.” Leon agreed knowing it was useless to argue with Petr. His screen went dark, leaving Riku, David and Anselm. “I’m not buying that you’re fine,” Riku stated. “I’ll call you when I don’t have a looming meeting, Leon. Answer my questions then.” “Forgive Petr, already. He’s dying to marry you,” Leon said. “Fat chance,” Riku ended his call. “How’s Starbust?” Anselm asked Leon. “Doing well,” Leon said with a smile, thinking of the stallion Anselm had given him for his birthday months ago. “I’m taking him out on a ride today.” “I’m glad you two are getting along,” Anselm said. “Don’t forget to keep me updated on him.” “I’ll call,” Leon promised, knowing he would send pictures of Starbust to Anselm by end of day. Anselm ended his call first, leaving David. “I’ll be seeing you later this morning,” David said. “We can have coffee.” Leon wished he could escape David’s knowing gaze, but they were business partners. There was no escaping David’s concern. He decided to put on his best smile and waved at David as he ended their call. Alone in the master bedroom, Leon looked around the elegant room and wondered why he only felt a hollow in his heart. He should have felt happy that they’d caught the man who had set the bomb that killed his parents. He should have felt relieved, but instead, all he felt was numb. Untouched, like an iceberg in winter, frozen, always so frozen. **** Three weeks after that conference call, Leon rode Starbust into the woods surrounding Castle Arguro. It was a pleasant Tuesday morning. He had no pressing commitments, and wanted to take Starbust on a run for the day. He held the stallion’s reins, enjoying the morning, the ride, and the lush wildness of Arguro Forest. It was a great escape from the pressures of daily life. His thoughts were blissfully blank, as he navigated the paths in the forest. Then, the thud of a bullet hitting a tree too close startled the black thoroughbred stallion into a run. Leon swallowed bile and leaned over his horse, gripping his reins to keep control of Starburst as they raced through the wild forests surrounding his home. A second shot sent birds flying from the branches. A harsh hiss left his lips when he felt a painful sting on his right upper arm. Leon leaned lower on his horse not daring a glance back. Starburst ran fast, scared and unsettled. Leon needed all his wits to keep control. He thanked his luck as Starburst emerged from the forest and onto an open field a minute later. The horse kept up his fast pace, heading to the safety of Castle Arguro’s stables. When they were halfway there, Leon turned back thinking he would see his assailant. His heart thudded in his chest when he saw no one standing at the tree line aiming a gun at him. It was almost as though he had imagined it. Starburst slowed down when they were closer to familiar territory. Leon brought him to a stop outside the stables and jumped off the saddle with a wince. Pain lanced up his right upper arm, blood dripping down his sleeve. The groom who came to take Starburst gave a short gasp taking the reins from Leon. “Your Highness, you’re injured!” Leon glanced at his arm with a grimace. The bullet had grazed him hard and left a deep furrow that dripped blood down his arm. It stung. The next few days would be uncomfortable. “Your Highness!” Dax came running from inside the stable, horror clear in his eyes. “Oh God, how did this happen?” “Don’t start with me,” Leon said, turning away from Dax, intent on running away. Dax grew up in the service of the main royal family. He knew the rules and regulations of running a palace front and back. When he moved to Castle Arguro, those rules and regulations remained ingrained inside him. It was a constant source of frustration for Leon. Having grown up wild and unchecked, Leon often chafed under Dax’s constant attention. The man took everything that happened to Leon too seriously. Four years of Dax and Leon still had not found a middle ground with the thirty-one year old attendant. Dax’s concern seemed to deepen with time. “Stop,” Dax ordered, running around Leon to stop his progress to the castle. Dax’s gentle hands took Leon’s right arm. Leon winced when Dax ripped the hole on his sleeve wider, his gaze narrowed as he studied the angry bleeding gouge. A soft hiss escaped Dax when he recognized what had injured Leon. Meeting Leon’s gaze, Dax let go of Leon’s arm and took a step back. “It’s time to report this,” Dax stated, his tone enough to tell Leon there was no arguing. “These are no longer accidents.” Leon let a heavy sigh escape, unable to refute Dax, thinking back on the last three weeks. His yacht blowing up minutes before Leon boarded two weeks ago. A week ago, the tires on his favorite Ferrari had blown up on a particularly scary stretch of curved road. Now there was a stray bullet in Arguro Forest. Three accidents in the space of weeks was no longer a coincidence “Someone is trying to kill you, Prince Leon,” Dax said, his eyes wide with worry. Leon’s gaze shifted to the castle beyond the stables, an uneasy feeling brewing deep inside him. Leon had called Castle Arguro home for twenty-six years. Arguro was his parents’ home first. When they died, he became Castle Arguro’s master. Four years after their funeral, he now looked forward to living a quiet life in this place. Content to focus his extensive resources on businesses and the charities his parents founded and supported. He wanted no political power or official duties from the Kingdom’s Palace. He wished to live like a forgotten prince. With that goal in mind, Leon never ventured into the royal court, or involved himself in the constant running intrigues that ruled the Kingdom’s seat of power. He was fourth in line to the throne, and hoped to become twentieth. If only his cousins would marry and give birth, as expected, ensuring his freedom. Now, with the new scandal tying Prince Isaak to the possible murder of his first wife, his number had gone up a notch. Leon wished daily that his grandmother would name Constantin or Gia Crown Heir soon. It would save him so much thinking. Leon looked at Dax, a deep frown furrowing his forehead. “Do not go running to grandmother’s officials with this. Use Castle Arguro’s resources first. Reach out to private security firms and keep it discrete,” Leon warned, when Dax smiled. “They may also handle security around the castle until we find the culprit. I’m quite sure there is no need to alarm the palace over this. It could be an annoyed business associate.” “Okay, whatever you say.” Dax nodded, looking pleased now that Leon was putting importance to the incident. “Let’s get you inside and see to your arm. It annoys me to see your blood staining the grass.” Leon chuckled and gave the wound on his right arm a wary glance. He still couldn’t believe someone had gotten close enough to graze his arm with a bullet. *** In the master suite, Leon took a quick shower, and then allowed Dax to fuss over his wound. His wound tended, Leon changed into casual clothes, and sandals. He left his bedroom and went into his study to get his phone. He found a message from David asking why he missed a meeting at their usual club. Leon dialed David’s number. “I got caught up at Castle Arguro,” Leon said. “How did it go?” “The hotel passed inspections, I got the call yesterday,” David said. “The staff is busy making preparations for the opening tomorrow. I know you don’t like the ceremony, but this one will need your presence. We need a bulging intake to remain in the black.” Leon thought about the gunshot in the woods. He worried his attacker might take a shot at him in public. Still, the new hotel was important. David had worked hard to get it finished. “Come on, Leon.” Leon smiled. He could never say no to David. “Alright,” Leon caved. “Send the details to Dax. He’ll work the schedule.” “Thank you,” David said, sounding relieved. “When you can get away, come over to my place. I have a small party. I invited Hansen. You like him, don’t you?” Hansen was a handsome twenty-one year old model Leon had met at a party. He was pretty to look at and he made Leon laugh. Sad thing was Hansen liked to make other men of power laugh too. Hansen was great fun, but Leon knew to stay away from such trouble. As though sensing his withdrawal, Hansen had started a deadly game of trying to remain Leon’s exclusive. Leon didn’t want any part in that game, so he was now avoiding Hansen when he could. Leon went down the stairs from the second floor, heading to his main office on the castle’s ground floor. “I’ll have to think about your party offer,” Leon told David. “Hmm…okay. You sound off today. Everything okay?” David asked. “Yeah,” Leon said. “Call me when you want to share. I’m a great listener.” David knew him too well, because of that, Leon would need to work extra hard not to involve him in his new developing dangerous saga. “Thanks, David.” Leon ended the call and slid his phone into his pocket. He paused when he reached the final step and saw his cousin, Gia, walking down the long hallway from the main entrance toward him. “Leon.” Gia raised her hand in greeting. The two royal guards behind her were enough to make Leon cringe. They even followed Gia into the bathroom. God was he glad to be free of that kind of scrutiny. “Gia,” Leon said, changing direction to meet her. He accepted her light kiss on his cheek and took her right hand when she offered it in greeting. “What brings you to Castle Arguro?” “Can’t I visit my cousin because I miss him?” Gia asked, allowing him to lead her to a quiet sunroom to his right. The royal guards stopped at the doors. Leon waited for Gia to settle into an armchair before he sat opposite her on the couch. Leon smiled at her when she studied him, her green gaze critical. “You look…wild.” Leon nodded. His casual wear was unheard of in Gia’s world of rules and regulations. Anyone living in the palace remained put together, never uninhibited and rough to the public eye. “You look elegant as always,” Leon complimented. “Still a charmer,” Gia said, awarding him a gorgeous smile. “I miss you, Leon. I wish you would visit the palace more often.” Leon shrugged his shoulders. “I visit grandmother in her private residence when she insists.” Gia studied him, her gaze hard to read. She folded her hands on her lap, looking prim and proper. “I’m on the way to a Navy Women Association meeting,” Gia said, glancing at the delicate watch on her wrist. “I don’t have much time.” Leon nodded in understanding. “Leon, there is unrest in the palace,” Gia said, “and it could spill over to Castle Arguro. I only wanted to warn you, and ask you to stay away from the palace. If you could refuse grandmother’s summons as you often do?” Leon kept his expression blank. Truth was he never refused his grandmother’s summons. Others might think he did, but he always found a way to meet her when she asked. He had promised her that he would remain uninvolved with the palace, but she was still his grandmother. He couldn’t ignore her when they shared a tragedy. This request was unusual for Gia. She had never bothered to ask him to ignore a summons. Leon smiled, shrugging his shoulders. “You know me,” Leon said. “I’m too busy managing business, the vineyard and others. Castle Arguro remains an island in The Kingdom’s politics.” Gia smiled then, making Leon wish he knew her better. Gia got up and came around the small coffee table to where he sat. She leaned down and kissed his cheek, brushing a strand of his hair behind his ear. She then straightened to her full height and ran an elegant hand down the green skirt suit she wore. “I love you more every time we talk. There is simplicity to the life around you I wish I could have. Let’s do lunch one of these days. I heard you’re opening a restaurant in the new hotel by the beach. I’ll show up for the opening if you like.” Leon nodded, watching Gia pick up her purse from the armchair. “Well, sorry to take up your time,” Gia said, ready to leave now that she was done. “I have to go, Cousin.” “Have a great meeting,” Leon said, sitting back on the couch. Gia gave him a last glance, and then left the sunroom in a brisk walk. Leon sat on the couch, his thoughts on his grandmother. She had so many wanting a touch of power in the palace. It couldn’t be easy for her dealing with it alone. Leon was named after Queen Amethea’s husband, King Leon Raphael Maximillian. He died of cancer when Leon was one year old. Amethea still mourned Raphael hard as she loved him dearly. Leon often hoped to find a love as beautiful as his grandmother’s for his grandfather. Thinking of it now, his parents had had a pure love too. Leon had only come close to finding that kind of love once. His heart ached at the memory of Sevilla. The budding love that disappeared on him as quickly as it appeared. He thought of Logan Mason often, wondered what had become of him, but never dared look into it. He didn’t want to discover that Logan had found another man to call his own. That would hurt too much. Still, Leon couldn’t help hoping to find that solid love one day. He wanted a man to love him without reservation and condition. He wanted a better love than what Gia’s father had for his current wife. Those two who married for power and status, Leon sighed. His uncle, Prince Isaak, the royal first born and presumed heir, first married a commoner, Doris. Doris then died after giving birth to their son, Constantin Marcos. Prince Isaak then took on marriage to the noble, Lady Erika, Gia’s mother. Prince Isaak and his second wife, Princess Erika, lived in the palace with their two children, Constantin and Gia. They were not an easy family. They remained very protective of the succession line. Leon was aware of the fact that they kept a clear distance from him to solidify this gap. He didn’t mind it; and wished Gia would stay away from him like her half-brother, Constantin. It would make his life easier. Leon wanted to keep his father’s stance on the palace. It was better to keep away from the political whirlwind. Interference with palace politics brought misfortune. Leon knew well the pain of such misfortune. His parents were dead. Their tragic deaths taught him it was better to live a quiet life, so he did, with selfish determination. Despite his grandmother’s many attempts to draw him into fight for the throne. In terms of succession, Isaak was first in line, followed by Constantin, then Gia, and Leon came last. That fourth number gave him more stress than he wanted. Gia and Constantin needed to marry fast and get kids, Leon thought again with a scowl. Maybe then, Gia’s visits to his castle would end. Leon sighed and reached into his pocket for his phone. He called David, and smiled when his best friend answered on the second ring. “I’ve changed my mind about that party,” Leon said, deciding he needed a distraction. “Keep Hansen out and I’ll come over.” “Done.” *** “I heard one of your teams was exceptional in Bangkok,” David said, pacing the hallway as he talked on the phone. “Monarch Security has grown, Logan. Congratulations on running an international outfit.” Logan chuckled on the other end. “I’ve only managed it because of your help and Petr’s, of course. He asked for a team to watch over Riku. I had to send one.” “They’re both pleased,” David agreed. “Anselm says you sent him three men for his site job off the coast.” “He can’t take more than three men anyway. The job is delicate,” Logan said. “I’m lucky my business manager is so competent, otherwise this would end as fast as it started.” “We’d never let that happen,” David assured Logan. The five of them had a vested interest in seeing Logan prosper. Logan went silent for a moment, and then asked, “How is he doing?” David smiled. It was always the same whenever Logan called. They talked business and then Logan asked for updates on Leon. It wasn’t easy on Logan at first, but now, David wished he could push Leon back into Logan’s arms in some way. “He’ll be at the hotel opening ceremony tomorrow,” David said. “You could attend. You’re no longer restricted by clearance levels, Logan. You’ve earned it.” “I don’t think he wants to see me,” Logan said. “He seems happy.” “Does he?” David asked, looking up when the front door of his house opened to admit Leon. Sadie, David’s girlfriend of three years, met Leon at the door. She accepted a kiss on her cheek from Leon who looked a bit subdued this evening. David searched Leon’s handsome face wondering what it was that was off about him, but he couldn’t find it. Instead, he read the same old sadness that Leon had worn for four years now. It was like a heavy shroud resting on Leon’s shoulders. “I saw pictures of him from a party you threw at his vineyard—,” Logan started. “You really mustn’t trust everything you read in the papers,” David said, waving at Leon who glanced at him with a raised brow. “Logan.” “I’ll find a way, David,” Logan said. “I’m afraid if we casually met, we’d both find a way to run away. I want it to be that if we’re to meet again, none of us will have an escape route. It’s the only way it will work.” David sighed. “You’re both idiots,” David said, shaking his head. “Me, more than him,” Logan agreed. “I have to go, I’m busy with something.” “Sure,” David said. “Take care of yourself.” “You too,” Logan said, and ended the call. David sighed and went to the living room to find Leon perched on a stool sipping on wine. “You came,” David said, accepting a drink from Sadie. “Not much of a party,” Leon teased, looking around the empty living room. “Is it just you and Sadie?” “You’re the one who showed up too early,” David chuckled, settling on the couch. Sadie joined him, cuddling into him. “Leon, you cancelled Hansen, how could we keep the party on?” Sadie asked with a small laugh. “Besides, a quiet dinner with you is better.” Leon shrugged and moved to settle in an armchair. “Who was on the phone?” Leon asked David. “Last minute opening ceremony plans to get through,” David lied smoothly. “You might end up with a very full day tomorrow. I called Dax a dozen times since we talked.” Leon sipped his wine. “Busy is good.” “Is it?” David glanced at Sadie, raising his brow at his best friend’s attitude. “Take a vacation.” Leon chuckled at the idea. “Why don’t you? Sadie, make him give you a wedding.” Sadie smiled. “Now we’re talking. David, listen to Leon.” David laughed, knowing Sadie was the one with cold feet in their relationship. He liked that Leon loved Sadie enough to look out for her the same way he did with David. David wondered if he shouldn’t tell Leon about Logan asking about him. Was it cruel to stay silent? Would it be worse to tell Leon and watch him worry about it? He didn’t know what was best. Leon and Sadie started teasing each other, and when Leon laughed, David decided he would leave it all to fate. It might not be his place to push Leon and Logan back together. *** Off the coast, on a small island owned by the Kingdom of Aeras, Logan hammered the last nail into the floor of the newly built porch around his family beach house. Wiping the wood surface to clean out dust, Logan stepped back to admire his work. The wraparound porch looked good. His mother would be proud of the addition. She always wanted the porch around the old house. Logan had no time to build it as he grew his career in the Royal Navy. Now, at twenty-eight, his career secure, his finances stable, he could build the porch comfortably. The sad thing was that his mother was no longer with him. She had passed away after a harsh bout of illness two and a half years ago. Logan maintained the beach house in her memory. He was glad to have finished the porch after trying to get it done for so long. “You’d love it, Mom,” Logan murmured, sitting on the stairs, and reaching for a beer from the cooler beside him. He drank deep, his gaze on the water churning on the white sandy shores below. Logan loved it here. It was nothing but peace and quiet, away from the daily modern hassles of life on the mainland. He imagined spending his life here often. He hoped to share the beach house in the future with the right partner, if he got lucky. ‘You’ll get lucky,’ his mother would say. ‘You can watch the stars paint the night sky with him. Your father used to bring me here to do that. That’s how we ended up with you.’ Logan smiled at the memory. Gabriella Mason had loved telling him of the love she cherished with his father. Their love made him envious. He had hoped to meet a man he could share that kind of bond with too. He had come close with Leon. He pressed his palm into his chest, the vault in his heart shaking loose. He doubted anything would ever top that love in Sevilla. Instead of finding a way to survive and find an ordinary love, he tortured himself by asking for updates from David. He liked to think Leon would love this wild island too. “Mom,” Logan murmured. “If I get lucky and he returns to me, he and I might not make a kid, but we’ll damn sure try under the magical skies.” Logan laughed at his own thoughts and sat back on the stairs to watch the sun slide down on the horizon. He loved off days most. He was on his fourth beer when the satellite phone he used out here buzzed on the worktable behind him. ***
  10. 5 Logan liked to think he fell in love with Leon on the whirlwind road trip in Norway through to Sweden. After their hiking trip to Trolltunga, they rented two motor-homes, and decided to explore the country on a road trip, getting supplies in every town they ran across. They started in Odda heading to Tromso, camping out and driving across the luscious natural beauty that was Norway. Logan spent hours with Leon. Without choice, really, there was no distance when they lived in a motor-home for weeks. They were lucky they had two, dividing their party evenly. When they stopped to camp, their group attracted enough attention from other campers. They turned into a base for evening activities: from barbecues to parties planned by Anselm or Paul. On the road, Leon took enough pictures to publish a photo book. He was good because there was passion in his photography. “You could start a photography career,” Logan suggested, the evening before they crossed into Sweden. He watched Leon set up a tripod for the evening, the camera overlooking a lake at their camp. “Would it be something you wanted?” Logan asked, curious. Leon finished setting his camera before he spoke. “I would love a photography career,” Leon said, with a sure nod. “But then, I doubt anyone would be comfortable hiring me to do their photo shoots.” “You’d be surprised at what you can manage with a front man,” Logan said. Leon walked up to him and wrapped his arms around Logan’s waist, pressing close. It took Logan’s breath away each time Leon leaned close to him this way. Bringing his arms around Leon, Logan held him, adjusting the hat on Leon’s head. Leon buried his face into Logan’s shoulder and took in a deep breath. “If it were up to me, I’d live this wild life forever, taking photographs for a living,” Leon said. “Would you stay with me if I asked you to, Logan?” Logan held Leon tighter. “I would stay with you.” “Yet, you’re only saying say that because you know it’s a wish. We don’t really have that choice, do we?” Logan closed his eyes, resting his cheek on Leon’s head. He tried not to think of the future. He was already breaking so many personal rules by getting this close to Leon. Still... “I really would stay with you, Leon.” Leon nodded and held on, until the door on their motor-home opened behind them. Riku and David came running out each holding burning sparklers. The sun was fading in the horizon, leaving only the lights they had set up near their camp. They were alone this time, no one joining them at this location. Leon moved out of Logan’s arms and took three sparklers from Riku. Logan would ask where Riku had unearthed a whole box of the sparklers but it was useless. Riku was an endless list of surprises. Logan shook his head as they started lighting them and running by the lake like crazy men, laughing loud as they made shapes with the sparklers. “They are still kids,” Petr said, coming to stand next to Logan. “And you’re not?” Logan asked, amused. “Certainly not. Why would you wonder about this?” Petr asked, sitting down on one of the camping chairs next to them. He bent over the gas heater they had sitting in the middle of the rough circle they had made with camp chairs to light it. “Leon worries about you and Riku,” Logan said, folding his arms against his chest. He looked up to make sure that Leon and Riku were far enough. “You and Genevieve—” “This matter is not easy to solve,” Petr said, his accent growing thick. “I’ve spent the better part of this month trying to find a solution. I can’t find one.” “What kind of hold does she have on you?” Logan asked, curious. “If you need money, are you sure you can’t get help from everyone here?” Petr chuckled and waved for Logan to sit down next to him when he was done with the heater. Logan obliged him, happy to watch Leon, Riku and David run around by the lake. “It’s not that easy,” Petr said, taking a sparkler stick from the table where Riku had left the packet. “My family needs an alliance with Genevieve’s Dad. They own patent rights we need for a project. Genevieve’s Dad thinks I make a great boyfriend for his daughter. I'm working to find a way to change his thinking.” “That’s so old fashioned,” Logan mused. “You’d say that,” Petr said, his tone wistful. “It’s because you’re free to make your choices. But, the six of us were bred to think about family prosperity first. We can’t escape it. We can’t stop ourselves. Riku knows it.” “I’m sure you can stop these old-fashioned ideas,” Logan said, with a short grin. “We can’t, Logan. Don’t lie to yourself,” Petr said, looking at Logan with a steady gaze, the weight of his words enough to stop Logan’s grin. “Don’t forget this one fact for a second. We're all committed to our families in some way.” Petr nodded to where Leon stood with David lighting another sparkle. Anselm and Paul came out of their motor-home to join in the fun. They were teasing each other and laughing when the sparklers wouldn’t light. “It's no secret that Leon’s got it the worst of all us. He likes to play and act like it doesn’t exist, but he never forgets. This trip…this is a temporary escape,” Petr said. “Petr, I have to tell you, you make it hard to hang out with you.” Petr chuckled, and poked Logan’s left arm with the sparkler he held. “Don’t you know it’s good to have your feet on the ground at all times?” Petr asked, his tone teasing, but he meant every word. His gaze found Riku like a magnet finds it’s opposite. “This way you’ll know exactly where you’re headed.” “And where is that?” Logan asked, remembering Leon’s reaction to Petr treating Riku so badly. “We’ll have to see,” Petr said. “I’m not giving Riku up. Ever.” Logan nodded, and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Petr, if that’s how you feel then stop hurting him. Nothing excuses you treating him like that,” Logan said. “Pain is a hard pill to take. Stop force-feeding it to him. He takes it because he loves you but if you do it enough times, you’ll break him.” Petr played with the sparkler for a minute, then two. “You and Leon think the same.” Logan smiled, his gaze seeking Leon by the beach. It was getting darker. Leon pulled the scarf around his neck higher to cover his chin, and zipped up his jacket. Leon hated the cold; still he endured in the name of the aurora borealis. Logan’s smile widened when Leon pulled the hood of his jacket over his head. His handsome face now framed by white faux fur. “Oh, Logan, even as you worry about me, I think you’re the one walking a rougher road. You might need to join the club.” Logan stood, aware that his feelings for Leon left him vulnerable. They hadn’t done much more than spend time together, but he wanted more. He could feel it in Leon too, that need for a deeper connection. Logan checked the heater, making sure it was working. He needed to get Leon back here to get warm. “What club?” Logan asked, hoping to distract Petr from his line of questioning. “This one,” Petr said. “Otherwise, how will you manage to stay close to him?” Logan frowned, confused. Petr gave him a small mysterious smile. “We’ll wait until Sevilla. If you two are…more,” Petr shrugged. “We can talk then.” “You’re full of mysteries, Petr.” “The very best kind,” Petr answered. Logan left Petr brooding by the heater. When he reached Leon, Logan took Leon’s cold hands and slipped them into his coat pockets. Leon chuckled and pressed closer. “Should we make hot chocolate?” Leon asked. “It’s going to be a cold one tonight. I’m determined to stay here until I get epic shots of the Northern Lights.” “I figured as much,” Logan murmured into Leon’s ear. “I’ll make the hot chocolate, if you promise to stay by the heater for a while, as you wait.” “Let’s get the hot chocolate together.” Leon smiled pulling his hands out of Logan’s pockets and turned to his friends. “Guys, we’re going to get hot chocolate,” Leon said in general. “Will you get the second heater, Riku?” “Sure,” Riku hurried off and Leon followed Logan. Inside their motor-home, Logan worked on the hot chocolate as Leon collected clothes hanging on chairs and the couch. “We need to do laundry before we leave tomorrow. I don’t know how we get through clean clothes so quickly.” “Some of those look clean.” The motor-home filled with the sound of Logan whisking cocoa powder into hot water. Leon worked on placing most of the clothes on the couch and chairs, clean or not, into a laundry basket. He moved to the sink and cleaned out the dishes from lunch. “Almost done, will you pass me the flasks?” Logan asked. Leon got two flasks from the cupboard above the sink and handed them to Logan. He wiped the sink down and threw the wet dishcloth in the laundry basket. He turned to find Logan holding out a cup of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream for him. Leon smiled and held Logan’s wrist steady, leaning down to sip the hot liquid. The creamy, smooth taste of hot chocolate filled his mouth, delicious, spreading warmth through him. “You make the best hot chocolate,” Leon said, taking the cup from Logan on the second sip. “I’ll get addicted at this rate.” Logan chuckled and swiped his thumb over Leon’s upper lip, to remove the mustache of whipped cream. Leon watched Logan lick the whipped cream off his thumb. Logan smiled at the flash of desire in gray eyes before he moved around Leon to get cups for the gang outside. Leon cleared his throat and moved to lean on the wall by the sink as Logan got seven biodegradable ripple cups from the cupboard above the sink. The cups were Anselm’s initiative since none of them liked washing dishes too much. “You carry the cups, I’ll take the flasks,” Logan said, coming to stand before Leon. “Have some,” Leon held out his cup to Logan. Logan copied him, holding Leon’s wrist as he sipped from the cup. “It’s good,” Logan said, nodding, urging the cup to Leon's lips. “Not as good as my mom’s but it will do.” “If she makes it better than this, she’s a magician. I’d love to meet your mom,” Leon said, surprising Logan. Leon looked up from the hot chocolate they were now sharing. “She sounds interesting,” Leon said, when he noticed Logan’s raised brow. Logan smiled. “I’m sure she’d love to meet you too.” Leon stared at him. “Really?” Logan drank the last of the hot chocolate and took the cup from Leon. “Really,” Logan said, rinsing out the cup and placing it on the dry rack. Gabriella would be beside herself with delight if she were to meet Leon. Logan didn’t miss the pleased smile on Leon’s lips as he took the ripple cups and headed outside. The northern lights did not disappoint Leon that night. One moment, it was a dark night, and the next, as though a light switch came on, the spark of green appeared in the sky. The lights were so strong, shining, glowing, and dancing in the skies. Leon’s camera worked without stop, set in a timer to capture the lights in the sky. Logan stood beside Leon staring up at the spectacular display. He doubted he would have ever seen such a magnificent sight if it weren’t for Leon. Turning to his right, he found Leon watching him. Then, Leon took a step toward him, and stopped doubt in his gaze. Logan made the choice. Reaching for Leon’s jacket lapels, he pulled him closer and pressed his lips to surprised soft ones. They kissed under the splashing green colors dancing in the sky, a sweet, maddening kiss that tangled them into an irrevocable web. ***
  11. 4 ‘What did you have for dinner?’ Leon glanced at Logan who sat next to him on their flight. He was asleep, covered with the blanket the flight attendant gave him. His head tilted back, his lips parted in sleep. Logan looked tired. ‘Why aren’t you answering?’ Leon stared at his mother’s questions on the family chat on his phone with a small smile. ‘Sorry, Mom, I got distracted. Logan grilled steaks for dinner. It was a good meal. He’s very good at cooking. You’d be proud.’ ‘Are you giving him trouble? I can’t believe I have to trouble strangers to take care of my grown son. It’s really embarrassing. Are you troubling him, Leon?’ Leon shook his head. ‘You’re the one who believes I can’t take care of myself.’ ‘You are causing him trouble. I’ll have to make him dinner when you get back. Make sure you bring him home with you. I’ll need to shower him with thanks so he only says good things about you.’ Leon sent her a laughing gif, and grinned when she sent one back to him. ‘I miss you, baby boy.’ ‘I miss you too, Mom.’ ‘Tell David to call me, or message me too. I like his funny stories.’ ‘I will. What are you up to?’ ‘We met your dad’s business associates in Paris. We were going to visit a vineyard in Normandy, but your grandmother summoned us home.’ ‘Something wrong?’ His grandmother rarely summoned his parents into the palace. When she did, it was because of a serious issue. Otherwise, she visited them at home. His grandmother liked riding horses in the forest surrounding their home. She made sure never to miss the opportunity. ‘Not that I can tell. I haven’t pressed your dad for info, I will. I’ll tell you when we know more.’ Leon felt a slight tingle of warning go through him, but it disappeared as fast as it came. He assumed his grandmother had discovered he had been given six months away from home without guard. She would be furious, but his parents would talk her out of her annoyance. Or, it could be something else, like representing Granny at a charity ball, or a tour of the cities. Leon shrugged. Whatever it was, his dad would handle it. He always did. ‘I have to go, Mom.’ ‘Okay, dear. Do send me pictures of you and your friends. I want to brag to your grandmother when I see her.’ ‘I'll send them.’ Leon promised, already uploading the pictures he’d chosen that wouldn’t give away too much about his itinerary. There were pictures of him and his friends in a group at the suspension bridge, at Paul’s home in Ireland, and eating lunch in Prague. They all looked happy: every one of them with a wide smile, including Logan who always stood on the edge of the group. Leon’s gaze lingered over him for a minute, even as his mother sent him a message. ‘Oooh, my Leon looks so handsome. Granny is going to be so tickled by these pictures. I love you.’ ‘I love you too. Dad, you too. You should text more on this group.’ He waited a minute, and then grinned when Kleopas wrote. I like reading your conversations with your mother. Don’t forget to bring Logan home as you’ve promised. Leon smiled and sent him thumbs up with a promise gif. A tablet appeared over his phone, and he looked up to find David smiling at him. “Read these, then sign.” “What is it?” Leon put away his phone and took the tablet. It was a form sent by their guide for their hike to Trolltunga. Leon read it. He was going to write his name when Logan took the tablet from him. “Hey, he’s not done with that,” David said. “Your guide is not equipped to take on Leon,” Logan said, producing his identification documents from his pocket. He took pictures of the official documents with the tablet, and then signed the form himself. “That should sort them out legally.” “I was going to take responsibility,” Leon said. “I know,” Logan soothed, as David took the tablet and disappeared, satisfied. “I’m only taking responsibility for the trouble your parents would rain on the guide if something happened.” “Nothing will happen.” Leon shifted, so that he sat facing Logan. “Why did you decide to enter the Royal Navy, Logan? I’ve been very curious.” Logan’s brow rose, then he smiled. “Nothing special about my decision,” Logan shrugged. “After high school, at eighteen, I joined the navy, and worked my way up. Two years in, I was able to qualify into the RN SPOC, and that’s where I’ve been the last four years. I’m now working under Lt. Commander Stevens.” “You want to end up in the Palace,” Leon guessed, “doing special ops for Granny.” “For the country,” Logan said. “I like working to make Aeras strong enough to protect our culture, and way of life without outside help.” The Royal Navy Special Operations Command was not an easy program to enter. Logan would have to have a will of steel to get in and get through the impossible training. The nine-month training program qualified eight people on their best round. Leon had a lot of respect for officers who qualified. They had the ability to protect a monarch under the worst conditions possible. He felt honored to have Logan guarding his life when he could be following his grandmother instead. “You’re wasted on me,” Leon decided. Logan chuckled. “I’ll take that as a compliment.” “Your parents must be proud,” Leon said, wondering what they were like. “My mom is always proud of anything I do,” Logan smiled at the thought of her. “And your Dad?” Leon wondered aloud. “Um…he passed away when I was young. A car accident,” Logan said. “He’s the reason I joined the Royal Navy. He was a lieutenant.” “Oh,” Leon said. “I’m so sorry.” “I was too young.” Logan shook his head. “Mom is the one who remembers him well enough.” “Still, it couldn’t have been easy to grow up without him,” Leon said. “We managed,” Logan said. “Still do. When Mom is missing him terribly, we go out to this piece of land off the coast where he wanted to live with us when he retired. She likes it there, because he had even built her a nice house.” “Your dad sounds like a romantic,” Leon said. “A soppy one,” Logan said with a laugh. “Or so my Mom makes him sound.” Leon nodded, thinking Logan’s mom sounded like Anastasia. “So, Paul wanted you guys to visit his home in Ireland. David wanted to drive to Germany from the UK, Riku wanted to visit the Suspension Bridge. I didn’t understand Prague, and now Norway.” “Actually, David wanted Prague, he thinks the city beautiful, and spent most of his time walking obscure streets and entering rare item shops,” Leon said. “So, David gets two,” Logan said. “Who wants the hike in Norway?” “Me,” Leon said with a grin. “I actually want two too, Norway then our next stop in Sweden. Our guide has promised to show us the best spot at Trolltunga, and then we'll chase the northern lights on a road trip, which I hear is a matter of patience and time.” “Sounds like dangerous fun,” Logan said, wrinkling his nose. “Yours are the sexiest ideas; troublesome, but the most exciting ones.” Leon grinned. “Don’t take that back later on our nine hour long hike to Trolltunga.” “What’s next after Sweden?” Logan asked. “Petr wants to visit Riku’s home in Bangkok. We’ll stay there for a month. I’d love to get pictures of the temples there, the culture too. Then, we’ll head to Sevilla, Spain for December.” “Anselm’s home,” Logan guessed. “His family breeds impressive thoroughbreds. He’s promised to give me one. The plan is to stay in Sevilla for Christmas, and head home for New Years. My family requires it of me.” “Of course,” Logan said, already knowing New Year’s Day was the one day when the Queen insisted on having her entire family at the palace. “You’ve been great,” Leon said, feeling the need to be grateful to Logan. “Thank you for not reporting the change of schedule. For going along, even when you thought it wasn’t right.” “I like adventures,” Logan told him, his blue gaze heavy with meaning. Leon stared for a second, his longing evident. Logan saw it clear as day. When Logan said nothing, Leon started to get up. Then Logan touched his arm, stopping him. “I’m not your ideal—” “You are,” Leon cut him off before he could continue. “I’m as ordinary as you, Logan. I hope you can cut through the paper work, and see me.” Logan sighed, conflicted. “Think about it for a day or two,” Leon said, remembering Riku’s observation about Logan. “What about Darius?” Logan asked, gritting his teeth as he asked the question. Leon smiled. “He was a distraction in Prague.” “Don’t you care for him?” “I—,” Leon broke off and shrugged. “He was passing by.” “Will I be passing by too?” Logan asked, narrowing his gaze in question. Leon bit his bottom lip. He was afraid going it with Logan would turn to more, the fear made him want it even more. No. Logan would not be a passer-by for him. “If that’s what you want,” Leon said, even though it pained him. Logan nodded. “I don’t know what I want.” “Then…think about it and tell me,” Leon said, and got up needing to put distance between them. Otherwise, he was liable to throw himself into Logan’s arms and hope for the best. One thing was sure though, he really didn’t want a passing fling with this man. He was selfish enough to want Logan in his life forever, despite Logan’s obvious ambitions. He walked up the spacious cabin and slipped into the empty seat next to Anselm. Anselm was playing a video game. When he saw Leon, he handed over the second control and lifted a brow in challenge. Leon smiled and threw himself into the game, happy to escape his thoughts. *** Hiking to Trolltunga was a lot of fun in the company of Leon’s friends. Their guide was an experienced hiker in the area, with three others in her team. Her name was Emilie and she was Anselm’s friend. Anselm had met her on a hiking trip in Spain. When she returned to Norway after that trip, she started offering her services to hikers visiting Norway. She was easy with the group of young men, even as she kept them strict in terms of pacing and safety. They listened to her, even as they kept up an upbeat atmosphere on the way to the top. The scenery was enough to thaw out the worst of moods. They started mid-morning with the intention of camping at the top for a sunrise view. Logan was glad he made sure Leon had a heavy jacket in his pack because the night was cold up there. When sunrise came, Logan acknowledged that the hours spent hiking up here were worth it. The breath-taking view at Trolltunga was nature at its finest. Watching Leon take pictures of the stunning view of mountains, blue river water, the sheer drop from the rock formation called the troll’s tongue, and nature’s own paintings made with snow. Leon grinned like a wild man at the accomplishment, his cheeks flushed with exhilaration as he took photo after photo. When he was tired, he sat down to stare and watch, like a man finding religion. The group drifted to silence too, taking it all in, as there weren’t any words to describe the moment. Logan walked up to Leon who sat on the rock at the top of the world. Joining him, Logan wrapped an arm around Leon’s shoulders and leaned into him. “Let’s try it out,” Logan said, thinking he didn’t want to miss knowing the Leon who found pleasure in hiking to the highest point for a view that made the heart pump faster. Leon looked at him for a minute, before he reached for his cell phone and brought it up to take a picture of them. “Evidence to hold you accountable,” Leon said, when he was done. “I would kiss you here at the top of the world, Logan Mason.” “Why don’t you?” “It won’t feel like as it should, since you just decided," Leon said. "So, just sit with me.” Logan smiled, thinking he understood what Leon meant. He pulled Leon closer and contented himself with holding him. *** October was a better month, Leon decided. He trailed after Logan on a walk around the neighborhood they were staying in Odda. Norway was turning into a life-changing adventure because of Logan. Leon felt as though he was rediscovering a man who had stayed by his side for two months and loving every minute of it. He wondered if they could extend their stay here, if only to keep the magical sense of discovery alive. He liked getting to know Logan. Liked spending hours with him, even though it was just on a walk, or hanging out by the pool, or watching Logan run like mad and do an insane numbers of burpees on his morning workouts. Such small things made him happy. “Are you cold?” Logan asked, stopping so that Leon could catch up. Logan removed the light scarf he had around his neck and wrapped it around Leon’s neck. “I told you to wear yours. Next time listen to me.” Such simple words sounded like romance to his speeding heart. Leon wondered if he had always been so easy. Had his heart always needed so little? Logan cupped his cheeks. “What?” Leon smiled and shook his head. “Nothing, let’s continue. It’s nice to escape the house. Anselm, David and Paul brought in girls from the party last night. It’s noisy.” “You’d have been part of it before,” Logan accused. Leon chuckled, not taking offense to that. It turns out his short fling with Darius had really annoyed Logan. He liked to think it had helped Logan take a step toward him. “I’m here with you now,” Leon said, slipping his hand into Logan’s, and they continued their walk. ***
  12. lilansui

    Chapter 2

    I high-key love your reactions Wes! No low-key about it. This author says they love you back. It's a slow burn with a great epic moment soon to come, and then I'll drop that steady ax, just warning y'all early, hahaha. Thank you so much for reading!
  13. lilansui

    Chapter 3

    Hahaha...cause they feel entitled I tell you... Norway will be good for them, yes. Stop catching my brainwaves,....lolz. I feel you! Next chapter is a tad better, I hope.
  14. lilansui

    Chapter 1

    Yes! Let's! This just happened, lolz! I guess coming off of ML, I'm still low-key channeling Ilaria. It sure did. Here I am writing 'slice of life', hope everyone likes it, lolz. Me too....lolz. I'll admit it. Coming off of the Morgan Lore, is a hard act to follow...lolz. No magic, or awesome Sage with her magic to help me out in this one. (Curiously nervous)
  15. 3 Leon stared at a picture of Logan leaning against a tree at Eibsee Lake. The lighting was phenomenal, casting Logan’s face in a perfect profile. Dark hair cut in a neat military style, those gorgeous blue eyes staring in the distance. Logan was tall at six feet two, Leon often found himself looking up when they stood side by side. Logan wore a simple t-shirt and jeans in the picture, his feet in black boots. Leon sat back in his chair breathing out slowly, and then chuckled. There was no fighting it. He wanted to kiss Logan. He wanted Logan, and all his aloof charm. Leon sighed and shook his head. He wasn’t sure Logan wanted him. “Your new hobby is extremely interesting,” Riku said, strolling into the lounge, and dropping into a comfortable couch by the window. “If you want him, tell him.” “He’s not like us,” David said, bringing Leon a bottle of juice. Leon thanked him with a nod and uncapped the bottle. He moved the pictures to his cloud storage, making a note to send a few to Logan. “What do you mean he’s not like us?” Leon asked. “Grabbing what he wants without thinking about the consequences,” Riku supplied, annoyance coloring his words. “Logan thinks things through.” “Talking about yourself?” David asked Riku. “You and Petr in trouble?” “His girlfriend is meeting us here for three days,” Riku said, closing his eyes and leaning his head back. “His heart and body are mine, but his loyalty is to his money. His money is currently tied to that stupid girl.” “You don’t mean that,” Leon said, looking at Riku, knowing it hurt him to talk about Petr that way. “I do actually mean it. He’s done this to me too many times for me not to get angry now,” Riku said, not opening his eyes. “I wish I could turn it off, this need for Petr. I want to turn it off, but I can’t. Regrets are the worst.” David sighed. “We should go out tonight. We’re in Prague, guys. Being depressed is the last thing you should do in this city.” “You clearly didn’t read your history then,” Riku said. “Depressing things have happened in this city.” “Well, no depressing things will happen during this trip,” David said, getting up. “Leon, find someone to distract you from Logan. Petr’s friend looked interesting. As for you, Riku—” “Riku,” Leon said, smiling at his friend when he opened his eyes and looked at him. “Let’s go clubbing. You haven’t spun at a club in forever. I want to dance to your music.” “Sounds good,” Riku said, getting up. He stretched his arms above his head. “Find a club, let’s go hang. Don’t invite Petr.” Riku left the lounge and Leon turned to David. “Tell Petr to stay away tonight,” Leon said. David nodded and got up. “Are you really not going to try it with Logan?” “I can’t make the first move,” Leon said, not used to longing for anything. “It has to be his choice.” “Your complicated thinking is exhausting. I’m going to call Paul and we’ll find Petr’s contact. Don’t leave Riku alone. You know how he gets when Petr’s girlfriend is around.” Leon nodded, closed his laptop and got up. They were in Prague until the end of September. One week, and it seemed as though this city was going to be the hardest. “I sometimes wish Riku would like you,” David said. “You’d never treat him that way.” Leon swept fingers through his hair. He wished it too, but he and Riku could only be friends. Riku’s heart was set on Petr; there was nothing to do about it. *** Capital Palace The Kingdom of Aeras Tucked on the coast, closest to Greece, stands a strong and stable Kingdom named Aeras. The Kingdom of Aera is held steady by a monarch, one who values a strong democratic government. Still, the people regard the monarch with a positive light and take pride in her presence and the traditions she represents. Queen Amethea Maximillian has ruled for decades, receiving loads of love from her people. On her sixtieth birthday at the beginning of the year, she announced her intention to name a successor to her throne. Unknown to her, the intention thrust her family life into chaos she had not anticipated. Queen Amethea had two sons. Her first born named Isaak Naos and the second born, Kleopas Michael. Isaak was ambitious, excessive and mean spirited. His life decisions led to mistakes, some Queen Amethea knew, others Isaak grew quite adept at hiding. He married two women in his life. The first one was a commoner named Doris. She died soon after she gave birth to a son named Constantin. Isaak then married a noble woman, the daughter of a baron, Lady Erika. She gave birth to a daughter, and named her Gia. Prince Isaak’s family lived in the palace with Queen Amethea. Most in the kingdom thought she would name Isaak her heir, as he was first born. They weren’t wrong. Isaak, despite his many faults, was the kingdom’s heir. Kleopas, Amethea’s second son, was the opposite of Isaak. He was good and gentle. As a second son, he moved out of the palace when he was of age. He now lives at Castle Arguro on the other side of the Capital City, away from the palace. There, Kleopas brought his beloved Russian bride, Anastasia, and started a lovely family. Kleopas focused his efforts on businesses and running charities. He kept a low profile, never once making political maneuvers to reach above his brother. Queen Amethea knew it was wrong, but Kleopas remained her favorite son. And so, when Kleopas got a son and named him Leon Nicholas, after Queen Amethea’s husband, he too became her favorite grandson. At age sixty, Amethea was beyond nervousness, anxiety and hesitations. She faced every obstacle she met as a bulldozer meets rough terrain. Nothing surprised her now, until seven months after her announcement to invest the Crown Prince. On a sunny September afternoon, she sat in her study reading confidential government documents sent to her by parliament when her secretary walked in. Olivier Swan had been her secretary for the better part of three decades. He was skilled and hard working. He had kept her office working through thousands of emergencies. She had never seen him hesitate to speak until that afternoon. “What’s the matter?” “Your Majesty,” Olivier started then stopped. “Spit it out, Olivier.” “There’s no gentler way to tell you this,” Olivier said, making her look up from her paperwork. “What in the world is wrong?” Olivier winced and stepped closer to her desk. He kept his voice low as though it would make it easier for her to absorb the news. “There’s news about Prince Isaak, ma’am. Commander Steele of the Royal Navy SPOC is here to see you. He insists on speaking to you directly about a witness who requires protection.” Amethea pushed the documents on her desk aside and stood. “What could this be about?” “The Commander won’t talk to me, ma’am. He insists on meeting you in person.” Amethea stared at Olivier, scenarios blooming in her head about her eldest son. She was quite sure Commander Steele would not seek her out without reason. She trusted him with the safety of her family, wherever they maybe. If he wanted to see her, it was for a good reason. “Let him in,” Amethea said, taking in a deep breath. She moved around her desk and went to sit on the armchair at the small sitting area near her desk. Olivier hurried away and she took the precious minutes before Commander Steele entered the room to compose herself. When he walked in, Commander Steele saluted before he took the seat opposite her. “Commander Steele,” she greeted. “How have you been?” “Well, Your Majesty,” the commander said. “Your daughter,” Amethea searched her memory banks. “Shirley.” “She is doing well, rising up the ranks as she should.” “Oh yes,” Amethea remembered now that his daughter had also chosen to join the Royal Navy. She had to be twenty-two or twenty-three, not much older than Leon. Pleasantries over, Amethea folded her hands on her lap and asked, “What brings you to see me, Commander Steele?” Commander Mathew Steele stood and handed her a black folder. She took it with a small frown, and as he settled in his seat, she opened the folder to find pictures of a bloody blue dress stained with mud. They were spread out on a table. They looked aged. Amethea frowned when she saw the royal insignia on a towel, beside the bloody blue dress “What are these?” “Evidence turned in by Lady Doris’s maid,” Commander Steele said. “We’ve ran them through every test possible. The conclusion is solid. Lady Doris died of poisoning, your majesty and not childbirth, as reported. She died from poison that her maid insists was given to her by her husband, Prince Isaak.” “Why did she never say anything before?” Amethea asked, shaken, daring not to refute that Isaak was capable of murder. She knew him well enough. She had worried that his level of misdeeds would only increase, but this…murder! “Your announcement spurred the woman forward, along with three guards who have evidence of three more disappearances,” Commander Steele said. “Disappearances?” Amethea asked, a tight band of unease settling in her stomach. “High profile once, Ma’am,” Commander Steele pulled out a document with three names. “You are familiar with these names. There cases have been on the media a few years.” Amethea read the paper and closed her eyes. The names belonged to a reporter, a doctor and a volunteer working at a children’s home, each one a missing person’s case that had caused an uproar in the capital. “What kind of evidence?” she asked. “The location of their missing bodies,” Commander Steele said. “I have a discrete team working on it.” “Who else knows?” “Two in the Imperial Diet,” Commander Steele said. “They are worried enough to ask me to approach you. Prince Isaak is next in line. Having someone capable of this—” Amethea sat back in her seat and met the Commander’s gaze. “There’s more, isn’t there?” Commander Steele held his silence, but his gaze was enough to feed her suspicion. She placed the folder of photos on the stool next to her. She thought of her eldest son and the trouble he was bound to start because of this, and let out a soft sigh. “Push it up through the channels,” Amethea decided. “Draw out all who tried to help Isaak hide the murders. It won’t be easy work. Can you handle it?” “I can,” Commander Steele nodded. “Then, I look forward to your results.” When Commander Steele left, Amethea called Olivier into her office. “Where are Prince Kleo and his wife?” “They are in Paris on a business trip.” “And Leon?” Amethea smiled at the thought of her grandson. “I haven’t seen him around since he graduated from Oxford. I haven’t gotten a call from him since.” Olivier winced. “Prince Leon asked his parents to allow him a six-month tour across Europe without escort.” “Surely they didn’t allow such madness,” Amethea asked, shocked by this. She knew her youngest son would not have told her about Leon’s request because she would protest such an idea. Her grip tightened on the folder from Commander Steele. “Is Leon really alone out there?” Amethea asked, afraid for him. “He is not alone,” Olivier said. “Prince Kleo made Prince Leon take one man with him on his travels.” “Thank goodness,” Amethea sighed. It wasn’t enough, but she was glad Leon wasn’t alone. The only comfort was that Commander Steele trained exceptional men. Looking at the folder she held, she realized she might have to burden Prince Kleopas with the Kingdom of Aeras. In turn, Kleopas would burden Leon. None of them would thank her. “Please ask the officers in charge to take extra care of them. A harsh storm is coming and they’ll have a hard time.” “Yes, Ma’am,” Olivier said, and hurried away. *** “Lt. Mason checking in,” Logan said, when his call to Stevens went through. “You’re not calling from Sweden,” Stevens stated. “No, we’re in Prague,” Logan answered, walking along Havelska street. He navigated around a man and his girlfriend who had two black dogs on a leash. They were arguing on where to buy fruit. Logan smiled when the girlfriend ended the conversation by walking into one of the stalls along the street. “I figured he changed the itinerary,” Stevens said on the other end. “You haven’t called in much, just sending reports.” “Seemed easiest,” Logan said. “Leon is worried we might tell his parents of the change of plan. He’s not ready to go home.” “I’m glad you didn’t fight him on it,” Stevens said in relief. “You’ve earned his trust with this.” “To a point,” Logan said, pausing by a stall selling fresh vegetables. Their kitchen was running low, and Leon’s solution to a kitchen without food was to call take out. “Why did you send me an urgent check-in code?” “Orders from above,” Stevens said. “Commander Steele wants security tighter around Prince Kleopas’s family. We’ve been flying blind with you, but we might need to take in a more active role.” “Understood,” Logan wondered what would have prompted heightened security. He didn’t ask though. “Our next stop is Norway. They’re leaving the cars here with a contact. I believe it will be a hiking trip this time.” “I’ll make a few calls so that you’re not on your own.” “Thank you,” Logan said, smiling at the owner of the stall. “How are you getting along with the prince?” Stevens asked. “We have an understanding,” Logan said, thinking about the nights he and Leon spent at Eibsee Lake. The hours he spent watching Leon sleep on a lounge chair, wanting nothing more than to hold him. He had stolen a kiss though when Leon was deep asleep. Logan imagined it the only one he would ever have with Leon. He couldn’t stop thinking of that soft brush of his lips on Leon’s parted lips. “Call more often,” Stevens ordered. “Even as we try to accommodate His Highness, we need to be prepared in case of trouble.” “I will call,” Logan promised, ended the call, and concentrated on choosing fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and planning a grilled steak dinner. Logan walked back to the house in high spirits, whistling as he opened the door. He was in the kitchen when he heard Leon’s raised voice as he came down the stairs. “How long will you keep doing this to him? You know how he gets when Genevieve comes. You know it, and still can’t protect him. As long as she’s here, you stay away from Riku,” Leon said as he entered the kitchen followed by Petr. “Leon.” “There’s nothing more to say,” Leon said, stopping by the fridge where he got a bottle of water. Leon looked dressed up for a night out in black: jeans, tailored shirt and sexy black boots. His hair stuck up with the help of product. It should have looked ridiculous, but the style worked on Leon. Anything worked on him. “Going somewhere?” Logan asked, turning off the water at the sink, the tomatoes half washed. Leon glanced at him. “Yeah, out to a club without Petr,” Leon said, returning his gaze to Petr. “You’re not being fair,” Petr complained. “Riku—” “If you can’t take care of his heart send him to me,” Leon stated, his tone enough to let Logan know he was serious. “I’ll take care of him.” Petr tensed in answer, and grabbed Leon’s shirt collar, shaking him slightly. Logan started forward only to stop when he noted Leon making a fist with his left hand. The message was clear. ‘Don’t interfere.’ Logan stopped, cursing under his breath when Petr closed the distance between him and Leon, so that they were now inches apart. Petr was breathing hard, a vein popping out at his temple. “You’re judging me,” Petr said, shaking with anger, “as though you’re better than me when it comes to responsibilities. What can you do for anyone who loves you? I can at least meet Riku the way we are. We’re making the most of it, but you…your lovers will cry blood tears for you. Won’t they? Who you end up with is up to dear Granny, isn’t it?” Leon pushed Petr away. “Who I love is my choice, always has been,” Leon hissed. “No one will take that away from me. The problem, Petr, is you giving Riku hope when you won’t let go of Genevieve even for a second. It’s cruel.” “I don’t need you to keep reminding me,” Petr said, glaring at Leon. “Then figure out what you want, Riku or Genevieve,” Leon said, his voice raised. “Watching you hurt Riku is hard enough. I don’t want to see what it will look like when you break him.” Petr stared at Leon for a full minute before he stalked out of the kitchen. Leon leaned on the counter and gripped the bottle of water in his hand tight, eyes closed almost in defeat. “Are you alright?” Logan asked, moving around the kitchen table to stand before Leon. “I’m fine.” Leon studied the water bottle he held too tight. Logan reached out and took Leon’s left hand, prying the bottle out of his grip, and then placed it on the counter behind Leon. “You’re upset,” Logan stated, still holding Leon’s hand. “What’s going on with Riku?” “He—” Leon started then stopped his gaze on their clasped hands. Logan waited and then felt the sting of disappointment fill him when Leon pulled his hand away. “It’s nothing.” Leon took the bottle back and moved away from him, heading to the kitchen exit. “We are taking Riku to a club. We can wait for you to get dressed, and then we can go,” Leon said. “It’s better for everyone if we’re out tonight.” “Are you sure—?” “Riku needs the distraction,” Leon said. “Hurry Logan, before Petr decides against taking my sage advice.” Leon left the kitchen with that request. Logan took in the scattered ingredients on the sink counter. His wish for a quiet dinner was not happening tonight. So, he spent a few minutes putting ingredients away, then hurried upstairs to dress for the night. On the ride to the club, David talked too much, trying to fill the strange silence that existed between Riku and Leon. Logan answered David, if only to give David reason to continue talking. At the club, Logan watched the three friends mingle. He refused drinks and chose soda water. He kept close attention on Leon who drank with no worry. Leon danced with Riku until it looked as though his head spun, then they were joined by two men who seemed to own the club. Logan recognized Petr’s friend, because he was the one who helped them with the house they were using. His name was Darius, and he stared at Leon like a beast starved, and Leon was a juicy morsel. Darius sat too close to Leon, bought him drinks, and rested an arm around Leon’s shoulders. When Leon smiled at him, Darius leaned in and they kissed. Logan wished he could order a stiff drink. It took everything inside him not to interfere as was required of his job. Leon melted in Darius’s arms, and Logan looked away. It hurt to see. It hurt to watch and be powerless to stop this invasion into his territory. *** Prague was torture. Logan hated every minute from that day at the club. September was a failure he decided. Three weeks of watching Leon run around with Darius, them making out in the kitchen, in the living room and every place they visited. Logan refused to think of what they did together in Leon’s room. He had almost understood Petr’s outburst when Petr found Riku lounging in the living room with Darius’s friend, Theo. Petr simply grabbed Riku’s arm and pulled him out of the couch, then proceeded to kick Theo out of the house. Petr promised Riku, who had tears in his eyes, that he would do something about Genevieve. Logan wished he could do the same with Darius but he had no claim on Leon. He had no right to stop Darius from holding Leon and kissing him. Their next stop couldn’t come soon enough. The morning of their departure to Norway, Leon and Darius stood in the front hall, murmuring to each other. Leon was thankfully dressed for the trip already. Logan stood at the kitchen entrance watching them while he drank his coffee. “Your jealousy is showing,” Riku said, coming to join him. “We’re leaving Darius behind. If you want Leon, you’re going to need to make the first move, Logan.” Logan drank deep from his cup and looked away from Leon when he hugged Darius tight. “It looks like he has a thing going with Petr’s friend,” Logan said, moving away from the kitchen entrance. Riku chuckled, and patted Logan’s shoulders. “A distraction in Prague,” Riku said, “like I needed one.” Logan studied Riku for a moment. “Feeling better?” “I can’t wait for Norway,” Riku said, with a shrug. “At least we won’t have to deal with a Genevieve invasion again.” “Why do you take it? End it if it gets too much,” Logan said, aware that Riku’s pain bothered Leon. “I wish I could,” Riku said. “I really wish I could Logan, but I love the bastard.” Logan sighed and watched Riku head out of the kitchen, probably going to find Petr. If he turned into a fool because of love like that, he would ask Stevens to shoot him in the head. *** “Your guard dog is watching us with eyes that could burn,” Darius said to Leon. “He gets more murderous when I kiss you, Leon.” Leon chuckled and leaned his forehead on Darius’s shoulder. “You see more than I do,” Leon confessed. “Are you sure he likes me that way? He could be just protective. It’s his job.” “Hug me,” Darius said, wrapping strong arms around Leon, pulling him into a tight comforting hug. Leon breathed in the bliss of the comfort even though it was temporary. Darius was a fast passion that fizzled out once they kissed and spent a night together. Instead of lovers, they had turned into fast kissing friends. Leon spent time with Darius because he was a great city guide and he enjoyed listening to Darius talk about his home. “See, your guard dog has walked away in a huff,” Darius said with a small chuckle. “Trust me; he really does like you that way.” Leon felt hope bloom, and wished he had the courage to walk up to Logan, but he didn’t. “I’m sad to see you leave, Prince Leon,” Darius said, letting Leon know that Darius had not forgotten who he was, even for a second. Darius sounded like someone saying goodbye to a fairy tale. “I have had the best time, these last three weeks, with you.” “Me too,” Leon said, stepping back when Darius let him go. “Let’s keep in touch, Darius. I’d really like that.” Darius smiled and kissed his cheek. “Safe travels, miláčku.” Leon nodded, and watched Darius leave the house, closing the door with a last wave. A minute later, Logan asked behind him. “Are you ready to leave?” Leon turned to find Logan standing by the kitchen. He looked…too delicious, his heart skipped a beat. Leon wondered if he shouldn’t run after Darius and beg him to come with them, but that would be running away. He needed to face the fire in Logan’s eyes head on. “I’m ready,” Leon said, smiling at Logan. “Norway here we come.” ***
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