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 numbed the pain now flaring in his chest.
He could not 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.
“He’s had a quiet night,” Dr. Joley said. “No complications, we’re keeping an eye on him. Miss 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 would 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 last 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 from his foreahead 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 getting 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 was not 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 then 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 gaining injuries during his top-secret missions. The ones that helped him raise his rank. 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 could not do otherwise. He never could.
“You seemed sure about us in Seville,” 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 still want you, Leon added to himself.
“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.”
“I don’t fault you for wanting to work for your future,” Leon said. “It’s admirable, Logan. I’m proud of you, and thank you. 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. Yes, I missed you too. Very much,” Logan stated, sending Leon’s heartbeat into a wild dance. “I just—, you’re—, I’m—”
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 endless 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 had 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 can move on and be friends. I’d really like that.”
“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 pain. “I want you, Leon.”
Leon turned to Logan blinding hope sweeping through him.
“You’ve said that before,” he blurted out.
“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 the chance to try.”
Leon wanted to jump in joy, do an excited dance, call Riku and brag about this, but then…he 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 four years.
Logan wants a second chance with me, he thought.
Leon bit back a happy laugh and almost thanked the person trying to kill him for bringing Logan back into his life.
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 placed a firm hand on his back. He looked up to find Logan smiling at him.
“Do everything indoors, 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 Corentin family used the cottage as the head office 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’ve landed in your Kingdom,” Riku said.
Leon could not help the smile.
“How much did you push back?” Leon asked, wondering how many appointments Riku had set aside for his own business 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 who had yet to wake up.
“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.
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 frame covered the field. Trees surrounded the track field. They had installed sensors there, but they needed constant checks.
Logan turned on his walkie-talkie 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.
Logan took a moment to take in the track field.
No matter the measures they took, this field remained a weak spot but he could not 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 could not forget the tears that filled Leon’s eyes when David woke up. Coupled with acute relief that David was going to be okay. Seeing Leon’s tears 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 workload 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 on the attempts on Leon’s life using his own network.
So far, all they had was a bullet fragment from the forest and a pair of scissors laced with poison.
Logan had the secondary team reinvestigating 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 background checks 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 on Leon. 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 to get room to breathe. 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.
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 at the palace.
“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 own 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. It 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 did not 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.
Leon folded his arms against his chest.
“Gia has visited me twice, 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.”
“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 Royal Diet force you here.”
“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 is 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 Royal Diet handle the matter.”
The call ended, leaving Leon standing in his bedroom staring at the glass screens on his wall. His grandmother’s ultimatum left him breathless. He had pushed her thinking she would give up her crazy ideas if he resisted longer. He hoped she would see reason and pull his older cousins into the throne.
Damn it, the Kingdom of Aeras had a very strong Royal Diet. The queen might be the head of the royal family, but the Royal Diet ruled all their lives, even the queen. They were the voice of the people. The Royal Diet kept them all in the style the Kingdom of Aeras wanted to portray to the world. If the officials in that council summoned him into the palace, the law would force Leon to appear at the palace.
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, Leon decided to step out of the cage he had 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’s not 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 is 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.
Logan just needed to find the perfect location and time. For that, he needed to keep Leon’s schedule tightly guarded, that way, no one would know where Leon was at any time. He had the framework for the plan, but he needed a team, separate from his.
Logan started to head back into the castle to call Commander Stevens.
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 hurry to the end of the tunnel carrying a bag.
“Boss,” John came in on his walkie-talkie. “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.
Although, Logan remembered, he had read reports of Leon escaping his security when he was in college.
“He’s been too good,” Tom said, already on the move. “I’m switching communication back to earpiece. I’ve alerted the secondary team and we’re on him.”
“It’s always exciting here at Castle Arguro,” John said with a chuckle, shutting off the walkie-talkie.
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 did not take him long to find Leon on the winding road down from Castle Arguro. Sheep Hill Road was the only 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 could not 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 here seemed quiet and simple. Families enjoyed the evening together, 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 from chickpea flour. The seasoned vendors laughed with him when he found the first crepe 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 crowded 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.