The Prince & His Royal Guard

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Chapter 14

14

Queen Amethea sat at the head of the table in the family living room, watching her family members walk in dressed for a wake. Each of them wore a different level of grief on their faces at the news of Leon’s death.

She remembered assembling these same people when Kleopas and Anastasia died. That time, she had been unable to talk much and had left Olivier to voice all her opinions. This charade pained her, but if it would end the attempts on Leon’s life, she would sanction anything.

“Why is Kleopas’s family so unlucky?” Princess Erika asked, of no one in particular.

She sat beside Gia, sipping her tea, her expression unaffected. She had never attempted to like Kleopas or his family.

“Mom,” Gia said, giving Amethea a wary glance. “Let it go.”

“What did I say wrong?” Princess Erika asked, looking at Amethea, baffled by Gia’s need to hush her down. “It’s the truth. Castle Arguro is now empty.”

Amethea bit her lip to keep from countering her with the truth. She reminded herself that Leon’s safety depended on this charade. Otherwise, they would never catch the culprit. She glanced at Olivier for assistance.

“We’ll start the plans for His Highness, Prince Leon’s funeral,” Olivier announced to the room.

“Before that,” Isaak interrupted. “Shouldn’t we counter this bad news for our family with good news? Mother, name an heir.”

“That’s not the agenda here,” Gia protested. “We’re here to discuss Leon.”

“Who is dead and gone now,” Constantin said. “Four years ago, we buried Uncle Kleo and his wife. Now, we’re here again to plan my only cousin’s funeral. The succession line is dwindling. If Grandmother doesn’t name dad, we’re likely to have the Maximillian name off the list.”

“Why?” Gia asked, her gaze narrowing on her brother.

Amethea had not corrected Gia when she came running to her the night before, thinking Constantin wanted to harm her. No, she had not mentioned that Leon was the one in danger. Amethea passed on the information to Commander Steele though, and hoped they would use it in the ongoing investigation. She now knew that Constantin was helping his father. It annoyed her that she could do nothing without proof.

She could only hope Logan’s plan would work.

“They said Leon was murdered. How do we know who the extremist might go after next?” Constantin asked.

“Are you saying there will be more attempts on our lives?” Amethea asked, angry with her oldest son and his children.

How dare they treat Leon like this?

“We don’t know what might happen,” Isaak said, his tone enough to chill Amethea’s blood. “What will we do if something happens to you, Mother?”

Amethea scoffed and sat back. Isaak was no longer holding back.

“We’ll revisit the topic of succession when my grandson’s funeral is over,” Amethea said, holding her eldest son’s gaze.

For a full minute, she thought he might try to keep arguing, but then Isaak looked away and she let out a soft breath.

“Constantin and Gia, if you’re so worried about the succession line, why aren’t you married?” Amethea asked.

Gia blushed and Constantin found his coffee cup more interesting.

Amethea could not see any of them in her seat. No matter how much she tried.

She glanced at Olivier to continue the meeting hoping Commander Steele would finish his investigation in time. She rather hoped this charade would end with a ceremony to invest Leon to the position of Crown Prince.

She was tired of fending Isaak off.

***

Petr drove into the underground parking lot at the Anastasia Grand Hotel. He parked close to the elevators following the instructions from his informants. He ran a very sure team of investigators. They were never wrong.

He got out of his car and headed to the elevator, as he dialed his phone. The call answered before the first ring ended.

“Are you sure about this?”

“Prince Leon’s black jeep was last seen heading into the underground parking lot at the Anastasia Grand Hotel. Someone towed it out of the underground parking lot at two in the morning. Your friend, Lt. Commander Mason, hasn’t come out of the hotel since.”

Petr narrowed his gaze and punched the buttons on the elevator.

“Thanks,” Petr said. “What about the man who poisoned David?”

“He took a flight to Budapest from Aeras International Airport. We tracked him to a charming bed and breakfast on the outskirts of the city. What do you want us to do with him?”

“Help him find his way back to Aeras and the Aeras Royal Navy,” Petr said.“Make sure he confesses all that he knows. Leave him no choice in the matter, Nav.”

“Yes, Sir,” Navin ended the call and Petr stepped into the elevator that would hopefully lead him to Leon.

Riku was losing his mind over the news of Leon’s death. It did not sit well with him. Leon was important to Riku, to him too. No one was allowed to touch a hair on Leon’s head…well, except Logan.

Petr studied the buttons on the elevator. He pressed the button that would take him to the sixteenth floor. If Leon were in the building, his security team would cordon off the top two floors allowing no one up there.

***

“We have Petr Mikhailov on his way up,” Commander Stevens said, his gaze on the screen showing Petr walking up the stairs to the eighteenth floor. “He is as resourceful as you said. How did you know he would come?”

“Leon is important to him,” Logan said. “Pull everyone off the main corridor. He needs to find me alone.”

“Can you sell this?”

“I have to,” Logan said, shaking his head to clear his thoughts. He felt muddled, thanks to his dedication to the plan at hand. “We won’t be able to catch the perpetrator unless he relaxes and is sure of Leon’s death. Petr is the man to prove our story to the world. He believes it, and the rest of Leon’s friends will too.”

“Okay,” Commander Stevens patted his shoulder. “Then, let’s do this.”

Stevens left the suite Logan had chosen that was an exact replica of Leon’s penthouse.

Logan ran fingers through his hair, messing it up even more. He then picked up the glass of bourbon on the coffee table and threw back the shot, pouring another from the bottle on the table. He had been at this for the past hour and was stinking drunk. He needed to be to sell grief.

Logan sighed and got up from the armchair.

The room tilted and he stumbled to the windows with the perfect view of the Capital. His gaze found the highest palace turrets. All the plotting to catch the person making a play for the throne, he hoped it was worth it.

The door opened behind him and Logan stilled already knowing it was Petr.

“Logan.”

He turned slow, hand on the window to keep balance.

Petr closed the door and stood there watching him.

“You look like shit,” Petr said, his tone accusing.

Logan took in the glint of fire in Petr’s gaze, as Petr stepped deeper into the room.

Petr was here for information, and Logan would need to dig deep to dupe him.

***

Safe in his bedroom in a different suite, Leon finished uploading the pictures he took the night before. He started to close his account and paused when he caught sight of the first pictures he took at Oxford six years ago. Opening the folder, he clicked on a picture of Riku laughing surrounded by young kids at a park near their house.

Leon remembered that day so clearly. It was the first time he met Riku. He had been out walking the streets at Oxford, his first day in London. He had been feeling free for the first time in years. Unlike his time at Harvard, his father had not insisted on saddling him with a full staff. Instead, Leon now had one secretary responsible for his needs, with no obligation to follow him around. He had been enjoying the added freedom, hence the walking on the streets and taking pictures of random people.

Leon remembered stopping in the park to watch the group of young kids with Riku in the middle. They were dancing to a One Direction song in preparation for a flash mob dance. Riku had joined in the fun finding it irresistible.

Leon snapped a picture of Riku, charmed by his infectious delight.

Riku noticed Leon take the picture and ran up to him to ask.

Did you just take my picture?” Riku asked with a teasing smile.

Leon had not known what to say. He had liked the picture too much to delete it. He started to walk away without answering Riku. Riku would not let him, running ahead and stopping Leon from leaving.

I won’t make you delete the picture. I just want to know your name. It’s weird to have some random person take my picture and go away.”

Leon took in Riku’s expectant gaze and mumbled.

“Leon.”

Riku stepped in closer, clutching Leon’s left arm and peering at him.

“You should never be afraid to say your name,” Riku said. “It’s bad luck.”

“I’ve never heard that before,” Leon said, amused.

Well, you’ve heard it from me,” Riku said, smiling at him. “Tell me your name. I really want to know it.”

Leon, charmed by Riku’s smile, spoke up with strength.

“Leon. My name is Leon.”

Riku grinned.

“Since you’ve taken my picture, let’s be friends, Leon.”

Now, Leon traced Riku’s smile in the picture, wondering at their meeting that day. He and Riku walked back to the house at Carfax after that, and Riku had been ecstatic that they were going to be housemates. It had felt fated despite the obvious careful design by all the diplomatic staff involved.

Leon loved Riku as he would a brother. The thought of Riku in sorrow over him left him unsettled.

Pushing his chair back, Leon got up and left his bedroom determined to get Logan to help him send Riku a message. Heading downstairs, Leon paused at the last step when he saw Commander Steele and Commander Stevens watching a laptop screen with interest at the dining table.

“What’s going on?” Leon asked, looking around for Logan. He had not seen Logan in a few hours. “Where is Logan?”

Stevens looked at him with a wince.

Leon hurried to where the two commanders stood and glanced at the laptop screen. He gaped when he saw Petr and Logan in a suite that looked identical to the one he was using.

Logan stood by the balcony windows; he swayed, pressing his palm to the window to keep steady. He looked terrible, like a drunk, shattered man.

“What are they doing?” Leon asked, watching Petr advance on Logan. “Someone tell me what’s going on right now.”

“Logan is making a death notification,” Commander Steele said.

“What?” Leon punched the volume up on the laptop and closed his eyes when Petr’s voice filled the room.

“How could you do this?” Petr demanded of Logan. “Where is he? You didn’t need to lie to us, Logan. We’d do anything to protect Leon. You know that.”

“He’s gone, Petr,” Logan said, his words slurred.

He swayed and Leon realized he was truly drunk and not pretending.

“Stop it,” Petr shook his head, pointing a finger at Logan. “You’re up to something. This is not how we do things in the circle. We trust each other, Logan. Tell me what’s going on. I’ll do what I can to help.”

“I don’t know what else to tell you, Petr,” Logan said, sounding broken. “Leon is gone, and they won’t let me see him, who cares about your darned circle. Leon’s grandmother doesn’t understand my relationship with Leon. She doesn’t understand how much he meant to me.”

Leon gasped when Logan broke into tears and slid down to the floor. Logan’s words sounded suspiciously authentic.

“Logan!” Petr rushed to him.“No. You can’t also think—”

“I fucked up and they won’t let me get close to him again. I won’t be able to say my goodbyes, Petr. You have to help me,” Logan begged, as Petr crouched beside him. “You have to help me say goodbye. They won’t let me into his funeral. They won’t let me see him one last time.”

“He can’t be dead for real,” Petr said again, shaking his head, though his voice was sounding unsure now. “Logan, pull yourself together. This has to be a ruse. Leon—”

“I held him in my arms last night when it happened,” Logan sobbed, his voice cracking. “He was hurt so bad, Petr, so bad. The doctor wasn’t able to stop the bleeding, and they took him away. They took him away before I could tell him I loved him.”

“This has to stop,” Leon said, as Petr jerked away from Logan, hands going up to cover his mouth.

Petr’s eyes were wide with shock. Leon could not look at the horror in Petr’s eyes.

“Stop this,” Leon begged. “We need to stop this!”

Leon turned determined to find Petr and stop the pain blooming in his eyes. A strong grip on his right arm halted his progress and Leon turned to find Commander Steele holding him in place.

“You can’t.”

“Get your hands off me,” Leon ordered.

“With all due respect, Your Highness, no,” Commander Steele said, pulling him with considerable strength and guiding him into a chair at the dining table. “Logan is doing this to protect your life. You have to let him.”

“Petr is a brother to me,” Leon said, fighting to get up only to have Commander Steele push him down into the chair, helped by Commander Stevens. “This is cruel. This is a very cruel thing to do to my brother. You have—”

“Take responsibility for it,” Commander Steele ordered. “Your grandmother has had to deal with worse. If you want to end this play, you need to watch it all. Watch it, own it and figure out how to heal it later.”

They gave him no choice, determined to keep the game going.

Leon sat in a chair, forced to watch Logan convince Petr that he was dead without doubt. His heart ripped in two when Petr, the strongest man Leon knew, broke into a harsh sob and stood so still with his hands pressed to his eyes.

“I need to go,” Petr said when he could talk again.“Riku needs me.”

Petr paced the length of the windows in panic.

“Shit, Riku has to go through this. He loves Leon so much. I—what the fuck am I going to tell him? All of them, they’re waiting…I promised them it was not true.”

Leon closed his eyes shaking his head, tears sliding down his cheeks. This was a terrible price to pay for his life.

“I need to get back to them. Logan, I’m so sorry. Leon loved you. You know that, right?” Petr wiped his eyes and looked around the suite looking lost. His shoulders slumped in defeat. “He let no one close in the four years you were apart. You were the one he loved and he would want you to continue. So stay here, don’t do anything stupid and wait for us. We’ll get you in to say goodbye. We’ll get through this together, alright?”

Leon couldn’t watch Petr come apart anymore. He closed the laptop, boiling with anger. Logan’s part in this play was going to be hard to rectify. Petr didn’t take kindly to lies and this lie was going to scar too many people.

Leon cursed under his breath wiping his tears away.

“What’s the next part of the plan?”

“The plan is two-fold,” Commander Steele said, not hesitating with his words. “Her Majesty is also having a meeting at the palace with your extended family. Her secretary, Olivier, has started preparations, enough to convince all involved that your funeral is true. From there, we’ll watch what your uncle, Prince Isaak, does.”

“Why him?” Leon asked, hands in fists. “What don’t I know?”

“Your Highness,” Commander Stevens started.

“What. Don’t. I. Know?” Leon demanded not moving to get up afraid he might run next door and ruin Logan’s plan.

It took Commander Steele another minute before he spoke.

“Your Highness, the rumors you’ve heard about your uncle, Prince Isaak, are real. Her Majesty has clear evidence that he murdered your aunt, Lady Dora. There are more cases but we’ve been unable to prove them so far.”

“No wonder the Royal Diet is involved in investigations,” Commander Stevens said in surprise, making it clear that this was the first time he had heard this too. “They are obligated by Section 15 in the Palace’s Law of Succession.”

Leon bit his lip hard finally understanding his grandmother’s order to enter the palace. He did not have a choice. His bloodline was it: convicted crimes would strike Isaak out of the family registry.

“Yes,” Commander Steele confirmed Stevens’ assumption. “A member of the royal family convicted of a serious crime under the Kingdom’s Law is automatically excluded from the line of succession. The exclusion of Prince Isaak will mean his entire bloodline.”

“Succession would fall to His Highness, Prince Kleopas, making…”

Stevens trailed off, eyes wide in realization. His hand dropped away from Leon’s shoulder. He stepped back from the chair they were using to detain Leon.

“Oh God, I’m sorry, Your Highness,” Commander Stevens said.

Leon rubbed his temple at the simplicity of the two men’s explanation. Why was it so complicated in his head?He felt as though he had to go around a billion curves and edges to reach the same conclusion they were having.

The suite door opened and Logan stumbled in looking thoroughly drunk. Leon got up from the chair, this time no one stopped his progress. He reached Logan first. Gripping arms thick with muscle, Leon shook his lover.

“Why would you devise such a terrible plan?” Leon demanded of Logan. “Did you see Petr’s face? How could you do that to him? Why?”

“I’d go to hell and back to save you,” Logan replied, his words a slur.

“Congratulations, we’re in the depths of that hell now,” Leon said, letting go of Logan, and stepping away from him. “It sounded so simple when you first said it. So simple, I thought it was okay, but it’s not.”

Leon shook his head and turned away from Logan.

“It’s not okay, Logan. Seeing Petr like that—”

“Leon, that look on your face hurts,” Logan said, stumbling to the closest couch. “This wasn’t easy for me. I—I need sleep. Let me close my eyes for a while, and then you can tell me off for hurting your friends when I wake up.”

Leon wiped a hand down his face when Logan stretched out on the couch. Conscious of the two commanders in the dining area, Leon removed Logan’s shoes, and adjusted Logan’s legs on the couch. He placed a cushion under Logan’s head, making sure Logan was comfortable.

Leon knelt on the floor and wiped his palm over Logan’s forehead. There were tearstains on Logan’s cheeks. Leon kissed them, and brushed his lips on Logan’s patted lips. He ran his fingers over the dark stubble on Logan’s chin and sighed as he got up. A gentle grip on his right wrist made him pause.

“It will end soon,” Logan murmured, staring at him through hooded eyes. “This trouble will end and you’ll be back to your place.”

Leon stood still. He had a very strong feeling that he was about to start taking on more than he could handle. Logan let go of his wrist and Leon made sure he was asleep before he returned to the dining room.

“Commander Steele, please brief me on all the information you have on Prince Isaak and all cases tied to the attempts on my life,” Leon said. “Don’t leave anything out.”

***

Hours later, Logan woke up to find Leon sitting on the coffee table and brushing gentle fingers through Logan’s hair. His gray eyes were full of worry. Logan started to sit up, eager to dispel that worry only to have Leon push him back down.

“Rest,” Leon urged. “You still look tired.”

“I feel awake,” Logan said, ready to get up.

“It’s dark out,” Leon said, giving him a ghost of a smile.“You slept the afternoon away.”

Logan yawned and reached up to touch the corner of Leon’s mouth.

“Are we alone?” Logan asked.

“Yes, for now,” Leon said with a short nod. “Steele and Stevens have gone out on a short mission.”

“Anything I should know about?” Logan asked.

Leon started to get up, but Logan stopped him by grabbing his wrist, and holding him in place.

“Are you still angry with me?” he asked, studying Leon’s moody face. “You know we’re doing this to protect you, right?”

Leon shook his head, his gaze on Logan’s hand around his right wrist. bit his bottom lip and Logan caught the sheen of tears in gray eyes, as Leon lowered his head.

Logan sat up, shifting his feet to the floor, so that he sat facing Leon. He reached up and wiped away a rolling tear on Leon’s left cheek.

“What’s wrong?” Logan asked, his heart breaking at the sight of Leon in tears. He brushed his lips on Leon’s left cheek. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

Leon rested his forehead on Logan’s shoulder, taking in a second breath.

“Logan.”

“Mm,” Logan said, wrapping his arms around Leon, offering comfort.

“My family is a mess,” Leon said in a whisper. “The more I learn about them the more I’m afraid that the life I’ve created at Castle Arguro is over. I’m afraid, Logan.”

“There is nothing to worry about,” Logan soothed. “I’m right here with you.”

“Yes, but for how long?” Leon asked, trembling. “This plot is pulling me to the palace and I can’t find an escape. I know what I need to do, but I’m afraid to do it because when it’s over, we might not make it on the other side together.”

Logan tightened his arms around Leon. It was a challenge to love a prince; he dared not imagine what it would be like to love a king. He tried not to think about it.

He held Leon tighter and closed his eyes.

“When we do get to that point, I need you to promise not to leave me like you did at my parents’ funeral,” Leon begged. “I don’t think I can bear that, Logan. Don’t make me live through it again.”

Logan rocked Leon from side to side.

“I promise,” Logan said.

“Mean it,” Leon insisted.

Logan chuckled and bit Leon’s shoulder slightly.

“What makes you think I don’t mean it?” Logan asked. “I won’t lie to you, Leon.”

Leon nodded keeping his forehead on Logan’s shoulder, refusing to move until a knock came on the door.

Leon sighed and pulled away reluctantly.

“Steele and Stevens went to Castle Arguro to arrest Dax, Pierre and Franco, the main garage head,” Leon said, getting up from the coffee table. He ran fingers through his hair when a second knock came on the door. “They are under suspicion. As you said before someone tipped my assassin off. They are probably here to tell us they’re in custody.”

Logan watched Leon head to the door.

Leon looked stressed. It couldn’t be easy having Dax under suspicion.

Logan got up from the couch when Leon opened the door to admit Commander Stevens.

***

“I had no idea His Highness had left the castle,” Dax said, in clear distress. “If I’d known, I might have made arrangements for more security. I don’t know…it wouldn’t have ended the way it did.”

“What would you have done different?” the Officer in Charge asked.

“I, uh…,” Dax trailed off, a tear sliding down his cheek. He dashed it away with his right fist and looked away from the officer. “I don’t know. Called in the emergency services in time, gotten Dr. Joley to His Highness. I don’t know why they didn’t think to call her. Are you looking into that? That’s something to figure out, you know. She might have saved His Highness’s life.”

“Dr. Joley is not under investigation,” the Officer in Charge said. “You are Mr. Dax. You said you ran the castle—”

“I loved His Highness,” Dax cut the officer off with a sharp glare. “I cared for him, why would I ever want to hurt him? Please, you’re wasting your time on me while you could be chasing other leads. My life is an open book, go through it, you’ll see. I spent all my time with Prince Leon. When would I have time to waste?”

Logan read distress from Dax, but not guilt. He relaxed, deciding to watch Leon pace the communications room. Dax had no motive, and his finances were clean.

“It’s not him,” Leon said, before Logan could speak up. “Dax is right. They are wasting time on him. What about Franco?”

“He’s cleared, his alibi checks out,” Stevens said, holding up a sheaf of papers. “Franco has not been at the castle for the last week. You sent him out to find parts for a Volkswagen Beetle. I have the paperwork for his purchases.”

“Right, the restoration of the old car,” Leon agreed with a nod then stopped as he realized they had Pierre left.

“Pierre,” Logan said, remembering Pierre was the only one he’d talked to when he went to find a motorcycle to keep up with Leon. “Shit, it has to be him. Why didn’t I think of him sooner?”

“Why?” Leon asked, his gray eyes turning stormy again. “He’s so young, why would you think that of him? He’s always been very nice to me.”

“Nice or not,” Logan said, moving to the workstation to bring up the screen with Pierre’s interrogation on the overhead. “He’s the only one who knew we left Castle Arguro that day.”

Leon closed his eyes and sank into an office chair.

“His bank accounts look normal,” Stevens said, rifling through printouts. “Wait…he has a grandmother in hospital.”

“Yes, I know. I asked Franco and Dax to allow him a flexible schedule because of that. What does that have to do with anything?” Leon asked, opening his eyes to look at the overhead screen.

Pierre sat behind a steel table, looking nervous, clutching his fingers tight, his thumb rubbing over his nails. He sat facing sideways refusing to meet the Officer-in-Charge’s gaze. They had grabbed him from the Castle Arguro garage, still in his work overalls.

“I need to get back,” Pierre said, staring at his hands. “I need to finish the last project given by His Highness. He would want me to finish it.”

“Get through my questions, and we’ll see if you can get out of here,” the Officer-in-Charge soothed. “How long has your grandmother been in hospital?”

Pierre studied his fingers for a minute.

“Too long,” he murmured after a while. “She’s held up longer than they thought she would. It hasn’t been easy watching her. I visit her as often as I can.”

“It must be hard,” the Officer-in-Charge noted.

Pierre shook his head and looked at the Officer for a second before he returned to studying his fingers.

“We get by,” Pierre said. “Life, you know.”

“I understand,” the Officer-in-Charge said. “Pierre, looking at the statements from the hospital; there are payments that were paid in cash. Can I ask you how you managed it?”

Leon got up from the office chair and moved to take the papers Stevens was reading. Stevens handed them over without protest, and Logan watched Leon read the statements. It took Leon less than a minute to discover the payments the Officer-in-Charge had mentioned.

Leon dropped the papers on the desk next to Stevens and let out an aggravated sigh.

“Why didn’t I know about this?” Leon asked, not expecting an answer. He paced away from Stevens hands at his hips. “I asked Dax to make sure all salaries to staff at Castle Arguro were the best in the market. Pierre’s insurance covers his grandmother’s hospitalization. Why would he accept money from someone else?”

“Leon,” Logan started hoping to soothe.

“We’ve been together for years,” Leon said, the sting of betrayal strong in his words. “I thought he was my friend. I love that kid.”

Logan got up and moved to stand by Leon. He squeezed Leon’s right shoulder, hoping to calm him down as the Officer- in- Charge continued his interview on screen.

“Pierre, where did you get the cash? It’s not part of your income from Castle Arguro. How did you manage it?” the Officer asked.

Pierre bit his lip hard, staring at his hands.

“I need to finish fixing the Bug,” Pierre said, almost in a whisper. “I promised I would. Franco will be waiting for me.”

“The Bug will get done in time,” the Officer- in- Charge said, leaning forward on the table, looking at Pierre with a hard gaze. “Right now, we need to find out who hurt His Highness, Prince Leon. I need you to help us, Pierre. I have this strong feeling that you might know them, that you might have helped them out without realizing. Pierre, will you help us?”

Pierre closed his eyes and tears trailed down his cheeks.

“You know, don’t you?” Pierre asked in a scared whisper. “You know it all, don’t you?”

“I need you to tell me, Pierre,” the Officer- in- Charge soothed. “You liked His Highness, didn’t you?”

“I loved him,” Pierre said, raising his head this time to meet the Officer in Charge’s gaze. “I never wanted him to get hurt. You have to know that.”

“Of course,” the Officer agreed. “So, who paid you the cash for your grandmother, Pierre?”

Pierre bit his bottom lip harder, shaking his leg in agitation. Then he sobbed.

“I never wanted His Highness to get hurt. He asked me to tell him when His Highness leaves the castle. I only needed to text him when His Highness left and in what car. That was all I had to do and he would help me with my grandmother’s bills. It’s not easy, you know, giving up so much for her. I thought it would allow me to save money. It was harmless.”

“Did you text him yesterday?” the Officer- in -Charge asked.

“That Logan came in to get one of His Highness’s precious motorcycles,” Pierre said, bitterness coloring his words. “I maintain those for His Highness alone. I thought…”

Pierre trailed off.

“I—I thought if he knew about His Highness leaving, Logan would lose his job and we would be back to normal. I would be back to driving His Highness around like before. I just can’t believe His Highness is dead,” Pierre finished in a whisper.

“Who is he, Pierre?” the Officer-in-Charge asked, his tone soothing. “Who is this man? He might have hurt His Highness, Pierre, and we need to make him pay. Justice for His Highness, wouldn’t you want that? We’ll catch him and make sure he pays.”

“I didn’t mean to get His Highness hurt,” Pierre said again, tears filling his eyes. “That man said they just wanted to take pictures of His Highness. Why hurt him?”

“That’s what we’ll find out, Pierre,” the Officer-in-Charge said. “You need to help us, Pierre. Can you do that? Can you do that for His Highness?”

Pierre wiped tears away and nodded.

“I’ll do it for His Highness.”

“Good,” the Officer-in-Charge smiled at him. “Now, what can you tell me? How did you get in touch with this man?”

“I first met him at the hospital,” Pierre said, his voice soft. “My grandmother had a bad night and the hospital administration needed to know what I wanted to do. The insurance was covering the bills, but I didn’t know how long that would last because of her age. She’s been diabetic so long, we’ve done the best to manage it, but sometimes…”

Pierre trailed off and stared at the table.

“I wanted my grandmother to stay at home with me, but she was not well enough. The doctor thought I should place her in a nursing home. I didn’t want to hear the doctor’s suggestions, so I stormed off. I was in the cafeteria when a man named Warren came up to me. He told me he could help with the bills, and my grandmother could continue at the hospital. Then when she was better, she could come home with me.”

Pierre smiled.

“She’s my only family. I would do anything for her, so I asked him how he could help.”

“Warren said he knew I worked at Castle Arguro,” Pierre said, his tone shy. “All I needed to do was tell him when His Highness, Prince Leon, leaves the castle. I should tell him what vehicle he was using, and if I knew, where he was going.”

“Didn’t you wonder why?”

“I did,” Pierre said, shaking his head. “I even refused to do it…at first. Then, he told me that he worked for Dailystock.”

“The photo agency?” the Officer-in-Charge asked.

“Yes. They publish exclusive photos of the royals and their lives,” Pierre reasoned. “Warren told me it was a harmless arrangement. He would get exclusive photos of His Highness, and he’d give me a cut for sharing information. I used the money for the hospital.”

The Officer-in-Charge studied Pierre for a moment, and then asked. “How long has this been going on?”

“Six months or so,” Pierre said. “Nothing happened to His Highness in all that time.”

“How do you contact Warren?” the Officer-in-Charge asked.

Pierre sighed.

“He made me memorize the number I send text messages to.”

“Did you ever meet him again?”

“No.”

“Then how did you receive your money?”

“He left me an envelope in my grandmother’s hospital room,” Pierre said. “No one touches her things.”

“Give me the number Warren made you memorize,” the Officer-in-Charge said. “We’ll have to visit the hospital, to see if anyone else has met Warren.”

Logan turned off the volume on Pierre’s interview.

Leon got up from his chair and rubbed his forehead.

“What’s next?” Leon asked.

“They’ll follow up on Warren and the number Pierre’s given. All agencies are on high alert, we’ll have this Warren in the next hour,” Logan said. “His cover with Pierre is convenient. There is no doubt that Warren is involved in the shooting.

“I can’t believe Pierre,” Leon said, shaking his head. “I thought—”

Leon broke off and shrugged.

“I guess I didn’t know him at all,” Leon said after a moment. “That hurts.”

“It’s hard to really know people, Leon,” Logan said, as his phone started ringing. He answered it with a slight frown. “Mason.”

Leon returned to watching Pierre without volume, his shoulders tense. Logan wished he could relieve this betrayal, but it seemed as though more were coming.

“What did you say, Shirley?” Logan asked.

“I said a van dropped off a man at the Capital Police Station ten minutes ago. He’s beat up bad, and the cellphone found in his pocket has a video of him confessing to poisoning David Corentin. There’s more. We have a team heading to a house in the Glades. The same video says that he would meet his contact there.”

“That’s a lot of information flooding in,” Logan said with a frown. “Who owned the van?”

“It was a rental. We found it abandoned in the market, two blocks away from the police station. Do you think they’re on the run so they’re tying off loose ends? Like the man who was shot before Tom could get to him?”

“I doubt it,” Logan said. “Tell me what they find at the Glades. Discover who the man in custody is, and get a name from him, if possible. We’re in a high-level race now, Shirley. Trust only yourself out there.”

“Yes, Sir. I’ll call you when we’ve made progress.”

Logan ended the call and stared at the message notification on his phone. He hadn’t checked his phone since he fell asleep from drinking too much. When he woke up, he’d followed Leon into the communications suite. Touching the message from Petr, a small amused scoff escaped.

’I caught a poisonous snake trying to escape. The only reason he’s alive is to help you make him give up his master.’

“What?” Leon asked, drawing Logan’s attention.

“I’m starting to think I should be more wary of Petr,” Logan said, making Leon walk up to him to keep their conversation private.

“What’s he done?” Leon asked his tone wary.

“He found the man who poisoned David and dropped him off at the police station.” Logan showed Leon the message from Petr. “What do you think he would have done if we didn’t need that bastard alive?”

Leon smiled, leaning up to kiss Logan’s jaw.

“You don’t want to know. Petr is in charge of a company that runs a natural gas pipeline across Europe. He has met it all.”

Logan held Leon’s gaze, keeping it somber.

“We’re halfway through,” Logan guessed.

They had two huge pieces of the puzzle now, more than enough to crack the hidden plot.

Leon nodded, his gaze sliding to Pierre who was crying again, on the screen.

“You’ll have more betrayals by the end of this,” Logan said, hoping to prepare Leon.

“I figured when Commander Steele talked about my uncle Isaak murdering his wife.”

Logan put his phone away and took Leon’s hand, tangling their fingers.

“We’ll get through it together,” Logan stated.

Leon nodded and squeezed Logan’s hand.

****

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