Logan’s team drove him back to Castle Arguro without John who was still out for the gunshot he sustained. It felt surreal to drive through the castle gates in the night. Officers from Royal Navy opened the front door, with no sign of the regular staff.
Leon was glad to be back but the place felt empty. Dax was back at the Capital Palace to assist Olivier. The rest of the staff was on leave until further notice. It left the castle eerily quiet. The upper floors were dark with no warmth.
“SPOC has been running security here,” Logan said, when Shirley and Tom hurried off to talk to the team in the security room by the kitchen. “We have mapped every part of this castle, Leon. I don’t see what door this key could open.”
Leon took the key from Logan.
“The purpose of hidden passageways was secrecy, Logan,” Leon said, taking the right corridor in the opposite direction of the security room. “You can map the floors and doors but if you don’t know the castle, you won’t know they exist.
Leon led the way to the castle’s library. Opening the double doors, he led Logan in and headed straight to the geography section of the extensive collection. The library was full of tall bookshelves.
“My family collects books,” Leon explained when Logan paused to take in the packed shelves. “It’s a disease. My parents would bring back books from their travels. When I was old enough, I joined in. Our collection of books added to those already existing, we have become bona fide collectors.”
“My bookshelf has travel guides bought by my Mom and maybe a magazine or two on fishing, fair warning,” Logan said, as Leon stopped at the corner of the tall bookshelves in the geography section.
“No 33 Strategies of War or The Art of War?” Leon asked, his tone teasing.
“You’re funning me, aren’t you?”
“No. I wouldn’t dare, though if you want to read those you’ll find them in the business section.”
“Art of War is a military book,” Logan pointed out.
“Well, business is a lot like war, my love.”
Leon winked and crouched low on the floor. He ran his thumb over a floor brick by the wall and Logan stepped back when the shelf to his right shifted inward from the wall. A section of the floor slid open to reveal a winded staircase leading down.
“Your castle is full of surprises,” Logan said, hurrying to peek at the staircase. “Where does this lead?”
“This is called serious-sharing-of-the-family-secrets with you,” Leon said, taking the stairs down.
Logan followed him and the floor closed above them.
“What about Shirley and Tom?” Logan asked Leon.
“We’ll have to do without them,” Leon said, hitting the light switch mounted on the wall when he reached the last stair.
Light flooded the small basement under the library that housed artifacts collected by his ancestors. It was his duty to make sure they were in mint-condition, as mint as it got with age anyway. He sometimes granted reasonable requests for display in museums across the world.
“Your family is heavy with history,” Logan noted, stopping before a glass display that sheltered his great-great grand uncle’s armor.
“Your history too,” Leon said, heading for the farthest wall of the basement. “Uncle Michael was a prince and a general in the army. He fought for Aeras, as much as you do in the Royal Navy. He liked to drink too, so I can’t say he was as dedicated, but his heart was in the right place.”
Logan chuckled and touched the nameplate on the glass stand before he followed Leon.
“Where are we going?” Logan asked, catching up with Leon who was staring at the wall with interest. “What does the key open?”
Leon touched the rough wall before him.
“I used to come down here when I was a kid. I liked to play hide and seek with dad. When he found me down here once, he showed me this passageway. It was the first one I discovered…” Leon studied the rocks on the wall. “There is a rhythm to it. You have to start it right.”
Leon reached high above him to press the first stone. It sunk deep into the wall and came back up as fast. Leon came down in a clockwise motion, pressing stones set at three, six, and nine. He grinned when the stone in the middle of the circle he’d made extended out enough for him to grasp it and turn it counter-clockwise.
Taking Logan’s left arm, he stepped back, taking Logan with him. The door swung open to reveal a dark tunnel.
“We’re going to the palace,” Leon said, stepping into the door and pulling a lever on the side to turn on the lights in the tunnel. He handed the key back to Logan. “There is a door at the end of this tunnel. That’s what the key opens.”
“You show me the most interesting things, Leon,” Logan said, following him into the tunnel and closing the door behind him.
The lights sent the shadows away. The rounded walls of the tunnel looked fortified. They started walking deeper into the tunnel.
“How come this is here?”
“It’s an escape route built by Uncle Michael a century ago. They had serious unrest those days, and more than one assassination attempt. Uncle Michael thought building one of this would save him if he could reach the palace. It turns out that it can also save the reigning monarch if they need to escape the palace. With each generation living at Castle Arguro, it’s become tradition to maintain the tunnel.”
“Does your uncle Isaak know about this tunnel?” Logan asked, when Leon came to a stop after a short two minutes when they reached two lumps covered with plastic sheets. Logan pulled one off to reveal two red rail carts, each large enough to carry four people.
“When my dad took over the castle, the tunnel had caved in near the palace,” Leon said, jumping into the driver’s side of the rail cart. “There was no way through.”
The rail cart had a modified engine. He turned the key to start it and pressed on the speed pedal to move it. If he moved his foot from the pedal, then the speed decreased all the way to a stop.
“Let’s go, Logan.”
Logan got in to the passenger seat and watched Leon drive the rail cart.
“Did your dad reconstruct the caved in parts?”
“Yes, although he told my Uncle Isaak he was unable to get it back to the palace. He lied of course. Dad diverted the original tunnel to a different entrance into the palace.” Leon smiled. “It tickled the heck out of him. Sometimes I think that he would have loved joining a secret society.”
“I think you would too,” Logan stated, settling into the ride. “As it is, we’re planning on entering the palace to make sure Queen Amethea is not harmed by your cousin and uncle. We’re using a tunnel you won’t let anyone else use. This is very secret society stuff.”
Leon chuckled and tightened his grip on the steering wheel.
“Thank you Logan, for making it all so easy.”
“I just wish we could ride up into the palace the right way, and show Constantin what’s what.”
“Quiet like this is better,” Leon said. “Better for the family’s future, no one likes a royal family in turmoil. Maggie Veil could be talking shit, Logan. Besides, I want to contain the damage. There is still Gia and her mom.”
“I realize this case can’t stay hidden,” Leon said, sliding his gaze to Logan for a second. “Murder in the royal family is big news. The kingdom will get involved. Politicians, fans, anti-fans will say their piece.”
“You can’t protect them from the trouble that’s coming,” Logan warned. “Princess Gia and her mother will have to face this, Leon. You can’t shield them.”
“I can try,” Leon said, his fingers tightening on the wheel as they raced along the railway.
“You’re such a softie,” Logan said after a minute. “Back at The Glades, you were upset about Gia, saying you can’t forgive her family. Now, you want to protect Gia and her mom from public uproar.”
“What about it?”
Leon glanced at Logan when he remained silent. Leon dropped his right hand on Logan’s left knee, squeezing. Logan looked up, covering Leon’s hand with his.
“Were you very hurt when I left you?” Logan asked.
“Very,” Leon said. “I wanted to hate you but I couldn’t manage it.I just kept missing you.”
Logan held his hand tight.
“You weren’t the only who had it rough these last four years. I wished I could take back my decisions. I wished I stayed with you when you asked on the day of your parents’ funeral.”
“Why didn’t you?” Leon asked, having always wondered. “You never tried to visit me after. I had Dax keep your name on the same list as Gia. You never called. You never showed up.”
“I couldn’t,” Logan said, shaking his head. “Commander Steele pulled me into the case investigating your parents’ car explosion. I went in deep. I had to hide who I was, and couldn’t find you to protect the investigation.”
“You met Petr though,” Leon said, pulling his hand out of Logan’s to steady the wheel.
“He found me about a week after your parents’ funeral. He wrote me a message that said he needed my personal information. He asked me to direct half my paycheck to a bank account he set up. He handled the registration of Monarch Securities. Six months later, I went to visit my mother at our house on the island and he found me there.”
“He was building your personal wealth,” Leon said. “In case you needed to be vetted for important jobs.”
“That’s exactly what he said,” Logan said, with a small smile. “After that, we communicated with phone calls. I met him only when absolutely necessary, Leon.”
“All that time, you could have called me,” Leon said.
“I didn’t know what to say to heal the hurt,” Logan said. "I kept hoping to come back to you with something substantial. Show you that even though I refused to stay when you asked, I came back worthy of you.”
“You’ve always been worthy of me,” Leon murmured.
“Oh, Leon, I needed to be away from you to understand myself.”
Leon glanced at Logan and smiled.
“I’m proud of what you’ve done with Monarch Securities,” Leon said. “I’m proud that people get to call you Lieutenant Commander now. It excites me to know every little thing about you, Logan. I’m sad I didn’t meet your Mom. I’m sad you didn’t get to meet my parents in the way I would have wanted.”
“I love you.”
Leon’s hands dropped away from the wheel, and he shifted to look at Logan in surprise. The rail cart started to slow down, until it came to a full stop.
“I mean it,” Logan said, brushed back hair that had fallen over Leon’s left eye. “Even after four years apart, I’m still thoroughly caught by you, Leon.”
Leon breathed out.
“You said it first,” Leon said, then shifted on the bench, pulling Logan into a needy kiss.
Palms pressed on each side of Logan’s face to hold his head steady. Leon kissed him as if their days ahead were numbered. Pouring all his love into the kiss, his heartbeat danced wild in his chest, he felt lit on fire. Their kiss only came to a stop when Logan’s phone went off echoing in the silent tunnel.
Logan grinned against Leon’s lips when Leon sighed. Brushing a kiss on Leon’s cheek, he reached for his phone.
“Who could be calling you?” Leon asked, moving back to his place. He started to press on the pedal, only to stop when Logan turned the phone to show him the caller ID.
“Petr,” Logan said, glancing at the time. “It’s just after eleven. They were visiting Her Majesty this evening.”
Leon tightened his grip on the steering and jammed his foot on the pedal, making the rail cart move again at a faster speed.
“Answer it,” Leon said, when Logan stared at his ringing phone.
Logan gave him a complicated glance as he brought his phone to his ear. Leon gritted his teeth and focused on checking the markers.
Constantin swallowed down the sting of scotch, and stared at his glass, wondering at the emptiness inside him. His hated cousin was dead. Queen Amethea should have looked to him to fill Leon’s place. Instead, she had invited Leon’s friends to help her mourn.
Constantin reached for the bottle of scotch on the bar counter and poured a fresh glass.
“It won’t be long,” he decided. “She’ll forget them soon, and then she’ll have only me.”
He scoffed and sipped his drink.
Watching them in that greeting room irked him, shaking his head, he wondered why it pissed him off so much. He paced to his desk and turned on his laptop. He needed to pay Maggie Veil before she came after him. Finding someone to get rid of her would be the first thing he did when he was heir.
“When will you stop drinking?” Isaak asked, walking into his study without a knock. His voice grated on Constantin’s nerves.
Constantin always found it hard not to throw the glass he held at his father.
“Drinking keeps you muddled, Constantin.”
“What do you care?” Constantin asked.
“Believe it or not, I care a lot about you,” Isaak said with a sigh.
He walked around the couch in the middle of the room and sat, watching Constantin for a minute. “Now that Leon is gone—”
“Are you sure he’s really gone?” Constantin found himself asking. Tossing back the last of his scotch, he placed the glass he held on his desk and stared at the payment confirmation to Maggie Veil. She had not responded her thanks. “I’m uneasy, Dad.”
“Uneasy is expected,” Isaak said, resting his head back. “You and I haven’t had an easy road up to now. There is a body resting at the morgue at Therem Abbey hospice. The results prove it is Leon. I had it checked.
“Besides, Mom has brought Leon’s friends for dinner tonight. They look as friends should when a loved one is dead. The staff at Castle Arguro is on leave and Dax is helping Olivier with arrangements. He cries every minute he finds a quiet corner. How much more proof do you need?” Isaak asked.
Constantin nodded. His father’s observations were right. No one could fake real grief. Riku had looked devastated. Then there was Dax, he sighed. Not to mention Hansen who had turned into a slobbering fool. He hadn’t realized that Hansen cared so much for Leon.
“You should be relieved,” Isaak concluded. “Mom is going to need you. I can’t shake off the investigation into your mother’s death. Warren said they have a solid witness who is in a highly-secured safe house.”
“Don’t even dream of sending someone there,” Constantin warned. “It will only prove you’re guilty.”
He frowned at the payment confirmation on his screen for a moment longer. He tapped his finger on the desk, stopping when he received a very short message from Maggie Veil’s email saying ‘Thanks’.
Since when did she get so nice?
The nagging feeling returned, tingling down his spine. He couldn’t figure out what was making him so unsure.
“Pull it together, Constantin,” Isaak ordered. “From now on, there will be more eyes on you and what you’re doing. Your grandmother will expect more from you. You can’t have these drinking sessions, and don’t gamble anymore.”
“All you ever give me is a list of what not to do,” Constantin said.
Isaak got up and adjusted his suit jacket as he turned to leave, he said, “It’s served you well, hasn’t it?”
Isaak left as fast as he walked in. Constantin sighed, and closed his laptop. He would try to visit his grandmother again, if only to see her eyes when she looked at him.
“Mason,” Logan answered Petr’s call.
“You sound too put together right now. You must have lied to me,” Petr said in a hushed voice, leaving no room for Logan to explain.“Why? Are you with him? Don’t think of an excuse. Tell me the truth, Logan, or I will make trouble in this palace.”
“I swear on my life that I can’t give you a straight answer,” Logan said, keeping it honest, aware of Leon’s curious glances.
Silence filled the call and for a moment, Logan thought Petr had ended it.
“You’ve sinned, Logan. I’ll have to think on how to get back at you for this,” Petr said after sometime. “You know where we are. What do you need me to do?”
Logan caught Leon’s gaze and winked.
“Have you encountered Prince Constantin?”
“He’s lurking outside the greeting room. I think he’s waiting for us to leave,” Petr said. “Why?”
Logan shifted on his seat.
“Ask Her Majesty who she thinks will take on the throne,” Logan suggested.
“Just that?” Petr asked, puzzled.
“It will be plenty,” Logan said, thinking that poking the bee’s nest would get them a result, or reaction. Leon pressed down on the gas pedal, increasing their speed on the rail cart.
“You and I will need to talk after this,” Petr warned.
Logan imagined that talk would not be pleasant.
“I’ll look forward to it,” Logan promised.
Petr ended the call and Logan let out a sigh.
“Did he discover you?”
“I don’t know how,” Logan said, shaking his head.
Leon started to slow down the rail cart when they passed an orange sign. He cut down their speed until they were almost at a crawl. They came to a stop at the end of the rail tracks right in front of a red sign. Leon cut the engine and jumped out of the rail car, removing the jacket he wore. He dropped it on his seat and adjusted his black t-shirt.
Logan didn’t mention the glasses Leon neglected, and instead reached for his weapon from its holster. He sent a message to Shirley, asking her to head to the palace with Tom, and followed Leon along the cobbled path to a steep staircase. The steep staircase led them up to a platform high above the tunnel.
“Your key goes here,” Leon said, stopping before a solid steel gate. “I admit to using it at least twice a year when I don’t want people to know I visit grandmother. I left it with her the last time because she tried to keep me here by force.”
Logan put the key into the lock and turned it. The gate swung open in silence to reveal a second carved wood door.
“Where will this open?” Logan asked, checking his gun to make sure he had bullets.
“Grandmother’s private study in her personal residence, we’ll be behind a bookshelf,” Leon said.
Logan nodded and Leon pressed his thumb onto the handle on the door. The wooden door slid to the side and Logan pulled Leon behind him. enough, they were behind a bookshelf. Logan stepped in to the room first, and moved to check the room. Leon coming up behind him hand on Logan’s back.
Logan breathed relief when he found the room empty.
“We should find Granny,” Leon said, coming around him heading for the door.
Petr put his phone away and returned to Riku’s side, taking Riku’s hand he squeezed tight. Riku returned the squeeze.
“Your Majesty,” Petr decided to test the extent of the lie Logan had told him. “We have not gotten a date for the funeral. When will it be?”
Amethea paused, clasping her hands tight on her lap. She bit her bottom lip and glanced at him for a millisecond before she answered.
“We have not come up with a solid date. There is an ongoing investigation on the attack. We also need so many people in attendance so the logistics are—,” Amethea broke off with a sigh.
“Olivier will let you know when we have the date,” she concluded.
Petr decided that Her Majesty, Queen Amethea, would make a perfect actor. He caught no hint of deceit in her words. So, he decided to ask Logan’s question.
“Who will take over the throne?” Petr asked, gaining a censoring glance from Riku and Anselm.
“You’re the second person to ask me this,” Amethea said, then smiled as she met Petr’s challenging gaze. “To be honest, I don’t know. As you know, Prince Isaak is under investigation. He might be charged with murder, he might not. Whatever the outcome, I might have to rely on Princess Gia in the future.”
“What about Prince Constantin?” Petr pushed.
“We shall see,” Amethea shrugged. “Now, I’m tired. It has been a long day. I’m sure you wish to head home as well. David, I hope you’re feeling better. You were recently in hospital.”
“I’m doing well, Your Majesty,” David said, standing up because Amethea did, signaling the end of their visit.
“Good, take care of your health. Leon would want that for you. When you’re better, bring Miss Sadie to visit me.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” David said.
“Petr, Riku,” Amethea took their clasped hands. “Life is incredibly short. Remember that.”
Petr glanced at Riku, noting the sheen of tears in Riku’s eyes. He shifted so that Riku could hide and wipe his eyes.
Amethea moved to Paul and Anselm.
“Anselm, I’ll have Leon’s horses moved to the palace horse ranch. We’ll make sure they get the best care,” Amethea said. “Paul, when it is summer next year, I hope you can invite me to your home in Ireland. Leon spoke of a beach he used to ride one of your horses. I might try it.”
“You’re welcome to visit, Your Majesty,” Paul said, taking her hand when she offered and brushing a kiss on the back it.
“Thank you for a lovely evening,” Amethea said, taking a step back. She left the room a minute later and Petr pulled Riku into a tight hug and hoped for good luck.
Amethea removed her gloves and dropped them on a chair when she entered her private suite. She hadn’t lied to Leon’s friends. She was exhausted. A glance at her watch told her it was almost midnight. She had pushed it today.
The door opened behind her.
“Grace, do you think I could soak in a hot bath for fifteen minutes. I think that will help me sleep,” she said as she slipped out of her shoes.
Barefoot, she turned and gasped when she found Constantin leaning on her door.
“What are you doing in here?” Amethea demanded when she could talk again. She walked back; making sure a couch separated her from Constantin. “I’m tired, Constantin. If there is a matter you wish to discuss, why don’t we talk about it tomorrow?”
“Why do you hate me?” Constantin asked, not moving.
“What an absurd question.”
Amethea placed a hand on the couch and cursed the fact that she had left her cell phone with Olivier. She had wanted to make Leon’s picture from Petr her background, and Olivier was more adept at those things.
She had thought to take back her phone in the morning…
Constantin looked drunk. It made her wary.
“I’ve always wondered why you’ve never liked me,” Constantin continued as though she had not spoken. “I saw you laughing with Leon’s friends tonight. It occurred to me that you’ve never shown that kind of interest in me, or what I like.”
“Constantin, if you want me to meet your friends, all you have to do is bring them to the palace,” Amethea said. “You’re my grandson. I care about you, same as Leon.”
“No!” Constantin all but shouted. “Not the same. Never the same. You loved him more.”
Amethea took in a breath wondering how she could have missed this kind of anger. Constantin was a problem child, but she still cared for him. She worked to protect him, as much as she did for Gia and even Isaak.
“I want the throne, instead of Gia,” Constantin said, shocking her. “Prove you love me by making me Crown Prince.”
“That is not how we make decisions,” Amethea scoffed. “Constantin, have you learned nothing in this palace?”
“I’ve learned plenty,” Constantin moved away from the door, taking two steps forward. “I’ve learned that you have to take what you want. If you don’t, then you’re left behind, with no one to pay attention to you.”
“That’s not true,” Amethea said, taking two steps back. She had an emergency button mounted near her bed. If she could get to it, then Olivier would come in with help.She didn’t like the look in Constantin’s eyes.“Why don’t you go to bed, and we can discuss this tomorrow?Constantin, I promise to sit with you all morning—”
“Tomorrow will be too late,” Constantin insisted. “You need to make your decision tonight.”
“I don’t actually,” Amethea frowned.
She reached up to remove her pearl necklace and started to turn, as casual as possible. She wanted to walk over to the bed and place it on her bedside table. Then she could press the panic button.
The door opened behind Constantin and she turned to see Grace, her personal attendant, standing at the entrance with a stack of fresh towels. Grace’s eyes went wide when she saw Constantin.
Amethea screamed, dropping her pearl necklace, when Constantin turned and shot Grace in the stomach. Frozen in place, she stared at Grace who was doubled over the towel she held pressed to her middle.
“Your-Your M-majesty,” Grace said, before she fell to the floor on her knees.
“Have you gone mad?” Amethea shouted at Constantin, rushing to Grace, only to gasp when Constantin gripped her left arm tight.
“I’ve run out of patience,” Constantin gritted out, a mad look in his eyes. “You and I have matters to finish. We can’t have witnesses.”
Constantin dragged her back and started to point his gun at Grace. Amethea tried to push him away, but he was too strong for her. He twisted her left arm, making her cry out. One second she was sure Constantin would shoot Grace again, the next the gun was pressed against her right temple.
“Constantin!” Leon yelled.
Amethea stared at him with tear-filled eyes.
Constantin scoffed, taking a step back, his left arm wrapping around Amethea. He pressed the gun he held on Amethea’s neck, making her wince. He dragged her along as he worked to make space between him and Leon.
“I should have known.” Constantin cursed under his breath, his grip on her tightening. “It was too easy. Too neat, too…I’ll give you points for fooling me, cousin. Well done. It’s now obvious than ever that she always loved you more.”
“You’re overthinking the situation,” Leon said, raising his hands. “Let go of Granny, Constantin and let’s talk this over like adults. Don’t hurt her.”
“I don’t want to hurt her. I didn’t want to hurt you either, but she pushed me to it. Crawling around in the muck to end you was not pleasant. I even had to befriend your ex-lover,” Constantin said, his expression one of disgust.
“Hansen?” Leon asked in shock.
Constantin chuckled, his arm tightening around Amethea.
“Who would have thought that whore would be the one to warn me?” Constantin mused. “If he hadn’t called to tell me that Maggie was arrested, how would I be here fighting for what’s mine? What do you think you can do now, Prince Leon? Huh?”
“Constantin,” Leon said, working to keep his voice stable.
Behind him, Logan trained his gun on Constantin, closely shadowing Leon. He was ready to pull Leon back in case of trouble. Amethea met Leon’s gaze, and she tried to give him a nod of assurance. He had lived through worse. They would make it through this.
Leon took a step closer to Constantin.
“First, let go of Granny, Constantin. She’s not as strong as she used to be, you know that,” Leon said, keeping his tone conversational.
He was trying to reason with a mad man holding a gun to her head. Amethea closed her eyes as she felt Constantin tremble.
“I’m here,” Leon said, pressing his hands to his chest. “You’re very angry with me. I can take it. Yell at me, scream at me, I’ll even let you shoot me if you want.”
“Fuck no,” Logan hissed beside Leon, making Amethea smile.
“Just let go of Granny. At least stop pressing a gun to her head,” Leon said, ignoring Logan’s protest. “Come on, Constantin.”
“Did you know?” Constantin asked, cocking his head to the side.
Leon stared at Amethea, worry growing in his eyes. Amethea tried to smile for him.
“Know what?” Leon asked, biting his lip, he was scared and holding it in.
“That, I’m illegitimate? That, Grandmother has a witness who says my father poisoned my mother? That, she planned on making your father, King of Aeras?”
“No. I did not know,” Leon said. “I can honestly tell you I didn’t know any of that.”
“You must have,” Constantin said, narrowing his gaze. “She trusts you more than she does me and Gia. She must have told you.”
“I’ve spent the past four years at Castle Arguro playing,” Leon said, with a forced chuckle. “Ask Gia, she visited me often. Do you think I have time to care about what’s happening in the palace?”
Constantin scoffed at Leon’s explanation.
“Are you saying you don’t want to be King?”
“No.” Leon answered. “I don’t.”
Constantin’s hold on Amethea loosened and she breathed easier. He moved the gun away from her neck and used it to scratch his temple. She took in a deeper breath and managed to fill her nose with the scent of liquor. She knew Constantin’s habits, knew his drinking led to drugs, or gambling. She wondered what he’d taken tonight. She hoped nothing that told him to shoot Leon. She couldn’t bear that.
“Bullshit,” Constantin told Leon. “If Granny offered, you’d take it.”
“I have offered,” Amethea confessed, making Constantin hiss. “Four years ago, I offered it to him and he walked away, to my frustration.”
Constantin let go of her and Leon reached for her pulling her into his arms.
Leon moved Amethea behind him and faced Constantin.
“Why didn’t you take it?” Constantin demanded, pointing the gun at Leon.
“Constantin, why would I when you and Gia are present? If you had waited, I would have talked to her.”
“There she is, standing behind you,” Constantin said. “Why don’t you convince her to take your advice and make me Crown Prince then?”
“Will this end if I do that?” Leon asked, patting Amethea’s hand when she bunched his t-shirt at his waist. “Will it, Constantin?”
“Of course,” Constantin grinned, like a mad man. “It will be like it never happened. Will you talk to her? She likes you most, Leon. She’ll listen.”
“I will,” Leon promised. “Just put the gun down and we can discuss this clearly.”
“No!” Constantin holding the gun steady, aiming at Leon. “You’re supposed to be dead. I could always shoot you. That would solve everything.”
Leon lifted his hands again, while Logan took a step forward obstructing Constantin. Amethea saw Leon’s hands start shaking. Her grandson worried for her, but most of all for Logan.
“Okay, okay,” Leon said to Constantin from behind Logan. “Okay, we’ll talk this out here. Why do you want me dead so much, Constantin? Will you tell me that?”
Constantin lowered his gun and rubbed his left eye with his free hand.
“I’ve never liked you,” Constantin said. “You always get everything without working for it.”
Leon dropped his hands to his sides.
“That’s not true,” Leon said, shocked.
“It is,” Constantin said. “Look at you; even now those two are terrified that I’ll shoot you. Grandmother loves you most. Your parents loved you too. They talked about you, showed off your pictures, it was annoying to watch.”
Leon held on to Logan’s left arm seeking comfort, Amethea guessed.
“Is that why you killed them?” Leon asked, his voice hoarse.
“I didn’t murder your parents,” Constantin said, with a soft scoff. “My dad planned that attack. I discovered the people he hired by mistake. He made it possible to try it on you when it looked as though grandmother would make you king.”
Leon’s hold on Logan tightened.
“I heard her talking to Olivier. She wanted him to arrange for your moving into the palace. Since when does your side of the family live with us? Then she said you would make a very interesting king and that was it.” Constantin scoffed. “You have no right to the crown. You have no idea what it was like growing up in here—”
“I would have given you the crown had you come to me and asked,” Leon cut him off. “I really would have, Constantin. Gia came to talk to me all the time. I—”
“Shut up!” Constantin shouted, holding the gun with both hands. “Just shut up, you’re lying to me.”
“Leon, don’t,” Logan said. “You’re agitating him.”
“All of you shut up,” Constantin said, shaking his head, his hands trembling. “This is not how this was supposed to end. You ruined everything, Leon. You ruin everything! If you hadn’t walked in here, I would have already convinced Grandmother. You should just die!”
Logan moved fast, pushing Leon back, making him stumble back into Amethea. She fell on her back with Leon on top of her. She couldn’t help the muffled scream when the sound of two gunshots filled the room.
Fear gripped Amethea when a soft pain-filled cry filled the room as she struggled up with her heart in her throat. Leon shifted and she reached for him, checking to make sure he was fine. Relief flooded her when she noticed no visible injuries. Leon escaped her concern, his gaze on Logan who was crouched near Constantin.
“Oh God, no,” Leon hurried to Logan.
Amethea followed him, not ready to watch her grandson in grief once again. Relief flooded her when Leon sighed in relief, as he gripped Logan’s left arm, checking on him.
Constantin moaned a few feet away, clutching his thigh, his gun already in Logan’s possession. Amethea sighed, as she watched her grandson writhe in pain on her carpet.
The soft pain-filled cry came again and Amethea stood, and they all turned to the door.
Gia leaned on the couch behind them, her hand pressed to her stomach, her expression one of shock.
“Gia!” Leon shouted.
Leon got up and raced to her side supporting her as she lost her balance. Logan followed, helping Leon lay Gia on the floor. Logan removed the jacket he wore and folded it to place it under Gia’s head. Leon stroked fingers over Gia’s cheek, tears filling his eyes.
“How?” he asked. “You—?Why?”
Officers from the Royal Navy were already flooding Amethea’s bedroom, Commander Steele taking charge of Constantin. Amethea gave him a short nod and moved to kneel next to Leon by Gia’s side.
“I came in to check on grandmother,” Gia managed, her voice filled with pain. “I w-wanted to—to talk to her about you, Leon. I can’t believe you’re alive.”
“Oh, Gia,” Leon sighed, watching Logan undo her blouse to check on her wound. “Don’t talk anymore. get you fixed up and we can talk when you’re feeling better.”
“I’m sorry,” Gia said, hissing with pain, tears filling her eyes, her gaze on Leon. “I thought it was Granny he was after. I never imagined it could be you, Leon. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s all fine now. You’ll be fine,” Leon soothed, brushing her tears away with his fingers.
“You’re the best of us,” Gia murmured, meeting Amethea’s gaze. She tried to smile. I’m sorry, Granny.”
Amethea took Gia’s hand and held on tight as the royal paramedics came in, getting to work on saving Gia.
The next five hours turned into a whirlwind, a blur of activity. Leon moved with Logan’s direction, following the paramedics who took Gia and Constantin to the hospital for surgery. Logan dealt with palace security investigators, who descended on the private hospital ward with vengeance. Amethea sat with Leon through two surgeries. Constantin’s was minor, but Gia’s was involved.
“Constantin shot her when I pushed his arm up trying to disarm him,” Logan explained at some point. “I didn’t think there was anyone else in the room. She rushed in so fast. I’m so sorry.”
“You did the best you could under the circumstances,” Amethea said, smiling at Logan. “Don’t beat yourself up, Lt. Commander.”
Logan nodded, getting up from his crouch by her chair.
“I need to give a full statement to complete Constantin’s arrest,” Logan said. "I’ll be back soon, Leon.”
Leon reached for Logan’s left hand and held it tight, his fingers squeezing strong ones. He met Logan’s gaze, hoping to remind him not to escape after this.
“I’ll see you very soon,” Leon said, leaning to brush a kiss on the top of his head. “Don’t worry.”
Leon nodded and let go of Logan’s hand with a sigh. When Logan had walked to the elevators, Amethea took Leon’s hand.
“Your Logan is a good man,” she said, then kept silent as they waited for Gia’s surgery to end.
Gia’s surgery lasted an hour more, and when she came out of surgery, she was out like a light but out of danger. Leon and Amethea left the room when Gia’s mother, Erika, came in to sit by her daughter’s side.
“Constantin and Isaak are under arrest,” Commander Steele reported, at around five forty-five in the morning. They were in a private waiting room at the hospital.
“Maggie Veil has provided a taped conversation of her and Prince Isaak planning the assassination of Prince Kleopas and his wife, Princess Anastasia. She says she’ll provide more evidence against Constantin, if she’s not taken to Yongi Maximum Prison.”
“Constantin had accounting records at his residence,” Commander Stevens reported, his gaze on Leon who sat staring out the windows of the waiting room. “We found bank statements of an offshore account. He probably kept them to protect himself against Maggie Veil.”
It was early morning, barely six yet and the sky was gray. Leon had not slept. His grandmother paced the length of the room, her hands folded against her chest. This matter would require finesse if they were to avoid public uproar.
“What do you think pushed Constantin over last night?” Amethea asked, pausing to look at both Commanders.
“His phone records showed a phone call from a Hansen right before he came up to your suite,” Commander Steele said.
Leon turned then to look at Commander Steele. He remembered Constantin mentioning Hansen last night too. He hated to imagine what Hansen would have done had he been closer.
“We caught Hansen trying to take a train to France. He confessed that he was a contingency plan in case the attack at Sheep Hill failed,” Commander Steele said, facing Leon. “He was to poison Your Highness when you two met for drinks.”
Leon closed his eyes, somehow hurt by that information. He had liked Hansen too, enough to introduce him to David.
“We are cleaning up the ranks, as Isaak had his people, so did Constantin,” Commander Steele said. “I don’t think we can keep the press at bay much longer. Two princes are under arrest, one is said to be dead, and the princess is in hospital.”
“In other words, the royal house is a mess,” Amethea said, coming to a stop in front of the two commanders. She stood still for a while, in deep thought.
When she spoke again, it was to Leon.
“I need your decision now. The Kingdom needs a sense of stability. Once this news hits the press, we’re going to need to show unity. I can’t do that without an heir.”
“What about Princess Gia?” Leon asked, unable to forget the sight of her on the floor bleeding from a gunshot.
“She is no longer eligible,” Amethea stated, letting him know she was talking as queen. “The Crown needs you now. You’ll lead the family and the kingdom, Leon.”
Leon wiped a hand down his face; he moved closer to the windows showing off the waking city.
“Give us a minute,” Amethea told the commanders. They left the room and she came to stand next to him. “You’re not giving up much, Leon.”
“Castle Arguro is my home,” Leon said, his voice heavy with sadness. “All the memories I have of my parents are tied to the castle. What would Dad say if he saw me now?”
“He would be proud of you, same as me, and more,” Amethea said. “It is true that Kleopas wanted to try and save Isaak’s place when I first called him to meet me. He worked with Commander Steele investigating Lady Dora’s death. The evidence was old but it proved the witness right. Kleopas had Lady Dora’s body exhumed and tested. The results were foolproof, and enough for the royal household officers to make a decision. The day your parents died, Kleopas and Anastasia had come in to start the process of investiture. They promised to talk to you after your trip. They didn’t want to interrupt your fun.”
Leon turned to face his grandmother.
“I was too excited and didn’t think Isaak would retaliate with his misdeeds exposed,” Amethea confessed her shoulders tense. “I was wrong to think he would stop, and have always blamed myself for your parents’ deaths, Leon. I should have been more careful with them. I’m sorry.”
“Are you telling me this to make me accept the inevitable without fuss?” Leon asked, his gaze hard.
Amethea smiled and walked back to the chair she had been using before the Commanders walked in. She picked up a black folder Olivier had brought with him earlier. Leon had assumed it was authorization letters for surgery and after care. Amethea held the folder up for Leon to see the royal insignia on the face of it.
“I’m telling you this because it is what your father agreed to,” Amethea said. “You’re his heir, so his duties fall to you.”
Leon moved to the take the folder of documents, and opened it to find documents of next of kin and his father’s signature at the bottom. Leon touched his father’s name with reverence.
“Why would he not tell me?” Leon asked.
“I tried to make them tell you, but your mother fought me on it. They really wanted you to have a peaceful trip,” Amethea said, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Leon, I’m tired. This investigation hasn’t been easy for me. Seeing my family in turmoil, losing your father, and watching you close yourself off has been grueling. I need your help. It would be nice if you agreed without fuss after what we’ve both been through this night.”
Leon glanced sideways at her, and laughed when he found her watching him with expectant eyes. He ran an anxious hand through his hair.
“I suppose I have no choice but to help my grandmother,” Leon said. "Can I still stay at Castle Arguro? There is no more danger to me now. I’ll stay until I have to take the throne.”
“Why can’t I get you to leave Castle Arguro?” Amethea asked, he frowned and she groaned. “I’ve wanted to have you around the palace forever. I thought having you in danger would push you into the palace—,”
“I’ll take on all my responsibilities as crown prince right away,” Leon promised. “I will not turn anything away, Granny. Please, let me stay at Castle Arguro.”
“Promise to visit me often, and let me visit you,” Amethea said.
Leon started to mock protest only to have Amethea reach up and pinch his right ear. He chuckled and leaned into her touch to make sure the pinch didn’t turn painful.
“If you don’t agree to this, you might not get to keep Lieutenant Commander Logan Mason.”
“That’s cruel and unusual punishment,” Leon complained.
“I agree because I like him very much,” Amethea said.
“He said he loved me,” Leon said with a wide smile.
“That’s very good,” Amethea nodded, letting go of his ear. “He’ll need to be smitten with you to ignore the coming invasion into his life.”
Leon closed the folder with finality.
“Give me time before you make announcements,” Leon said, scratching his jaw. “I need to talk to my friends first. I’ve done the worst to them.”
“I’ll help you however I can,” Amethea said. “I can also take the blame for the order. After all, I gave the consent…”
Leon kissed her cheek.
“I’ll handle it, Granny.”
“Okay,” Amethea sighed and glanced at the door. “Time to face those two, do you think they ever smile?”
“They do, but not near you.”
Leon chuckled when Amethea made a fish face at him and he hurried to call back the two Commanders into the room.
“As we’ve always planned, Commander Steele, submit all evidence to the relevant offices. Follow the law to the letter, with no exception. Please have both princes tried according to the kingdom’s rules of law,” Amethea said. “Work with the palace on all related statements to both their cases. Olivier will handle statements on the royal family, as the day progresses.”
Commander Steele and Commander Stevens saluted, accepting their orders.
“On a more personal note, I want to thank both of you for your support and for protecting Leon to the best of your ability,” Amethea said, as Leon faced the commanders too. “He is now my heir.”
“Thank you for keeping me safe,” Leon said. “I look forward to working with you.”
“It is our duty, Your Highness,” Commander Steele said. Then he smiled and gave Leon a slight bow. “I should say, Your Royal Highness.”
Amethea dismissed them soon after and Leon stretched his arms above his head with a tired yawn. He dropped his arms and faced Amethea.
“I would like to request your permission to marry Logan Mason,” Leon said, meeting his grandmother’s gaze. “I ask that you seek approval from the government. You once said it would not be an issue.”
“It’s not an issue. I’ve made preparations for your request a longtime. I would like to meet Lt. Commander Mason though,” Amethea said with a smile. “In a more…amiable setting.”
“As my grandmother or as Queen of Aeras?” Leon asked.
“As both,” Amethea said. “Now go and sort your friends, the palace press releases move like clockwork. I give you an hour before news breaks.”
“What about Gia?”
“We’ll let you know when she’s awake,” Amethea promised. “Go on, I need to have a talk with Erika now and I’d like you to miss it.”
Leon smiled, and moved to kiss her cheek.
“I love you, Granny.”
Amethea accepted his kisses on her cheeks and squeezed his right arm.
“I love you too, Leon.”
Leon rushed out of Amethea’s makeshift office at top speed, leaving her chuckling. He ran into Dax in the corridor outside the waiting room. Dax stood from the bench in shock, his eyes filling with tears as he stared at Leon.
Leon slowed down and came to a stop right before Dax.
Reaching for the neat kerchief in the breast pocket of Dax’s neat black suit, Leon used it to wipe Dax’s eyes before the tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Your Highness,” Dax managed, swallowing hard.
“I’m sorry for scaring you so badly,” Leon said, pressing the kerchief into Dax’s hand. “I’m back now, hopefully for a very long time.”
“It is very good to see you again, Leon,” Dax said, and gasped when Leon pulled him into light hug. “Thank you for coming back alive.”