The Prince & His Royal Guard

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Chapter 17

17

Logan returned to the hospital after he finished with the police. Shirley drove him. She wanted to see John after their visit with Leon’s grandmother.

Shirley parked and they went upstairs to meet the Queen and Leon.

Logan was surprised to find that Leon had already left the private waiting room.

Queen Amethea sat on one of the chairs with Olivier answering calls, as he paced behind her. There were three assistants from the palace camped at a table by the windows. Each of them worked on laptops, their focus unshakeable.

“Lieutenant Commander Mason,” Amethea said, getting up when she saw them. “Shirley, come in.”

Shirley greeted Amethea with a wide smile.

“Shirley, you grow more beautiful each time I see you,” Amethea said, holding her hand.“Your father is very proud of you.”

“I’m proud to serve, Your Majesty,” Shirley said.

“Thank you for protecting my grandson,” Amethea said, patting Shirley’s hand. “I owe your family a great debt.”

“It’s our duty, Your Majesty,” Shirley said.

Amethea nodded and turned to Logan.

“I would speak with you alone, Lt. Commander. Will you walk with me?” Amethea asked, letting go of Shirley’s hand. She picked up a bouquet of wild flowers resting on the chair near the one she vacated.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Logan said, stepping aside to indicate she lead the way.

Amethea led the way out of the waiting room, and started a slow walk down the bright hospital hallway. Logan kept pace with her, matching his steps to hers, as she insisted.

“Today is going to be filled with ups and downs for my family,” Amethea said, hugging the flowers she held. “It’s not easy for me to have reached this point. I thought I had it all under control, but it turns out only fate can decide that. We were lucky to have you in the room, Logan. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Leon too.”

Logan swallowed hard, wanting to let her know that he too had the same thoughts. Leon was more important to him than he dared voice.

“You may speak freely, Lt. Commander,” Amethea said, stopping to face him. “Leon has chosen you. May I call you Logan?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Logan said, surprised.

Amethea smiled and touched his left arm with her right.

“I wish you’d look at me as the grandmother of the man you love. That would please me.”

Logan flashed her a short grin.

“Yes, Ma’am, I’d be glad to do that.”

“Do I make you nervous?” Amethea asked, narrowing her gaze at him.

Logan shook his head, unsure what to say.

“You keep calling Ma’am,” Amethea said. “You and Leon are kissing partners. I think we should be past the Ma’am now.”

“I’m not sure how to address you yet,” Logan said, being honest.

“Granny?” Amethea suggested, winking when his eyes went wide with a surprise. “Leon says it so easily, is it that hard for you?”

“Technically, I’m still under your command. It would be—”

“Leon is also under my command, that doesn’t seem to stop him,” Amethea said.

Logan bit his bottom lip hard wondering if he could get the word Granny out of his mouth to address the Queen.

“Um…”

“Amethea,” she suggested, with a knowing smile. “You may call me by my name, or I will be very upset, Logan Mason.”

Logan winced, as she started her walk again and he followed when she turned to make sure he kept up.

“Leon said you love him,” Amethea said.

“I do,” Logan said, with no sense of hesitation. “Very much, Your Majesty.”

Amethea leveled a glance at him for the title, and continued walking.

“He is Heir Apparent now,” Amethea stated. “In a few weeks, after this mess is handled, we shall invest him as Crown Prince of Aeras. He will then have permission to establish his household. The Marshal of Court will call it the Crown Prince Household.”

“I understand, Your Majesty,” Logan said, his tone quiet.

“Loving one such as him will mean you lose much of your personal privacy,” Amethea said. “Your personal life will suffer great injustices. There will be unreasonable expectations of you. Some you will handle, others will make you angry, others you will have no control. There will be sacrifices but also great gain, Logan. I would ask you to take time and understand the implications of the position you’ll have beside my grandson.”

Logan remembered David once telling him the same thing, in a roundabout way, something about taking a full step into the circle.

“Leon hurried to Castle Arguro,” Amethea said, as Logan realized that she was actually heading to a hospital room on the same floor as Princess Gia. “He wanted to meet his friends first before news reports start at around nine a.m.”

They stopped at the door into Room 1503.

“I have his phone,” Logan said, reaching into his pocket to get Leon’s phone. The screen was locked and only Leon could unlock it. There was a message alert that he couldn’t read. He should have given it back after Gia got to the hospital.

The threat was neutralized, Logan thought, his assignment as Leon’s security detail was complete.

“No need to call then, just head over to Castle Arguro. Logan, will you think about what I’ve said?” Amethea asked.

“I will, Your Majesty,” Logan said, with a nod. “I have one question, will you allow it?”

“Yes.”

“Would you choose me if I wasn’t in a relationship with Leon?” Logan asked.

Amethea studied him for a moment before she answered.

“The family does have rules that govern all of us, of which I’m sure you know. However, I promised Leon’s father never to interfere with Leon’s choices, no matter what they are and I always keep my promises to family.”Amethea smiled then. “Marriage and partnership will only work if you like the person you do it with. So my answer is: I would choose whomever Leon wanted to keep.”

Logan nodded and she reached up and caressed his right jaw.

“There is nothing to it when you love, Logan. Go find him. He’ll probably need your support most from now on. I’ll stay here and handle the ones in the hospital.”

Logan opened the door into the hospital room for her, stepping aside to let her in. She sent him off with a small nod and he closed the door, staring at Leon’s phone. He decided then that he would head to Castle Arguro as Logan Mason, and not the Royal Navy’s Lieutenant Commander.

****

In room 1503, Amethea stared at the single bed in the middle of the room. Beyond the bed, there were flowers and cards on the table set by the windows.

The woman lying in the bed had monitors hooked up to track her vitals. A nurse arranged her blankets and made sure the IV worked right. The woman on the bed turned her head to the door and smiled when she saw her.

“Grace,” Amethea said, hurrying to the bed. She held up the bouquet of flowers. “They mixed them up like you prefer. Do you like them?”

Grace nodded, tears filling her eyes.

The nurse took the flowers from Amethea who took a tissue from the box on the side table and used it to wipe away Grace’s tears.

“Shh…,” Amethea soothed. “I’ve talked to your doctor and he says you’re doing well. Don’t worry about anything. I’ll handle it all. It’s my turn to take care of you.”

Grace nodded.

“Your Majesty,” she said, her voice rough.

“I came in to check on you, and sit with you a while,” Amethea said, moving the visitor’s chair closer to the bed so that she could sit and hold Grace’s hand.

“Princess Gia?” Grace asked, a frown dancing on her forehead.

“She’s out of danger and resting. Her mother is with her,” Amethea said, squeezing Grace’s right hand. “We were lucky.”

“That’s good,” Grace said with a small sigh. She closed her eyes, tired. “I’m glad to know it turned out okay. It makes me wish my daughter was here.”

Amethea patted her hand gently.

“I called your daughter, Grace,” Amethea said, and smiled when Grace opened her eyes to look at her. “Olivier is arranging her pickup from the airport. She’ll be here in no time at all.”

“Oh, what about her job at the embassy in Sweden?” Grace worried.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” Amethea soothed. “Olivier handled it all, and she got her leave from work. She’ll stay with you until you get better. You just need to worry about fighting through this, Grace.”

Grace let out a relieved sigh, and nodded, a tear sliding into her hair. Amethea pressed a tissue there, soaking it up.It ate at her that her grandson had brought this much pain to someone who didn’t deserve it. She wished she had stopped him in some way. She wished she had seen it coming and healed Constantin’s anger.

“It’s not your fault,” Grace murmured, and Amethea looked up to find Grace watching her. “It was his choice. His own decision, don’t think it’s your fault.”

Amethea sighed and squeezed Grace’s hand. She sat by Grace’s side until she closed her eyes in sleep. Only then, did she wake up and go out to deal with the outside world and the hard questions they would ask about her family.

****

Leon entered his mother’s favorite sunroom; stopping at the entrance to stare at his five friends all perched on various chairs in the large room. It took them a minute to notice him, but when they did, Riku reacted first.

In less than a second, Riku wrapped him in a tight hug, so tight he worried he would be unable to breathe. Leon held on to Riku who buried his face into his shoulder and rocked him from his side.

“I’m sorry.” Leon told Riku.“I’m so sorry.”

Riku couldn’t talk. He kept his face buried in Leon’s shoulder, so Leon kept holding him. Knowing that it would take Riku a minute, Anselm walked over and kissed Leon’s cheeks in greeting.

“You have an explanation to give,” Anselm said, ruffling his hair affectionately before he moved away.

Paul pulled him into a hug too despite Riku, and dropped an excited kiss on top of his head.

“You’ve managed to surprise me,” Paul teased, as he stepped aside for David.

David stood staring at him with an accusing gaze.

“I’m so happy to see you out of hospital, David. I’m glad you got better. Sadie won’t hate me anymore.”

“Is that what you should be discussing?” David asked, glaring at him. “I’ve never felt so scared in my life. How dare you die like that? Do you know what that felt like?”

Leon closed his eyes, taking the accusations, keeping them deep inside. He didn’t know what else to say.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry won’t cut it,” David said, taking a step closer, he punched Leon’s left arm, and shook his head.“Bastard. You could have told me, or even Riku.”

Leon rubbed his hands up and down Riku’s back, and tried to pull him off so that he could face Petr. Riku wiped his eyes against Leon’s t-shirt, and moved away to hide his tears.

“Petr,” Leon started.

“Where is your boyfriend?” Petr asked, looking behind him. “I need a talk with him before you tell me the reasons why you would make us go through this. I went to him, and he gave me an elaborate play. His grief was so real—”

“It’s my fault,” Leon cut in, remembering the state Logan returned to him when he finished talking to Petr. “I made him do it.”

“I don’t believe that for a second,” Petr scoffed. “I know you, Your Highness. You could barely stand looking at me when I was trying to make it work with Genevieve the heiress. Do you remember? This is all Lt. Commander Logan Mason.”

Leon moved to sit, feeling as though he would need to start from the beginning to crack through Petr’s wall of anger.

“I’m sorry for all the trouble. Everything Logan did was to save me from my Uncle and Constantin,” Leon stated, as he dropped into the closest armchair. “Well, mostly Constantin, who has tried to kill me since his father’s investigation started. There were three attempts on my life before Logan came to Castle Arguro.”

“Start from the beginning,” Anselm ordered, sitting on the coffee table facing Leon. “Don’t leave anything out.”

Leon met Anselm’s gaze and breathed in, then out, holding Anselm’s steady gaze. As though a tap opened, he couldn’t stop when he started talking. He told them everything from the day his yacht blew up, to the Ferrari’s tires ripping on Sheep Hill Road and the gunshot in Arguro Forest. He talked about being relieved at having Logan take over security. Horrified when David got poisoned at the hotel opening ceremony.

“The raining gunshots on the street were the last straw,” Leon said. “It was an open attack. It made it obvious they were getting impatient. Logan came up with the plan to make the culprit think he was successful. It was to make it easier to complete the investigation.”

“I freaked out when I saw the news that you were dead,” Riku said, coming to sit on coffee table too and took Leon’s left hand. “I didn’t want to believe it was real. To think they came so close—”

“I’m fine, Riku,” Leon soothed. “I wasn’t hurt, although one of Logan’s men was shot. He’s still recovering.”

“Did they catch the shooter?” Paul asked.

“Almost,” Leon said. “Constantin’s people shot him dead before he was caught. Constantin had hired this deadly couple to help him with his plans. The woman behind the plot gave me the shivers when I met her.”

Leon stopped to study Riku’s hands thinking of Pierre, the man he had trusted with all his vehicles.

“They pulled in Pierre.”

“Sweet Pierre who made my racecar engine sing when we came for a competition here?” Petr asked, his disappointment clear.

“I still can’t believe it either,” Leon said, shaking his head. “Granted, he thought he was helping a reporter...”

“You almost died,” Riku said, angry with the absent Pierre. “He’s responsible for that much.”

Leon breathed out, and stared at where Riku still held his hand.

“After all that happened last night, the most stinging moment was the briefing today. It was a morning after a night Constantin shot his own sister and Granny’s friend, Grace, without remorse. All of that should have been worse than hearing that Hansen was to take over the baton if the shooter failed. His task was to poison me if I agree to go out with him for drinks. I guess he didn’t take my rejection well.”

“I never liked Hansen,” David confessed. “I hated it when you two were sort-of dating.”

“To be honest, you two weren’t dating, you were booty-calling each other,” Petr pointed out.

Leon made a face at him and decided to let that accusation go. He deserved it.

“I’m sorry you have had to deal with this alone,” Riku said, patting his hand.

“It was your choice,” Anselm stated. “You could have told us at any time, Leon.”

“I was protecting you.”

“I don’t need protecting,” Petr scoffed.

“Yeah?” Leon nodded to David who still had a light bandage on his right palm. “Look what happened to David. How could I even have anticipated that happening, Petr? I have to thank you, though. The man you brought back to Aeras gave us the breakthrough we needed.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Petr asked, choosing an armchair across Leon. “You know we would have helped resolve it.”

“I didn’t want to think too much about the reasons why anyone wanted me dead. I thought they were simple accidents at first. The yacht exploding from a simple malfunction, the Ferrari’s tires blowing out, you know how fast I like to drive. I just thought I pushed it too far.”

Petr looked away from him.

“You didn’t care if you lived,” Petr said, annoyed.

“That’s not fair,” Leon started.

“I’m right,” Petr turned to look at him, his gaze narrowed.

Leon couldn’t look away. Petr was the one who always saw through him. He couldn’t hide anything from him.

“It’s irrelevant now,” Leon said after a while because he didn’t know what else to say. “I couldn’t tell you anything in case it got you all into more trouble. There was already so much danger. I didn’t know how the next assault would come. I—”

“You decided to break trust,” Petr finished for him. “You should have told us what was going on.”

“Like you told me about all of you helping Logan?” Leon demanded. “You all grew his security business and kept it from me. I could have helped too. What should I call that?”

“It’s not the same,” Riku said, moving to perch on the armchair on Leon’s left side. He placed a steadying hand on Leon’s left shoulder. “Logan is our friend too. We were doing it for both of you. We hoped it would pull Logan closer. Give him the confidence to take that last step.”

“I didn’t need him to,” Leon said, shaking his head. “I would have taken the step closer to him. We would have worked it out, eventually.”

“Bullshit,” Anselm said, pointing a finger at him. “You were keeping yourself locked up in your busy life. When would you two have seen each other? When he got married and called you to his wedding? When you were a hundred years old?”

“That’s so mean,” Leon said.

“They’re right,” David said, with a small chuckle. “Leon, you didn’t even want to mention Logan’s name in case we asked you how you were coping. Without Logan’s business, you two wouldn’t have met again.”

Leon sighed and stared at his hands for a minute. Okay, maybe they had a point. He’d been afraid to think of Logan. It had hurt watching Logan walk away from him. After all, who wasn’t afraid of rejection? Even he, a prince, stumbled over such emotions. Still, he would have gone looking for Logan, eventually, when it got too hard to keep away.

“Logan needs to be here,” Petr said, his tone quiet. “We can’t finish this discussion without him.”

“Yes, we can,” Leon insisted.

“No.” Petr shook his head. “He played a huge role here. I need to hear his explanations.”

“Petr, any decision Logan has made to do with me has always been to protect me. From him leaving four years ago, up to now when he’s allowed you all to think me dead. It was all to protect me. I stand by him, with him and for him.”

***

Logan leaned on the wall outside the sunroom, floored.

Could he love Leon more?

His heart felt full to bursting with it. There was nothing like hearing Leon speak up for him to his friends. It was such a rush. Especially, when Leon was saying it to Petr, who was like a bulldozer, cutting through a field at top speed with no brakes.

Logan smiled, and looked up to see Dax watching him.

He brought his finger up to keep Dax quiet. Dax grinned and folded his hands behind him rocking back and forth where he stood.

Silence filled the sunroom for a moment, and then Leon went and broke his heart with his next words.

“I’ll understand if you can’t accept what he’s done,” Leon said, with a sigh. “That’s your choice, but I’m staying with him, so we’ll—”

“Don’t finish that sentence,” Riku cut Leon off, his tone sharp. “Don’t fucking say it, Leon, or I’ll take that ridiculous photobook on the coffee table and hit you with it. We’re not breaking up.”

David chuckled and Anselm gave a long-suffering sigh.

“I was going to say we’ll have to live with seeing less of each other,” Leon said.

“I don’t want to,” Riku said. “Fix it, Petr.”

“Riku,” Petr started.

“I know you like to pretend, as though nothing touches you, that you’re stronger than the rest of us. Remember that Leon is someone important to me. Whom he loves, is important to me too. He took you in because of me, even when you were being petty and mean about your family business. Do you remember?”

“Logan made you cry, my love. I can’t forgive him for that,” Petr said, his voice raised with indignation. “You were broken over this. None of them saw you the way I did—”

Logan peeped into the room to see Riku standing over Petr.

“Shut up,” Riku hit the top of Petr’s head, his ears going red. “Why do you have to talk about that? Leon is alive: he is well and walking around. He’s even pissing you off, as usual. What more do you need?”

“You, by my side,” Petr answered. “Can’t you just agree?”

“Stay on topic,” Riku said, and then turned to walk away when Petr took his right hand and pressed a kiss on his palm. Riku sighed and sunk fingers into Petr’s hair.

“I’m glad Logan was with Leon,” Riku said. “None of us would have known what to do, Petr. We were away in our homes, living our lives, what could we have done for him? For them?”

Petr glanced at Leon around Riku.

“I still need to talk to Logan,” Petr said.

“He’ll be here soon,” Leon said, his tone sure. “I hurried home to let you know what to expect as the day goes. Last night was a nightmare. Constantin waved his gun and tried to force Granny to name him Heir Apparent. No one in the family can escape the PR mess that’s coming.”

“The fuck,” Anselm gaped. “Seriously?”

“Uncle Isaak and Constantin are arrested, Constantin for attempted murder and assault, Isaak for murder. The woman Constantin hired confessed to planning my parents’ murder with Uncle Isaak’s help. It has been a very exhausting night.”

“Now what?” Paul asked, moving to the windows.

“Now…” Leon said, his voice trailing away, full of trepidation.

Dax started moving then, stopping at the entrance to knock on the door with a gentle touch. He did not attempt to announce Logan’s presence.

“Pardon the interruption,” Dax said, when Leon’s friends all turned to face him. “His Royal Highness, Prince Leon, has documents to authorize.”

“The title is longer,” Riku said, with amusement.

“You’re Heir Apparent,” Anselm stated, with a wide smile. “You’ll be King after your grandmother.”

“Yes,” Leon confirmed what Queen Amethea had told Logan this morning.

The answer should have shaken him, instead it settled on his shoulders.

Ah, Logan thought. It wasn’t so hard to love a king after all.

Nothing changed inside him. He was still thoroughly in love with Leon.

All the sides of him, Logan smiled.

Leon, who preferred to eat off his plate, and take photos unnoticed. Leon who worried his friends didn’t like the man he chose. Leon who claimed not to be associated with his grandmother’s crown, but took secret tunnels to visit her anyway. Leon who was now a nervous crown prince to-be.

Paul reacted first, giving an excited shout, as he clapped.

“Congratulations, Your Royal Highness,” Anselm said, joining in. "I can’t wait to see you ruling as King.”

Anselm and David joined Paul and Leon endured enthusiastic pats on his back meant to encourage him. While they celebrated, Dax entered the room, and that’s when Logan saw the four folders he held.

“What is this?” Leon asked, when Dax opened the folders on the coffee table.

“First, we’re bringing you back to life. You were, after all, declared dead two days ago,” Dax said. “Then, we’re making preparations to make sure Castle Arguro has new security protocols to match those in the palace. We shall also receive staff from the Aeras Marshal of Royal Court Office. They will help manage the ceremony to make you Crown Prince and after that your daily schedule. I won’t be the one managing it from now on.”

“Dax,” Leon started to protest, looking up from signing the documents in front of him. “Why?”

“Your hours will be managed by a committee ran by the Marshal’s office,” Dax said. “I’ll only help you follow the schedule, and your domestic needs.”

Leon signed the last document and handed the pen to Dax.

“I came back with more troubles,” Leon teased, as Dax collected the folders neatly. “I’m sorry, Dax.”

“I will never complain about the work as long as you stay around, Your Royal Highness,” Dax said with a short nod. “Her Majesty has given permission to allow you two rest days: today and tomorrow. Enjoy your time with your friends, and then you need to get to work as we restore peace in the royal family.”

“I’ll call to thank her,” Leon said, watching Dax leave, that’s when he noticed Logan standing at the sunroom entrance.

Leon stood the moment he saw Logan. He rushed to Logan with a happy smile and Logan braced for impact, opening his arms to hold Leon. Leon wrapped his arms around Logan’s shoulders, holding him in a tight hug that centered Logan as nothing else could. Leon leaned up to brush his lips on Logan’s jaw.

“You’re late,” Leon accused, accepting a brief kiss from Logan.

“I’m sorry.”

Logan stopped Leon from backing out of his arms, tightening his arms around him instead. When he saw Riku look at them, Logan practically lifted Leon and turned him away from the room until they were in the hallway away from curious eyes.

Leon smiled when Logan pressed him against the wall where he had been standing a few minutes ago. Wanting to taste that smile, Logan captured Leon’s lips in a hungry kiss, taking his time, savoring the feel of Leon in his arms. Leon held on to him enjoying their quiet moment of bliss. There was no danger, no one to shoot at them and it felt like the start of heaven.

“Thank you,” Leon said, when they broke their kiss after a moment, “for protecting me.”

Logan pressed his index finger on Leon’s lips.

“There will never be need for thanks between us, Leon.”

Leon took in Logan’s finger into his mouth, sucking on it gently, sending a lick of fire racing down Logan’s spine. Logan retaliated by kissing his jaw, and whispering in his ear.

“How long before we can escape your friends in there?”

“We need to talk to Petr,” Leon whispered back, taking Logan’s hand and holding it against his chest.“Riku has done his best to neutralize the bomb, but you know how Petr gets.”

Logan nodded, still excited that Leon had stood up for him with his friends.

“After, can we go away together?” Logan asked, wanting to show Leon his life, his side of the world.

Leon squeezed Logan’s hand.

“Sure. Where to?” Leon asked, his gaze trusting.

“It will be a happy surprise,” Logan said.

“I love happy surprises.”

Leon grinned and kissed Logan’s chin. Still holding Logan’s right hand, he led the way back into the sunroom. His friends now sat calm and composed, not an ounce of the celebration mood they had had earlier in sight. Leon stopped and kept his place in front of Logan to make them a team.

Logan found that he loved thinking of him and Leon as a team.

“Logan’s here,” Leon said, holding Petr’s gaze with one of defiance.

Logan took a step forward so that Leon was no longer protecting him. He tightened his hold on Leon’s hand and faced the five people who had taken on the role of Leon’s family.

“I apologize for making you go through unwarranted grief,” Logan said. “However, I won’t apologize for lying to you. I did it to protect Leon, and would do it again. That’s who I am.”

Silence filled the sunroom for almost three minutes, until Anselm broke it.

“That’s really cool,” Anselm said, with a quick smile. “I did it to protect Leon, and would do it again. You’re making me want one.”

“One what?” Logan asked.

“I don’t know yet, girlfriend, boyfriend,” Anselm winked. “Whoever will make my heart jump and make me say words like those and mean them. I really want to meet mine.”

Logan decided then that Anselm was his favorite of Leon’s friends.

“I heard your team worked to get me to the hospital fast,” David said. “Thank you, Logan. Any later, and I hear I would have been greeting my ancestors.”

“That’s not even funny,” Riku said, glaring at David.

“What? It’s the truth,” David said, smiling at Logan. “You’re welcome to visit my house, Logan. I owe you a big one.”

“Thank you,” Paul said, getting up. He closed the distance between his couch and Logan and held his hand out for a handshake. “For keeping Leon alive, I wasn’t looking forward to another state funeral.”

Logan took Paul’s firm handshake and accepted the silent promise of partnership. Paul moved to stand beside Logan, and they both faced Petr.

“How did you find out I was lying to you?” Logan asked Petr, needing to know where the breach started.

“Leon uploaded photos into a shared folder on his cloud,” Petr said, not moving from his seat. “I only noticed it because I was showing Queen Amethea pictures from our trip.”

Logan turned to look at Leon in surprise. He’d taken Leon’s phone from him, when had he uploaded photos?

“How?” Logan asked.

Leon stood blank for a minute, and then snapped his fingers. “Oh!”

“Oh?” Logan peered at him. “What oh?”

Leon smiled and leaned into him.

“You had Shirley bring my laptop and camera upstairs the night we escaped the bullets. I uploaded the photos from habit,” Leon said, his tone sheepish. “I forgot about it when I came downstairs to find you going through with your plan to meet Petr.”

“For the record,” Logan said, placing a protective arm around Leon’s shoulders. “He almost took my head off for my plan. I took his phone away so that he wouldn’t call Riku.”

“I still don’t like your plan,” Petr stated. “I need a promise from you, Mason.”

“What promise?”

“That you’ll never leave us out of the loop like this again,” Petr insisted. “It’s not good for you, Leon, or everyone in this room. Leon allows us use of his resources, as needed. He, in turn, has open access to all our resources. Don’t leave us in a position where we can’t help. Promise us.”

Leon squeezed Logan’s hand then, making Logan look at him, curious. When Leon gave him an expectant glance, Logan smiled.

“I promise,” Logan told Petr, “to keep you in the loop.”

Petr narrowed his gaze at him, but then he stood and came to stand before Logan. He held out his right hand, and Logan took it, not surprised to find Petr squeezed harder than necessary.

“I know you now, Mason. Just remember that as you protect Leon, I also protect Riku.”

“I never forgot it for a second,” Logan said.

Petr smiled for the first time since Logan walked into the room.

“We should celebrate Leon’s return to the living. Drinks are on you, possibly for the foreseeable future.”

Logan grinned, pulling Leon into him. Leon winked at him and wrapped his arms around Logan, finally relieved. Logan decided he could live with this much.

“I don’t mind that at all,” Logan said.

***

Hours later, Leon woke wrapped in Logan’s scent. Leon hugged his pillow, rolling from side to side, before he opened his eyes to find he was alone in bed. He sat up, still holding the pillow, wondering where Logan went.

Logan had taken him away from Castle Arguro after meeting with Leon’s friends. It felt like eloping since they hadn’t stopped to explain their departure. Leon grinned thinking about Logan taking his right hand, leading him out of the castle and into the cab of the hugest pickup truck he ever saw. They drove straight to Logan’s two-bedroom apartment on a quiet suburban street far away from his castle and the palace.

Leon folded his legs in a yoga pose and took in Logan’s personal space. It was military neat. Nothing out of place from the picture frames on a chest drawer on the left corner, to the items on a table on the right corner of the room. The closet doors were closed, and Leon’s jacket was hung neatly over the armchair by the windows. The only disarray was on the bed, and the covers Leon had kicked to the edge.

He’d been too tired and ended up falling asleep the moment Logan led him into the bedroom. Leon breathed in Logan’s scent and came off the bed still holding the pillow. He left the bedroom, and stepped out into the coziest living room possible. None of the furniture matched, yet it fit right in. Mismatched throw pillows took up space on armchairs, a huge throw blanket on the equally huge couch. The wall had a television screen mounted on it, and the windows directly across had sheer white curtains covering them for privacy.

The sound of water pouring drew his attention. Leon walked barefoot through the living room to the open-plan kitchen and dining room. When he didn’t see Logan, he followed the sound of water down a short hallway. He came to a stop when he found Logan in the laundry room. Leon leaned on the door watching Logan sort through clothes, placing whites in a separate basket, and his colors in the washing machine. The dryer was already hard at work.

Suddenly, he remembered this Logan very well, his favorite from their time in that motorhome ride across Norway. He was the sexiest Logan possible. Leon placed the pillow he held on the counter and crossed to Logan. He slipped his hands around Logan, smoothing Logan’s t-shirt over his stomach and grinned when Logan simply leaned back into his chest.

“You’re awake,” Logan said, adding soap into the washing machine slot and closing it. He closed the washing machine and moved the basket of whites to the side. “I thought you’d sleep through the day.”

“I could have,” Leon rested his forehead on Logan’s back. “I’m glad I’m awake though. Want help with laundry?”

“Do you remember how?” Logan teased.

Leon dug his fingers into Logan’s waist and laughed when Logan sidestepped trying to escape him. Logan turned and captured his hands, bringing them up to his shoulders. He wrapped his left arm around Leon and lifted him up on to the washing machine.

“Are you going to remind me how?” Leon asked.

Logan reached up and sunk his fingers into Leon’s hair, pulling him into a kiss. Leon scooted closer, wrapping his legs around Logan’s hips. Logan ended their kiss and leaned back to study him.

“I’m almost done, just the whites left,” Logan said. “I haven’t been home for weeks. It was too dusty. You slept, so I occupied myself.”

Leon stroked a thumb over the frown on Logan’s forehead.

“Is this the happy surprise?” Leon asked, looking around the neat laundry room.

“Mm-hmm,” Logan nodded. “I wanted to bring you to my place. You’ve never been.”

“I love it,” Leon said. “It’s quiet.”

“It’s small,” Logan pointed out, pulling Leon into his arms. He rested his chin on Leon’s shoulder with a sigh.

“It’s perfect.”

His stomach chose that moment to grumble and Leon closed his eyes in embarrassment, tightening his arms around Logan when he tried to move back.

“Hungry?”

“Mm-hmm,” Leon nodded against Logan’s shoulder.

“There is food in the kitchen. Rice and stew,” Logan said. “I ordered from the Chinese restaurant down the street.”

“Did you eat?”

“I did, but I can have a coffee,” Logan said, lifting Leon off the washing machine. Leon kept his legs wrapped around Logan’s hips for a minute, loving how Logan supported his weight then he jumped off.

They went to the kitchen. Leon helped Logan heat up the rice and stew in the microwave, and sat eating at Logan’s dining table. Logan brewed coffee and sat next to Leon, watching him eat.

“When did you get this place?” Leon asked, looking around the neat kitchen.

“First paycheck I got,” Logan said. “Mom helped me find it, after, she helped me furnish it.”

“She has great taste,” Leon said. “Your couch makes me want to lie on it with you and laze away this afternoon.”

“Why don’t we?” Logan suggested.

Leon smiled and took a bite of the delicious rice and stew on his plate. “Do you know your neighbors?”

“Not really,” Logan said. “There’s a lady who lives across me. I saw her leaving for work once when I was coming home, but we’ve never talked.”

“Was she pretty?” Leon asked, curious.

“Are you being jealous right now?”

“Maybe,” Leon said, studying Logan, his spoon midair. “Why aren’t you answering?”

“I didn’t care to notice,” Logan said. “I was too tired.”

The pang that swept through him was full of guilt. He wished he had been there for Logan then, on those days when he was tired from work and came home alone.

“I wanted it that way,” Logan soothed.

“What about now?”

“Now, I’m here with you,” Logan said, sipping his coffee. “It feels good to have you here. It feels right.”

Leon brushed his lips on Logan’s left jaw, happy. They talked about Logan shopping in the supermarket down the street, and discovering the Chinese restaurant that delivered food. How he spent so little time in this apartment.

Leon finished eating and insisted on washing his plate and Logan’s mug in the sink. While he did that, Logan dealt with his clothes. He brought a basket full of dry clothes to the kitchen and placed it on the table.

“Help me fold,” Logan said, as Leon wiped his hands on a kitchen cloth.

Leon lost himself in the domestic bliss of folding clothes, making sure the washing machine was running right, talking about what to eat for dinner. He loved it most when they finished with laundry and ended up on the irresistible couch.

They played video games on a very old system, Logan had not bothered to update it, and when they got tired of that, they watched movies. Logan stretched out on the couch with Leon resting against him.

“I want this every day,” Leon murmured, in the middle of watching the movie Warrior. “Are you okay with giving this up?”

Logan tightened his arms around Leon.

“How am I losing it if we stay together?” Logan asked. “Are you moving into the palace?”

“Not yet,” Leon sighed. “Granny wants me to, but it’s reasonable to wait. It’s good for us to stand separate and divide the workload. Besides, Castle Arguro has secrets that need time and the right master. Plus, there is a Crown Prince office at the palace. It will become my day job.”

Logan breathed out.

“Your grandmother talked to me today.”

Leon shifted on the couch to face Logan in a panic.

“What did she say?”

Logan smiled.

“Why are you so frightened?” Logan asked.

“It’s Granny,” Leon said, placing his palm on Logan’s face, his thumb rubbing over dark stubble. “She has a very harsh side.”

Logan shook his head.

“She was very cordial with me.”

“That’s even more frightening,” Leon said. “What did she ask of you?”

“To think of who I will be to you. To think very hard and make a choice.”

Leon bit his bottom lip and stared at Logan’s throat. Yes.Granny always knew how to reach straight to the root of the problem. She had known what to say to this man he so loved with all his heart.

“Leon, I—,” Logan started and Leon stopped him by moving his palm over Logan’s mouth.

“I fell in love with you the night we stayed out on the balcony at Eibsee Lake. You stole a kiss that night. I’ve loved you since then.”

Logan’s eyes sparkled with mirth, making Leon smile.

“You fascinated me so much before that; I took thousands of photos of you when you weren’t looking. I wanted to print out a photobook and call it ’The-Million-Faces-of-Logan.”

“I cherish our first kiss like it happened a minute ago. I remember our first time together in the same way. I’ll never forget that you held me up on the very worst day of my life. Most of all, even when you were gone from me, all I kept wishing is that you would walk back into my life. I almost rushed you that day you entered the dining room at Castle Arguro.”

Logan moved Leon’s hand away from his mouth.

“Why didn’t you?”

Leon closed his eyes, wondering why his heart was beating so fast.

“I was afraid you weren’t staying.”

“Leon.”

“Being with me in the way I dream of will mean you lose a lot of your privacy,” Leon said. “People will wonder why you chose the shirt you wore in the morning, or why you cut your hair that way. They’ll find reason to talk about your parents, your mom, your dad, your grandparents. Who you talk to—”

“I don’t care,” Logan cut in to his tirade.

“If you want to keep working and—”

“My job description can change, Leon.”

“What about your career?”

“It’s just that, a career. I can change it at any time,” Logan said.

Leon opened his eyes then and met Logan’s steady blue gaze.

“Will you be mine, Logan?”

“Yes.” Logan smiled, and pulled him closer. “And you, will you be mine, Leon?”

The anxiety in Leon’s heart floated away, leaving only hope for the future.

“Always,” Leon said, sinking into Logan’s warmth when he pulled him into his arms.It felt like finding home.

***

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