Leon loved horses.
They were handsome, loyal and excellent judges of characters. Horses were the best companion to have. He always knew his limits with a horse, but with humans, not so much.
At twenty-two, he had spent most of his life in a whirlwind of study and business assessments: his father set for him tough, rigorous and trying programs and expected him to excel. When his father thought him ready, he sent Leon to Harvard at the age of seventeen, away from the safety of home for four years.
The years as an undergraduate in a foreign country taught him a lot about people. Leon learned when to trust, when to suspect, when to walk away. He worked hard at Harvard, enough to graduate on top and earn express admission into the Oxford Business School.
Oxford was where he met the five housemates he now viewed as brothers. Being an only child, he had never known what it was like to have siblings, until he moved into the house in Carfax with the five.
Now, sitting on a gorgeous black stallion, riding across the lush green plains of Paul O’Hara’s lands in Ireland, Leon felt free.
Paul’s family home was beautiful, his horses enough to make Leon envious. Most of all, Leon loved the wild sense of spirit in this place. That spirit seeped into his soul. The expansive lands flowed to the sea. Leon took in a deep breath of the clean morning fresh air and imagined the magic flooding him to the bones.
Ireland was the first stop on their six-month tour. They would spend two weeks with Paul’s family before they headed to the next stop.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Logan Mason interrupted the solitude, making Leon clutch his reins tight as he turned to look at his royal guard.
Logan was unhappy with him for lying about his itinerary. They had been here three days, and Logan had yet to look at him without scowling.
“You didn’t need to follow me out here,” Leon said, irritated by the interruption.
“I wanted a ride too,” Logan said. “I thought we could keep each other company.”
“I want to be alone,” Leon said.
“You are,” Logan said, moving his horse away, the long dark coat he wore falling around him to drape over the white horse he rode.
Logan’s form was elegant and strong; one could almost believe he rode horses for a living.
“Imagine yourself alone, Leon,” Logan shot at him with that familiar scowl, before he rode away to put distance between them.
Leon shook his head at that comment, and urged his horse forward, determined to find a way down to the beach. When he did find the beach, he allowed the stallion into a fast run, and couldn’t help grinning at the feel of the wind beating on his face.
Logan stayed with him though he kept his distance, enough to make Leon almost forget he was there.
When they got back to the stables an hour later, Leon dismounted and helped the groom take care of his horse. He was busy talking about horse grain with the friendly groom when Logan came to find him.
“Paul’s mom called. Breakfast is ready,” Logan said, remaining by the door.
Leon rubbed the stallion’s neck as the horse ate his oats, and glanced at Logan.
Logan was scowling again. He didn’t do that with David, or the others, only when it was just the two of them.
As though to mock Leon’s observations, Logan’s scowl deepened and he stood with his arms crossed against his chest.
“Are you angry with me?” Leon asked, turning to the black stallion, running his fingers through the horse’s mane.
“You lied,” Logan said, without prompting. “You’ve made us both liars to your parents and my superiors.”
“Am I not allowed to make decisions in my life?” Leon asked. “The itinerary I sent in was the perfect escape, no murky places and filled with elite destinations. It was boring and you know it. I changed my mind and made another.”
“The first itinerary was safe,” Logan said, dropping his arms to his sides, his scowl turning into a frown. Leon wished the scowl would return. “We’re flying blind right now.”
“This is safe too,” Leon said, looking around the busy stable. “There is no one to harm me here, except an over-excited horse. It’s an acceptable risk percentage for any other person, why not me?”
Logan blinked and then looked away from him.
“You should have at least told me.” Logan grumbled. “Asking Stevens to keep it from me was not nice either.”
“Are you certain you wouldn’t have reported it to my parents? Or asked questions around the wrong people in your team?” Leon asked.
Logan glanced at him for a moment, then shook his head and kicked the ground with his riding boots.
“I’m not that stupid.”
Leon smiled, murmured his goodbyes to the handsome dark stallion, and stepped up to Logan.
“You would have made a report to my parents out of duty,” Leon said. “There is nothing wrong with that. Even now, I’m quite sure you’ll give that report, but they can’t stop me now. I’m already away from home. We just have to see this through for six months.”
“You’re making my job difficult,” Logan said.
“I’m living my life,” Leon said. “If you go along, there should be no trouble for any of us, Logan Mason. So, stop scowling every time you look at me.”
Logan sighed, and then the sigh turned into a chuckle, the sound of it low and amused.
Leon found he quite liked Logan’s chuckle.
“Breakfast is ready.” Logan reminded him.
“Let’s go then,” Leon walked around Logan, heading out of the stables. “I’ll need to take a shower before I eat. You should join them at the table first, Logan.”
Leon hurried away, glad that Logan did not follow him up to his room. He stripped fast and entered the shower, taking a hot one. When he was done, he dressed in an old shirt and dark jeans. He wore black work boots and hurried downstairs to join everyone for breakfast.
Paul’s mom grabbed his arm when he entered the large kitchen with the huge table. She took him to a chair between David and her husband. Leon sat down, accepting a mug of coffee from her.
“That should warm your bones up,” she said. “The cold sinks into you when riding by the sea.”
Leon thanked her and glanced around the full table to find Logan sitting between Paul and one of the stable hands. Logan was laughing as he ate his bacon, and Paul told him about playing in the stables when he was young.
“Are you two talking now?” David asked Leon, passing him a bowl of sausages.
Leon placed two on his plate and passed the bowl to Paul’s Dad.
“Sort of,” Leon said, as he filled his plate with the bowls that passed his way. Soon he was digging into scrambled eggs, sausages, beans and hash browns. “We’ll have to see how it goes when he reports in to his people.”
David sighed, studying Logan.
“Well, what’s the worst that could happen?”
“A serious pickup complete with my grandmother’s elite guard,” Leon said, chewing on eggs.
“I’d like to avoid seeing that,” David said with a shudder. “Shit, we need to be nicer to Logan.”
Leon grinned and turned to Paul’s Dad when he asked him if he would like to see how they milked cows. Leon decided then not to worry about Logan and any report Logan might send in to his parents. Instead, throwing himself into a hearty breakfast and listening to Paul’s Dad discuss the cycles of cow grazing.
Midday found them in a mud pit at the neighbors. One of the neighbor’s mares had entered a mud hole. It was taking every able man to help pull the frightened mare out. Leon was hip deep in the mud hole, working to calm the frightened horse, even as he made sure the rope wrapped around the horse was secure.
“You look like a mud ball,” Petr teased Leon, standing on the edge of the mud hole, his hands at his hips. He was relatively clean, as he had only been pulling at the rope.
Leon swiped mud away from his cheeks and walked to the edge. He gripped the back of Petr’s left leg and pulled him into the mud pit too.
Logan gripped the rope tied to the mare’s middle, and bit back a laugh when Petr fell on Leon and they both sunk into the mud. When they got their footing back, both of them looked like mud balls, resulting in a round of healthy laughter and more teasing.
When the mare struggled, the ribbing ended, Petr and Leon worked together to calm the horse and help push her up and out of the mud. The process took about two hours, and when the mare was free, the veterinary took over the job of checking the horse’s health.
Once the veterinary declared the horse without serious injury, Leon’s friends joined him in the mud, and Logan watched in amusement as Leon laughed, looking happy, despite the mud that was surely in his ears, nostrils and mouth. He looked like one of the guys.
Logan could understand a small part of what Leon wanted during this trip. He decided then to keep his silence on the change of itinerary. He would report on Leon’s wellbeing, and not mention anything until it was necessary.
Their time in Ireland moved too fast.
The two weeks at the O’Hara Farm ended with a graduation party prepared by Paul’s parents. They invited neighbors and family friends. A huge bonfire burned at the beach, and there was beer drinking and dancing until the wee hours of the night.
Logan got to dance with Leon for a minute and was charmed when he realized that Leon was drank, and finding every kick of the sand amusing.
“You need a bed,” Logan teased, when Leon could not walk straight.
“Who needs a bed when you have the stars and the sand?” Leon asked.
Leon lowered himself on a blanket laid out on the beach away from the fire. He lay back and braced himself up on his elbows.
“Are you ready to come out from behind that wall, Lt. Mason? You’re holding yourself so tight around us. You should have fun. Kiss a beautiful Irish girl and drink in the night and stars.”
“I’d rather kiss a handsome Irish boy,” Logan said, sitting on the blanket beside Leon.
“Really,” Leon glanced at him with wide eyes. “I’d never have guessed it.”
Logan smiled and pressed on Leon’s shoulder, his smile widening as Leon collapsed back on the blanket.
“Go to sleep handsome Aeras Prince,” Logan teased.
“I wouldn’t object if you wanted to kiss me,” Leon said, resting his head on his arms. “I like kissing handsome boys too…”
Logan watched Leon drift into sleep and folded his arms over his knees. He beat down the hope that bloomed like a wild fire spark inside him. He reminded his speeding heart that kissing a prince would only lead to trouble in the future.
The next morning found them back on the road again, bags packed, their two Landrovers filled with supplies collected in the last week. Logan sat in the backseat with David in the first Landrover, with Riku taking up the front passenger seat. Leon was driving.
Petr, Paul and Anselm rode in the second Landrover.
“Where to?” Logan asked, when Leon finished calibrating their navigation map.
“Germany,” Riku said, from the front seat, practically vibrating with excitement. “I want to hike the Geierlay Suspension Bridge.”
“Anyone you know there?” Logan asked, crossing out the nice Norwegian resort written in his itinerary, and putting in Germany. “Are we really driving this?”
“Yep,” David grinned. “We have to do it. I heard it takes almost seventeen hours, plus there is taking the channel tunnel train to Frethun. We have to try it.”
Logan shook his head in disbelief. He met Leon’s gaze in the rearview mirror, his eyes widening when Leon lifted a brow at him.
“What?” Logan asked.
“Wanna call it quits already?” Leon asked, heading to Dublin so they could take the ferry back to the UK. “We can drop you off at the Royal Navy base. You can fly back to Aeras—”
“I’m not quitting,” Logan cut him off.
Leon smirked and relaxed in his seat.
“Then enjoy the ride, Logan,” Leon said, ending the topic.
It took them eighteen hours to get to Sosberg, Germany.
Delays on the road, a wrong turn in Belgium and a misdirection when they finally entered Germany added on their time. Logan was not surprised when Petr managed to get them a house to stay in Sosberg.
A house that he said one of his uncles owned in what looked like the rural parts. Logan didn’t push for more information because Petr did not want to offer it. Logan noted that no one else pushed or questioned the availability of the house. Logan was starting to understand that it was the nature of these six men.
The white two-story house had six bedrooms. It was the perfect place to camp for the month of August. Leon and David bunked together, allowing Logan to get his own room. After a long shower and a few hours of sleep on an actual bed, Logan left his bedroom, and stopped to check on Leon. He opened the door slowly and paused when he saw Leon sleeping in his bed. Closing the door, he headed downstairs to find David and Anselm in the living room playing videogames.
“Where is everyone?” Logan asked.
“Leon is asleep. Petr and Riku have gone out on a date. Paul went on a grocery shopping run,” David said. “Wanna join?”
Logan started to say he should go keep Leon company, but Anselm interrupted him.
“Leon will be out for a few more hours,” Anselm said. “Speaking of which, this is a new stop, Logan. I hope we can get you to break out of the shell. I heard you’re an elite sharpshooter. Play with us. We’re getting our asses kicked by some local team here.”
Logan moved to sit next to David on the couch. He joined the game and they were well into winning two rounds when Paul returned with groceries. Hunger took over and they decided on making pizza for lunch.
They baked four large pizzas in the oven.
Petr and Riku returned in the middle of the baking with Riku smiling in wild happiness.
Leon woke up just as Logan was removing the last pizza from the oven.
“My stomach brought me downstairs,” Leon joked, taking in the scent of fresh baked pizza. “Petr, did you make these? You’re getting good, buddy.”
“I didn’t make them.” Petr shook his head, wrapping an arm around Riku’s shoulders. “Logan made the dough, rolled it out and Anselm did the rest.”
“Logan,” Leon smiled at him, clearly impressed, making a second stutter shake Logan’s heart. Logan looked away from Leon, and concentrated on cutting the pizza into slices. “You surprise me. You cook?”
“Hard not to when you live alone,” Logan said.
“I guess we’ll keep learning new things about you through this trip,” Leon said, coming to sit next to David at the kitchen table.
Logan fought a scowl as Leon leaned into David, and got his hair caressed in return. Now that he knew Leon liked kissing boys, this affection between David and Leon was starting to annoy him.
What kind of relationship did they have? Was it deeper than friendship?
Logan turned to the sink and turned on the water, annoyed by the wave of jealousy that filled him. Taking in a deep breath, he washed the knife and then his hands. When he was done and turned around, it was to find Leon watching him with a speculative gaze.
Germany was a period of rest and recuperation.
Leon took tons of photos of the surrounding villages.
Logan made it through the various recipe experiments in the kitchen by Petr. He survived Anselm’s attempts to discover the mechanics of the suspension bridge when they went on the hike. Steady and sure, he made friends with Leon’s five.
One afternoon, Leon urged Logan into a two-day trip to visit the Blue Waters of Eibsee.
Everyone else was busy exploring personal interests, so Logan agreed. He drove with Leon acting as the navigator.
Leon took more photos during their trip.
Logan could see that photography was a serious hobby for Leon. Most important, it was something Leon loved and he respected that.
They got to the lake late and checked into the Eibsee Hotel for the night. In the morning, right before sunrise, Leon dragged Logan to the lake and Logan finally understood Leon’s excitement.
The lake waters were blue, surrounded by an impressive mountain view that left Logan breathless.
Leon spent a few minutes taking photographs of the sunrise at Eibsee Lake. When he was done, he stood next to Logan and took in a deep breath letting it out in increments.
“It’s so beautiful it’s unreal,” Leon said. “I would hate to live here.”
“Because I’d become numb to the sight of this and slowly forget how amazing this place looks.”
Logan took in the lake, the blue water and the mountain reflecting on the surface. He could see Leon’s logic.
“You’re right. It would be a sin to turn numb to this,” Logan agreed.
Leon turned to look at him, a small smile playing on his lips, before he turned to stare at the lake.
They stayed at Eibsee Lake for hours, hiking through the nature paths around the lake. When they got tired, they went back to the hotel to eat.
Logan found himself relaxing in Leon’s company.
That evening, after dinner, they settled on lounge chairs in a private patio staring at the view of the lake beyond. They talked—more than Logan had expected—about the lake, about food, and their experience crossing the channel to France.
The wrong turns, the right ones, and the sights they saw on their drive to Sosberg.
“Why did you guys really decide to take this trip?” Logan asked at some point.
“Because,” Leon said, adjusting the pillow under his head. “Why not take the trip?”
“Leon, you lied to your parents for this.”
“My dad is strict about my safety because my mom worries. If he was to hear about me driving around like this,” Leon shuddered and shook his head. “It would not be pretty. Yet, I’m so happy to be out here, I’m afraid it will end too soon.”
“Is it the same for the others?” Logan asked.
Leon closed his eyes and shook his head.
“No, they have more freedom. Their parents encourage wild trips across countries,” Leon said with a sigh.“Riku’s dad told him it would open his eyes. Petr’s dad wants him to gain not less than twenty business contacts. He has it rough.”
Logan chuckled marveling at the very different type of parental concern.
His mother was happy he called her when he was away and visited to tell her his adventures when he was home. She bought him new t-shirts, socks and shirts when she thought his were too old. On the days he finished a tour and went home, she took him grocery shopping. He could not imagine ever being afraid of her.
Gabriella Mason was a great mom.
“What are you thinking about?” Leon asked, shifting in his lounge chair to look at him.
“Mm…we’re almost a month into this trip,” Logan said. “You have plenty of time, Leon. Whatever it is you want to do, do it without worry. I’ll protect you as long as I can.”
“You won’t write a damning report to my parents?”
“No.” Logan promised, smiling when he saw Leon’s gaze widen. “I should have when I discovered we were driving to Ireland, but—”
“But?” Leon asked.
Logan looked away from Leon, focusing on the lake instead.
“I like teasing you,” Logan said.
Leon chuckled but didn’t say more.
Logan glanced at him and frowned when he found Leon facing him, eyes closed, about to fall asleep.
“It’s cold out here. We should go in,” Logan said.
“I like it out here.” Leon toed off his sneakers and settled on the lounge chair. “Let’s stay for a while.”
Not wanting to ruin a great evening, Logan sat watching Leon sleep. When the breeze picked up, he reached for a blanket folded on the table. Shaking it out, he covered Leon with the soft blanket.
Logan stood watching Leon for a while before he settled on his own lounge chair. Once again, he reminded his longing heart that Leon could never be his, not ever.