Leon stared at a picture of Logan leaning on a tree at Eibsee Lake. The lighting was phenomenal, casting Logan’s face in a perfect profile. Dark hair cut in a neat military style, those gorgeous blue eyes staring in the distance. Logan was tall at six-foot-two, Leon often found himself looking up when they stood side by side. Logan wore a simple t-shirt and jeans in the picture, his feet in military-grade black boots.
Leon sat back in his chair breathing out slowly and then chuckled.
There was no fighting it anymore.
He wanted Logan and all his aloof charm. He wanted to kiss and hold Logan.
Leon sighed and shook his head. He was not sure Logan wanted him.
“Your new hobby is extremely interesting,” Riku said, strolling into the lounge and dropping into a comfortable couch by the window. “If you want him, tell him.”
“He’s not like us,” David said, bringing Leon a bottle of apple juice.
Leon thanked him with a nod and uncapped the bottle. He moved the pictures to his cloud storage, making a reminder to send a few to Logan.
“What do you mean he’s not like us?” Leon asked.
“Grabbing what he wants without thinking about the consequences,” Riku supplied, annoyance coloring his words. “Logan thinks things through.”
“Talking about yourself?” David asked Riku. “Are you and Petr in trouble?”
“His girlfriend is meeting us here for three days,” Riku said, closing his eyes and leaning his head back. “His heart and body belong to me, but his loyalty is to his family money. His money is currently tied to that stupid girl.”
“You don’t mean that,” Leon said, looking at Riku, knowing it hurt him to talk about Petr that way.
“I do mean it. He’s done this to me too many times for me not to get angry now,” Riku said, not opening his eyes. “I wish I could turn it off, this need for Petr. I want to turn it off, but I can’t. Regrets are the worst.”
“We should go out tonight. We’re in Prague! Being depressed is the last thing you should do in this city,” David said.
“You clearly do not remember your history then,” Riku said. “Depressing things have happened in this city.”
“Well, no depressing things will happen in this city during this trip,” David said, getting up. “Leon, find someone to distract you from Logan. Petr’s friend looked interesting.As for you, Riku—”
“Riku,” Leon said, smiling at his best friend when Riku opened his eyes and looked at him. “Let’s go clubbing.”
“Sounds good,” Riku said, getting up. He stretched his arms above his head. “Find a club, let’s go hang. Don’t invite Petr.”
Riku left the lounge and Leon turned to David.
“Tell Petr to stay away tonight,” Leon said. “If I tell him, we’ll just fight.”
David nodded and got up.
“Are you really not going to try it with Logan?” David asked. “Taking secret pictures of him screams of unrequited love. That’s not your thing, Leon.”
“I can’t make the first move,” Leon said.
His past boyfriends had always known what they were getting with him. He had no issue seducing them, getting what he wanted and leaving.
With Logan, his attraction felt different. He didn’t want to take and leave. It felt like he had to wait for Logan to notice him too. He was not used to waiting for anything, but he knew that he would need to wait for Logan.
“I have to be his choice,” Leon murmured.
“Your complicated thinking is exhausting,” David said. “I’m going to call Paul and we’ll find Petr’s contact. Don’t leave Riku alone. You know how he gets when Petr’s so called girlfriend is around.”
Leon nodded, closed his laptop and got up. They were in Prague until the end of September. One week and it seemed as though this city was going to be the hardest.
“I sometimes wish Riku would like you,” David said. “You’d never treat him that way.”
Leon swept fingers through his hair.
He wished it too but he and Riku could only be friends. Riku’s heart was set on Petr.
The Capital Palace
Kingdom of Aeras
Tucked on the Ionian Coast, closest to Greece, stands a strong and stable Kingdom named Aeras. A monarch acts as the representative of the Kingdom of Aeras, upholding strong values of democratic government with the help of parliament. Still, the people regard the monarch with a positive light and take pride in her presence and the longstanding traditions she represents.
Queen Amethea Maximillian has ruled Aeras for four decades, receiving great love from her people.
On her sixtieth birthday at the start of the year, she announced her intention to name a successor to her throne. Unknown to her, her intentions thrust her family life into chaos she had not anticipated.
Queen Amethea had two sons from her happy marriage to King Nicholas Maximillian.
Her first-born, named Isaak Naos and the second born, Kleopas Michael.
Isaak was ambitious, excessive and mean-spirited. His life decisions led to hard mistakes: some Queen Amethea knew and others Isaak grew quite adept at hiding. Isaak married two women in his life. The first one was a commoner named Doris. She died too soon after she gave birth to a son named Constantin. The palace coroner said her death was a result of complications after childbirth.
Two years after Dora’s death, Isaak then married a noble woman, the daughter of a Baron, Lady Erika. Princess Erika gave birth to a beautiful daughter and named her Gia.
Isaak’s family lived in the palace with the queen.
Most in the kingdom thought Amethea would name Isaak the Crown Prince, as he was first born.
They were not wrong.
Isaak, despite his many faults, was the Kingdom of Aeras’s Heir. He was destined to be king.
Kleopas, Amethea’s second son, was the opposite of Isaak. He was good and gentle. As a second son, he moved out of the palace at the age of eighteen and into the impressive Castle Arguro, a residence set aside by Amethea for her second son.
When Kleopas fell in love, he brought his beloved bride, Anastasia, to Castle Arguro and started a lovely family. Kleopas focused his efforts on businesses and running charities. He kept a low profile, never once making political maneuvers to reach above his older brother. He had no ambition to be king and focused on supporting his family as best as he could.
Queen Amethea knew it was wrong but Kleopas remained her favorite son.
When Kleopas got a son and named him Leon Nicholas, after Queen Amethea’s husband, he too became her favorite grandson.
At age sixty, Amethea was beyond nervousness, anxiety and hesitations. She faced every obstacle she met as a bulldozer meets rough terrain. Nothing surprised her until seven months after her announcement to invest a Crown Prince.
On a sunny September afternoon, she sat in her study reading confidential government documents sent to her by parliament, when her secretary walked in.
Olivier Swan had been her secretary for the better part of three decades. He was skilled and hard working. He kept her office working through thousands of emergencies. She had never seen him hesitate to speak until that afternoon.
“What’s the matter?”
“Your Majesty,” Olivier started then stopped.
“Spit it out, Olivier.”
“There’s no gentler way to tell you this,” Olivier said, making her look up from her paperwork.
“What in the world is wrong?”
Olivier winced and stepped closer to her desk. He kept his voice low as though it would make it easier for her to absorb the news.
“There is bad news about His Royal Highness, Prince Isaak, ma’am. Commander Steele of the Royal Navy SPOC is here to see you. He insists on speaking to you directly about a witness who requires protection.”
Amethea pushed the documents on her desk aside and stood.
“What could this be about?”
“The Commander won’t tell me more, ma’am. He insists on meeting you in person.”
Amethea stared at Olivier, scenarios blooming in her head about her eldest son. She was quite sure Commander Steele would not seek her out without reason. He was the highest-ranking officer in the palace’s military office. She trusted him with the safety of her family members, wherever they maybe. She could not delay him if he wanted to see her.
“Let him in,” Amethea said, taking in a deep breath.
She moved around her desk and went to sit on the armchair at the small sitting area near her desk.
Olivier hurried away and she took the precious minutes before Commander Steele entered the room to compose herself. When he walked in, Commander Steele saluted before he took the seat opposite her.
“Commander Steele,” she greeted. “How have you been?”
“Well, Your Majesty,” the Commander said.
“Your daughter,” Amethea searched her memory banks. “Shirley.”
“She is doing well, rising up the ranks as she should.”
“Oh yes,” Amethea remembered now that his daughter had also chosen to join the Royal Navy like her father. She had to be twenty-two or twenty-three, not much older than Leon.
Pleasantries over, Amethea folded her hands on her lap and asked, “What brings you to see me, Commander Steele?”
Commander Mathew Steele stood and handed her a black folder. She took it with a small frown, and as he settled in his seat, she opened the folder to find pictures of a bloody blue dress stained with mud. The dress looked aged. Amethea frowned when she saw the royal insignia on a towel beside the bloody blue dress. Closer study assured her that the crest on the towel belonged to Isaak’s household.
“What are these?” Amethea asked.
“Evidence turned in by Lady Doris’s maid,” Commander Steele said. “We’ve ran those clothes through every test possible. The conclusion is solid. Lady Doris died of poisoning, Your Majesty, and not childbirth, as reported. She died from poison that her maid insists was given to her by her husband, His Royal Highness, Prince Isaak.”
“Why did this maid never say anything before?” Amethea asked, shaken.
She dared not refute that Isaak was capable of murder. She knew him well enough. She had worried that his level of misdeeds would only increase, but…murder!
“Your announcement to invest the Crown Prince spurred the woman forward, along with three royal guards who have evidence of three more disappearances,” Commander Steele said.
“What type of disappearances?” Amethea asked, as a tight band of unease settled in her stomach.
“Individuals with high profiles who disappeared after altercations with His Royal Highness, Ma’am,” Commander Steele said. He pulled out a document with three names. “You are familiar with these names. Their cases have been on the media a few years.”
Amethea read the paper and closed her eyes. The names belonged to a reporter, a doctor and a volunteer working at a children’s home Dora had supported, each name a missing person’s case that had caused an uproar in the capital.
“What kind of evidence do the royal guards have?” she asked.
“The guards provided locations to their missing bodies. There is a strong connection to His Royal Highness, Prince Isaak, but the evidence is too old,” Commander Steele said. “I have a discrete team working on these cases.”
“Who else knows?”
“Two ministers in the Royal Diet,” Commander Steele said. “They are worried enough to ask me to approach you. Prince Isaak is next in line. Having someone capable of murder in your seat—”
Amethea sat back in her seat and met the Commander’s gaze when he broke off.
“There’s more, isn’t there?” Amethea asked, already knowing the answer.
Commander Steele held his silence, but his gaze was enough to feed her suspicion.
She placed the folder of photos on the stool next to her. She thought of her eldest son and the trouble he was bound to start in light of this news and let out a soft sigh.
She could not fight Isaak alone.
“Push these cases through official legal channels,” Amethea decided, hoping the publicity would curb Isaak’s need for blood. It would also give her a way forward on succession. The public’s sentiment would have to guide her decision.
“It won’t be easy work, Commander. Isaak has too much access. You will need to draw out all who tried to help my son hide the murders. Can you handle it?” Amethea asked.
“I can,” Commander Steele said.
“Then,” Amethea said with a sad sigh. “I look forward to your results.”
When Commander Steele left, Amethea called Olivier into her office.
“Where are Prince Kleo and his wife?” she asked.
“They are in Paris on a business trip,” Olivier answered.
“What about Leon?” Amethea asked, smiling at the thought of her youngest grandson. “I haven’t seen him around since he graduated from Oxford in July. I haven’t gotten a call from him.”
“Young Prince Leon asked his parents to allow him a six-month tour across Europe without escort.”
“Surely they didn’t allow such madness?” Amethea asked, shocked.
Kleopas would not have told her about Leon’s request because she would protest such an idea. Her grip tightened on the folder from Commander Steele, panic seizing her.
“Is Leon really alone out there?” Amethea asked, afraid for him.
“He is not alone,” Olivier said. “Prince Kleo made Leon take one of Commander Steele’s lieutenants with him on his travels.”
“Thank goodness,” Amethea sighed with relief.
It was not enough, but she was glad Leon wasn’t alone. The only comfort was that Commander Steele trained exceptional men. Looking at the folder she held, she realized she might have to burden Kleopas with the Kingdom of Aeras.
In turn, Kleopas would burden Leon.
None of them would thank her.
“Please ask the officers-in-charge to take extra care of them. A harsh storm is coming and they are bound to have a hard time,” Amethea said.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Olivier said, and hurried away to fulfill her order.
“Lieutenant Mason checking in,” Logan said when his call to Stevens went through.
“You’re not calling from Sweden,” Stevens stated.
“No, we’re in Prague,” Logan answered, walking along Havelska Street.
He navigated around a man and his girlfriend who had two black dogs on a leash. They were arguing on where to buy fruit. Logan smiled when the girlfriend ended the conversation by walking into one of the stalls along the street.
“I figured His Highness changed the itinerary,” Stevens said on the other end. “You haven’t called in much, just sending wellness reports.”
“Seemed easiest,” Logan said. “Leon is worried we might tell his parents about the change of plan. He’s not ready to go home.”
“I’m glad you didn’t fight him on it,” Stevens said. “You’ve earned his trust.”
“To a point,” Logan said, pausing by a stall selling fresh vegetables.
Their kitchen was running low, and Leon’s solution to a kitchen without food was to call take out.
“Why did you send me an urgent check-in code?” Logan asked.
“Orders from above,” Stevens said. “Commander Steele wants security tighter around Prince Kleopas’s family. We’ve been flying blind with you but we need to take a more active role.”
“Understood,” Logan wondered what would have prompted heightened security. He didn’t ask though. “Our next stop is Norway. They’re leaving the cars here with a contact. I believe it will be a hiking trip this time.”
“I’ll make the necessary calls so that you’re not on your own. We’ll have all our contacts in Norway on alert. They’ll keep their distance but I expect more frequent reports from you.”
“Thank you,” Logan said, smiling at the owner of the vegetable stall.
“How are you getting along with His Highness?” Stevens asked.
“We have an understanding,” Logan said, thinking about the nights he and Leon spent at Eibsee Lake.
The hours he spent watching Leon sleep on a lounge chair, wanting nothing more than to hold him. He had stolen a kiss though, when Leon was deep asleep.
Logan imagined it the only one he would ever have with Leon. He could not stop thinking of that soft brush of his lips on Leon’s parted ones. It had felt forbidden and thrilling, and cemented all his reasons to keep an emotional distance.
“Call in more often,” Stevens ordered. “Even as we try to accommodate His Highness, we need to be prepared in case of trouble.”
“I will call,” Logan promised.
He ended the call and concentrated on choosing fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and planning a grilled steak dinner.
Logan walked back to the house in high spirits, whistling as he opened the front door. He was in the kitchen when he heard Leon’s raised voice as he came down the stairs.
“How long will you keep doing this to him? You know how he gets when Genevieve comes. You know it, and still can’t protect him. As long as she’s here, you stay away from Riku,” Leon said, as he entered the kitchen followed by Petr.
“Leon,” Petr said in protest.
“There’s nothing more to say,” Leon said, stopping by the fridge where he got a bottle of water.
Leon looked dressed up for a night out in black: jeans, tailored shirt and sexy black boots. His hair stuck up with the help of product. It should have looked ridiculous, but the hairstyle worked on Leon. Anything worked on him.
“Going somewhere?” Logan asked, turning off the water at the sink, the tomatoes half washed.
Leon glanced at him.
“Yeah, out to a club without Petr,” Leon said, returning his gaze to Petr.
“You’re not being fair,” Petr complained.“Riku—”
“If you can’t take care of his heart send him to me.” Leon stated his tone enough to let Logan know he was serious. “I’ll take care of him.”
Petr tensed in answer, and grabbed Leon’s shirt collar, shaking him slightly.
Logan started forward only to stop when he noted Leon making a fist with his left hand. The message was clear.
Logan stopped, cursing under his breath when Petr closed the distance between him and Leon, so that they were now inches apart. Petr was breathing hard, a vein popping out at his temple.
“You’re judging me,” Petr said, shaking with anger, “as though you’re better than me when it comes to responsibilities. What can you do for anyone who loves you? I can at least meet Riku the way we are. We’re making the most of it, but you…your lovers will cry blood tears for you. Who you end up with is up to dear Granny, isn’t it?”
Leon pushed Petr away.
“Who I love is my choice, always has been,” Leon hissed. “No one will take that away from me. The problem, Petr, is you giving Riku hope when you won’t let go of Genevieve even for a second. It’s cruel.”
“I don’t need you to keep reminding me that I’m hurting him,” Petr said, glaring at Leon.
“Then figure out what you want, Riku or Genevieve,” Leon said, his voice raised. “Watching you hurt Riku is hard enough. I don’t want to see what it will look like when you break him.”
Petr stared at Leon for a full minute before he stalked out of the kitchen.
Leon leaned on the counter and gripped the bottle of water in his hand tight, eyes closed almost in defeat.
“Are you alright?” Logan asked, moving around the kitchen table to stand before Leon.
“I’m fine.” Leon studied the water bottle he held too tight.
Logan reached out and took Leon’s left hand, prying the bottle out of Leon’s grip. He placed it on the counter behind Leon.
“You’re upset,” Logan stated, still holding Leon’s hand. “What’s going on with Riku?”
Leon started and then stopped. His gaze fixed on their clasped hands.
Logan waited and then felt the sting of disappointment fill him when Leon pulled his hand away.
Leon took the bottle back and moved away from him, heading to the kitchen exit.
“We are taking Riku to a club. We can wait for you to get dressed, and then we can go,” Leon said. “It’s better for everyone if we’re out tonight.”
“Are you sure—?” Logan started to ask.
“Riku needs the distraction,” Leon said, interrupting him. “Hurry Logan, before Petr decides against taking my sage advice.”
Leon left the kitchen with that request.
Logan took in the scattered ingredients on the sink counter. His wish for a quiet dinner was not happening tonight. So, he spent a few minutes putting ingredients away, then hurried upstairs to dress for the night.
David talked too much during their ride to the club, trying to fill the strange silence that existed between Riku and Leon. Logan answered David, if only to give David reasons to continue talking.
At the club, Logan watched the three friends mingle. He refused drinks and chose soda water. He kept close attention on Leon who drank with no worry. Leon danced with Riku until it looked as though his head spun, and then two men who owned the club joined them.
Logan recognized Petr’s friend, because he was the one who helped them with the house they were using. His name was Darius.
Darius stared at Leon like a starved beast and Leon was a juicy morsel. He sat too close to Leon, bought him drinks, and rested an arm around Leon’s shoulders. When Leon smiled at him, Darius leaned in and they kissed.
Logan wished he could order a stiff drink.
It took everything inside him not to interfere.
Leon melted in Darius’s arms, and Logan looked away.
It hurt to see.
It hurt to watch and be powerless to stop this clear invasion into his territory.
Prague was torture.
Logan hated every minute from that day at the club. September was a failure he decided. Three weeks of watching Leon run around with Darius: seeing them making out in the kitchen, in the living room and every place they visited.
Logan refused to think of what they did together locked in Leon’s room. He almost understood Petr’s outburst when Petr found Riku lounging in the living room with Darius’s friend, Theo.
Petr simply grabbed Riku’s arm and pulled him off the couch, then proceeded to kick Theo out of the house. That day Petr promised Riku, who had tears in his eyes, that he would do something about Genevieve.
Logan wished he could do the same with Darius but he had no claim on Leon. He had no right to stop Darius from holding Leon and kissing him. He had no rights to kick Darius out of their house.
The next stop could not come soon enough.
The morning of their departure to Norway, Leon and Darius stood in the front hall, murmuring to each other. Leon was thankfully dressed for the trip already. Logan stood at the kitchen door watching them, while he drank his coffee.
“Your jealousy is showing,” Riku said, resting his right hand on Logan’s left shoulder. “We’re leaving Darius behind. If you want Leon you’re going to need to make the first move, Logan.”
Logan drank deep from his cup and looked away from Leon when he hugged Darius tight.
“It looks like he has a thing going with Petr’s friend,” Logan said, moving away from the kitchen door.
Riku chuckled, and patted Logan’s left shoulder.
“A distraction in Prague,” Riku said, “like I needed one with Theo.”
Logan studied Riku for a moment.
“Feeling better?” he asked Riku.
“I can’t wait for Norway,” Riku said, with a shrug. “At least we won’t have to deal with a Genevieve invasion again.”
“Why do you take it? End it with Petr if it gets too much,” Logan said, aware that Riku’s pain bothered Leon.
“I wish I could,” Riku said. “I really wish I could, Logan, but I love the bastard.”
Logan watched Riku head out of the kitchen, probably going to find Petr.
He decided then that if he turned into a fool because of love like Riku, he would ask Stevens to shoot him in the head.
“Your guard dog is watching us with eyes that could burn,” Darius said to Leon. “He gets more murderous when I kiss you, Leon.”
Leon chuckled and pressed his forehead on Darius’s shoulder.
“You see more than I do,” Leon confessed. “Are you sure he likes me that way? He could be just protective. It’s his job.”
“Hug me,” Darius said, wrapping strong arms around Leon, pulling him into a tight comforting hug.
Leon breathed in the bliss of the comfort even though it was temporary. Darius was a fast passion that fizzled out once they kissed and spent a night together. Partly his fault, Leon was aware that his own passions now focused on Logan Mason.
Instead of a lover, Darius had turned into a fast friend. Leon spent time with Darius because he was a great city guide and he enjoyed listening to Darius talk about his home.
“See, your guard dog has walked away in a huff,” Darius said, with a small chuckle. “Trust me; he really does like you that way.”
Leon felt hope bloom, and wished he had the courage to walk up to Logan, but he didn’t.
“I’m sad to see you leave, Prince Leon,” Darius said, letting Leon know that Darius had not forgotten who he was, even for a second.
Darius sounded like someone saying goodbye to a fairytale.
“I have had the best time, these last three weeks, with you.”
“Me too,” Leon said, stepping back when Darius let him go. “Let’s keep in touch, Darius. I’d really like that.”
Darius smiled and kissed Leon’s cheek.
“Safe travels, miláčku,” Darius murmured.
Leon nodded, and watched Darius leave the house, closing the door with a last wave. A minute later, Logan asked behind him.
“Are you ready to leave?”
Leon turned to find Logan standing by the kitchen door.
Leon’s heart skipped a beat, Logan looked…too wonderful.
Leon wondered if he shouldn’t run after Darius and beg him to come with them, but that would be running away. He needed to face the fire in Logan’s eyes head on.
“I’m ready,” Leon said, smiling at Logan. “Norway here we come.”