Bangkok gave Leon and Logan the freedom to sink into their newfound romance. Riku’s home offered convenience and privacy. Leon left his friends to their own adventures, preferring to walk the streets of Bangkok with Logan.
Leon remembered every minute of their month in Thailand.
They rode longboats that took them on tours of the residential parts of the city. Leon took pictures of Logan smiling, or pointing out sights that caught his attention. He snapped pictures of Logan buying them beers when the longboat stopped at one of the street markets. There was one of Logan laughing with the longboat’s owner, as though they were old friends.
There was the visit to one of the largest temple complexes in the city, Wat Pho. Home to the giant reclining Buddha covered in gold leaf. Leon spent more than a few minutes capturing it on camera, then dragged Logan closer so that they could take a selfie. Logan had covered his face in embarrassment when Leon insisted they crouch down on the floor to get the right angle.
They walked through the huge flower market. Leon took more pictures and bought Logan a bunch of edible flowers. Leon made sure to immortalize Logan’s amused expression at the taste of those flowers.
He had a collection of pictures dedicated to Logan’s expressions: happy Logan, moody Logan, annoyed Logan, and his favorite, thinking Logan. Leon scrolled through them and paused when he found a photo of Logan taken at a local restaurant in Bangkok.
Leon frowned, remembering the lunch they spent at that local Bangkok restaurant.
They chose a quiet spot by the windows with a view of the street. After spending five months in Leon’s company, Logan was well versed in Leon’s likes and dislikes when it came to food. Leon left Logan to order their food, while he watched the street.
“Do you think it’s freeing to live the way we have these last five months?” Leon asked, when Logan was done making their order. “Without a care or schedule in sight. I wonder if I shouldn’t try to live like this forever.”
“Don’t you miss home?” Logan asked, accepting the glasses of freshly squeezed tangerine juice from their waiter.
“In some ways, I do,” Leon shrugged. “I also know if I go back home, the first thing I’ll give up is free time. There are projects I want to do that will take all my time. I’m worried I won’t be this free for a long time.”
“I don’t mind a life of schedules,” Logan said, adjusting the plate of river prawn on lotus flower and sweet sauce before Leon. He had ordered barbecue chicken with sauce for himself.
Logan took a few minutes cutting pieces of chicken to place on Leon’s plate. Leon had a bad habit of eating what everyone else ordered, and only a little of what was in his plate. Something Logan had picked up about Leon in Norway.
“Why don’t you mind schedules?” Leon asked, picking up the pieces of barbecue chicken Logan placed on his plate. He chewed slow, as though testing it. When he was sure of the taste, he took another bite.
“Schedules mean I know where I need to be every day, at every moment. They keep me goal-oriented. They’re efficient.”
“That’s…true,” Leon smiled, taking up his glass of juice.
Leon took a sip, then a deeper drink when he approved of the taste. He looked up from his plate and his gaze stayed on Logan as he ate his chicken.
“What happens when we get home?” Leon asked, thinking he wanted to continue seeing Logan after their trip ended. He wanted Logan in his life.
Logan placed his fork on his plate and dropped his hands on his lap. When he looked at Leon, it was to deliver somber news.
“I’ll get a new assignment.”
“Just like that?” Leon asked, annoyed by the acceptance in Logan’s voice.
He needed Logan to want him too.
“That is my life, Leon,” Logan said. “It’s what I signed up for.”
“So, I’m an assignment, and that’s it.”
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“What if I want you to stay with me?” Leon asked. “Would you agree?”
Logan held his silence, a tick in his jaw before he met Leon’s gaze.
“No,” Logan said, his gaze leaving no doubt that Leon would not interfere with his career.
Leon stared at him for a moment, and then he got up and left the restaurant, anxiety burning a hole in his gut. His appetite vanished. He did not want to interfere with Logan’s life in anyway. He wanted the best for Logan, always, but the idea of being unable to see him again—
A strong grip on his left elbow jerked him to a stop and he turned to find Logan glaring at him.
“Never do that again,” Logan yelled. “You don’t walk away from me.”
“Let go.” Leon jerked his arm out of Logan’s hold, hating the swirl of uneasiness flooding his stomach.
He wanted to shout with frustration on the street.
Logan held up the camera bag Leon carried.
“You left this behind.”
Leon cursed and reached for the bag, only for Logan to move it out of his reach.
“Do you want to talk about this?” Logan asked, studying him. “We can do it now, or later, when we’re about to go back to Aeras. Which do you prefer?”
Leon wiped a hand down his face and looked around the busy street. Fear he didn’t understand filled his heart.
It wasn’t as though Logan would be too far, but—
“I’m afraid I’ll never see you again when we get home,” Leon stated, finally meeting Logan’s inquiring gaze. “You’ll be gone, disappeared into the intricate mess that is your beloved Royal Navy. You’ll stay inundated in missions. What we’ve built here will disappear in a flash and it scares me.”
“I won’t let that happen,” Logan said. “I’ll make time for you, if you want it.”
Leon chuckled, the sound bitter even to his ears, as he shook his head. It would not be the same. It would not be this: being together, living together. He could already hear doubt creeping into Logan’s voice.
Back home where he was a prince and Logan a naval officer, would Logan have the courage to want him back? His heart threatened to break at the thought of it all.
“Don’t tease me, Logan,” Leon said. “I know the rules and how they will pull us apart because of your duty to them.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say to make this easier,” Logan said, sliding his hand from Leon’s elbow to lock their fingers together. “Baby, you’re having a meltdown in the middle of Bangkok, and all I want to do is kiss you and make it better.”
Leon breathed in now, staring at Logan’s photo, thinking about that conversation on the street.
They had not finished their discussion. Logan had pulled him into a hug and then hailed a taxi to head back to Riku’s house. When they got there, it was to find Riku planning a trip to the beach.
Leon studied a photograph of Logan at the beach in Phuket.
Logan was in swimming shorts, coming out of the water, his hair dripping, his body so incredible; Leon had been unable to resist taking the picture among other things. Years of military training had sculpted Logan’s body to perfection. Smiling, Leon saved Logan’s photos and decided he did not have the courage to revisit their lost conversation until it was necessary.
Bangkok had turned into the perfect getaway.
Now, they were in Anselm’s Seville.
The Leandro Hacienda was ushering in December. Anselm tried to be there for them, but his presence in the hacienda meant he had to work at times. Petr and Riku spent most of their time together. David and Paul went in search of matador scenes, leaving Leon and Logan to their own devices.
Leon smiled when a cold glass of orange juice appeared before him. He closed the laptop and shivered when cool lips trailed along his bare neck, down to his shoulder. The black dressing gown he wore slid off his shoulders and he placed the glass on the table, turning his chair so that he could kiss Logan.
It felt as though he and Logan had fallen into a cloud of passion in Seville.
Anselm’s hacienda was perfect for it: lazy afternoons in bed with Logan were the stuff of dreams.
They made love, unfolding each other with desire and need, until there was nothing to hide.
Leon moaned now, as Logan pushed the gown away leaving him naked. He sunk his fingers into Logan’s hair, which had grown in the last few months, biting his lip when Logan kissed his way down his stomach, lower, until he took Leon’s cock into his mouth.
Thoughts disappeared, and all that remained was Logan’s hot mouth on him, and the molten desire racing through him.
If he lived with nothing else but Logan loving him, Leon knew he would be content.
When they made it out of bed, Logan took pleasure in watching Leon ride Anselm’s horses.One afternoon, on a sunny Wednesday, Leon sat on a brown mare with no saddle in only a pair of jeans, his shirt hanging on the rail beside Logan, his feet bare.
“You’re crazy,” Logan scolded, wishing he could pull Leon off the horse, even as Leon urged it into a hard gallop around the enclosed pasture.
Leon’s laugh at the exhilarating ride had Logan watching him in awe.
In moments like these, he marveled at the fact that he had somehow gained the right to kiss this passionate Leon and watch him come apart with ecstasy in his arms.
Logan frowned when it started raining. He started to call out to Leon, but stopped.
Leon held out his hands wide and tilted his head back, allowing his horse to guide the ride around the pasture. Horse and man, making a perfect picture in the rain, Logan brought his phone up and took the picture, thinking it the most real Leon had ever gotten.
Logan wished he could keep Leon forever.
When Leon rode toward him, stopping his horse right before Logan, Logan’s heart ached with love when Leon jumped off the horse and came to him. Leon climbed the railing and kissed him, as though they didn’t have another night together. One kiss led to more. They laughed and worked on finding a private spot to enjoy each other to their hearts’ content. The rain stopped, and they lay on long grass behind the hacienda, kissing, and exploring each other’s bodies, not spoiling the moment with words.
It was bliss.
Leon closed his eyes when Logan trailed kisses down his chest. Logan then braced his hands on either side of him and took a moment to stare down at Leon. Leon smiled, leaning up to steal a kiss from Logan. He chuckled when Logan lay over him, pressing his full weight on him.
Riku’s voice drifted to them and Logan groaned, burying his face into Leon’s shoulder at the interruption.
“We should ignore him,” Leon sighed, running his hands up Logan’s back. “Come on, Logan, kiss me again.”
Riku yelled, a note in his voice making Logan sit up to see Riku running toward them.
“Come on,” Leon protested, when Logan got to his feet, his gaze narrowed when Riku saw him and changed direction, running at full speed toward them.
Logan reached down and pulled Leon to his feet.
“Something is wrong,” Logan said, when Leon leaned into his back, pressing a kiss on Logan’s shoulder.
“What could be wrong on such a perfect day?” Leon asked, pressing his face into Logan’s back.
Riku reached them, and stood staring at Leon for a full minute, his eyes filled with tears.
“I’m sorry,” Riku said, the tears spilling over.
“What’s wrong?” Logan asked, shifting so that he could wrap his left arm around Leon’s shoulders.
Riku held out Logan’s cellphone.
Logan had left it with him when they came out here, just in case.
Logan sucked in air, thinking Leon’s parents had discovered the nature of their trip across Europe. He checked the caller ID and frowned when he saw Commander Steele’s personal number.
“Hello, Commander Steele, Sir,” Logan said, after bringing the phone to his ear.
“Lieutenant Mason,” Commander Steele said, his voice soft. “Are you near His Highness, Prince Leon?”
His answer had Leon looking at him with a frown.
“Good. We have bad news for him and he is going to need someone with him. There is no easy way to say this, Lieutenant. An hour ago, there was a terrible car accident near the family’s vineyard in Aeras. His Highness, Prince Kleopas and his wife, Princess Anastasia were both in the car. They are gone, Logan. Prince Leon is summoned back home. We’re already making the necessary arrangements for his return. You’ll need to accompany him back.”
Logan sucked in air, his arm tightening around Leon.
“If you’ll hand him the phone now,” Commander Steele said. “It is my duty to make the notification to His Highness.”
Logan’s gaze met Leon’s questioning one and he heard himself ask, “May I make it?”
“No, Lieutenant. This is my duty, son. Follow orders and hand the phone to His Highness.”
Logan closed his eyes and held out his phone to Leon, keeping his arm around Leon.
“It’s for you,” Logan managed to choke out, when Leon took the phone in confusion.
Leon brought the phone to his ear, and Logan knew the moment Leon heard the worst news of his life. Leon dropped the phone to the ground, going limp. Logan wrapped his arms around Leon tight, aware of Riku moving in too, and holding Leon from the back.
“I’m so sorry,” Logan murmured, into Leon’s ear. “You’re not alone. Baby, we’re right here.”
Leon clung to him, shaking hard, even as he shook his head in denial.
Logan sat beside Leon on the flight back to the Kingdom of Aeras. His hand closed over Leon’s right, doing everything he could to infuse strength into a listless Leon .
Since the call from Commander Steele, Leon had not spoken one word. He moved in silence, following when Logan made him head back to their suite to dress. Commander Steele’s orders got them transportation back to the Kingdom of Aeras in less than thirty minutes. A car stood waiting outside Anselm’s hacienda by the time Leon was fully dressed in a black suit.
Logan left their luggage to Anselm, knowing it would be well packed and sent to Aeras. He made sure to take Leon’s laptop and his camera bag though.
The seatbelt light came on in preparation for the landing. Logan started to reach for Leon’s belt to snap it in place, only to realize that Leon had not bothered removing it. Looking into gray eyes, he wondered if Leon even saw him.
There was no need for words.
Leon was not talking.
“Logan, see me for a moment,” Petr said, touching Logan’s shoulder. “Sit with me.”
Logan squeezed Leon’s hand, not ready to leave him. Petr gave him a warning glance, and he sighed and got up. It was no surprise that all Leon’s friends had boarded the plane with him. Riku moved into the seat Logan vacated and took Leon’s hand.
Logan sat next to Petr and waited.
“How deep are you?” Petr asked.
Logan stared at his hands on his lap. He didn’t know what answer to give. He and Leon had barely talked about the future. When they tried, Leon would get so upset, Logan had thought it best they push it back to when they returned. He could never have imagined this happening.
“We’re about to land,” Petr said, continuing without Logan’s answer. “You have a choice to make, Logan. Remember I told you that you would need to join our circle to keep close?”
Logan nodded. His gaze fixed on Leon’s seat. He could not see Leon but he imagined Leon was staring out the window, as he had during the flight.
“I suppose you’ll have to experience what I mean to understand,” Petr said. “I’m telling you if you want into the circle, I’ll help you. We all will, but you need to want it, Logan, because it’s not an easy feat liking a Queen’s favorite grandson. Do you understand?”
Logan dragged his gaze away from Leon’s seat to Petr.
“Let’s talk about it later, Petr,” Logan said, he could barely think straight right now. He didn’t understand what Petr was trying to say. Right now, all he could think about was Leon.
Leon looked like the type to hold his pain inside, and not reach out for help.
“Sure,” Petr said, with a short nod. “
Logan got up and returned to his seat making Riku return to Petr.
When they landed, it was to find a palace attendant waiting for Leon with three black royal service cars at the ready. It was night. The palace was keeping Leon’s arrival private. There was no press in sight. The heightened security tipped Logan that there was more going on.
Leon stared at the palace attendant waiting for direction.
“Your Highness, Prince Leon, my name is Dax Karia. I am your personal secretary assigned by the palace. I will accompany you through this difficult time.”
Leon pointed to Logan and his friends.
“I—” He broke off, clearing his throat. “I need them.”
Logan started to step forward, but stopped when Riku held his elbow.
“Can you stay with him? Don’t leave him alone at the hospital?” Riku asked. “He’s—”
“I know. I’ll stay with him,” Logan promised, following Leon to the car Dax indicated.
“Where are we going?” Logan asked Dax, who sat in the front passenger seat.
“The hospital first,” Dax said, shifting to look at Leon. “Then to the palace to meet Her Majesty the Queen.”
Leon closed his eyes and clasped his hands tight on his lap. Logan once again covered Leon’s cool hands with his hoping to relieve Leon’s anxiety. It worked for a while, until the car pulled into the underground parking lot at the hospital.
Leon shivered then, tension returning.
Dax led the way to the morgue.
Logan noted that only relevant staff remained. At the doors into the morgue, Leon stopped right outside unable to follow Dax. His fingers clenched into tight fists.
Logan started to reach for him, but Dax stepped out, giving him a censuring glance.
“Your Highness,” Dax addressed Leon.
“You’re Prince Kleopas’s only son and the head of Castle Arguro now,” Dax said, in the gentlest voice possible. “We should get this identification done so that we’re able to start funeral arrangements.”
Leon sucked in air and seemed to push himself to enter the morgue. Logan followed behind him, afraid. He was not as confident as Dax that Leon would keep it together.
He wasn’t wrong.
It took Leon exactly three minutes from the moment he saw his parents. Logan reached him as he broke down into hard sobs that had Dax leaving them alone and closing the doors to ensure privacy.
Logan held on to Leon, as he cried harsh sobs that wrecked through his body, until all he could do was hold on to Logan. Shock and pain washed over Leon. Logan wished he could take it all for him. Yet, all he could do was hold Leon in the middle of this horrible storm.
When Leon calmed down enough to walk, Logan led him out of the morgue to find Dax waiting for them. Dax held out a handkerchief to Leon.
“What’s next?” Logan asked, making sure he blocked Leon from everyone else, as he composed himself.
“Now, we head to the palace,” Dax said, studying Logan with a curious glance. “I’m not sure you’re—”
“I have clearance,” Logan said. “Talk to Commander Steele.”
Dax nodded and led the way out.
Once upstairs, Logan sighed because their luck had ran out. The press waited outside. The security Dax brought with him was efficient. They cleared a path to the car in minutes. Leon walked on his own steam, and once they were in the car, the driver took off.
Logan tried to reach out, but Leon just shook his head, tears sliding down his cheeks. Logan pulled him into his arms, offering comfort, hoping to ward off the nightmare.
The drive to the Capital’s Palace went too fast.
One moment Leon was in his arms, the next the car pulled up to the palace’s main entrance. Leon moved out of his arms, taking in deep breaths, building armor around his emotions. When he got out of the car, he was composed enough.
Logan followed Leon into the palace, stopping only when the Queen’s personal secretary and Commander Steele met them. Leon continued up the wide staircase to the first floor following the queen’s personal secretary and Logan met Commander Steele’s gaze.
“Lieutenant Mason,” Commander Steele said in greeting. “Thank you for completing your mission with success. Now that His Highness is home, I have a special mission for you…”
Logan looked up the staircase to find Leon watching him.
Their gazes held for a minute, then Leon was gone, and there was only duty staring at Logan.
A week later, Leon stood in the green salon where his mother liked to host her guests at Castle Arguro. She loved the wide windows that let in the sun. Anastasia worked tirelessly with the gardener to create a bustling, flourishing flower garden for the perfect view. Leon stared at the bright garden now and felt nausea rise. His mother would want the garden kept up and he had no clue how. He didn’t know the first thing about running the castle.
Why had he never bothered to learn?
His father’s work was easy. Leon trained all his life for it, but running the castle…
Leon took in a deep breath, hoping to quell the panic. He closed his eyes and the image of his parents lying so still in the morgue filled his mind’s eye. He sucked in air, and forced his eyes open. The reality of his parents’ deaths tore him to pieces by the minute.
“Your Highness,” someone said, trying to draw him out of the cold.
Leon stopped to clear his throat. He turned to his right to find the palace attendant his grandmother had forced on him standing a few feet away.
A blessing and a curse, he decided.
The attendant was a blessing because Dax was the only person who seemed to know what Leon was supposed to be doing. Leon thought it a curse because he had this sinking feeling that his parents were dead because of the palace. His first instinct was to distance himself from his grandmother. Not yet though, not until his parents were laid to rest. His heart squeezed with pain. He couldn’t believe he was burying his parents today. It all felt too unreal.
“What am I doing next?” Leon asked Dax, needing direction.
“We’re driving to the funeral procession,” Dax said. “You’ll have a ten minute walk from the Thelem Academy behind your parents’ caskets until you arrive at the Thelem Abbey where Her Majesty is waiting for you, Your Highness.”
“I don’t remember all the protocols.”
“I will stay with you through the ceremony and guide Your Highness through them,” Dax promised.
Leon nodded glad he did not have to remember all the procedures. Turning to the gardens again, he pointed at them.
“Dax, Mom would want me to keep up the gardens and I don’t know how,” Leon said. “Can you make sure they know to take care of them? I—, it’s—,” Leon shook his head. “She would want that.”
“I will see that it gets done,” Dax murmured, noting it down in the notebook he held.
“Leon, you don’t have to worry about that right now,” Riku said, from somewhere behind him.
Leon turned and was surprised to see his friends sitting in various chairs around the room. They all stood, all dressed in impeccable black suits. Riku stepped up to him first, and hugged him hard. Paul, then Petr followed, each one patting his back in support. Anselm kissed his cheek, and then David took his right hand and pressed a coin into his palm.
“Hold it to distract your thoughts. We’re with you during that procession,” David murmured, hugging Leon tight. “You’re not alone, Leon.”
Leon clutched the coin and hugged David hard holding back tears, before he turned and left the green salon, afraid he might start sobbing again. Heart pounding as he followed Dax out. Leon stopped when he saw Logan standing by the exit in his dark formal uniform. Logan’s hat held under his left arm.
When Logan saw him, he made a perfect salute and Leon could only stare at his lover. In the past week, they had barely seen each other. The palace had pulled Logan from Leon’s protection detail. Commander Steele had instead assigned a new officer to Leon. Knowing that Logan wanted a prestigious military career, Leon had kept his silence. After all, they had not made any promises to each other.
Logan held Leon’s gaze for a second, before he opened the doors and Leon had no choice but to head out.
Leon tried to remain strong as he walked by Logan, biting his lip hard as he followed Dax to his car.
He could do this.
Lose everything in a week: his parents and his chosen lover.
He could manage this.
Leon almost broke when Logan slid into the backseat beside him.
Dax raised the privacy glass between them and the driver and Leon turned to look at Logan.
“You came,” Leon stated, gripping David’s coin tight. “I haven’t seen you all week. Did you get a good assignment?”
“Leon,” Logan said. “I’m sorry. They’ve kept me so busy. I wanted to come and stay with you, but it’s really hard to get away.”
“It’s alright. I knew it was going to be like this from the start. There is nothing to be sorry about, Logan,” Leon said, pain numbing his heart.
Logan reached out to touch Leon’s right hand.
“I’m worried about you.”
“Is it enough to stay with me?” Leon asked, needing to ask. If begging would work, he would do that too.
Logan’s resigned tone was enough to tell him it was a waste to ask.
Leon closed his eyes and forced himself to let go. Seville was a dream. He had dreamed their intense romance to life and now he had to stop.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to ask that,” Leon said, shaking his head. “Don’t worry about me. I have my friends and grandmother. I’ll be fine. Thank you for keeping me safe these last few months, Logan.”
The car came to a stop, and Leon wondered at how fast they had gotten into town from Castle Arguro. His driver was speeding. Logan looked like he had more to say, but they did not seem to have time.
There was nothing more to say anyway.
Logan did not look ready to give up his career. It was a ridiculous thing to expect of him. The fantasy was over for them.
Logan cursed under his breath and leaned in to press a chaste kiss on Leon’s jaw.
“Don’t skip your meals, Leon. Please don’t forget that you’re not alone,” Logan said.
Leon closed his eyes as Dax opened Logan’s door.
“This is the farthest we can take you, Lieutenant Mason. Any closer and it will be trouble we can’t afford,” Dax said, prompting Logan to get out of the car.
Leon stared at Logan’s back as he got out and almost cried out for him to stay, so he bit his lip hard and watched Logan leave.
Dax closed the door and in less than a minute, the car continued on taking Leon to his parents’ funeral. Leon clutched David’s coin tight, his heart turning to ice from all the pain.
At the funeral, Logan matched behind Leon in the company of Commander Steele and Lieutenant-Commander Stevens. They acted as the barrier between Leon and the crowd following Leon and his parents to Thelem Abbey.
Leon walked alone behind two caskets on carriages.
He was too young to have married, and Princess Anastasia’s parents were too old to match with Leon. Prince Kleopas’s brother should have been beside Leon, but Prince Isaak had chosen to wait at the church.
Leon cut such a lone figure. Only twenty-two years of age and facing such tragedy, Logan’s heart ached wishing he could rush up and take Leon’s hand.
An impossible dream, Logan thought as they reached Thelem Abbey.
Queen Amethea met them in person.
Logan watched as Her Majesty, the Queen, acknowledged the two caskets with a touch on each one, and then walked to Leon. She pulled Leon into a tight hug, kissed both his cheeks and took his right hand. They entered the abbey together, and in that moment, Logan knew he would have to keep his love hidden.
After all, it had been a dream to try loving a man like His Highness, Prince Leon Nicholas Raphael Maximillian.
The evening after his parents’ funeral, Leon sat in his father’s office/study feeling lost. Kleopas did most of his work in this office. Leon remembered running into this room more than once to call his Dad for a meal, or to sit on the chair by the large windows and talk. Each time, Kleopas had seemed larger than life, someone Leon would always have to talk to, to depend on.
He reached out to pick a photo frame that looked new on the left side of the desk and a gasped when he recognized the framed picture. It was of the three of them. The picture Leon took with his parents on his graduation day. His mother smiled at him, as she clutched the folders with his certificates, his father smiling into the camera, an arm around Leon’s shoulders. Tears filled his eyes as he realized that was the last time he had seen them. The last time his mother hugged him, the last time he saw his father smile at him.
Heart raw with pain, Leon cried silent tears, clutching the photo frame tight. A soft knock came on the door, and he closed his eyes, turning the large chair to face the windows as he wiped his eyes.
“Yes?” he called out when he could.
The door opened and a second later, Dax spoke.
“Your Highness, lawyers from the Office of the Marshal of Court’s are here. They insist on an audience with you,” Dax said. “It’s better to clear everything so that you’ll be free tomorrow.”
Leon sighed, placing the photo frame on his lap. He wiped his cheeks with his palms, taking away traces of tears, and turned the chair to face Dax.
“Alright, let’s do as you say,” Leon said to Dax.
Dax hesitated, waiting at the door, studying Leon’s face for a moment.
“If you would like, I can call Master Riku to keep you company through this,” Dax said after a moment. “They’ll be discussing your parents’ legal information. It can get difficult—
“Have you called Logan after we returned?” Leon asked, hopeful, even after their parting conversation this morning.
Dax’s face fell.
“I’m sorry, Your Highness. Lieutenant Mason is out of reach. His Commanding Officer said that he’s on mission.”
Leon absorbed that news like he had his parents’ death. His numb heart felt solid with the amount of pounding it was getting this week.
“Alright, then no need to call anyone,” Leon said, shaking his head. “My friends have had a long week. There is no need to drag them into these matters.”
“Then,” Dax gave him a tentative smile. “I’ll stand in with you in their stead. It’s not good to be alone through this, Your Highness.”
Leon gave Dax a small nod. He picked up the photo frame on his lap, as Dax left to get his visitors, and returned it to its spot. There were more photos on that corner: pictures of Leon growing up, pictures of Anastasia in the garden, his parents with his grandmother, and a candid photo of his parents at a beach. They looked happy. His father must have smiled every time he caught a glimpse of these photos. Leon sat back, and wondered if he would ever be half as lucky as Kleopas and Anastasia.
The door opened and a small army of lawyers walked in. They were over ten people in the room. Leon sat up, adjusting his suit jacket as Dax hurried to his right side. Making them two against…fourteen, Leon shuddered and wondered why his father’s estate needed so many to report to him. An older man sat on the right chair before his father’s desk, while a handsome woman took the chair on the left. She had three people standing behind her, while the man had the rest. Strange, but it looked like a clear division of staff.
“I’m sorry to intrude on your time at such a difficult time,” the older man said. “My name is Roger Summers. I represent your father, His Highness Prince Kleopas’s, estate. To my right is Mrs. Summers. She represents your mother, Her Highness, Princess Anastasia’s, estate.”
“You are married,” Leon said, amused by the fact that his parents had gotten a couple to manage their affairs.
“We are, Your Highness,” Roger said. “I assure you that it does not interfere with the jobs we have to do.”
“I imagine if it did, none of you would still work for my parents,” Leon said, knowing his father’s attitude toward results. “Do you both work for the Marshal of the Court?”
“No,” Mrs Summers said. “I own a private practice that manages your mother’s estate independent of the royal family’s assets.”
Leon nodded and sat back in his father’s seat.
Roger Summers seemed to take his silence as a go-ahead. He took a thick black folder from his assistant and started the formal proceeding of reading his Kleopas’s will. Leon listened as Roger listed properties he now had to look after, charities and foundations that were now under his purview. Most of all, it was interesting to discover that his dad had run Castle Arguro independent of the palace.
“You’re fourth in line to the throne of Aeras,” Roger said, drawing Leon’s thoughts back to the moment. “Her Majesty sees you as an important member of the Royal Family. When you’re ready, palace officials will schedule you time and duties meant to represent the kingdom—”
“To clarify,” Leon cut in. “All you have read out to me runs independent of the government and tax payers, does it not?”
“It does,” Roger said. “In fact, we pay taxes to the government of Aeras like any other citizen.”
That confirmation sounded like a salvation to Leon. He was searching for a way to survive this tragedy and it was so clear now.
“Then I shall discuss matters of duties and representing the kingdom with my grandmother,” Leon said.
“As you wish,” Rogers said. “I’m now your lawyer too, Your Highness. I’ll be glad to help you make that discussion easier if the palace gets too difficult.”
“Thank you,” Leon said, giving Rogers a nod.
He turned to his Mrs. Summers because she stood. She held out a leather folder bag that Dax took and placed before Leon. Leon frowned, giving Mrs. Summers a confused look but she only nodded urging him to open the bag.
Leon shifted, unzipping the bag and upending the contents on the desk. He could not help the sharp intake of air, when he recognized his mother’s gray cell phone and his father’s black one. His mother’s jewelry and his father’s family ring.
“I—,” Leon started then stopped, as he picked up his father’s phone. It was clean, even as Leon knew it would not have been from the accident. “Where—?”
“The investigators handed them back to us,” Mrs. Summer said. “It’s right that you should have them back. Only, none of us can unlock them.”
Leon swiped his thumb over his father’s phone screen. It came alive and he was faced with a prompt for a code.
A code, Leon thought, his gaze straying to the pictures on his father’s desk. His father’s code would have been…
His gaze stayed on the photo of his parents at the beach. They day they said he was conceived. Leon typed in the date into the phone and blinked back the sting of tears when it unlocked.
Leon was not surprised to see a picture of his mother on the phone’s background. He pulled up the chat they used for family. There were messages they had sent each other the day before his parents died. Anastasia had asked for photos of Anselm’s horses. Leon sent her the horses, stables, Anselm’s parents and even him and David hugging Anselm.
In turn, Anastasia sent him photos of her and Kleopas in the kitchen here at the castle. Leon exited out of the chat wanting to look at those pictures later in private. A message to Mom from Kleopas caught his attention, and he opened it to find a pit of darkness.
’I can’t do it. It should be Constantin or Gia. That’s how it works, Mom. Isaak’s faults should not take away the mantle from his family. Don’t make me Crown Prince. I won’t do that to Leon.’
Leon stood feeling as though cold water poured over his head. He stared at the message unsure what to say. Leon scrolled up wanting to understand why his Dad had written such a message to his grandmother. It didn’t make sense.
“I’m sorry, this marks the end of this meeting,” Dax’s voice broke into the haze of panic that filled him. “I’ll call you to let you know when we can meet again.”
“Your Highness,” Mrs. Summers said, holding out a folder. “You can read your mother’s will, and then we’ll talk later.”
Leon nodded as Dax took the folder she held out.
Dax herded everyone out of the room and when they were gone, Leon started pacing behind his desk. Leon read the lengthy conversations his father had with Amethea and felt like he had been thrown into the depths. His heart broke at the thought of his parents murdered over the crown. They had always supported his grandmother, and Uncle Isaak, always.
“What can I do?” Dax asked.
“I—” Leon stopped, staring at Dax. “You—”
Leon pressed his palm on his forehead, hoping for a clear thought. He needed one. What could he do about this? What should he do about this?
Two days after the funeral, Leon stood in his grandmother’s study trembling with anger.
“You ordered them here thinking to put our family in the line of fire. I read the messages you sent Dad. You did this. You wanted to make him Crown Prince and it killed them.”
“I don’t want any part of it.” Leon stated, holding up his father’s personal cell phone. “Dad didn’t want it either. He told you it would be better to pass on your responsibilities to Constantin or even Gia. They’re old enough for it. I’ll abide by his wishes. I’m not even qualified. I like boys, Granny. I’ll never hide that fact.”
“Does liking boys make you disabled?” Amethea asked, glaring at him. “Does it make you stupid or unable to work? Why would you say that to me?”
“Granny! I will not progress the family to the next century is what it means,” Leon snapped.
“I’m quite sure you’ve heard of surrogacy. The Kingdom of Aeras is quite ahead in the medical field, Leon. I never want to hear that argument again. Insulting yourself insults the thousands of Aeras citizens like you. I will not stand for it.”
Leon stared at her for a full minute, and then looked away.
“It doesn’t matter. Nothing can change the fact that my parents are dead.”
“Leon, you should give me a chance to explain,” Amethea begged her grandson.
Leon shook his head. He could barely sleep these days without seeing his parents dead in his dreams. It was just too much to discover that they had died because of The Crown and his grandmother’s decision to make his father King.
“I don’t want anything to do with the palace,” Leon said, facing his grandmother. “My parents would be alive now if they hadn’t decided to come here. Someone must have leaked out the reasons why you called them. This person made their statement clear when they got my parents killed.”
“It’s the truth, and you know it,” Leon said, grief almost choking him. “Whatever plot that’s running in this Capital Palace that ended with my parents interred at Thelem Abbey, I don’t want any part of it. I’m cutting myself off from the palace, as of this moment.”
“You can’t do that,” Amethea said in shock, noting the same stubborn streak in Prince Kleopas rising in his son. “Leon.”
“I’m sorry, Grandmother. I will not accept anything from the palace again. Think of me as a commoner living beyond your sight .I’ll stay at Castle Arguro because Dad left it to me. Don’t try to change my mind. Just do what Dad suggested. Give it to Constantin or Gia.”
“The pain is too much. I’m done, Grandmother,” Leon stated, tears filling his eyes as he gave her a short nod and left the private study room.
Leon walked out of the palace with determined steps, not looking back once in his resolve. Had he turned, he would have seen Queen Amethea watching him with a deep frown on her forehead.
“What shall we do now, Ma’am?” Olivier asked, when he joined Queen Amethea in her study.
Amethea watched Leon speed out of the palace.
“It’s the wrong time to discuss anything with him. Leon is grieving,” Amethea said, clutching the curtain, as she leaned on the wall. “He loved his parents, Olivier. This is hard for him. It’s hard for me, so I understand his anger. Let’s leave him alone for now. Find a way to keep Dax by his side. This is only the beginning. Tell Commander Steele he owes me an explanation on Kleo and Anastasia. It should not have happened that way. I want a thorough investigation with clear evidence.”
“I’ll pass that along right away,” Olivier said.
“Leon’s going to use his orientation to try to fight my final decision,” Amethea said.
“Aeras Laws are inclusive,” Olivier said. “He’s free to marry who he wills, Your Majesty.”
“Yes, he is. Find the guidelines on same-sex marriage for the royal family. There is precedence of surrogacy in the late eighteenth century. One of the queens could not conceive. The Royal Diet approved a surrogate for the purposes of the bloodline. The family historian should have clear records on how that worked. Liaise with the family doctor and get the groundwork done. Its old rules but they should work for Leon. I’ll leave him no escape.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Olivier said, and left the room.
Leon’s car disappeared after he left the palace gates. She hoped he would find someone to soothe his pain before he had to take over the throne. She knew now that there was no one else to leave it to but Leon.
She did not need an investigation to know that her eldest son, Isaak, had murdered his own brother for her position.
Isaak must have discovered she was pushing the investigation on him. For that alone, she would make sure Leon was crowned king while she lived.
Leon would not thank her for it.