Four Years Later
They said time healed all troubles.
Logan gave an internal scoff.
In his case, time had aggravated his troubles. He doubted those who made the time observation had ever faced his brand of troubles.
Dragging on a white t-shirt, Logan ran a negligent towel over his damp hair and dumped it into his duffel bag. He zipped up his bag and hauled it, leaving the changing rooms. He walked down a long corridor, turned right at the end and straight into an open plan office. He dumped the bag on a bench by the entrance, nodding at the men lounging on office chairs around the room.
“Lieutenant Commander Mason.”
They greeted, as he headed to the glass office tucked in the farthest corner and the man holding the door open for him.
“Commander Stevens,” Logan greeted Frank Stevens, as he entered the office and went to take a seat on one of the guest chairs.
“You look better,” Stevens said, closing the door, and pulling the blinds for privacy. “Better than a few hours ago, I thought we lost you, man.”
“The take-down was touch and go,” Logan said, rolling his shoulders, as he settled in his chair. He had not slept for forty-eight hours. His blood still pumping with adrenaline from the intense mission his team had completed in the last few hours.
“Greg Lamar’s compound had enough ammo to bring down an army. If it weren’t for Shirley’s undercover work, we would not have made it.”
“Her dad was upset she went in so deep,” Stevens sighed, crossing his arms against his chest. “I had to convince Commander Steele that you would make sure nothing happened to her. I’m glad you didn’t let me down, Mason. Everyone is praising your team’s success. The bust has brought down Greg Lamar. He is rumored to have strong ties with a powerful enemy gunning for the royal family. The details remain classified.”
Logan gritted his teeth.
“I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to infiltrate Lamar’s ranks. I still don’t believe his outfit has religious extremists connections. It felt like a front. I believe there is someone above Lamar.”
“Commander Steele has the same thoughts,” Stevens said on a sigh. “He is talking like the mission is incomplete, even as he praises your team. Analysis has the evidence you collected. Hopefully, we’ll discover proof of your suspicions in the next few weeks will be inter.”
Logan frowned, his thoughts on the reasons why he had taken on this assignment four years ago. Commander Steele had thrown him into it without much explanation at the time.
It had taken him six months to realize his team was assigned to investigate the people who bombed the car carrying Leon’s parents. The day he understood the purpose of investigating Greg Lamar, he had thrown himself into the assignment with tunnel vision.
It had taken four years to infiltrate Lamar’s tight ranks, and the last six months to plan a take down and pull Lamar into custody.
Last night, Logan had watched with satisfaction as his team flew in Greg Lamar into this very building for processing.
Greg Lamar was charged with the assassination of Prince Kleopas and Princess Anastasia. He planted the bomb in their car, and gloated about his accomplishment to Logan in person two months ago, calling it a victory against the enemy.
Logan had wanted to punch his front teeth out because he remembered Leon’s heartbreaking tears.
“Has anyone told His Highness, Prince Leon that we have caught the killer?” Logan asked.
If nothing else, he had worked hard to give Leon closure.
Stevens went silent, and then moved away from the door, going to sit in the chair behind his desk.
“That’s right, you haven’t heard, have you?” Stevens asked, settling in his chair. “Prince Leon walked away from the palace two days after his parents’ funeral. He made such a fuss when Her Majesty tried to reverse his decision that he threatened to make a public announcement. She didn’t want that so she backed away. As a result, the prince has forced Commander Steele to keep an eye on him from a distance. Prince Leon runs Castle Arguro independent of the palace. Commander Steele has lived a hard life of providing protection where it is unwanted for four years.”
Logan did not wonder why Leon would make such a decision. The death of his parents had destroyed Leon. He remembered every second of that night at the morgue. Leon crying like the world had ended and his parents so still…so still on those cold slabs. Logan shook his head to clear the vivid images that remained even after four years. He could not forget the feel of Leon breaking down in his arms.
“Why does Her Majesty allow Leon to act out like this?” Logan asked, swallowing hard.
“Rumor has it that she’s afraid he might renounce his titles. She promised him no interference, as long as he kept his silence to the public. They’ve kept an amicable stalemate for four years. She summons him to the palace for family occasions. He refuses to attend, and always provides a viable excuse. The palace is forced to send out press releases to explain his continued absence.”
Leon had a stubborn streak a mile wide.
“Well, I hope someone lets him know his parents are avenged,” Logan said.
“I’m sure they will,” Stevens said. “It is all thanks to you and your team. I’m glad you’re taking the time off. You deserve it.”
Logan rubbed the back of his neck with his right hand.
“I’m going to head out to my mom’s island for a few days. I’m sure your team can take over Greg Lamar’s interrogation. He will be glad to talk to you. Now that it’s over, he’s going to try to find a way to avoid the worst.”
“Life in a black hole is inevitable for him,” Stevens predicted. “If he wants leniency, he will have to drop gold in information.”
Logan’s gaze narrowed, thinking that Lamar might choose to keep his silence on who was above him, if only to keep his life.
“Why does Commander Steele believe there is more to Lamar?” Logan asked.
Stevens studied him for a moment.
“I don’t know, but it has something to do with the royal family. Commander Steele won’t tell me more,” Stevens said, then shrugged. “I have not pushed for more. I figure the problem is more complicated than it seems and information is compartmentalized.”
“Hmm,” Logan said, standing up. He faced Stevens, and smiled. “Commander Sir, I would like to start my much anticipated leave.”
Stevens waved him to the door.
“Go get some rest, Logan. I’m sure you’re eager to discover how the business you’ve poured money into is doing.”
“You knew about that?” Logan asked, surprised.
“Hard not to when your business partner reached out to me for clearance applications,” Stevens said. “You must have made a hell of an impression on Petr Mikhailov when you went on that trip with Prince Leon. He’s worked hard for you.”
Logan grinned, feeling like he had been caught with his pants down.
“Sir,” Logan started.
“Don’t bother,” Stevens said, shaking his head. “It’s not easy for us folks when we retire, you know. Having something to fall back on when you get out is a great idea. You’re lucky you made good friends with someone like Petr. He won’t screw you over,” Stevens said.
“Yeah, he said something along the same lines when he bulldozed me into it,” Logan said with a laugh. “Thank you, Sir.”
Stevens urged him to leave with a nod.
Logan left the office with a salute and decided he would have a talk with Petr before he headed to his mother’s island. Reclaiming his duffel bag, he headed outside, and went to the huge black truck he liked to use around the Capital City. Dropping his duffel bag on the passenger seat, he reached into the glove compartment and found his personal cell phone. He plugged it into the charger and turned it on.
Logan settled in the driver’s seat to check the notifications he set up the last time he left the phone here, a month and a half ago. He wondered what Stevens would call his obsession with news on Prince Leon.
Every time he talked to Stevens, he commended himself on his act.
Logan had perfected the art of deceiving people that he did not care about Leon and what he did with his life. He knew Leon’s decision to stay out of palace business.
Petr, David and Riku had detailed it to him. Leon blamed his grandmother for his parents’ deaths. He thought the palace was responsible for his parents’ death. Logan had worried about Leon distancing himself from the palace, had even tried to get Petr and David to talk Leon out of it. However, Leon’s friends thought it a blessing. They all thought that as long as Leon was uninvolved in politics, then he would remain safe.
Logan hoped Leon’s friends were right.
The notifications on his phone came in one by one: news articles mostly, with Leon’s name tagged in them, as well as pictures on social with Leon’s face.
He spent the next thirty minutes going through notification messages, smiling when he found a picture of Leon playing with a puppy at a shelter. The smile on Leon’s face as he held the brown puppy made Logan’s heart ache.
There were tons of pictures with slices of Leon’s life. He loved these type of photos the most. Leon working out with a trainer in a gym, or running a marathon for a cause, other times with David in one of the many businesses they owned together. Logan found his favorite was one of Leon holding up turnips at a farm owned by David’s family.
The last notification came in and Logan scowled.
A picture of Leon at a party held at Leon’s vineyard. David organized the party to celebrate Leon’s twenty-sixth birthday a month ago. In the picture, a gorgeous blonde man stood too close to Leon, smiling at the prince with eyes Logan understood all too well.
The caption read, ’Prince Leon is all smiles next to popular model, Hansen’.
It was obvious to Logan that they knew each other, intimately.
Logan turned off his phone and dropped it on the dashboard. He dreaded such pictures the most. The thought of Leon finding solace in another man’s arms hurt. Wiping a hand down his face, he wondered if he would ever stop this obsession.
What if they never met again?
What if Leon forgot him?
“We have Greg Lamar in custody, Your Majesty,” Commander Steele reported, watching Queen Amethea pace the length of her desk in her office. “He’s refused to name the person who hired him. We’ve tried everything.”
“Everything?” Queen Amethea asked, sparing him a short glance. “We’re four years into this investigation. How hard can it be to get Lamar to admit that Isaak hired him?”
“They were careful to never have direct contact,” Commander Steele said. “We’re combing through Lamar’s financial records hoping to find a connection. As of now, Lamar’s Regime stands as an extremist religious group. There is no evidence to connect Lamar with Prince Isaak.”
Amethea stopped pacing, a heavy weight on her shoulders.
She was tired.
The plans she carefully laid out to invest a Crown Prince remained in the vault, untouched. Isaak’s family remained in a state of impatience to see him invested. They kept up a veiled act of being her most favored family, even as they lobbied powerful politicians for support. She could not rest for a second in case they won and left her with no way out. She needed to save the Kingdom of Aeras from her eldest son. She shuddered to think what would happen if deadly Isaak became King.
Amethea moved to an armchair and sat facing Commander Steele. He looked older. This investigation was hard on him too. She was well aware of the fact that his daughter had gone undercover to gain them access into Lamar’s Regime.
Lamar’s Regime, the messy group headed by Greg Lamar, the man who bombed her Kleopas’s car. How cruel the world could be.
“My son is proving a formidable foe,” Amethea said, shaking her head. “He has found a counterattack for each route we’ve taken. He has even found a scapegoat for the three murders you presented to me. The only one he cannot push aside is his first wife’s death, Lady Dora.”
“I still have Lady Dora’s court lady in protective custody. There have been attempts to reach her, but we’ve managed to keep her safe. She can stay that way as long as the case is classified,” Commander Steele said, his tone making her narrow her gaze at him.
“What are you thinking?” Amethea asked.
“We’ve been afraid to release the details of Lady Dora’s death,” Commander Steele said. “This is because we need irrefutable evidence. We have been unable to get that evidence. Why don’t we use the media to our advantage? It will shake Isaak and he might make a mistake.”
“You want to place the witness in the spotlight,” Amethea said, hating the thought of placing an innocent in more danger.
“We don’t have another choice,” Commander Steele said. “At least with this out there, we can draw attention to the problem now. With Lamar in custody, Isaak won’t be able to retaliate.”
“What about Leon?” Amethea asked, wincing at the thought of her favorite grandson. “He’ll be in trouble on his own.”
“We’re keeping him in our sights,” Commander Steele assured her.
“As you did with Kleopas and Ana?” Amethea asked, unable to hide her bitterness.
She missed her son and his wife. She missed the sense of family they gave her. She hated the fact that Leon had taken that feeling away with him. The only person she could blame was Commander Steele.
“Your Majesty,” Commander Steele said, regret in his eyes. “I promise you, we’re doing the best we can under the circumstances to keep His Highness, Prince Leon, safe. I do wish he would make it easier, but he does not want us on the castle grounds.”
“Still, your best needs to be exceptional.” Amethea stated, not caring that Leon was being an idiot about getting help from the palace.
His anger toward her annoyed her, even as she understood it.
“Leon is the future of this kingdom,” Amethea said. “Nothing should happen to him, period. Make Lady Dora’s case public knowledge. It will start the conversation on her premature death. Let the people help us make the decision.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Commander Steele said.
“You and I have conducted an exhausting investigation in four years, culminating in the arrest of a bomber without the main perpetrator. I don’t want to push this on for another four years, Commander. This has to end this year. Release our findings on Lady Dora’s death, and let’s see how far Isaak is willing to take this fight.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Three weeks later, Leon woke to video calls from all his friends. Still lying in bed, he connected them all on a conference call and hugged his pillow, his eyes closed.
“I’m glad they caught the bomber,” Petr said in greeting. “I was starting to worry that your intelligence community needs help, Leon.”
“How are you holding up?” Anselm asked, horses neighing in his background. “Do you need us to visit?”
“I can be free in a week,” Riku said, swiveling his chair from side to side in his office. “Want me to fly over?”
“I’m not falling apart,” Leon mumbled out, rubbing sleep from his eyes to look at his friends on the screen across his bed. “Besides, David has me busy.”
“Not true. You barely show up for the meetings to do with the hotel,” David countered. “What are you doing up at the vineyard alone?”
“Decanting wine,” Leon said. “The vintner is tolerating my presence.”
“You mean you’re giving him no choice,” Paul mused, letting out a healthy yawn. “Your wine is good. Don’t annoy him enough to run away.”
“I’m quite invested in making his life easier,” Leon said. “I want us to produce enough wine to sell nationwide, instead of to a select few.”
“And that’s how you deflect a topic,” David announced, drawing Leon’s scowl. “Leon, you’re refusing to talk about the issue at hand.”
“It’s a non-issue,” Leon stated. “What does it change?”
Leon sat up on his bed, and pushed hair out of his eyes.
“What does catching the bomber change?” he asked, looking around the master bedroom.
This had once been his parents’ master suite. The castle’s staff redecorated the room to suit his tastes months after the funeral. The only things remaining that spoke of his parents were their pictures on an antique dresser in the corner. Their memory faded by the unrelenting tides of time out there. He was the only one who remembered their joys, their smiles, their force of life and how they had lived here. He much preferred those memories, instead of thinking about the bomb that took their lives.
“Catching their murderer won’t bring them back to life,” Leon said, shaking his head.“Just dredge up memories I’d rather forget.”
“I’m flying out next week,” Riku stated.
“Don’t come, Riku,” Leon said, with a sigh. “I’m fine, I promise. We’re quite busy anyway, David and I. The hotel is opening soon. We’re just waiting for inspections.”
“Yeah,” David supported him. “We can meet next month as planned.”
“Are you sure?” Petr asked, his gaze narrowed, “I mean, if you want me to put an end to this Lamar…”
Petr trailed off. He was a powerful man of business, taking over from his father. Leon was sure Petr would get anything he wanted done.
“Don’t interfere,” Leon ordered, afraid Petr might put out a hit on Lamar on his behalf. Petr was not above such a decision.
“Petr, stop scaring our dear prince,” Riku said.
“Come back to our home. You promised to live with me,” Petr told Riku. “You don’t need to work, Riku. You’re driving me crazy.”
Leon chuckled, amused by the endless cycles in Petr and Riku’s relationship.
“How is Genevieve?” Riku asked.
“Getting married, baby,” Petr said.
“Again, to another man,” Petr added. “When will you forgive me for looking at her?”
“When I’ve punished you enough,” Riku said, a note of irritation rising.
“I was sleeping before you called,” Leon interrupted the lovers.
“Sleep is overrated,” Paul said.“I’m curious, Leon.I heard your Uncle Isaak is having a hell of a time because of evidence that his first wife was murdered.What happens to the seat of power?”
Leon cursed and got out of bed.He reached for his robe refusing to think of the growing conspiracies in the palace. He was certain his grandmother released the story running about Lady Dora dying of poison. Which meant she was setting a trap.
“Uncle’s kids will take over, if necessary,” Leon said, repeating what he told his grandmother four years ago.
“Are you sure?” Anselm asked, skeptical.
“If they can’t trust Prince Isaak to take over, then they’ll definitely not choose Constantin,” Petr said. “Are you sure you can escape this?”
“I’m already managing it. It’s been four years since I set foot in court,” Leon said, tying the robe belt around his waist. “Stop worrying, guys. If Constantin won’t take it, then Gia will. I’m not planning on taking on more trouble into my life.”
A general silence filled the room, and Leon stared at his friends’ skeptical faces.
“If you’re done worrying, can I end the call?” Leon asked. “I should go run now after you woke me up so early.”
“Well, if you’re fine, then I’m good,” Paul said. “I have a vet coming in, so I’ll be going first. Call me, Leon, if you need to talk.”
“Thanks, Paul.” Leon nodded, and then Paul’s face disappeared off the screen.
“I’m in Paris this coming week,” Petr said. “I can stop over for the hotel opening, though I might be a day late. Keep me posted.”
“Sure, Petr,” Leon agreed, knowing it was useless to argue with Petr.
Petr’s screen went dark, leaving Riku, David and Anselm.
“I’m not buying that you’re fine,” Riku stated. “I’ll call you when I don’t have a looming meeting, Leon. Answer my questions then.”
“Forgive Petr already. He’s dying to marry you,” Leon said.
“Fat chance,” Riku ended his call.
“How’s Starbust?” Anselm asked Leon.
“Doing well,” Leon said with a smile, thinking of the stallion Anselm had given him for his birthday. “I’m taking him out on a ride today.”
“I’m glad you two are getting along,” Anselm said. “Don’t forget to keep me updated on him.”
“I’ll call,” Leon promised, knowing he would send pictures of Starburst to Anselm by end of day.
Anselm ended his call leaving David.
“I’ll be seeing you later this morning,” David said. “We can have coffee and talk.”
Leon wished he could escape David’s knowing gaze, but they were business partners. There was no escaping David’s concern. He decided to put on his best smile and waved at David as he ended their call.
Alone in the master bedroom, Leon looked around the elegant room and wondered why he only felt a hollow in his heart. He should have felt happy that they caught the man who had set the bomb that killed his parents. He should have felt relieved but instead, all he felt was numb.
Untouched, like an iceberg in winter, frozen, always so frozen.
Three weeks after the conference call with his friends, Leon rode Starburst into the woods surrounding Castle Arguro.
It was a pleasant Tuesday morning.
Leon had no pressing commitments and wanted to take Starburst for a run for the day. He held the stallion’s reins, enjoying the morning, the ride, and the lush wildness of Arguro Forest. It was a great escape from the pressures of daily life. His thoughts were blissfully blank, as he navigated the paths in the forest.
Then, the thud of a bullet hitting a tree too close startled the black thoroughbred stallion into a hard run. Leon swallowed bile and leaned over his horse, gripping his reins to keep control of Starburst, as they raced through the wild forests surrounding his home. A second shot sent birds flying from the branches.
A harsh hiss left his lips when he felt a painful sting on his right upper arm.
Leon leaned lower on his horse not daring a glance back.
Starburst ran fast, scared and unsettled.
Leon needed all his wits to keep him in control.
He thanked their luck as Starburst emerged from the forest and onto an open field a minute later. The horse kept up his fast pace, heading to the safety of Castle Arguro’s stables. When they were halfway there, Leon turned back thinking he would see his assailant. His heart thudded in his chest when he saw no one standing at the tree line aiming a gun at him. It was almost as though he had imagined the gunshots.
Starburst slowed down when they were closer to familiar territory.
Leon brought him to a stop outside the stables and jumped off the saddle with a wince. Pain lanced up his right upper arm, blood dripping down his shirtsleeve.
The stable master who came to take Starburst gave a short gasp, taking the reins from Leon.
“Your Highness, you’re bleeding!” Marc said.
Leon glanced at his right arm with a grimace. The bullet had grazed him hard and left a deep furrow that dripped blood down his arm. It stung. The next few days would be uncomfortable.
“Your Highness!” Dax came running from inside the stable, horror clear in his eyes. “Oh God, how did this happen?”
“Don’t start with me,” Leon said, turning away from Dax intent on running away.
Dax grew up in the service of the main royal family. He knew the rules and regulations of running a palace front and back. When he moved to Castle Arguro four years ago, those rules and regulations remained with him.
They were a constant source of frustration for Leon.
Having grown up wild and unchecked, Leon often chafed under Dax’s constant attention. The man took everything that happened to Leon too seriously.
Four years of Dax and Leon still had not found a middle ground with the thirty-one year old attendant. Dax’s concern seemed to deepen with time.
“Stop,” Dax ordered, running around Leon to stay his progress to the castle.
Dax’s gentle hands took Leon’s right arm.
Leon winced when Dax ripped the hole on his right sleeve wider.
Dax’s gaze narrowed as he studied the angry bleeding gouge. A soft hiss escaped Dax when he recognized what had injured Leon. Meeting Leon’s gaze, Dax let go of Leon’s arm and took a step back.
“It’s time to report this.” Dax stated. His tone enough to tell Leon there was no arguing. “These are no longer accidents.”
Leon let a heavy sigh escape.
Unable to refute Dax, he thought back on the last three weeks.
Two weeks ago, his yacht had blown up minutes before Leon boarded. A week ago, the tires on his favorite Ferrari blew on a particularly scary stretch of curved road on his way home.
Now there was a stray bullet in Arguro Forest.
Three accidents in the space of three weeks was no longer a coincidence.
“Someone is trying to kill you, Prince Leon,” Dax said, his eyes wide with worry.
Leon’s gaze shifted to the castle beyond the stables, an uneasy feeling brewing deep inside him.
Leon had called Castle Arguro home for twenty-six years.
Arguro was his parents’ home first.
When they died, he became Castle Arguro’s master. Four years after their funeral, he now looked forward to living a quiet life in this place. Content to focus his extensive resources on businesses and the charities his parents founded and supported. He wanted no political power or official duties from the Kingdom’s Palace.
He wished to live like a forgotten prince.
With that goal in mind, Leon never ventured into the royal court, or involved himself in the constant running intrigues that ruled the Kingdom’s seat of power. He was fourth in line to the throne, and hoped to become twentieth. If only his cousins would marry and give birth, as expected, ensuring his freedom.
Now, with the new scandal tying Prince Isaak to the possible murder of his first wife, his number had gone up a notch. Leon wished daily that his grandmother would name Constantin or Gia Crown Heir soon.
It would save him so much thinking and worry.
Leon looked at Dax, a deep frown furrowing his forehead.
“Do not go running to grandmother’s officials with this. Use Castle Arguro’s resources first. Reach out to private security firms and keep our inquiry discrete,” Leon warned, when Dax smiled with triumph. “They may handle security around the castle until we find the culprit. I’m quite sure there is no need to alarm the palace over this. It could be an annoyed business associate. There are investments we turned down for the hotel. It might be one of them.”
Dax nodded, looking pleased now that Leon was putting importance to the incident.
“I’ll take care of it. Now, let’s get you inside and see to your arm. It annoys me to see your blood staining the grass.”
Leon gave the wound on his right arm a wary glance. He still couldn’t believe someone had gotten close enough to graze his arm with a bullet.
In the master suite, Leon took a quick shower and then allowed Dax to tend his wound. He popped a painkiller and hoped the pain would not make his life too hard.
His wound covered, Leon changed into casual clothes and sandals.
Leon left his bedroom and went into his study to get his phone. He found a message from David asking why he missed a meeting at their usual club.
Leon dialed David’s number.
“I got caught up at Castle Arguro,” Leon said. “How did it go?”
“The hotel passed inspections. I got the call yesterday,” David said. “The staff is busy making preparations for the opening tomorrow. I know you don’t like the ceremony, but this one will need your presence. We need a bulging intake to remain in the black.”
Leon thought about the gunshot in the woods. He worried his attacker might take a shot at him in public. Still, the new hotel was important. David had worked hard to get it finished.
“Come on, Leon.”
He could never say no to David.
“Alright,” Leon caved. “Send the details to Dax. He’ll work the schedule.”
“Thank you,” David said, sounding relieved. “When you can get away, come over to my place. I have a small party. I invited Hansen. You like him, don’t you?”
Hansen was a handsome twenty-one year old model Leon had met at a party a year ago. He was pretty to look at and he made Leon laugh. Sad thing was Hansen liked to make other men of power laugh too. Hansen was great fun but Leon knew to stay away from such trouble.
As though sensing his withdrawal, Hansen had started an annoying game of trying to remain Leon’s exclusive. Leon did not want any part in that game so he was now avoiding Hansen when he could.
Leon went down the stairs from the second floor, heading to his main office on the castle’s ground floor.
“I’ll have to think about your party offer,” Leon told David.
“Hmm…okay. You sound off today. Is everything okay?” David asked.
“Yeah,” Leon said.
David paused, and then sighed.
“Call me when you want to share. I’m a great listener.”
David knew him too well, because of that, Leon would need to work extra hard not to involve him in his new developing dangerous saga.
Leon ended the call and slid his phone into his pocket. He paused when he reached the final step and saw his cousin, Gia, walking down the long hallway from the main entrance toward him.
Gia raised her hand in greeting.
The two royal guards behind her were enough to make Leon cringe. They even followed Gia into the bathroom. God was he glad to be free of that kind of scrutiny.
“Gia,” Leon said, changing direction to meet her.
He accepted her light kiss on his cheek and took her right hand when she offered it in greeting.
“What brings you to Castle Arguro?”
“Can’t I visit my cousin because I miss him?” Gia asked, allowing him to lead her to a quiet sunroom to his right.
The royal guards stopped at the doors.
Leon waited for Gia to settle into an armchair before he sat opposite her on the couch.
Leon smiled at her when she studied him, her green gaze critical.
Leon nodded. His casual wear was unheard of in Gia’s world of rules and regulations. Anyone living in the palace remained put together, never uninhibited and rough to the public eye.
“You look elegant as always,” Leon complimented.
“Still a charmer,” Gia said, awarding him a gorgeous smile. “I miss you, Leon. I wish you would visit the palace more often.”
“I visit grandmother in her private residence when she insists.”
Gia studied him, her gaze hard to read. She folded her hands on her lap, looking prim and proper.
“I’m on the way to a Navy Women Association meeting,” Gia said, glancing at the delicate watch on her wrist. “I don’t have much time.”
Leon nodded in understanding.
“Leon, there is strife in the palace,” Gia said, “and it could spill over to Castle Arguro. I only wanted to warn you, and ask you to stay away from the palace. If you could refuse grandmother’s summons, as you often do?”
Leon kept his expression blank.
Truth was he never refused his grandmother’s summons. Others might think he did, but he always found a way to meet her when she asked. He had promised her that he would remain uninvolved with the palace, but she was still his grandmother. He could not ignore her when they shared a tragedy.
This request was unusual for Gia.
She had never bothered to ask him to ignore a summons.
Leon smiled, shrugging his shoulders.
“You know me,” Leon said. “I’m too busy managing business, the vineyard and others. Castle Arguro remains an island in the kingdom’s politics.”
Gia smiled making Leon wish he knew her better. Gia got up and came around the small coffee table to where he sat. She leaned down and kissed his cheek, brushing a strand of his hair behind his ear. She then straightened to her full height and ran an elegant hand down the green skirt suit she wore.
“I love you more every time we talk. I wish I could have the simplicity of the life you lead. Let’s do lunch one of these days. I heard you’re opening a restaurant in the new hotel by the beach. I’ll show up for the opening if you like.”
Leon nodded, watching Gia pick up her purse from the armchair.
“Well, sorry to take up your time,” Gia said, ready to leave now that she was done. “I have to go, Cousin.”
“Have a great meeting,” Leon said, sitting back on the couch.
Gia gave him a last glance and then left the sunroom in a brisk walk.
Leon sat on the couch, his thoughts lingering on his grandmother.
She had so many wanting a touch of power in the palace. It could not be easy for her dealing with it alone.
Leon was named after Queen Amethea’s husband, King Leon Raphael Maximillian. He died of cancer when Leon was one-year-old. Amethea still mourned her husband hard as she loved him dearly.
Leon often hoped to find a love as beautiful as his grandmother’s for his grandfather.
Thinking of it now, his parents had had a pure love too.
Leon had only come close to finding that kind of love once.
His heart ached at the memory of Seville. The budding love that disappeared on him, as quickly as it appeared. He thought of Logan Mason often. He wondered what had become of him but never dared look into it. He did not want to discover that Logan had found another man to call his own.
That would hurt too much.
Still, Leon could not help hoping to find that solid love one day. He wanted a man to love him without reservation and condition. He wanted a better love than what Gia’s father had for his current wife.
Those two had married for power and status, Leon sighed.
His uncle, Prince Isaak, the royal first born and presumed heir, first married a commoner, Doris. Doris then died after giving birth to their son, Constantin. Prince Isaak then took on marriage to the noble Lady Erika, Gia’s mother.
Prince Isaak and his second wife, Princess Erika, lived in the palace with their two children, Constantin and Gia. They were not an easy family. They remained very protective of the succession line.
Leon was aware of the fact that they kept a clear distance from him to solidify this gap. He didn’t mind it, and wished Gia would stay away from him like her half-brother, Constantin.
It would make his life easier.
Leon wanted to keep his father’s stance on the palace. It was better to keep away from the political whirlwind. Interference with palace politics brought misfortune.
Leon knew well the pain of such misfortune. His parents were dead. Their tragic deaths taught him it was better to live a quiet life, so he did, with selfish determination despite his grandmother’s many attempts to draw him in to fight for the throne.
In terms of succession, Isaak was first in line, followed by Constantin, then Gia, and Leon came last. That fourth number gave him more stress than he wanted.
Gia and Constantin needed to marry fast and get kids, Leon thought again with a scowl. Maybe then, Gia’s visits to his castle would end.
Leon sighed and reached into his pocket for his phone. He called David and smiled when his best friend answered on the second ring.
“I’ve changed my mind about that party,” Leon said, deciding he needed a distraction. “Keep Hansen out and I’ll come over.”
“It’s done,” David said.
“I heard one of your teams was exceptional in Bangkok,” David said, pacing the hallway as he talked on the phone. “Monarch Security has grown, Logan. Congratulations on running an international outfit.”
Logan chuckled on the other end.
“I’ve only managed it because of your help and Petr’s, of course. He asked for a team to watch over Riku, I had to send one.”
“They’re both pleased,” David agreed. “Anselm says you sent him three men for his site job off the Andalusian Coast.”
“He can’t take more than three men anyway. He’s negotiating mining rights and the job is delicate,” Logan said. “I’m lucky my business manager is so competent, otherwise this company would end as fast as it started.”
“We’d never let that happen,” David assured Logan.
The five of them had a vested interest in seeing Logan prosper.
Logan went silent for a moment, and then asked, “How is he doing?”
It was always the same question whenever Logan called. They talked business and then Logan asked for updates on Leon. The asking wasn’t easy on Logan at first, but now, David wished he could push Leon back into Logan’s arms in some way.
“He’ll be at the hotel opening ceremony tomorrow,” David said. “You could attend. You’re no longer restricted by clearance levels, Logan. You’ve earned the right to meet Leon at any time you wish.”
“I don’t think he wants to see me,” Logan said. “He seems happy.”
“Does he?” David asked, looking up when the front door of his house opened to admit Leon.
Sadie, David’s girlfriend of three years, met Leon at the door. She accepted a kiss on her cheek from Leon who looked subdued this evening.
David searched Leon’s handsome face wondering what it was that was off about him, but he could not place it. Instead, he read the same old sadness that Leon had worn for four years now. It was like a heavy shroud resting on Leon’s shoulders.
“I saw pictures of him at a party you threw at his vineyard—,” Logan started then broke off.
“You really mustn’t trust everything you read in the papers,” David said, waving at Leon who glanced at him with a raised brow. “I wish you would take the risk and meet him again.”
“I’ll find a way, David,” Logan said. “I’m afraid if we casually met, we’d both find a way to run away. I want it to be that if we’re to meet again, none of us will have an escape route. It’s the only way it will work.”
“You’re both idiots,” David said, shaking his head.
“Me, more than him,” Logan agreed. “I have to go. I’m busy with something.”
“Sure,” David said. “Take care of yourself.”
“You too,” Logan said, and ended the call.
David sighed and went to the living room to find Leon perched on a stool sipping on wine.
“You came,” David said, accepting a drink from Sadie.
“Not much of a party,” Leon teased, looking around the empty living room. “Is it just you and Sadie?”
“You’re the one who showed up too early,” David chuckled, settling on the couch.
Sadie joined him, cuddling into him.
“Leon, you cancelled Hansen, how could we keep the party on?” Sadie asked, with a small laugh. “Besides, a quiet dinner with you is much better.”
Leon shrugged and moved to settle in an armchair.
“Who was on the phone?” Leon asked David.
“Last minute opening ceremony plans to get through,” David lied smoothly. “You might end up with a very full day tomorrow. I called Dax a dozen times since we talked.”
Leon sipped his wine.
“Busy is good.”
“Is it?” David glanced at Sadie, raising his brow at his best friend’s attitude. “You should take a vacation.”
Leon chuckled shaking his head at the idea.
David imagined his best friend did not want to entertain the thought of being alone at a travel destination. Leon had not forgotten their whirlwind trip across Europe.
“Why don’t you, David?” Leon asked, hoping to shift attention away. “Sadie, make him give you a wedding and a spectacular honeymoon.”
“Now we’re talking,” Sadie said, playing along with Leon. “David, listen to Leon.”
David laughed, knowing Sadie was the one with cold feet in their relationship. He liked that Leon loved Sadie enough to accept her place in David’s life. It was nice to see his best friend and lover getting along.
David wondered if he shouldn’t tell Leon about Logan asking about him.
Was it cruel to stay silent?
Would it be worse to tell Leon and watch him worry about why Logan kept away from him?
David frowned. He didn’t know what was best.
Leon and Sadie started teasing each other, and when Leon laughed, David decided he would leave it all to fate. It might not be his place to push Leon and Logan back together.
Off the coast, on a small island owned by the Kingdom of Aeras, Logan hammered the last nail into the floor of the newly built porch around his family beach house. Wiping the wood surface to clean out dust, Logan stepped back to admire his work. The wraparound porch looked good. His mother would be proud of the addition. She always wanted the porch around the old house.
Logan had no time to build it as he grew his career in the Royal Navy. Now, at twenty-eight, his career secure and his finances stable, he could build the porch comfortably.
The sad part in this moment was that his mother was no longer with him.
Gabriella Mason had passed away after a harsh bout of pneumonia two and a half years ago. It had hurt to lose her. Her memory filled his thoughts, and his heart. He missed her and her zest for life.
Logan maintained the beach house in her memory to feel close to her. He was glad to have finished the porch after trying to get it done for so long.
“You’d love it, Mom,” Logan murmured, sitting on the steps and reaching for a beer from the cooler beside him. He drank deep, his gaze on the water churning on the white sandy shores below.
“The view from the porch is beautiful, just like you thought it would be.”
Logan loved it here. It was nothing but peace and quiet, away from the daily modern hassles of life on the mainland. He imagined spending his life here often. He hoped to share the beach house in the future with the right partner, if he got lucky.
’You’ll get lucky,’ his mother would say. ’You can watch the stars paint the night sky with him. Your father used to bring me here to do that. That’s how we ended up with you.’
Logan smiled at the memory.
Gabriella Mason had loved telling him of the love she cherished with his father. Their love made him envious. He had hoped to meet a man he could share that kind of bond with too.
He came close with Leon.
Logan pressed his palm on his chest, the vault doors in his heart shaking loose. He doubted anything would ever top that love in Seville. Instead of finding a way to survive and find an ordinary love, he tortured himself by asking for Leon updates from David. He liked to think Leon would love this wild island too.
“Mom,” Logan murmured. “If I get lucky and he returns to me, he and I might not make a kid, but we’ll damn sure try under the magical skies.”
Logan laughed at his own thoughts and sat back on the steps to watch the sun slide down on the horizon. He loved off days most. He was on his fourth beer when the satellite phone he used out here buzzed on the worktable behind him.