Leon might have refused to take on his role as a Prince of the Kingdom in the Capital Palace, but the government officials had not forgotten him. Even now, as he sat opposite two Ministry of Tourism officials, Logan could see that they regarded him as His Highness, Prince Leon.
They wanted Leon’s support in promoting tourism projects through the new hotel and any trips Leon would take out of the kingdom. Leon negotiated for an equal deal for the hotel and the tourism ministry. A surge of pride filled Logan. It was nice to see Leon in such a productive setting.
Still, Logan missed Leon’s carefree side. He could not find a single piece of the Leon he had spent six months with across Europe. It was as if that Leon had disappeared and been replaced with this new Leon, a business-first Leon.
Logan’s phone buzzed and he moved away from his position at the door. Tom took over as Logan answered the call.
“Why is there a security team searching our hotel?” David asked, somewhat irritated. “They asked me to call you.”
Logan had forwarded Leon’s schedule to the command center.
Commander Stevens must have sent a secondary team to sweep the hotel before Leon’s arrival.
“David, I’ve taken on a job with Leon,” Logan said. “I know he hasn’t told you or the others. I’ll leave it to him to tell you when he’s ready.”
David sighed on the other end.
“I knew something was wrong yesterday,” David said. “He was acting off all day. Well, this is both good and bad news. It’s bad news because this second team is annoyingly nosy.”
“Why is it good news?” Logan asked.
“For you, Logan,” David said, the warmth in his voice made Logan grateful he had managed to keep David a friend all this time. “You’ve waited to get close. Protecting him gives you plenty of opportunities, doesn’t it?”
Logan glanced to the lounge where Leon still chatted to the two ministry officials.
“It also depends on what he wants, David,” Logan said.
“You’re right,” David agreed. “Although, Logan, have you ever stopped to think why he never asked you to stay?”
Logan frowned. He had never told anyone that Leon had asked him to stay.
He remembered every word Leon said that funeral day in the car.
Leon did ask him to stay.
Logan chose to walk away because he had wanted Commander Steele’s mission more than he had wanted Leon at the time.
“Why he never pushed you for more when we both know he can?” David continued. “It’s because his life is not quiet. Anyone who gets close to him loses so much.”
“That’s absurd,” Logan said, shaking his head. “I lost nothing with him, David. I only gained.”
“You were not fully committed,” David said. “Up to this day, Logan, you remain just a step out of the circle and it’s conscious on your part. If you were to take a fully committed step toward Leon, you would understand what I mean. You would understand why Petr has worked so hard to pull you into our circle. Gaining you top clearance and making sure no one would question your presence beside Leon.”
Logan fell silent knowing that David was half-right.
The other half of acceptance depended on Leon.
Logan wanted to step fully into Leon’s life, but he was not sure Leon wanted him there now.
“The team at the hotel is discrete, David. They might ask you questions, but they won’t trouble you.”
“They feel different,” David noted. He was too sharp for his own good. “It feels a bit like when Princess Gia visits. Something—”
“I have to pull in all the stops,” Logan cut in, not about to let David realize that Leon was now under the Kingdom of Aeras’s full protection. “He is a prince, you know.”
“I almost forget it,” David joked.“Almost. Well, okay. We’ll cooperate with them. I’m relieved to know you’re with him again. Good luck, Logan.”
David ended the call and Logan stood watching Leon. He had never stopped to consider what being Leon’s true partner would entail.
Why had that never been a concern before?
What would it be like to stand next to Leon officially?
Leon stood and Logan pushed those thoughts aside. He hurried back to position so that his team shadowed Leon to the elevators, as Leon finished with the Ministry of Tourism officials.
They headed to the Anastasia Grand Hotel.
Leon and David had named the hotel after Princess Anastasia. It made Logan wonder how Leon was coping without his parents.
David met them at the entrance, pulling Leon into a loose hug with a wide smile as he greeted Leon. He was dressed down in jeans and a t-shirt. He was clearly in the middle of pulling the opening ceremony together, even as he stopped to welcome Leon.
Logan listened as Shirley, John and Tom cleared the surrounding area with the secondary team’s help.
“Thank you for coming, Leon,” David said.
“Anything for you, David,” Leon said, taking David’s right hand as they entered the hotel.
David looked behind Leon and winked at Logan before he squeezed Leon’s hand in mock surprise.
“Oh wow, is that Logan Mason?”
“Don’t bother,” Leon said, scowling at David. “I know he’s worked for you, Petr, Riku, Anselm and even Paul. The whole lot of you kept it a secret from me. I don’t know what you thought I would do.”
David dropped the surprised act and let go of Leon’s hand to cross his arms against his chest.
“We were helping out our buddy. You’re not the only one who got close to him, you know,” David said to Leon. “He’s our friend too.”
Leon turned to look at Logan for a second, and then faced David.
“So, you have trouble.” David stated, and then before Leon could give an answer, David continued. “Whatever it is, I’m glad you have Logan with you. I’ll at least feel at ease.”
Leon sighed and took David’s elbow, leading him into the hotel.
Logan did not miss the fact that Leon did not try to explain to his best friend why he needed a serious security detail.
Leon and David started a busy three hours that left Logan’s team moving through the eighteen floors of the hotel. Logan took it as a plus as it gave them time to secure the hotel.
“We’ve covered all possible weaknesses,” Shirley reported, as they waited for Leon to finish talking to service staff. “The secondary team is monitoring all traffic coming in and out. They’re also in charge of the parking lot. However, the ceremony has guests we don’t have time to account for, not to mention staff—”
“It was too short a notice,” Logan agreed, cutting in. He had worried about the guests, but this was their first day. “We just have to work with it. We’ll tighten our circle around the prince when we get to the ceremony.”
“Alright, boss,” Tom and John agreed.
Shirley nodded to Leon who had finished talking to the service staff.
Thankfully, after this meeting, David announced it was time for lunch
David insisted on including Logan’s team in the dining room.
Leon settled at a table in the corner of the small, private and elegant dining room on the third floor of the hotel. His chair tucked into the corner of the wall, away from windows as per Shirley’s instructions when she left him.
Leon swiped his thumb over his phone screen over and over, though he never opened any app, or message notification. His gaze strayed to the two security-team members sitting at a table a few feet away from him. Tom and John, Leon recalled from Logan’s quick introduction in the morning.
Leon wondered if they too were former members of the Royal Navy SPOC team. They looked highly trained. They moved like Logan, even now at rest, they missed nothing in the room.
Leon wondered how Logan convinced them to work in his business. He wanted to know so many things about Logan.
David entered the dining room, having finished with their chef, coming straight to Leon’s table. He slid into the chair next to Leon.
“We’re having chocolate mousse with raspberries for dessert. It’s your favorite,” David said with a happy smile.
Leon returned the smile, though he felt it a shadow of his real one.
“Logan?” Leon asked, knowing David would tell him without teasing him.
“Outside,” David said, “he’s making sure you’re safe.”
Leon nodded and placed his phone on his tablemat. He rubbed his right earlobe and tried to ignore David’s raised brow.
David leaned closer, his gaze expectant.
“What?” Leon asked.
“I’m not sure whether to feel insulted by the fact that you continue to hide a huge secret from me.”
“It’s too complicated,” Leon said. “I would tell you if I had an easy explanation.”
“Do you need extra help?” David asked, concern creasing his forehead. “We can ask Petr, and even Anselm—”
“No.” Leon said, not about to draw his friends into his problems. “I need time and patience, David. This will get resolved quickly.”
David gave him a skeptical glance, and then reached for the glass of water set by his plate.
“Fine,” David said, after a slow sip.
Leon picked up his phone, plastering on a smile for David.
“Why don’t we take a selfie of you?” Leon asked, keeping his tone cheerful. “Let’s shock Sadie when you actually post this on your gram account.”
David laughed and Leon took David’s photo then, glad to see his best friend happy.
Lunch continued in a lazy, quiet slide until Logan and Shirley entered the dining room fifteen minutes later.
A shift change, Leon noted, as Tom and John left the dining room.
Leon sat back in his seat, and watched David approach Logan. No doubt to make sure Logan and Shirley were satisfied with the food on the menu. Leon had taken the chef’s special, a delicious grilled chicken with rice and sautéed veggies. He had not finished it all, but it tasted spectacular.
Leon tried to concentrate on his cup of coffee, even his phone, but it was useless to try. His gaze slid to Logan with every attempt to look away.
He bit his bottom lip to keep from smiling when Shirley got her plate and promptly exclaimed over the presentation of food. Logan giving her a startled, censoring look was so priceless, Leon wished he had his camera for the first time in a very longtime.
“This looks amazing!” Shirley said, reaching for her phone. “I’m so taking a pic of this and sharing it.”
David chuckled at Logan’s reaction to that statement and poured water into Logan’s large glass.
“I expect you to tag the hotel when you post,” David encouraged Shirley before Logan could stop her. He winked at both of them, before he walked back to the table he shared with Leon.
“They are so cool,” Shirley said, already doing as asked, taking a photo with her phone. “This Prince is so different from his cousins. I wonder if it’s because he lives outside the palace.”
Logan picked up his fork, his gaze on Leon. David slid into the seat next to Leon. Their connection seemed to have only grown deeper with time, Logan noted.
Leon trusted David.
As though to prove his thoughts, Leon picked up his dessertspoon and took a bite of the chocolate mousse with raspberries in David’s bowl. Jealousy so blinding rose so fast, Logan jerked his gaze back to his plate. He took a bite of the delicious grilled chicken on his plate, barely tasting it. Reaching for his glass of water, he took a healthy gulp, his gaze sliding back to Leon.
David moved his bowl to Leon and took Leon’s bowl. Logan remembered a time when he had done that without thought. The more he watched them, the deeper the acute feeling of loss filled him. Annoyed by it, Logan forced his attention back to his own plate, afraid of what he might do if he kept watching longer. He had this urge to walk over and demand back the rights he seemed to have lost with Leon.
The hotel had elevated its security protocols.
The food he had thought to mess with was no longer going up to the third floor. The private dining room had pulled in the hotel’s top chef to cook and serve their VIP guest in person. He had not made the cut when they chose service staff. He should have realized that Prince Leon’s presence in the building would turn everyone into nervous pricks.
He had not accounted for that.
Adjusting his apron, he wondered if there was an easier way to approach his target.
Picking up a tray filled with dirty plates, he slid it into the sink and turned on the hot water to spray debris off the plates with expertise. His phone buzzed and he tapped the earpiece in his left ear without pause.
“Progress?” the gruff voice filled his head, fraying his nerves.
“First plan failed. His security is good. Food is out of the question.”
“I’m looking for an alternative. I’ll keep you posted.”
“Your package will be waiting as soon as you succeed. Once you get it, fly out immediately. No more visits to the house in the Glades. Don’t slip up.”
The call ended fast and he sighed, wondering what would happen if he failed his mission. He shuddered at the thought. Things had not gone so well for the three before him.
“Hey,” a soft feminine voice said, drawing his attention to a young woman who looked harried. She stood a few feet away holding a pair of gold scissors. “I just got these from storage and they’re really dirty. We’ve neglected them. I need to wrap them with bows for the ceremony. Can you help me?”
Taking the scissors, he smiled as he ran hot water over them.
Could it be so easy?
After lunch, Leon retreated to a suite on the eighteenth floor set aside for him by David. The opening ceremony was coming up in thirty minutes. David handed the keycard to Logan.
“I’ll leave him in your capable hands,” David teased Logan, as they entered the elevator. “See you in thirty minutes.”
Logan nodded as the elevator doors closed. Upstairs, Logan made Leon wait at the suite door with Shirley and Tom, while he and John cleared the penthouse suite.
Logan was glad to discover no unwanted surprises.
In the master bathroom, he paused when he saw the tray with antibiotic ointment and fresh bandages sitting on the sink counter.
“Clear,” John called from the living area.
Logan closed the bathroom door and left the master bedroom, going to the front door.
“Clear,” he confirmed, allowing Leon into the suite.
Leon let out a tired sigh, as he walked to an armchair in the living area. He shrugged off his blue jacket and draped it over the back of the chair.
Logan frowned when he spotted a red stain on Leon’s upper right arm. He rushed to Leon’s side, taking Leon’s right arm in a panic.
“You’re bleeding,” Logan hissed.
Leon glanced at his right arm and cursed under his breath.
“It’s nothing,” Leon said, shrugging his arm out of Logan’s grasp. “Dax will be up to help shortly.”
“No.” Logan took Leon’s left hand and started to the master bedroom. That’s what the tray with medicine was about in the bathroom.
“What are you doing?”
“Helping you,” Logan said, urging Leon to the bathroom, not really giving him a chance to fight him.
“You don’t have to do this,” Leon complained, when Logan closed the bathroom door and stood waiting on Leon to remove his white shirt.
The red stain on Leon’s arm made Logan worry.
It was so out of place.
Leon scowled at Logan.
“It’s better if I wait for Dax.”
“Leon,” Logan said, taking a step closer to Leon, his gaze never leaving the red spot on Leon’s right arm. “You’re hurt and bleeding. Please, let me help you. I can help redress your wound.”
Leon studied him for a moment, and then lowered his head with a sigh. He started to unbutton his shirt, his hands trembling slightly. Logan took in a deep breath remembering the last time Leon had removed a shirt in front of him.
They had been in Seville.
He could never forget the sight of Leon riding a horse, while he laughed, rain falling on him.
Logan longed for that carefree Leon.
Leon shrugged off his stained shirt.
The bathroom was large enough to fit a small one-bedroom apartment. Yet, watching Leon remove his shirt made the room feel smaller.
To distract himself, Logan walked around Leon to the sink counter. He still could not help looking back and staring.
Logan drew his gaze away from Leon’s naked back to find Leon watching him.
Logan cleared his throat, and studied the contents on the tray near the sink. Leon moved closer, leaning on the sink counter next to him, making sure Logan had access to his right upper arm.
Logan took in a deep breath and focused on looking over the bandage on Leon’s arm, scowling at the stain of blood. Logan undid the old bandage with care to reveal a bullet furrow that was an angry red, scabbing over slow. Throwing the old bandage into the trash, Logan studied the wound, worry settling in his stomach. The shooter in the Arguro Forest had done this to Leon. It left a bitter taste in his mouth.
“He got close,” Logan said, his gaze moving from Leon’s right arm to Leon’s bent head.
Logan stared at soft brown hair, its silky length begging for his fingers to comb through it.
Leon lifted his head, and looked at him, gray eyes filled with shadows. There was a time Logan would lean in, and kiss Leon until those shadows disappeared.
He couldn’t now and it pained him.
“I don’t know why anyone would hate me so much that they would shoot me,” Leon said, his voice low. “Do you?”
Logan knew different.
Leon was a prince. Anyone who wanted him dead had to have a vendetta against the royal family. It could be political. It was no secret that Queen Amethea loved Leon most. Hurting him would hurt her, as Logan was already aware.
She would do anything for Leon.
“Don’t worry,” Logan said, keeping his voice low. “Whoever they are, we’ll catch them.”
Logan took the ointment from the tray with the bandage supplies. He applied a generous amount to the angry wound, then placed a neat dressing over the wound and taped it with care.
“You do that really well. Must be from experience,” Leon noted, looking at Logan through the mirror.
Logan concentrated on finishing with the bandage. When he was done, he looked up and met Leon’s probing gaze.
Taking a step closer, Leon’s maddening cologne filled his nostrils. It wasn’t fair to smell so good. Heartbeat speeding, Logan stared at Leon, wanting.
Then Logan cupped Leon’s jaw, his gaze dropping to parted lips.
Leon’s breath hitched and Logan leaned closer and kissed Leon as he had wanted to since he saw him this morning.
Like falling into a beloved rhythm, their kiss a remembered perfection, it set him aflame and all he could think was how much he had missed this. A soft moan escaped Leon and he stepped even closer, reaching up to hold Logan’s left wrist.
Another minute of bliss, and Leon jerked away from him, panic in his eyes.
“Stop,” Leon managed, shaking his head. He turned away from Logan and closed his eyes. “I can’t.”
Logan stepped back, breathing hard, remembering where they were and who he was to Leon now.
“I’m sorry,” Logan said, moving away from Leon.
Logan picked up the shirt Leon had removed and left the bathroom in fast strides.