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A NineStar Press Publication

Published by NineStar Press

P.O. Box 91792,

Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87199 USA.

www.ninestarpress.com

A Tangled Legacy

Copyright © 2018 by Mickie B. Ashling

Cover Art by Natasha Snow Copyright © 2018

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact NineStar Press at the physical or web addresses above or at Contact@ninestarpress.com.

Printed in the USA

First Edition

August, 2018


eBook ISBN: 978-1-949340-36-5

Print ISBN: 978-1-949340-46-4


Warning: This book contains sexually explicit content, which may only be suitable for mature readers.

A Tangled Legacy

Legacy, Book One

Mickie B. Ashling

Table of Contents

Prologue

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Acknowledgements

About the Author

Prologue

It started with a mild headache and rapidly progressed to blinding pain. The attending physician, on standby for days in anticipation of any eventuality, wrapped Errol’s arm with the blood pressure cuff and frowned in alarm. A shot of medication did nothing to bring down the numbers. Hypertensive disorder had plagued this pregnancy from the start. The ambulance was dispatched a phone call later.

Sebastian let out a bloodcurdling scream while Errol’s eyes rolled back and he seized. It lasted about a minute, and when it was over, the spark of recognition in his striking green eyes had disappeared. Another seizure struck as they were loading him onto the gurney, and the interminable ride to the hospital turned into a race against time.

External fetal monitors indicated lowered heart rates, another alarming symptom that the twins were in as much danger as their father.

An emergency cesarean was proposed, and Errol shook his head in protest. He’d regained enough of his senses to know it was too soon. A grimace of agony forestalled further argument.

“Cut them out,” Sebastian ordered the doctors crowding around the room. “I don’t care if they’re four weeks early.”

“Help the lads first,” Errol muttered.

Sebastian pulled the attending out of earshot and commanded him to save Errol before anyone else.

“Your Highness—”

“That’s not a request,” Sebastian whispered fiercely. “The duke is not expendable.”

Part I

Genesis

Chapter One

Colin


I slipped through a break in the eight-foot hedge that separated my granny’s rose garden from our garage. It was the same gap I used whenever I snuck out of the palace. Familiar with the prickly branches, I knew how to get through without a tear or a scratch. My bodyguards would be frantic the minute they realized I was missing, but the chance to sample nightlife as an ordinary man instead of a prince was too tempting.

Saddled at birth by a title I didn’t deserve, I’d spent all my life trying to convince everyone, myself included, that I had a right to exist. It wasn’t my fault that my twin, older by five minutes and thus the legitimate heir apparent, had been stillborn. Survivor’s guilt weighed heavily on my psyche, although it was pure chance that he died and I didn’t.

More than likely, the problem had lain with my method of conception. That story was glorified in the annals of our nation’s history. Male pregnancy had been risky from the word go, and no one knew this better than the man who gave me life, my father’s consort, Errol, the Duke of Maitland. He was a commoner who’d received the title after he married my other father, Prince Sebastian, who was heir apparent at the time. They’d been delighted to welcome me into the world, but it had been bittersweet after they were informed that my brother hadn’t made it.

Nonetheless, I was loved and pampered from the moment I first opened my eyes. Everyone doted on me, and I had a wonderful, albeit lonely, childhood. Once in a rare while, someone heartless would point out that I was the spare who’d usurped his brother’s title, but the incidents were few and far enough apart to be ignored.

Of course, no one bothered to ask me how I felt about having two dads and no mother. Not that they were bad parents—far better than most, or so I’d been told—and my granny, the Dowager Princess Alexandra, and her ladies-in-waiting provided all the feminine influence I could possibly need, but that didn’t stop me from wondering if I’d be a different person had I been created conventionally.

As things stood, I was determined to cram as many life experiences as possible before assuming the throne. Hopefully, my father, the current ruler, would live well into his seventies so I could achieve my goals. Since my twin was watching me from somewhere beyond these earthly boundaries, I wanted him to take comfort knowing I was doing a fine job with the role I’d unintentionally usurped.

My red Beemer purred to life, and I inched my way out of the garage, hoping no one would hear the engine. Most of the staff had already gone for the day. It was late, way past dinner, and the odds of being stopped were slim. Thankfully, my exit was uneventful.

I drove slowly until I hit the open road and gassed the engine when the palace faded from view. Dancing was on my mind, and the songs blaring from my radio helped to put me in the right mood. Since I had succeeded in a clean getaway, I decided on something different tonight. There was a new club in town—one that catered to a sexually fluid crowd—and this would be the perfect opportunity to check it out.

My interest in exploring my gay side wasn’t something new. I’d been attracted to both sexes growing up but had chosen my childhood friend, Princess Charlotte of Navarre, for my future bride. My fathers had been delighted, but they warned me things might change. A first crush seldom worked out, they’d cautioned, but I was determined to make it work, and thus avoid the complications that might arise from a same-sex union. Rather than risk another man’s life, or that of my unborn child, I would go the conventional route and marry a woman. Charlotte was the perfect choice, until she wasn’t.

My best friend, the sweet girl who’d promised to be my forever love, no longer held my interest, nor I hers. Our recent breakup—remarkably amicable thanks to multiple shots of vodka—signaled the end of childhood dreams and aspirations. And now, I was single again, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. Until I turned twenty-one. Then the invisible clock would start ticking, and pressure to marry and begin a family would escalate.

At the club entrance, I scanned my surroundings. Across the mass of heaving bodies, someone caught my eye. The stranger’s dark hair was combed back, probably tied in a low tail, but I couldn’t say for sure. He was surrounded by people but ignored the crowd after our eyes locked. Even from a distance, the tingling in my groin led me to believe we’d be a good fit.

My royal status precluded random pairings as the inevitable fallout would be disastrous in more ways than I could count; however, the intensity in the brunet’s gaze was pushing me to break a few of my own rules tonight.

I was wearing a tight navy-blue sweater to complement my eyes, and a pair of skinny jeans. The sweater’s fabric stuck to me like a second skin, the perfect showcase for hard-earned shoulder and arm muscles. My blond hair was chin length, and I normally tucked it behind my ears. Even though I’d been told many times that it needed to be at least two inches shorter, I resisted because it was one of the few things in my regimented life I could control.

As next in line to the throne, I’d been brought up with a strict code of conduct, and I did my best to adhere to tradition. But with my formative years behind me, there was less room for mistakes. Eyes were on me twenty-four seven, and slipping through the proverbial cracks was always a thrill. My energy was on high alert tonight.

Although I had Prince Sebastian’s fair coloring, I was built more like my other father, Errol. My wide shoulders, narrow waist, and muscular thighs combined with my height—six two on bare feet—were imposing, especially in formal attire. My facial hair was more a heavy scruff than a beard, but it was a disguise I’d adopted after my sixteenth birthday. Some know-it-all mentioned I was too young to be in such a position of power. The beard seemed to have the desired effect, adding the necessary years and a certain flair that drew men and women in equal measure.

My stranger disappeared from the dance floor, and I headed toward the rear of the club. There was a room, where one could presumably get more intimate, and I glanced around, hoping to spot him. He seemed to have vanished. Irritated that he’d eluded me, I went back to the main area and ordered a beer and a shot. Killing time until someone else caught my eye, I ordered another one-and-one after inhaling the first, and one more after that. The sudden buzz didn’t do much to improve my mood. I’d been looking forward to a few hours of mindless fun, and sex had been high on my list.

I cleared my tab with cash to stay incognito and decided to make one more attempt to find the brunet. As soon as I entered the dark room, I felt the man’s presence. He was leaning against a wall, staring at me with purpose. We met halfway, and I was hypnotized by catlike eyes, an interesting mix of browns and greens. The chemistry between us was sending shock waves directly to my groin. I didn’t want to appear inexperienced, but I hadn’t been with a guy in a long time, and I was nervous. It took a boatload of willpower to keep up my cool façade.

Finally, the stranger broke the silence. “Are you alone?”

“Yes.”

Circling my waist with strong arms, he dragged me against his body. We were the same height, and as our mouths got closer, so did our hips, but I avoided his kiss. I wasn’t ready for that yet and hoped he’d get the message. Without faltering, my hookup deftly moved to my neck and slowly licked his way up to the outer shell of my ear, whispering dirty nothings along the way. I could feel the barriers crumbling as my need took over, and the next time he tried to kiss me, I let him.

His lips were surprisingly soft, but stubble against stubble was a sensation I’d never felt before. Gradually, I responded to his questing tongue and let his strong hands clutch my ass cheeks and drag me against his growing erection. The jolt of desire made him reckless.

“Can we get out of here?” I asked hopefully.

“You bet,” my mystery man answered. He held my hand and led me toward the exit. A few seconds before we’d made a clean getaway, I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder. David, the royal event planner, and his partner, Sam, stood in our way.

“What are you doing here?” David asked, ignoring the guy beside me.

I was surprised to see him and went on the defensive. “None of your damn business.”

David was visibly shocked by my combative attitude but stood his ground. “You’ll be sorry in the morning.”

“Take your hands off him,” the stranger snarled. “He’s with me.”

“Look,” David said, trying a more amicable approach. “You don’t know who you’re dealing with, and he’s obviously had too much to drink.”

“He gave me a clear message, and I’m acting on it.”

“Think again.”

Sam and David sandwiched me and headed toward the exit. My hookup was probably fuming, but our connection had been broken, and I couldn’t find the energy to put up a fight. David got behind the wheel of the car, and Sam sat in the back seat beside me.

After a few mild protests, I slumped against Sam and drifted off…



Unfamiliar sounds were coming from somewhere in this strange place. Voices murmured in the background while pots clanked, a tea kettle whistled, and the smell of frying bacon made my stomach heave. I seemed to have swallowed the entire ocean somewhere along the way, judging by the taste in my mouth and an urgent need to piss. The room spun when I sat up, and the marching band in my head made me rethink my next move, but I forced myself to find a toilet before I wet the bed.

Holding on to the wall for support, I shuffled down the hallway, relieved to spot an open door, which led to the sought-after bathroom. It took far longer than usual to empty my bladder while I swayed dangerously. Fortunately, my aim was true, so one less thing to worry about. At the sink, I washed up and spied a bottle of mouthwash. I chugged a capful, swished it around, and spat out the minty liquid. Feeling marginally better, I risked a peek in the mirror to assess the damage.

The eyes that stared back at me were bloodshot, not a good look on anyone, especially the heir apparent. I knew I should go outside and find out where the hell I was, or who in fuck had rescued me the previous night. Hopefully, it was a good guy and not a scammer intent on milking this situation for all its worth. My fathers would raise holy hell if they learned I’d made a spectacle of myself at the club. Or had I? I remembered drinking and dancing, enjoying the press of half-naked men, and having a great time. Everything after that was sort of fuzzy.

Dude, you look like shit.

I narrowed my eyes. “Shut the fuck up.”

Just saying.

Ignoring the pesky voice in my head and bracing for the worst, I opened the door and followed the noise down the hallway and into the kitchen. There, the palace chef, Sam, stood over the kitchen counter beating something in a green bowl, and his partner, David, sipped coffee and read the paper.

“Thank god,” I said, pulling out a chair. “It’s you guys.”

Wordlessly, Sam grabbed a cup off the mug tree, filled it with brew, and placed it close to my right hand. “Cream and sugar are at your fingertips,” he said, pointing to the matching set of ceramic containers.

“Thank you,” I replied.

“No problem.”

“You must be cold,” David remarked.

Bare-chested and only clad in boxer briefs, I grimaced. “About last night—”

“Hold that thought,” David said. He stood and disappeared for a minute. He returned with a terrycloth robe and draped it around my shoulders. “Better?”

“Much,” I acknowledged with a nod. “Some aspirin and another cup of coffee to chase it down will be much appreciated.”

“Let me get you the bottle,” Sam said.

He was back in an instant and shook out two pills.

I popped them in my mouth, and after swallowing, I asked David, “How’d I get here?”

“Don’t you remember?”

“Not much.”

“You were pretty out of it at the club, and we thought it best if you crashed here,” David said diplomatically.

Sam had no such qualms. “What on earth were you thinking?”

Insulted by his tone of voice and the implications, I pulled the royal card. “Have you forgotten who you’re dealing with?”

Shame made him flush, but he didn’t back down. “I mean no disrespect, Your Royal Highness. If we hadn’t been there last night, there’s no telling what might have happened.”

“Clarify,” I demanded, looking from one to the other.

“You were on your way out the door with some guy you’d picked up in the back room,” David informed me in a steady voice.

David had joined my granny Alexandra’s staff when I was a newborn and had a fatherly interest in my well-being. Nonetheless, he looked uncomfortable with our current situation.

“What was I doing in the back room?”

“Dear lord,” David murmured.

“Probably having some form of sex,” Sam deadpanned.

“You’re kidding,” I said dubiously.

“I’m serious,” Sam replied.

“Nothing happened,” I said adamantly. “I would remember.”

“I don’t know,” David said gently. “You looked shitfaced.”

“I didn’t drink enough to blackout.”

“Maybe someone slipped you a roofie?”

The idea was chilling. Did that happen, or was David trying to scare me? Should I report the club to the local cops so they could investigate? Sam interrupted my train of thought with another question.

“What were you doing at a gay club in the first place?”

I shrugged. “Checking it out.”

“Did I miss the memo about you being gay?” David asked.

“I’m bi.”

“Since when?” Sam queried.

“Since forever.”

Sam and David exchanged worried glances.

I pushed back from the table and stood to go. “You all assumed I was straight because I was engaged to Princess Charlotte. And don’t get me wrong, I cared for her a lot and have no regrets, but I’ve always been fluid with regards to my orientation. As far as last night is concerned, you should keep this to yourself.”

Sam cocked his head. “May I ask you something, Your Royal Highness?”

“Seeing as how I’m half-naked in your kitchen, you can drop the honorific.”

“A lifetime of training won’t allow it,” Sam said deferentially.

“Ask your damn question.”

“Do men and women get you off equally, or do you feel stronger about one sex?”

“Sam!” David said, looking horrified by his partner’s impertinence.

“What?” Sam asked. “I’m trying to understand.”

“That’s enough,” I said, feeling frustrated and vulnerable, “I’m going home. Is my car outside?”

Sam reached out and stopped me. “We’re on your side, Your Highness. Not judging.”

“The fuck you’re not!” I spat out.

David sighed. “Your car is still at the club. We’ll drive you there once you get dressed.”

“Thanks.” I stalked out of the room, but I could still hear the heated conversation going on in the kitchen.

“Hell,” Sam huffed. “That didn’t go well at all.”

“You were too hard on him,” David admonished.

“Someone had to be. If any of the royals get wind of this, it’ll be a lot worse.”

“Well, they’re not going to find out from me,” David said. “The prince needs guidance from people he can trust. Not finger wagging.”

“I wasn’t doing that,” Sam rounded.

“It felt like it.”

“Stop being so sensitive on his behalf,” Sam said. “I know you have a soft spot for the prince, but he needs a firm hand, not a couple of enablers.”

“Let’s talk about this later. I want to get him back to his car, so he can get home before anyone raises the alarm, okay?”

“Do you want me to come with you?” Sam asked.

“No,” David replied. “I’d like to be alone with him if you don’t mind.”

In the car, I was silent for most of the way. David attempted to make small talk, but I replied in monosyllables. He pulled into the parking lot and slid his sedan beside my Beemer. Before I got out of the car, David reached for me.

“Your Highness, please don’t be upset with us. We care about you.”

“I understand your concerns, but my sex life is off-limits.”

“Perhaps,” David admitted, “but we couldn’t let you walk out of the club with a stranger while intoxicated. I had no idea if it was his idea or yours to find privacy. Furthermore, this is the first time you’ve shown an interest in a man. Excuse me for being overly protective.”

“This isn’t my first rodeo, David.”

“Your Highness,” David continued. “I’m the last person who’ll judge if you choose to spend your life with another man, but you should be more circumspect. There’s no telling what might have happened if you fell into the hands of a predator.”

“Agreed. This was a spur-of-the-moment thing, and I wasn’t thinking. In the future, I’ll try not to make a fool of myself.”

“If you’re still attracted to this guy the next time you run into him, then maybe we should look into his particulars.”

I embraced David. “Thanks for taking care of me last night. Tell Sam too. And for heaven’s sake, not a word to my fathers or Granny. Let me figure this out before we do any vetting.”

“You can count on us, Your Highness.”

I waved goodbye to David before noticing the business card stuck underneath my wiper. I pulled it out gingerly.

“Call me if you want another go at this” was scribbled in bold strokes and signed Alain. The other side of the gray card was blank except for a blood-red logo I didn’t recognize and a phone number.

My pulse quickened and I shook my head in amazement. What was it about this guy that caught my interest? Wanting answers, I decided to give him a call later. If a few words on a business card could set me off so easily, there was no telling what would happen if we laid eyes on each other again. And the next time, I planned to be stone-cold sober.

Chapter Two

Errol


The balcony of our summer palace overlooked the sparkling waters of the Bay of Biscay. Biarritz always drew huge crowds during the month of May until the first week of September. Sun worshippers on colorful blankets spread out like starfish, while children and their parents frolicked on the shoreline. Surfers, hoping to catch the next big wave, waited patiently on their boards. Past the breakwater, sailboats bobbed, sharing space with fishing boats heading back to the ancient stone pier to unload the daily catch.

It was another beautiful morning, and yet, it wasn’t. Today was the thirty-first of May, my forty-ninth birthday, and I’d promised Bash to quit smoking, a nasty habit I’d picked up shortly after the birth of our son, Colin. My pregnancy had been difficult, to put it mildly, and I hadn’t been able to keep any food down the first trimester. Things had changed for the better in the fourth month, and I made up for lost time. The weight started to pile on. After my delivery, and deep depression over the loss of our firstborn, I looked to food for solace. The pounds kept adding up, and even as my mental state improved, I couldn’t stem the food cravings despite my best efforts—until I discovered cigars. Bash had objected stridently, calling the habit disgusting and off-putting. He threw in the health card as well, making sure I read all the material on lung and tongue cancer, but I’d endured a lot to bring Colin into the world, and I reminded Bash that I was entitled to this one concession.

He’d given in reluctantly; however, that had been two decades ago. Whenever Bash had mentioned quitting, I’d come up with another good reason why I shouldn’t. To stop the infernal nagging, we had picked a date in the future, and I swore to give up the odious habit as soon the day arrived. It was a promise I’d made under duress, but one I would honor regardless. It would be difficult, but I’d never broken a promise or shied away from a challenge and wasn’t about to start at this late date.

I drew one last puff on my Cuban cigar, crushed it out on the concrete railing I was leaning on, and tossed it over the side.

“That’s that,” I said wistfully, and Snow, my second-generation Pyrenean, named after her beloved mother who we had lost a while back, must have heard the note of sadness in my voice since she howled mournfully. I stepped back into the room and gazed at my husband who was reading the daily news on his iPad.

“All done?” he asked without taking his eyes off the page.

“Aye.”

“That’s the last we’ll see of those cancer sticks, right?”

“Or what?”

Although I intended to comply, his assumption set my teeth on edge, and I wasn’t going down without a fight. Arguing with my husband had become one of my favorite pastimes. Not because I was aggressive by nature, but Bash was too used to getting his way. People crawled over each other to do his bidding and the power exchange between us became a part of our routine; my way of reminding Bash who was in charge behind closed doors.

“You’re sleeping in the guest room until you comply.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You were supposed to quit years ago but insisted on continuing to pollute your lungs and the air around us, so I’m putting my foot down. Either quit smoking or…”

“What?”

Bash peered at me over his reading glasses and gave a half smile.

“Are you threatening me?”

Bash heaved a dramatic sigh, removed his glasses, and put his iPad aside.

“Errol,” he said quietly. “I hold my breath after you have a physical, waiting with a lump in my throat for the bad news, convinced they’ll find some form of cancer. You exercise like a fiend, eat the right food, and take vitamins by the handful, and yet you continue to poison your body with the fucking smokes. I don’t understand how someone so brilliant can be so incredibly dumb.”

“And you’re saying that if I don’t quit, you’ll withhold sex? Now who’s being a dumbass?”

Bash was bare-chested and had the duvet pulled up over his lap. He still had a full head of golden hair and had filled out in all the right places. There was an aura about him that was ridiculously entitled but, in my opinion, immensely appealing. The willful twenty-five-year-old I’d married nineteen years ago was gone, and in his place, was a man in his prime dedicated to the small principality he’d inherited after his father’s untimely death six years ago. Despite his busy schedule, Bash was a devoted husband and father.

I was also at the top of my game, having perfected my craft as a sculptor. I’d garnered awards, was admired and envied by many, and there was no bigger fan than my husband. We’d been good for each other, despite all the naysayers, and the emotional stability added another layer to the multidimensional personality that was Crown Prince Sebastian of Sendorra.

I removed my robe and noted the spark of interest in Bash’s clear blue eyes. Say what you want about smoking, but it had served a purpose—keeping me lean—and the sexual chemistry that existed between us from the first hadn’t faded through time. Naked, I sank down beside Bash and rolled on my side, propped my head on one hand, and pushed the duvet aside so I could explore the enticing curves of Bash’s body.

“Blackmail has never worked with me,” I reminded him, skimming lightly over the planes of his chest. “You will not win this battle, so don’t even try.”

Bash’s breathing kicked up a notch.

I leaned in and tickled Bash’s ear with my tongue and then sucked gently on the lobe while loving the sigh of contentment that slipped out of his throat. Goose bumps appeared on his arms, raising the golden hair. I changed position, licking a wet swath down Bash’s neck, and stopped at one nipple. It pebbled after a few seconds, and I continued my journey southward. My full beard scraped the tender landscape, brushing over Bash’s firm abdomen, and continued past the light layer of fur ending in a point above his cock.

I glanced up at Bash, noting the color rising slowly up his neck. “How long do you think you’d be able to resist this?” I asked in a low rumble, listening with satisfaction to his frustrated whimpers. “You presume you have control over this body, which has been completely mine for nineteen years.”

Bash gripped my wrist, trying to move me in the right direction, but I shook him off and laughed.

“Oh, no, you don’t. Picture yourself lying beside me, yearning for the slightest bit of pressure on your straining cock.”

I caressed him in ever-widening circles, then pushed his thighs apart.

“Please…”

“Surrendering already?”

“You’re a monster.”

I chuckled. “Tell me again how you’re going to resist this.”

“Damn you!”

“Do you really want to deprive yourself?” I asked, barely holding on to my own desires.

Bash keened.

“Tell me again how you’re going to stay away from me if I don’t quit my cigars,” I taunted. “How you’ll spend night after night alone in our great bed with nothing to hug except your pillow.”

Bash’s pupils were blown and tiny drops of moisture dotted his forehead. His hair lay in lanky strands against his cheek, but he’d never looked more beautiful.

“What’s it going to be, Your Highness?”

“I want you,” Bash said.

“And the cigars?”

“I don’t care, Errol, please…get on with it.”

“Tell me what you’re not going to do.”

“I will not withhold sex,” Bash replied and kissed me deeply.



Our makeup sex had been glorious, but getting my point across was even better. My victory was short-lived because the infernal promise was brought up once I reached over his head to pull a cigar out of the leather case I kept on the nightstand.

“Give it up for me…please,” Bash implored. “I want you around for a long, long time. It’ll kill me if you get sick.”

“You know how much I enjoy a good smoke after making love to you.”

“Do I have to get on my knees and beg?”

“That’s not necessary, but you have to accept I’m going to die eventually.”

“I know we’re not immortal, but there’s probably nothing worse than trying to catch a breath because your lungs are black with disease. Or watching all your hair fall out because of the chemicals they’ll pump into your body. And if cancer doesn’t get you, emphysema surely will. Even Armani can’t dress up an oxygen tank.”

“Jaysus, Bash. Stop being so morbid. And just so you know—” I paused for dramatic effect. “—you’ll get better results if you ask nicely. Don’t ever threaten me again.”

Bash nodded.

“Good. Now I have to figure out how to quit without gaining twenty pounds. What am I going to use to satisfy my oral fixation?”

Bash cracked a smile. “Do you need to ask?”

“Your courtiers are understanding, but they’re not voyeurs,” I reminded him. “They’ll have better things to do than wait on the sidelines while I suck on your cock.”

“What could be more important?”

Statements like this reminded me how much he cared. Despite his rank and multiple engagements, Bash always put me first. Even with increasing amounts of gray overtaking my dark strands—a by-product of living with a drama king—he still found me attractive. After two decades and a clean track record, the odds that we’d go to our graves without cheating were clearly in our favor.

“I could have a plaster cast made of my royal dick,” Bash mentioned, getting back to the problem at hand.

“Walking around with your cock in my pocket is counterproductive. I’d get nothing accomplished.”

“Why not?”

“I’ll have a cockstand all day, and pulling you out of meetings to satisfy my urges will send your ministers into a tailspin.”

“My mother would roll over in a dead faint,” Bash remarked.

“No she won’t. The Dowager Princess is far more resilient than people realize. Putting up with you and your father all these years has made her a master negotiator; plus, she’s the only one among us who seems to handle Colin with alacrity. Ye ken that takes talent.”

“I’d rather not discuss Colin at the moment.”

“He’s headstrong. I’ll grant you that, but he’s a good lad, and his heart is in the right place.”

“I hate to break this to you, my sweet husband, but Colin is a man, not a lad. Now that he’s broken up with Charlie—I hate that nickname by the way—he’ll have to start looking for his future bride. The last time I mentioned it, the brat actually growled and told me to bugger off.”

“He’s disappointed.”

“No shit.”

“He’ll come around, and when he does, we’ll throw him a big party. Take a page from our playbook and see if it works as well.”

Bash sighed. “I hope you’re right. Do you mind if I take a nap?”

“Not at all. We’ll catch up later.”

After dressing, I headed downstairs for breakfast. It would do Bash good to stay in bed after what transpired. Bouncing back from sex games wasn’t that easy at our age. Thoughts of my prince were pushed aside by the sound of a car engine I’d recognize anywhere. Colin’s BMW was pulling into the driveway. Had he stayed out all night, and if so, who was he with?

As I continued down the long flight of stairs, I met up with Colin as he was taking the marble steps two at a time. Instead of berating him, I greeted him warmly. “Good morning.”

“Da! You should be having breakfast in bed on your birthday.”

Colin’s shock at seeing me wasn’t reassuring. Had he been up to no good, or was I reading too much into this?

“Thank you kindly, but I’d rather have breakfast with you.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Join me anyway.”

“All right,” Colin said. “Where’s Papa?”

“Still in bed.”

Colin raised an eyebrow. “Did you wear him out last night?”

“This morning,” I said with a satisfied smile. “Don’t ask any more questions, you impudent pup.”

Colin laughed. “How can you guys still be sexually active after being married so long?”

“You’ll find out after you meet your match.”

“Don’t hold your breath,” Colin said bitterly.

Chapter Three

Alain


After my stud was rescued by his meddling friends, I’d made inquiries, trying to find out more about this mystery man. No one had ever seen him before. Not surprising since Biarritz was primarily a vacation destination. Hooking up with total strangers wasn’t uncommon, but someone had to have seen this guy around town before now. He was too hot to be invisible. Unless he was straight or in the closet.

That might explain his reaction in the back room. The aversion to kissing, a case in point. If he was experimenting, locking lips with a guy for the first time might be a bit daunting. Still, there were undeniable sparks coming from both sides. The bastard who cockblocked us had insinuated the guy was drunk. He seemed more out of place than inebriated, like he’d just fallen out of the sky and landed in a gay bar by accident.

I left my business card under the windshield wiper of a BMW that supposedly belonged to him. The valet wasn’t certain, but I left the card regardless. The personalized license plate—HRH2—would be listed in some database. I had enough contacts in the area to help me uncover the owner, but I wasn’t sure I cared enough to go through all the trouble. I’d known the guy for what…five minutes? Not enough time to get invested. Maybe if he showed up again and actually followed through, I might rethink my need to know.

Taking my frustration out on my Porsche, I stomped on the gas. The drive up to my cliffside home consisted of a series of hairpin curves that were challenging at normal speeds, but I was gunning the engine, taking the turns like a Le Mans driver and loving each hair-raising second. My need for speed was inconsistent with my methodical personality, but there were some things even I couldn’t explain.

The wrought-iron gate guarding my property swung open with a thumb tap on my steering wheel. It was all preprogrammed and convenient as hell. The steep driveway was lined with bushes of pink and blue hydrangeas that were in full bloom. My home, a nineteenth-century Italian-style villa, overlooked the city. It was my sanctuary, the one place I could be myself. Not that I was a vampire or werewolf, but I was my mother’s son. Isabelle was the high priestess of the Simon Coven, and I had inherited her gift. I’d been told that my powerful aura could be daunting at times, a problem if you were looking to get laid.

Unlike my mother, I preferred to go it alone, steering clear of the politics and drama that went hand in hand with being a member of her coven. My mother scoffed at my views and warned me that I’d need her help someday, but thirty-three was a little late for an epiphany. I was an acknowledged loner, avoiding the witches and warlocks that existed in and around the Pyrenees. They called me a gray witch, one who strove for balance but recognized the existence of white and black magic. That was the main reason I legally changed my surname to de Gris. If I was going to keep my distance, it was better to drop the ancient, and more recognizable, Simon.

My goal was to only use my supernatural gifts to bring positive changes to the world. I was driven in my pursuit of answers that had intrigued me since I attended college in Edinburgh. Starting out as a medical student, I realized my thirst for knowledge lay in the world of herbs and pharmacology, in large part because of my ancestors. Back in the day, witches were known as healers, and people flocked to their cottages, hoping to find a cure. From skin rashes to more difficult cases of brain fever or pleurisy, they came from all over the countryside. Why not continue the family trade but with modern techniques? I switched my major, earning a degree in science, and eventually got my doctorate of pharmacology, a fascinating field with endless possibilities.

There were cures for most diseases, and it was my job to find them. I had the edge on my classmates as I was more than familiar with the composition and efficacy of existing herbs, but there was much more to learn, and I applied myself with single-minded purpose. My biggest accomplishment to date had been a preventive for Alzheimer’s disease, a discovery that had changed the world and earned me a Nobel Prize. It had been rewarding in the extreme and justified long hours holed up in my laboratory buried in research. The personal toll had been inevitable, and I couldn’t begin to count the number of relationships laid to waste getting to this point. The fact that people now had a pill to forestall a disease from turning one into an empty husk made the sacrifices worthwhile.

This was what I told myself as I spent evening after evening with Merlin and a glass of good wine for company. Rarely did I think about what might have been if I’d chosen a different kind of life. As things stood, I’d gained a reputation as a confirmed bachelor—a myth I perpetuated to avoid entanglements. There was no time for a committed relationship, and to be honest, I hadn’t met anyone interesting enough to make me reevaluate my choices. Most of my hookups were too dim to realize there was more to me than fucking.

I wasn’t a monk and enjoyed sex whenever the opportunity arose. Bisexual by nature, I was open to any and all possibilities, and never too embarrassed to admit it. But my self-imposed walls became impenetrable the minute my date du jour started asking questions. Intensely private for obvious reasons, I showed them the door the moment they overstepped. Opportunities were plentiful, and I didn’t have to look far to get someone new in my bed. College was a series of first dates that ended up with one of us being disappointed. Normally, it was me who drifted away. As much as I admired the soft curves of a female and the hard planes of a male’s chest, I was more drawn to one’s intellect than anything else. I could not tolerate stupidity in any form.

Because I’d disappointed my mother by stepping out of the preordained box, she was pressing me to marry and create a grandchild who might actually meet her expectations. I was no more interested in marriage than I was in taking up black magic. Each time I rejected one of her candidates, icicles formed around our tight bond, and the look in her eyes spoke volumes. I was two for two in her opinion, and even the meteoric rise in my chosen field couldn’t tip the scales in my favor.

My inherited abilities did come with some nice perks, and I didn’t hesitate to use my knowledge to accomplish mundane domestic tasks that were time-consuming and utterly tedious. Especially in an elegant home with too many flat surfaces accumulating dust. Why hire outside help when a few choice spells could get the same results? I knew I was considered high maintenance, but I liked beautiful things and took great pride in my home.

My front door swung open the moment I approached. As soon as I walked into the foyer, lights began to flicker, and one by one, they burned bright. Although it was summer, my granite home was always cool, and the fireplace routinely stacked with wood. With a snap of my fingers, the logs burst into flames, warming the cavernous space within minutes. My Norwegian Forest cat, Merlin, hissed in response to the pyrotechnics. After pouring a glass of wine, I toed off my shoes, and sat on my comfortable sofa to enjoy the warmth and the excellent vintage. Merlin hopped up beside me and nudged my arm, intent on finding a spot on my lap. His loud purrs set me at ease for the first time since I’d left town.

There was a possibility I would end up back at the club tomorrow. I tried to analyze my feelings. Why was I so intrigued by the one who got away? Yes, he was good-looking, with a body to match his face, but perhaps it was the vulnerability in his eyes that kept me interested. Our brief kiss had given me a hint of what was to come if I pursued the connection. Some unknown force—one I’d never experienced before—had swirled between us, and I couldn’t get him out of my head. Who was he, and why was I hooked?

As I stared into the bright flames, I conjured up the image of my missed opportunity. His mouth was made for kissing, among other things, and imagining what I could do with that plump lower lip made me squirm. Merlin’s indignant meow and hasty retreat to his favored spot on top of a bookshelf didn’t break my concentration. I continued to stare into the flames and attempted to get a clearer picture of this guy, but he quickly faded away. I tried again, employing another spell, but nothing worked. He seemed to have some sort of protective shield I couldn’t penetrate, adding another element of intrigue to the mystery.

I spent most of the next day in my home office answering emails and looking over the numerous invitations to speak at conventions for a sizable fee. Ever since the big win in Sweden, I was inundated with requests. It was flattering, as well as financially rewarding, but it involved crowds and schmoozing, and I had no use for either. However, I had to make a few appearances, or people would assume I was a mad scientist, in the Frankenstein tradition, locked in my dungeon torturing small animals and growing humans out of potato spuds. The thought was so ludicrous it made me laugh because I could easily become that guy. In truth, anyone famous who shied away from the spotlight was like catnip to the paparazzi, especially if said person was accomplished, attractive, and single—qualities I possessed according to the press.

Around five in the afternoon, my cell phone buzzed. I didn’t recognize the number, but the caller ID was the same as the personalized license plate HRH2.

I accepted and answered with a curt, “Alain here.”

“How’s it going?”

The person on the other end sounded young. Far too young for me, but his voice had a sexy gravel that drew me like a magnet. “Who is this?”

“The guy you almost took home last night.”

“Does this guy have a name?” I asked, unable to keep the smile off my face.

“Colin.”

“What’s Colin’s last name?”

There was a long pause, and finally Colin replied, “I’ll tell you another time.”

Interesting. “What can I do for you?”

“You asked me to call if I wanted another go.”

“And do you?” I asked.

Colin laughed softly into the phone. “Yeah.”

The satisfaction I felt upon hearing his answer was surprising, but I refused to dwell on the reasons. I did, however, jump on the opportunity to get a second chance. “When?”

“How about tonight?”

“Will your overprotective friends be around?”

“About that—”

“No explanation needed.”

“Maybe not, but I want to assure you that I’m not a minor,” Colin explained. “Seeing me at a gay bar was a bit of a shock for my friends, and I was obviously tipsy. They decided I needed to sober up before making any rash decisions.”

“You’re not out?”

“No.”

Disappointment quickly snuffed out my enthusiasm. “That’s too bad.”

“I have my reasons,” Colin argued, “and I’ll be happy to share them with you the next time we meet.”

“I’m too old for this scenario, kiddo.”

“Please don’t call me that,” Colin said.

“My apologies. In any case, I think you should be with someone your own age. I’m terrible at subterfuge, and furthermore, I don’t give a fuck what other people think.”

“How old are you anyway?”

“Thirty-three.”

“Wow.” He seemed shocked by my revelation.

“How about you?”

“Twenty.”

Alain sighed. “Call me in about five years.”

“You’d still be thirteen years older.”

“I can count.”

“Give me one night,” Colin insisted.

“I’m sorry, Colin. You’ll end up getting hurt.”

“Don’t presume to know me,” Colin said imperiously.

There was something about his tone that made me rethink my decision. He was either a spoiled brat or used to being in charge. I could do without the attitude, but I liked men who were in control and spoke their minds.

“One night,” I said. “Meet me outside the club at nine.”

“I’ll be there,” Colin said and disconnected.

Chapter Four

Colin


After the call ended, I panicked. All my life I’ve been shielded from danger, real and imagined, and I’d just agreed to meet up with a guy I barely knew. By myself. David and Sam wouldn’t be at the club two nights in a row, and I sure as hell couldn’t show up with bodyguards. Alain would take one look at them and realize I was not only too young, I was a fucking liability. His age and barely disguised contempt for my closeted status gave me reasons to believe I’d made a terrible mistake. Or not.

Alain’s reticence was actually a good sign. If he were a true predator, he’d have agreed to meet me no matter the obstacles. My logic might be colored by pride and desire, but I wasn’t going to back out after twisting his arm. The endgame remained a mystery. Wanting to avoid a male pregnancy at all cost had cast a shadow over my sexual experiences. Attracted to other men, I’d messed around with guys at boarding school, but I always ended up going back to Charlotte, determined she would carry my heir. We’d agreed to date others, in part because we were too young to be tied down, but also because we were naturally curious. Ultimately, the experiment had broken us apart. She knew I was torn between my duty and my natural inclination.

Our breakup had gutted me, and I had vowed to do better the next time I got engaged. So why was I jumping headfirst into a possible disaster? Once the summer was over, I’d have to return to my old routine and sit down with my parents to work out a plan to find a bride. The rules of our principality hadn’t changed since I was born. Like my forefathers, I was expected to sire a legitimate heir before I passed or Sendorra would revert to Spain.

Throwing caution aside, I decided to trust my gut instinct—hook up with Alain regardless. What harm could one night do in the grand scheme of things? Deciding what to wear presented another challenge. Should I try to look older or parlay my youth? I settled on a tight black button-down and white jeans. The black would highlight my blond hair, and the white would draw Alain’s attention to the right place. I was well-endowed and wouldn’t hesitate to use all the weapons in my arsenal—a thirteen-year age gap was difficult to ignore. I couldn’t possibly compete, experience-wise, but unspoiled looks could work to my advantage. If I’d managed to hold his interest the first time, I could do it again. My recently shampooed hair gleamed, falling in shiny waves around my face. The image staring back at me was as good as it could get. I picked up my car keys and snuck out of the villa.

As I drove into town, I wondered again if I had the nerve to go through with this. I was clutching the steering wheel in a death grip. I forced myself to relax. What was the worst that could happen? Alain would say thanks but no thanks.

Are you certain this is wise?

That pesky voice again. “Stay out of my business.”

Someone’s got to keep you in check.

“It’s not going to be you.”

I’ll stick around just in case.

“Like hell you will.”

At the club, I parked in the corner spot, which was vacant again, and paid the entrance fee. It was packed, and I scanned the crowd but couldn’t spot Alain. My initial anxiety reared its ugly head, and I wondered if he’d had a change of heart. At the bar, I asked for a club soda with a twist, deliberately keeping alcohol out of the equation. No one could possibly accuse me of being too drunk tonight.

The bartender stared at me. Unless he was a celebrity stalker, there was no way he’d recognize me. There had been a lot of media coverage on my twentieth birthday party, but that had been almost a year ago. Unlike many celebrities, I was camera shy and preferred to keep the photo ops to a minimum. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to give the bartender the opportunity to figure out if he’d ever seen my mug.

I found a spot on a raised walkway, where I could keep an eye on the entrance. This strategic position would allow me to get a second look to make sure I’d made the right decision. Memories of our encounter had plagued me for the last twenty-four hours, and in my dreams, he got better and better looking.

My pulse quickened when he finally stood at the front door. As I soaked up the vision of Alain in a tight T-shirt and ripped jeans—unexpected given his age—anticipation thrummed in my veins, obliterating the fear and indecision. My feet moved of their own accord. Finally, we were standing eye to eye, and I felt this crazy energy swirling between us.

“You’re here,” I said lamely.

His tiger eyes crinkled with amusement. “I’m true to my word.”

“Good to know.”

“May I buy you a drink?” Alain asked, never taking his attention off my face.

Holding the stare, I said, “Sure.”

With his hand on my lower back, Alain guided us to the bar. I was hyperaware of his touch, and although there was one layer of fabric between his hand and my skin, the heat transferred between us. At the bar, I asked for a refill on the tonic water, and he ordered a vodka martini, extra dirty.

“You’re not drinking alcohol tonight?”

“No.”

“Do you want to dance?” Alain asked after he finished his drink.

“Okay.”

We moved toward the dance floor. Alain was in the lead, and it gave me a chance to admire his gorgeous ass. He reached for me, and I moved in willingly and wrapped my arms around his waist. Alain’s smile set me at ease, and we swayed to the beat.

“You’re even better in person than in my dreams,” I murmured.

“I was just thinking the same thing,” Alain said, bending forward and kissing me lightly on the lips. “Thoughts of you have been distracting me all day.”

“Why?”

“I’m not sure,” Alain admitted. “You’re not my type.”

“It appears I am.”

Alain grinned. “Cheeky. I like that.”

“Let’s see if I can’t do something more to convince you.” I pulled Alain closer and claimed his smile. The chemistry between us flared brightly, and I could tell he was surprised by my aggression, but he followed through, matching my moves with several more of his own. We were both short of breath after the kiss.

Alain raised both eyebrows. “You’ve made your point.”

“No shit,” I replied. “Can we move to the back room?”

“I don’t do back rooms,” Alain informed me. “Last night was a fluke.”

“If you don’t come up with a good alternative, I’ll get down on my knees and make a fool of myself.”

“What makes you think I’ll object?” Alain asked.

“Are you an exhibitionist?”

“No,” Alain said firmly.

“Then perhaps we should take this elsewhere.”

“Do you always get what you want?” Alain asked, amusement tugging at the corner of his mouth.

“More often than not.”

Alain smiled widely, revealing gleaming white teeth. It completely changed his look from untouchable to approachable.

“I’ll let you have your way tonight. Do you want to go to my place?”

“Is it close?”

“About thirty minutes.”

“I’ll follow you in my car,” I said. There’s was no way in hell I was going anywhere without some method of escape.

Alain nodded and we moved toward the exit.

In the parking lot, I asked, “Where’s your car?”

“Over there.” Alain pointed to a black Porsche.

“Nice. Drive at your normal pace,” I said. “I’ll keep up.”

Alain raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment. At the wheel of my car, I kept telling myself I was insane, and I hoped to live long enough to regret this. Then again, the urgency of the situation was pressing against my zipper, and I had no more fucks left to give.

I gunned the engine.

Alain’s home in the hills overlooking the city wasn’t too far from our summer palace. For one second, I thought he was leading me back home. Except he veered left instead of right at a fork in the road, and then I knew I’d been mistaken.

His place was a little smaller than ours, but not by much, and I was impressed. If I was going off the rails, at least I was doing it in style. We didn’t even bother with the garage but left our cars parked in the circular driveway at the foot of the stone steps leading up to his intricately carved front door. It swung open as we approached, and I looked at his hand to see if he had some kind of remote to activate a signal, but all he had were his car keys. I suppose that should have made me hesitate, but I was driven forward by my cock and nothing else mattered except the man in front of me.

I trailed behind Alain who was taking the stairs to the second floor two at a time. He seemed just as eager to get naked, judging by the way he tore off his jacket and shirt inside the palatial bedroom. A fire was already burning invitingly, and I wondered how he’d manage it without a servant in sight.

I stopped thinking after he threw his clothes on the sofa and pulled a bottle of water from a tiny refrigerator hidden inside an armoire.

“You want some?” he asked, holding up the bottle.

“No, thanks. You have a beautiful home,” I said.

Alain was shirtless and had just taken a huge gulp of water. “Thank you.”

“Have you had it long?”

“About three years.”

“Where did you live before this?”

“Can we do the Q&A afterward?” he asked, stepping closer.

“Sure, except we haven’t been properly introduced,” I maintained. “I only know your first name.”

“Alain de Gris.”

“Cool name. So you’re French?”

“Half.”

“And the other half?”

Ignoring my question, Alain asked, “Does Colin have a surname?”

“Maitland,” I said automatically. Using Da’s name was safer than tossing out my title. I didn’t have a proper surname like most people. In school, I was called HRH, or H for short, and didn’t give it much thought. Until now.

“Are your parents Irish?”

I shook my head. “My father is Scottish.”

“And your mother?” Alain asked.

“Will you shut up and kiss me before I die of boredom?”

Instead of doing my bidding, Alain laughed at my audacity. The wide smile I’d previously admired made another appearance.

“I like it when you look at me like that.”

“Why?”

“Makes me feel less like a child and more your equal.”

“And your lips, Colin Maitland, were made for kissing,” Alain stated, removing my jacket as he spoke.

“Among other things.”

My breath caught in my throat as Alain moved forward and lifted my chin with his forefinger.

“You’ve been taunting me for the last hour, dear boy. It’s time you make good on your brash statements.”

Before I could say another word, his mouth was on mine, and the push of his tongue shot electrical currents straight to my groin. He unbuttoned my fly and released my cock in one slick move while he continued to explore my mouth. It was too much, and I was afraid I would come in his hand.

“Hold on,” I begged, breaking our connection. “I can’t breathe.”

“You’ve never done this before, have you?” Alain asked, thumbing my lower lip.

“Not with a complete stranger.”

“But you have been with other men?”

“Of course. I’m bisexual…or at least I think I am.”

I was light-headed with apprehension. From the moment I first laid eyes on Alain, I wanted him, but things were moving faster than I’d anticipated, and I needed some reassurance.


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