A Tangled Legacy
Mickie B. Ashling © 2018
All Rights Reserved
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?”
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.”
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.”
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.
“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?”
“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.
“Since when?” Sam queried.
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.