As the son of the reigning king of Arundel, Erik has never backed down from a challenge. He goes after everything with a boldness that sometimes gets him into trouble. But when it comes to matters of the heart, he’s been stalling for years because he can’t rid his mind of doubts and fears.
Lance couldn’t be more surprised when he finds out Erik is interested in him. But as he thinks about it, he realizes he’s been deflecting the man’s attention for years. He can’t deny his attraction to the prince, but he also knows they can’t ignore his old grudge against Erik’s father, or Erik’s past struggles with Marcus, the only father figure Lance has ever had.
Can they work through it all to find their way to each other? Or will their love be over before it’s begun?
Lance found himself looking up more quickly each time a customer came in. It had been two days since his conversation with Erik, and he wondered why the prince hadn’t returned yet. He’d apologized to his mother and made up with her, but she was still a little miffed with him because he refused to go to Arundel to see Erik. Traffic had been slow all day long, so Lance had pulled out his tablet to check some online auctions. Lately he hadn’t had much luck finding stuff online, but he had his eye on a few carved wooden figurines.
He told himself he wasn’t watching them for Erik, but he knew he was. After both his mother and Marcus telling him they’d noticed Erik’s interest, Lance had been thinking back over their encounters through the years. He only vaguely remembered the day they’d met. Lance had broken his leg, and Asyan’s mother Eliana had come to visit him and give him something for the pain. He’d insisted on letting it heal naturally, and Eliana had just as stubbornly insisted that he at least keep the potion in case he wanted to take it later so he could sleep more comfortably. Lance had been fifteen years old at the time. Erik had escorted his grandmother to the mortal world, but he’d mostly talked with Maggie while Eliana inspected the splint and dressing the mortals had put on. Lance wondered if Erik even remembered that day. He and his mother had been living in Italy at the time. Lance could barely picture their house, but he vividly remembered the tree he’d fallen out of trying to rescue a kitten for the girl who lived next door.
The kitten had run away after that, and Erik had gone to find it, using a spell. He’d taken it next door and then returned for his grandmother, winking at Lance and telling him to be careful trying to impress the girls. Lance had actually been more attracted to the girl’s older brother, but his mother had tactfully cautioned him that the mortal world wasn’t as open minded about sexuality as the fairie world, which had been especially true in the 1950s when this had happened. He hadn’t been able to be openly seen with a man until the 1980s, and even then there had been occasional problems. Dating women had simply been easier most of the time. Erik hadn’t become a regular part of his life until about twenty years ago, and snippets of conversations echoed in his head. Blood welled up on the inside of his lower lip where he’d been chewing on the flesh as he thought about how cold he’d always been to the prince. It almost amazed him Erik had any desire to be around him at all. He cursed softly as he saw that he’d been outbid on two auctions. His mind began to drift again when the front door opened. Lance froze when he saw Erik, but as the man walked toward him, he straightened up and put his tablet away.
“Hi,” Erik said.
“Hi.” Lance’s gaze landed on the three coffees Erik carried. His mouth went dry when it occurred to him that Erik had been bringing him coffee for years now. He’d always seen it as a merely friendly gesture. It wasn’t like spending money mattered to the prince. But now, Lance saw that it was something Erik liked doing for him. Lance’s love for coffee had never been a secret.
“Two sugars, two creams,” Erik said softly, handing the cup off.
“Thank you,” Lance said just as softly. Though they were roughly the same height, Lance felt about six inches tall as he took the cup. He grasped it tentatively, as if brushing his fingers over Erik’s would have some magical effect. It occurred to him, as he looked into the other man’s eyes, that it just might. Erik had been justified in thinking Lance didn’t like him, and he had to fix that, even though he wasn’t sure where to begin.
“Quiet in here. Even the coffee shop was dead,” Erik said.
“Indeed,” Maggie said, swooping by and grabbing one of the coffees. “You can get by without me for a bit, right?”
“Sure,” Lance said, though she was already at the front door.
“Good. See ya,” Maggie said.
Lance opened his mouth to say good-bye, but she was gone. She never left the shop during the day, always insisting there was work to be done. He smiled nervously at Erik, feeling like it couldn’t be more obvious they’d been left alone on purpose.
Erik glanced over his shoulder briefly before looking into Lance’s eyes. “I’d like to finish our conversation, but I am here on a mission.”
“You are?” Lance had imagined their unfinished talk would’ve been what had brought the prince back, so he couldn’t help being curious.
“Yeah. Lucian and Gil. I wanted to get them a housewarming present. Lucian had been living here so long he didn’t have a home of his own in Arundel. They’ve built one now, so I wanted to get them something.”
“Oh. Okay.” Lance thought for a minute. “Did you have something in mind?”
“Not really. I know they’re doing a lot with the garden.”
“Yeah, they are. Gil’s been in for his father a couple of times. He was talking to mom about it.” Lance scanned the shelves on the far wall. “And actually, I might have an idea.” He didn’t see the urn he was thinking of, which bothered him. Had his mother sold it? He hadn’t been reviewing the ledger that much the last few days. “Hang on. It’s not where it should be.” He moved around the counter and began looking around.
“What is it? What color?” Erik asked.
“It’s a bluish green urn. It has white Queen Mary roses on it. And Gil said he was planting those kind in their garden.”
“Queen Mary roses?”
“Yeah.” Lance spotted the urn. “There it is.” He reached down and grabbed it. “See?” he said, handing it over.
Erik took the urn from him and looked at it, rotating it as he hefted it. “I don’t know much about roses, but I like it.”
“What?” Lance asked, genuinely shocked.
Erik said, “What do you mean, what?”
“You’re a fairie from the royal family, and you don’t know much about roses?”
Shaking his head, Erik said, “No. I’ve never planted a protective garden before. I know next to nothing about gardening.”
Rose gardens protected mounds of fairie magic all over the world, and Lance had assumed Erik would probably know lots about them. Erik’s stepmother had been the guardian of one until recently. “Your home could use a little landscaping. You know?” He took a deep breath and said, “Maybe I could come have a look sometime … soon.”
Erik met his gaze. “I’d like that.” He looked at the urn again. “I’ll definitely get this for Gil and my brother.” He lifted his eyes back to Lance’s. “You know a lot about roses?”
“I love roses. I work in my mom’s garden a lot.” He nodded back to the counter and walked over to retrieve his tablet. “I think something with a large bloom would look good around your house.”
“Someone referred to it as a haunted abbey recently. I’d be grateful for your help sprucing it up.”
Lance laughed. “That’s a great description of the place. All the gray stone and long, dark hallways. And those vaulted ceilings? Whoever said that was spot on.”
Erik looked stunned, and he just stood there staring at Lance.
Clearing his throat, Lance said, “Uh, sorry. I didn’t mean it in a negative way. Your home is beautiful. I love all the detail. How accurate it is to the period.”
“I know you didn’t mean it in a bad way. What are you apologizing for?” Erik asked in a low voice, moving a bit closer.
“For laughing. You looked kinda, I don’t know, surprised.”
“I liked it. You almost never laugh around me.”
“Oh.” Lance focused on his tablet, trying to find the best images of the types of roses he thought would be good. “I like your house. It really does have a great gothic revival look to it. I guess I’ve never said it, but I know you put a lot of work into making everything just right.”
“Thank you,” Erik said, his voice still low. “I love it, but some people think it’s too gloomy.”
“One thing this business has taught me is that we all love different things.” Lance found a few pictures and showed them to Erik. “I think some of these would be nice,” Lance said as he forced himself to finally look back up.
Erik leaned in and studied the pictures. “I like these,” he said pointing to two pictures.
“Victorian spice and antique.”
“Antique?” Erik asked, looking up into Lance’s eyes. “Maybe we’ll go with those. Seems a good omen I won’t kill them.”
Lance chuckled. “In Arundel? Probably impossible to kill any flower unless you actually rip it out of the ground.” He scrolled through some of the pictures. “Maybe Victorian spice in the front and antique in the back? Some other flowers as accents here and there?”
“That could work. You really wouldn’t mind helping me?”
Lance set his tablet down and said, “No, not at all, though I doubt you need my help.”
“Maybe not, but I’d like it. Placement, care, I don’t know anything. And believe it or not, people in Arundel don’t do everything by waving their hands. Think how bored we’d all be.”
“I know you don’t all do that.” He checked to make sure no one was outside the shop and then said, “I don’t hate you. Not at all. I’m sorry I’ve been such an ass.” He met Erik’s gaze and searched it a moment. “I don’t like letting people in. I do so very rarely.”
“That’s fine. Few people are really worth it.” He reached out and took Lance’s right hand. “So it’s time I stop pretending I’m only here for the antiques.”
“I’ve never even been on a date with another fairie. And Marcus is my only close friend who isn’t mortal.”
“Why do you think it’s going to be so different?”
Lance tilted his head and squeezed Erik’s hand. “Are you serious? Just touching your hand has my heart racing. My mother’s powers are bound, so being close to her doesn’t affect me very much. I used to always feel a little heady all day when Marcus would come see us, and that was just from being around him. Ask Gil. I bet it shocked him the first time he touched your brother.”
“Lucian’s mentioned that actually. He said Gil was overwhelmed the first time they kissed.”
Lance tensed. Is he about to kiss me? He felt stupid being nervous considering some of the things he’d done with other people, but this kiss would be different. Just touching the man’s hand had his heart skipping beats. “Someone could walk in, ya know.”
“I know. Do you care?” Erik stepped closer to him, his wider frame crowding Lance a bit.
Lance looked at the door a long time, almost willing someone to come in. Erik took him by the chin and turned his head back slowly. Their lips were mere inches apart.
“I can wait, if you’re really as nervous as you seem to be. I’m interested in more than sex, but I think you already know that.” Erik backed off a bit, though he still caressed his fingers over Lance’s cheek. “I can understand you wanting to go slow. I’m willing to let you set the pace.”
Lance wanted to lean forward and press his lips to Erik’s. He also wanted to back away as quickly as possible to get away from the prince’s touch. These two impulses warred, and he simply stood there. “You remember the day we met?”
Erik dropped his hand from Lance’s face, but he still held Lance’s hand within his grasp. His brows furrowed, and then he said, “The first time I saw you was at your mother’s trial. You were about seven maybe. You sat in my sister’s lap because you were afraid. I was in the back of the room.”
Lance blinked as he tried to remember. He did recall Raven holding him. She’d been beautiful and soft spoken, and she hadn’t objected when he’d starting playing with her hair, which had reached well past her waist. That day it had been worked into one long braid, the strands decorated with beads and ribbons. He hadn’t known who she was until his mother came over and thanked her for letting Lance sit with her. “Yes, I remember Raven. She was very kind to me.”
“Do you remember the day we really met?”
Lance nodded. “1951. Italy. I’d broken my leg and—”
“Trying to save a kitten.” Erik smiled. “Yeah, I’d almost forgotten that day. You tended to hide whenever one of us came to visit Maggie. You did that until you were about thirty, if I remember right.”
“Hey, I’m a fairie. Long life and all. We can do the brooding teenager thing for decades, right?” he quipped.
Erik laughed. “Sometimes Raven and I still do it to this day. So hey, why not?” His expression became more wistful. “So is that the first time we spoke to each other?”
Lance nodded. “I think so.” He knew it was but for some reason didn’t want to admit that.
Erik inched closer again. “And what did you think of me?”
“I didn’t know what to think. I really didn’t give much thought to your looks or anything. You told me to be careful trying to impress the girls.”
“And was the girl next door grateful for your efforts?”
“Yeah, but she only had eyes for someone else. A match her parents arranged. And actually, it was her older brother I liked. Cesare.”
“And? It was 1951. I couldn’t say or do anything. I was fifteen. All I could do was jerk off thinking about him.”
Erik’s gaze darkened a bit. “I don’t remember exactly what you looked like, but you’re making me feel like a pervert now, trying to picture that.”
Lance jerked back and pulled his hand free, mortified at his own words. “I didn’t mean to say that. I wasn’t thinking.”
Erik shrugged. “No need to be embarrassed. It’s stupid to be ashamed of things like that.”
Though he tried to smile, Lance could hardly lift his gaze. “Been among mortals too long, I guess.”
“Well, only one way to take your mind off this embarrassment.” Erik snaked one arm around Lance’s waist and drew him close. His mouth descended quickly, and Lance gasped, giving him immediate access.
Lance’s entire body tingled, as if he was standing under the hot spray of a shower after coming in out of the freezing rain. He grasped the prince by his biceps and kissed him back. Just the feel of the man’s mouth against his was better than the last time he’d been fucked. Lance knew he was trembling, and he clung to Erik more as the kiss went on.
Erik drew back, and Lance actually stumbled a bit. Erik steadied him and said, “Someone’s coming. I better stop molesting you.”
“I can’t think straight. You deal with them.”
Erik chuckled. “Maybe they’ll just want to browse.” He pushed Lance toward the counter. “Sit if you need to.”Lance grabbed at the counter and got to the stool behind it, glad for once that it had a back.