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?
Maggie sat on her back porch drinking a cup of coffee, and she smiled as if she knew exactly where he would be spending the day. “You’re up early,” she called.
“I’m going to Arundel. To help Erik with his garden. I wanted to ask if I could borrow some things.”
“Help yourself,” she said, grinning.
Lance turned away quickly and went into the storage shed. He found the wheelbarrow and began to fill it with tools. At least nothing in Erik’s backyard was overgrown. They’d really only need to dig and till the soil. He wheeled the barrow out and stopped by the back porch. “I have a question.”
“Yes?” his mother said, setting her coffee down.
“I have tons of ideas for what to plant, but I can’t just drop hundreds of dollars on plants. At the same time, I don’t want a bunch of magical plants. They simply won’t be the same.”
Maggie laughed. “Since you’re redoing a prince’s garden, shouldn’t this all be on his dime, so to speak? Decide what you want and then bring him back here with you. Make him pay for it. The man has a credit card—I’ve watched you swipe it before.”
Lance’s mouth fell open, not only because he felt stupid for not thinking of that but also because he’d revealed what he would be doing that day when he hadn’t had to. “Oh, yeah.”
Maggie laughed again. “It’s not like you have to drive there, after all. Pop there, make your decision, pop back and buy the stuff, and then get to work.”
“Yeah, that sounds good. I’ll do that.” He took the handles of the wheelbarrow again and turned, ready to go to Arundel.
“Yeah?” Lance called, wondering what was coming. His mother didn’t reply, so he turned to face her.
Very seriously, she said, “Don’t get too exasperated with him. Even he doesn’t realize how much he loves you. You could hurt him much more easily than you think.”
Dropping the handles again, he took a few steps back toward his mother. “I’ve apologized for before, and he and I are good. At least as good as we can be with something that’s in the past. I like him, okay? I said it. I like him. I won’t hurt him, not intentionally. But even a fairie prince can’t force a happy ending.”
“I know. Just saying, dear.”
After a moment, Lance nodded and turned away again. He tried to steady his breathing and relax his features as he moved, and he didn’t actually cross over into Arundel until he’d walked almost to the woods behind his mother’s house. Part of him had wanted to argue about Erik actually being in love with him, but the rest of him didn’t want to have the conversation at all. He emerged in Erik’s backyard and pulled his phone out. He started to send a text, but then he heard something behind him. Erik walked toward him, wearing a pair of khaki pants and a faded blue t-shirt with what seemed to be work boots. “You look ready to work,” Lance said, a bit flustered by the prince’s sudden appearance.
Erik smiled. “Yeah. Just got back from my walk.” He nodded to the barrow. “Looks like you came prepared.”
“Just some basics.” He opened his messenger bag and pulled out the sketches. “I have some ideas. We can pick a section to start on and then go buy the plants. We could get a lot done today.”
“It’s not urgent. You should get to enjoy your days off.”
Even he doesn’t realize how much he loves you. Maggie’s words echoed in his head. Lance said, “I think I’ll enjoy this. I love working outside.”
Erik took the papers from his hand and studied them carefully. “I imagined you’d just draw something rough and label things. But you actually drew the back of the house.” He looked up. “It’s beautiful.”
Lance shrugged one shoulder. “I like to draw.”
Erik held one up. “You could frame this one.” The sketch was of the corner of the house, a trellis and climbing roses added in.
“No way. They’re just for reference.”
“No, they’re all really good, even if they aren’t complete.” He gazed at the back of his house. “What kind of trellises were you thinking? Wood? Wrought iron?”
“Iron might be good actually. Go with the slightly gothic feel.”
“Like a medieval gate?”
“Yeah. Something with that look. Though we might have to search all day for something that unique.”
Erik beckoned Lance to follow him, and they rounded the corner of the house. Leaning against one side was a rusty gate. It stood ten feet tall and had amazing detailing, a pattern of vines twisting into each other on both sides. The craftsmanship had some flaws and inconsistencies, but that only proved how old it was.
“That’s amazing,” Lance said.
“I saved it from a castle that was crumbling. It had been condemned. It was small, as castles go, and no one that important had ever resided there, so no one rushed to preserve anything from it. I saved what I could.”
Lance walked over to touch it. He concentrated and felt the piece’s vibrations.
“When was it made?” Erik asked when Lance drew his hand away.
Lance turned to Erik, curious. “How did you know what I was doing?”
Erik paused a moment, holding Lance’s gaze. Then he took a deep breath and said, “I went to see Marcus a few days ago. I told him I wanted a truce because of you. We talked, mostly about you. I got his approval, but it was backed by a very pointed threat.”
Needing a moment to process that confession, Lance touched the gate again. “It was made in 1503. I can only feel so many details, but it was designed with love.” He looked up at the top, where a crude rose stood out. “The man who made this did it for someone he loved.”
“Then I’m even more glad I saved it.” Erik came closer. “I should have told you I went to talk to him. I wasn’t trying to go behind your back, but I wanted to clear the air with Marcus.”
“You don’t have to apologize. I made it clear that Marcus is important to me.” Lance smiled. “I’m glad you talked to him. You think you two will get along?”
“Well enough. I’ll try to keep my temper locked down.”
Lance chuckled. “He does love to try to get a rise out of people.”
“He does. He seemed to enjoy goading me.”
His curiosity piqued again, Lance asked, “What did he do?”
Erik inched closer again. “Rhapsodized about how handsome you are. Before making it clear he only has a fatherly regard for you. He got a big kick out of seeing my reaction.”
Lance glanced away for a moment before looking back and asking, “You got jealous?”
“Yes. He means a lot to you, and he’s very handsome himself. He didn’t push too much, but it did annoy me.”
“No punches thrown?”
A smile curved Erik’s lips. “No, we were quite civilized. He told me all about his collection.”
“The flow blue?”
“Yeah. I never imagined him collecting dishes.”
Lance smiled up at the prince. “People can surprise you, ya know.”
Erik touched Lance’s cheek. Lance wanted another kiss, but he knew what would happen if they touched now.