Never Let Go

It seemed entirely unfair that he was miserable at his own birthday ball, but there it was all the same.

Sighing, Bastian drained his glass of champagne and motioned a servant to refill it, thanking him with a smile. He glanced out over the ballroom again in the futile hope that something interesting had occurred in the twenty seconds he had looked away.

Alas, all was as stifling as ever. Flat, boring, lackluster. He drank more champagne, annoyed with himself for sounding like a spoiled brat even in his own head. His life could be worse, after all. He could still be enamored with someone who had never cared at all.

Damn it, this was his birthday. He was supposed to be dancing and flirting and playing. He looked around the room in vain, hungry, desperate for a spark in someone’s eye, something that matched what he felt…

But all he saw was fawning and simpering and propriety. No one here had that spark he craved, a taste for impropriety and the nerve to act on it. Hells, he doubted he could even get someone to dance a little too close—the very world might collapse!

No one here would ever be what he wanted, and what he wanted had never really wanted him.

He sighed and drained his champagne, determined to get drunk since it would seem he would be doing nothing else. He froze as a figure entered the room, standing at the top of the stairs as though pausing to survey his kingdom. His hair was unfashionably long and loose, the most beautiful bright red, livid against his dark green formal jacket. Gold thread shone in the lace at his throat and cuffs, and the emerald at his throat sparkled.

Finally he descended, and people scurried out of his way, as though afraid that his touch would burn. Bastian supposed it might. Lord Kait, Earl of Helton, had always been too flamboyant, too defiant, for anyone’s taste—except Bastian’s. Kait had always been exactly Bastian’s taste.

Four months later, Bastian still remembered the flavor of his lips, the heat of his skin, the way his warm smile reached his eyes. But he had vanished without even a goodbye, and Bastian realized he was no one special after all, that the warmth in Kait’s eyes was just one more lie.

Bastian spoke before his parents could, as Kait rose from an elegant bow. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s your birthday,” Kait replied, voice mocking. “I came to pay my respects.”

Sneering, Bastian replied, “I do not believe you were issued an invitation to this private party, Earl. Take your respects and vanish. You’re good at that.” He drained his champagne and stood up, then strode from the room, ignoring his parents, ignoring everyone.

He fled to the library, his sanctuary despite the fact this was where he had first fallen in love with the Earl of Heston. Where he had waited all night, only to learn that the Earl had left without a word, and all the vows that Bastian had carefully prepared had withered and died, and sat like a cold lump in the pit of his stomach.

They churned there now, heavy and aching, and he flinched as the door opened and closed again behind him. He did not bother to turn around as he asked, “What in the hells do you want, Earl?”

“To clear up a misunderstanding,” Kait said softly.

Whatever Bastian had expected to hear, it wasn’t that. He turned around, frowning—and stared in surprise at the letter Kait presented. It was his own stationary, with his handwriting, and his royal crest. The letter was worn, dirty, clearly read over and over many times.

Bastian frowned as he opened it, and read over it, increasingly horrified by the contents. It said, in no uncertain terms, that Kait was dismissed forthwith from court, effective immediately, as a disgrace and embarrassment to the throne and his Highness—and it bore Bastian’s signature and personal crest.

It was clear from the letter that he was tired of Kait and wanted him gone, and their brief affair banished with him, a mistake to be forgotten.

Crushing it in his fist, and mentally preparing for the shouting match with his parents in the morning, Bastian dropped the letter to the floor and yanked Kait close. He threaded a hand through Kait’s hair, felt Kait’s breaths on his neck, and just held him. “Why didn’t you come see me to demand an explanation?”

“Soldiers already waited to escort me away,” Kait said quietly. “I know your handwriting, and your manner of speech—and I always knew our affair would end, someday.”

Bastian frowned. “Why would it end?”

Kait drew back and looked up at him. “Why would it last? You’re the crown prince, Bastian. I’m just an Earl barely tolerated at court.”

“You’re perfect,” Bastian murmured, rubbing Kait’s lips with his thumb the way he had a thousand times before. “I can’t believe you thought I banished you.”

“I kept dreading the day you tired of me, that I assumed it had finally happened,” Kait replied. “I came to taunt you tonight, but then I saw your face, and your parents’ faces…”

“The only royal order I ever intend to give you is to remain with me forever, Kait. I thought you left me.”

Kait’s mouth twisted wryly. “I would only leave upon your command, Bastian.”

“I have no intention of ordering my future consort anywhere but my bed,” Bastian replied, and kissed him hard, pouring out every held back emotion from the last four months. When he finally allowed the kiss to end, they were both panting. “Do not ever leave me again. I am sorry that you thought I banished you.”

Kait shook his head, and just kissed him again, holding Bastian so tightly it seemed he would never let go.

If Bastian had anything to say about, he wouldn’t.