Leigh sat nervously on the bench, turning the note in his hands over and over again, occasionally pausing to run his finger along the fine gold trim, the elegant handwriting that said Shall we finally meet?
He was a fool. This was probably just another prank, either friends feeling sorry for him that he never got to ‘have any fun’ on Lover’s Week, or the more malicious of his ‘peers’ who thought it rubbish that a young, new librarian was put in charge of the youngest prince’s private library after only being in the palace for one week.
Never mind that working for Prince Meade was exhausting and demanding and any of the others tried it they would set fire to the place inside of a week. Prince Meade was a dragon about his books and papers and files and even the bottles of ink that entered his library. If Leigh did not have so much respect for him, he would have clobbered him with one of his own books before the first month was out. But he loved the work, loved the library—
And who was he fooling, he was every trite, stupid tale of admonition they told to people like him. He had fallen in love with a prince, and he was only a lowly librarian. That was the only reason he had gone along with all this stupid secret admirer nonsense. He needed someone else to think about, someone he could actually have.
It was just a bloody shame that here he was, on the appointed bench at the appointed hour…and his secret admirer was nearly twenty minutes late. Well, that ruled out friends feeling sorry for him. Which left only malicious bastards who thought this sort of thing was funny.
Served him right for playing into it, and even bothering with his only good jacket, a dark jewel green velvet that had cost him a week’s salary and he had been so pleased to have a real excuse to wear it, and here he was, wasting it on a lover that was never coming.
He had known it was a prank, for weren’t they always? He should be long past it hurting, long past letting it affect him in anyway. Stifling a sigh, looking as bored and disinterested as he could manage in case he was being laughed at from behind a tree, he stood up and brushed off his handsome coat and left the little bench in a remote corner of the park.
The sound of boots, a too-familiar tread, drew him up short. Leigh stared wide-eyed as Prince Meade came into view.
“What the devil are you doing here, Leigh?” Meade demanded, as abrupt as ever—rude, really, but Meade had no patience for ‘extraneous, fluffy words filled with more venom that my mother and a poisonous snake combined’. Leight had always liked the quality, even before he fell in love with Meade.
Leigh flushed, cringing to be caught behaving like a fool. “Ah—I had a note, to meet someone here. Why are you here, Highness?”
Meade scowled, and Leigh did not understand why everyone thought his brothers and sisters were better looking. They were all soft, delicate lines and careful movement. Meade was all rough edges, sudden movement, a force of nature. His siblings were pale, golden, utterly lovely—and tepid. Meade was dark haired, dark-eyed, always looked as though he were barely tamed, his clothes always simple and elegant, never fancy and flashy. “I received a note,” he said flatly. “Give me yours.”
Wincing, Leigh handed it over, wincing more as Meade glared at it—then could only stare in open-mouthed surprise as Meade swore and tore the note in half, following it with the one he had been carrying. He closed his mouth with a click, then looked at Meade and asked, “Whatever is the matter, Highness?”
“I do not know who is behind all this rot, or why they thought to drag you into it, but when I find this admirer who only admires seeing people made fools of, I will make him eat all of his own teeth.”
“Oh,” Leigh said. “I thought someone was just attempting to make a fool of me, because they’re all still angry that you chose me—”
“Hang them all! Twice!” Meade snarled. “If they think it is amusing to play with me this way, and at your expense—never mind teeth, I will make him eat his own balls.”
Leigh frowned, “Why would anyone harass you, Highness? I told you, they are only angry that I am your librarian.”
Meade suddenly froze, then look suddenly—if it was anyone else in the world, Leigh would say shy. But Meade was shy the way a thunderstorm was silent.
And it was a stupid idea, completely foolish and self-indulgent and dangerous but damn it—if they both had come here because notes neither of them had written and Meade was this unsettled… Well, the worst that would happen was that Prince Meade would say no, and remind him of his place, and everything would go back to the way it was, because Meade might be rough around the edges but he wasn’t malicious and Leigh wouldn’t die because Meade had said no. It was not like he had ever thought—
Cutting his rambling thoughts off, he drew himself up and made himself speak. “Whatever this debacle is about, highness, it seems to have left me short one promised secret admirer.”
Surprise and something that looked shockingly like the same hope thrumming through Leigh flashed in Meade’s dark eyes, and he asked with uncharacteristic softness, “Has it then, Leigh?”
“Yes,” Leigh replied softly.
“Well, we can’t have that,” Meade said. “A promise is a promise after all. Shall we get out of this damnable park and go enjoy a drink somewhere?”
Leigh smiled, and nodded, and took the hand Meade offered, going easily as Meade dragged him close. “I suspect someone is smarter than the both of us, Leigh.”
“Maybe we do spend too much time with the books,” Leigh agreed.
Meade only laughed, and kissed him, and neither heard the laughter of a third man as he slipped from hiding and darted quickly away.